We’ve been in Le Marin a long time now doing one thing - looking for a boat. Almost two months. When we got the idea to do this trip in the fall of 2015 we started looking a lot on yachtworld.com to find a nice monohull around 40ft and €60K. In our mind that would be a very big and comfortable boat. Then we figured it would be nice with one cabin each since we’re away for a year and all. So, four cabins. This puts us in the 45-50ft range and we had to double our budget. For this trip we thought this is not such a bad thing, the bank rent is low at the moment and the boat market in Australia, where we plan to sell the boat, is supposedly better than in the Caribbean. We also learned catamarans are very sought after over there. When we started looking we were sure never to get a cat - big, plastic, ugly - they are made for camping on the sea and not for sailing. But when considering the route a cat kind of makes sense - stable downwind performance and shallow draught makes passages into Pacific atolls easier. They pretty much all have four cabins as well as awesome kitchen/sofa area on deck level with big windows looking out. So somewhere along the way we changed our minds and started focusing on cats. After many hours of serious online research some of them even started looking good! The budget had to be upped another notch but this was doable and hopefully a better investment in the long run.
Around October-November we were still hoping to find the perfect boat online, equipped and ready to go. Maybe we would even buy it (after inspection of course) before we arrived so that we could get sailing straight away. This proved impossible - we knew way too little about these boats to do something like that. We decided to fly down after Christmas, when everyone had gotten away from work, and find one on the spot. Maybe one on our list of interesting prospects that we had prepared.
We arrived in Le Marin the 12th of January and installed us in an Airbnb apartment. Started talking to all the brokers down here and booking appointments. There were actually less cats for sale than we had thought and most of them were really run down from having been in charter use and needed more work than what we have time for.
After a couple of weeks Lukas and Johan went on tour to check out a Fountaine Pajot Belize in Guadeloupe and a Leopard 40 in St Martin along with some nice monohulls. Finding accommodation in Guadeloupe was almost impossible but at last an Airbnb booking went through for a room in a jungle house. It was a nice place with deep green jungle surrounding the house and chickens and roosters flying around.
The Belize was in good working order but had some nasty water damages to panels inside and other beauty spots such as a cracked glass door. We ended up offering €175K but the owners did not want to move an inch from their desired €215K - way over market value. So we moved on.
St Martin was completely different from Martinique and Guadeloupe. Around Simpson Bay where the marina business in centered it is like being in the US - american restaurants and shops and prices. Night Clubs like the “Soggy Dollar” and beach bars made a lot of opportunities for nightlife but not for us - we had to focus. Boats were inspected and thoroughly documented with the GoPro to show the rest of the team back in Martinique. The Leopard in St Martin proved to be a real disappointment. The ad online had boasted a “like new, ready-to-go” condition with all the solar and wind power that we would need. The electricity generating equipment turned out to be the cheap Chinese kind not found in marine stores but online. Mounted in a haphazard way using non-stainless screws, all of which were melting away. The white gelcoat in the cockpit was in a terrible condition and the boat clearly was not like new. We emailed the owner, who had gone back to Canada a couple months before, suggesting a price reduction. He thanked us for the detailed survey report we had sent but wanted to come down and fix all these things himself. We wished him the best of luck and had to go on looking.
Soon a month spent on our One Year Off and no boat we were willing to get into monohulls again, even three cabin ones. One guy can sleep in the saloon, no problem. Back in our Le Marin HQ we sized them all up, making lists comparing all the specs of the boat, equipment etc. Before starting to bid on the monos we learned a Leopard 45 that had been out sailing was coming back and it was for sale. A lot bigger boat than we had considered at first and a little older, from 1998 and we were looking for 2000 and newer. But engines were replaced, good North Sails sails and pretty much every equipment you can think of on board so we were excited for this one. Not willing to let go of our four-cabin catamaran dream we decided to wait for it before doing any other bidding.
What we all felt when we came on board was the solid build construction of the boat. These catamarans are built in South Africa to withstand rough conditions, the feel of the boat was a lot different from the Fountaine Pajot and Lagoons we had previously seen. Also the good shape of gelcoat, stainless steel and the interior was all better than most of the newer cats we had seen. Another important aspect was the owners, a senior french couple who were very nice, knowledgeable and gave an impression of having taken good care of the boat. We made an offer and it was accepted!
We have now moved on board and are in the final stages of preparing the boat. We had a good inspection made by Frederic Morel, a surveyor here in Martinique, who made a list of things to be fixed. The major thing was a wire in the diamond stay in the mast that had a crack. The whole diamond stay has been replaced and paid by the owner. We also had the riggers take off the forestay furler to inspect the the wire inside. Luckily it was ok and now the whole rig had been checked and approved. We also had both inboard engines as well as dinghy engine and spare dinghy engine completely serviced. This was really expensive but it feels good to start off clean and we got some good tips from the mechanic on maintenance. This will be useful. We’ve been replacing halogen bulbs with LEDs to get the power consumption down and getting the battery meter calibrated and working correctly. We’ve been getting into how to polish and take care of the gelcoat and also how to make repairs for small damages.
We live in more comfort now than in the Airbnb apartments we rented, enjoying a big kitchen with plenty of space in the fridge, a good stereo system and plenty of space to chill, both in the cockpit and in front in the trampolines. It is just a huge, awesome boat and so far we are more than happy with it. Another big plus is the hard bottom dinghy with a 15hp Yamaha Enduro. We’ve been using it a lot since here in the bay of Le Marin you can get to the chandlers and food stores by water and this dinghy is fast. Looking forward to using it to explore the remote islands to come.
In a couple days the final export papers of the boat will hopefully be done and we can start the real trip. The plan right now is to start by sailing down to Wallilabou in St Vincent. Maybe do some hiking there for a day or two and then, if the winds are good, continue on a longer stretch towards Panama, maybe to Bonaire. It will be a quick stay and after we will head for Cartagena where we’re going to haul out the boat and give it a new coat of bottom paint and replacing the propeller shaft bearings. By then it will most likely be the beginning of April and high time to go through the Panama Canal.
To be perfectly honest we haven’t been looking at boats ALL the time. We have also done some other fun things here in Martinique.
Carnivals take place in most of the Caribbean islands during this time a year, Martinique is no exception. During one week everything stops and people move out into the streets. Every day has it’s specific theme, for example on the Friday everyone dresses in black and red to celebrate the devil. Of course we had to take some time of to participate in the festivities. The major carnival of the south island took place in the town of Vauclin where we lived at the time so we went down to see the commotion. There were lots of people and some great events in the parade, afterwards we ended up partying at a local bar with a group of French kiters. We also went to see the big carneval in the capital, Fort de France, the next day. Everything was scaled up but the vibe was the same. Party mode.
Already before leaving Sweden we decided to do a lot of wave surfing during our year in the Pacific. Martinique is not that great for wave surfing but have some pretty good spots for kite surfing on the windward side of the island. Our friend Ben took us out on a test run with the kite one early morning at 6 o´clock. We got hooked and now we have two complete kite kits onboard. Looking forward to learning how to kite properly so we can do some nice atoll kiting in the Pacific! We have also done some windsurfing as we found a place to rent cheap equipment whenever we had any time to spare.
The typical spirit of this area is made straight from the juice of the sugar cane which makes the taste of the rhum more prominent and complex. This strong drink contains about 50-55% alcohol. The typical drink you make from this is called “Ti’ Punch”, you mix the rhum with a little bit of sugar syrup and a small piece of lime. It makes you strong!
We went for a tour and rhum tasting at the biggest distillery on the island called Clement. We left the place with some rhum in our bodies and 12 litres to bring for our trip.
Spending this much time here has been really interesting. We have gotten to know a lot of people in the marina, all the brokers, the maintenance guys, the people at Mango Bay bar, and seen plenty of boaters come and go. It seems like everyone here has crossed an ocean in a sailboat at least a couple of times. Soon hopefully we can also title ourselves ocean sailors! Of course our captain Lukas has already crossed the Atlantic ocean twice but for the rest of the crew it will be a new experience we are really looking forward to.
Take a look at the albums below to see more images from our first time here.