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Mission Ocean: Back on board after 4 months away: odd jobs, seminars and island boat race

by Mission Océan 30 Aug 2018 02:57 UTC

At some point in long-term cruising, every owner will have to leave their boat, be it for a few days, weeks or, in our case, months. Unless you intend to cut all ties with land and embrace life at sea to the max, at some point you will need to throw some lines on the dock and jump on a plane to see family and friends, or maybe go back to work.

If, like us, you intend to leave your boat unattended, this can be a stressful time. Where should I leave her? Marina, mooring ball, sheltered anchorage...? Will I be insured? Should I hire someone to boat-sit? We spent a good few weeks turning these questions over in our minds before settling on the perfect solution for us: we laid Contigo up afloat in Carenantilles, the boat yard in Le Marin, Martinique. Reasonably priced, well insured and with the permanent presence of friendly shipyard staff, overnight security and fellow cruisers, this option ticked a lot of boxes for us and allowed us to head to Europe to work for a few months with relative peace of mind. You can find out more about what we did for those months here:

We returned to Contigo in mid-July, and were pleasantly surprised to see how little she had suffered from her time alone. We had been careful to protect winches, portholes, deck hatches and solar panels from the harsh UVs of the Caribbean sun (using torn up old sheets and the elastic that used to hold our old canvas bimini), brought the dinghy and outboard inside, shut off gas, water and batteries, rinsed the engines with fresh water and closed all the valves. Our engines started first time, and only our Suzuki outboard sulked a little at having been winterized for so long. We had been careful to leave no tins of food that could corrode or pop open and fill the bilges with mouldy beans, and I had treated our dry food stores with a homemade bay-leaf spray to discourage moths. Unfortunately, that didn't work so well, and I was forced to discard most of the dry goods that had not been stored in glass jars (even plastic packaging doesn't seem to keep those moths out... still, you live and learn).

We took the opportunity of a good spot on the yard dock to complete some other jobs. Henrique changed the oil on the engines, replaced our dodgy starter motor, and built up some extra fiberglass under the deck below the genoa pulleys. I repainted the cockpit table, cleaned the bilges, scrubbed down all the headliners and added some new sponsor stickers to the hull. We established a work routine that saw us getting up early to make the most of the morning before the heat set in, and had us in bed by nine most nights. After a couple of weeks, Contigo was looking spick and span, and we were ready to head to Sainte Anne on the other side of the bay, to give the hull and props a good clean.

But not before delivering a small seminar, hosted by the shipyard, which was attended by a really interesting mix of local residents, cruisers and marine professionals. Together, we discussed citizen science, plastic pollution and issues related directly to Martinique, including pollution from agriculture on the island, the growing invasion of Saragossa weed, damage to seagrass from careless anchoring and the environmental impact of some of the big events of the summer.

After leaving the yard (and cleaning the hull), we participated in one of those big events: Le Tour des Yoles. A yole is a traditional island boat, with a tree-trunk-like hull and a huge sail. The sailors hang off poles on either side of the boat to avoid "unsalting" the hull (capsizing, to you and me). In what has become the biggest sporting event of the year, 15 yoles race around the island in several legs, with the regatta lasting a week. Helicopters buzz overhead, drones zip around the mast heads, and an enormous flotilla of private and charter boats follow each stage and hustle for pole position and the best photos at the start and finish lines. For the first time in the history of the race, the route around the island was deemed unsuitable this year due to the huge fields of yellow-green Saragossa weed that are blighting the Atlantic coasts of the Antilles, rending fishing, rowing and, apparently, yole sailing nigh-on impossible. We encountered these horrible, scratchy weeds throughout almost all of our Atlantic crossing, and wrote about some of the effects here:

And so this year, the race took place up and down the island's west coast, meaning that we were able to witness several arrivals and departures, in Le Marin and in Les Anses d'Arlet, one of our favourite spots in Martinique due to its colourful houses and church, stunning snorkelling spots and thriving turtle population. We were concerned, amazed and more than a little terrified when hundreds of boats suddenly roared into this little bay on the day of the yoles' arrival; we had sailed in the night before and anchored in what we deemed to be a sensible position, ready for the next day's excitement. I had nightmares that night of being shouted at to move out of the way of the race, of yoles running into the side of the boat, and of drone views of Contigo and a wrecked yole on the Martinique evening news... Lo and behold, just minutes before arrival of the competitors, we were asked to move and re-anchor not once, not twice, but SEVEN times by race officials and the gendarmerie, who were in disagreement of how the racers were going to navigate in the bay. Luckily, we are now very confident in manoeuvring and anchoring Contigo, and were able to select sandy spots each time. The race was thoroughly exciting, we took some fabulous photos and ended up making friends with a neighbouring boat couple, with whom we would later sail to Saint Lucia and on to Bequai.

The day after the race, we were concerned to see the impact that the massive influx of boats and visitors might have had on the seabed, and how much trash they had left behind. We spent an hour free-diving and collecting objects from the seabed, and were delighted to collect only a small bag of rubbish, including a number of articles that looked like they had been there for a lot longer than just a day. And 24 hours later, we dragged our plankton net behind the boat as we sailed out of the bay. Almost every time we take a sample, we end up with at least a couple of microplastics in the net, but this time we were pleasantly surprised to find only marine fauna and flora. We suppose that the authorities must have managed to event's waste well, and in a display of civic pride we also saw local residents cleaning up the streets on the waterfront in the evening, throwing plastic bottles into the waiting recycling bins.

After a packed couple of weeks, we finally set sail from Martinique at the beginning of August and very much enjoyed the trip to neighbouring Saint Lucia, racing our new friends from the yole regatta to see who could get there first (and who could make it to immigration before overtime rates kicked in..!), and were treated to an hour-long display of seabirds hunting flying fish just inches from our bow. Saint Lucia would turn out to be both a wonderful surprise and something of a disappointment, but that story will have to wait for another day.

Mission Ocean is proud to be supported by: Boero, Doyle Sails Palma, Rotary District 1730, Navigair, OctoMarine, Battery World Service, Victron Energy, Monaco Marine, Aquatabs, Spade Anchors, Plastimo, Furuno France, Pejout Marine Services, Lyvio, Storm Bird, Aethic, Corsica Yacht Services, Astrolabe Expeditions, Asociacion Ondine, AGL Marine, and

Mission Ocean is Laura Beard and Henrique Agostinho. Their three year plus mission is to share their love and respect for the ocean with others, through education and scientific research. Neither is a stranger to the water, so they have combined all their skills and passions in this bold, courageous and inspiring project. is delighted to be with them for the journey of their lifetime. You can also find out more on their Facebook page and Instagram account @missionocean06.

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