Other people’s boats… or how I found MacENC
A land locked sailor’s options are somewhat limited here in North Texas. There are a ton of really lovely lakes all within easy driving distance from the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. We’re talking J/22’s, J/24’s, Catalina 27’s, 30’s, the occasional Hunter, and that’s about it (well, Hobie Cats too). Plenty of fun but you just can’t escape the nagging fact that you’re completely surrounded by shoreline.
The next best thing is… other people’s boats!
My first sail on a boat of consequence was with a good friend of mine. He was Captain, his wife and I were crew, and we chartered a bareboat Moorings 4800 (Leopard 48) cat out of St. Lucia for seven days of fun hopping bays in Martinique. His dad, my wife, and our kids were aboard too.
Seven of us fit easily in the charter configured four cabin boat. We basically did a bay-a-day (give or take) Northward up the leeward coast, and then a different grouping on the return South. Great fun. Epic vacation. Here are a couple snaps of our route:
So, Dave, what does this have to do with MacENC? Well… I’ll tell you.
My buddy is a traditional sailor and grew up on paper charts. Those, a hand held Garmin Marine GPS, some spreadsheets, his mobile phone and he’s ready to roll. We planned the trip well in advance and he had our route on paper and in the Garmin.
Flights out of DFW airport route through Miami (crack of dawn) then on to Hewanorra International Airport at Vieux Fort (UVF) which is in the South side of St Lucia. It’s an hour and a half ride in a taxi-van to get to Castries and Rodney Bay Marina in the far Northwest corner of the island. Flights, layovers, and taxi rides would get us in too late to check in, brief, provision, and take the boat so we planned the 1st night at the Palm Haven Hotel, half a block from the Marina entrance.
The first full day was all about getting ready. Check-in and chart briefing were early morning. After that we all piled in another taxi-van and headed over to Super J for provisioning. The marina had the boat ready by the time we returned with cart loads of food. As a result, we hurried the work of hauling our luggage and food onto the dock so we could do the boat briefing.
It took a couple hours to get gear and provisions properly stowed (and the obligatory sun downer) before we were ready for dinner. Rodney Bay Marina has a nice group of restaurants and we did Bosun’s Thai One On upstairs. The food was pretty good, the mixed drinks were strong enough, and the view was pleasant.
Our plan was to head out early AM for crossing St Lucia Channel up to Martinique so we turned in (most of us) shortly after dinner.
It was some time around 11pm when I heard movement up on deck accompanied by an asynchronous beeping sound. What the heck was that, I thought groggily. Well, my wife and I got the Starboard hull, Aft berth in a coin toss, which is directly beneath the helm station. That’s where the beeping was coming from.
Curiosity finally got the better of me and I went up to find my buddy hunched over the chart plotter. That MFD was a Raymarine eSeries with hybrid touch and the rotary Unicontroller. Poor guy was manually slogging in his route waypoint by waypoint (lat/lon) at a time… beep, beep, beep.
I wished him well and finally nodded off to sleep amid the beeping never knowing how long he stayed up doing that.
Next day was sail day. Yay! I didn’t really give the chart plotter beeping incident much thought that day because we were consumed with the sailing fun; but, every now and then I’d glance at the Raymarine and wonder. We put in and dropped hook at Sainte-Anne followed by a tour of the town and an evening dinner.
The anchorage from a nice lookout:
I’m an early morning kind of guy. Real early. Even vacations and weekends. Mornings are for coffee and contemplation. And I got straight to contemplating after I wrote up my log of the prior day’s sail.
Contemplation, in particular, about the now surely infamous beeping incident. I padded over to the helm station and looked for technical access on the plotter (like a connection port or something). Yes… I’m a geek. Then I fired up the mobile phone hotspot, my MacBook Pro, more coffee, and downloaded the eSeries manual. Aha! There’s an SD Card slot on the front just under a little pop-up door. Excellent, part one done: A way in! (evil laugh time: Mwah ha ha)
Next, I searched for chart plotter software for PCs. Quite a few for Windows, and then… I found it:
MacENC. Native Mac app… YES! The reviews said professional, powerful, full featured, etc. Then I dug into the feature list.
Can you export routes and waypoints I asked myself? Why yes, yes you can.
Another sip of coffee and more research and I was downloading the demo version. Mobile plan be damned! (Actually I’m really not that brave… company data plan to the rescue). Too late for this trip but I had fun proving it had the features I knew I wanted. I bought it that very morning (back then they shipped you a CD) so it would ship to my house and be waiting for me when I got home.
I’ll post a few pix from the rest of the vacation below for your viewing pleasure. It was great. Mostly… I need to blog the anchor dragging incident at Trois Ilets. Jeesh.
But the take away for me was this:
With MacENC, there’s a way to plan your trip, far away, sitting in your land-locked home, then show up to a charter boat and digitally pump your route into the helm station plotter. Voila! NO MORE @#(^$% BEEPING!
I’ll fast forward to our next epic trip, a 10 day one-way sail from St Lucia, through St. Vincent & the Grenadines, ending at Grenada. Oh man what a trip. It starts pretty much the same as this one up to the part where we take the boat. Instead of beeping for hours, I had our route loaded in a couple minutes. Bingo!
Saint-Anne is well protected which meant that after an awesome dinner in town we enjoyed a calm night. We weren’t killing ourselves now with early departures since distances were pretty easy. Mornings wrapped breakfast around 8:30 with a 9 AM departure plan for the next destination. This usually got us to the next bay at lunch time or not much later. On the way North we passed between Rocher Du Diamant (a spectacular rock formation jutting from the sea) and the coast.
On the way to Anse Mitan, we had planned a mid day stop for some beach fun at Les Anses D’Arlette, which is a picturesque town, great waterfront park, nice beach and restaurants.
Beach restaurant view of the bay:
Our main stop for the evening and overnight was Anse Mitan which is on the South side of the Fort De France harbor.
There are lovely shops and walking areas with courtyard restaurants everywhere. It was a little more vibrant in former years as there is a shuttered hotel and other signs of decline, but the shops and courtyard areas are still very nice. We spent the afternoon walking the town and then an evening dinner at a really nice outdoor venue.
The food was great and the ambiance was amazing, dining amidst the song of the craziest crickets or grasshoppers you have ever heard. After dinner we walked the back way to Lazaret Marina. There’re no photos to show; alas, they are full of people who would object to being published on line. I must say that the marina was super tight. Can’t imagine piloting anything really big in there. Not without a lot of practice.
Next up on our route was Saint-Pierre, site of the horrific eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902. It’s something else, black volcanic sand beaches, devastated historical sites, reconstruction incorporating surviving old works with the new. I’m amazed at how busy the town was, how folks have returned, and live there even in the lee of an as yet still active volcano.
We spent the day hiking the town, viewing the ruins, and snacking on street fare. One trip we couldn’t fit in was a trip up closer to the volcano, sadly. It was shrouded in mist the entire time we were there and so not a good time to view.
Saint-Pierre was our Northernmost stop and the turning point on our return route. Our next stop was Fort De France for a lunch time sojourn followed by a quick trip across the harbor to our evening stop at Trois Ilets. Fort De France was a gem. We enjoyed a nice walk around town, stopping at a few sites, courthouse, cathedral, and then on to a great lunch time spot that…
No name. No pics. Nothing! I can’t find out in any of my history where the heck we ate. It was so good! Grrr. Sorry. After the aforementioned MYSTERY restaurant, we stopped by a road side ice creamery which was just what the doctor ordered before the dinghy ride back to the boat and our trip to Trois Ilets.
Our trip South was uneventful. We came into the channel and were faced with two choices for anchorage. One to the West, in the shallows, near the golf course and two to the East, a closer dinghy drive to the dock. We chose the latter which turned out to be one of two fateful decisions that shaped our next experiences. The second decision was borne of a couple anchoring tries in sandy bays earlier on the trip.
There were a couple places setting anchor challenged us, notably at Anse Mitan, but one other I forget which. We’d drop the anchor, back her up playing out, set and verify with a 2k RPM tug from the dual 54hp Yanmars. Quite a few times we tugged it right out. My buddy thought, as we discussed the matter, it might be due to the power of the engines. His prior experience on a smaller craft had 45hp engines and we thought that maybe we were overdoing it. So we set the hook and tested it at 1500 rpm in Trois Ilets.
The next thing that compounded the situation was the time of day and condition of the water. Arrival was late and the sun had set below the mountains leaving us in dusk and the water was quite turbid. My buddy dove the hook but could not get clear line-of-sight. We set an anchor alarm and I took two bearings to landmarks which we checked as the evening waned.
We headed into town that evening and ate at a really good restaurant called the Atomic Cafe which is, sadly, now permanently closed. Upon return to the boat, we found everything was AOK. No slip, Anchor track normal, landmark bearings still lined up. That night we slept well and awoke the next morning safe and sound and still solidly set.
Our plans for the day included an early morning trip to the local French bakery for breakfast followed by a hike up the hill to visit Joespehine’s residence, Wife of Napoleon, Emperatrice De France. The morning was wonderful. The fresh baked items were the perfect breakfast along with dark roast coffee. Our trip to the Maisons des Illustres was awesome if a little long.
Finally we headed back down the hill. As we approached the dinghy dock, I glanced out into the bay and was immediately confused.
I had a good sense of where the various boats were in the bay and I couldn’t find ours. I glanced over to my buddy and he was equally surprised. We halted and searched and finally realized the horrible truth: We’d lost our boat. Stunned, we asked a local if he had seen our boat. “Oh yeah, mon, she headed over that way, toward the mangroves.”
A cold chill ran down my spine. The ladies were shocked. We told them to stand by at the dock with the kids and we found a local crew with a motor launch to follow us out in search of our boat.
I’ll break things down into detail but the margin of error amounted to the width of a rudder and that of an anchor rode. Inches. Literally.
This was the direction of drag:
So it was off in our dinghy with our launch friends following. We headed out of the channel and then West along the mangroves around the point. As we rounded that and turned West toward the anchorage we saw our boat. She was in the middle between the coast and the little island, jammed against a monohull anchored there.
We were perplexed but relieved our boat wasn’t crunched into the mangroves, or worse, grounded on the far shore. As we approached we could see better what had happened. She had dragged a significant distance, stern to the West. Her port aft hull was flush into the starboard side of the monohull’s bow and holding there. Holding on what we couldn’t tell. There was no one onboard the other boat and it looked like she was all buttoned up for a long stay.
Winds were up and the water less than calm so it was a chore to board our baby from the dinghy. Board we did though and the first step was to grab what fenders we could and get them shoved between the boats. One area was hull against hull and rubbing audibly. Every knot I know was sitting in the pit of my stomach.
One of the launch crew volunteered to dive and assess the situation. What he found was our port rudder astride and hooked onto the monohull’s anchor rode. Only luck and the width of our rudder and that of their rode saved us. Jeesh.
It couldn’t have been any closer. Mere inches!
Step two was to get us untangled from our savior’s rode. We tried manually pulling to no avail. We ended up firing both engines but putting only the starboard engine into forward while a diver guided the rode off the rudder as we pulled away.
Once free and the man in the water clear, we engaged the port engine and pulled away. We then got to the business of step three: weighing our useless anchor. Up from the depths she came and all we saw was a complete ball of mud and seagrass. You couldn’t see any part of the anchor, just chain going into a massive mud ball. Our intrepid helper was still in the water and he swam over and pulled off the mud enough to get the anchor in stowed position.
Finally we got back to our anchorage and re-set the hook.
The launch crew went and fetched the rest of the family for us. We were so grateful for their support that we pulled together a nice cash bounty and thanked them for all they had done. Just a really great bunch of guys.
One call and Moorings dispatched a local support team. They inspected the boat, found only some minor scuffing, no damage to the rudder, and deemed her sea worthy. We were super lucky that monohull didn’t have an all chain rode; otherwise, we might have taken some severe damage to the rudder. We filed a report and got on with the vacation. Talk about a close scrape! O. M. G.
What we could have done differently:
- Check the hook set at 2k rpm instead of backing off from our experience in soft sand earlier in the trip.
- Test the set even harder if not able to visually inspect the hook due to low light or water turbidity.
- Consider the Westward anchoring area at the expense of a longer dinghy drive.
Things we couldn’t control:
- Charter boats aren’t equipped much beyond the basics. These Moorings boats we’ve found come with ~130 feet of rode and a very standard anchor.
- We had enough scope played out for the depth so length of chain wasn’t a factor in this case; however, a more robust hook might have made the difference.
Thus ends the Trois Ilet incident.
Our next stop was Anse DuFour where they have a great snorkeling grotto. A mid day water sport treat and lunch followed by the afternoon sail to our evening and overnight stop, Grand Anse D’Arlet.
There’s a story about that stop…
Our plan was an evening dinner at a restaurant (name lost to time) who’s reputation we’d read about and wanted to visit. Sundown was shortly after our arrival so the dinghy drive to the dock and the walk to the restaurant was in the dark. It was quite a hike following the beach road but we finally found the spot only to discover they had cut back hours for off season and would only be opening Friday nights.
We sadly walked back to the beach and looked for some beach side fare. My buddy cut his foot on glass in the sand on the walk and had to dinghy back to the boat for some first aid.
The rest of us held down the fort at the beach side restaurant we had selected. We were snacking on appetizers and sipping drinks when we heard shouting. Yelling that got louder and louder until a man ran by on the road. Behind him was another man cursing, I assume, by the tone. They slowed down and began a back and forth shouting match about what grievance I have no idea. Shortly thereafter a woman came out yelling too but also…
Brandishing a machete! An obviously working blade, very large machete. The cacophony continued and at one point the running away guy came back to hurl more insults to his pursuers and I was really worried the woman was going to connect the machete with the other guy’s head. Eventually they all parted ways with more shouting and no missing body parts, after which, the local police came by and took statements from bystanders.
All of that my buddy missed while tending to his injured foot and by the time he came back, the main course was ready and the show was over. Crazy.
Entering Grand Anse D’Arlet anchorage:
The next day we sailed South to Marin and stayed at the marina there. One last big dinner in town, a good nights sleep, and then off across the channel back to St Lucia. This was the wrap up to our trip.
We planned a few days onshore after the sail trip for folks to unwind in St Lucia and we had picked hotels in the South close to the airport so we could make a morning flight out. My buddy and his crew picked a site deeper in the Island near some volcano hiking opportunity while me and mine opted for a beautiful beach-side place in the jungle just north of Soufriere town called Anse Chastanet. It was jungle, cliffs, and steep stairs down to a black volcanic sand beach. Sweet.
All in all an epic trip. I’ll post a few more pics at the end.
And that is the story of how I found MacENC!
Until next time, happy sailing!