Martinique:  May 17-May 28, 2009

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

While we were in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, our water maker suddenly stopped working.   Basically the same symptoms as 18 months earlier in Trinidad, so I was pretty certain that I knew what the problem was.   I even had the rebuild kit, but didn't feel competent to do the repair myself -- the kit contained half-a-gazillion o-rings and various other plastic pieces.  What to do?   Twenty-five miles north, in Le Marin, Martinique, cruising literature suggested that Caribe Greement was a dealer for Sea Recovery, the brand of our water maker.  Le Marin booklets showed Caribe Greement as the chandlery very near the customs office.  So we went back to Le Marin.  After checking us back into customs, I popped into the chandlery and inquired about repair.  The clerk made a quick phone call and then said a technician would be there in five minutes.  A nice young man appeared, and he spoke passable English.  I showed him a picture of our unit, told him I was reasonably certain that I knew what the problem was, and assured him that I already had the rebuild kit for the presumptive failed component:  the "Energy Transfer Device" (ETD.)

"Good", he said.  "Then if you will just remove the entire water maker from your boat and bring it in, I will take it apart and rebuild the ETD".

"Um", I said.  "I will have to pay you to remove the unit -- I don't know how to remove it."

"OK.  Then I will come and get it tomorrow at 9 in the morning."

At 10:30 the next morning I called the chandlery to report that no one had come to get the unit.  The lady put me on hold, probably made a phone call, and then came back to say that someone would be there soon.  Someone was.  But the not the pleasant young fellow who spoke passable English.  A much younger fellow, Martin, who spoke virtually no English.  He kept asking me to speak slower, but no speed was slow enough.  I showed him the unit, and he made a disquieting noise, and indicated that the removal would be very difficult and take a very long time.  Then he began examining closely some of the attachments for other equipment mounted near the water maker.  It became clear that he thought he would have to take out all of those units first in order to get to the water maker.  I assured him that the water maker had been removed in Trinidad without removing anything else.   He called back to the office, and apparently complained that the unit was too imbedded to be removable.  He hung up and tentatively pulled on some of the wiring that lead to the unit.  Didn't seem to have any idea how to get to the attachment points so that the wiring could be disconnected.   Finally, he announced that he was sorry, but that he could not remove the unit.  I again assured him that the removal had been accomplished in Trinidad, but that had no effect.  I urged him to discuss the problem with Fred, the first person I had dealt with, and he indicated that he would, but that he would be telling Fred that the unit would be very difficult if not impossible to remove.

So, there we were.  We had turned around to come back in the wrong direction to Martinique, and the official dealer could not even get the d*mn thing out of the boat!

I stewed for a while, and discussed with Barb the possibility of doing without until we could get back down to Trinidad, a distant destination that had not been a planned stop until near the end of the summer.  Barb took the dinghy into town to do some shopping, and I dug out the manuals.  Took off a face plate and could see where all of the electrical connections were.   Identified all of the hoses that would need to be disconnected.   Took copious notes about what was connected where, and began the process of removing the unit.  Some sweaty hours later -- for the quarters are indeed tight and some things had to be removed by feel rather than by sight -- I had the unit free.  I wrestled the unit out of its tight spot and onto a battery box, but it was too heavy for me to get out of the engine room without help.  So I called Caribe Greement yet again, and was transferred to Fred.  I explained my new situation, and asked for help in carrying the thing, and also asked for permission to watch while he worked on the ETD.  He said I could indeed watch, and sent Martin the young tyro out to help me get the unit up out of the engine room and onto the swim platform, from which location we could squeeze it into the young man's dinghy.  By this time it was late afternoon, so I was to report at 9 the next morning for my "lesson".   When I arrived Fred already had the ETD off the unit, and had the ETD disassembled.  He showed me where a missing seal had caused a leak, and where seals had burst, and where another seal was missing.  My opinion of Echo Marine in Trinidad hit a new low. 

He explained that the pieces of the ETD would need a thorough cleaning in an acid bath, and suggested that I rejoin him at 2 pm.  When I rejoined him I watched as he carefully reassembled the ETD.  It was nearly 5 pm when we finished.  The next day was Thursday, a holiday.  Friday was a holiday too.  Saturday the chandlery would be open, and I said I would come and pay then.  He willingly helped me carry the unit to my nearby dinghy, so that I could take it back to Tusen Takk II for reinstallation.  This, without any deposit or security required.  On the way back to my boat, I stopped for Steve (Receta), who helped me schlep the unit back into position.  I finished the reconnecting on Thursday, and was pleased to have the unit perform better than it had for years.  Less system pressure required.  Less oscillation of pressure.  Higher production rate.  (Back to 16 gph on a unit rated for 17.)  Fantastic! 

So:  having water maker problems?  Fred at Caribe Greement knows his stuff.  (Martin, on the other hand, does not.)

But the next time I have ETD problems, so long as I have the rebuild kit, ample amounts of silicone spray, and the appropriate acid bath, I just might be able to fix the blessed thing myself.

Fred at work on the water maker ETD

By the way, when we first arrived at Le Marin we were surprised to see two huge transport ships in the entrance channel.   Both contained many boats that were either being delivered to Martinique or that had been loaded to be delivered to the Mediterranean.   A few pictures:

Dockwise loads/unloads by partialy submerging the mother ship and driving the cargo vessel on/off the mother, after which the mother ship is refloated

Greenfleet, on the other hand, uses huge cranes to load/unload

With our water maker problem solved, we settled in for some recreation before again leaving Martinique.  Barb and I each took a computer into Mango Bay, a bar/restaurant/internet cafe, where we spent almost an entire day browsing, etc.  (Also shared a delicious order of mussels steamed in wine, garlic, tomato and onion sauce.  Served w/ French fries, of course.)

We had Steve and Ann (Receta) over for dinner, and they had us over.  Barb is turning into quite a cook, and enjoys discussing recipes and techniques with Ann.  Steve is a chess player, and I am just beginning again after a hiatus of about 40 years. 

We had a number of  enjoyable adventures with the Receta crew.  One day we went for a long hike along the shore south of St. Ann.  All the way down the forested southwestern shore and then back up the rugged eastern shore until we were once again parallel to St. Ann.   By that time we were tuckered out, and glad to get a ride in the back of a truck to St. Ann across the island.

Steve combing the beach in the SW corner

Flower on a cactus plant

Steve crossing a ridge to a point on the rugged SE corner

View from point where Steve was in previous pic

Ann waiting for the photographers to catch up

We (TT II and Receta) rented a car for two days.  Fortunately the reserved car was not available, and so for no extra charge we got a much larger "boxy" car with five doors and a large cargo area.  Perfect, since we spent the first day visiting a wine distributorship, where we each bought about three cases of wine.  Then on to the Neisson rhumery, where we invested in several bottles of sipping rum.  And finally, to a huge grocery store.  Martinique certainly profits from being an official part of France.

Distillation tower at Neisson

Gauges on the tower

Another type of gauge -- note the roiling mix in the port

Self portrait in the port?

Stacked cases of bottles of rum all set for distribution

Our hosts

Steve photographing steel storage tanks

Steve and Ann pony up in the tasting/selling shop

Building in the village where we stopped for lunch -- note the inconsistent levels of maintenance between the exterior wall versus the roof

The next day we all got up early, in the hope of arriving at Mt. Pelee early enough to maximize our chance of climbing all the way up before the customary afternoon clouds shrouded the top.  Alas, I delayed our start by dinghying over to a little island and cutting four walking sticks.  The sticks were appreciated by all, but we got caught in Fort de France traffic on our drive up to Mt. Pelee, and so did not begin our ascent until about 9:30.  Two hours later we reached the rim of the caldera formed by one of the early eruptions.  Barb thought it prudent to stop at that point because of her bad knee, so the rest of us off-loaded some of our pack contents and left them with her.  We first descended over the rim down a very steep cliff to a fascinating area with bizarre plants and mossy growths.  Then up the very steep mount that had pushed up much higher than the rim in a subsequent eruption.   Sometimes in clear sunlight, and other times socked in by clouds.  The summit of that huge mount is not the ultimate, however.  Instead, we had to cross the top and descend a bit and then ascend the Chinos peak, the highest point of Mt. Pelee.  Unfortunately, the clouds never really cleared for us at that height, so we got no grand overlook of the countryside  or sea below.

(To see more photos of Mt. Pelee, taken on a 2008 expedition that ended at the rim, click here.)

The girls get ahead while the boys photograph

Barb grabbed this shot from her vantage point

Ann prepares Steve for the final ascent

Looking along the rim

Resting at the rim edge

View up the mount across the chasm at the rim

Chuck descending down the rim

Down below the rim, the boys discover a wet and mysterious mini-universe

One of the sights at the bottom of the rim

Moss (?) covered plants at the bottom of the rim

Strange plant at the bottom of the rim

Another sight on the bottom

And another

View from the bottom, the mount on the left and the rim on the right

View in opposite direction, now rim on left and mount on right -- note the strange plants at the bottom

Ann working her way up the mount

On the protected side of the second-highest peak, these beauties adorned the way along the path

While we were gone, Barb found this offering on the high overlook on the rim

Looking back at the rim from part way up the mount

Ann waiting for the boys near the top of the mount

Ann and Steve crossing over toward Chinos

Shelter high up on the mount, at the base of the Chinos peak (to the left out of the picture)

Steve and Ann (and others) in the fog at the very top

Another view of the foggy top

Chuck at the very summit -- photo by Steve Manley

Clouds cleared briefly for this shot down to the rim as we returned down the first mount

Barb captured the Receta crew as they returned up the lip of the rim ...

... and a tired old man (hamming it up a bit)

Barb had our lunch all laid out when we arrived

On the way back down, I stopped for a photo ...

... of this little guy

Tired hikers at the bottom shelter near the parking lot