02/21/2007, Grand Anse, St. Martin
We moved to the lovely anchorage at Grand Anse on the French side of St. Martin and joined good friends from several other boats for dinner at one of the open air eateries on the beach. The good food was topped off with even better company. It was only later that I realized this dinner was both a reunion and a good by. It was a reunion because we had often sailed with Eira, Delilah, and Amanzi since leaving the Bahamas over a year earlier. In fact all three boats were with Paul and myself on our first night crossing, an event which is still vivid in my memory. We had a delightful evening "catching up" with everyone's recent activities; however, things took a nostalgic turn when I realized that Eira, Delilah, and Amanzi were all planning to head north when they left St. Martin and go back home -- to the states in the case of Eira and Delilah and to Canada in the case of Amanzi. Dream Weaver was the only boat in this group planning to travel south again. And I was sad to realize that we wouldn't be spending any more time with these good friends, at least for the near future.
In my mind at least, this pleasant evening marks the beginning of phase three of our Caribbean cruising experience. Phase one lasted from Jan to July, 2006 when we traveled as "newbies" from Florida to Trinidad where we left Dream Weaver for the 2006 hurricane season. Phase two began when we headed north from Trinidad in Nov 2006 for more travels in the Caribbean. Elsewhere in this blog I have described our "Winter in Wonderland" because it was such a marvelous time -- our comfort level much increased being cruisers with considerably more experience. Now we were preparing to continue cruising while some of our fellow travelers were going back to land and different lives. Instead of discussing where to snorkel or where we could find fresh produce, the conversation turned to plans for returning to work, buying houses, etc. Of course, there was the usual talk of boat maintenance, but much of the conversation had a different focus and I realized our friends were moving to a differen phase also. We expect to continue cruising and be around other good friends; but this group will always have a special place because they shared the beginning with us.
01/07/2007, English Harbor, Antigua
English Harbor was the main base for the English during Colonial times and Nelson's Dockyard has been beautifully restored. Walking around, it is easy to imagine sailers busy loading/unloading cargo or outfitting ships for the voyage back to England. Although the buildings now house official offices, shops, restaurants, etc., there are signs explaining what would have been happening 250 years ago. The historical area includes a fort and 12 - 15 large buildings, and it is now very nicely landscaped and maintained. I am sure in Admiral Nelson's time the area was far from pristine (and probably smelled awful too). Today we get to enjoy the best of both -- all the history without the mess!
To make the visit perfect we even caught a nice Mahi Mahi on the trip from Guadeloupe, which made Paul's day. Unfortunately, we didn't have any friends to share it with. The "Fishing God" often plays that trick on us -- letting us catch a nice fish when we don't have any fellow travelers to share with. It's not all bad, however, because that means more for us.
Because weather held us up in Guadeloupe for several days, we were only able to stay two nights before heading to St. Maarten where we were scheduled to leave the boat in order to visit family back in the states. However, returning to Antigua it at the top of our list when we start south again.
Our second visit to Guadeloupe was even better than our first because some special relatives came for the Christmas holidays. So instead of going home for the holidays, our visitors brought home to us. My brother and sister in law, Kurt and Jane, arrived with their daughter, Julia. In addition they bravely brought two of Julia's friends, Karen and Liz. The girls were delightful company and we all had a great visit complete with only a moderate amount of sunburn. We met our guests at the marina in the capital city of Point a Pitre and spent the first night getting everyone's stuff on the boat and learning about using the head, etc. The time was even more festive because our good friends on Eira (Menno, Val, Daniel, John, and Daisy) were at the marina hosting Menno's mother from Holland. After getting organized, we spent a few days at three great anchorages -- each one with its own special attractions.
Ilet du Gosier is about three miles east of Point a Pitre on the southern coast of Guadeloupe. The anchorage is behind a reef that connects the mainland and the small island of Gosier. There is a very nice beach on both sides and the reef keeps the waters calm. It is a delightful place anytime, but especially nice on Christmas Eve. As usual in the French islands, the bagettes and other pastries are cheap, delicious and easy to get. For the first day or so we kept running out of bagettes, so we finally settled on buying five every morning and our guests were able to enjoy them all day.
Isles des Saintes is a group of small islands about 15 miles south of Guadeloupe. There is a small town, Bourg des Saintes, and an interesting fort on the largest of these islands. There are several places to anchor, all of them close to good shorkeling and beaches. As a place to spend time in a cruising boat the Saintes are just about perfect with plenty of places for a walk on the beach or swim as well as a town with interesting shops and the best ice cream in the Caribbean. The only problem was that we didn't have time to stay longer.
Ilet a Cochons was the final stop for our guests. Located a couple of miles west of Pointe a Pitre, it is convenient to town while being wonderfully secluded. The small island was great for beach combing, but a little rocky for swimming. An expedition led by Paul through the underbrush even discovered a small fort on top of a hill. Our guests left us all too soon on December 30, needing to get back to Connecticut for work and school. They insured a return invitation by hauling all the dirty linens and towels to the laundry -- a very thoughtful gesture!
New Year's EvePaul and I stayed here for a few days, spending New Year's Eve with our good friends on Eira. This anchorage is on the edge of the very large harbor at Point a Pitre and we were treated to the most spectacular fire works show I have ever seen. All around us different towns, hotels and other groups were shooting fireworks, one group starting as another finished. The whole thing lasted an hour at least, and we saw it all from the comfort of our upper deck! The next morning I noticed several small rafts drifting around in the harbor. Most were one to two feet square and had various things attached to them, like flowers, pieces of fruit, ribbons, and other decorations. I have never seen anything like it and I never did find out the significance of these small rafts drifting around on New Year's Day.
Trip through Riviere SaleeOur last adventure in Guadeloupe was through Riviere Salee, river through the mangrove swamp which connects the two "wings" which make up Guadeloupe's butterfly shape. This looks very easy on the chart until you realize that the two bridges that need to open in order for our boat to pass only do so at 5:00 AM! Since dawn isn't until about 6:30, this meant we would be navigating a fairly narrow place in the dark, including allowing for a cross current under a bridge which was only 6-8 feet wider than our boat. Another difficulty is the bugs, which are ferocious in the mangrove swamp! Both the spectacular anchorage on the north end of the river and the time saved by not going around the "butterfly wing" make a trip through Riviere Salee worth dealing with the difficulties.
11/26/2006, St. Anne, Martinique
Anchored here at St. Anne, we had a front row seat to the races of traditional Martinique boats called "Yolos". As you can see from the picture, they are very colorful. In some races the boats were using two sails as in this picture and in others only one. Evidently, each boat needs a team of about 10 people complete with matching T-shirts and business sponsers. We even saw teams doing warm-up exercises on the beech prior to the start of the races. Other teams were observed hanging out at the beer tent. Not sure which group was more successful. The boats are VERY tippy, and often the whole team, except the helmsman, would be hanging over the side on the outrigger; and yes, a few boats went over.
Martinique is a delightful place. Although we were aware that this island is a department of France, I was a little surprised at the degree of French influence. Of course, French is spoken locally as well as the island Creole, a mixture of French, Spanish, Amerindian, English, etc. It's not always easy to tell the difference when local people are speaking to each other except the Creole has occasional English, Spanish, German, etc. words in addition to mostly French. In addition to the French language, there is an abundant supply of great French wine reasonably priced, plentiful baggettes, and wonderful food. Paul always includes the prevalence of topless sunbathing in his list, but it's not so important on my list.
A returning traveler shared his cold with us, and we lost a few days on the beach. After we quit sniffling, we left St. Anne and also anchored in Les Trois Ilets and Anse Matin (both inlets in the very large Baie de Fort de France). Our last stop in Martinique was St. Pierre on the western coast. St. Pierre suffered an eruption of the nearby Pele Volcano in the early part of this century which killed almost 30,000 people. Although the town has been rebuilt, there are still interesting ruins especially the coliseum which reminded me a lot of the smaller ones I saw in Italy. St. Pierre is a great stop for cruisers because it has a good anchorage and easy access to shore; but it is not a place that has a lot of tourists usually. So a visitor can get a flavor of life in a traditional Martinique town complete with the local market, a favorite of mine.
11/25/2006, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia
This picture shows off our new flag, appropriately a whale since this boat model is called a Whaleback. Flags get a tremendous amount of wear on the bow and we have shredded a few already. Since we only intended to spend the night here, we decided to make a "yellow flag" stop. Upon arriving in a new port, the usual custom is for a foreign flag vessel to put up a yellow "Q" flag, indicating to the harbor authorities that the vessel hasn't officially cleared in with customs and immigration. Usually you are expected to clear in within a day or so, and after clearing in a small courtesy flag of the host country is flown instead of the Q flag. During a "yellow flag" stop you don't actually clear in because you are leaving quickly. In other words you sneak in and out before anyone notices (you hope!).
We experienced the reverse situation in Guadeloupe when we tried for four days to check in at Deshaies, but never found the office open or even a sign stating when they would be open. So we finally checked in when we got to the next port in a larger town.
Clearing in and out of the various Caribbean countries has been an interesting experience. Most places are very relaxed about the process, although the paper work often seems extremely complicated and labor intensive. It's not unusual to visit three different offices to deal with immigration, customs and harbour authorities, each with their own complete set of fees and forms which need an official stamp. We have been asked more than once if we had any stowaways or illegal substances on board. I have been totally amazed at how often carbon paper is used, not even the self copying forms. Usually, someone actually inserts pieces of carbon paper between the forms! I haven't seen carbon paper used in the states for years, but it is alive and well in the Caribbean.
A recent experience leads me to speculate that all this may be changing. The Immigration office in Antigua scanned our passports into a computer, which we were told was connected to US Homeland Security! When Paul made a comment about Homeland Security giving these countries computers in order to keep tabs of all of us, he was informed that they had to purchase the computers themselves! In spite of this recent technological addition, they still had us filling out multiple copies of several forms and giving us hand stamped receipts. The whole incident illustrates how often new and old ways mix and mingle in the Caribbean. To be honest we were sort of embarassed that our government had insisted small Caribbean countries purchase computers for the convenience of Homeland Security.
The following day we "upped anchor" and discovered a big surprise. We had dug into a huge piece of living coral and managed to lift a small bolder-size chunk out of the water with the anchor. Because our anchor is shapped like a large scoop, Paul had a difficult time getting it off the anchor and finally succeeded getting rid of it by prying with a piece of 2x4 wood after unsuccessfully beating on it with a hammer.
11/15/2006, Bequia Island, The Grenadines
The beautiful island of Bequia was as charming and enjoyable during our second visit as it had been when were there last June. We had friends on several boats and greatly enjoyed their company, especially Thanksgiving dinner in a local restaurant complete with roast turkey and accompanied by side dishes with local seasonings (the sweet potatoes were especially good). Arriving at Thanksgiving dinner in a dinghy wearing a sundress and sandals felt unusual, having a special occassion seemed appropriate; most of the American cruisers had a celebration either at a restaurant or at a potluck on one of the boats. I am still not sure how anyone managed to cook a turkey in the small boat oven; in fact, I'm a little amazed they could find a turkey at all. But you must remember that full time cruisers become experts at finding things; so I guess skills learned when finding the needed fan belt work just as well when locating a frozen turkey.
Tour of Moonhole We missed seeing this really unique place during our first stop here and were glad when a tour was organized. Moonhole is very hard to describe; basically, it is a group of about 30 houses literally dug into the cliffs and rocks. From the water it looks like a lot of large caverns dug into cliff and you can't really see that there is anything inside these holes in the rock, which are actually various rooms. The first house was built during the 1960's and located mostly under the "Moonhole", which is actually a large arch in the rock cliff. Most of the rooms are open to the elements; electricity comes from a generator and rain water is collected in a cistern. The shower has no roof. A total of about 30 houses were built in this area. It is very private and difficult to get to. A few of the homes are occupied and a few are rented as vacation places. Our guide book describes it as "a special kind of vacation home for the right people." I found the rooms kind of forbidding because the walls, ceiling, and floor are all rock which didn't really look inviting to me even with lots of pillows, throw rugs, etc. The sofa was a stone ledge covered with lots of large pillows. However, I liked the outside areas (terraces and patios) very much because of their terrific views. There are a few pictures in our gallery. Although I took our camera, I left the card in the computer! I copied a few pictures from another cruiser, Jeff on Dragonfly; however, his batteries were low so picture taking at Moonhole was kind of doomed.