07/20/2013, Port Louis Marina Grenada
We are now 3 weeks in Grenada and we have enjoyed every day of it. We used our time with working on the boat, exploring the island and meeting the wonderful people. To be honest we also spent some time in the pool or in the cockpit doing nothing besides reading our kindle books. We visit fellow cruisers or they come to visit us on our boat. These interactions are very good for the use of languages we used to speak but lost over time. Just on our pier in the marina we are surrounded by people from: The Netherlands, England, Germany, Switzerland, France, USA and even Japan. But you can see the difference between people who still have a home in their home country and those who don't. People with access to their home left to spend most of the time the entire hurricane season at home and return in November. The people who do not have a home stay here in Grenada and fly back for a short visit only like we will do in August. It is quiet in the marina as the majority of the boats is empty but we are very happy to be here and it seems that the days are flying by and every night we go early to bed with a very satisfied feeling of having spent another day in paradise.
We want to make sure that 'non-boat users' understand that a boat that has been sailing for 7 months needs a lot of cleaning and maintenance. During the trip we had many issues that needed to be addressed and we took care of the general maintenance of the boat. But now that we are in a marina many things need to be done. The varnish on the teak was in a very bad condition. For the past 2 years I spent in the summer many nights after work sanding, sanding, sanding and applying new coats of varnish, but it was evident that this is not my forte and that one day an expert was needed. And we found such an expert in Grenada. His name is Sean and he is an expert as is evident from the work he has done on other boats. He has been working on our boat for 7 days and if it had not rained he could have finished the work. When I say 7 days, I mean 7 full days, from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon including Saturday and Sunday. He is a very hard worker, but at the same time a very nice guy with a great sense of humor and great knowledge about many things and subjects. Since we had to be most of the time available to him and helped him with the taping and removing of the tape, we spent a lot of time with him and we learned a lot from him about the island, the history, and the culture including my favorite subjects: Music and carnival. Since he worked on many boats here in the marina he is a very well-known fellow and many people come to see him, which allowed us to get acquainted with many people. Although I will never be an expert in varnishing I learned a lot from him and hope to be able to use these skills in the future. The part of the boat that is completed looks beautiful and the varnish is so smooth you can use it as a mirror.
We cleaned out the boat, took a full inventory of all the materials and food on the boat and found many things we were missing. Our entire inventory is set up in a spreadsheet and if we had kept this spreadsheet properly updated we should be able to find everything, but we made mistakes, forgot to save changes made, etc. so it was time to do a good update. At the same time we needed a list of all the things we need to buy for the continuation of our trip after the end of the hurricane season.
Before we left we had a list of all the things we needed for the boat and gave it a priority rating of need to have, nice to have or may be later. An awning for the boat to protect the deck from direct sunlight during anchoring or mooring was rated on the list as may be later due to cost and our budget and that was a mistake. When the deck is exposed to the sun during the day it becomes extremely hot inside and in many cases it does not cool down sufficiently to have a good sleeping temperature at night. To address this problem we purchased a tarp and put it over the boom during anchoring and mooring and although it did not cover the entire deck it made a big difference. But as everyone knows tarp is not very wind resistance and we have wind every day. So a more permanent solution was needed and we ordered a very nice awning covering the entire deck and hope that it will be installed next week.
We use our bikes for trips around the bay where the roads are flat, this way we can visit the capital city of Grenada St. George's, the Carenage, stores we need and a few very nice restaurants. Together with our friends Bryan, Barbara and Scott we visited the River Rum Distillery & Estate. This is the oldest working rum distillery in the Caribbean where traditional methods are still used for making rum, including a working waterwheel used to crush the sugarcane to extract juices to make rum. The result is very strong rum with an alcohol percentage of 75% that cannot be exported to the USA, as this kind of high alcohol percentage can be used for terrorist activities. They have a reduced product of only 69% alcohol and we purchased a few bottles. At the end of the tour you can taste both products and I believe I was the only one who tasted these products mixed with water. After this we drove again to Belmont Estate and had a great lunch in an open restaurant on the top floor of the building with a great view of the area and the cool trade wind. This time we did the official tour and saw how the cocoa beans are prepared for the organic chocolate production and tasted the best chocolate I have ever had. As an extra we got a tour of the 400 acres estate with the field supervisor Rawlins Smit. This gentleman is a retired field inspector for the Agricultural Department and has an unlimited knowledge of the plants, trees, spices and fruits in Grenada. His face and stories showed his deep love for the work he is doing and was very happy to share his knowledge. Dorothy who knows most of the plants, trees, spices and fruits from Indonesia had a great time to share the use of the fruit and spices with him. Although a lot of cruisers stay in the hurricane season in Grenada, Grenada had a devastating hurricane in 2004 that destroyed big parts of the island including the tropical forest and most of the fruit and nutmeg trees. The nutmeg industry was nearly completely destroyed and it takes about 7 years before these trees are producing fruits and Belmont Estate survived by diverging and started producing cocoa for the chocolate production.
We visited with Barbara and Scott all the bays and marinas on the south and south/east side of the island including Grand Anse. Grand Anse is what most people have in mind when they think about the Caribbean: a generous, two-mile sweep of white-gold sand backed by shady palm and almond trees (Chris Doyle Windward Island Pilot book). In between Grand Anse and True Blue Bay is the Maurice Bishop International Airport and St. George University. The campus of the university was to my surprise very large with a lot of new buildings and together with the location it is a beautiful site. Our next stop was True Blue Bay with a resort with the same name. The bay, although roily, is very colorful and clean. The resort is very nice with a small marina and nice restaurant with serving a blend of Mexican and Caribbean food. The next bay we visited was Prickly Bay which is thanks to the many marine facilities the most popular. A lot of our friends we met have their boat stored in the Spice Island Boat Yard and while walking around this marina we recognized many boats. And the list of very nice bays and coves goes on with Mt. Hartman Bay with a nice little marina called Secret Harbor Marina with a very nice and good restaurant. I really liked Clarks Courts Bay with Hog Island. Phare Blue Bay has a nice marina with alongside one of their docks an old Swedish Lightship that is now used a restaurant. The most beautiful bay I found is Petit Bacaye and Westerhall Point which has a beautiful housing development with mansion type of homes with beautiful yards with all the typical tropical plants and flowers. The last bay we visited was St. David's Harbour with the Grenada Marina where again we saw boats we sailed up together over the past months.
From August 8 to 13 it is carnival here in Grenada and this is the time we are in the US. Bad planning as this is a great event and we are seeing and hearing all the preparations already with the calypso and soka music competitions. In our next blog we will report about a few more visits we made on the island and our visits with our family and friends in the USA.
07/08/2013, Port Louis Marina Grenada
We arrived June 26, 2013 in Grenada and have a very nice spot in Port Louis Marina. This marina is more than a marina; it is a resort with very beautiful facilities, a swimming pool, and access to a secluded little beach with a beautiful view of the harbor entrance, shops and restaurants. All kinds of service facilities are on the premises of the marina and you can find any type of yacht maintenance people. The marina and resort is located in a natural lagoon adjacent to Grenada's capital St. George's. The marina has been designed and built to withstand hurricanes up to category 2. The lagoon is formed from a sunken crater lake and surrounded except for the entrance by steep cliffs on with St. George is build. On the high cliffs are three forts that made the harbor one of the best protected against invading enemies. On the hill west of the marina a nice development is built with very nice lots for custom homes and townhomes. Marina slips are also for sale, so this development is ready for anybody who wants to have his/her yacht or boat on a beautiful island in the Caribbean. There is a road along the lagoon with all kinds of shops including a super market and a marine store where we get everything we need using our bikes. Restaurants are everywhere and most of them are not very expensive and the food is excellent. The supermarket has everything you need including a good choice of fresh produce.
We have used our time since we arrived more on boat cleaning and small repairs rather than enjoying the island. And of course after being on our way for 7 months is was time that we gave Island Girl some tender loving care. At the same time we prepared the boat for hurricane season as we will leave the boat in the marina when we fly to the USA for 3 weeks in August. We took the sails down, removed the Hoyt staysail boom and repaired the holes in the deck where the boom was. Water had penetrated the deck and that is a dangerous thing for an older boat like Island Girl. After one of the service people here in the marina waxed the deck and the hull we now have to make the big decision to fix the varnish ourselves or sub-contract it out. If we do it ourselves we need to do that during the early morning hours as it becomes quite hot later in the day. Yes the average daytime temperature is in the mid to high eighties but most of the time the trade winds give a nice cool breeze. Until now the nights are very nice and we sleep very well.
On the 4th of July we went to St. George's and walked around this nice historic city. The city is divided by a ridge and the roads over the ridge are pretty steep. A tunnel was built in 1895 to join the two halves of the city and is called Sendall Tunnel; a sign at the entrance says that it can only be used by women. Many of the historic buildings are restored and in use by both governmental agencies and private companies. In the afternoon we had a potluck party in the swimming pool and most of the American Cruisers participated and brought different kinds of food which made it very nice combinations. Eating swimming and listening to stories about this and past cruising seasons was a very nice way to celebrate the birthday of our country, however, without fireworks.
To our big surprise on Friday Rula Bula owned by our friend Bryan sailing with him Scott and Barbara came back after a sail to the Grenadines. We had a nice visit with them and they invited us to join them on a hike to the Concord Falls. This is a three-level waterfall, where the higher up you hike, the more beautiful it is. The lowest cascade is easily accessible from the road. The second level is announced as thirty-minute hike that offers lush sites and a 40 ft. waterfall with a great swimming hole. The third level is another 2 hour hike and we decided not to do this. Bryan, who has visited the site many times and knows the tour guides very well organized that one of the most knowledgeable tour guides went with us. This guide knows the area very well and has a lot of knowledge about the plants and fruits you see in this area. So during the hike we ate all kinds of fruits and spent a lot of time to look around and admire the beautiful landscape. During the hike you cross the creek many times and during one of the crossings I slipped and hurt my leg, but could continue the trip. After the hike Bryan took us further with the car to see Grenada and made a circle over this beautiful island. The roads are not bad, but have many hairpin bends due to the many hills and mountains you pass. The view from the road over the island and the sea are breathtaking. We visited many interesting places like the Grand Etang Lake and the National Forest Reserve. We are happy that over the next month we have time to visit all these places. One of the most interesting places we visited was Belmont Estate, a 300 year old, working plantation. This working estate links the present to the past and gives you a nice opportunity to see centuries' old practice of producing cocoa and some of the Caribbean's best chocolate.
We see daily how the cruisers community is using Grenada as a good location to store their boats on land, marinas or just on mooring buoys for the hurricane season. Most people are leaving and flying back home, so in our case the marina gets filled daily with more boats, but less people. We have been asked by two boats to keep an eye on them while the owners are back in Europe. Tonight (07/08/13) the first Atlantic tropical storm will pass north of us in the St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique area, a location we visited some weeks ago. We will fly back to the US in August to visit the children and get our medical checkup.
For the remainder of the hurricane season we hope to have a chance to spend more time to visit the beautiful places on this island and keep reporting to you in our blog.
06/28/2013, Port Louis Marina Grenada
We arrived on June 26, 2013 in Port Louis Marina in St. George's, Grenada. This will be our location for the Hurricane Season for this year. After the very heavy weather due to a Tropical Wave in Carriacou in the bay in front of Hillsborough with wind of 45 miles and very heavy rain we knew it was time to go in. Over the past month our trip was heavily influenced by waiting for weather windows and most of the cruisers we met agreed that it was a good thing to be in before July 1, 2013. In our last blog we posted in St. Lucia we said that we had to wait for a weather window a week away for the day we posted this blog and that we would do a lot of fun things during that time. It did not completely work out like we planned.
In St. Lucia we anchored in Soufriere Bay just under the volcano and next to The Pitons. We had daily rain showers from weather coming over the mountains and the rain contained a lot of sulfur particles from the volcano and the surface of Island Girl shows this very well. Instead of being rinsed off by the rain it was covered with a thin layer of mud. I developed a very nasty rash all over my body and lost most of the vision in my eye with the corneal transplant and I was afraid I had a rejection. The local doctor we visited even advised me to fly back to The States but that was in view of the location in Soufriere not possible. He gave me lots of medicine and after a few days the rash disappeared and I slowly regained my vision. Due to this we did not do the things we planned but we still had a good time.
We met a Dutch couple Ans and Harry with their boat Lion King sailing for 2 years in the Caribbean after arriving from The Netherlands via the north route. They visited England, Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and Canada and along the US east coast to the Caribbean. We shared some nice evenings together that we continued in our next destination in Bequia, The Grenadines.
The local boat people cleaned the bottom of Island Girl swimming from shore with only snorkel equipment and did the job in 2 hours without a rest. They were very disappointed and almost angry that I did not come in the water to check their work. Later in Bequia when I felt safe again to go into the water I noticed that they did one of the best cleaning jobs since we own Island Girl.
We used the dinghy to visit the coast along The Pitons and realized that it was a real pity that I was not to able to go into the water for some snorkeling or using our Brownie surface supplied air diving system. The water is beautiful and the other cruisers, people coming to this location from the cruise ships and resorts all over St. Lucia were telling great stories. So St. Lucia is definitely on our list to visit more extensively next season. Yes, we changed our plans; we will not go to the West Caribbean next season but will sail another year in the East Caribbean and we are planning to visit all the places we have skipped and spend more time on other nice places.
A lot of cruises were waiting in St. Lucia and Martinique to move south and the magic day was Friday June 21, 2013. The Tropical Wave moved out, the seas calmed down, but also the wind. An armada of boats left and started sailing south. We left first at 5:15 AM and as soon as we were out of the bay we saw boats everywhere. It also seemed that all agreed to do the same thing, skip St. Vincent and sail to Bequia in The Grenadines. The wind was light and under normal conditions it would have been a nice broad reach sail. However, the current was very strong; we had on average 2.5 kn. against us and I have experienced locations with even more. During the crossing from St. Lucia to St. Vincent a very heavy squall hit the armada and we had a gust of 32kn with full sails out and the UV protection of our head sail came loose and we had to furl this sail to avoid further damage. With a distance of 56 miles to cover we could not let the speed go down too much so our engine had to help us once in a while specifically in the lee of St. Vincent. We sailed close to the coast of St. Vincent and had an opportunity to see from a distance this beautiful island that again is on our list to visit next season.
We arrived in Bequia Admiralty Bay and anchored in front of the Princess Margaret Beach. This beach was original called Tony Gibson Beach but renamed after the late princess took a dip in the water during her visit to Bequia. Then a miracle happed: The sun start shining and suddenly we experienced the Caribbean like it used to be. We had blue sky with some nice white cumulous clouds, a lot of sun and a nice trade wind breeze with only at the end of the afternoon a rain shower. We swam, snorkeled, took long beach walks and just spent time in the sun on the beach. The water is pristine; the beaches are nice and clean with reefs with an abundant amount of fish. It was the Caribbean we had not seen since we arrived in the rain in Guadeloupe 2 months ago. Port Elizabeth is a very nice town with a very nice narrow boardwalk along the coast with nice restaurants and places just to sit and enjoy the view. We had coffee in the Gingerbread Restaurant and Hotel after we delivered our sail to the sail loft for repair and I had trouble to leave this place. We spent long evenings with our friends sharing stories and had a great time.
We decided to use the next weather window after our sail was repaired to sail to Carriacou the most northern island that is part of Grenada and skip the rest of The Grenadines and save it for next season. It was a very nice sail with some more wind so we could overcome the very strong current most of the time. Hillsborough is a port of entry for Grenada and most people move after the custom and immigration clearance to Sandy Island or Tyrrell Bay. Since we planned to leave the next morning early to Grenada we stayed in the bay in front of Hillsborough. At night when the Tropical Wave passed by with wind up to 45 miles I needed to watch the anchor for close to 5 hours and with the enormous amount of rain that was not easy to do. The bay turned out to be very exposed and I was happy when the storm calmed down around one in the morning. Due to this we departed later then we normally do and that was a good thing. This gave the Tropical Wave the chance to move out of our sailing area and we left at 8:00 AM for Grenada.
The trip from Carriacou to Grenada brings you over an active underwater volcano with a 1.5 mile mandatory exclusion zone. In case of volcanic activity the exclusion zone is extended to 5 miles. This area close to the Isle de Ronde is known for very strong currents and we saw already from far away high breaking waves in between Isle de Ronde and the Volcano Exclusion zone. Although we changed heading we had for about one hour the highest breaking following seas since we started sailing. It is a game of very fast slowing down and acceleration completely beyond your control. Needless to say that it was a big relief when we came in the lee of Grenada. We entered the Port Louis Marina at 3:00 PM and we got a nice slip with a finger pier, but only 220 V power. We went to town and purchased a transformer with all the other parts needed and installed this on Island Girl and now we have nice shore power.
We started to take down a lot of outside equipment in preparation for our 3 week trip to The States in August and we will continue to do this next week. We will finally give Island Girl a much needed cleaning. Despite all the rain she is very dirty and many metal part show corrosion.
The marina is very nice with good facilities, access to the beach and a nice swimming pool. After all the work is done we hope to spend some good times on the island and hope to report about that in our next blog.
06/16/2013, Soufriere and The Pitons
On June 6 we left Marin in Martinique for St. Lucia. We started to raise the anchor at 6 o'clock in the morning. Since we were anchored in over 30 ft. of water we had a long scope out and the chain was very dirty with mud. To prevent that all that mud comes in our bilge we use a water hose to clean the chain. However, that took some time and in the meantime a very big squall came over the hills and we had to wait to raise the anchor. Since we already took a lot of the chain out we had to keep the engine running in case the anchor came out. After the rain stopped we maneuvered out of the bay around the markers indicating the shoals. Just as we passed the last green marker the engine alarm went off indicating that the engine was overheated. We had the main sail out and while I tried to find the problem Dorothy sailed out of the bay with a nice wind. Unfortunately that wind completely died after about half an hour and we started drifting into the Caribbean Sea instead of in the direction of St. Lucia. The engine was completely out of cooling fluid but still did not want to start after I had filled the reservoir. Fortunately the wind picked up again after some big squalls passed by and we sailed with wind up to 26kn and a speed over the ground of 7.5 kn. to St. Lucia. I was lucky to be able to start the engine after we arrived in Rodney Bay to find an anchor spot. But afterwards the engine did not want to start anymore and we had to be towed into the marina. We found a great mechanic who found the problems, a hole in the heat exchanger manifold and water on top of the cylinders. We were lucky that a replacement manifold was found on the island and Saturday afternoon we did the first test and the engine was running fine again.
Rodney Bay has a lagoon which was dug out and the recovered material was used to build a causeway between the mainland and an island north/west of the island called Pigeon Island. On this causeway the Sandals Resort of St. Lucia was built which gives a lot of activity in the bay with kayaks, Jet Skis and hobby cats. Pigeon Island is now a very nice National Park with trails that take you to the top of the two hills. As is customary in the Caribbean on top of the lowest hill a fort was built and the highest was used as a look-out position. The fighting between the French, Dutch and English did not change the flags on these islands a lot but scattered forts all over the islands. We took a bike tour around the bay, visited a lot of nice places and found the new tax free shopping mall that can also be reached from the marina with the dinghy. We went several times with the dinghy to the mall to buy groceries and a couple of nice tops for Dorothy. The extension of the lagoon allowed the development of a lot of nice condos and large private homes and everyone has a private boat dock or can use a mooring ball in the lagoon.
We took the dollar bus to the capital city of St. Lucia, Castries. This is like on all the other original British Islands a privately organized bus system. The busses are vans with every space filled with a seat. The route is indicated with a number and the turning location. In Castries all the busses arrive and depart from a central location near the market. A third of the population of St. Lucia lives in or close to Castries and this is evident. In 1948 a huge fire destroyed a big part of the town and only very few historic landmarks remained. The large and elaborate cathedral has brightly colored interior frescos covered walls, but the outside definitely needs some work like most of the buildings in the rest of the city. Even the Derek Walcott Square, dedicated to one of St. Lucia's Nobel Laureates, the Hon Derek Walcott who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992 is poorly or hardly maintained. If you check our pictures you see one of the buildings with a sign "Registry of Deeds and Mortgages". I took this picture since it is related to my first job in the USA as General Manager with "United Aerial Mapping". The company was owned by "Stewart Title" one of the largest title companies in the US. UAM had a project to establish a cadaster in St. Lucia to be able to give people clear title on their property and thus allows them to get a mortgage. So this building reflected some good memories to this project done from 1985 to 1988. New buildings along the cruise ship dock are built to give the typical products you see in every town in the Caribbean where cruise ships are visiting. The open market is large and fun and I even purchased a new shirt.
We changed the oil in the engine, checked the cooling fluid and we were ready to continue our trip on 06/12/13. We left the marina and started our best sail ever. We had a broad reach with wind from 15 to 25 kn. with gusts to 32 KN and our speed was between 7.5 and 8.7 KN. Unbelievable but very true, we sailed half of the time with speeds of over 8 KN over the ground. We have a nice mooring ball from a private person and not from the SMMA (Soufriere Marine Management Association). The SMMA balls are very close together and in spots that are very roly. We took a tour organized by the same man and we really enjoyed it. The Pitons are absolutely beautiful no wonder they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited the botanical garden, the volcano, took a mud bath, soaked in the warm sulfur water and visited a small waterfall. Peter, the owner of the botanical garden loved the way Dorothy responded to all the fruits and plants in the garden. He gave us fruit from nearly every kind of fruit in the garden. Our driver 'forced' Dorothy to say goodbye to Peter so we could continue our trip. The visit to the volcano is great for people who have never visited an active or sleeping volcano. For Dorothy and me who have visited active volcanos in Indonesia and Guatemala this site was not very impressive. For me the most impressive part was the fact that the east slope next to the volcano site had newly planted pine trees. Our tour guide explained that this slope was originally the volcano site and the soil contains a lot of acid; to prevent mud slides the slope was planted with young imported pine trees. As it was again another rainy day I could not take pictures of the very rugged landscape and the Pitons but the beautiful area will remain forever in our minds. In the afternoon our mooring ball owner passed by and brought us a lot of mangos from his own tree. What a beautiful island, such nice people.
We were hoping we had a weather window in between two tropical waves but based on advice from the Caribbean weather guru Chris Parker we did not use this window. Since we have to stay at least 6 days in St. Lucia we are going to enjoy the time we have. On Friday June 14 we took a long walk on a trail along steep cliffs above the sea to a very nice beach with a beautiful restaurant called "Harmony Beach Restaurant" at the foot of the Little Piton. The food was excellent; the view and total scenery were the best I have ever experienced. On Saturday we took the dollar bus to Marigot Bay. This trip shows the real difference between the populated areas from Castries to the north of the Island. Not only is this part very populated it has a very nice hilly land scape and valleys with agriculture. The south is very rugged and the main road from Soufriere is a relatively narrow very steep road with nothing else than hairpin bends. The cliffs next to the road are very steep and scary but give beautiful views. The bus stop in Soufriere is next to the church that allows you to go in and thank the Lord that you made it back safely. Marigot Bay is a small, completely sheltered mangrove-lined bay, famous as a hurricane harbor. It is a great place to shop and eat. Dorothy took the opportunity do get her hair cut so it is more manageable on the boat.
To make this blog entry not too long we will post the remaining of our time in St. Lucia in our next blog after we make the crossing to St. Vincent.
06/04/2013, Marin - Martinique
It is Sunday (05/26/13) and it rains, sometimes a little, sometimes the sun peeks through the clouds, but it mostly pours. We are in Fort De France the capital city of Martinique. Fort De France has about 100,000 inhabitants which is 25% of the population of Martinique, but you do not see anyone on shore, the beautiful promenade, the park "La Savanne", Fort St. Louis are empty. No people to be seen. Even the ferries during the week passing by very close to Island Girl are not sailing. It is Sunday and according European custom everything is closed and people spend time with their families. Since we are already for 2 weeks out of generator power, we have only limited ability to use our water maker and we made this morning some provisions to fill our water tank with rain water. I took a shower on the deck this morning during one of the very hard rain showers. Fort De France does not have public hotspots we can connect to from the boat, so to get connection we have to go ashore, but since everything is closed this is not possible either. Mc Donald's seems to be the only place available, but it has been years ago we visited an American fast food place and to do this on a French Island is not very attractive to us.
But don't get the wrong impression, we love Martinique. After a great visit to St. Pierre, enjoying the festivities and the mountainous area in the northern part of Martinique it is really fun to be in a large city as Fort De France. The shopping is great not only for fun shopping like clothing and all other things we do not need, but also for provisioning and boat parts. The shopping malls are very large and "The Galleria" is not much different than any other American Shopping Mall. Except for the food sections, they are much better than any food store in the States. You can find any type of food, produce and especially the fine food products. Dorothy and I do not like shopping, but we visited these large stores since we needed some stuff and we found everything we needed which was a new experience since we left Miami. Fort De France is an old city and most of these large stores are our out in what is called the industrial area. We rented a car for 2 days so at the end of our trip over the island we visited the stores.
The first day we visited the South/East part of the island. One of the reasons was that we needed parts to get our generator fixed and the city of Marin has the largest yacht center in the Caribbean with a huge marina and every yacht service and technical assistance you can think of. If you approach Martinique from the south (St. Lucia) it looks like two islands. The reason is a large valley in between the hills and mountains on the south/east and south/west coast. This valley and the Atlantic coast are used for agriculture and you see why Martinique is called the banana island when driving through this beautiful rolling terrain with endless banana fields. The landscape is beautiful and the road network is again like in all the other French Islands in great shape. The roads are wide with very good surface, good striping, great road signs, easy to drive and find your way. Every road is bordered by hedges of evergreens and colorful plants. The views over the Atlantic Coast with many nice bays protected by reefs are breathtaking.
The second day we went back to the north part of the island using a very winding road through the highest mountain range in the center of the island. The terrain is very similar to Dominica with lush jungle vegetation in all shades of green, but with beautiful roads. And we climbed and climbed and the temperature went down. Our car did not have AC and in this mountainous area there is no need. We drove all the way to "Le Morne Rouge" on the south slope of Mt. Peleé. After a nice coffee break with some great pastries we drove along the Atlantic Coast and the slope of Mt. Peleé to the end of the road in "Grand 'Riviere". Here the drivable road stops and a trail follows the much rugged slope of Mt. Peleé on the north/west side of the island. So for us this was a dead end and we had to return to "Le Morne Rouge" and "St. Pierre" to drive along the west coast of the island back to "Fort De France". On our way back to Fort de France we stopped at a roadside Creole BBQ stand to buy a rack of absolutely delicious baby back ribs, fresh from the grill. We both had a piece while the lady was cutting the ribs and we took the remainder back to Island Girl that we enjoyed with a Cuba Libre for me and a rum punch for Dorothy. Life is good!
Monday May 27, 2013 the rain is still falling but it is a wonderful day it is Dorothy's birthday. Normally we don't reveal a lady's age but this one is very special, since Dorothy is now also on Medicare. Since we did not have Internet we decided to take breakfast at Mc Donald's that has free internet. French people, however, do not eat breakfast at Mc Donald's and did not open until 9:00AM. So we spend the time to do something I should have done in previous days and bought Dorothy some nice festive dresses and shorts suited for the Caribbean temperatures. Since we don't like using the dinghy at night in this rainy weather we had a birthday lunch instead of dinner. It was great and the result was the same we drank a little too much and had a very quiet time when we came back on Island Girl late in the afternoon.
To finally get some expert to look at our generator problem and to get the needed parts we decided to leave the next day to the south side of Martinique to Marin with the largest yacht center of the Caribbean. To get there you have to transit from sailing south along the west coast to sailing east along the south coast and passing in between the mainland and a very large rock called "Diamond Rock". In this transition area the wind direction changes dramatically and the Atlantic current and Caribbean current meet each other creating a rough washing machine sea environment. Just when we passed the Diamond Rock a big squall came over us with some heavy rain (see pictures). It seemed to us that this squall with rain pushed down the waves since the transition was not too bad at all. Marin has a large marina with 600 slips and an enormous amount of anchored sailboats. I have never seen so many sailboats in one place. Yes I said sailboat, you can hardly find a power boat in this area. You can find every type of marine service; we found our part and I was able to repair the generator myself. However, due to the deep discharge we did over the last weeks we needed a real long charging period to get our batteries back in shape. Then we had problems with the refrigerator and needed to call another technician who at the same time checked our electric system, the batteries and gave our system a clean bill of health.
Three years ago during one of our vacation trips in The Bahamas we met Renske and Dutch sailing their self-built 44ft aluminum boat called "Aait Vedan". They sail the Caribbean in a real cruisers pace and left this year in November from St. Maarten. We met them in November in Miami when they flew back to their boat. We are anchored 2 boats behind them and we had several nice visits with them.
The weather is not cooperating to continue our trip to St. Lucia and our weather Guru "Chris Parker" advises that cruisers save their energy until June 6 or 7 to continue their trip. We have a very strong wind in the anchorage that helps to keep our batteries charged, but sometimes it is a little scary in such a crowded anchorage. And then the rain, it rains and it rains; not constantly but in very heavy showers. When it rains the hatches need to be closed, but that makes it very warm in the boat. This means when the rain stops the hatches need to be opened again and this is activity of closing and opening the hatches is almost a full time job. At night you wake up due to the rain coming in and the hatches need to be closed or you wake up since it is too warm and the hatches need to be opened. This is the hard life of cruisers. The good thing about the rain is that we do not have to use the water maker. We collect the rain water to fill our tanks, that gives us unlimited showers both in the bathrooms and out on the deck.
On one of our daily trips to shore we saw some kids playing in the water with small Yoles. These are locally built sailboats used in intense racing competition. The younger kids learn the skill in a playing environment, but the older ones know how to use these boats without a keel; to keep the boat in balance they hang on to two wooden poles that are not attached to the boat but just kept in place by some pecks and resting under a board along the edge of the boat. The mast and boom are made from bamboo and attached to each other with strings. See our pictures how this works. They went out with 30 kn. wind onto the ocean and returned about 3 hours later. We estimate their age to be about 14 to 16 years old.
We will leave on June 6, 2013 to St. Lucia and will report on this island in our next blog.
05/24/2013, St. Pierre - Martinique
St. Pierre in Martinique is a small town in the north/west part of Martinique. It has a very nice and large bay and with favorable weather it is a very good anchoring place. We stayed 8 days in this location; we had no swells or city noise and every night we had a good night rest. We were anchored very close to shore next to the town dock. Going a little more off shore the water becomes very deep. The local fishermen were throwing their nets out every morning just close to this wall and if you are anchored where they believe the most fish is, they ask you to move. The fishermen are not allowed to fish close to the dock so we could stay where we were and just look at their activities.
St. Pierre was called the Paris of the Caribbean and was the center of agricultural and trade activities of the French in the Caribbean. Shipping, trade, culture, and commerce were all centered here. In the early 1900's, about 25,000 people lived in and around St. Pierre. An old picture of the bay shows many large ships loading and unloading products to be shipped to Europe and the surrounding islands. The plantations around this area were very prosperous and since slavery in the French islands was abolished much earlier foreign workers like from India brought a rich culture.
But all this came to a very rough end on May 8, 1902. On this Sunday morning Mount Peleé volcano erupted. This did not come as a surprise to the informed people, but the politicians and business leaders did not want to interrupt the nice business climate and convinced the population that it was safe to stay. The lack of infrastructure to evacuate 25,000 people also played a factor. This eruption did not bring a lava stream or other material but very hot gasses and a huge fire ball. An estimated 29,933 people burned to death, leaving only two survivors in the center of the town: Leon Leandre, a cobbler and the famous Cyparis, imprisoned for murder in a stone cell. Twelve ships in the bay were destroyed at anchor and sank and you can still dive to their locations.
Many ruins still remain including the prison, theater and the warehouses along the shore. The only complete structure is the cell in which Cyparis survived (see our pictures). This cell was built in the back side of the prison against the cliff wall with walls and round roof of about 2 ft. thickness. When you stand in this cell you can imagine that this man survived, but it still took 4 days until he was found having sustained serious burns.
In 1924 reconstruction of the city started on top of the foundation of the old buildings. In many cases part of the building was still standing and this was used to rebuild. The first floor of the Cathedral was still standing and is part of the current structure (see our pictures). Many of the old streets were built from cobblestones that the ships coming from Europe used as ballast. Some of the stairs from the coastal road to the second road are still intact and used. The city of St. Pierre never regained its prominence and now has a population of about 4500 but it has a very active historical and cultural society that organizes events especially in the month of May.
We participated in the interactive presentation in the restored part of the theater, watched a very good and fun street parade; we took many pictures during the Saturday market of many people wearing traditional and beautiful dresses (see our pictures). The town center just behind the town dock and our anchorage is transformed to a festival area with a stage. Every night a different local band is playing music that we can enjoy while sitting in the cockpit of the boat. On Wednesday May 22 a day of festivities is taking place and that is another reason we stayed for 8 days in this little town.
Our activities during the other days while in St. Pierre consisted of a lot of walking to visit all the historic sites; visits to the bakery and grocery store. On one of the first days in town after visiting the Tourist Office for both immigration and custom registration and collecting all kind of brochures about the places to visit we went to the small museum with a lot of pictures of St. Pierre before the eruption. And for sure these pictures tell the story of a very vibrant and well to do city. Pictures of the aftermath of the eruption are sometimes very graphic with human suffering and a town that was completely burned down. Many artifacts found in the ruins are displayed but the most significant one is the bell tower of the cathedral that is completely malformed. We visited the ruins of the theater and the prison and all the other buildings, the bridge and the old streets.
Our next favorite place is the bakery with its wonderful bread and all the other pastries. The coffee is great and we always meet some nice people. The market is directly next to the dock so every time we check out all the available fresh produce and fish. We walked about 2.5 miles uphill to visit the statue of St. Mary overlooking St. Pierre and the bay. On Sunday we walked again uphill for another 2.5 miles to the Distillery Depaz that was closed for the long weekend. This walk was a little more challenging as it started to rain halfway and we made some unneeded detours. Our most challenging hike was the extraordinary walk along the Canal de Beaugard. Built by slaves in 1760, this about 3 ft. wide channel brought water around a steep mountain to supply the distilleries of St. Pierre. The channel is fairly level to allow a steady flow of water. It was built with an 18 inch wall along the cliff of the mountain and you walk on this 18 inch wall with the channel on one side and on the other side a very steep up to 90 degree cliff. The views are panoramic but please do not lose you balance since I don't think you will survive a free fall of several hundred feet. I have only a limited amount pictures since I was too busy to keep my balance and pretend I was not scared, so if you are interested check this site on the internet: Canal de Beaugard Martinique.
And then the day we were waiting for arrived May 22; the day to celebrate the end of slavery on the island of Martinique. We had been watching all the preparations and enjoyed the concerts every night from the stage which was the center of the presentations. We took the dinghy early to the town dock to be part of this great event. Then it started to rain and basically it rained the entire day until close to sunset. It was not a little rain, no it was pouring and the best thing to do was run from one booth to another. The parade was still going on but we felt so sorry for the people who were part of it. The best exhibition was a large tent from a small company building toys from scrap material and I found a lot of toys I used to have after WWII and I joined the kids to play with most of them.
When we finally decided that we had enough of the rain and walked to the town dock to take the dinghy back to Island Girl the dock was closed since workers were preparing the fireworks. At the same time I was told to remove Island Girl as she was anchored close to the town dock. So the only solution was to go in the water, swim to the dinghy, pick Dorothy up from the beach, back to Island Girl and move her to another spot. Every newly arriving boat to this spot was told to move. The fireworks were great but when we saw remnants hitting the water I was very happy not be in our old spot anymore.
The next day we had a very nice sail to Fort de France the capital city of Martinique; we have a nice anchoring place next to the old fort. In our next blog we will continue the stories of our adventures in Martinique.