25 March 2016
It's ironic that we have thoroughly loved this grouping of 10 or so islands which are just south of St. Vincent, the mother island, which we had speedily by-passed. The network of cruisers and recent cruising news and publications, in no uncertain terms, advised all not to stop there. There's been too much thievery, assaults, and even a recent murder; we made straight for Bequia.
We have found on this trip that we need to invest sufficient time ashore to be able to say how much we like an island. Our first stop here was for only two nights as we had a calm period coming which would be best for visiting the Tobago Cays. Then we returned and found so much to do and see on Bequia that, at least for me, it's in the top tier of places I've enjoyed.
We anchored in Admiralty Bay, a wide, not-too-open bay on the west side of the island and fronted by Port Elizabeth. This town is cute but very functional; there are lots of places to shop and to eat, and it's easy to catch an inexpensive taxi here. Additionally there is a flat rock and concrete path a few feet above the water's edge which circles a good part of the inner bay. Strolling on it is a delightful way of reaching a waterfront restaurant or one of two beaches on the south side of Admiralty Bay. The one problem we experienced while walking to a happy hour bar was getting soaked going to and from the dinghy dock when the wind turned northeast and pushed the waves hard against this barrier. But the water is warm; if this had happened in Camden, our outlook would have been quite a bit darker.
We met up with Roger and Margaret on Golden Fleece here and took quite a few walks, including one out to the Hawksbill Turtle sanctuary on the northeast coast and to the Whaling Museum on the south coast. Yes, the fishermen of Bequia still hunt for whales, killing two last year. They go out in their gaily-colored long boats to harpoon the whales which in this day and age sounds so anachronistic. Apparently even this may be ending as we have heard talk that there will be no more whaling. Maybe that's why the Whaling Museum was closed with no signage indicating the reason.
In between trips to Bequia we anchored in the Tobago Cays, a small group of 4 small islands protected by a wide reef. Around one of these islands is a turtle sanctuary where no moorings or use of anchors are permitted. Also forbidden is putting anything foreign into the water: we have to use our holding tanks and all food scraps must be packaged for disposal well outside of this area. This was not a hardship for a four-night stay. It might become mighty stinky down below if four nights morphed into a lot more.
The water enclosed by the reef and these cays was simply gorgeous. The marine blues turn to a lighter blue then to a turquoise as the water becomes shallower, especially over a sandy bottom. And the reefs were humming with a good variety of fish, including one 7 foot lemon shark that I came upon unexpectedly. Needless to say I backed away carefully; where I found the courage to then snap its picture I don't know.
The next islands we visited in the Grenadines chain were Mayreau, near the Cays but very sparsely populated with about 250 souls, and Union, south of Mayreau, and by Mayreau's standards, overpopulated at 2500 individuals. We enjoyed Union, mooring near a reef in Clifton Bay and watching the kite surfers whizzing by. And, most importantly, I was able to get specific medication for my ongoing walking pneumonia.
I had seen doctors in Rodney Bay (St. Lucia), and in Port Elizabeth (Bequia), and both prescribed ciprofloxacin, a fairly broad-spectrum antibiotic. I knew the pneumonia was bacterial in nature from healthcare visits before we set off, and the levofloxacin I was prescribed in late October worked great, at least for 4 months. That's the drug I needed but which is not available in the Grenadines since the need for it is so minor that it is not stocked in these small pharmacies. I contacted my InterMed doctor back home who emailed down the scrip; the pharmacist on Union ordered it that evening and it came in on the last flight the next day. We picked it up within 48 hours of our first contact with the Union Island pharmacist. Usually I would have needed a local doctor to certify that I needed this drug before the pharmacist would be involved, but she made an exception for me, and for that I am extremely grateful.
I have heard similar stories from other cruisers about kindnesses they have experienced firsthand on various Caribbean islands. I can only hope that we as visitors enjoy, appreciate, and respect these people for what they have to offer and not to judge them harshly by our materialistic standards.
Next up, Grenada.
09 March 2016
The open-ocean trip from the tip of Martinique to Rodney Bay on the northeast corner of St. Lucia was very enjoyable. We averaged about 7.5 knots on a beam reach (i.e., from the side) with a typical trade wind velocity of 15-18 knots. Even the seas behaved themselves; in fact, outside of the long passage through the Anegada straight from Virgin Gorda, BVI to St. Martin, when we pounded into wind and waves for 13 hours, we’ve been happy with our passages. Of course, outside of that first passage we make sure that the conditions are right for us before we set off.
I’m not sure that we have a very good feel for St. Lucia. It certainly is a lush and mountainous island, though not on the order of Dominica. It also has quite a negative reputation in certain areas, specifically most of the mid-island southward. That’s a large area for sailors such as ourselves to want to avoid, and it is arguably the most beautiful. There are two problems that have arisen in recent years: boat break-ins and boat boy hassles. The first is self-explanatory. Boat boy hassles could be described as follows: when coming up to a mooring in the Pitons National Park, for instance, a boat boy would race ahead, grab the mooring line, and expect payment when he hands it over to you. In the interests of keeping the peace – and our boat safe – of course we pay. The normal charge is 20 EC $, or about $7 US, a very little amount for more peace of mind.
The real hassles occur when there are problems between the boat boy holding the mooring line and another who wants it for another boat. In fact, we were caught in between a major unpleasantness between 2 such parties and final just motored away. Our boat boy followed and found us another mooring further off in the same beautiful anchorage; we were glad to pay the 50 EC $ fee which goes to support the continuation of the fantastic natural beauty of this park.
We definitely see the gray area here – we know that it’s hard to make a living on these islands, but we are also very competent in handling moorings ourselves. Apparently this problem is only worse on St. Lucia’s southerly neighbor, St. Vincent. In addition, more violent crimes occur there against visitors, including the shooting to death of a sailor from Germany just 4 days ago. Needless to say, we totally bypassed St. Vincent.
But back to St. Lucia, particularly Rodney Bay. As we enter this expansive bay the headlands on the north side of this anchorage offer great protection to the boaters. This is Pigeon Island which, actually, had been an island until a connective peninsula was built. Pigeon Island had been used by the British to guard St. Lucia from the French and we could still see the fort used to defend the area. This turned out to be one of our favorite walks in this area. However, on the manmade peninsula a massive Sandals resort resides with a eye-catching orange roof, but no 28 flavors of ice cream. We anchored fairly nearby and sometimes enjoyed – and sometimes not – the excitement that the jet ski drivers from Sandals voiced out (very) loud. The music coming from that shore was very bearable in contrast to other anchorages.
Since two years ago, when a swimmer was literally cut in half by a speedboat that did not see him, the employees at resorts in this outer harbor area strongly encourage swimmers to make their presence loudly known. Larry took this to heart, sweet hubbie, and made me a pull-along from a life jacket. A picture of this is in the gallery. Even though there is a drag effect when I use it, depending on the current direction, I do feel much safer and much more visible.
There is lots of retail in Rodney Bay, but not too much else. We did walk over to the other side of the island to Cas en Bas for lunch and to watch the kite surfers in the protected cove. They are so amazing! I can’t begin to guess the speed at which the better ones go; I just hope that there are no just-under-the-surface obstacles to grab their boards and that they’re able to dance around the other kite surfers without a problem. It is a thrill to see them move so quickly.
Speaking about thrills, as mentioned above, at the Pitons National Park we moored in between these two huge lumps and marveled that they simply jutted upward hundreds of feet from sea level; these Pitons are the epitome of St. Lucia’s unique beauty. Perhaps if we had made this trip a decade or so ago we would have felt comfortable with leaving the boat locked all day at a nearby mooring while we hiked ashore, but not anymore. And that is a pity.
So, we actually saw little of the island. We would have loved to see more. The resorts that are scattered about offer great security for their patrons, but we sailors don’t have that expectation and we have to exercise caution sufficient to ease our concerns. The ones most hurt by the reduced spending by people such as ourselves are the ones least able to afford it. This had been the case in Portsmouth, Dominica until the boat boys agreed to take turns sharing what we sailors bring in and, in return, they provided great security to our anchored boats. That blueprint is out there for these other islanders to copy; perhaps in another decade things will be different?
Martinique Sud, and a Sample of our Daily Life aboard Katahdin
21 February 2016
Today is February 21st. We left St. Pierre on the 8th and meandered our way down Martinique’s west coast to St. Anne at the southeast tip of the island. Along the way we overnighted in 3 anses (anse is a Creole word for bay), with decent snorkeling and hiking, 2 nights in the yachting center for the region, Le Marin, then around the corner to St. Anne for a more peaceful stay.
St. Anne has it all. There is a seaside trail around the peninsula south of it where there are various bays and beautiful beaches. And there are trails cutting across the peninsula. For 2 days we rented a car for a longer hike around the Caravelle peninsula in Martinique’s northeast coast and for a visit to (another) rum distillery, Clement.
If the above events sound familiar, they definitely are. I think that a change of pace in this blog would be welcomed, even by me. So, the following gives a view as to what our daily life aboard Katahdin is like while we are at anchor.
First of all, no day is alike. Sometimes we have no idea what we’re going to be doing until well into the day. I can’t say that we’ll ever be totally content without some focus for some of the time while we are aboard. However, we are getting better at not planning until we see how we feel, what boat projects we have to get done, etc. This is especially true if we know we will be at anchor in a certain area for a while.
Normally we get up around 6 and Larry turns on the single side band (SSB) radio for work or weather related emails. SSB accepts signals that originate anywhere and which bounce off the ionosphere down to a receiver onboard. As the sun rises its solar particles cause more havoc in the ionosphere so Larry has to get onto SSB early enough to receive undistorted signals.
Then, while drinking our hot beverage of choice, we check our gmail accounts. Four years ago it was much easier to have WIFI reception on our boat; we would purchase a pass for a specific amount of time from either a restaurant or an Internet store ashore and the signal strength would be sufficient to reach us at anchor. Well, the retail trade suffered a bit from us and other boaters not going in to dine while using their internet so the signal is not boosted outward. Now we have to resort to another device.
When our son Andrew visited us during Christmas he used a Nexus phone that was tied into Google Fi, a beta operating system paired with Android. He could connect to any cellular carrier in 120 countries and be charged $10 for one GB of data with a $20 monthly fee and no contract. For voyagers such as us it seemed perfect. Larry’s sister Kathy brought down this new phone 3 weeks later and we use it to tether our devices to it. We have purchased 5 GB a month but if we end up not using it all, we get a credit back. Learning how to use an Android-based phone has been a bit of a challenge but it has certainly been worth it.
After a breakfast of either yogurt with cereal or eggs and bread/croissants, we tend to do chores aboard. There’s always something to be done. For instance, yesterday, we worked on scouring out the hose from the forward head sink that has been a slow drainer for a long time. There was a bit of calcium build-up within the hose but not enough to explain the problem. With a skewer I went under the boat and cleaned out the outlet while Larry worked on the leak from that thru-hull and the one next to it.
While under the boat I became disgusted at the amount of growth on the hull – barnacles, teeny shrimp, 1½ inch florets of some algae, etc. So, armed with a long-handled brush and a windshield ice scraper I went to work. After a bit I realized that what I scraped off was feeding a small school of 8-inch fish underneath me – what fun. This scraping is to be repeated, we’re sure, in a few weeks time as our bottom paint needs a new application to keep things from growing too fast as the warmth of the water and the incessant sunlight speed up growth.
Meanwhile, Larry took the dinghy and sped 2 miles into Le Marin, visiting 4 chandleries before purchasing the correct sized O-ring to finish the thru-hull work.
Chores down, it was time to have fun on land. We took the shore-side trail to a stunning beach where we ate lunch at a beachside restaurant and took in the scenery. It’s not often that we people-watch but, when in France, do what the French do, and we did. It was highly entertaining. On the walk back we swam for a bit, read from our Kindles, then, back onboard, relaxed, read, had dinner, read, then to bed by 9. Most of the relaxation time on Katahdin we spend in the cockpit, using the sun shades which attach to the bimini so we’re not dealing with too much sunlight.
What is it like to be at anchor among 167 boats? (Yes, we counted them one evening.) It is even more interesting than people watching on the beach. There’s a lot of movement going on, coming and going, either with dinghies or boats. The one aspect of being at anchor where we can get quite anxious, even upset, is when catamarans move near us. Somehow they don’t judge their anchor placement correctly and end up far closer to us than is comfortable. They can also steam through mooring fields, weaving between boats at anchor, in a way that makes us suspect that the captain is either showing-off, has limited experience piloting a super-wide boat, or, probably, both. Many of these cats are chartered boats and Larry has had to ask a few to re-anchor for the safety of Katahdin when the wind direction changes. And don’t get us started on the lack of scope (anchor line length) these chartered boats put out; how there are not more damaged chartered cats is mind-boogling.
In general terms, then, outside of some luncheons, we usually eat aboard but take day trips ashore, either to purchase items or to hike. There is always swimming though not always snorkeling. We do laundry every 3 weeks, get water and fuel at least every 3 weeks, purchase ice and food as needed, and look through our guidebooks regularly for our current or up-coming locations. We have tans, but never a burn. It’s time, though, for another haircut which will happen at our next stop, St. Lucia.
21 February 2016
Yes, we are in France. We just finished our breakfast of croissants, oeufs, jus, and café, but that’s enough French for now.
In January of 2011 we first visited St. Pierre, the first viable port on Martinique’s northwest coast, and we did the usual tourist activities over a day or two. In 1902 Mt. Pelee erupted, after giving much notice to the nearby inhabitants, and totally annihilated the town, killing all but two out of approximately 29,000. This town used to be called the Paris of the Caribbean for reasons which are definitely not in evidence today. It has had a slow and incomplete recovery, and there is a section of the waterfront where buildings are still derelict. The local museum is dedicated to the volcanic eruption and has before-and-after photos as well as artifacts, including a plate of petrified spaghetti.
This time we’ve discovered, much to our delight, that there is much, much more to St. Pierre besides the museum and facilities dedicated to remembering the explosion. We stayed 4 days and found ourselves quite busy.
Martinique, as well as many other islands in the chain, is fond of its rum distilleries and you may find some of their products back home, specifically from the St. James, Clement, and Depaz facilities. The last one is about an hour’s walk up from St. Pierre, has beautiful grounds with a self-guided tour, and, of course, a bit of tasting at the end. It was very professionally done. It also had the largest ficus tree we have ever seen.
The next day we decided to climb Mt. Pelee. The weather was crystal clear with a strong northeasterly wind so we expected that the views at the top would be phenomenal, and they were. We took a taxi collective – a privately operated van with a semi-regular timetable – up to the nearest town, Morne Rouge, then had to walk another 2 miles to the start of the trail. There was, in true French fashion, a little café at the bottom offering light food, another water and snacks, and of course, coffee.
We expected to be hiking with people as fit as we think we are, but no. Most, of course, were people in their 20’s and 30’s, but there were whole families with babies in backpacks. The trail up to the crater was mostly straight up a narrow ravine of a path with steps scoured out that, to my mind, made it more difficult as you were forced into a set rhythm which can be more tiring. Then we were at the edge of the crater and considered continuing on to the summit via the path which first disappears 300 feet straight down into the crater before rising up again on the other side and continuing another 600 feet. That wouldn’t be fun so we stopped for our lunch in a sheltered area out of the wind and watched the people.
There was a race on the plateau to the side of the crater – unbelievable! We’re not sure how many times they had to make the circuit which did involve some altitude changes but it must have been plenty as we were watching men and women so tired that they were walking. We were impressed.
We knew in advance that the taxi collective did not run after noontime on Saturdays so we looked for ways to get back to St. Pierre once we made it down to the snack shop at the base of Mt. Pelee. We were able to hitchhike down the 2 miles to the intersection near Morne Rouge, then started walking. As it turned out, this day was part of the weeklong lead-in to Mardi Gras which is huge in the French islands as well as Trinidad. The main street had been closed off to traffic – no hitchhiking opportunities there. Eventually, once we were well outside of the town and the traffic was flowing, slowly, one man stopped and drove us back down to St. Pierre. Whew!
There was one more walk around St. Pierre that is worthy of mention. About 3 miles inland there is an aqueduct, the Beauregard canal, built by slaves high in the hills, which brought rainwater down to the sugar cane fields outside of St. Pierre. Much of it was literally erected along the side of mountains and its outer edge ranged from 12 to 18 inches in width. This is where we walked. There were some places where people could back up into while others passed by, but most of the edge was bordered by a sheer drop-off. How far down was the drop-off? It wouldn’t matter as you probably wouldn’t survive any fall.
The crazy thing is, according to our American minds, is that there are no guardrails or other safety devices. Would anyone have been able to hike along this route if it were relocated back home? In our litigious society we would say “no”. As we have noticed in other countries, people expect to bear the risk of issues that arise from being hurt in situations like this, and not to resort to the court system. That’s probably why the government has stayed out of it. We saw a family of 4 with two boys about 8 and 10 years old making the round trip, as well as a lot of couples. We had already been hiking almost 2 hours when we started walking along the canal but after a quarter of the way we had had enough. It was simply too scary to continue.
One surprise I particularly enjoyed and did not at all expect was the really decent snorkeling in the southern part of St. Pierre’s harbor. Even though the underwater landscape was mostly a monotone gray, there were quite a variety and quantity of fish. It felt good, especially after a hike, to gently exercise tired legs by leisurely swimming over to this undersea Lilliput. I’ve often wondered why different fish species react differently to my Gulliveresque form; some immediately flee for shelter, some mosey out of the way, and some even surround me for 10, 15 seconds before deciding that I’m either not too interesting, not too threatening, or don’t have any goodies.
Dominica, What a Beautiful Island
07 February 2016
We may be in St. Pierre on Martinique right now but our thoughts keep going back to Dominica. And to think that we had considered bypassing this island to get to more "civilized" places. Fools we were but are not now.
Four years ago we passed a very pleasant 5 days going on adventures out of Portsmouth, the northernmost town on the island's west side. However, we didn't go far afield except when we traveled with a guide to the interior to hopefully see and hear a few of the island's feathered inhabitants. Otherwise our hikes and snorkeling centered around Portsmouth. This is not uncommon as Portsmouth is where sailors can clear customs, find provisions, and take shelter in case of unpleasant weather. Some use it strictly for those reasons but they are really missing out on a lot. We did a lot more this time and really want to return to do more.
Why do we find this island so appealing? First of all, a large section of the 2-mile long bay that Portsmouth fronts is patrolled by the PAYS organization, a group of young men in gaily-colored skiffs who offer services such as organized trips to the highlights of the island's interior as well as trash removal, fresh produce and ice brought out to your boat.
Secondly we can't imagine a more beautiful island, and Portsmouth is a great place to start from. Dominica receives abundant rainfall and is so lush that you think that someone has placed green filters in front of your eyes. Thank goodness for the variety of plantings, specifically the yellow and green croton and the variegated dark red of red lavender that have been planted throughout, as well as the startlingly bright paint jobs on houses and businesses.
And thirdly, because there are limited natural beaches, there are limited tourists. Those we do see come to do as we've done - hike in the national park system, scramble up to incredible waterfalls, take tours around in vans or on their own, oohing and aahing because the richness of the landscape is simply too much to process. If you've seen pictures of the Napali coast on the west side of Kauai, and you have if you saw the beginning scenes from the first Jurassic Park movie when the helicopter rides up a Napali ridge over a rainforest, then to say that the Dominica's landscape trumps Napali's by a wide margin is saying something.
It's not just the verdure, either. The peaks jig and jag their way skyward in seemingly random fashion. There's probably been a lot of wear and tear on these sharp summits and ridges since the last volcano exploded more than 3.5 million years ago, but it's not evident. And, given the topography, it may be that preparing the land and laying paved roads is a science, but driving on them in definitely an art. We rented a car for 24 hours and were tired enough from the hairpin turns, the narrow passing corridors, and the dizzying speed with which island citizens scream between corners that we returned it after little more than half a day.
We took a PAYS trip from 8 am until 5:30 in a small van with 2 other couples covering some of the same territory we had in our rental car, but in a more relaxed fashion, until we hiked in to see Middleham Falls. We knew we were close because of the noise, and then the water spray dampened us but not our enthusiasm. The water from these Falls plummets 300' feet and of course there is a swimming pool at its bottom which we all had to try. This was our first major falls outside of Niagara so we have limited experience to compare it to others, but for us it was stunning.
So, with 3 hikes on our own around Portsmouth, 2 days sightseeing with vehicles and experiencing Middlehan Falls and other beautiful sights, and with swimming and snorkeling in-between, we feel as if we finally have a good measure of this island. The 70,000 inhabitants may not have much in material wealth, but they are kind, helpful, and seemingly content with what they do have. They are promoting the island as an ecotourism location; they definitely have the raw material, but they need additional capital to advertise more and perhaps - even - to build lean-to shelters along the length of their Waitukubuli trail system which bisects the island vertically. This would be similar to what we northern hikers have had for years in the Baxter State Park region and in the White Mountains. Good luck to them.
26 January 2016
The last post revolved around two of the major tourist attractions in this Caribbean island, the Jacques Cousteau Isles de Pigeon Underwater Marine Park, and the mountainous region dominated by La Soufriere, a still partially active volcano. However, there is a lot more to this island than what the tourist brochures present.
Christopher Columbus sailed these coasts during his second New World trip and you can find plaques and statues dedicated to his discovery of this island. Of course he was followed by the European nations who commanded the seas in this region, specifically Spain and then France, and who aspired to financial greatness on the backs of enforced labor from Africa. Sugar cane was king for centuries and it and its products are still produced on a modified scaled. We visited the Museum of Rhum [rum] near St. Rose on the north shore of Basse Terre and were rewarded for our visit with unregulated sampling of some of the more famous rum varieties such as banana and pineapple rum and, my favorite, lime rum. It is a pleasure to report that no one over-indulged, as tempting as it was. Perhaps it was because we had just viewed in a separate room upstairs countless butterflies, beetles, and scorpions of both small and gigantic stature, as well as a multitude of sailing models, and the combination softened the urge to excess.
With Larry’s sister and her husband as shipmates we also visited Marie Gallante, an island 20 miles southeast of Pointe a Pitre, and the Saintes archipelago, 17 miles southwest. These are quite individualistic locations but still part of Guadeloupe. It, as well as Martinique and St. Martin, may be Caribbean islands but these islands are – and have the same rights as – any “state” within the boundaries of France itself. Because France is part of the European Union, funds flow to the French Caribbean islands from citizens of Germany, Belgium, etc. These funds are used to support the infrastructures on these islands as well as to support the attractions that encourage Europeans to visit these same islands. When we go ashore to view the History of Slavery museum in Pointe a Pitre we are stepping into a facility built by EU money but actually visiting France. It’s a weird concept to accept as we, here in the US, think of these islands as second-rate and whose peoples are there to either support a tourist economy or to eke out a living through harvesting from the sea or from the land. How limited in our thinking are we as there’s plenty of industry and industrious people eager to get ahead by working hard.
Needless to say, there have to be opportunities for people to earn livelihoods and on Marie Gallante, there’s not much happening. This flat-topped island was once a major producer of sugar cane and slaves did the work. Some stayed to contract out as farm laborers when slavery was abolished and others left for the big island. When the sugar trade went south due to competition from other sucrose sources, more inhabitants became unemployed. What you see when walking around this beautiful island are a small number of people engaged in the remaining sugar/rum production, in services to each other and to the small numbers of tourists, and not much else. It seems as if this island is what many of the poorer Caribbean islands were 30 or 40 years ago, with the difference that France (the EU) has kept the signatures of poverty at bay by providing housing and welfare money to the neediest citizens.
Regardless of its current status, it is a most enchanting island with hiking trails through a lush yet manageable interior and some spectacular beaches. There may not be many services for tourists but if you are self-contained as we are on our boat, we can easily and comfortably enjoy our visit.
The Saintes, another part of Guadeloupe, are a world apart from Marie Gallante. These islands were formed by volcanoes, as is typical of the chain, but the steepness of the slopes forbade the creation of an agrarian economy. No sugar cane was planted. So, no slaves were brought in from Africa. Fishermen from Brittany in northwest France came here to try their luck and their presence is felt even today. Restaurants routinely serve galettes (a Breton type of crepe) along with fermented apple cider, and the unique Breton fishing skiff is still used to drape nets in coves to catch fish. Of course tourists love this nod to French antiquity and culture and flock here daily in huge numbers from the main island. There are steep hills with forts atop to explore as well as beaches, and it is all quite beautiful. It is very much one of our favorite places to stay awhile.
What has made our stay in Guadeloupe really special has been our shipmates for a lot of the time – Larry’s sister and her husband from Maryland. It was great showing them places we have already visited and enjoyed, and food that represented a wonderful amalgam of cultures. It was a delight to us and hopefully we can do this again some other time. Thank you, Kathy and Ralph.