07/01/2007, Saint Lucia
Today we were off to Saint Lucia. There were two places in the eastern Caribbean that I really wanted to see since early in our trip. One was Montserrat and the other was Saint Lucia. Montserrat has the erupting volcano and Saint Lucia has the Pitons. The Pitons are incredibly picturesque, rising straight out of the ocean, both steep and tall. There is a bay between the two peaks that looks just magnificent, at least on the post card.
We started to get the boat in order at 8AM and by 8:30 we had rousted Fred to help us get off of the dock. Le Ponton is a stern to deal and you need to pick up a mooring buoy in front of your slot and back onto the dock. No problem except that the buoy has no painter (so that it wont foul boats going on and off the dock) and so you need to tie onto the ring. This is tricky with 5 feet of freeboard and even more so when you don't have a line long enough to loop through. The buoys are set pretty far off so that they can accommodate yachts quite a bit longer than ours.
Fred took the Red Baron (their RIB dinghy with slight red canvas covers) out and untied us. We thanked him and waved goodbye for the time being. I'm not sure but I'm pretty sure that he went back to Kelp Fiction and made a latte. Kelp Fiction is equipped with an industrial quality espresso maker that can only be described as sick. I really want one. You can totally taste the quality difference between a cheap machine that doesn't circulate the water and keep it at the exact right temperature and Fred's unit.
But I digress.
It was going to be another breezy day so we motored out of the harbor to figure out what was happening. Twenty-six knots apparent. That will be one reef in the main thank you. So off we sailed with the wind ripping 25 or so forty degrees off to port. I started to think at this point that my port sheets were really not getting any work. We have been sailing south to southeast since we started, I can't remember the last time we were on Starboard tack.
The seas were six to eight but we were making good time at about eight knots speed over ground. It was a bit bumpy but not really bad at all. Hideko get seas sick pretty easy and she forgot to take her medicine this morning so she stayed top side for the whole run.
I had told Thomas that we would be arriving in the bay at about noon and to look for a large white catamaran. We almost made it. My watch read 12:30 by the time we had the main down and were motoring toward the channel into the lagoon. We decided to make Rodney Bay Marina our first stop to simplify clearing in and getting our friend aboard.
We were looking for any of the Mac Kenzies along the beach as we approached the channel that takes you from Rodney Bay to the Lagoon where the marina is situated. Just as the beach disappeared behind the buildings along the channel I saw Thomas jog up. We were relieved because we had no real way to contact them since we didn't know where they were staying. We shouted our slip out to Thomas and he gave us the high sign. It was great to see him.
We had hailed the marina as we approached and they gave us the quarantine slip. It was the weekend and we were coming in just before 13:00. They all leave at 13:00. I asked if they could hook us up with power before they went home. "That is not possible", came the response. Water? Nope. How 'bout a hand with the lines. Sorry. The service at this marina is good but don't ask them to stay 3 minutes after closing.
We docked in 20 knots of wind with some line handling help from a couple of cruisers who happened to be walking by. I went bow in to face the wind. That was a bad call. It made getting on and off the boat a lot of work the way the dock was set up.
By the time we had the boat in order Thomas, Emily, Kory, Maddy and Sammy had arrived. It was great to see our friends after almost a year away from the US. There was no hope of clearing in, or doing anything else really, so we got the Mac clan settled. Out boat has a lot of free board so it was kind of fun piling everyone on board. We tossed the luggage into the tramps from the dock, fortunately without incident.
After we hoisted everyone up at the shrouds, we showed our guests to their cabins, stowed gear, gave the obligatory marine sanitation device demonstration and covered safety items and boat rules. Rule one on our boat is that everyone must have fun. This rule was broken a few times by the young ones during the trip, consequently dragging their parents into violation, but these infractions were generally short lived.
After a bit of reunioning we over to Scuttlebutts. Scuttlebutts has a swimming pool (don't want to get into the lagoon water) which the kids enjoyed and good burgers. We discussed possible cruising plans for their stay. Option one was chill out in Saint Lucia and spend most of the time on anchor, sailing in small hops down the island and back. Option two was a more aggressive cruising plan, making good multi-hour sails each day and trekking through Saint Lucia, the Grenadines and ending up in Grenada. Option two was not very popular. We began promptly by lounging in the swings at Scuttlebutts.
Happy to be back in France, we went ashore in the morning to get some pastries and coffee. We found a nice place right in the center of town with wonderful croissants and apple pastries. After a short but enjoyable breakfast, Fred, Cindy, Jill, Hideko and I headed back to the anchorage to hop south.
On the way to the pier you walk through the farmers market. The islands in the Windwards almost all have great local produce. Some export but most have fresh fruit and vegetables for local sale. Mangos, Bananas, Papaya, Pineapple, Star Fruit, Sour Oranges, Sour Sop, Limes, you name it and all fresh picked. We stocked up a bit on our way through.
It was a quick trip down the coast to the huge Fort de France bay. Some nasty rain was chasing us the whole way but we managed to stay ahead of it. The wind was shrieking through the harbor right in our face as we eked our way to shelter. We had decided to stay in Anse Mitan away from the industrial side of things. It is a lovely beach area with a nice little one dock marina called Le Ponton.
After looking around a bit we decided to stay in the marina. Our friends the Mac Kenzies were flying in to Barbados today and we wanted to stay in touch to coordinate our meet up. The cheapest round trip tickets they could find were to Barbados. We knew we weren't going to be in Barbados but we weren't sure exactly where we would be. As it turned out, Martinique. Once in the area it is easy to arrange hops.
After a failed attempt to fly our friends to Martinique, and then fly them to Saint Lucia and arrange a ferry for them to come to Martinique, we decided to just meet them in Saint Lucia. We had charged our Orange cell service back up in Saint Pierre which was very helpful during the process.
It was sad to leave our friend on Kelp Fiction. We were also jealous that they were going to have more time to enjoy Martinique and the Le Marin area. They were going to meet up with us again in Saint Lucia though.
Le Ponton is a great little marina. It is the perfect size. They have everything you need, fuel, a nice restaurant, and a slick dock with an extra low platform making it easy to step on and off. All stern to of course. The Anse Mitan area is pretty in general and highly recommended. They have a ferry across the harbor to Fort de France if you need to get some business done.
We ate at the little restaurant on the dock with Fred, Cindy and Jill. The food was good but a little pricey. It is a charming atmosphere though and we had a nice last meal in Martinique with our friends.
I have a formula that goes something like this, for every day you are in an anchorage it takes you 20 minutes to get ready to make way. If you are just overnight you can be underway after 20 minutes of prep in the morning. If you are hooked in one place for two weeks it will take you almost 5 hours to get out of the anchorage. This seems to be fairly accurate for us. The longer you are in one spot the more stuff gets un-stowed.
We were on a mooring last night which speeds things up even more. Unzip the sail bag, remove any silencing bungee cords, go through the boat start up check list, drop two lines off the bow and sail away. That is just what we did at 7AM. We were at the south end of Dominica and before long we were reaching south into the channel with a reef in the main at 9 knots into a 28 knot Strong Breeze. We averaged well over 8 knots across the channel until we hit a squall off the coast of Martinique. We double reefed the main and jib which slowed Swingin' on a Star down to a more comfortable 8 knots.
Just as the squall passed a couple dozen white sided dolphins came to play on our bow. It was enchanting to watch them jump and swim in the clear water. They love to get between the hulls and play back and forth between the bow waves. I have recently learned that most dolphins prefer a speed of about 7 knots. Slower and they get bored, Faster and they get tired. We were still doing over eight knots, and after about fifteen minutes the pod swam off to the west. We took lots of pictures of the water where a dolphin had been two seconds earlier.
We arrived at Saint Pierre, the northern most anchorage on the west coast of Martinique, at around noon. The town is a little ragged but quaint at the same time. There's an old fort on the coast and a large pier right in the center of town. Saint Pierre has a fantastic fresh fruit and vegetable market near the main pier and lots of small shops in the downtown area. Hideko and I went ashore looking for customs. After hiking to the north end of town we discovered the customs building. It had a sign out front that said, "Clear in at the Internet Café on the South end of town". Just as well because we wanted to go there anyway.
When we arrived at the internet café, Fred and Cindy were there. Kelp Fiction was a ways behind us on the trip over. When we asked how they got there so fast, Fred revealed that the large sign on the pier that we ignored (because it was in French) read, "Go to the Internet Café to clear in". Oh.
We cleared in with the customs lady, who then took our order, set us up with internet access, served our food and I assume washed the dishes. I love the French islands. No pretense. We had a nice lunch overlooking the harbor.
It was a gray morning when I climbed up on deck to get things ready for departure. We wanted to make an early start so that we could arrive in Dominica in time to visit the island a bit. We were weighing anchor with Kelp Fiction II at 6:30 and underway shortly thereafter.
We motored out of the saints and set sail as we turned into the wind. The wind was up around 20 knots apparent as we crossed the Dominica Channel. We were bound for Roseau, the capital, at the southern end of Dominica. As it was late in the season we planned to make continuous progress south until we reached Saint Lucia or the Grenadines.
We made over eight knots speed over ground until we cleared Cape Melville at the northern end of Dominica. As typical, things got gusty around the point, backed a bit, then went light and the soaring three and four thousand foot peeks knocked the wind down. I suppose we could always stand off but I enjoy cruising the coastline of these beautiful islands too much to stay that far away. Dominica is particularly beautiful, and in retrospect, the most lush and impressive island we've visited on the interior. High verdant peaks piling down into rain forests that meet the sea.
We have been making heavy use of the Doyle Cruising Guides since the Bahamas. They are updated regularly and truly indispensable. You could cruise without them but the sketch charts alone are worth the investment. The guide also helps you avoid making costly mistakes. I have often used the guide to get a reference for reliable individuals around various ports.
In this case Pancho was recommended by the Leeward Islands Guide, and we were glad we contacted him on the VHF. Pancho helped us locate the least rolly moorings in the area, connected us with a tour guide/van to see the island (same afternoon), and shuttled us to the dock and back. Not bad for a $25 mooring fee.
We were tied up by noon and Kelp Fiction arrived shortly thereafter. After settling the boats Pancho took us all to the dock and introduced the driver. He was a great guy and had quite an entertaining personality. He also knew the island very well.
Our first stop was customs over at the commercial dock to clear in. Dominica has made part of the process very easy in that you only have one stop to make for everything. It is a little out of the way however. Fred and I made our way through security at the port and down to the warehouse that customs resided in while everyone else walked around the eateries engrossed in the cricket match on TV.
Cricket is huge down here. Bigger than soccer I think. The East Indies team is the darling of all of the locals in the Caribbean. Each island has their favorite son on the team and from what I understand they do pretty well. In the only game I watched they beat England, which I imagine is good since they invented the sport.
After clearing in we set off for the interior. Dominica is steep to and there are not too many spectacular harbors or great beaches on the west side. It just rises up into jungles and mountains. We drove through some quaint villages but spent a lot of time working our way back into the foothills through cascades of trees and dense undergrowth. Everything was green or some other striking color. Everywhere you look there are trees loaded with fruit or nuts. If you were destitute in Dominica you would never be hungry, and would probably have a better diet than most Americans.
After quite a bit of driving we reached the end of the road, literally. Our driver led us to a wonderful little restaurant with a lovely view down over the hills and rain forest. After a late lunch we hiked up a trail to a double water fall. These were high water falls with spectacular drops into small pools. The waterfall on the right is cool and clear, the one on the left is warm and colored with minerals from the vents that heat it.
We traveled about the hills a bit more and enjoyed the local hot springs. Like many of the Caribbean islands, Dominica has several active volcanoes. No recent eruptions but a boiler room below none the less. We stopped by several other impressive view points and towns on our way back to the port.
Back at the boat we marveled at the whirlwind day, a six hour sail, clearing in and out (simultaneously), lunch, waterfalls and a tour of the island. It was nice to be on the move and yet still make time to absorb the beauty of the islands as we pass by.
06/27/2007, Isles de Saintes
We up anchored at about 6:30 this morning on our way to Isles de Saintes. Isles de Saintes is a small cluster of islands just south of Guadalupe. They are a beautiful and rugged looking little set of islands with small brightly painted buildings capped with red roofs all about. Reminds me of picture I've seen of places in the Mediterranean.
Our trip down Guadalupe was a balance between sailing and motoring sailing in light wind. For contrast, we crossed a 30 knot squall off of the southern tip of Guadalupe. We almost made it with great conditions the whole day long, but apparently Mother Nature needed us to have some drama in our lives.
We anchored off of the main town of Bourg des Saintes on the island of Terre D'en Haut at around noon. We tried to clear in again but were informed that customs was only open from 9 until noon. As it turned out we flew the Q flag through the entire central French territory.
The Saints are a wonderful place. You have the beautiful Caribbean water and all of that, but the villages in the French islands are what is most endearing. Walking or biking through town is a pleasure with lots of small shops and eateries. We enjoyed some wonderful food and stocked up a bit on groceries prior to returning to the boat. It would have been nice to stay a few days but we were on a mission to get south. July first and the end of our named storm insurance coverage was just around the corner.
06/26/2007, Deshaies, Guadalupe
We had not had any really nice weather in some time. As you get used to the "really-bad" stuff, the "bad" stuff starts looking ok. It was not a great day to travel but we decided to get moving as it was better than the trend.
Sailing down the lee of Montserrat was intriguing. Hideko and I spent a lot of time looking through the binoculars amazed at how much of Montserrat, which we had not really seen by land, had been destroyed. The sail around the south end of the island is truly awe inspiring. You must stay outside the maritime exclusion zone just in case but you can still see the destruction clearly.
Around the southern point things got zippy. We were motor sailing with a reef in and I started to see the wind speed close on 30 knots. I went forward and popped in reef number two as we turned into it.
It was a 6 hour sail with the wind howling 25 to 30 knots thirty degrees off of the bow. Seas were good sized to go with it. The trip was rather eventless other than the passing of a small private plane. The thing sounded like a P38 Lighting and he buzzed Kelp Fiction really close. Fred tried to warn me but just as I was saying, "what plane", it blasted by us 100 feet off of the deck. I almost jumped out of the boat it was so loud. After rolling around to see the looks on our faces the pilot flew off. I'm sure karma will sort things out.
We entered the bay at Dashaies (Day-Hay) and anchored around noon. It is a beautiful little town. Unlike the former British territories, Guadalupe is France, and therefore the EU. The French islands are quite a bit less poor and have much better food than the surrounding areas. They are, of course, more developed as well.
Dashies has a small marina and a little canal that winds up by town. There are lots of little places to eat on the shore and you can tie up at the dinghy dock, in the marina or in the canal.
When Kelp Fiction arrived, Fred and I tried to go clear in. Another great thing about the French islands is that they are pretty lax on the clear in, clear out business. There are no fees involved, which I think relaxes the concern a bit. If you try to clear in every day, that's good enough. We tried. They were closed. So off we went to dinner at one of the local restaurants. We had a lovely meal and a lot of fun.
I had to think long and hard about the whole clearance issue at first. I am interested in respecting each nation we visit along with their laws. After speaking with officials in various countries however I have come to believe that you must consider each country in turn. No two are alike. The further south you go, the more things seem to be on the honor system. I have talked to several officials in the French countries and if customs is closed for the day (or week as the case may be) they would rather you buy dinner at a local restaurant and shop some to support the economy than stay aboard with the Q flying. That is as long as you make an earnest attempt to clear in as soon as possible.
You must always get the low down before taking a cavalier approach however. In Montserrat, a place I thought would welcome any visitor with open arms, we were told to wait on the boat until the next day when customs would arrive at 8AM. If we had not gone immediately to clear in we could have gotten on the wrong side of the local officials. Not a good idea on an island with 15,000 folks where officials have a lot of autonomy and fairly poor jail facilities (although the view from the Montserrat jail high on the clif was spectacular as I recall).
06/25/2007, Little Bay
Today was a down day waiting for weather. I was glad to have a spare bit of time because I wanted to locate a friend. During the Dive Instructor tests in the BVI I met a guy named Ned. Ned was originally from Dominica but worked at Green Monkey Diving in Montserrat. We had a great time talking and I told him I would stop in for some dives when we made it down his way.
We stopped by the dive shop and wouldn't you know it, Ned had left the week before. The slow season had sent Ned to Saint Kitts, we probably crossed at sea, to work at one of the dive operations there. I was so bummed.
We had lunch at a little restaurant (generous) next door. It is a neat place with lots of intricate decorations and a great view of the bay. The "restaurant" is basically a small shack with a fridge and a BBQ. Our choice for lunch was chicken and ribs or ribs and chicken. We all had the chicken and ribs. The food was good and the atmosphere was great.
Orin from the BBC news happened by and we did an ad-hoc interview. We were the only cruisers on the island at the time and we gave him our best verbal depiction of viewing Montserrat from off shore.
We wrapped up the day with a swim where upon Cindy discovered the Flying Gunards scrounging around our anchor chains. These fish have large colorful wings that they open up to scare you if you get too close, though they spend most of the time digging about the bottom looking for food in the sand. They have little claws, almost like a bat's hands, that they stir up the sub-straight with. They seem to like to hang around the anchor chains because as the boat swings it stirs up the bottom, apparently exposing something they are interested in.