07/05/2007, Saint Lucia
Our next anchorage was tentatively Anse Chastanet at the north end of the Soufriere area. Soufriere is the name of the town on the north side of Petite Piton. Soufriere means volcano, more or less, and many of the islands out here have a peak named Soufriere or an area where volcanoes live (or lived) called Soufriere. In fact there's a Marigot on almost all of the French islands, and an Anse Mitan. The British had the same affection, you will not no less than four Georgetowns in the Caribbean. The early explorers weren't too creative.
Petite Piton is the northern Piton and it rises over 2,400 feet to a point summit. Jalousie cove lies between Petite Piton and Gros Piton which is over 2,600 feet in height. The amazing thing about the Pitons is that they rise straight up out of the ocean. The scenery in the entire Soufriere area is dramatic.
It was blowing today. We motored a couple miles down to Anse Chastanet and the anchorage looked nice but the beach wasn't up to snuff and the calm waters needed for confined water diving weren't in place so we moved on. As we came around Caille Point into the Soufriere Bay the wind was channeling down the draw and hitting us on the nose at 30 knots.
We cruised by the moorings at the cliff caves at the north end of the bay but they were right out in the howling wind. We moved on to Hummingbird beach to check things out there but stern to the beach didn't seem fun in these conditions. We continued on all through the bay vetoing anchorage after anchorage. This had incensed the swarm of boat boys trying to find something to charge us $10 EC for.
Just as the various pirogues zipped off giving up on us we came upon Anse Mitan. The beach was ok but the moorings there were park service maintained and very close to shore. Thomas and Kory jumped in the dinghy and tied us up to the ring at the top of the mooring float and we were home for the night.
As recommended by the cruising guide you would normally need to tie your stern to the beach here. This would eliminate the roll for some boats but also would be required to avoid collisions if boats were on all of the moorings. It was very tightly packed. As it turned out there was only one other boat in the anchorage at the end of the day so we swung free over night. We did tie up to a tree just for fun during the day. It made a nice transit line for the kids to go back and forth on.
Boat boys hassled us throughout the day and even the kids that, unsolicited, helped haul the line onto the beach hit us up for payment. This is probably the worst area in the Caribbean in that regard.
We paid the park service for the mooring and gained permission to do a training dive near the boat. Though severe in upholding their charge, the park service people were very reasonable and informative. Kory completed his second training dive and Hideko and Thomas joined us for fun. Thomas has an interesting diving technique involving wearing a hat underwater which was entertaining.
Fred had told us about the Bat Cave on the North side of the Bay. The Bat Cave is a large vertical crack in the shear cliff wall of Soufriere Bay. Inside this cave thousands of bats make their home. As darkness was falling Thomas, Kory, Maddy and I motored over in Little Star to see if we could catch the bats. As the sun faded away the bats began to squeak in a deafening chorus that we could hear even over the wind as we approached. We idled about the entrance to the cave waiting for the mass exodus. The bat chatter was running at a fevered pitch but we only saw one or two flying around.
After sitting on a mooring for fifteen minutes or so we decided to give up. Darkness was here and the bats were not cooperating. It was great just to hear all of them going nuts in there. As were motored back it became apparent that the flashlight responsibility had been neglected. We made our way carefully back to Swingin on a Star due to the danger of high speed skiffs blasting about with no lights either.
Hideko had made us a nice pasta dinner which was ready when we returned. After dinner we all enjoyed the beautiful evening out on deck amongst the towering Pitons.
07/04/2007, Saint Lucia
Hideko, Thomas, Kory and Maddy dinghied over to the Moorings Marina this morning to get pastries and fresh baguettes. I'm not sure but I suspect that there is a French based pastry franchise operating in the Caribbean. I have noticed an almost identical set of pastries acquired here, in the other French islands, and also in the train stations in Paris. The products are all great and cooked in proper pastry ovens and all that, but with a McDonalds like consistency. This standardization and quality control is a good thing because I have not found any other good Caribbean bakeries. This bakery alone makes me want to come back to Marigot.
Thomas selected our next stop, Anse Cachon. We motored the short 3 miles around Point De La Ville. Anse Cachon marks the north end of the prime diving territory in Saint Lucia. We picked up a mooring to protect the coral there abouts.
Cachon has a nice sized dive shop and a pretty beach. The big attraction is the snorkeling and diving however. This suited us well because Thomas had recently been certified for SCUBA and Kory was hoping to get certified as a Junior diver on this trip.
Saint Lucia has a law restricting all diving, except diving involved with working on your boat, to registered dive shops. This allows marine park fees to be collected and ensures that the park is protected by the designated dive operations. From Anse Cachon down to Soufriere the park rangers are out in force.
This was a predicament. Diving in Saint Lucia is about as expensive as it gets in the Caribbean. We also like to dive without the crowds. I do respect what they are trying to do however. I wanted to take Kory out for his first confined water dive in the shallows of the protected bay, but I didn't want a $5,000 fine.
I decided to talk with the Island Divers dive shop to figure out the best course of action. Thomas, Kory and I snorkeled over from Swingin' on a Star. The manager of Island Divers was a friendly guy. I showed him my instructor card and explained the situation. We both agreed that the diving restrictions were designed to manage reef diving, which was not what we were about. The letter of the law was not clear here though. I asked them to supervise us which would certainly cover things. He was not sure he wanted to do that. I finally offered to pay for a one tank dive and have him just sit in the sand for an hour and watch us do regulator recovery and other skills, sure to be exciting to a 10 year dive instructor. That got him, he said, "Go ahead I'll just keep an eye on you from here but stay off of the reef" Perfect!
The whole area is beautiful and filled with lots of fish. You couldn't go from A to B without seeing something beautiful or interesting. Thomas joined Kory and I as we ran through the dive skills. We took a leisurely surface swim back to the boat with our dive flag in tow and enjoyed all of the sights on the way. Once on board we refilled the tanks with the Brownie compressor and rinsed off all of our gear. Kory completed his first SCUBA session with ease and we had a great time in the water.
The Sand Crabs (in this incarnation, Em, Maddy and Sammy), were, however, nonplussed. The sand was not very white and there were too many rocks. We'd be moving on tomorrow.
All of the MacKenzie kids are great swimmers. Kory is as strong as most adults at age 10 and Maddy does very well also. Sammy can't quite swim solo yet but will happily jump into any body of water with no concern for personal safety. Swimming lessons are proceeding at a rapid clip.
When everyone was back aboard we fired up the barbeque and grilled some hamburgers and hot dogs. It was July 4th after all. There were British, French and of course Saint Lucians about but not too many folks flying Old Glory. We did our best to celebrate in the traditional 4th barbeque fashion. I could almost see the fireworks in the starry night sky.
07/03/2007, Saint Lucia
After a bit of cereal and OJ for breakfast we started to get the boat ready for a sail. We put PFDs on all of the kids and gave some basic instruction for being on a sailboat underway. I was not sure what we were in for at this point. We should see 15 knots of wind from the east right? I mean this is the Caribbean. The forecast also predicted 15 knots from the east. I have learned to distrust all expectations over the past few months. We always find things stronger than predicted in crossings and more or less random on the back side of a mountainous island.
You also never know how people are going to react to sailing until you sail with them. You could have a friend with the hardiest constitution on the planet, bites the heads off of nails, eats food that would make a normal person ill and then rides the big five roller coasters at Magic Mountain, double daring the Colossus backwards twice, with no problem. Put them on a sailboat and they become a quivering, hurling mess. Other people who can't ride in the back seat of a car without turning green are fine on boats. Usually motion sickness is universal but not always.
As it turned out we couldn't have asked for a better break-in day. It was 13 knots on the beam with lake like seas. I couldn't believe it. It was what it was supposed to be! We skated across the flat leeward water at 9 knots as if we were on rails. Kory took the helm and steered the boat for a good part of the trip. Much better than an auto pilot. It was a beautiful sail and everyone had a great time. The only bad part was that with only 8 miles to sail it was over quickly.
Off season in Saint Lucia is a mixed bag with the boat boys. There are fewer of them plying the waters because there are fewer boats, but because there are fewer boats you tend to attract all of them when you show up. Marigot is not as bad as many other spots, I think there's a union or something. We only had one guy pester us as we tried to motor into the harbor. People come to the islands with their boats to enjoy sailing and everything that goes with it. Tying up, mooring, anchoring, running a line to a coconut tree, it is all part of the dream. It is a real downer when someone tries to foist help upon you that you don't want and then tries to force you to pay for the service.
The moorings in Marigot (as in most of the boat boy locales) don't have painters. This makes it convenient to have someone in a dinghy unless you have a small amount of freeboard (by design I'm sure, although this does reduce the charter boat prop wraps I suppose). The guy who was running along side us told me the mooring was $30 and that we didn't have to pay him anything extra, so I said ok, just to have him on his way as quickly as possible. I later found out that if you call the Discovery Hotel, which manages the moorings, the actual mooring fee is only $15. Typical. Being obnoxious for financial gain is forgivable, but deceiving for financial gain is pretty despicable.
Marigot is a very protected harbor and easy to sail right by if you're not looking for it. The tale told by all the tour boats (and me I guess...) is that the British fleet hid in the inner harbor with palm fronds tied to the masts allowing them to escape the French fleet. I could certainly believe it. It is a Mangrove shoreline and so the water is murky with a muddy bottom. Some obstinate people anchor inside but there's really no room with the Moorings Charter base there and all of the moorings out in the lagoon. You can anchor outside but all of the shops and restaurants are in the inner lagoon.
It could be blowing a gale outside and it would still be flat in Marigot. Perfect conditions for dinghy training. We dropped Little Star into the lagoon and Thomas set about taking the kids on a tour. Maddy and Kory did pretty good with the 8hp outboard but they were a little rough on the docking procedures. After careful consideration they were granted open water dinghy licenses but kindly asked to surrender the helm when in the proximity of fixed objects.
Late in the afternoon we all decided to relax on the trampolines to enjoy the cooling end of the day. There had been a lot of discussion of poo going on as Roq was just starting to get the hang of going to the restroom on the boat. Emily was sitting with Sammy near Maddy on the Port trampoline, Hideko and I were sitting on the old people's tramp (as designated by Maddy) to Starboard, Thomas was sitting on the bow seat to port and Kory was sitting on the Port bridge deck. Abruptly Kory said, "What's that smell?" The adults said, "What smell?" "Something stinks", came the response. Then Maddy said, "it smells like poop" Everyone began looking around with concerned expressions and then after a brief pause, like a diesel engine starting up, the truth was exposed. Sammy burst out bawling. Not only was it a poo accident but there was a tidy little pile of brown pudding right smack in the middle of the kids trampoline.
Clouds broke over Thomas and Emily's faces. The kids made bee lines for the farthest point on the fore deck from the smoking gun. Hideko and I simply burst into laughter. We told Maddy that she wasn't allowed on the old people tramp but she quickly changed the age limit. Em took Sammy inside to clean up and Thomas got the enviable task of tramp clean up. Roq seemed confused by the entire incident.
That night we went ashore for dinner at a really neat place called Mygo. Mygo has various parts but the Soggy Dollar Bar and Grill and Pizza Kitchen are right across from the only sandy spot in Marigot, with a great dinghy dock. They advertise Pizza but the pizza is not really very good IMHO. Everything else was great though. It was barbeque night so they were grilling right on the dock.
The sandy spot in Marigot is more of a water sports depot and Palm tree hammock haven than a beach. We really enjoyed the peace and serenity of Marigot (perhaps only available in the off season) but the Sand Crabs are tough customers when it comes to substandard beach facilities. We would be moving on tomorrow.
07/02/2007, Saint Lucia
We cleared customs this morning. The office is right upstairs in the Marina building. We had to wait a half hour after the office was supposed to open for someone to show up but that is sort of standard in these parts.
We left the lagoon and turned to starboard to explore the north side of the bay. Most boats anchor off of Reduit Beach on the south side of the bay. This is a beautiful spot but somewhat crowded. We always try the path less traveled if possible. This behavior has allowed us to discover some amazing places with no one around for miles and it has also caused us to say, "no wonder no one comes here", from time to time. The adventure is worth the few zingers we get ourselves into.
We anchored by ourselves in a shallow spot near an empty beach. There were a few boats all the way up by the fort but we had the central bay to ourselves. The kids made for the beach as soon as we were settled. Thomas calls them his Sand Crabs. The kids gave the beach a thumbs down because it wasn't sandy enough. So much for this anchorage experiment.
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.