Viva le French West Indies!
18 July 2017
It is hard to believe we are actually leaving this bit of paradise. Our plan is to head south to Grenada/Carriacou for hurricane season and then on to Bonnaire, Columbia, Panama and the South Pacific. That means we will be saying goodby to the Caribbean. We have spent over a year here and just love it. As I wrote previously, sailing the Caribbean is idyllic most of the time. Weather is predictable and mostly perfect. We are hard pressed to name our favorite Caribbean island. We love the French West Indies, islands that have something special to offer cruisers.
Food! Wine! French Culture! Shopping! This is unique to the FWI. We have all heard about French arrogance but I am hard pressed to find a single incident of it here in the FWI. There have been a few struggles with language but that can be expected. I soldier on in French and get help from the locals when I am stuck on a word or phrase.
The FWI, St. Martin, Guadeloupe and Martinique, are states of France. France must pump a lot of money into their island paradise because the infrastructure is first rate. Roads are excellent and services and supplies are flown in directly from the mother country. I bet it is highly subsidized. How else can one explain the low cost of wine and French food here?
The three FWI islands are entirely different. St. Martin is half Dutch and English is spoken everywhere. Not so in Guadeloupe and Martinique. American cruisers love St. Martin for the ease of shopping and importing products from the US. There is also a huge, safe harbor with great chandleries and restaurants within an easy dinghy ride. We sure met a lot of our cruising friends here. But it lacks the beauty of its sister islands south.
Guadeloupe is the largest geographically and the most diverse. Half of Guadeloupe is Basse Terre, the old Caribbean, 34 million years old. The volcanic origins have been worn down to a flat terrain. Grande Terre is the newer Caribbean formation, 9 million years old. Here are large, dormant volcanoes and rain forests. Guadeloupe also has outer islands, Rural and agrarian Marie Galante or the chic Iles des Saintes. There is also the strange, plateau island Desirade and Petite Terre, a bird and sea life sanctuary. One could easily spend a month cruising Guadeloupe.
Martinique is the most cosmopolitan of the FWI. Le Marin is also the largest yachting center in the Caribbean. You can find anything for your boat here, product or service. Our favorite restaurant in the entire Caribbean is Zanzibar in Le Marin. Great food, service and ambiance! St. Anne is a beautiful anchorage near Le Marin. Beautiful beaches, cute town and nice spots to kick back for a cold one or meal. St. Pierre was destroyed by a volcano in 1903, the greatest volcano disaster known to man. 30,000 people were incinerated in 8 minutes! It was called the “Paris of the Caribbean” prior to the disaster. It is still a beautiful and historic place to visit.
All the FWI islands are proud of their rum. Rum Agricole is the term they give to rum specifically made from select sugar cane. Most of the rum distilleries are powered by live steam engines. These engines date from the late 1800's and are still in working condition. They are a sight to see. Rum Agricole has a real bite compared to that on the formerly English islands. Most cruisers won't drink the FWI rums but I enjoy being challenged by their character. I will write more about this later.
Last but not least is duck. Yes, duck! Je l'aime le canard! Duck is popular in France and readily available in the FWI. We buy lots of it in three forms. Canned duck is something that would not seem like gourmet fair. Well, the duck in the cans is well, cooked quarters, confit. But the duck is surrounded by pure, golden goodness, duck fat. We heat the cans to liquify the fat and pour off at least a pint from each can. We use it for everything from frying potatoes to popcorn. Yes, duck-fat popcorn is something you have to try! Duck magret is a filet of duck breast. I consider this like a beef tenderloin with bacon on one side. That's exactly how I cook it, crispy fat side and medium rare. We also buy duck quarters frozen. These are braised over wild rice blend with plenty of wine, onions and carrots. We of course, use our Le Crueset cast iron dutch oven for this recipe. I know I have stocked 30 pounds of various forms of duck for the duck drought ahead!
Staying this far north during hurricane season violates our boat insurance. Our trip to Bermuda has kept us north and the Martinique has a firm grip on our anchor. The stormy weather has fortunately been south, where we are supposed to be. We don't feel threatened as we can transit the 150 miles to the “safe zone” in one day.
Leaving this area with no immediate plans to return is sad for the Uproar boat. We sure have enjoyed it here and stocked up on the goodies for our next passage to Bequia or Carriacou, we will decide which when we pull up the anchor.