St. Lucia, Martinique and Dominica
04 January 2019 | Portsmouth, Dominica
Barbara/Windy, sunny and rainy, in quick succession
Wow, I looked at our last blog posting and it was the day before Christmas! The time seems to have flown by. We are now in Dominica, the island that was directly in the path of Hurricane Maria last year. These people are such survivors; there is construction going on everywhere, but still plenty of evidence of what happened. But let me backtrack and tell you about some of the places we’ve been and some of things we’ve done since we last wrote.
As you’ll recall, we arrived in St. Lucia on December 17 after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. My last blog post will have given you some initial impressions. A major project when we arrive in a new place is always acquiring or recharging a SIM card so we have cell phone connectivity and access to more data speed than our meager T-mobile international plan allows. In St. Lucia this involved a trip to a shopping center about a kilometer away from the marina, where there was reportedly a Digicel office. We made the trip on our folding bikes, although the roads aren’t in very good condition, and full of heavy traffic and crazy drivers. Craig has more courage than I do, so he rode on the road while I tried to find what passed for a sidewalk or a parallel street. Many level changes, gravel, paving, stairs, more gravel, potholes, you get the idea.
We did find the Digicel store, and after making it through a transaction that must have lasted 45 minutes, we were finally connected for St. Lucia. And purportedly for Dominica. But not for any of those French-speaking islands!
As new arrivals in the tropics, we were beset with heat fatigue. We tried to get as much done as we could early in the day, because we simply petered out by midday. So the day before Christmas, needing a few more supplies for Christmas dinner, I walked to that shopping center again, at 8 am, rather than trying the bike. I was able to get back to the boat, by means of a taxi, by 10 am, before being completely exhausted by heat.
We invited new friends David and Gretchen to join us for Christmas dinner. They are the owners of another Outbound, Calllisto (Sequoia is an Outbound). The company owner, Phil Lambert, had alerted all the Outbounds in the Caribbean that we had arrived, and we have indeed had contact with a couple of different boats. David and Gretchen proved to be delightful folks and they had all sorts of good advice for us about our upcoming destinations.
I cooked a pumpkin pie – from scratch from a St. Lucia pumpkin – for the Christmas dinner. The pie turned out great, if a bit lopsided. I also cobbled together a stuffed rolled turkey breast from some sliced turkey I’ve had in the freezer since France. Since the oven thermostat is an exercise in extreme approximation, the roast turned out a bit dry, but very tasty.
Being in St. Lucia for Christmas was somewhat weird. It’s been years and years since we have been away from home at Christmas time. We missed the family, but managed to have a Skype call with Ian, David and Tara. Christmas carols (mostly the tacky commercial ones) waft across the water from various boats. One evening there was a live steel band playing Christmas carols. There are big painted wooden candy canes erected all around the marina. Many boats are decked out in Christmas lights.
The boat next to us in the marina was a big fancy sportfishing boat – about 65 feet – named Freyja. Living aboard were two young men who were the paid crew. They had an inflatable Santa and an inflatable shark which they hauled up in the Christmas spirit. Followed by plenty of Christmas spirits and loud parties. Every few days they would go out looking for good fishing spots so that they could take the owner there, if and when he ever showed up. (We never saw him). Each time they returned they’d put out the Santa and the shark again, with a new arrangement of Christmas lights.
The day before we left St. Lucia I realized that Caroline and Richard, of Midnight Breeze were in the marina. We had met them in Pasito Blanco, in the Canaries, before we crossed the Atlantic. We spent a bit of time with them, regretting that we’d all been there for a week, without knowing the other was also there.
The next morning, we crossed the channel to Martinique, a distance of about 25 miles. Conditions were somewhat rough between the islands, and a deck leak we hadn’t seen since the return passage from Hawaii, 6 years ago, reappeared. Unfortunately, it dumped a few quarts of salt water onto our berth during the course of the passage. After our return from Hawaii, we had put a lot of effort into trying to locate the source of that leak and/or prevent its recurrence. But all the hoses and buckets of water in the world cannot duplicate the effect of big waves crashing on top of the foredeck. Leaks can start in one place and travel many feet between deck layers before they enter the cabin. So the problem is not solved, and for the remainder of this trip, we’ll be protecting the mattress with plentiful tarps.
The same wind that had caused rough conditions in the channel were still going strong when we reached the southern end of Martinique. We had hoped to get into the “Le Marin” marina, but they said on the radio that they had no place for us. So we chose instead to anchor in the Ste. Anne anchorage, where about 300 boats had arrived before us. Conditions were pretty crowded, but we did find a place to anchor after a couple of tries.
In the morning we launched the dinghy and went ashore to find the customs office. It turns out that in Martinique, the whole process is computerized. There is a computer in the back of a “snack” restaurant, where you input your information, print out a sheet, and then get it signed by the “officer” who is also the cook, bartender and server for the restaurant and doing a brisk business. He gets a fee of 5 euros for taking a quick look at our passport and boat papers and signing off on the entry document. This is such an improvement on other countries where you spend hours filling out multiple forms by hand, perhaps at several different offices that are located at some distance from each other.
Ste. Anne is a charming little town with a good cross section of French tourists and locals frequenting the various businesses. Shortly after we finished lunch at the “Snack” restaurant and picked up some groceries, there was a tropical downpour which left us running for cover. It didn’t last long, and we were able to get to the dinghy and back to the boat without further incident, although with rather wet shoes and clothing. (Not to worry, everything dries quickly…) Squalls came and went the rest of the day, and there were a few gorgeous rainbows (see photo at the top of this post).
The next day we were able to move into the Le Marin marina without too much drama. They are quite obviously at the limit of their ability to accommodate all the boats that want to come there. It was a bit difficult to decipher where they wanted us and when, even once we did get radio communications established. We edged between a boat full of Italians and one full of Spaniards, across the dock from a Norwegian boat and an American one. On the same dock were vast numbers of charter boats being cleaned between guests and loaded with fresh food. Everything is very French. All the charter boat guests were French, and most of the boat owners also appeared to be French. French restaurants ashore and a French boulangerie/patisserie (Yum, fresh croissants and baguettes every morning!)
Our friends Mette and Ottar, of the boat Tiril, were on the other side of the marina, and we were able to make contact with them quickly. We had met them in Pasito Blanco in the Canaries, and we knew they were going to be staying in Martinique for at least of a month. (Mette, unlike the rest of us, is still working – she does translation for the Norwegian government, one of many professions that can actually be done long-distance while you’re cruising.) We were able to have a nice dinner with Mette and Ottar at a dockside French restaurant one evening.
The next day we were back to the search for good cell phone and data coverage, since our T-mobile plan seemed to be providing nothing at all. The St. Lucia SIM card of course did nothing. This time, we were able to buy a card with an ongoing contract that promises to provide coverage in most Caribbean countries, all the way to Panama! What a relief it will be to be able to arrive at the next island and not have to worry about cell coverage. This same plan provides coverage throughout Europe. If only we’d done the trip the other direction, think how many cell phone stores we could have skipped! (FYI, it is from Digicel and for 40 Euros a month allows a healthy 30 GB of data.)
It was alternately (or simultaneously) hot and rainy in Le Marin, but we did manage to explore around the marina a bit. The area definitely seems more prosperous than St. Lucia, with clean streets and good infrastructure. There is quite a bit of street art, and many interesting buildings.
Our next stop was St. Pierre at the north end of Martinique. Looming over St. Pierre is the cloud-capped Mount Pele, a recently active volcano. In 1902, after sputtering for a few weeks, the volcano let loose with a superheated flow of volcanic gas which killed nearly 30,000 people who then lived in St. Pierre. The town has been rebuilt, but there are ruins everywhere. Anchoring is prohibited in a major part of the harbor where there are sunken ships that anchored during the eruption and burned to the waterline.
It was New Years Day, but the “8 à Huit” store was open. We were able to get some fruit, meat, cheese and various other necessaries before they closed at noon. Then we went for lunch at a small, very French restaurant, Le Tamaya. We were the only guests, so able to have an interesting conversation with the proprietors. The restaurant was named after one of the ships that went down in the harbor in 1902, and there were nautical artifacts on the walls. The food was excellent, too!
From St. Pierre we crossed the channel to Dominica, continuing to Prince Rupert Bay and Portsmouth at the north end of the island. Dominica is a much more impoverished island than Martinique, from all appearances. Martinique is part of France, and is heavily supported by the French government. Dominica is an independent country, although part of the British Commonwealth.
There is no marina in Dominica, but a local association (“Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services” or PAYS) has installed a large number of mooring buoys and offers a variety of services to incoming boaters. Already we’ve gotten water taxi services to the Customs office and today we were rowed up the Indian River through a tropical mangrove swamp. Also in the boat with us was an extended family from the Czech Republic. The grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins were just visitors, but George and his family are heading north, planning on doing the Northwest Passage this summer, and perhaps we’ll see them in the fall in the Pacific Northwest.
Jerome, of PAYS, rowed us up the river to a semi-civilized outpost with tropical gardens. He showed the children a large seed which when cracked open yields an orange paste which can be used as body paint or to make meat look better than it really is. Among the sights seen along the river were crabs, fish, birds, iguana and a location where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean, Part 2 was filmed. The cabin was created to be the home of a witch… It has since been wrecked by Hurricane Maria, and the wreckage is hardly distinguishable from the jungle.
Yesterday after we visited the customs office, we walked through the town of Portsmouth. Many houses are still standing roofless, open and abandoned due to the effects of hurricane Maria, and many unusable business premises have been turned into makeshift housing. Everywhere there are piles of lumber and rebar, and the sound of hammers and drills can often be heard. We passed wrecked boats on the beach and construction equipment that is no longer usable.
When we were in St. Lucia, we were approached by an American woman, Sheron Wahl, who was soliciting funds for a Dominica recovery effort entitled “SOS Dominica - Feed My Sheep”. She was accompanied by Martin Carriere, who, it turns out, is a member of PAYS here. We elected not to contribute to the Feed My Sheep effort, in part because it has a religious basis we don’t favor, but also because Sheron had made no effort to obtain US tax-exempt status, and thus there was no real expectation of any oversight. Instead we have made a substantial contribution to the Dominica recovery effort through “Global Giving”, a highly rated American charity.
We have one more day in Dominica before we move on to Les Saintes and Guadeloupe. Tomorrow we hope to take in the Farmer’s market, and perhaps do a bit more land-based exploration.
We wish a Happy New Year to all our friends and family.
Craig & Barbara