Sunday, June 26, 2011

St Lucia




We have been at anchor in St Lucia for a week now. The wind is howling through the rigging, gusting 30kts. The sky is overcast and grey. I can’t work out if I like this place or not. We don’t venture far here. The area of Rodney Bay is dominated by boats, marinas and tourists shops. It’s not the real St Lucia, just a sun drenched version, glitzy (for the tourists) in places and shabby in others; only today the sun has failed to come out. The beaches seem to stretch for miles and are clustered with large conspicuous hotels. On a small stretch of local beach horses roam freely. To the north is Pigeon Island although it is more of a peninsula now it has been bridged. At the top of the two steep hillocks are the remains of 18th century British forts. It’s a small but pretty place to walk around especially now with the start of rainy season, where everything is flourishing. At the bottom is a small rustic looking restaurant called Jambe de Bois where the best rotis on the island are served. We went there one rainy evening with Sam and Jon and almost enjoyed the live Jazz music that was played at deafening levels.



The great part about this week was that Mark and Liesbet on Irie arrived from Martinique for a few days so that we could all spend some time together. They arrived on Thursday, so that evening we had them and Imagine over for an impromptu BBQ aboard Alianna. The following day we all agreed that we should go to the Jump Up, a festive street party at Gros Islet that evening. Due to the recent outboard and dinghy thefts we felt it was best to leave our dinghies in the Marina and take the longer walk to Gros Islet. Though it is not that far really and it was a pleasant evening. A road is closed down and along it street vendors set up their BBQ’s, Rum shacks and other stalls. Small bars and restaurants open their doors wide to tourists and locals alike. A big stage is set up at one end of the street with a DJ or local bands all playing soca music. The food is cheap and tasty, as is the free flowing rum and beer. Chicken skewers or as Sim prefers kidney skewers with a Caribbean sauce are delicious. Johnny cakes and deep fried chicken patties, all for a pound each are so scrummy that we buy them all. People are everywhere and the place is crowded. It’s the place to be on a Friday night. After we could eat and drink no more we returned back to the boat only to have the music increase in volume after midnight and carry out across the anchorage just as though it is coming from the room next door. Its one of the disadvantages of being on a boat when sound can carry across water.

Last night we gate crashed a party at the yacht club with Sam and Jon. The DJ was playing 80’s music to his hearts content. It was hard to tear ourselves away but after a few beers we decided to leave as we didn’t need another night out. We have been waiting for the weather to be settled enough to leave St Lucia and carry on south. Tomorrow morning is looking good to go. It’s a 70 mile trip which means we must leave at 2am in the morning to make it to Bequia before dark. We won’t see Irie now until August and we won’t see Imagine until October as we all go our separate ways for a while. As I have said before this is always a sad part of cruising, when you have to part company with your friends.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Martinique




We spent a couple of days hanging out in Fort de France – Martinique’s vibrantly shabby capital. Happy that the anchor was dug in and that the rain squalls had abated, we picked up Sam and Jon from Imagine and left our boats straining at their anchors but protected somewhat from the gust by Fort St Louis, an original fort dating back to 1640. Fort de France has a beautifully maintained waterfront and we left our dinghy Lilolil in its care. First stop was Macdonalds who offer free wifi. The French islands are notoriously bad for having password protected wifi so that we poor beggers afloat can not link into the internet from the comfort of our own homes. But the air conditioned Macdonalds was no hardship on a hot and sticky day. With emails retrieved and weather downloaded next stop was customs. Every country we stop at, we must clear in and out of customs and immigration. Here the French Islands redeem themselves, where every other island charges exorbitant fees, the French islands are free. In fact most do not even have customs and immigration offices anymore. A computer is step up in a cruiser/yachtie friendly shop or restaurant and you are left on your own to fill out your own forms and get the shop to sign – et voila, easy peasy. Now every cruiser knows that after the stress of clearing in a well deserved beer is in order. Fort de France is not lacking in bars but they are not the street front kind that spill over onto the pavement so you can watch the world go by. Many are tucked away, up windy stairs in shabby little places, over the top of shop fronts. We found a seedy enough looking establishment with the requisite rubbish on the floor and dirty glasses and over flowing ashtrays on the empty tables that are required by cruisers whose soul purpose it is to find the cheapest place possible to consume beer and rum. With that said the tables were cleared and “quatre bieres, s’il vous plait” were ordered. Expecting a local bottled beer to be served, as we quite forgot that we were in a tres chic country, the Leffe beer that was served in a glass was a nice surprise (especially for Sim). A little bowl of peanuts were also served with a small spoon – How civilized!! That was, until we got the bill and were flabbergasted at being charged 4.50€ each beer or maybe that was 2.50 for the beer and 2.00 for the peanuts with the spoon! Grumbling and mumbling to ourselves on the way out, trying to make it clear (to a French man) in our English way that we won’t be back!

But the smiles on our faces were not gone for too long as next stop was the Leader Price supermarket. Not the kind of place everyone gets excited about but here you can buy baguettes and pain aux chocolates in boxes of 6! Cheap French wine by the carton and boy do we cruisers love boxed wine. Stinky Camembert’s and Brie’s for less then a euro. Dijon mustards, salami’s and giant packs of chocolates. All the things that are taken for granted at home. Yummy.

But as always we were under pressure from time constraints – and a flight to catch from Grenada in a couple of weeks. So we keep on the move. Grand Anse D’Arlet is on the south east corner of Martinique. It’s a small fishing village surrounded by lofty green hills. A small pedestrian waterfront runs along the beach and a few rickety beach bars and restaurants dot the sandy shoreline. After a quick walk around and a stroll on the beach, we are back to sitting down with a beer in our hand admiring the view and taking cover from the rain……and people wonder what it is that we do all day! :-)


This morning I wake up and we are in St Lucia. It is only 20 miles from Martinique. We arrived yesterday afternoon. The wind is howling, the rain is pelting the decks and dripping through leaky windows. The sky is overcast, lightening flashes and thunder booms. I think we might stay on board today.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Heading South



We had a few more beachy days with Meg around at Five Islands Bay with the special shell beach before it was sadly time to say goodbye. After a hearty lunch we took a taxi ride to the airport where we played eye spy until it was time to say farewell.

Back to an empty boat we started to make our plans to head south as the 1st of June is the beginning of hurricane season when all boats migrate south for the summer where the threat of a hurricane is less than the northern islands. There was a weather window opening on Saturday that would allow us to get to Martinique stopping overnight to rest in Guadeloupe and Dominica first. We filled with water again and did all the laundry by hand (half a day’s task when you are washing bedding!). We had a couple of days in hand so moved back around to Five islands bay where the internet is good and the seas the most amazing milky blue, we stowed everything away for the coming sail.

At 5am on Saturday morning we were up and underway. The sun was just rising over Antigua’s green hills to the east and it was the start of another hot beautiful day. Sim had hanked on the inner staysail so we had all 3 sails set and looking good. We motored down the west coast of the island until the breeze filled in and the sails filled. Sam and Jon on Imagine of Falmouth were leaving the same time although they were around in another part of Antigua. We agreed to call on the VHF enroute. We started out hard on the wind, the boat heeling hard but as the day wore on the wind backed and it turned out to be a lovely sail with a pleasant 15kts of wind and small seas. We both sat in the cockpit with the cat in her box and chatted and nattered about future plans. The sun shimmered on the sea like a thousand stars shining on a dark nights sky and I thought to myself, not for the first time, how lucky I am. We had heard Imagine calling us on the radio several times in the morning but they could never hear our reply. After a while we heard nothing, so decided that they were trying to call us to say they weren’t coming. We changed plans and decided to head to an anchorage further south to take a few miles off the journey the following day. But just to make sure we thought we better try Imagine on the radio one more time. This time they answered –and had left Antigua as well and were happy with the change of plan. That afternoon we pulled into a large bay by Pigeon Island halfway down the French island of Guadeloupe. The verdant hillside leads down to the dark sandy beach where palm trees and beach huts and bars dot the coastline. I love these coastlines; so rich and mountainous, green and earthy and reminds me of rolling English countryside except with palm trees. The bay is wide but offers little protection from sea swells built up from distant storms. Almost every time we have been here the roll has been bad. And sure enough this time was no different. Fishing boats tied to floats bobbed wildly up and down and all the boats from yachts to small wooden rowboats where all pointing out the sea. We dropped the anchor – but Alianna was pitching and rearing 3ft or more out of the water. Everything clattered and clanged and even the cat looked fed up – but we grinned and bared it and after the first beer it didn’t feel quite so bad. Sam and Jon came over for dinner. After a few more beers and wine it was time to call it a night as we had to be up at 5am the following morning for the next leg of the journey.

Sim the lucky so and so sleeps through almost anything but with the rolling boat and a head full of alcohol I was feeling quite crabby in the morning when I was awoken by the alarm clock at 5am. The indecency of it all is that I have to go and lift 30 meters or so of 3/8ths anchor chain with our manual windless – if that’s not a rude awakening in the morning I don’t know what is. But Sim takes pity on me and lifts the chain today and I am very grateful. It’s another 12hrs of sitting in the cockpit. Sim keeps an eye on everything tweaking sails, altering course etc. while I read a book feeling sorry for myself. The cat has decided she doesn’t like her box and has taken to the bathroom floor. We discuss what to eat for lunch and both wait eagerly for the clock to strike 12. But the boat is heeled over so much and just getting up is a huge effort that the thought of preparing anything becomes a huge task. So a can of ravioli eaten straight from the can seems like an excellent idea.

We arrive in Portsmouth, Dominica where we have been many times before. It takes us 4 tries before the anchor finally holds each time having to re-lift the chain that is dragging on the seabed. Once settled, we jump into the cool (ok warmish) sea and have a chat with Sam and Jon who have swum over to us. We wisely decided to give drinks together a miss as we have another long journey tomorrow.

We have a lie in until 6.30am in Dominica before once again we are on the move with another 12 hour journey ahead of us. We motored for 25 miles down Dominica admiring its coast line until we were clear of land and then sailed across the gap for another 25 miles to Martinique. It may not seem like a long way but our average speed is around 5kts which is more or less equivalent to 5mph. It can be slow going at times especially with unfavourable wind and with the northwest setting currents. But we had another good sail. The top part of Martinique is dominated by the majestic Mount Pelee, a volcanic mountain that last erupted in 1902 killing almost the entire inhabitants of the town we are about to anchor off. St Pierre is a picturesque little place running parallel to the beach. Many of the buildings have been built around the old ruins left after Mount Pelees devastation. It is a charming place with a church whose bell rings on the hour. It is made up of quaint looking buildings with hurricane shutters and ornate balconies. Tall narrow buildings adjoin short squat ones, each painted in different colours. Just as we arrive a rain squall hits us and washes the boat free of salt. We drop the anchor for another nights rest happy that we have made it to Martinique in time for the next tropical wave (a bit of yucky weather) that is moving across the Caribbean.




Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bounties of the sea





It has been hot and sticky all week with barely a breath of wind. Every so often a gentle breeze passes through the boat. We moved around to the north side of the uninhabited island where for the most part we had the bay to ourselves. Every day we swam in the warm sea, snorkeled on a small reef and walked on the wild windswept beach where fishing debris was washed up on the shore and small tidal pools of iridescent colours divided the sand from the sea.




Underwater, conch were lying everywhere but unlike the myriad of undersized empty shells that were on the beach we were intent on picking one that was the right size and not too young or too small. The West Indies Pink Conch is a shellfish with a spiral shell. They are a delicacy out here and can be eaten in a variety of ways including conch fritters, conch curry and cracked conch. We eventually came across one where the flare of the shell (the lip) seemed to be the right size. We dived down and picked the shell up off the grassy seabed where they like to live. The next job was the coax the animal out of its home. This is not easy. Sim and I have had (semi) serious rows whilst trying to extract the animal in the past. But this time under expert advice previously stored away from friends on how to do this, we were successful. Sim counted three notches in from the largest point and then made an incision with a hammer and chisel. A sharp knife is then inserted and the animal is severed from its muscle attaching itself to the shell. This is not for the faint hearted. A slime that is slimier then the slimiest slime gets everywhere and is hard to remove from your hands and tools. The animal finally dropped out of the shell and we took it back to the boat to prepare for conch fritters. The black slug like skin and claw are then cut away and the white meat that is left is tenderized with a mallet. We then cut the meat into tiny pieces and mixed it together with finely chopped onion and a little green pepper, flour, water, baking powder and an egg before shallow frying small spoonfuls in a pan. Delicious! With that and freshly made cheese rolls we had a meal fit for kings.

Later in the week we moved around to English Harbour. With yet another pretty anchorage to add to the list, English Harbour is another special place. A green hillside slopes down to a sandy beach lined with palm trees and small chalets dot the shoreline. This harbour was used in the 18th century by Lord Horatio Nelson and has been restored to its former glory and is a popular hangout with yachties especially the rich ones. The entrance to the harbour is guarded by rocks on one side and Fort Berkely on the other which made it the perfect location for a naval base. Meg took us out for a lovely meal at Johnny Coconats on the waterfront where we were wooed by the man himself. We caught up briefly with Sam and Jon on Imagine of Falmouth, who very kindly gave us a couple of Tuna fillets that they had caught on their trip over – Sim with his aversion to fish went ashore and bought chicken for himself!

After a brief stop in Falmouth harbour with spectacular displays from the pelicans we once again got on the move. A steady breeze filled in and we pulled out the sails and chucked a fishing line over the side. Just as we were rounding the corner of the island Sim noticed that we had something on the line as the bungee sprang tight. We pulled in the hand line to find a 3lb Bullet mackerel just over a 1ft long. Caribbean Mackerel is not like the Mackerel we have back in the UK; it is a much darker meat similar to Tuna. We bled the fish and gutted it. The kitty was on her best behaviour, although dribbling at the jaws while we were cleaning the fish. Tonight at the “Sea View” restaurant aboard “Alianna”, we ate fresh Mackerel steaks on the BBQ even Sim graciously joined us albeit with a slightly smaller steak. Yummy! Oh how we love to live off the bounties of the sea.