Tuesday, January 31, 2012

We Sailed All Night

We were in Dominica when the winds finally abated and the seas died down enough for us to continue on our passage north. The day before we planned to leave a Tall ship, who are frequent visitors to the Caribbean, arrived in the bay. This time Sim recognized it as the Tenacious from the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST). With Captain Barbara aboard who also had worked with the STA, the Tall ship organization that Sim used to work for. Sim was thrilled and called them up and quickly made plans to go over for lunch and catch up. With all that done we prepared to leave the following morning with Imagine of Falmouth and Meteor. It was a 165 nm (nautical mile) trip which may not sound far but would take us over 24hrs to get to our destination. The weather conditions were slightly less than ideal and it was a bumpy ride. We sailed out of Dominica, up the west coast of Guadeloupe. Dolphins joined us again for some of the journey, dipping and diving in and out of our bow wake. As night fell the twinkling lights of Montserrat kept us company with the ambient glows of Kitts and Nevis and our destination of St Bart’s far off in the distance. The night was brisk and windy but the sky clear and millions of stars and planets shone down. Bright shooting stars shot across the sky so clearly that it looked surreal. Sim and I took alternate watches through the night; three hours on and three hours off. Sam and Jon took turns dozing in the cockpit (theirs is larger and more protected than ours) and Steve as he was single-handing cat napped where possible in the comfort of his steering house. We all stood by on VHF channel 8 and chatted through the night, the boat ahead warning the others of what weather to expect. Meteor and Imagine shot off ahead and we plodded on behind; though we were actually sailing quite well for us. As dawn approached the following day the winds picked up and we sped along. An hour out of St Bart’s we caught a 2lb fish, which was part of the mackerel family. Just before lunch time we pulled into the lovely Anse de Colombier on St Bart’s northwest coast, picked up a mooring, had a feast of a meal and put ourselves to bed for a while. The next day, after we removed a squid that had landed on deck and cleaned up the black inky stuff that it had squirted all over the place, we sailed over St Maarten, (on the Dutch side –half the island is French, half is Dutch). We cleaned the boat up and cleared in with customs and immigration. For the time being we have decided to anchor outside the protected lagoon in cleaner waters for as long as we can stand the rolling of the boat from the swells. We’ve caught up with friends and celebrated in style Australian day, complete with meat pie eating and beer drinking competitions. It would be fair to say that we did not let the side down.

Now its time to knuckle down to some work, ordering new sails (which include taking nearly 70 measurements), repairs to the boat, which involve many things including cosmetic repairs to the bow-sprit, fixing leaks, adding anchor locker drains, the list, as usual is long.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Getting Down in Dominica

It was a short sail from Anse D’Arlet in the south of Martinique to St Pierre in the north. Dolphins were leaping out of the water, the first we have seen this year. We stayed the night at St Pierre in the lee of the grand volcanic Mont Pelee and had an early start the following morning for the 60 or so miles to north end of Dominica; the first glimpses of sun shining through the clouds like a burning inferno. Sam and Jon from Imagine and Steve from Meteor were still with us. We had an absolutely stonking sail, steaming along at well over 7kts for some of the way with two reefs in the main and half a headsail out. It was windy enough that we managed to sail up the entire coast that we would normally have to motor due to the hilly landscape which blocks the wind. We arrived that afternoon and dropped anchor in large protected bay of Portsmouth, Dominica.

The following morning we all traipsed ashore to clear in through the one street town of Portsmouth. Small rickety bamboo huts and neatly kept dilapidated wooden houses with faded peeling paint and pretty little gardens line the streets. Dogs and chickens roam free. The roads are dusty and potholed. But fruit trees and palm trees grow in abundance giving the appearance of paradise, hidden behind the scattered rubbish. The town is vibrantly shabby, it is very poor but it is hard not to like. Loud music blasts out of properties and cars alike and small buses whiz past carrying people back and forth. The water supply is a communal tap on the roadside, where we too may get water for free. Rasta’s with the most elaborate hair sit on walls in small groups smoking. Everyone is friendly and welcoming although the attacks on yachies in years gone by are always at the back of our minds. This is a place that has not yet been touched by McDonlads or KFC, there are no big supermarkets or hotels. But I am sure it won’t be long before all that changes.

We stroll along in the morning heat, a couple of miles to the customs and immigration buildings to clear in. We have a roti (curry filled wrap) for lunch in a small roadside snack shop and stop for a beer on the way back at “Big Papas” where we had left our dinghies at the rickety and ominous looking dinghy dock. Big Papa was there (easily recognizable by his size) and is not feeling well from a late night the night before. To one side of the bar is a fabulous construction of bamboo and tarpaulin set up in a tree like a giant tree house only in the shape of a boat. It looks like a family live there with semi naked children running about. It’s ingenious but I wonder how long will it stand faced with any sort of bad weather?

Sim and I went for a walk across the small peninsula dividing this bay and the bay to the north of us. We picked up a trail that led us along the edge of derelict beach and then inland through marshy woodland and back to the bay where Alianna is anchored. Dominica has well kept and well marked trails (funded from the EU and Martinique) that cover many miles, all the way across the island, that can only be accessed by horse or by foot. They lead through some of the best examples of rain forest in the Caribbean. I look forward to exploring some more.

Monday, January 16, 2012

We had a busy few days in Rodney Bay in St Lucia. Sails to pick up, fuel and water to get, last minute provisioning and loads of laundry to do, so that we could make the weather window (period of good weather) across to Martinique. In the mean time Steve from Meteor had managed to get a day pass at the Sandals resort after a Hobie Cat had scratched down the side of his hull; we went along with him in lieu of his absent crew. What a treat; eat and drink all you can. Sim started with a burger and carried on in that manner for the rest of the day. I was feeling a bit under the weather with a cold but Sim and Steve didn’t let the side down, playing table tennis and taking the hobie cats out – plus constantly replenishing their thirst with varying rum drinks. It was a lovely way to spend our second to last day in St Lucia.

We arrived with Steve in Annes D’Arlet on the south west corner of Martinique on Thursday where we met our friends Imagine who had arrived the day before with a couple of other boats we knew as well. Annes D’Arlet is a very pretty little fishing village with a slightly touristy slant. The sea is crystal clear even in 10meters of water. Turtles pop up for air after feeding on the weedy seabottom. Sand dollars are scattered across the seabed. The beach is lined with a pretty promenade with a few bars and cafes and not much else. Green hills frame the bay. It really is very picturesque. Fresh French Baguettes can be bought in the morning and a “Lorraine” beer sipped on in the evening. The neighbouring town of Grand Annes D’Arlet to the south is only 10 minute walk away. It has a little more to it, an extra street, and a church with a pretty steeple, a tiny nondescript cinema, a meat market and fish market and an ATM. We’ve spent the days mostly onboard attending to little jobs. The weather has been fairly windy, despite this fact and with little change in the forecast we are feeling the need to press on. Tomorrow we may move up to St Pierre at the north end of the island where not so long ago we had the car with Martin and Claire. Thursday we will try and make it up to the north end of Dominica and wait for the seas to reduce a little before we carry on up to St Martin.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Exploring St Lucia

St Annes, Martinique

We spent a few more quiet days at St Anne’s in Martinique walking on the beautiful beaches and wandering around the pretty town before it was time to head back to Rodney bay in St Lucia.

We took the sail with the rip down and put up a spare that was just about adequate and sailed back to Rodney Bay but would you believe when we took the main down we found a tear in that as well!! We decided to put the jib into the sail makers to be repaired while Sim would repair the main sail. These were the last few days of Martin and Claire’s trip and we were to be in a different place every night. The next day we moseyed on down to Marigot Bay about halfway down the west coast of St Lucia. It’s a pretty bay completely hidden from the sea; we spent the night there and took a short walk up a hill with some lovely views.

Marigot Bay, St Lucia

The next day had us moving down to Soufriere where we picked up a mooring buoy. Once again Sim Stayed on board due to security reasons this time, while Claire, Martin and myself dashed ashore to find the Botanical gardens with hot water springs and Diamond waterfall. It was lovely walking through the cool tropical gardens admiring the exotic flora and taking a dip in the hotwater springs. We ambled back through the town checking out the shops.

Botanical Gardens, Soufriere, St Lucia

Diamond Falls, Soufriere, St Lucia

We stayed the night in Soufriere but moved the next morning a mile or so around the corner to pick up a mooring between the two magnificent Pitons which are actually volcanic plugs. Claire had decided that she wanted to climb Gros Piton, the slightly taller of the two and I in my infinite wisdom had said I would do it too! Martin joined us and we rather foolishly decided that we would walk the two miles to the entrance of the park; what we had not known was that it was a steep hill climb so by the time we reached the park I was exhausted. Great! Only two more hours of strenuous hill climbing up and two hours down!! Claire and Martin were both very encouraging and despite the enormous discomfort and fatigue I was feeling we made it to the top for some spectacular views; the only trouble with going up is coming down. But we made it – with happy smiley faces for most of the way.

Top of Gros Piton with views of Petit Piton

We tried to get a taxi back to the waterfront but there were none around and so had to make our own way back on feet and legs that were ready to collapse. That night we managed to make it ashore to the Jalousie Sugar Beach resort where we were treated to a splendid meal by a friend of Sims; A wonderful evening to end a wonderful day.

Popular spot at the base of The Pitons, St Lucia

We took Claire and Martin back to Marigot Bay where they left us for their flights back home. Sim and I carried on up to Rodney Bay to prepare ourselves for our continuing journey north and to deal with all the minor repairs, like a slipped shaft and blown shower head that emptied two of our water tanks and to decide what to do with our thread bare sails. Happy Days.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year In Martinique

Martin and Claire hired a car in Le Marin, Martinique for us all but due to yet another windy day, Sim elected to stay aboard and look after “Alianna” and Sam from “Imagine” took his place. We nipped up the east side of the island on the beautifully maintained super smooth roads – we would have hardly known we were in the Caribbean had it not been for acres and acres of banana plantations. We looked out east, across the sea where the strong winds were building up surf across the reefs. We stopped at the Caravelle Peninsula halfway up the east coast which is home to a nature reserve, some beautiful beaches, a fishing village and the old ruins of Chateau Dubuc. We had a lovely swim in the sea before continuing on our journey north. The aim of the car hire was to get as near to the top of the volcano Mt Pelee, at the north end of the island as possible. But after a couple of false starts, a few wheel spins, back wheels lifting completely of the ground and some terrible scraping sounds from under the car we had to admit defeat. We turned the car around and headed back down the west side of the island stopping in St Pierre for a well deserved beer and ice cream. The car journey back did not seem to take so long as we passed down a coast that was very familiar to me only this time I was getting a land based perspective. We cut back across the island at the capital Fort de France marveling at the spaghetti junctions and super highways that are alien to the rest of the Caribbean islands. And finally we arrived back in Le Marin.

The next day was New Years Eve. Sam and Jon had kindly invited us all as well as Steve and Fi from Meteor to their boat to see in the New Year. We arrived at 6pm and got stuck into all sorts of wonderful food. We saw in the Greek New Year in honour of Martin and Claire, and then 2 hours later at 8pm the British New Year and toasted absent family and friends, finally we made it all the way through to midnight to toast our local New Year. We lit sparklers, wore pretty neon tubes that Sam supplied and sipped on cheap but tasty Leader Price Brute.

What a wonderful 2011 we had with visits from both our parents; Flying back to UK for Jilly’s wedding and Luca and Myas Christening and to see friends and family. And all the wonderful time spent with our friends out here.

I wonder what 2012 will have to offer for us this year?