Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Marvelous Martinique



Grande Anse D'Alet, Martinique
  Sim and I always enjoy our time in Martinique. After our shopping frenzy in the capital of Fort de France we moved Alianna around to one of our favourite spots at Grande Anse D’Arlet. This small colourful fishing village has a stunning beach lined by a pedestrian walkway. Brightly painted fishing boats are pulled up on the sand next to big piles of nets and rustic (but expensive) bars and restaurants dot the shore side. The bay is surrounded by steep green hills and the view every morning is just stunning. Every day Sim and I swam with turtles; Sim even stroking one. Sadly I have no pictures as my underwater camera (which I loved very much) got water logged :-(. We saw sea snakes and a Lesser electric ray with a sting strong enough to knock a man down – a fact which had a I known at the time probably would have stopped me diving down trying to see if it was alive!; Star fish and sand dollars covered the seabed. We had fabulous snorkels everyday. Not just on either side of the bay along the rocky outcrops but just under our boat where the turtles hung out.
On the beach at Grande Anse D'Arlet
A lot of boats in Le Marin
For our eight year anniversary of living on a boat we decided we would like to have moules et frites in Le Marin on the south east corner of Martinique. It was a nasty squally day and we expected a horrid beat to windward for 10 miles but there was no wind between the squalls and we had an easy motor sail the whole way. We stopped first in St Anne’s, another cute village that wonderfully fuses the Gallic and Caribbean culture. Palm trees and pretty painted houses are set against boulangeries, little boutiques and the ubiquitous Huit a Huit supermarket.
Church at the top of the hill
We had a nice meal in Le Marin, walked around the small town to the pretty church sitting at the top of the hill with fabulous views out across the bay; such a beautiful spot. I can see why it was choosen as a place of worship. Le Marin itself, is a huge yachting centre. The marina is massive as is the boat yard and you can get all sorts of parts or work done. Naturally it is where all the Frenchies hang out.

A traditional racing Yole in Le Marin
After we had had our fill of Frenchland and were ready to move on we had one last stop in our favourite shop Leader Price and were on our way.
The Supermarket Leader price has its own dinghy dock - how cool!
Grande Anse D'Arlet beach
Bourg du Marin

Cute little beach properties in Grande Anse D'Arlet
Boats at anchor Grande Anse D'Arlet


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eight years on...


Kunu Indians in the San Blas
 
Angel Falls
Venezuelas

In the early days

Eight years ago Sim and I moved aboard our sail boat Alianna. I can’t believe where the time has gone. What adventures we have had sailing through some amazing countries and what wonderful people we have met along the way; our first season in the Caribbean when we were so new to it all and we thought we couldn’t visit the French islands because we hadn’t paid VAT on the boat. The months in Venezuela in the good old days of Puerto La Cruz and our fabulous trip to Angel Falls; the Venezuelan offshore islands and the ABCs.; The indigenous Kuna Indians of the San Blas and Panama; the Bay Islands and then Guatemala with its amazing Mayan culture; the underwater world of Belize and the fun we had in Mexico. Intriguing Cuba! The fabulous cruising ground of the USA. The beautiful waters of the Bahamas and the stunning landscape of the Dominican Republic and the secrets of Samana, Puerto Rico and back through the US and British Virgin Islands to the East Caribbean. And of course we got married.

Alianna in the San Blas

Reflecting over the last eight years we smile at what at what we have achieved. We are a little disappointed that we are not the sailors that we imagine ourselves to be – long distance ocean cruisers, real salts of the sea. Instead we are over cautious (which is not a bad thing). We don’t enjoy long windward trips in unsettled conditions but then who does. We wish we could just nip off to America or Europe this season and come back next. But we can’t; because we are trapped by our minds limitations of what we can and can’t do. Ultimately we prefer to be at anchor than to be sailing, that’s not to say we don’t like sailing because we do. We have found a comfort zone in the east Caribbean, with easy sailing and fair winds……most of the time, and pretty anchorages to sit in. Although I have been getting a little disenchanted with the lack of culture there is no denying the charm that these islands offer.

Now that the novelty has worn off. Now that sun, sea, sand, bikinis and flip flops are an everyday norm for us – real life (as most would imagine it) – is a far away reality. A reality we don’t have to go back to. We are happy living this alternative. So is what next? The Answer is: we haven’t a clue! But then I guess that is the beauty of it all.

 

Raguna Cay, Belize
Beautiful Water

Street Seller in Chichicastanago, Guatemala
Coconut boy in the San Blas
Tikal, Guatemala
Crumbling Cuba
The Bahamas




Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gobbling our way down the island chain

 
Five Islands Bay, Antigua
 For the last couple of weeks, with a few exceptions, we have been in an epicurean delight! Despite being on the move almost continuously from one country to the next in an effort to put some sea miles in south with the advent of hurricane season, we’ve been having a wonderful time! Albeit on our own. After our hard on the wind trip from the BVI’s to St Maarten we kept on the move everyday from St Maarten to Nevis, Nevis to Montserrat and Montserrat to Antigua. Long, tiring day sails where we would stare out to sea and curse the weather that just wasn’t playing fair.
Deshais, Guadeloupe

Portsmouth, Dominica
In Antigua we pull into Jolly Harbour, an old favorite where we started out nearly eight years ago. We drop the hook, jump in the dinghy and whiz around the supermarket to buy lots of wonderful goodies. Then move around the corner to Five Islands Bay where the water is a milky turquoise and it is always very peaceful. We secretly gorge ourselves on sausages and pork pies – the first we have ever found in the Caribbean and much to Sim’s delight. Sim and I are such gluttons and for a few days we are in food heaven! Then it was time to get on the move again. Guadeloupe, Ilse Des Saintes and Dominica. The French Islands are renowned for their good food of course, especially French bread, cheeses, pate and wine. Dominica although lacking in all but your basic supermarket requirements (and yes we did check out the supermarket past customs but it seemed to be no different from those in town) has the best fruit and vegetables in the Caribbean…..that is if you can find any to buy. If you don’t happen to be there on a Saturday for the weekly market and don’t intend to be there for the following Saturday, you miss out on some of the tastiest produce around. As we walked up the streets trying to find something fresh to buy we walked past trees dripping with mangos and breadfruit, wiry Rasta’s rummaging through bins put out their hands for us to spare some change. What do they think when we mumble we have none? I hurry by clutching my bag a little closer, feeling mean. Boat boys come by the boat offering their services and wares; as tour guides for the river trip or to clean to the green mustache off our fuzzy waterline. Sim buys some mangos from a guy who has paddled out on a dilapidated canoe. They are bruised and battered but we would prefer to make this exchange than to just hand out cash. The weather eases and its time for us to move on.

Rainbow
St Pierre, Martinique

Next stop Martinique. It’s another long day to St Pierre at the north end of the island but morale is high and tension mounts as we move closer to our next destination. As we leave Dominica rainbows appear in the sky as one light rain squall after another fall off the land in the early morning sun. St Pierre is a beautiful spot; the large volcano that caused such devastation over a century ago dominates the bay, its peak covered in a cloud sombrero. The church bell tolls on the hour every hour, the sea is the deepest blue and local men are fishing at the end of the pier. Sim and I dive in and check the anchor, then sit back, drink in hand and admire the view.

St Pierre, Martinique
We are getting excited now. Leader Price – the cheap French supermarket is just a couple of hours sail away. The lure of fromage, fresh baguettes, vin blanc and pain au chocolats is too much to bare. Anyone who knows me knows that I love supermarkets. Sad, yes I know, but deprived I am! We are up at the crack of dawn to move around to Fort De France, the vibrantly shabby capital. The anchorage is busy and it takes us three attempts to set the anchor. Once settled we launch the dinghy and rush ashore to supermarket, ignoring all the sights and scenes that we have seen many times before. Leader Price is our favourite supermarket in the whole of the Caribbean (with the exception of Walmart of course!). Its not much to look at but it’s cheap, plentiful (well most of the time, this is the Caribbean after all) and relatively good quality. We make two trips, carrying our heavy loads, bags filled and backs bent with the weight; we fill the boat to the brim.

Such simple pleasures for such a simple life. Or maybe,I might need to get out more.
Dominica
Dominica

Portsmouth, Dominica
Fishing dock, Dominica



Hermitage Bay, Antigua



Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Is it ever plain sailing?


For the last week and a half we have slogged to windward, hard on the wind all the way. As we sailed south on the trip from the BVIs, back to the east Caribbean I lay in the cockpit looking up at the innocuous white clouds in the sky, despite their appearance I knew their insidious nature was going to spell trouble for us. Sim was working around me, trimming the sails, I told him about my misgivings, how I’d seen these clouds before, looking all innocent during the morning but gathering momentum as the day wore on. He said “you’re probably right Babe” as he so often does when I make a statement like this. I like the affirmation from him that I’m paying attention to my surroundings – learning to read the weather. That I am actually doing something while he pulls the jib in and lets it out, cranks in the main or adjusts our course. I don’t like sailing to windward, it sucks me to the side of the boat, exerting all my energy if I have to move, which I try to avoid.



Dolphins Ahoy and little white clouds
 We have lunch and Sim goes down for a rest, I assume the captains position and look around me. All the fluffy white clouds are coming together in a thin white line. It looks innocent enough but as we sail through them the wind gets lighter and lighter and pushes us further and further off course. “Please don’t let this be a two night sail” I think to myself, cursing sailing at the same time! My mind starts to wonder and once again I’m drawn to thinking about life on land. About having a car and driving to places – getting there quickly or just nipping out for something I need or to see friends or family, to pick up the phone and have a chat; how easy and convenient it all would be. But most of all I have an image - of a front door and a hallway – a proper home. My oldest school friend Kristin has recently bought a new house. She showed me around while we chatted on skype and it’s this front door that stays in my mind with its beautiful coloured glass and wooden frame - so grown up, so lovely. I think about what I have given up and if I could go back. I feel sad. I’m so fed up of sailing and the Caribbean and I can’t seem to shake that thought.
Waterspout forming
I look around me and back to the clouds and I can see the start of a waterspout. I’m curious yet apprehensive to see if it will fully form. Dusk is falling and I wonder if waterspouts can form in the night. We are so far off course that I know we should put a tack in but the little white clouds that have joined together form an ominous looking grey line that runs as far as the eye can see, from east to west - it would mean passing through it. In the past half an hour I have seen four waterspouts start to form; with one making it all the way to the ocean. I wake Sim and we discuss the merits of various strategies. The wind dies but the engine is still on as we have been motor-sailing to keep a better angle. But without the wind we make little progress. I feel so frustrated.

Another waterspout!
We have dinner and I go down below to rest. We had been trying to make Nevis but it would mean another night at sea and I don’t want that. We agree that unless the wind angle improves we will head for St Maarten instead. We still can’t make the course even though we are only thirty miles or so away, we are down wind and it will take all night to tack there. Is there really such a thing as plain sailing?

Arriving in St Maarten
We pull into St Maarten the following morning – an island that I have a love/hate relationship with, with its hedonistic nature and I wait for the foreboding to settle in; that deep seated feeling of discontentment that has been slowly growing inside of me. But it doesn’t come. It must have rained recently as the hills are vibrant green. The sun is shinning and all the little white stucco buildings climbing the hillside look so pretty.  I had been so adamant that I didn’t want to stay in the east Caribbean that I am taken by surprise. I smile; maybe, just maybe, everything is going to be alright.


Simpson Bay, St Maarten





Friday, June 1, 2012

Virgins Galore

Alianna in Francis Bay, St Johns USVI's
We have spent the last two weeks blasting through the United States and British Virgin Islands. Every couple of days we would move on to a new place and with the exception of Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the US Virgin Islands in St Thomas which is more built up with a Danish slant to it - all the bays have been palm tree lined and beach fringed with the most sparkling crystal clear water in the Caribbean. Everyday we have snorkeled and barely ever been disappointed with what we saw. Huge conservation efforts have been put in place to protect the marine environment and it shows.


View of Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas
As Sim and I slowly inched our way east; and I mean slowly sometimes battling wind and current (under engine,a 33hp westerbeke) at 1.8kts, we marveled at how beautiful this area is. Sure, it is filled with charter boats and tourists all scrapping to get into the next popular bay and fees that are charged on a nightly basis just to be there. But there are so many islands to choose from you are spoilt for choice.
Caneel Bay, St Johns

Without wanting to waffle on too much about blue seas and beautiful anchorages, here are our favourite spots.


CHARLOTTE AMALIE, ST THOMAS

Downtown Charlotte Amalie
The main anchorage at Long Bay right by the massive cruise ship docks has good holding so we were happy leaving the boat while we explored the historic district with all its old buildings and churches. It’s a busy and commercial harbour. Everything is convenient with the big supermarket at Pueblos and the cheap launderette opposite. Fuel and water are easily available at the Yacht Haven Marina where you can tie up your dinghy. When the wind or seas moved to the southeast and the bay became uncomfortable and we moved back behind Water Island to a beautiful spot in Honeymoon Bay. As usual all the best places are taken by mooring buoys that charge per night but you can still anchor outside of these if there is room for free.


CHRISTMAS COVE, GREAT ST JAMES

Spotted Eagle Rays
One of our favourite spots. This is one of the only places with free moorings. There is nothing much here except a stone beach but the water is always crystal clear and the snorkeling wonderful, especially around the small island in the middle. The coral is relatively healthy and there are plenty of fish. We saw Queen angel fish, Butterfly fish and spotted drum as well as magnificent Spotted Eagle rays.

Christmas Cove


CRUZ BAY, JOHNS
Colourful Taxi, Cruz Bay, St Johns
Cruz Bay is the main town on St Johns. It’s small, colourful, quirky and fun. Funky beach bars, boutiques and restaurants line the small sea front. It’s a lively and vivacious place. The bay itself is impossible to anchor in as the whole place has been taken over by private moorings so we took a mooring in Caneel Bay further east and dinghied the mile or so back around to have a mooch around town and grab a spot of lunch.


FRANCIS BAY, ST JOHNS
Sim at Anchor, Francis Bay, St Johns
This is a huge bay with several different anchorages in it. A beautiful sandy beach joins them all. The steep hillsides are verdant green after all the recent rain. We met a lovely Brit couple Nick and Mel on Borne who were on their way home, having their boat shipped back to England from St Thomas. We had a couple of evenings with them and a daytrip snorkeling at Trunk Bay to a rather unimpressive snorkel trail where the most abundant wildlife we saw were the masses of tourist snorkelers all wearing bright orange life vests. Although further out in deeper water and away from the horde of day trippers we saw more eagle rays and many turtles.
Pay Station, St Johns
Both Caneel Bay and Francis Bay are with in the area of the protected park so moorings have been laid and are charged 15USD per night paid by an honour system where you post your money in a lock box on a floating raft. If you don’t stay the night they are free.

BENURES BAY, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

Benures Bay, BVI's
The colour of the water was amazing; you could see the white sandy seabed below but the water was deepest turquoise. The green hills surrounded the bay and despite the wind it felt so serene and peaceful. The only other boat in the bay was an expensive looking classic wooden yacht that only added to the ambience; at sundown they fired a gun (and scared the life out of us) and took in their ensign – V posh! I wonder how they felt to have their solitude disturbed by the little green boat. The snorkeling was fabulous and we wished we had more time but a weather window for us to turn the corner back to the East Caribbean was approaching and it was time to stage ourselves at Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda.
Beautiful shells in the BVI's
Posh yacht - Benures Bay

Francis Bay, St Johns
Great Snorkeling
Lovely Coral Gardens
Scary sea creature
Pelican

Large inquisitive sea creature

Ray in shallow water

More birds!