Archive for May, 2010


May 24, 2010

(Posted from Rodney Bay, St. Lucia)

St. Pierre

May 10. Compared to the sail from The Saints to Dominica, the sail from Dominica to Martinique was uneventful. We got an early start and arrived in St. Pierre, Martinique, a little before 3 PM.  It took a little under 7 hours to do the 35 nautical mile trip.

The town lies along a small bay and has a relatively narrow band of shallow water off the beach.  We managed to find a spot in close that was pretty shallow.  The more shallow the water, the less chain we need to let out to keep the anchor set well.  We’ve found that some boats like to anchor close, so less chain means we swing in a smaller circle when the wind shifts.

Some boats like to anchor close

St Pierre is listed as a port of entry, but we heard that the you could no longer check in there.  Once we got settled we looked for a US flagged vessel flying a French courtesy flag signifying that they had already checked in.  We found one and dinghyied over.  It turns out they were northbound and had checked in farther south.  The were here to check out before they left for Dominica.  Clearing in and out here is done with a Customs computer like in Guadeloupe.  They gave us directions to the place with the customs computer.  They weren’t open and a sign said that due to technical difficulties they could no longer do customs clearances.  We walked around town a little and then returned to the boat. 

St. Pierre rooftop view

The town is a typical seaside town, except that it is fairly young.  In 1902 it has a population of 30,000 and was known as the Paris of the Caribbean.  In that year the volcano erupted killing all but two people and destroying most of the town.  Few current structures pre-date the volcano.

Typical seaside settlement

Fort de France

The next day we motorsailed to Fort de France, the capitol of Martinique.  We anchored next to Fort St. Louis and dinghyied in to the nice dinghy dock in their refurbished waterfront.  Then started the quest for the Customs office.  Our guide book showed it to be in the commercial seaport area, so we started walking trying to follow the sketchy map in our book.  At one point we wandered into the ferry terminal, but no one appeard to be around.  Then as we were leaving a young woman called to us and asked if we left a calendar.  We went back and looked at it, but it wasn’t ours.  There was a second young woman with her and we got to talking.  They had arrived from Kiel, Germany, via many other ports aboard a sailing cruise on which they were crew.  They decided not to continue with the boat to the Great Lakes.  They liked Martinique, but wanted to go to St. Lucia or Dominica because they were less expensive.  We traded email addresses, but our plans were pretty sketchy at the time.  We seem to have misplaced their address and we have not heard from them, so we hope they made it somewhere.

Sunset over Fort de France

We kept walking looking for Customs.  We finally found it, but they directed us to a place nearby in a marine trades complex that had the computer.  After asking a lot of questions, we finally found that it was the local fuel dock.  The computer was sitting outside the office on a table.  All we had to do was fill in the blanks and tell it to print.  Moments later the guy in the office handed our copy out the window and we were free to go.

I should take a moment to note that this is a French Island and few people seem to speak English.  Jackie doesn’t speak any French and I remember about three phrases from my high school French classes.  Our interaction with the people we met tends to go something like this:

Eric: Bonjour (Good day)

French Person: Bonjour (Good day)

Eric: J’n parles pas Francais (I don’t speak French)

French Person: (They tend to look at me funny because is just told them I don’t speak French in pretty good French)

Eric: Parlez vous Anglais? (Do you speak English)

French Person: En peu (a little)

Eric: Do you know where Customs is?

French Person:  (A few sentences in French, spoken slowly and clearly so I will undoubtedly understand them)

Eric: (with a look that conveys that I haven’t a clue what they are saying, but that I appreciate the effort.) We just came here in our boat and we need to clear in a Customs.

French Person:  (A few more sentences in French, spoken slowly and clearly so I will undoubtedly understand them)

Eric: (I pull out the guidebook and point at Customs)

French Person:  (Either hasn’t the first clue where Customs is, or gives very detailed directions – in French)

Eric: Merci. Merci.(No, I’m not asking for mercy, Merci means Thankyou)

French Person:  Bonjour.

This type of witty repartee happened many times, and was often accompanied by strange pantomimes and gestures.  In most cases the people tried hard to be helpful.

Back to the story.  We made the long trek back to the downtown area.  On the way we spotted the library.  It is a magnificent building that was built in France about the same time as the Eiffel Tower.  Then it was dismantled and moved to Martinique.  We had heard they had original copies of Audobon’s books with his hand painted illustrations.  They did have a couple nice books of his, but they are much more recent reproductions.

We continued back through town towards the boat looking for a marine store.  We found the store, but they didn’t have nearly as large a stock as the guidebook seemed to indicate.  But what they did have was a Customs computer.  We could have saved a couple miles of walking if we had only known.

Trois Ilets (Twaz e LAY)

We spent the night there, but the anchorage was a bit rolly and we really didn’t have much more to see in town, so we looked for another anchorage.  The Fort de France Bay is very large and there are many anchorages.  We found one that looked very protected right next to the town of Trois Ilets (Three Islands).  We motored across the bay, around the point and up the channel between two of the islands.  We looked around for a place to anchor and spotted our friends on Moonlight.  It’s always nice to see a familiar boat in an anchorage.

As we were putting around checking the depth we passed a boat with two women aboard.  They called to us and asked if they were dragging.  Sure enough, their boat was moving backwards pulling the anchor along.  They asked for help and we told them we would be back once we got our boat anchored.  We found a spot, got the anchor down and set, and I took the dinghy over to their boat.  They had started the engine, raised the anchor, moved back to where they had started, and put the anchor back down.  They seemed to be OK and only needed to stay for about another hour until the captain came back.

The harbor at Trois Ilets

We stayed in Trois Ilets for a few days.  They have a nice bakery and we stumbled over a little out of the way “snack” restaurant that had wonderful food (and a couple large guard frogs).  We also discovered crepes.  It was a filling stay.

Trois Ilets

Grande Anse d’Arlet

We moved from there to Grande Anse d’Arlet, a bay just south of the Fort d’ France bay.  The “town” is a row of restaurants separated from the beach by an old road that is closed to traffic.  The main road now runs on the other side of the restaurants.  It took us a couple tries to find a spot we liked, but We anchored close in with reasonable room around us.  Once settled we went to shore to look around.  There is a large town dock where you can tie your dinghy and scramble up a ladder.  We tied up next to a couple other dinghies and went looking for lunch. 

We walked around a little and during that time a large power catamaran party boat came in and attempted to dock.  They seemed to be having trouble getting settled and they managed to pin a few dinks under the dock – including ours.  I walked down the dock to get the dinghy and they moved back enough for me to get it and move it in to a new spot out of their way.

We found a nice little restaurant with tables with little thatched roofs on the beach under some trees and ordered lunch.  While we were eating a three masted day charter boat came in and anchored right next to us.  From our perspective it looked like we might need to go back and put out fenders.  It turned out they weren’t quite that close, but they weren’t very far away, either.   We were most of the way done with lunch when the rain started.  The little roof over the table seemed to have a lot of holes in it, but it kept most of the rain out.

A BIG boat anchors close

How it looked from Little Rosie

Our friends on Moonlight had already moved to this bay and anchored off to one side.  The water on that edge of the bay was filled with boulders that had fallen down the mountain long ago.  Now they were home to a lot of coral and fish.  We could tie the dink up to Moonlight and swim over to the edge of the bay.  There were a lot of interesting fish, including some eels and squid, but nothing big enough to take home for dinner.  There was also a lot of pretty coral.

Grande Anse d’Arlet is separated from Petite Anse d’Arlet by a small peninsula. We walked to Petit Anse and found it to be much more like a town, although it did have a nice little beach with some little restaurants along it.  We got a beachside table at one and after the usual French-English back and forth, we ordered lunch.  While we were waiting we realized that this beach was used by women who were liberated in their choice of clothing – and how much of it to wear.  This anchorage doesn’t seem to be very popular with cruisers, but I think it’s more because of the limited protection from waves than the scenery.

Next: St. Lucia

Dominica – land of rainbows

May 16, 2010

Portsmouth, Dominica (posted from Grande Anse d’ Arlet, Martinique)

May 2. On our last day in The Saints we got up early, prepared to leave, and watched John and Ann on Moonlight head south. We were ready to go, but we had to wait for our croissants to be delivered. The delivery man came on time. We got our croissants and said goodbye to him. He pointed to a dark cloud to the south and opined that it might rain. Our weather router had predicted possible squalls, but nothing too threatening.

We sailed out past the southern island and set a course for Portsmouth, Dominica, in Prince Rupert Bay. The wind was in the mid teens as we cleared the island, so we left the reef in. It looked like a nice sail. The wind was a little farther forward than we would like, but the speed and the waves were not bad.

 As we neared Dominica we could see squalls off to the east, but they all passed ahead or behind us. As we reached the island we could see white caps around the north end, then the wind hit. It went into the mid twenties and pushed us over pretty far. We had shaken the reef out, so we put it back in and rolled the jib a little. We were back under control and the wind soon passed.

A few miles later and we could see the point at the north end of Prince Rupert Bay. We could also see the big dark cloud that was pouring rain. Then the wind came up with gusts to 35 knots and all we could see was rain – the island had disappeared. Rather than try to enter the bay and anchor, we pointed Rosie a little offshore and rode it out.

Prince Rupert Bay/Portsmouth - when it's not raining

The squall only lasted about fifteen minutes. As soon as we could see it clearing, we turned into the bay, dropped the sails and motored in. We wanted to get anchored before any more squalls rolled down the mountain at us. We were well out in the bay trying to pick out a spot among the boats when we noticed a small, open boat heading on a collision course with us. As he got closer we realized it was one of the local “boat boys”. Many of the islands have boat boys who offer a variety of services. We told him to wait until we anchored, which he did.

His name was Albert and he was one of the Indian River Guides. Boat boys can be pests and really turn off cruisers. Some time ago the guys in Portsmouth realized that if they showed a little professionalism, they would do better. They organized, got training to conduct tours up the Indian River, and brought a more relaxed atmosphere to yacht services. Where in the past people shunned boat boys, they now seek out the River Guides for various services.

Trivia Question: When does it rain in Dominica?

A) Right after you open all the hatches.

B) 3 AM

C) When the clothes hanging out are almost dry

D) All of the above, and more.

It was unseasonably rainy in Dominica

We visited town and got some local cash (EC – Eastern Caribbean). We realized that it was a long hike to the Customs office so we went back to the dinghy and motored down to their dock. The Customs lady was on the phone and another cruising couple was just completing their forms. They gave her their fees, and she stamped their papers and gave them back. Off they went. Still on the phone, the lady gave me the forms. I filled them out, gave her the fees; she stamped my papers, gave them back, and told me I was checked in and out. She never got off the phone the whole time.

The town has a main street that runs through it. The streets are narrow and most buildings look old and tired. Some are unusable. In many respects it is like most of the other small Caribbean coastal towns, but it seems poorer. The waterfront is another story. Most of the coastal towns we anchor off of have shops that back up to the water, restaurants with views of the water, and small sand or rock beaches, and usually one public dock. The town of Portsmouth looked much more run down from the water than anywhere else we had been, but what really set the town was the four or five commercial ships that had been driven ashore by a hurricane and sat rusting at the edge of the shore.

Waterfront, "downtown" Portsmouth

Some of the wrecked ships washed ashore by a hurricane

We booked a tour of the Indian River with Alfred. He picked us up at our boat at seven AM and motored us over to the river. The entrance had been blocked by one of the wrecks, so a new channel was dredged around the front of the boat. Motors are not allowed to be used on the river, so Albert rigged his oars and rowed us up the river. The trip was about 3/4 of a mile.

Albert rows us down the Indian River

Albert did an excellent job pointing out various plants and animals and telling us about the river and some history of the area. The river was one of the locations used in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie and all the river guides got involved shuttling people and equipment up and down the river.

One of many examples of the strange tree roots along the Indian River

The turn around point is the bush bar. It is a little watering hole most easily accessed by river. It seems a bit out of place in such a remote setting, but the lady who runs it was a great hostess. She brewed up some herbal tea while we walked around the grounds.

Indian River Bush Bar - Jackie talks to a guide. Hostess walks away

Our friends John and Ann on Moonlight arranged a small tour of nearby parts of the island with their River Guide, Alexis, and invited us along. We hiked up a mountain into the rain forest in search of parrots. We heard some and got glimpses of a couple, but didn’t really see any until we got back down the mountain to the car. Go figure.

The path through the rain forest

Jackie and Eric with John and Ann of Moonlight

We went to another location and hiked in to a waterfall. It was rather picturesque except for the chain link fence in front of the pool at the bottom of the falls. This river provides drinking water for many of the local towns and they don’t like the idea of people swimming in water they will be drinking.

Waterfall in rain forest

The path to the waterfall runs along a plantation. All the way to the waterfall and back Alexis would pick fruits, herbs, leaves, and bark and give us samples. On the way back we stopped at the plantation and bought more produce.

We then traveled to the other side of the island and hiked to a volcanic spring. Water bubbled up from the volcanic region, but it travelled such a long way that it was cool by the time it reached the surface.

The final stop on the tour was to meet Alexy’s parents. He is using the money he makes as a guide to build them a nice little house.

The house Alexi is building for his parents

Trying out some local fruit at Alexi's parent's house

Our last excursion in Portsmouth was a walk up to the old fort that guards the north end of the harbor. Its position on two hills gives it a view of Prince Rupert Bay on one side and Guadeloupe and The Saints on the other. This was very strategic in that the British on Dominica could watch the French approach all the way from Guadeloupe. Indeed, a famous naval battle took place in the waters between The Saints and Dominica and it was watched by people from both islands.

Most trees were cut down, so this cannon would have a clear shot at the northern bay

We suffered a little damage in all the wind coming into Dominica. The stitching started to go on the sun cover on the jib and the reef in the mainsail filled with water and pressed down on the dodger hard enough to rip the material holding the middle bow in place. We put on our working jib – probably a more appropriate sail for the windy Caribbean and we did a bunch of little repairs to the dodger. The sewing machine we brought along is really paying its way.


May 9. We left Portsmouth and headed south for Roseau, the capitol of Dominica. The winds are influenced by the trade winds and the mountains. We sailed at times and motor sailed at others.

We neared Roseau and were approached by a couple boat boys. There isn’t much space where the water is shallow enough to anchor, so we planned on taking a mooring. Harrison, the first boat boy to us explained that he would help us pick up a mooring and he would take the payment in to shore for us. We could have saved ourselves a few EC and taken the money ashore ourselves, but it wasn’t worth the hassle to get the dink of the deck, hook up the motor, and then figure out where to go.

Mark and Michelle on Reach bargaining with a boat boy

He wanted to sell us a tour, but the anchorage was marginal and we only planned to stay one night.

Next: Martinique.


May 9, 2010

(posted from Dominica, May 9)

April 24. We left Saba and headed for Guadeloupe.  This would take us directly past St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat.  We would also bypass Antigua and Barbuda, both farther east.  Jackie and I have vacationed on all of these islands in the past except for Montserrat.  Hopefully we will visit them by boat sometime later.

We left early in the afternoon so we would arrive in Guadeloupe after sunrise the next day.  The trip went well in that we had good weather, calm seas, and some wind to sail at least part of the way.  We found the wind to change as we passed islands.  The most interesting was when we went by the south end of Montserrat.  There is an active volcano on the island. 

Montserrat volcano

We could smell it as we went by and as the sun came up we could see that mixed in with the white fluffy clouds over the island, there were black clouds coming from the volcano.  The hot air rising created a local “sea breeze” by pulling the air in from the ocean.  We were west of the island, so we experienced a westerly breeze in this area rather than the typical easterly trade wind.

Sunrise, just south of Monserrat


We arrived in Dahais, Guadeloupe late in the morning as planned.  The bay is open to the west with the town situated at the east end.  The bay is deep so you have to get close to the beach to find reasonably shallow water.  Luckily, as we were approaching another boat raised anchor and left. 

Anchoring close in, Dahais Bay

We anchored in the space they vacated just off the town.  While we were there other boats came in and anchored near us to take advantage of the shallow water. 

One boat ended up quite close.  The wind shifted and we swung around so they were much closer.  They pulled up their anchor and moved.

Some people like to anchor close

The town is small.  It has a main street and a couple side streets that more or less parallel the main street.  There are quite a few restaurants along the waterfront.  We were hoping they would hold up a menu so we could see what they had to offer, but no such luck.  One of the nice surprises was that late in the day a fellow would come by and take your order for baked goods.  He offered plain and chocolate croissonts, and bagettes.  The next morning he would drop off your order in time for breakfast.

We spent a day at the local botanical garden.  What we didn’t know is that it was on top of a hill and it was a hot, sunny morning.  The gardens were very nice and we had great views of the harbor on the way up and down.

Dahais botanical garden


Dahais Bay viewed from road to botanical gardens

Mark and Michelle had sailed with us to Dahais, but we stayed there when they left for their next port.  We didn’t know where they were going next, but figured our paths would cross again.

We visited the tourist office and while we were their we met a cruiser from another boat (Lala).  He found out that bus service was available to the Pointe a Pitre, the capitol city, for only a few dollars.  He and his family were going early the next day.  We went, too, but on a later bus.  The ride gave us a chance to see much of the island.  We arrived in Pointe a Pitre and walked into the downtown area.  The buildings are old and of a mixed architecture.  We were waking through the fish market on the waterfront and who should we see but Mark and Michelle looking for a place to tie up their dinghy.  We hailed them and just as we started to talk to them the family on Lala walked up behind us.  The dock was too rough to tie up their dinghy, so they went off looking for a better spot and we lost track of them.  We didn’t see Mark and Michelle again, but we kept bumping into the Lala folks and by chance even went back on the same bus with them.

The Saints

We left Dahais mid-morning April 30 and began sailing for The saints – a group of islands just south of Guadeloupe.  We expected to arrive late afternoon.  We started with a nice northeast wind.  It died a bit later and then filled in from the west – a direction not expected in any forecast.  It must have been a sea breeze created by warm air rising over the island.  The west wind died as we neared the southern tip of the island, then with the island no longer protecting us, the trade winds filled from the east.  Along with them came some wind driven waves and chop.  The last couple hours into the saints saw us pounding into the wind and waves and using the motor to help us punch through.

We anchored in deep water off the main town, Bourg de Saints.  The good news is that there was a croissant delivery man.  The bad news is that although the harbor is well protected, a small swell came between the islands and into the anchorage.  It was just the right motion to cause the boats to rock back and forth.  This gets really annoying.

The next morning we moved to a small anchorage off neighboring Ilet A Cabrit.  Although it didn’t appear very protected, it was almost always without the swell so it was much more comfortable most of the time.  The exception was that we would get waked when a ferry went by.

Anchored at Ilet A Cabrit

We spent a couple days there, but didn’t do much except snorkle and dinghy into town.  We did make some friends in the anchorage.  They are John and Ann on Moonlight.  Their cruise started in England.  They crossed the Atlantic, landed in the Windward Islands and have been working their way up and down the islands.

Next: Dominica