Wednesday, March 28, 2018

St. Lucia, Martinique and Dominica

It has been a long time since our last post.  The problem has been a lack of reliable Internet access not boredom.  I will try to do better.

We stayed on St Lucia for another week and a half, leaving on the 25th.  We had a weather event that caused almost continuous strong winds so we chose to stay in our little protected bay and ride it out.  Not that we had to stay on the boat all of the time.  We got together several times with our neighbors for activities such as a trip to a distillery for a tour and rum tasting.  This is the only time we have been to a tasting that did not limit the amount you tasted.  If you found one or two of their eighteen rums you could just stop there and sip until you couldn’t anymore.  From there we all continued at Doolittles Bar, named for the movie that was shot here, Dr. Doolittle for more rum drinks.  We also all scheduled a tour of the island which gave us a chance to see more of the interior, the southern end and the Atlantic coast.  We also had several days of rain which kept us aboard but things still got done.  The chaps that Cori made to protect the dinghy were in pretty bad shape and she had gotten some material before we left Trinidad so she took the down time to make a new cover.  The UV is harsh and will really age your dingy if it is not protected in some way.  I took the opportunity to service a couple of winches which means disassembling, cleaning and giving the parts a good coating of grease before reassembling, without dropping anything overboard.  We had an unusual interaction with one of the boats near us one evening.  One of the men swam over to explain that they were fixing dinner and had run out of propane.  Could they bring their pot over to cook for about ten minutes to finish it?  How do you say no to that?  They were from Poland, spoke good English and visited while the dinner continued to cook, thanked us profusely and gave us some of their desert before going back to their boat to eat.  On the 24th the weather patterns changed back to somewhat normal so we pulled anchor to move up the coast to Rodney Bay.  Rodney Bay is a big bay and many boats had been riding out the winds there and were eager to move.  We arrived, dropped anchor and settled in to spend the night before moving on in the morning.  Rodney Bay is a very popular location for the cruisers as it has a large anchoring field, a marina, shopping and a lot of restaurants.  Unfortunately, this year it also has dingy thieves.  At one point I had counted seven reports of dinghies being stolen or attempts to steal before we arrived.  We kept our dinghy securely attached to us overnight.  We plan on checking it out further on our way back down.

It was time to move on; we had checked out of St Lucia and were headed to Martinique in the morning.  The winds were cooperative and we had a great sail up to St. Anne on the Island of Martinique.  We joined the crowd of about a hundred boats and as we arrived we were contacted by Dean and Kim on Dreamcatcher.  We had first met them when we were in Nassau getting our transmission replaced several years ago.  They filled us in on what is going on and gave us some suggestions for shopping and dining.  They were taking advantage of the fair winds and were leaving in the morning.  It was good to get caught up again.  In the morning we went ashore to check in.  In every country we have to check in and out with Immigration and Customs.  This being a French island it is much easier.  The French have figured out how to put the whole process on a computer and have set up several locations to simplify the process.  St Anne has a small café with the computer so we were able to check in and have lunch later.  The other countries give you the forms to be filled out in triplicate and may or may not have carbon paper to help.  Yes, they are still using carbon paper and using it over and over.  We spent the rest of the day checking out St Anne which is a small town with a lot of shops catering to the cruisers and tourists.  Like many of the towns we have visited they have a beautiful old church.  We are visiting a lot of churches this season.  Further into the bay is La Marin, large protected harbor with several marinas, a mooring field and an area to anchor.  They also have dinghy access to grocery stores and marine stores.  After the devastation that the hurricanes did to the Virgin Islands many of the cruisers have moved here to spend their winter and the harbor has several hundred boats docked, moored and anchored.  We provisioned, walked around the town a bit, had lunch and went back to our boat and got ready to head out again.  Large crowded anchorages are not our thing.  We moved up the coast to a small bay, dropped anchor and settled in.  Our friends on Artic Vixen were here so we were able to get together for drinks before they moved on in the morning.   We stayed for a couple of days, checking out the town, the church, did some snorkeling and Cori kayaked to some beaches to look for more sea-glass.  The weather forecast started warning about a change bringing in a west wind and few of the harbors are protected for west winds.  We moved again choosing to go up to Fort du France Bay and tuck into a corner with excellent protection.  While others were dealing with winds and waves we were sitting in flat calm waters.  We were at the community of Trois Ilets, which I believe translates to Three Islands since there were three small islands next to us.  The biggest thing to have happened in Trois Ilets is that it is the birthplace of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon who caused all that commotion in France and eventually sold us the Louisiana Purchase to help pay for his wars.  Yes, that Napoleon.  Once the winds turned back to normal we moved across the bay to Fort du France and anchored next to the fort built in the 1700’s.  We spent a couple of days seeing the sights, doing a bit of shopping and being tourists.  I didn’t mention but this being a French Island everyone speaks French and a few speak English.  We however know about four words of French.  I can greet you hello and good bye, say thank you and try to excuse myself (pardon) and that is about it.  From here we moved up the island to St Pierre.  The history of St Pierre is that it was the first settlement on Martinique in the 1600’s.  It continued to grow and prosper, being referred to as “the Paris of the Caribbean”.  By 1900 it had a population of 30,000.  In May of 1902 the volcano, Mount Pelee, erupted sending a super-heated cloud of gas and ash into the city and within minutes approximately 29,633 people died.  There were only two survivors, one who was in a basement jail cell when it happened.  He eventually went on to appear in Barnum and Bailey’s circus side show displaying the burns he received.  The town has rebuilt and now has a population of about 4000, but there are still ruins hat have not been removed or built over and it is said that almost every building is using at least one wall that was built before the event.  We did a hike up Mount Pelee one day.  We made it about a third of the way then called it quits and worked our way down.  It was one of the more difficult hikes we have tried this season.  I have been trying to get pictures of the mountain without its customary cloud cover and this day the top was clear.  Cori is in seventh heaven since she found that the beach is filled with sea-glass and has been collecting jars and bags of it.  After about a week we checked out and in the morning moved up to Dominica.

Our original plan for the season was to go north as far as Dominica.  After the devastation caused by hurricane Maria, we decided not to go there.  While in St Pierre we met up with our friends on Roxy who had just returned from Dominica.  They strongly encouraged us to go.  As we say “plans are written in sand at low tide” we made a change of plans, checked out of Martinique and headed off to Dominica.  In the process of checking out we found a restaurant that offers a check in/out computer and good Wi-Fi, finally.  In the early morning we motored out of the anchorage and up the coast, catching a good wind when we approached the northern tip of the island.  From there we had one of the most enjoyable sails of the season.  We made the decision to stop for the evening and night in Roseau, the capital city.  We picked up a mooring ball, payed too much for it and settled in.  The cruising guide suggested this anchorage and gave the identifying feature as the Anchorage Hotel with the white roof.  Things have changed.  The hotel is still there, the windows are all missing and the roof is also.  Taking a good look around with the binoculars it was plain to see that most of the buildings with blue roofs were blue tarps covering a missing or damaged roof.  We spent the night, not bothering to go ashore and check in and left the next morning to go to Portsmouth.  Portsmouth has a large protected bay and a lot of services enjoyed by cruisers.  You are met coming in by a “boat-boy” who welcomes you and offers to help with a mooring or you can anchor there.  We chose a mooring with the thought that they ae trying to recover from the hurricane and any money they earn will help work its way through the community.  The “boat-boys” in this bay have organized themselves to eliminate competing with each other and offer many services.  You need water?  Not a problem, Need to get rid of you trash? Not a problem.  Need a ride in and to Customs? Not a problem.  Interested in any tours? Not a problem.  Most islands you have multiple boat-boys coming around offering the same services and it can become annoying.  Here they stop by to say hello and ask if you have any problems and what can they do for you.  Also, there is a lot of “thank you for visiting our island.”  We decided to stay for a week.

Now some information of hurricane Maria.  Dominica took a direct hit from a category 5 storm in 2017.  Winds were reported as sustained 160 mph with gusting even higher.  There is a population of about 70,000 but miraculously there were only 37 deaths.  98% of the building lost or received roof damage, half the houses received frame damage or were destroyed, the leaves on the vegetation was stripped off and many trees were blown down along with virtually all of the power poles supplying electricity.  The once lush tree covered mountains were cleared of their leaves and many branches, only now are the trees trying to push out new branches and foliage.  All crops such as bananas and any other above ground crop were destroyed.  We heard many stories during our stay.

Back to our visit, what did we do?  We took a tour up the Indian River.  This is a very scenic ride with no motors allowed (National Park) so we got a lot of information from the guide as he poled us up the river.  At the turn around spot there is a small bar and we were taken on a short walk to learn of the plants and wildlife in the area.  We also saw what the river looked like after the hurricane, completely covered by fallen trees and brush, completely impassable.  Prior to the hurricane the river was covered with a canopy of trees.  They have done a great job of clearing the fallen trees.  We spent a morning at an elementary school helping paint to cover the damage done by flying debris.  We took an island tour, quite an eye opener seeing the damage all over the island.  The highlight of the tour was when we stopped for a swim at what they were referring to as “the caves”.  It is a narrow gorge that you swim into and about 200 feet in is a waterfall.  Fortunately the area under the falls is shallow so you can touch bottom and enjoy the falling water.  It was breathtaking.  This is my all-time favorite activity since we started cruising four years ago.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  We did some hiking with one trail just about doing me in.  The sad part was when we reached the end of the path that has been cleared we could not continue and had to turn around and follow the path back.  We visited the fort and climbed to the upper gun batteries.  Everything is uphill since the island is really nine volcanic mountains jutting out of the ocean.  We found the bakery and ate at several restaurants and the final night of our stay the PAYS group (the boat-boys) had one of their BBQs to raise money for the relief efforts.  There wasn’t much we could do for them other than spend money to help the economy so we did our best.

Our week was up and it was time to leave again.  Now we would start making our way South.  We left the anchorage with a good wind but quickly fell into the shadow of the island and had a variety of wind conditions along the way.  When the winds died we motored, when the winds came up a little we sailed with all of the sails up and when the winds built we reefed the main to reduce how much sail we had up.  As we approached the bottom of the island the winds were funneling between the two islands and they built to 20-25 knots.  We still had the mainsail reefed but we should have taken it down and sailed under the mizzen and headsail but neither of us wanted to go on deck to drop it so we continued with too much sail giving a rougher ride then necessary.  Too much sail causes the boat to heel over excessively and actually makes you sail slower.  We were however doing 7-8 knots but it was uncomfortable.  Further out into the gap the winds dropped a bit and stayed pretty constant at 20 knots.  The highlight of the trip was being greeted by a pod of dolphins when we reached Martinique.  We have not seen dolphins for a long time.  We continued down to St Pierre and dropped anchor.  In the morning we went ashore, stopped at a bakery for croissants, coffee and a diet coke then went to the tourist office to check in.  Cori headed to the beach to pick more sea-glass and I went back to the boat to read and update this blog.  We met back for a late lunch at the restaurant with the good Wi-Fi then back to the boat where I relaxed and Cori went back to shore for more beach combing.  This morning Cori is back on the beach picking more glass and I am hanging out on the boat relaxing, reading and writing.  Later I will go in and see about posting this.

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