Monday, April 20, 2015

Sailing down the Windward Islands

The colours of Martinique!

On March 17, 2015 we sailed nearly due South to Martinique, the first island of the Windward Chain. After Martinique the islands take a slight westward turn to St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, The chain of islands make an arc that reaches toward the East in the Leewards then turns to head West once you’re in the Windwards. See the map. The Trade Winds blow from the East so as you go down the chain theoretically you will sail a close reach until you reach Martinique then a broad reach as you head towards Grenada. Broad reaches are really really nice! In reality the winds rarely blow directly from East they blow ENE or ESE and as luck would have it it seems to always be blowing from whichever way you’re heading. :-)  But on the day we left for Martinique we had one of those blissful sails with winds 15g18 kts (15 gusting to 18 knots) ENE that had us broad reaching the 35 NM into St Pierre. With only the mainsail raised we glided past Mt Pelee and into our first port in the French island of Martinique. (Until some friendly soul comes from the US we won’t get our repaired jib furler back.)

I ask, now that we’re in Martinique, just where do you buy “a sweat stained Bogart suit and an African Parakeet”? (from Jimmy Buffet’s "Migration")

4800 feet high, ominous Mt Pelee 
The coastal city of St Pierre under the volcano of Mt Pelee is the Pompeii of the New World. At 8am on May 8,1902, Mt Pelee erupted on an Easter Sunday killing 28,000 people and burying the city that many called the Paris of the Caribbean. Nearly everyone in the most populous and wealthiest city of the Caribbean died that day. If the Federal Flood following Katrina was a political killing of the citizens of New Orleans, the destruction and death in St Pierre was the same on a much much higher order. Martinique was in the midst of an important election, election day was to be May11, and politicking was more important than heeding the signs of escaping insects, snakes and birds as well as rumbles and mud flows that had occurred throughout April. The powers that be needed the conservative city of St Pierre to go to the poles and prevent the Socialists from wresting control of government from the powerful plantation party that was in place. Therefore the citizens were assured that no eruption was imminent. 

the cell that saved Auguste Ciparis
One of the few people to survive was a prisoner, Auguste Ciparis. His cell faced away form the flow and had only a tiny opening. Found buried under many feet of ash after four days, his sentence (for assault) was suspended and he spent the rest of his life touring with Barnum and Baileys Circus.  

Even now, over a hundred years later, the town echoes with the tragedy of that day. Only about 6,000 people live in a city that was once home to nearly 30,000. Mostly empty buildings with just part of a wall or two are a major sight everywhere you look and a once thriving harbour is now home only to small fishing boats and cruisers like us. 

Entrance stairs are all that's left of St Pierre's magnificent theatre

French Goodies
We sailed from St. Pierre after just a couple of days and headed South along the coast to Martinique’s capital city, Fort de France. Here we anchored in one of the nicest city anchorages we’ve seen. We were right under the massive walls of Fort St. Louis. We had a fabulous waterfront dingy dock next to a park and the modern city of Fort de France to explore. However, of all the places in Martinique nowhere is as lovely as the town of St. Anne on the South coast. The French islands are not tourism junkies. Both islands, Martinique and Guadeloupe, are Departments of France (like being a state in the US) with all the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. They are the largest and most prosperous of the Eastern Caribbean Islands with tourism making up only a small part of their economy and the cruising community virtually ignored. WiFi is spotty for visitors and dinghy docks are often difficult to access. You need to at least try and speak French and everything closes on Sunday. On the other hand bread, cheese, paté, good highways and an easy system of clearing in and out get high marks. But St. Anne has it all! Plus a beautiful wide open anchorage and a great beach. We loved it here and the madras fabrics are an inspiration for my next Mardi Gras costume! 
The anchorage in beautiful St Anne, Martinique
Diamond rock on the coast of Martinique was commissioned as a ship by the British navy and attacked by French Admiral Villeneuve in one of the stranger battles during the Napoleonic Wars!

Diamond Rock
who passes up a banana train tour!
Sailing along in Martinique with friends Bill and Maureen Woodroffe on S/V Kalunamoo was fun. All of the French villages are charming. We rented a car for several days and visited rum distilleries, the birthplace of Empress Josephine and a banana plantation among other things. Kalunamoo is a 47’ Vagabond ketch not quite the Wanderer from Captain Ron but a very close first cousin. Like many cruisers we’ve met this year they came down from the East Coast with the Salty Dawg Rally. These rallys are a great way to get to the Caribbean. Many boats (I think I heard 67 this year)  travel "alone but together" with weather routing and daily checkins offering safety and companionship on the 1500 mile journey from Hampton Roads, VA to Virgin Gorda, BVI. The Papa of the rallys is the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) that crosses the Atlantic from the Canaries to St Lucia every year in October. We see loads of European boats who have sailed 2700 NM across the Atlantic and entered the Caribbean this way. Each year about 200 boats participate.

Buying from the vegetable boat in Rodney Bay
After nearly a month in French Martinique, enjoying the charming villages and daily fresh baguettes, we continued our journey and headed for our next port of call in St. Lucia. St. Lucia is part of the British Commonwealth of nations but an independent country. St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent are the poorest of the islands. The last blog told of Dominica’s success in using eco-toursim and cruisers to make modest economic gains. That island doesn’t lend itself to vast resorts with white sand beaches so after much trial they are moving in a different direction and cruisers have responded positively. St. Lucia went the other way. It opened itself up to many fabulous resorts on the order of Sandals. Here guests don’t have to see the down and dirty in the island but rather spend their days in a more pampered environment. A high poverty and crime rate make this one of the hot crime spots on the Cruisers Safety and Security Net. Dinghy thefts and even boardings have made cruisers leery and for the first time ever we locked ourselves in the boat each night. Our first stop was Rodney Bay. After some unpleasant notoriety they have instituted a more robust security system both in the marina and the anchorage. Not one incident has been reported since the change which is a great thing as Rodney Bay is home to the ARC and many cruisers use it as a home port. We certainly found it amazing with a swimming pool, good groceries and duty free shopping as well as several beaches and a historic fort to hike up for great views and plenty of cardio exercise. 

Marigot Bay at sunset with LaDivinia moored right behind us for the very last time.
10 MN South was the lovely and well protected Bay of Marigot (seems nearly every island has a Marigot). This one also has a 5 star Capella Resort and for the $30US price of a mooring you get the use of the resort pools, bars, restaurants, gym and spa services. This is where our friends from LaDivina met up with us as they moved back up the island chain to leave their boat in St. Martin. Amazing how quickly those 2 days flew by but spending one of them just being lazy around the Capella pool with poolside drinks and lunch sure was great.
4 intrepid sailors - Roy & I with Dave and Jane and just one more cocktail!
Approaching the Pitons

Our last stop in St. Lucia was an anchorage between the Pitons. They are part of a World Heritage Site that comprises the Piton Mitan volcanic ridge. Truly a magnificent backdrop for a night at anchor. Unfortunately, the weather was not the best so we’ll plan a longer visit for them and the nearby town of Soufriere on our trip North next year.

On to St. Vincent and the Grenadines...

from the movie
The real thing

A 34 NM lumpy sail which ended up being a beat into the wind brought us to St. Vincent and the town of Wallilabou. St. Vincent has not figured out the tourism market at all and many cruisers sail right by it or only stop for an overnight, not even getting off of the boat. While it is not a hot crime spot on the CSSN, it isn’t known for safety either.  Unlike St. Lucia there is little organised cruising support, tours and restaurants. The one bright spot is Wallilabou Bay. Pirates of the Caribbean set up shop here for the first movie and returned for the other two. The set Disney built along the bay front is still worth a visit. Owners of the restaurant there have done a lot with a little and cruisers can feel safe tying up to the mooring balls with the help of the boat boys who act as line handlers and water taxies. But there are few boats and many hungry guys so a cruiser can easily feel intimidated by the 5 or 6 vendors coming up and wanting to do a little business. 
Pirates of the Caribbean set at Wallilabou St Vincent

Suggestion to cruisers - spend 10 to 15EC with each one. It's not that much money to you and it goes a long way. 

Note to everyone else: EC = Eastern Caribbean Currency. $1US = $2.7EC

Another hike another swinging bridge
We ended up meeting a boat with a mate from St. Martinville!. So we stayed an extra day and the 4 of us shared the island tour with a visit to a waterfall, lunch and a drive through the marijuana towns. Yes, St. Vincent is managing its economic problems by ignoring the sizeable established business of growing and exporting weed. 

The “twins” Ron and Ronnie, referenced in Doyle’s Cruising Guide, are very good, responsible and hard working. Ron met our boat and helped us with the mooring and tying our stern to the dock. He wasn’t pushy but offered either a short or long tour for the next day. We decided on the long one. Ronnie then took over as our guide along with Cecil Doyle, an ex-policeman, as our driver. They were wonderful, can’t say enough about how much fun we had and how beautiful the island is. The trip to the waterfall was great and ended in a refreshing swim. Lunch was delicious overlooking Cumberland Bay - they really went all out to make sure we had a good time. Later that evening Ronnie came to the boat with a gift from Cecil, our driver, he’s also a farmer and sent over eggs, tomatoes and cabbage plus this wonderful bar of spiced chocolate. Ronnie showed us how to make a drink out of it that’s quite popular throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was a wonderful stay and made us want to help make this a regular stop for all cruisers.

FUN FACT: St. Vincent and Belize have a linked heritage. While other islands were being settled by Europeans St. Vincent was still a Carib held island. So when s slave ship sunk in 1635 off of St. Vincent the slaves who survived and made it ashore eventually married into the Carib tribe. The combination was especially fierce and were called Black Caribs (regular Carib indians are light brown in colour and have slight Asian features). The British eventually settled the island and the violent Black Caribs were subdued and relocated to Honduras, some making their way into present day Belize! We now call them the Garifuna, though Roy says, as a kid, he knew them as Caribs.

Now we’re anchored in Bequia (pronounced Beckway). St. Vincent is more than the main island it is really SVG, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Grenadines are supposedly the high point of the Caribbean islands. We plan to stay awhile with lots of time to explore.

Rum - Yum!

Traditional West Indian Rum Punch

One part sour (fresh lime juice)
Two parts sweet (cane syrup)
Three parts strong(rum, of course)
Four parts weak(fresh fruit juice or water or a combination)
5 drops of Angostura Bitters (they're made in Trinidad)
Grated Nutmeg
Served Well Chilled with lots of Ice