Caribbean Loop - 2010
8 - ?
Martinique, or as friend Lee Wolf calls it - "Martini-Q"!
We safely arrived in the capital, Fort-de-France (FdF) after an overnight sail from beautiful Bequia. We deliberately chose to by-pass the island St. Vincent due to reports of petty crimes against cruisers like us ("yachties" down here). We also bypassed St. Lucia mainly because our first guests of 2010, are flying into Martinique on January 10, so it didn't make sense to stop. In addition, our last visit to St. Lucia was marred by the seriously aggressive "boat boys". Sorry St. Lucians, clean up your act!
What about the overnight passage, you ask? Pretty nice, but it definitely had some rough patches. The trip was exactly 100nm, we hit a top speed of 11.9 knots, but only averaged 6.5 knots, so you can see we spent some time in fickle winds, plus the wave conditions made it hard to sustain the higher speeds. Winds were all over the place from 25 knots down to 3 knots, and we found ourselves fighting a NW current. A lot of steep, choppy waves made it difficult to sleep during the off-watch hours - we did our normal 3 hours on/3 hours off routine. The most significant "adventure" was when we each had a southbound yacht come close to hitting us. It was different boats on consecutive watches. Fortunately, we were alert and made the correct course changes to avoid a collision. Also, the sail into the FdF harbor in the morning hours was just super. It took us 15.5 hours and we were pretty tired when we arrived in the anchorage @ 9:00AM, so we crashed most of the day. As we were entering the anchorage, we saw friends Jim and Anne on Bees Knees, a couple we first met in North Carolina and have run into periodically since. It was great to have drinks with them the next day before they headed off to St. Croix, USVI.
The anchorage in Fort-de-France is right outside the old Fort St. Louis and adjacent to the Parc du Savanne (Savannah Park). One of the many neat things about Martinique is they have good dinghy docks in each town. Of course, the French are pretty inconsiderate when they tie their boats up, tight to the ladders, making it harder to use the wonderful docks. C'est dommage!
Fort-de-France is a bustling city with shops galore and a couple of market areas close by. If you can get up early in the morning, you will have your choice of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, beef, chicken. Add to that a stop at the boulangerie (bakery) and you can get some nice baguettes, croissants, etc. Of course, we can't seem to get up early enough, so we mostly shop at the Leader-Price Super-Marche. The French really like their fashion! Unlike most of the other islands we have spent time in, there are countless stores with "fashion-forward" dresses, shoes, jeans and on and on. Some of the displays are pretty funny, like this one where the focus was clearly directing you to look at a woman's derriere, s'il vous plait!
Friends Jim Floyd and Patti Perskie arrived late on January 10th and we spent a nice week with them sailing around the southern half of Martinique, snorkeling and walking/hiking. Yes, dominoes were played! Jim was the big winner - he crushed us! The biggest challenge though, was getting the tiles back in their new box. As usual we had some fun times including finding out how long it takes to walk up the Stations Of The Cross in Saint Anne (3 minutes, or less than 10 if you walk more leisurely). Plans to go on extended hikes every day, including seeing Mt. Pelee were thwarted by beautiful weather, the reality of getting anywhere @ 6 knots and the ability of our guests to let go of stress and just relax...a drink or two on the trampolines at sunset doesn't hurt either. We did make it up and over Morne Champagne (but we didn't find any bubbly!)
Snorkeling can a bit tough in Martinique because the island seems to leap out of the depths of the water. It is almost as though the island was created by volcanic eruptions!?! Just 300 feet from shore and you can be in water that is 1000 feet or more. There is just not a lot of shallow reef here. We did find a few spots though just outside of St. Anne and on the other side of the channel leading into the charter base city of Le Marin.
After Jim & Patti left (an o'dark thirty drop off at the St. Anne dock with a taxi we arranged at Club Med), we spent a couple of days in Le Marin catching up on the internet and work in a noisy internet bar/cafe, then we headed up the coast for re-stocking in FdF at the HyperU (mega supermarket) and then we sailed on to St. Pierre. We also tried to fix our fridge, which is constantly running. We finally determined that the refrigerant was low and hired a tech to come out and re-charge it and it is better but still runs too much. We will have to wait until we get to an English-speaking island or at least one with a better tech. Our tech here, complained bitterly that our system was "garbage".
St. Pierre was called "The Paris of the Caribbean" in the mid to late 1800s. A significant amount of trade between Europe and the Caribbean happened here and it was also the capital of Martinique. Unfortunately, St. Pierre is also located very close to Mount Pelee (Morne Pelee in French). Morne Pelee was considered to be dormant, and she was until early 1902, when she awoke and started rumbling, sending some pyroclastic flows off to destroy some lucrative plantations and kill their inhabitants. The city/government officials, paralyzed by the thought of losing their trade position and the logistics of evacuating, delayed until May 8, 1902, when Morne Pelee erupted and destroyed the city. Nearly 30,000 people were killed and some 12 ships at anchor in the harbor were sunk (there's some sort of lesson isn't there?). The capital moved to FdF and the town never fully recovered.
A walk around the town shows off some of the ruins. They had a fabulous church, seminary and theater here. Only the church has been mostly rebuilt (praise the faithful!). We tried to dive on a few of the wrecks, but they are sooo deep here (well over 100 feet), we gave up.
Today, it's mainly a tourist spot and a great point to base from and explore the mountains of Martinique. We decided to rent a car for a couple of days and do some exploring. The heights of these mountains may have been formed by violent means, but the views are simply stunning. Along with the vistas, you get to see hummingbirds in the lower heights and lots of "wild" flowers. In general, the French have done a nice job of developing and maintaining the mountain trails. It was funny when we would encounter a large sign after being "lost" in the wilds of the rain forest. Also funny (in retrospect) was how the guide (map) said our second day's 5+ hour hike was a 3 hour hike.
St. Pierre, Martinique: Sunday, 31 January: we are waiting for the wind and waves to calm a bit before heading off to Iles Des Saintes in Guadeloupe. Check out is easy at L'escapade Cafe, and Mike made friends with Bob & Elaine off Pipistrelle in the process.
Dominica- Feb 2-3- Just a one day stop on the way to Iles de Saintes.
Isles De Saintes- February 3- 18: Anchored at Terre de Haut, but then motored over to Ile a Cabrit for the weekend, where we met up with Alleycat, Zabracat, and Island Fling, a bunch of south Africans who all own Island Spirit 401 catamarans. Hiked up to Fort Josephine, and then far out to the point of the island. Dove the wall at the NW corner of the anchorage- it's 53' deep.
Met up with Bob & Elaine of Pipistrelle, and dove at Isle a Cabrit again, but from the other direction. We dropped off a dinghy at one end of the diver, and then traced our way back to our boats, then retrieved TabbyCat's anchored dinghy with Bob's dinghy Kind of nice way to do it, since you don't retrace your "steps". After our dive with Bob from Pipistrelle, Elaine treated us to a dinner aboard, and Susan cut Elaine's hair. Pisquettes Plongee is the pace to get your tanks filled- 8 euros, which is about half what the other places charge. Met up with Mohini and their friends and went to dinner. Back at Terre de Haut we lost a towel overboard in 41' of water, so Susan went for and unplanned third scuba dive, but it was not nearly as scenic as "the wall" at isles a Cabrit, where we saw turtles, stonefish and spotted golden eels.
Guadeloupe - February 18- March 18: We wanted to see Point a Pitre, the main city nestled in between the wings of the butterfly that makes up the island of Guadeloupe. We had also read that they had a good dive shop. To get WIFI at Point a Pitre, we had to go ashore to le Pirate restaurant and bar. After visiting the dive shop, and buying a dive watch & swim goggles, we decided to see the southeast coast of Guadeloupe. there's a very nice little island, Ilet du Gosier only 4 NM to the east of Point a Pitre. The swimming is excellent, and there is a bar that extends from the mainland to the island with a grassy bottom. The locals seem to have a regular habit of swimming to from the beach on the mainland out to Ilet a Gosier. Early in the morning, while lying in our bunks, we would heard the slap slap slap of a swimmer going past our hull on the way to the island. Susan did the swim a few times and ran on the mainland beach. We also explored the lighthouse on the island, but you can't get inside. We were able to pick up WIFI, but th signal was poor.
February 24: We sailed to Marie Galant, a cake shaped flat island to the south of the main Island of Guadeloupe. We toured the island on a moped, seeing an old windmill, a sinkhole, and some nice beaches. We ended the day with a drink at Henri's bar, since they had live music.
Sailed back to Point a Pitre on March 1, and had an awesome sail under the main and screacher, with an average speed of 7.8 knots for the trip and a maximum speed of 10.8knots. Passed a Lagoon 380 that we gave a 1 hour head start to quite handily.
March 5: Sailed with full main & jib over to Iles de La Petite Terre, islands at the far eastern point of Guadeloupe. We tacked 7 times, including the "penalty turn" when when caught the fish. S, which was placed since it's a marine park, we picked up a mooring which was located between the two small islands. There's enough of a current that when you jump off the back of the boat fro a swim, you are swimming like crazy just to stay in place- it was like having my own workout pool. The park is lovely, and we blew up the kayak to do some exploring.
March 8: Our departure form the park was a bit exciting- the wind had changed from South to North overnight, so we had to crash though 4-6 breakers to exit the anchorage. Had another nice sail back to Point a Pitre, with Susan setting the speed record for the day at 12.41 knots.
March 9: Dove twice at Pigeon Island on the West coast of Guadeloupe. This is home of the Jacques Cousteau Marine park, and is quote lovely. We circumnavigated the island by scuba. The wall falls off to an abyss, and there are loads of parrottfish.
March 14: sailed to Deshaies, where we met up with Bruce and crew Patrick and Mo of Our Phurst , so we had happy hour together. The next day, we rented a car with Patrick and Mo, and had quite an adventure touring the island in search of beautiful beaches, including [but not limited to] breaking the key off in the ignition.
Grenada - March 18 - May 8:
March 18: sailed 48nm to Jolly Harbour Antigua at an average speed of 8.75 knots and a maximum speed of 15.11 knots. We had the strataglass all rolled up, so the view was great and was a fund sail. Met up with Our Phurst again. Susan & Patrick went into St Johns for some sightseeing and shopping. The water at Jolly Harbour is stunning when you see it from a distance- an unreal turquoise color. But once you anchor, you realize that the sand it so stirred up, that it's murky. When I swam to shore to run on the beach, I could not see my hands as I stroked through the water. Kind of creepy, since you don't know what's lurking below.
March 25: sailed to Deep Bay, Antigua, where there is a wreck "The Andes" right at the harbour entrance that you can snorkel. In 1902? The ship caught on fire and was scuttled. Part of the wooden smokestack just out of the water.
March 27: Dickenson Bay is a lovely semicircular beach, great for jogging, , and with free WIFI courtesy of Rex Resorts.
March 3); Continued north around the tip of Antigua, then southeast to Long Island. Anchored off a private resort Jumby Bay, which has a lovely beach open to the public (all beaches are), Steel band music on Sundays, and free WIFI. It's also close to the airport. The owner of the steel drums gave me a quick lesson and let me try my hand at it, such fun.
April 2: Sailed farther east of Great Bird Island for the weekend, and anchored between Red Head and Rabbit Islands. Red Head refers to the color of the feather on the heads of the thousands of pelicans roosting there. Even though it was only a 45 minute motor from Jumby Bay, we felt like we were in the wilderness.
April 6-11- Sailed back to Jolly Harbor to re-provision, then back out to Deep Bay and Jumby Bay to await Mom & Gunter's arrival.
April 12: Picked up Mom & Gunter at Shell Beach Marina, and got diesel fuel. They brought a huge suitcase loaded with stuff we had ordered on line.
April 21: Made our way to Falmouth Harbour, and walked the docks, looked at all the beautiful boats here for the classic race week. Met up with Burce from Our Phurst (who gave us a tow when our dinghy engine failed) and climbed up the hill to watch the races from above one day. Me the author of an Embarrassment of Mangoes, who was also there to watch her husband participate in the race. We befriended a local man, Sean, who was yelling and screaming at the boats, as if they could hear him from the bluff, and giving local commentary and color. We went out on TabbyCat for two days also, chasing the boats out to the windward mark on the first day. The weather was rainy and gray, so I was pleased to get a few good shots of Range in between the cloudbursts.
Met up with Herny VanMelle of Jent and signed on as foredeck crew on his j-47. I could see that he was initially a bit doubtful about why the little woman wanted to crew instead of her tall husband, but he went with the flow, and it worked out well. I think he and his brother Marius and wife Loes were quite surprised at how much I knew from having sailed J-105s in Annapolis. We didn't win any trophies, but it was a great experience, since the Van Melles were such nice people. Mike followed Jent around the race course in TabbyCat, which was good, since one of the days was a 3/4 around the island race all the way to Dickenson Bay, so I had a place to sleep at the end of the day.
April 23: went to the mount Gay Red Hat Party, scored 5 Mount Gay hats, and had a great time, surely helped by all the free rum.
St Barts- May 8-10: Had a nice sail with the screacher to Anse du Comlombier, but probably should have put out the spinnaker. Had a catch & release of a barracuda.
USVIs - May 10- June 27:
May 10: Sailed to Christianstead, St Croix, USVI's We tried the spinnaker, but it would not stay filled. Perhaps we should have left the main down.
Spent a lot of time at Charlotte Amalie, which is not very scenic, but has good shopping, including a couple of grocery stores and a K-mart. They also have the Yamaha dealer, and we needed parts to repair our faltering outboard. It's a 8hp 4 stroke engine, and that is unusual in the islands- most folks have 2 stoke 15hp. So all our parts have to be ordered in. Fred, the guy at Offshore Marine was a dear, and kept helping us with the diagnosis, but in the end, after replacing gaskets on the fuel pump, the fuel tank, the fuel line, the coil, and cleaning the carburetor so many times we can do it with our eyes closed it still suddenly stalls at high speed.
We were delighted to meet up with Cathy & bill on Dreammaker, and played many games of Dominoes and cards over the weeks. We also went on a car ride with them to see Magen's Bay, supposedly one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. It's was pretty, but I don't think it qualified as one of the 10 best. We moved the boat around to Honeymoon beach, which is on the south side of Water Island. Close to the Yamaha dealer, but away from the noise and pollution of Charlotte Amalie. I swam to the beach almost every day, and occasionally jogged on the beach, even though it is short, so required a lot of laps. There's a cute little beach bar "Joe's Bar" and on Sunday nights Eric Stone of Latitude 38 fame plays and they have a pot luck dinner.
We also finally hooked up with Bruce and Connie of Te-Oigo, who we originally met in NYC. They were celebrating their anniversary at Bubbles, which is a bar.
On May 16, TabbyCat dragged anchor (the holding is poor in Honeymoon Beach) but luckily there was no damage, and I was aboard so motored up to a mooring.
May 29: Sailed to Majo Bay, St John for a change of scenery, and the winds were changing to the south, making Honeymoon beach uncomfortably rolly. Saw the start of a swimming event leave Majo Bay.
June 5: Sailed to Magen's Bay. It is a very long beach, and we anchored TabbyCat on the far east side, just behind the moorings. We were able to pick up weak WIFI signal. And the beach was much prettier when viewed from the boat with the sun out (It was overcast the day we visited with Dreammaker). But still not in the top ten in my opinion.
Culebra - June 13-21, 2010: We spent a week exploring Culebra, which is part of the Spanish Virgin Islands (which is really just a marketing name for the offshore Islands of Puerto Rico). There are loads of good diving sites and two very good snorkeling sites. We didn't get to dive, since the weather was cloudy and rainy due to a tropical wave, but we did manage to fit in two good snorkeling trips. One to Carlos Rosario Marine Park on the Northwest side of the island, and the other was at the Melones Beach, which you get to by dinghying from inside the main lagoon/anchorage, under a bridge, and out to the right. The reef seemed to go on for ever and ever. We saw many flamingo tongues, which are a form of snails with a lovely spotted mantle or skin that covers their shell. There is good free WIFI all over Culebra, and the anchorage inside "Ensenada Honda" is pretty well protected, with little fingers that you can duck into to get further protection from any bad weather. But you would not want to swim inside the Lagoon- there's lot's of suspended particles in the water- you have to either take the boat back outside or dinghy through the cut.
June 27: Checked out and set sail for Los Roques, a small group of islands belonging to Venezuela that are a marine park. Saw dolphins.
June 30: We have safely arrived in Isla Los Roques, Venezuela on 30 June around 10AM. After arriving, we set the anchor in 6 feet of clear water and spent the day catching up on some much needed sleep.
We traveled some 424nm in a little under 3 days. The winds were extremely light for the first 36 hours; our average speed was only 5.3 knots, well under the 6.4 knots I thought we would average. Our GPS kept reading that our estimated time of arrival was in 3 days. Over the course of the second night, we found the winds building to over 20 knots and the boat started moving well, but the waves were against us.
So although we were perfectly safe and the boat was making good progress, we were having a hard time resting. A quick look at our position revealed that we could turn the boat to the SSW and have an easier ride if we headed for Isla Los Roques, our first alternative.
The trip went pretty well. We were tired after 70 hours of 3 hours on, 3 hours off, but Buzz, our autopilot did most of the steering and we only saw two other ships the entire passage. One of the ships (some sort of cargo ship over 150 feet long) did get close enough to us for both of us to alter course, each of us made a turn to starboard. I think they might have gotten inside of 1 nautical mile.
The other thing is we had a nearly full moon with us for most of each night. On our final night, Tuesday night to Wednesday morning, the moon didn't come up until after 10PM, so we had a couple of hours of beautiful starlight. Venus was in the western sky, the Southern Cross was just off our port bow, while the Big Dipper was behind us on the starboard. Both of us saw shooting stars, and just after the moon came up, Mars followed her. Pretty awesome.Los Roques (The Rocks), seems to be an accurate description of this island populated with lots of fisherman, a few day charter catamarans, and lots of birds! The main island is the NE anchor of a Venezuelan National Park, known for its great diving and snorkeling. We hope to explore for a few days and then we will move west to Curacao.
July 5 - ??? Susan is in the ABCs! Mike is in the USAAA! You figure it out!
July 20 - 28??? We arrived in Aruba after a long day of sailing dead down-wind (DDW) with the spinnaker. A great primer for when/if we head across the Pacific. Hour after hour of being pushed by both the wind and the waves. Clear, blue skies. Beautiful blue water. Venezuela off our port and the small puffy clouds away on the horizon indicating "land".
On our way to Aruba, we had another installment of:
One of the "cool" intermittent things that we get to experience is Dolphin Swim Time - aka "Let's Play!" These mammals of the deep must hear "TabbyCat" as she runs through the waves and they suddenly converge from all over. This day's pod showed up in the mid-morning. We had just gotten the spinnaker up and were moving pretty fast (for us!), and then the dolphins showed up, dancing in the bow wave in front of the boat, moving from just in front of one hull and then over to the other. After about 20 minutes, they suddenly dive straight down and disappear. We don't see this very often, but it's way cool when it does happen.
July 16 - 19. Curacao - A nice "short" sail, including our first successful flying of the spinnaker got us into Curacao from Bonaire. After a short stay, we decided to move on to Aruba in the hopes of finding better beaches and swimming so that Susan can continue her running and swimming.
July 5 - 15. Bonaire - After an unexpected, extended stay in St. Thomas geting our dinghy repaired (STILL, not 100%!!), we arrived in Bonaire, the easternmost and smallest island in the ABC group. Perhaps the diving capital of the entire Caribbean, we dove here 3 times together, while Susan added a fourth night-time dive.