Day 159, Year 6 Martinique Island Tour

Day 159, Year 6 Martinique Island Tour
Date: Friday, April 1, 2011
Weather: Rainy Morning Melting into Sunshine
Location: Anse Mitan, Martinique-across the bay from Fort-de-France

Today was really all about being lost and being lost, but still we saw a lot and had a great time. At first we thought being lost was all about an April Fool’s joke, but very quickly it became “not funny.”

It was up early and into Budget Rental to pick up our car. It was a cute little thing but tonight none of three of us know what it was. The good thing was that is was little. When we got to Fort de France this morning and got off the national road, all of a sudden the streets were more narrow than most alleys. I don’t think you could make it through that town in a larger car. I know we couldn’t have. We spent a fair bit of time being a “bit” lost-got off the interstate at the wrong exit, wound our way through downtown, and then finally to the waterfront where we were headed to clear into the country. Well, that turned out to be a two-and-a-half hour frustrating adventure. I don’t think we have ever had such a hard time finding the right place for check-in. People were incredibly helpful, but no one really spoke English and we certainly don’t speak French. After walking here to there, having people walking us to somewhere else and then to somewhere else, and then driving to a slightly different location and searching once again, we finally found a tiny little shed in a working marina complex where there was a young woman tending the gas pumps and the store, who also handed Mark a computer and told him to fill in the form for clearance-on a French keyboard that is slightly different from the keyboard we are used to and with a form that required answering with pull down menus. The first obstacle was trying to enter our citizenship. There was no choice for United States or USA. After much searching, we had to ask for help and found out that for the French we are citizens of Amerique du Nord. By this time Mark was VERY frustrated but he persisted and we finally got our clearance. Then we had to find our way back to downtown to visit the tourist sights. We retraced our steps and ended up headed back out of town. We have no idea how that happened, but we got back on the national road and found our way back to the center of town. The narrow streets, the traffic, and the pedestrians make driving a challenge, so we found a parking garage and ducked in. We then walked to the Cathedrale St. Louis and admired its neo-Byzantine style. We then walked to La Savane, Fort de France’s central park and looked across to Fort St. Louis and then walked to Biliotheque Schoelcher, the Schoelcher Library. This is a most colorful building that was built in Paris for 1889 World Exposition and then dismantled and shipped to Martinique to be reassembled. It is really a beautiful building which was designed by a contemporary of Gustave Eiffel. We walked through the Palais de Justice, had a Panini lunch in a little shop on a square near the parking garage, and then got back to the car and drove north to St. Pierre.

Since we had spent our entire morning getting clearance into the country, we had very little time for our trip north to St. Pierre. We had to skip stops along the coast at the traditional fishing village of Cape-Pilote and we made only a quick stop in Carbet where Columbus briefly came ashore in 1502. We reached St. Pierre and inspected the ruins in that town that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1902. It was fascinating and we wished that we had been able to spend more time, but it was now early afternoon and time to head south. We drove the Route de la Trace through the rainforest with its tree ferns and draping bamboo, stopped to see Sacre-Coeur de Balata, a smaller replica of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Paris. We headed down the mountain from there to Fort de France looking for an area that is touted to have beautiful examples of colonial housing, but after driving down the mountain, back up, and back down again, we never found the area. We then drove back to Anse Mitan, getting lost only one more time, and got back just in time to turn in our rental car. We were actually late and the guy had to reopen the gate to let us in. But we were so happy to be able to return the car so we can leave here early in the morning. Thank you, Budget Rent-a-Car. We then walked to La Marine to get on the internet and then it was back to Windbird for dinner.

Tomorrow morning we leave here as the sun rises headed for Dominica. Another adventure awaits us.

Day 158, Year 6 St. Lucia to Martinique

Day 158, Year 6 St. Lucia to Martinique
Date: Thursday, March 31, 2011
Weather: Beautiful Sunny Day; Wind NE 15-20 knots
Latitude: 14 33.245 N
Longitude: 061.03.372 W
Location: Anse Mitan, Martinique-across the bay from Fort-de-France

Bonsoir (it is evening here) from Martinique. Or if you are reading this in the morning, Bonjour. What a delightful surprise we had when we went ashore just after arriving this afternoon. The people here speak French and Creole, and NOT English, but everyone we met was so friendly and went out of their way to help us understand them and to understand us. We first stopped at a Budget Rental Car office to check the price of renting a car for tomorrow. The young woman did speak English and she was so helpful.
We confirmed that it is cheaper for us to rent a car to go to Fort-de-France tomorrow to see the town and check-in and out and then head up the coast to see ruins of St. Pierre than it is to take the public bus. St. Pierre was the capital of Martinique until it was totally destroyed by a volcanic explosion of Mont Pelee in 1902. It took only ten minutes for this town which was nicknamed the “Little Paris of the West Indies” to be totally covered in molten lava. Of the city’s 30,000 people, only three survived. But back to the Budget Rental Car office . . . we will pick the car up at 8am tomorrow morning. We left Budget and walked on up the street to the Oritour (L’Office du Toirisme des Tros Islets). The lady there didn’t speak much English, but she called her friend Julian from across the street at the taxi stand and he came over to answer all our questions. They were incredibly helpful. It was then just a very short walk from the tourist office to La Marine, the marina and marina restaurant and bar. We just had to stop to have a French beer-Lorraine. On the way back to Windbird, we bought a baked chicken and a baguette. We brought it home and made a great salad with the last of our lettuce from Grenada, the chicken, and feta cheese. It was really good and I didn’t have to cook. So that made it extra good.

We will be off early tomorrow for our Martinique explore. Then on Saturday we will head to Dominica, the next island north. We got word from our friend Alan Kanegsberg in Concord, NH, that some really HUGE sailboats are headed to Antigua, we assume for the Antigua Race Week the end of April. We thought we would miss seeing these giants, but evidently they arrive early. So after Dominica, we head to Guadeloupe, and then Antigua to hang out with the big guys for a couple of days.

Day 157, Year 6 Bequia to the Pitons

Day 157, Year 6 Bequia to the Pitons
Date: Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Weather: Squalls AM, Partly Sunny PM; Wind ESE 15-20 knots
Latitude: 13 51.388 N
Longitude: 061 04.044 W
Location: Rachette Point, Soufriere, St. Lucia

We left Bequia at 0615 just before sunrise this morning and our “interesting” day began almost immediately. First we had squalls off St. Vincent and then when we cleared the north end of the island, we got hit by big seas (4 meters or 12 feet) bashing us on the beam. We had green water running over the side deck and even up and over the top of the dodger a couple of times. Then we turned toward St. Lucia and had 20-25 knots of wind of the nose. So we had a little of everything today. It was not the most comfortable sailing day, but we made the 55 miles in less than ten hours and got here in time to jump in the water for a little snorkel. Unfortunately the water was cloudy but we saw fantastic sea fans, beautiful little damselfish often called “Jewelfish” because of their iridescent blue gem-like dots, surgeonfish, red coral, yellow sponges, a new fish to us, the Foureye Butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus).

As we neared the southern end of St. Lucia this afternoon, the conical shaped Pitons rose up in front of us. They are just the most amazing volcanic cones and anchoring here is all about sitting under these giants. Tomorrow morning we move on to Martinique and from there on to Dominica. We are just hoping that as we sail away from the Windward Islands in the morning and head to the Leewards, we will no longer be bashing into headwinds.

Day 157, Year 6 Bequia to the Pitons

Day 157, Year 6 Bequia to the Pitons
Date: Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Weather: Squalls AM, Partly Sunny PM; Wind ESE 15-20 knots
Latitude: 13 51.388 N
Longitude: 061 04.044 W
Location: Rachette Point, Soufriere, St. Lucia

We left Bequia at 0615 just before sunrise this morning and our “interesting” day began almost immediately. First we had squalls off St. Vincent and then when we cleared the north end of the island, we got hit by big seas (4 meters or 12 feet) bashing us on the beam. We had green water running over the side deck and even up and over the top of the dodger a couple of times. Then we turned toward St. Lucia and had 20-25 knots of wind of the nose. So we had a little of everything today. It was not the most comfortable sailing day, but we made the 55 miles in less than ten hours and got here in time to jump in the water for a little snorkel. Unfortunately the water was cloudy but we saw fantastic sea fans, beautiful little damselfish often called “Jewelfish” because of their iridescent blue gem-like dots, surgeonfish, red coral, yellow sponges, a new fish to us, the Foureye Butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus).

As we neared the southern end of St. Lucia this afternoon, the conical shaped Pitons rose up in front of us. They are just the most amazing volcanic cones and anchoring here is all about sitting under these giants. Tomorrow morning we move on to Martinique and from there on to Dominica. We are just hoping that as we sail away from the Windward Islands in the morning and head to the Leewards, we will no longer be bashing into headwinds.

Day 156, Year 6 Bequia Tour

Day 156, Year 6 Bequia Tour
Date: Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Weather: Sunny Morning, Sprinkles in Late Afternoon; Wind E 20 knots
Location: Admiralty Bay, Bequia

We’re still here. We had planned to leave this afternoon for Walliabou on St. Vincent, but by the time we finished our tour, checked email at the internet café, had lunch at Mac’s Pizza, and checked-out, it was almost 2 pm when we returned to Windbird. Daffodil Services came right at 2 pm with the laundry, but then we asked them to send their water and fuel boat over so we could fill up our water tanks and extra jerry jugs. There’s so much wind in the Caribbean that we never need to motor and therefore water making takes more power than the wind generator and solar panels generate. Of course, they also have to power the auto pilot and computer and cockpit monitor used for navigation purposes. So getting the water seemed like a good idea. The rain had started while we were checking out and it continued while we were taking on water. By the time we finished it was after 3 pm and that meant we would arrive in Walliabou at sundown. With the squally weather, we decided this was a bad idea. So we have scrapped St. Vincent and will leave early in the am and head directly to Soufrierre on the southwest coast of St. Lucia. We will stop there for the night, do a little exploring the next morning, and then will probably do an overnight to Dominica. It is possible that we will decide to head to Martinique first, but that discussion will happen once we are underway tomorrow morning.

At 9 am this morning we met Curtis from Challenger Taxi and Tours at the Gingerbread. This is a hotel and restaurant with “gingerbread house” trim and a high wooden roof supported by mast-like poles. The roof is bright orange and can be seen from anywhere in the harbor. The have a great dinghy dock, so it was the perfect place to leave the dink while we went on our little tour. We had asked to be taken to see the houses in Moonhole but were told that it is no longer possible to tour the homes, but we could drive out and get close enough to get a glimpse. We also wanted to see Paget Farms which is a fishing village and that was on the way, so off we went. The road climbs fairly steeply out of Port Elizabeth to the other side of the island to Friendship Bay. Curtis explained that this part of Bequia used to be a huge plantation, but it is now dotted with vacation homes and tourist rentals, with the Friendship Bay Beach Resort still front and center and looking like a plantation. From Friendship Bay we could see the whaling station on the island just out of the bay. The station used to be on Petit Nevis just south of Bequia, but when all the old whalers died off it was brought closer to the island. Bequia’s natives still have the right to whale and are allowed four whales per year by the IWC, International Whaling Commission. Curtis’ older brother is a whaler and Curtis explained that some years they get none and some years they get their quota. They are really not whaling for money, but rather to keep the tradition alive. The famous Bequia whaler, Athneal Ollivierre, is no longer living and his house has been sold off by his children. But Curtis showed us the house and explained that it was a gathering place for islanders to learn about whaling and about the island from Athneal.

From Friendship Bay we went on to Paget Farms which is a traditional fishing village. There is a huge fish processing building on the waterfront where all of the local fishing boats are pulled up on a concrete ramp when not in use. From Paget Farms the road takes you to the airport that was built on reclaimed land between 1990 and 1992. The landing lights start out in the bay and bring the planes on the flat, reclaimed landing strip. Beyond this point, the road deteriorates and we went through a huge quarry area and then another piece of swamp land that is being reclaimed to build a huge resort right on the water. At this point, the road is dirt and we traveled on a bit further to reach Moonhole.

The story of Moonhole is fascinating. In the early 1960’s a man named Tom Johnson, an American architect, found this piece of paradise at the end of Bequia island that is not easily accessible. There were no roads and no anchorages, but he chose this place to build his Moonhole houses. The area is called Moonhole because there is a natural arch and it was under that arch that Tom Johnson built his dream home. He used only rocks found naturally in the area and mixed the concrete with salt water as there was no source of fresh water. That was the big mistake, as the salt-water concrete did not stand up under the test of time. The first disaster was when a huge boulder fell from the ceiling of Johnson’s original home and crashed into a thankfully empty bed. The story of the Moonhole homes is long and convoluted but the short story is that some of the natural stone structures have survived, most with no glass, just open areas with huge arches, fantastic views, and lovely open areas. There has never been electricity on this end of the island, so refrigerators and other amenities have always been powered by gas. Tom Johnson is no longer living and the place is changing, but it was quite a delight to be able to get close to a couple of the homes and see the building techniques up close.

So tomorrow we move on north. We will leave here at sunrise and hopefully make the 51 miles to Soufriere before sunset. Sunset in the bay there under the towering Pitons is pretty incredible. We were here in 2005 with our children who were visited for Christmas. I look forward to returning this beautiful little corner of the Caribbean.

Day 155, Year 6 Blackfin Tuna Sushi in Bequia

Day 155, Year 6 Blackfin Tuna Sushi in Bequia
Date: Monday, March 28, 2011
Weather: Beautiful Sunny Day; Wind E 18 knots
Latitude: 13 00.578 N
Longitude: 061 14,620 W
Location: Admiralty Bay, Bequia

Today we sailed from Tobago Cays to Admiralty Bay in Bequia. It was a great sail and it was fun to sail into another harbor we have visited previously. As soon as we got in, Daffodil Marine Services dropped by to see if we needed services and I had a bag of bed sheets ready for them to wash. I did a huge laundry last night, but somehow there is always more to do. Next Mark and Steve went to shore to check things out while I stayed onboard and did a fresh water wash down of the stainless and the cabin top.

The highlight of today was a Blackfin Tuna we caught and turned into sushi. Steve brought a few new lures with him. The first one caught a catamaran in Tyrell Bay in Carriacou because we forgot to reel in the line before coming into anchor. The second one was much more successful today as it caught the Blackfin Tuna. It made great sushi tonight, but only thanks to Key of D. First I didn’t have any sushi rice aboard so we borrowed some from them. Then when I went to make the wasabi from a powder we have had since Thailand, we discovered that the powder had gone off and the paste it made tasted a bit like hay. Again, Key of D came to the rescue. So with a little help from our friends, we thoroughly enjoyed a sushi dinner.

Before sushi, we spent a bit of time discussing where we want to go from here. Just when we thought we had a bit of a plan, a couple named Anne and Alan from the yacht Freya out of Scotland stopped by. They have a Tayana 42 aft cockpit and just had to meet the people (us) aboard another Tayana 42. They arrived in the Caribbean from Scotland eight years ago and are still here. They gave us some great tips on the best places to stop between here and St. Martin, so our previous plans are going to be tweaked a bit. We called a taxi service listed in the cruising guide to make plans to do a bit of an island tour tomorrow morning and it is altogether possible that we will leave here tomorrow afternoon for Walliabou on St. Vincent. The days are ticking by quickly. We still have twelve days before we meet Mark’s sister Jeanie in St. Martin, but there is sooooo much to see between here and there. So onward we go.

110328 Day 155 Bequia–Tobago Cays to Bequia