Friday, January 31, 2014

The Pitons to Bequia

This would be a good place to repeat my comment about the boat boys being more persistent but respectful. Meet Michael. His boat is called Greg's Lady and despite telling us his name was Michael, we heard some kids call him Greg. Somewhere along the line we also got the idea that his name was Steven. Regardless, after we turned down an offer from Malcolm, the first boat boy that greeted us a mile or so outside of Soufriere, proclaiming he was THE guide for all of Soufriere, Michael/Greg/Steven approached and wouldn't take no for an answer.

He and his companion Jason followed us silently into the mooring field and guaranteed that we'd have to pay them to tie us to the mooring ball by picking up the mooring line themselves so that we couldn't pick it up. They also took a stern line ashore for us and as it was pretty windy during all this we weren't ungrateful for their help. They asked for 10 EC (less than $4 US) for the mooring line tie up and we gave them 5 EC more for their help with the stern line. For 50 EC more the Greg's Lady crew gave us a ride to and from town the next day too.

Michael/Greg/Steven of Greg's Lady... a man of few words. Very few words.
His equally silent companion Jason... with Petit Piton in the distance.
We'd originally planned to stop at Anse La Raye, a quiet anchorage on the way to Soufriere, but while we were in Marigot Bay, the news of a boarding and burglary that ended in the brutal death of a British yachtsman in Vieux Fort in the south of St Lucia had us on edge about being in lesser visited anchorages here. In fact it had us and everyone else around us concerned about traveling in St Lucia generally.

An entire island cannot and should not be defined by a single crime but there's no question that this random violent crime ultimately impacted our decision about where to travel here right now. I know people that love St Lucia and also people that make a point not to stop here. We're frustrated that we feel swayed by the situation but also can't deny that it's affected us. We've met warm and kind people here as we have on all the islands, but we also felt more hustled here than anywhere we've been so far. We felt this far more in Soufriere and the Pitons than in the artificial environment of Rodney Bay or the insular bay at Marigot. There were both cheerful and sullen vendors that came around to the boat, selling fruit and crafts, but there were also young children paddling out to boats aggressively begging for money and treats. 

We always buy from the fruit and veggie vendors who come around and this time we bought from Ile who was selling produce from his mother's farm. She tends the stand at the market and Ile makes the rounds in the anchorage.  

Ile says hello
Marketplace in Soufriere

Sailing kids swinging in the Pitons
Marine rangers collect mooring fees each evening and warn boaters not to leave cash on board when they're off the boat
In addition to the boat boys and vendors working in the anchorage, there were always fishermen here in the morning and early evening. The vendors mostly paddle out in kayaks, while the boat boys and fishermen all have battered looking pirogues with powerful outboards. Their silhouettes were really striking.

So quiet
I wish I'd gotten more shots of the fishing boats whizzing by.... but they came and went so quickly. They usually had a crew of five men, almost always standing with their hands clasped behind their backs. And like Michael/Greg/Steven and Jason, they were silent. There was no chatter or laughter like the fishermen on other islands, just the occasional shout or direction given when searching for fish or casting their nets. When they'd look our way we'd wave a hello and they'd quietly nod in return, without changing positions or unclasping their hands. 

We snorkeled between the Pitons, the two massive peaks that rise from the sea here but declined to hike either peak this time around. 

The Pitons.... as we depart for Bequia
The nights we spent here were rolly and pretty uncomfortable though we've had much worse nights elsewhere. We could have stayed days longer to watch the fishermen and see what fresh fruits and veggies Ile had each day, but the weather was in our favor after just a few days so we headed south to Bequia.  

Skip's photo of birds in flight... early morning departure from the Pitons
Yellow flag comes down after clearing in to St Vincent and the Grenadines (to which Bequia belongs)
St Vincent/Grenadines flag goes up
Arriving a few days before the Bequia Music Festival gave us time to get oriented before taking in the music. It's an easy place to walk around with shops and restaurants as well as the ubiquitous produce vendors all along the street. Sadly avocado season is over.... but passion fruit season is still in full swing! Mangos are coming in soon and grapefruit, lemons and limes always seem to be in. Ditto bananas, lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and more. 

Time to face the music!
Musicians at the festival
Saturday at the music festival
Kids getting a sugar high at the music festival
Music festival venue -  Da Reef in Lower Bay

Catching up with Simon and Hilda from s/v Brisa, outside the music festival
The marine police (left) keep an eye on things at the end of the day at the festival. Not to worry.... everyone was well behaved.
We've been in Bequia for over a week now and are settling in to the relaxed pace here and getting some boat projects done. We like it here so we'll stick around for a little longer. We're saying more hellos and goodbyes here too though we've learned at this point that a goodbye isn't really a goodbye out here on the water. We all float around in seemingly aimlessly directions, but we all have plans. Most of those plans change, but still... we have plans. Sort of.

More from Bequia soon....

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Martinique to St. Lucia

We spent a few days more in Martinique.... during which time our outboard quit on us, but we found we were in a perfect spot (Le Marin) to get it fixed. Our friends on s/v Chill very kindly altered their plans in order to give Skip a tow in with the dinghy so Pierre Marie, outboard fixer extraordinaire, could get his hands on it. He took on the job of cleaning our carburetor after his morning cigarette and beer break, and 60 euros (about $80 US) and a few hours later the outboard was as good as new. 

Yole Ronde boat practicing in Le Marin
We anchored in about the same spot in Le Marin we'd anchored before, but as it turned out, not a good spot at all. There's always a concern about what you can't see on the bottom in an anchorage where the water is murky and this time we hooked a massive chain concealed by the murk. 

I was able to raise the anchor far enough for Skip to pass a line through the offending chain, then tie off the ends of the line on cleats on either side of the foredeck. Once the line was secured, I lowered the anchor so it could slip free of the snagged chain. Once Skip got back to the helm, I let one end of our line go and the chain dropped back onto the bottom to lie in wait for the next unlucky boat. Back we went to the relatively clear water of St. Anne for the night before sailing for St. Lucia in the morning.

St Anne full of boats
Approaching St Lucia
We cleared into St Lucia in Rodney Bay and did our usual dinghy around to try to familiarize ourselves with the place. Not that we expected anything one way or the other about Rodney Bay.... but somehow we didn't expect quite what we found it to be. The mile long bay is home to several resorts, including a Sandals Resort (read: constant jet ski traffic) and about half way along the beach there's a narrow channel into the marina complex that's full of shops and restaurants catering to the boating crowd. At a far corner of the marina there's a tucked away dinghy dock where a cheerful young guy named Michael, will keep an eye on your dinghy and will happily accept 5 EC (less than $2 US) for his services. 

From Michael's dinghy dock it's just a walk down a narrow path out into.... as one person we met described it... "Disney Land". There are malls, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and more shops targeting both the boating crowd and the resort crowd. I'll admit I was glad for the huge supermarket where we stocked up, but the excess here was a bit much in contrast to the general poverty of the island. 

We were also glad for the big hardware store by the marina. We brought some Sunbrella with us and have been planning a remake of our sail cover but are still collecting a few odds and ends we need for the project. Johnson's Hardware, just outside the marina had the final pieces we need for it. Don't hold your breath for the sail cover blog... there's lots of measuring still to do and my confidence is still a little wobbly from the recent narrowly avoided botch job I managed while sewing the final piece of our sunshade for the cockpit. Besides I keep promising a centerboard blog and haven't even gotten to that yet. 

Walking around the marina grounds we saw this little guy named "Snow".... certainly the only snow St Lucians will see down here.
Having had enough of Disney Land we hightailed it back to the boat and went for a hike in nearby Pigeon Island Park. No longer an island, since the distance between Pigeon Island and the mainland was filled in (and a Sandals Resort plunked down at the mainland end of it) there's a short but fairly vertical hike up to Fort Rodney on one side of Pigeon Island and short and even more vertical hike to Signal Hill on the other. Nice views from the top though.

View of Rodney Bay from Signal Hill... Saralane is the second boat up from the bottom in the center.
We met some new people in the anchorage, and as in most places it would have been easy to stay on longer and get more connected to the people and the place, but we're focused lately on getting south so after a few days we moved along. I wanted to check out the outdoor market in Castries but when we arrived there were three giant cruise ships in the harbor and mobs of cruise shippers flooding the marketplace. There also wasn't any apparent place to take the dinghy in because the local guys had come in their boats to sell their goods from the waterfront. 

The crowds beginning to collect on the waterfront
Here are a few shots of the floating cities we came across in the Castries harbor. The guys cleaning/painting the rust around the anchor opening (top R) are visible in the photo of the whole ship too (top L). You'll have to look closely to see them but it gives a pretty good sense of the size of the ship.

Passengers off three cruise ships filled up Castries market in a hurry
Passing the Hess Oil storage tanks on our way from Castries to Marigot Bay
We opted to go into Marigot Bay for the night and were met by a boat boy who offered to help us tie up to a mooring ball but was respectful of our decision to anchor instead. A basket vendor came by before we even got the anchor down and gave us helpful info about the depth ahead and chatted with us for a bit even though we declined to buy one of his baskets. 

There are as many good and bad stories about the boat boys down island as there are sailors who encounter them but our experiences to this point have been pretty positive. Some are more persistent than others (including one here whose boat name is 'Persistence') but it's a two way relationship and mutual respect has been the basis of each encounter for us so far. Granted, we're not that far south yet and some of the rougher stories are from farther down, but we're optimistic. The fruit and veggie vendors almost always have something we'd like so we're usually glad to see them come by and they'll often stay and chat for a while.

This guy sat on our bow rail and kept an eye on our friends Simon & Hilda's boat Brisa anchored just ahead of us
Marigot Bay is a snug little harbor that grew up around a charter boat fleet but seems to have declined since the charter operation moved up to Rodney Bay (see: Disney Land). The channel into the bay here is deeper than Rodney Bay's and that's attracted some mega yachts into the small marina. Unfortunately while we've been here there's been ongoing work in the marina to fix some sort of pipeline break and even through the weekend the constant sound of jackhammering echoed out into the anchorage. I imagine the people on the fancy yachts or the people who paid big bucks to stay at the swanky resort abutting the marina aren't too happy about it.

We walked around a bit and wandered up to a small B&B called Mango Beach Inn where we lucked into meeting Judith who owns the place. She pointed the way to a killer hike up to the ridge line and gave us the scoop on where to avoid along the small beach. Apparently a few drug dealers on the beach are getting pretty bold and are known to take phone orders from arriving yachts. Pretty bold indeed. 

Judith saw our flip flops and said "You'll want to wear proper shoes though... it's a bit steep." That was a bit of an understatement...

At the top, the meditation platform. Skip suggested the addition of a defibrillator to the platform.
From up here that 200 ft super yacht in the upper corner of the marina looks pretty small.
Love the home made trail signs
Hot and sweaty we worked our way back down the loop trail that comes out in the Oasis Resort and wondered how the resort guests handled the steep hills and hundreds of steps around the resort. Then we came across this.... the do-it-yourself incline plane car. It looked a little shaky to me and I decided that even with two broken legs I'd still rather take the stairs than ride this mini DIY cable car. 

Mini cable car - with appropriate "caution" sign. 
The sound that defines the bigger Caribbean anchorages at night is a criminally loud, hard, aggressive mash up of abused reggae, rap and club music, sometimes with a DJ interrupting with laughter and unintelligible chatter. The source of the music is often an almost empty bar which makes the whole thing a bit confusing, though I suppose conversation anywhere near the bar would be impossible so the empty bar makes sense. The music often goes on until 3 or 4 in the morning and I have a hard time shutting it out. Tonight here in Marigot Bay all I hear is insects chirping, waves washing against the shoreline and wind in the rigging. We'll stay here for another peaceful night or two and then.... south again.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wifi challenged in Martinique

Hello from wifi challenged Martinique! The French do many things well.... wifi is not one of them. Even when there's a cheery "Bonne connection!" with a little emoticon smiley face and a really long unguessable password, there's still no connection.

Nevertheless - here we are in Martinique, with hordes of other boats. The high winds we've had almost since arriving in November are still in force with only a break here and there. We're really only island hopping at this point so the brisk conditions haven't been too much for the short sails we're doing. 

Arriving in Dominica... the Cabrits.
We were in Dominica over Christmas and celebrated with new and old friends there. Outnumbered by Brits, we were encouraged to adopt some classic Brit-speak by our friends Iain and Fiona on s/v Ruffian and we're practicing for the next time we see them. Rob and Sarah on s/v Serafina and Simon and Hilda on s/v Brisa rounded out the British side of things. When Americans Craig and Karene on s/v Il Sogno showed up in time for Christmas eve the American to Brit ratio settled out a bit. 

Aboard Serafina (L to R) Iain, Craig and Rob on the left.... Iain tries out the bubbles he got for Christmas.
(L to R) Sarah, Fiona and Karene.... entertained (as usual) by Iain
Christmas dinner on Il Sogno (L to R)... Craig & Karene, Iain & Fiona, Sarah (hiding) me, Skip. (Rob behind the camera)
Part of the holiday feast
The Saturday market in Portsmouth changes with the season, but there always seems to be plenty of everything. Avocados are in season now and I couldn't be happier. We eat them every day. Sometimes more than once a day. Sometimes all day long. You get the picture.

Skip shells the local beans we picked up at the market.
It rained much of the time we were here and we knew we'd only be here a short time, so we didn't gorge on hiking the way we did last time. We got back to the hot pool though (which Rob from Serafina shamelessly mocked as the warm puddle) and hiked a section of one of the trails that we missed out on last time.

Skip chills in the cold pool
Karene and I cool off too (photo thanks to Craig)
We caught up with our friend Johnson and he told us it had been too wet to do much on his farm lately. Mostly he's just waiting for things to dry out a little. 

Catching up with Johnson
Portsmouth anchorage
On our last visit here we heard people say that no one goes hungry in Dominica because food just falls from the trees. We found an abundance of edible things growing everywhere last time, and hiking in the rain this time we found grapefruits and cacao pods fighting for space in the trees along the trail.

Food falling from the trees
Cacao and grapefruit trees - full of fruit
I love the different colors of the cacao pods in different phases of ripeness and had a hard time editing the shots so I just decided to stick a bunch of my favorites in here.

This was the part of the trail we missed last time
Looks the same from the far end....
It was hard to leave Dominica (again) but we'll plan on another longer stay here when we go north some day. We had a good opportunity to sail south though so off we went to wifi free Martinique...

Saralane anchored in St. Pierre, at the foot of Mt Pelee
St Pierre, previously known as the Paris of the Caribbean was all but wiped out when Mt Pelee erupted in 1902, leaving only two survivors. The town was pretty sleepy when we were here, but it was just before New Year's so the normally erratic French island schedules were even more erratic. 

Quiet streets of St Pierre
We tried to clear in here (did I mention the erratic schedules?) but failed. Moving on to Grande Anse d'Arlet, we tried to clear in there (I should probably mention those erratic schedules again) but no luck here either. By now, we were getting used to flying our yellow flag, so we just enjoyed the snorkeling in Anse Chaudier and figured we'd keep trying to clear in and at some point we'd be officially "in Martinique".

Lone squid on patrol
Flamingo tongue on sea fan
We finally cleared in in Anse Mitan and after a futile search for wifi here (we're not really addicted to wifi, but just needed a hit of email) we moved on to the big city of Fort de France. It's the largest city in the eastern Caribbean and we got in a bit of shopping for boat stuff and basic provisions. 

There were huge fireworks over the fort the night before new year's eve and we thought it would be great to be there on new year's eve for fireworks too. What we didn't know was that the new year's eve fireworks were going to be over the anchorage we were leaving. Live and learn. 

Fort de France....New Year's day festival, with tents blown over into the water from the high winds.
New Year's eve day was busy in the city
New Year's Day.... not a soul in sight
With the city deserted, it was easier to see the creatively colored facades and doorways.

Having had enough of city life (two days in our case) we headed south to St Anne which was chock full of boats. The Saturday market there was small but good and I filled some empty spots on my spice shelf from a happy vendor. 

Lots of people come ashore in St Anne's for the Saturday market
We connected with our old friends Jackie and Dan on s/v Chill in Fort de France and together we hiked to the beaches along the coast from the anchorage. The hike took us past quiet mangroves and quiet beaches and on to the busy lovely palm lined beach at Grande Anse des Salines.

Grande Anse des Salines
The winds are forecast to be up for another week or so we're thinking we'll hang out here for another few days and then head a few miles in to Le Marin, where we can stock up on all things French to eat and drink. We've found a good laundry and a reliable (though I shouldn't speak too soon) wifi source, we're content to wander around the little town of St Anne's and enjoy all the things the French do well.

I know I promised a centerboard blog (this obviously isn't it) but since we're so diligent about pulling up the board right after we anchor, I haven't gotten a shot of it deployed underwater yet. We're diligent about pulling up the board so that the anchor chain doesn't get dragged across it when the wind shifts and we swing on the anchor. (Hint hint re: the upcoming centerboard blog....)