Thursday, April 12, 2018

Heading North: St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe

We keep heading in a Northerly direction. That is our only goal right now! After leaving Granny and Kayla in Bequia, (and checking out on Easter Sunday, and paying the overtime fees…😡!!!), we left Bequia at about 7:30am. We had a long day of sailing ahead of us, our goal was to get to Martinique, or at least to the top of St. Lucia. We decided to play it by ear.

Our route north through the Windward Islands from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to Guadeloupe
The hop from Bequia to St. Vincent is not a big one, and in no time at all, we were sailing on the leeward side of St. Vincent, sheltered by the big island, in calm, flat seas. St. Vincent is beautiful, with big, green mountains, but we kept sailing, having read too many stories of crime against cruisers on the island, and we also wanted to make as much distance as possible north.

Sailing past St. Vincent in clam, flat water.  The island is mountainous and green

We’d also read that the passage from St. Vincent to St. Lucia, about 30 miles, could be a tough one, but we had one of the best sails yet, and in no time at all, we saw the famous “Pitons” on the horizon. The “Pitons” are 2 mountain peaks rising out of the sea at the southerly end of St. Lucia, and the anchorage at their base is supposed to be lovely. However, having had a nice, early start, we wanted to keep going, so we admired them from a distance and kept on sailing. Like St. Vincent, St. Lucia is green and mountainous, and it looked gorgeous. By the end of the day, however, we decided to anchor in Rodney Bay, at the northern end of St. Lucia, for the night, so we could have a rest, and decided to tackle the crossing to Martinique the following morning.

The Pitons were visible from at least 10 miles away, a distinct outline on the horizon.  Ben and Gaby enjoy a rare treat:  lollipops that Granny brought with her when visiting!  Dave and I enjoy the scenery and one more shot of the Pitons

On Tuesday, April 3rd, we awoke early as we do most mornings, and pulled up anchor. We had about 20 miles of open sea to cross before we could tuck into an anchorage in Martinique. We’ve discovered this sailing of the Caribbean is one of calm, sometimes windless sailing (or motoring) in the lee of the island, and then “hold on to your horses!” sailing as you have to cross the open stretches between the islands! This was no different, and a day after we arrived in Martinique, we heard the French Coast Guard broadcasting a “man over board” message after the sinking of a sailing vessel on the stretch of sea between St. Lucia and Martinique that we had just sailed!

We had a mission in Martinique: we had to pick up some spare parts that had been so kindly sent to us by David Farrington of Lagoon. During our Atlantic crossing, we had lost the protective cockpit drain cover that prevents waves splashing up into the cockpit drain, and the engine room air intake cover, due to rough seas. David (Farrington) had arranged to ship the parts to the Lagoon dealer in Martinique…thank you again, David…you and Lagoon have been absolutely amazing!!!

Back in France!  Dave hoists the French courtesy flag and as we entered, we had a taste of the old and the new:  a French navy vessel and a tall ship with all sails hoisted
We anchored in the very busy Le Marin anchorage, outside of the marina and mooring field. As we were setting the anchor, and testing that it was holding, “Shuti” came sailing past! They had dropped off their previous guests and picked up the next one, and were heading to another anchorage in Martinique. We said we’d hope to meet them there the following day, if all our chores went well in Le Marin. News that another boat, “Toomai” was there, spurred us on to get out of Le Marin! “Toomai” was the first boat we met with kids on board: Antoine (now 16) and Paul (now 11). We met them in Panama, and then saw them again in the Marquesas. Since then, we have missed each other, sometimes by days, as we have both sailed around the world!!! So, with this goal in mind, we quickly went ashore and tracked down the spare parts, which were ready and waiting for us! We also found a big grocery store, and did some provisioning, but we didn’t need all the much (just some beer and a few fresh goodies!).

Back in France:  fresh baguettes again!
The next morning, we headed over to the fuel dock, figuring that here was as good a place as any to fill up with fuel, and so with fuel tanks topped up, water tanks full and galley provisions replenished, we were ready to head out to join Shuti and Toomai! We found them anchored in “Grande Anse D’Arlet”, about 15 miles away. On the way, we sailed past Diamond Rock, which, in 1804, was commissioned as a ship by the British Navy! During this time, the British had naval supremacy in the Caribbean, but ships were always scarce. Someone noticed Diamond Rock, and said that if the British had a spare ship, it would be a great place to put it! So the British commissioned the rock, putting cannons and a full crew of men on the snake infested pinnacle, and for 18 months, HMS Diamond Rock was a nasty surprise for any unsuspecting French or other enemy ship coming into Martinique!

HMS Diamond Rock:  not really much to look at!
Anchored in Grande Anse D’Arlet, we had a great reunion with both Shuti and Toomai, but especially Toomai, whom we had not seen in over 2 years!! The kids had so much fun reconnecting, that we decided to stay an extra day, so they could spend the day together. After a morning of laughter and card games, they disappeared to the beach after lunch, and we didn’t see them again, until sunset, when they returned sunburned and tired, and Fabienne and Kristophe, the parents came over for drinks and dinner, and we had a lovely evening reminiscing and catching up on their travels, and they on ours. It was a sad farewell that Thursday, April 5th, when we said goodbye, not knowing when we would see them again, but glad that we finally were able to see our first boat friends again…at the beginning of our journey and now at the end!

With Fabienne, Kristophe, Antoine and Paul 
The next day saw us heading up the coast of Martinique, another 15 miles or so, to the town of St. Pierre. This was a lovely stop, with the town having an amazing history, which those of you on Instagram may already have learned about from Benjamin and Gaby’s posts. St. Pierre lies at the foot of the volcano Mt. Pelée. At the turn of the century, St. Pierre was known as “Petite Paris”; it was the commercial, social and cultural center of Martinique, with a population of around 30,000. Despite some warnings in April of 1902, when the volcano started rumbling, and after 2 eruptions on May 2nd and May 5th, that actually resulted in some deaths, very few people left St. Pierre, choosing to believe that they were safe. This was partly due to wealthy plantation owners who did not want to endure the economic consequences of an evacuation, convincing the mayor, and the city folk that it was safe, and due to the mayor, who was up for re-election, choosing to believe the plantation owners, and not wanting to make the wrong call, which could have cost him his election. However, on the morning of May 8th, 1902, the side of the volcano facing St. Pierre glowed red, and erupted, releasing more energy than an atomic bomb, completely destroying the entire city of St. Pierre, and 30,000 of its inhabitants with it. Only 2 people survived: a cobbler and a prisoner, Cyparis, who was imprisoned for murder in a stone cell.

St. Pierre at the foot of Mt. Pelée
The town was eventually rebuilt and many of the buildings have been built onto old structures, but many ruins remain. We spent an afternoon walking around the town, feeling like we were in Europe, and marveling at the old ruins and imagining what it must have been like before nature unleashed her wrath upon it.

A view of the main street that runs along the waterfront

Some images of St. Pierre
The cell in which Cyparis was imprisoned at the time of the eruption, the cell that saved his life!  More ruins along a cobbled street and a view of the anchorage from the hill.  Old cannons overlook the bay and more ruins are seen below.  Cool Runnings is the 4th boat from the right

The ruins of St. Pierre:  On the left are the theater ruins, on the right in the middle is a statue, depicting the suffering of the people of St Pierre, that was done by a student of the famous sculptor Rodin.  
Sunset in St. Pierre; the town from the water, the beaches here are black from the volcanic sand
Next on our northern agenda was Guadeloupe, also belonging to the French. In between Martinique and Guadeloupe lies the island of Dominica. Not wishing to check out of Martinique, check into Dominica, check out of Dominica and then back into France in Guadeloupe, we decided to skip Dominica and head straight for a small archipelago of islands to the south of Guadeloupe called The Saintes. Unfortunately Dominica was badly hit by one of the big hurricanes of 2017, and we could see the state of the trees as we sailed past. Dominica is known for its inland beauty; rivers and rainforests, but we could see the hills that had been stripped bare, with trees just sticking out like matchsticks. Shuti had visited Dominica in 2016 and were there again now, and they said they could definitely see the difference. The people are still shell-shocked, but are doing their best to rebuild.

Interesting rock formation as we sail into the Saintes
It was a long day, close to 80 miles. We were up at 4:30am and we were on our way around 5:00am, leaving St. Pierre asleep behind us. We enjoyed the now familiar romp between the islands, where the winds and seas come sweeping through from the Atlantic, with nothing to stop them, and then calm as the islands provide shelter from those same constant trade winds. About 12 hours later, we arrived in the Saintes, and found a spot to anchor off the small (and only) town of Bourg des Saintes on the island of Terre d’en Haut. There were lots of boats here, many on mooring buoys, and a few anchored, but we had expected this, as Moby had given us a “heads up” that it was crowded, but worth the visit.

The picturesque town of Bourge des Saintes
The town of Bourg des Saintes is picturesque with all the buildings having distinctive red roofs. The Saintes have been French since shortly after they were colonized, and there is a very strong link with France, and especially with Brittany (where, by the way, our friends on “Moby” are from!). Since there was never any agriculture on these dry islands, there were never any slaves, so the population is overwhelmingly French, and not Caribbean. In fact, as we stepped onto the dinghy dock, and walked into the little town, we were immediately transported to a small fishing village somewhere in France! Baguettes and pastries were displayed in the little cafés and you were greeted with “Bonjour!” wherever you went!

We walked the steep road up to Fort Napoleon, sitting on top of the hill overlooking all the islands of Isle de Saintes, and as far as the main island of Guadeloupe. The fort, originally named Fort Louis, was built in 1782, but was destroyed by the British in 1809. It was rebuilt in 1867 and named after Napoleon III. However, after that time, it never saw use in battle, and was used instead as a penitentiary. As we walked up the hill, and saw the outside walls, we all (rather arrogantly) thought the same thing: “another common-garden fort”! How many forts have we seen on our travels?! But this one turned out to be worth the walk up the hill! It has been beautifully restored, and we happily paid our €17 entrance fee to walk around and admire it, and enjoy the museum and exhibitions that we found inside. There were beautiful models of old ships and depictions of the battles they fought in these waters.  We thought of the old fort in Grenada, Fort George, also built in the late 1700’s, that is just decaying, seemingly forgotten on top of the hill, and compared it to this beautiful old fort, so carefully looked after and able to be appreciated by so many visitors.

Fort Napoleon

More images of Fort Napoleon
On our walk back down the hill and through the town, we admired the typical Saintes architecture, with the houses having the gingerbread lattice work trim and distinct shutters on the windows.

Saintes architecture
We also saw “Shuti” arrive, and called to them from halfway up the hill, but they did not hear us! Instead, after we had bought our baguettes for lunch, we quickly stopped by on the dinghy and said “bonjour”! After lunch, the Shuti boys, Yoav, Eyal and Dror came to play, a bittersweet playdate, as this was to be the last. We knew were leaving the next day, and Shuti’s agenda, is keeping them in the Guadeloupe area a little longer as they drop off their friend and pick up Momi's father over the next couple of days. By the time they make it up to Antigua and the British Virgin Islands, we will already be in the Bahamas, so we will likely not see them again (in the near future). We will, undoubtedly see them again sometime, as this is a special friendship, formed over thousands of miles of ocean, with shared experiences that forged a unique and special bond. We shared a lovely evening with them aboard Shuti, with a bottle of Caribbean rum punch helping us to say farewell, but not goodbye!

Top: The kids have a last playdate:  Gaby teaches them a card trick!  And a last shot that evening after drinks
And so, with two sad farewells behind us, we keep heading north, in our effort to catch up with our other special friends on “Moby”, so we can see them one more time before they head across the Atlantic back to France, and as all our adventures slowly start coming to an end. We sailed from the Saintes on Monday, April 9th to the top of Guadeloupe and anchored in Deshaies, where we checked out with the Gendamerie. We love the French islands: paperwork is kept to a minimum (you enter your own information into a computer and it prints a one page clearance document), and it is free. Services are great and people are friendly. What more could you ask for?! Next stop: Antigua!

Gaby blows the conch as the sun sets at our anchorage in Deshais, Martinique
PS:  Since these are posted in quick succession, if you have not seen the post on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, click on "Older Posts" below!

1 comment:

  1. Very cool story of Mt Pelee! Awesome pics, especially the last one.