As I wrap up this trip report on the southern half of the Leeward Islands, we are still in the fabulous U.S. Virgin Islands and loving every minute of it. We recently checked into the British Virgin Islands and enjoyed some awesome sailing. On the way to North Sound at the island of Virgin Gorda, we spent a day tacking eastward in Sir Francis Drake Channel, directly into 26 to 30 knot winds. With a reefed mainsail, we managed 7 to 8 knots and even headed out beyond the protection of Sir Francis Drake Channel and into the Atlantic Ocean toward the island of Anegada in order to get a good lay line on a final tack into North Sound. The seas were big and we took quite a bit of “green water” over the decks, vigorously leak-testing all our deck hatches. We had a terrific sail into North Sound and set anchor just off the beach at Bitter End Yacht Club near Saba Rock. We have two 75 gallon water tanks and used an entire tank to wash all the salt off the boat!
We had a fantastic time at Bitter End and enjoyed the company of many friends, both new and old. It was a "Catamaran Convention" for sure, with five different cats and crews showing up: Manta 42 ’s Evensong and Pirate's Hideout; Custom 48 Serendipity; Fontaine Pajot Belize 43 Honemeaux; and Indigo Moon all sailed in for a weekend rendezvous.
Our main reason for the trip was to be at Bitter End during the Annual Women’s Sailing School where we would have an opportunity to visit with Pam Wall, our wonderful friend from Ft. Lauderdale who always teaches at the event. We got to see Pam and even enjoyed an added bonus: she brought her husband Andy with her this time! As I mentioned before in prior reports, Andy is an expert in the field of rigging and he was nice enough to dinghy out to Indigo Moon with me one morning and inspect my mast and rigging. With over ten thousand miles on our rig, it was nice to hear that all was well.
After a quick look at Indigo Moon's rigging, Andy and I retired to the Salon for a visit. I pulled out a big planning chart of the Atlantic and Caribbean and showed Andy the route we took last year from Ft. Lauderdale to Tortola. Nothing serves better than a big chart to get sailors plotting and planning and telling stories. Andy and Pam, seasoned circumnavigators who built their own boat, just recently sailed their monohull, Kandarick, to the Azores all by themselves. They plan to sail onward to the Mediterranean or Northern Europe in another leg later this year. Andy had great stories to tell and he's blessed with an endearing, dry Aussie sense of humor.
Also, we had not seen Louisianans Wayne and Millie Buras on Honemeaux since the Bahamas and the Cat Island Rake and Scrape Festival almost two years ago. They had us over one evening for Red Beans and Rice. Lordy Lordy, I was about to kidnap Millie – she’s “the Cat’s Pajamas!” It’s been a long, long time since this Cajun Boy tasted Red Beans so good! (Thanks again, Dahlin'!).
After a great weekend at Bitter End, Melissa and I headed back “home” to St. John and to Maho Bay to resume our duties as Bay Hosts for the National Park Service. The winds were unusually light at 8 to 10 knots with an occasional puff of 15. We were able to make a slow, steady spinnaker run the entire way! I have always dreamed about being able to sail the full length of Sir Francis Drake Channel under spinnaker only and we finally got our chance.
We listened to music and Melissa lounged and read for six hours or so as we traversed some twenty miles and enjoyed watching the British Virgin Islands slowly rise up on both sides and then fall behind in our wake. There are some close seconds for sure, but it was probably one of the coolest day-sails we have ever experienced on Indigo Moon.
With the bright sun and light air resulting in perfect sailing conditions, there were at least a hundred charter boats sailing in the Channel, but we were the only ones with a spinnaker up (none of the Charter Boats have spinnakers). As such, our solid-purple spinnaker was a real head-turner and many of the other boats sailed up close to take pictures of Indigo Moon in the idyllic setting.
All said, we are having a great New Year and still love being here in the Virgin Islands!
Well, that’s what’s happening here. Let’s get going on the next installment! In this edition we will continue down the Leeward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean all the way to Dominica.
Where in the World are the Leeward Islands anyway?
Let’s get re-oriented with the Leeward Islands and where we are.
Our Leeward Islands guide book, written by Chris Doyle, separates the Leewards into three categories:
1) Renaissance Islands:
Anguilla; St. Martin; and, St. Barthelemy (a.k.a. “St. Barts”)
2) Islands that Brush the Clouds:
Saba, St. Eustatia (a.k.a “Statia”), St. Christopher ( a.k.a. “St. Kitts”); Nevis; and, Montserrat
3) Islands of Mountains and Mangroves:
Barbuda, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Marie Galante, and Dominica
I will provide a little introduction for each island we visited herein below as the trip report continues. So, don’t forget to refer back to the Map now and then to keep oriented if need be.
In our last report we left off with our departure from St. Kitts and the next stop being it's sister island Nevis. So let's go!
The history of Nevis is utterly predictable for the most part: it is yet one more Caribbean Island that saw early plantation attempts in the 1700’s all while it changed hands between the Spanish, French and British. Nevis has reached its also predictable modern-day destiny by way of the economic pendulum swinging slowly from 1700's agriculture to modern-day tourism.
In fact, the parallel histories of many of the Leeward Islands resulted is us coming upon the same tourist settings over and over again, almost like a franchise: identical styles of architecture and similar sugar refinery operations in the 1700’s and early 1800’s now render modern day ruins that serve as historical settings for restaurants and resorts.
In one of our Cruising Guides, the author refers to the early Eastern Caribbean plantation owners/operators as the “Plantocracy” of the Eastern Caribbean. It is obvious that the Plantocracy of the Virgin and Leeward Islands shared information and designed their structures and operations in the same manner for the most part.
That makes Nevis and all its ruins utterly predictable at this point in our adventures. Like some weird, distant cousins of the McDonalds’ Golden Arches, the cylindrical windmill grinding house structures of 1700’s sugar plantations now routinely mark the location of a restaurant and/or resort. On Nevis, the beautiful Golden Rock Plantation Inn is situated amongst plantation ruins. In contrast, a modern, upscale Four Seasons Resort sits directly on the western shore.
A surprising facet to Nevis’ history is that Alexander Hamilton of the United States was born on the small island of Nevis. Also out of the ordinary is that Nevis is one of the few islands in the Caribbean that is home to African Green (Vervet) Monkeys. The monkeys are believed to have arrived in the Caribbean as pets to enslaved Africans.
Our arrival on the leeward side of Nevis was uneventful and we quickly found ample space to anchor right off the beach from Charlestown, just a stone’s throw south of the Four Season’s Resort. With a large expanse of shallow clean-sand bottom near the beautiful beach, it was a treat to anchor here as opposed to St. Kitts.
St. Kitts and Nevis are one country. After inquiring, we were told that we didn’t have to check out of St. Kitts, nor check into Nevis. We only needed to check out from Nevis when our stay was over (and that advice was good).
Here's a first look:
We explored the town of Charlestown on foot. Every island has its own personality twists and quirky customs. Here on Nevis, it was the first and only island where trash is used as decorations! We saw many sights on our first walking tour through the streets of Charlestown, Nevis.
Here are some more scenes from the city:
Having done the initial “walkabout town” tour, we decided we’d like to hike some of the trails farther up the mountain. Chuck and Terri Hill on Lagoon 410 Maker’s Match agreed to go with us and share a cab fare to one of the upper trails. We had a nice hike and lunch in the upper altitudes of Nevis.
Here are some shots of our day:
After our hike, we stopped at the Golden Rock Plantation Inn and enjoyed a nice lunch amidst the plantation ruins and obscene beauty of manicured grounds and tropical gardens. Here are some more shots of Nevis:
Our time in Nevis was relatively short, but nonetheless it left a wonderful impression with its high peaks, lush jungles and Green monkeys.
Ready for a more-developed island and needing some provisioning, we made plans to head to Antigua.
We knew it would not be easy. Just like visiting Saba, we had departed the Leeward’s beaten path and headed west in order to visit St. Kitts and Nevis, both situated well to the west of the main Archipelago of the Leeward Islands. Thus, we will now have to pay a price. We will have to head almost due east and beat directly into the steady trade winds and seas to cover the 40 miles to Antigua.
As the day wore on, sailing got tougher as the seas got rougher. By mid-afternoon we were very uncomfortable and heading into lumpy, confused seas and steeper and steeper waves that were closely spaced. Also, squalls were “training” off of Antigua – the heat and landmass of Antigua sparked convectional squalls that then drifted west in the trades right toward us!
At one certain moment, still about eight miles from Antigua, I was stunned to see a very small, sea-green, wooden fishing boat drift down our port side about TEN FEET away! I never saw it coming! We were headed in the same general direction; he was on a course about ten degrees to port and he had just made it across my bows before I overtook him.
Waves crashed over the small fishing boat and spray continually drenched the three guys in it, all hunkered-down in raincoats. They were not having fun, as their outboard motor clawed its way upwind into the steep seas at about three knots. I doubt they ever saw me before the close call either. It was over in seconds and nothing bad came of our near miss, thank goodness, but it frightened me badly.
Of course, as most red-blooded men do when they have scared themselves, I automatically started cursing: “What kind of &%$#@&% idiot paints a small boat a perfectly-camouflaging sea-green and comes that close to another boat!” Of course, my mind was simultaneously declaring a much smarter counter-argument: “What kind of idiot sailing a big catamaran doesn’t get up more often and look on the other side of the jib -- the radar isn’t going to pick up that little boat in these steep seas no matter what color it is painted, you fool!!!”
My heart rate and breathing stabilized in five minutes or so and we continued on. As we approached Antigua the seas got rougher still. This little 40 mile passage was turning into what would become a tacking battle and beat of roughly 60 to 70 miles.
As I scanned the seas carefully for small boats (still startled from the near miss and getting closer to Antigua where fishing traffic might increase) I could not believe my eyes. Less than 50 yards off my port beam a huge blue whale surfaced momentarily. Visible for only five seconds, the whale’s backbone, and a huge expanse of body flaring gracefully down and out from it, glistened in the late-afternoon sun before slipping smoothly and effortlessly back beneath the surface of the rough seas.
It took a split second more to realize what I was seeing. At first, the whale’s back looked precisely like the capsized hull of a huge boat, awash just at the surface. Yes, a brilliantly-reflective blue-black hull of a shallow draft boat, keel up. Of course, after that mass slid forward and under, and a huge tail broke the surface and waved goodbye, my mind instantly realized what my eyes had been shown: a five second movie that only I saw and that has been burned permanently onto my mind’s “hard-drive.” I love to think about it now and then and replay the “movie” of the Antiguan whale.
Back to the task at hand: Good Lord, this is the longest 40 mile passage we’ve had to “eat” in a long while. It took another hour and a half to finally get behind the lee side of Antigua and into Jolly Harbor where we could drop the hook and relax. But for the near miss with the fishing boat and the sighting of the whale, it was nothing but a long, tiring, boring, rough trip from Nevis to Antigua.
We have yet to actually regret going anywhere, because we are always “game” for seeing new places. Thus, we are glad we visited St. Kitts and Nevis. They are beautiful islands. But we would never visit them again by boat. St. Kitts is the worst place we’ve ever been in terms of accessibility of the shore and Customs by boat. Add to that the fight to get back east to Antigua and it would not be worth a repeat visit for us. Don’t get me wrong, though, they are great islands and well worth seeing. It’s just a tough call to go back for a repeat visit when viewed strictly from a sailing standpoint.
We anchored in the outer bay at Jolly Harbor and took the dinghy to Customs the next morning. We knew that Antigua would be the most developed island since St. Martin in terms of grocery shopping and restaurants. We found a very good grocery store just a couple of blocks from the dinghy dock at Jolly Harbor and we replaced much of our depleted ship's stores. After restocking and resting up, we set about exploring Antigua.
The island of Antigua has a history that departs somewhat from the usual Caribbean Plantation program. Most of the Leeward Islands do not have truly protected bays with 360 degree cover. Islands like Statia, for example, only have open, leeward shores to serve as “Bays” on the western side of the islands. Thus, while protected from the easterly trade winds, those types of anchorages are simultaneously exposed to weather, and more importantly, attacks from Warships from all other quadrants on the Compass Rose (south, north and west).
As you know from our last trip report, St. Martin has a huge inner Lagoon, but it was not accessible in the 1700’s and 1800’s by sailing ships (it only has two, narrow man-made canals entering it today). Antigua, on the other hand, boasts large, completely protected natural anchorages. As such, Antigua quickly became valuable as a British Naval Base. By the mid 1700’s the British Navy constructed English Harbor Dockyard within the deep natural bays that cut into Antigua's southern shores.
English Harbor runs inland south to north and is actually comprised of three bays, the first of which is Freeman Bay. Beyond Freeman Bay a natural channel bends west and then north again and then branches northward into two separate inner bays: Ordinance Bay to the east and Tank Bay to the west. English Harbor is a fabulous, natural “Hurricane Hole” where secure protection from any storm can be had.
When we first arrived at English Harbor, we tried anchoring very deep inside the Harbor where our friends Steve and Sue O’Conner were already anchored on Manta catamaran Evensong. That first night, both Evensong and Indigo Moon discovered why we had found open space at the very top of Tank Bay in otherwise crowded anchorages to the south: a waterfront nightclub literally 100 feet away boomed music almost until nearly dawn. Indigo Moon was dancing around and reverberating with thumping bass frequencies and it was impossible to sleep – even with earplugs!
So, the next day we all moved out and found spots at the northern end of the beach in outer Freeman Bay. There we were far from the nightclubs and within easy swimming distance of a nice beach. It turned out to be one of our favorite locations in the Leewards and we stayed quite a while. We hiked, rode bicycles, took a SCUBA diving trip, and rode the bus into the “ Big City” of St. John and did more grocery shopping.
Up until Antigua, Melissa and I had gotten scant use of our bicycles, but Antigua presented an opportunity for good cycling. We managed to brave long uphill climbs, and we made it several miles north up the west coast toward Jolly Harbor, but it was grueling. As we huffed and puffed and struggled uphill, local kids on bikes passed us effortlessly, grinning all the while and giving encouragement. And although the ride up was tough, coming back down was FUN! On the way back to English Harbor, while coasting down the mountain, I actually had to apply my brakes not to overtake a motorcycle in front of us!
Taking the "bus" into St. John was fun too. The bus was a small normal-sized Toyota van. As we made our way closer and closer to the "Big City" of St. John to go shopping, we were amazed at how many people were continually crammed into the van. Melissa and I would look at each other as we approached potential passengers on the roadside and shoot each other glances of "no way!" But, to our surprise the van would stop and everyone would wiggle and shift to figure out a way to "shoe horn" another person into the van. The van was not considered "full" until the back end was packed tight and the front seat was so full that people were literally draped over the entire dashboard!
We loved English Harbor. Aside from the nice surroundings, there is notable History here: British Admiral Lord Nelson served as a young Captain here at the age of 26. Nelson operated out of the facilities (now known as Nelson's Dockyard, rather than English Harbor Dockyard). His mission at the time was the enforcement of the Navigation Act which prohibited British Colonies from trading with their former enemy, the United States.
Of course, Lord Nelson went on to become the most famous figure in British Naval History by sailing the Warship H.M.S. Victory into battle off Cape Trafalgar in October of 1805. Nelson and his fleet brilliantly defeated the French and Spanish Fleets. That victory was one of the most pivotal in European History and it ended Napoleon's quest for a French Europe.
During my European travels with my family as a five-year-old child, I had the thrill of standing on the decks of Lord Nelson’s Warship, the H.M.S. Victory, and here in Antigua it was extremely engaging for me to now explore the place where Admiral Nelson got his start as a young Naval Officer.
As if all that is not enough to see, the 39th annual Antigua Sailing Week was about to get underway. The Regatta attracts 200 sailboats from around the World. There are races for all types of sailboats, from 30 foot bare-boats to 120 foot Maxi racers worth millions!
There is also a "classic" regatta too, with old wooden-masted "J" boats. It’s a BIG deal to be here during all this!
Hey, let’s look at some of the yachts that are already here for the regatta!
We thoroughly enjoyed walking the docks and inspecting all the high-dollar racing sailboats. With the start of the Regatta in only a few days, many crews were working feverishly to sort out sails and rigging and effect repairs and maintenance. Such a large-scale event, Antigua Race Week is the type of “happening” that electrifies everyone’s spirits and the excitement on the docks is contagious. Just seeing that many multi-million dollar sailboats in one place is enough to get your mind racing and your blood pumping.
Walking the Marinas was fun, but the hiking was even better. There are trails emanating from Freeman Bay that are good exercise and provide great views of English Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Here are some more sights from south Antigua:
Aside from all it’s other history, Antigua boasts modern-day “blues guitar” fame as well. It is here that Eric Clapton owns a mind-boggling estate and recording studio situated on Indian Creek Point, just a couple of miles east of English Harbor. Remote, rugged, inaccessible, and extremely private, the Clapton complex sits atop the end of a high, narrow peninsula of solid rock.
Clapton also built and funds a Chemical Dependency Treatment Facility here on Antigua. In chemical dependency recovery himself, Clapton is quite philanthropic in that he offers FREE Chemical Dependency Treatment to any Antiguan in need.
It is my understanding that all of the Caribbean Islands (and also the Bahamas) are beset with record levels of drug usage amongst youngsters. The number of children using cocaine and alcohol is increasing dramatically while the age at which they begin drug use simultaneously plummets. With thirteen-year-olds using crack cocaine, it is an epidemic.
Making treatment even more difficult for Eastern Caribbeans, old and young alike, being situated on a very small island presents almost insurmountable challenges. Chemical Dependency Treatment requires the patient to stay away from old “triggers” (persons, places and things) associated with their prior chemical/alcohol dependent lifestyle. That is practically impossible to do on an island that is only ten miles wide! Nonetheless, much effort and industry is being focused upon providing treatment to the people of Antigua. We have great respect for Mr. Clapton’s efforts in that regard.
Here are more shots from our hikes, including a look at the Clapton Complex:
Melissa and I took Indigo Moon over to Indian Creek one afternoon, intending to anchor there for a few nights of seclusion at the foot of Clapton's Estate. The water, however, was brown and muddy due to all the mangroves and we didn’t find it appealing.
On the way back to English Harbor I noticed what obviously used to be a red vehicle strewn down the face of one of the steep cliffs. The wreckage covered a good seventy-five feet of the one hundred-plus foot cliff face and was so thinly strewn that it was impossible to determine what kind of vehicle it used to be.
On a dive trip a few days later, I asked the divemaster about the wreckage. He explained that a German resident had fallen in love with a local Antiguan woman who had several children from just as many lovers on the island. The woman and all her children were lovingly cared for by the German who took them all in.
It was bliss until the woman decided she wanted to return to one of her previous island lovers. The German stated that if she left, he would drive off a cliff and kill himself. She did not believe him and she left anyway. He promptly drove off the cliff to his death!
Our divemaster had other unsettling tales to tell. We got onto the subject of eating fish and Ciguatera Poisoning (reef fish in certain areas become toxic from eating other fish that ingest large amounts of coral). He told us of a very close call where he was offered a large portion of a big Barracuda, but one of his employees made off with the fish, angering the divemaster at the time.
By the next day, however, he was no longer angry. The fish was extremely toxic with Ciguatera Poisoning and the fish-embezzling employee now has permanent neurological damage and symptoms such as cold things feeling hot and visa versa, tingling and nerve malfunctions in his arms and hands, severe nausea at even the slightest smell of fish, and a violent reaction if he ever ingests any type seafood. This will last the rest of his life they say, considering his neurological system was altered!
Yikes! We have always avoided reef fish like Barracuda and Snapper in the tropics. Deep water species like Mahi Mahi and Wahoo are not subject to Ciguatera, so we stick to those fish (if we could ever catch one again).
We had two nice dives on our trip and saw two of the biggest lobsters we’ve ever seen in our lives! Boy oh boy, they had to shut me up – I kept threatening to get the pole spear and go back and "invite them to dinner!"
Of course, we also enjoyed touring Nelson’s Dockyard. There is an excellent museum there that includes interesting gunnery exhibits among other things. I am still reading Patrick O’Brian’s series of “Master and Commander” historical novels and the exhibits greatly augmented my understanding of the descriptions of artillery work upon the decks of Warships under the command of O’Brian’s star character, Post-Captain Jack Aubrey.
Here are some pictures of what we saw at Nelson’s Dockyard:
Although arguably somewhat out of context in Nelson’s Dockyard, there is an interesting exhibit of a modern, oceanic row boat on the grounds. Yes, imagine rowing across the Atlantic Ocean!
We also discovered SKYPE while in Antigua. We noticed that there were scores of Cruisers hanging around WiFi signals at restaurants and bars with their laptops and with headphone/microphones plugged in -- all jabbering away. Turns out that you can make calls and talk over the internet and make FREE calls anywhere in the world to another computer (tell all your friends to go to Skype.com to download the free software). Then go to Radioshack and get a 20 dollar headset with the microphone built in and plug it into your computer and you are set!
Need to call a land line or cellphone from your computer with SKYPE? No problem. You can also call regular phone numbers for about three cents a minute! It is awesome. So, while shopping in the city of St. John we bought a headset and began "SKYPING" in Antigua.
We could have stayed in Antigua a lot longer. But, if we are going to make it all the way to South America and Venezuela this season we must keep moving. That is both the good and bad part of Cruising: the excitement of making way toward new anchorages over the horizon is always paid for in equal measure by the sorrow of leaving the anchorages you have fallen in love with.
The only thing that was truly aggravating in Antigua was the considerable dust problem caused by neighboring Montserrat! The volcano was putting out a LOT of dust and fouling eveyone's decks. We had no way of knowing it, but Montserrat would erupt soon after our departure!
All said, Antigua ranks very high on our list of places we enjoyed visiting. It took all our resolve to leave our perfect anchoring spot at Freeman Bay, located next to a perfect beach that leads past a perfect seaside restaurant to a perfect hiking trail to the top of a perfect point with perfect views. We absolutely loved it.
The day finally came when we reluctantly said goodbye to Antigua and headed for French Guadeloupe.
Island hopping down the Eastern Caribbean allows everyone to be a sailing purist. Since leaving the British Virgin Islands, the starboard engine’s fuel tank is still virtually full, with engine use being limited to maneuvering and anchoring in port. The port engine’s tank also supplies our generator, so we’ve filled it a couple of times, using fuel to run the generator and in turn run the watermaker and charge batteries (and sometimes splurge on air conditioning, etc.).
We were running behind schedule after lingering so long in Antigua, so we did not plan to spend too much time in Guadeloupe. Also, we had mixed reviews of the island.
The most logical destination port in Guadeloupe when arriving from Antigua is the northwestern town of Deshaies (“Day-hay”), and we sailed right in and dropped our anchor near the shore. There is a large, commercial dock where one can tie the dinghy. As time went on during our travels, we became more acclimated to landing the dinghy anywhere, anytime, no matter how daunting.
Guadeloupe is a big island – really two islands (one volcanic and one with flatter topography) separated by a river. When you look at Guadeloupe on a map or chart, it looks like a butterfly, it's two large islands spreading out from a narrow center section where the two are joined. With a population of over 300,000 it is also a very-highly populated island compared to other islands we have visited.
Guadeloupe is also agricultural, focusing on sugarcane and rum. Also, there is a huge catamaran charter business here named “SWITCH.” The SWITCH charter outfit seems to have hundreds of Lagoon catamarans, including several 570 Lagoons – 57 footers that cost 1.5 million and up! You can’t miss the SWITCH catamarans, because they are all fitted with bright canary-yellow sailbags with the logo “SWITCH.fr" stitched in huge Kelly-green lettering on the yellow sailbags. SWITCH is based at Pointe A’ Pitre on the south shore of Guadeloupe and there are large Marinas and Boat Yards in that area, capable of handling any type of repairs or outfitting that you could ever need on a catamaran.
The mountains of Guadeloupe boast waterfalls, jungles, and hiking that is very enjoyable. And, of course, French cuisine, breads, and pastries are the “real thing.”
Once we got our anchor set, we took the dinghy in and marched to Customs, a long hike in the heat up a hill to the south of town. We have become accustomed to the fact that many settlements in the Eastern Caribbean are situated at the base of a ravine or gut of a mountain(s), so there is usually a relatively flat main street near shore through a small “downtown.” But go inland, or go either up or down the shore for any distance and you wind up climbing ultra-steep mountains with cliff-sided switchbacks, etc. That is why we got scant use of our bicycles while in the Eastern Caribbean.
Deshaies is the typical town set at the foot of a gut and we hiked up the foot of the mountain to the south to try and check in. No signs on the road. After reading the somewhat inadequate directions (as usual) in Chris Doyle’s Cruising Guide, we finally got the nerve to walk down a private-looking driveway and found a building that looked like it could in fact be Customs.
We dug out our “French for Cruiser’s” book and deciphered the small computer-printed sign in the window. We decided it said something like (and in your mind use your best arrogant and disgusted French-guy accent): “We do not know if we are ever coming back to the office! Keep coming back and maybe you will see us one day!”
It was not an easy stroll to get there, so we waited a while. Other Cruisers came by, and they said they had come the day before too and still had not found anyone in at Customs. So, we gave up. The French made it hard to clear Customs in a timely fashion, and there was nothing much we could do about it except finally surrender and conclude that if they don't care, we don't care either. We also talked to other Cruisers who had just gone on a four hour bus ride and ultimate "Goose Chase" all over the island to try and check in and still had not obtained satisfaction.
Back on the boat, we got word by e-mail that Howard and Suzanne Clarke on 410 Lagoon Leadership had been boarded by Customs at the southern city of Basse Terre before they had a chance to check in. The Customs officials even opened lockers and closets, etc. Also, Maker’s Match reported that they were in a Marina that had been hurricane ravaged and it had not been repaired. There was a somewhat lack of management and boats were rafting up to Maker’s Match without permission, etc. None of this sounded quite like "our cup of tea," so the next day we decided to raise anchor and skip Guadeloupe and head straight to Les Saintes, a small set of French islands that are a favorite European tourist destination and located just south of Guadeloupe.
Chuck and Terri on Maker’s Match had additional excitement while in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe. They were looking westward out to sea and noticed one of their friends’ boats headed west, which they thought looked strange. They had talked to their friends earlier and were certain they were not leaving until the next day. Hmm . . .
Chuck pulled out his binoculars and saw no one on deck. Then he noticed the anchor chain hanging straight down! Chuck jumped in his dinghy and went in pursuit a few miles offshore to find that the aluminum schooner Wounded Spirit had drug anchor and was headed out to sea! It’s anchor and 75 feet of chain was hanging loose in over 1000 feet of water! Chuck managed to find all the correct switches to get the boat started and began slowly heading back in. Eventually the owner, Hoyt Lee, and his mate Lola made it out to the boat.
Hoyt and Lola were actually several miles up a mountain when they too saw their boat drifting away! They frantically ran for miles and jumped in their dinghy to go after it. Trouble is, they have a folding dinghy with a 2 horsepower outboard and they never would have caught up with Wounded Spirit! Lola told us after the incident that Hoyt, not knowing other rescue efforts were underway, suggested that Lola jump out of the dinghy in the open sea so he could get more speed. Of course, Lola didn’t want any part of that.
All is well that ends well. The boat was saved, but it was a reminder to all of us that we must remain extremely vigilant and dive on our anchors every single time we set them to make sure our boats do not wind up headed for Central America in the easterly trade winds and westerly currents.
Many anchorages in the Eastern Caribbean are comprised of VERY narrow strips of shallow water extremely close to shore. Just off from those small strips of shallows, the bottom immediately drops to hundreds and thousands of feet. As such, there is no room for error and an anchor has no margin to drag and reset itself. Should the anchor drag, the boat is headed out to sea and that is that!
We were all glad that Wounded Spirit was recovered without incident. We were just getting to know Hoyt and Lola at the time.
And so, by steering clear of Guadeloupe, we missed being searched by Customs, missed a rescue at sea, and from what we are told we also missed some beautiful vistas from the higher elevations of Guadeloupe! Oh well, you can’t win them all!
Despite missing out on the Guadeloupe "excitement", we were very happy to be at Les Saintes nonetheless!
Here are some views of the sail from Guadeloupe to the Saints:
What a stark contrast culturally from all the other Eastern Caribbean islands so far! The reason for the difference is Les Saintes have always been French and have always relied exclusively on fishing. With a history completely void of agriculture and slavery, racism is not an issue on Les Saintes. No slaves were ever brought there and the Plantocracy (with all its ills) that dominated the surrounding Leeward Islands might as well have been a million miles away.
Of course, broaching the subject of racism presents a deadly “minefield” of subject matter that risks deeply and permanently offending anyone and everyone. As the old saying goes: “You better shut up, because you are about to plow up a snake!” So, I’ll have to lay a little groundwork here to make it absolutely clear that I am not judging anyone in the Virgin and Leeward Islands. Let’s face it, we all feel very differently and often very strongly about what types of behaviors are allegedly “justified” by ourselves and others, depending on who is doing what and why. I don’t want to tread on that slippery slope! I am only reporting on "the what" of our experiences and will not speculate as to "the why."
Against that backdrop, in both the Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands, and wherever slavery was prevalent in the 1600's and 1700’s, we encountered a noticeable number of African West-Indian people who displayed attitudes that ranged from clearly unfriendly to angrily racist. The intensity of some of the racism was unexpected and disappointing, especially considering that we approached everyone in the Virgin Islands and the Eastern Caribbean with pure heart and honest friendship.
Predictably, the worst racism emanated from "angry young black men" who had no qualms about calling us “White Mother F&%$#@s”. I kept a knife and small spray can of mace with me on many of the walks where the natives seemed most hostile.
My hearing is pretty poor these days, but Melissa can hear an ant walking on cotton. She often picks up on conversations that I cannot hear. I think she quit telling me the worst of what was being said for fear I might get stupid and run my mouth too, or start a fight. Of course, it was best to simply ignore the troublemakers.
Eastern Caribbean racism is no different than any other flavor of bigotry. As we all know (or should know), racism is a terrible poison that is taught and learned by each successive generation. Unfortunately, there is a component of bitter racism that is very much alive and well in the Virgin Islands and down into the Eastern Caribbean.
The ghost of slavery still haunts islanders to this day and it is a destructive force that remains in the forefront of the minds of some Eastern Caribbean leaders. The "S" word is still thrown out by some as a knee-jerk reaction, even when it has nothing whatsoever to do with the issues at hand. For example, back in June of 2006, the International Whaling Commission (ICW) meetings at St. Kitts were marred by the racially charged remarks of Grenada's Minister of Education, Mr. Claris Charles, who in the middle of whaling industry debates (which had absolutely no racial component at all) inexplicably declared:
"It is really racist . . . Rich nations can't come down to the Caribbean and colonise us with their ideology. . . Black people all over the world have to understand that up to this day, so many years after slavery has been abolished, some white countries still feel we can not make a decision on our own."
Not all islanders are similarly predisposed. Barbadian professor, Dr. Karl Watson of the University of the West Indies, immediately criticized Charles' playing of the Slavery and Race cards in the ICW negotiations, saying that the race dimension "has no basis in the [ICW] debates."
How we all feel about such outbursts is irrelevant. The point is that it is clear that some of the powerful Eastern Caribbean Government Officials set a bad example for their people by continuing to insist that every single thing centers upon slavery and race. Slavery is still the primary lens through which they see the world and that is tragically self-destructive for them. The ICW incident was reported in the August, 2006, issue of the Caribbean Compass newspaper.
During our bike ride in Antigua, Melissa and I coasted slowly through a residential section. A little Black girl was playing out on the front porch of one of the houses. When she saw us, she instantly turned and screamed into the open front door: “I see White People!”It was funny at first, because she was so perfectly cute and innocent. But down the road, as the message sank in, I have to admit it was not so funny after all. Racism takes hold early in life.
Don't misunderstand me. We are glad we went down island. We had a great time and enjoyed the spectacular beauty of all the islands. We take people one at a time and we met a fair number of local people who were purely beautiful and openly friendly (just like anywhere else in the world -- there are good people if you look for them).
Nonetheless, at Les Saintes we enjoyed a break from the high-amperage racism we felt on some of the other Caribbean Islands. Les Saintes presented a nice respite where there was not one scintilla of racial tension in the air. To the extent we were disliked at all by the French, it was because we were merely Americans, not because we were the hated "White People."
And so, arriving at Les Saintes felt as though Indigo Moon had fallen through a “worm hole” in outer space and somehow splashed down on the shores of a sleepy Mediterranean fishing village. With the look, feel, and pace of rural Europe, it was love at first sight. Les Saintes have a strong connection to Brittany on the northern coast of France.
We were lucky and found a very nice spot to anchor. Once we were sure that Indigo Moon was secure, we took the dinghy in to find Customs. We located a small Courthouse at the town of Bourg Des Saints on the island of Terra D’en Haut and inquired about checking in. The French are a trip. No hard and fast hours, no pressure about checking in or not, and once we finally got an official to help us, he copied our papers and told us to come back later. I asked: “What time?” The famous French “shrug” indicating: ‘I don’t know; I don’t care; when’s lunch?!”
The beauty of Cruising includes lots of free time and a carefree pace. While waiting for Customs Officials to help us at Les Saintes, we were not aggravated. Instead we enjoyed making new friends. Mike Wise, from Nordhavn 47 trawler Wayfinder introduced himself and invited us to a sunset get-together (which we took him up on -- meeting several other Cruisers too). At Customs, we also met Icelanders Aslaug and Kari (and their little dog Kata), aboard Brewer 42 mohohull Lady Ann.
We stayed in Les Saintes for several days and enjoyed the ambiance of Europe in the Caribbean. Let’s take a look:
We also enjoyed a short hike over to the eastern shore of Terre D’en Haut where Grande Anse Beach is located. Here are some shots from our hike to the beach and back.
On the way back from the beach we stopped at the soccer field. Despite being a tiny island, they have a very modern stadium!
It did not take long for us to get into the slow rhythm of Les Saintes, where the day starts with a morning stroll to get a Croissant and several loaves of fresh Baguette bread – one for the walk back to the dock, one for the dinghy ride back to the boat, and a third for Jamon and Fromage po-boy sandwiches for lunch.
Here are more scenes from the streets of Bourg De Saints:
We really soaked up Les Saintes. We also got a good dose of “French custom” too. One morning I watched a Frenchman on a nearby sailboat get up from the cockpit table where he and his family were eating breakfast. He stepped up to the rail (anchored too close and only 40 feet away) and while facing us as we ate our breakfast in our cockpit, he took a nice long "pee" over the lifelines while looking right at us. After doing his business and taking great pleasure in shaking himself around for quite a long while, he stepped back into his cockpit and directly picked up a pastry with his “shaking hand” and continued his breakfast.
Melissa got chewed out royally by a shop clerk for not re-shelving articles of clothing she had tried on. Clerks and waiters were pretty short-tempered in general. Chuck Hill on Maker’s Match reported getting “schooled” by a waitress when he became impatient and asked her a second time for another beer – the waitress “blew up.” In a loud voice that boomed through the restaurant, she gave Chuck a good “dressing down” and informed him she was very busy waiting on many people and he’d get the beer whenever she got around to it!
None of this was really all that troublesome. It was more interesting and funny to me than offensive. I contend that there are many endearing things about the French culture and view of life that can arguably support somewhat of a superiority complex on their part. With all their stereotypical shortcomings and our political differences, the French are still pretty cool if you ask me.
Of course, considering I grew up in south Louisiana, I am keenly cognizant of the French culture’s zeal for life and for “passing a good time.” Surely, my adoration for Louisiana and its French heritage (both culturally and regarding Louisiana’s beautifully written Civil Code and other laws), serves to attenuate the impact of allegedly aggravating French behavior.
Regardless, not everyone else is nearly so forgiving. We found that, without exception, local merchants (such as marina managers, etc.) in all the places we visited (including all of the Eastern Caribbean and South America) complained early and often that Frenchmen, by far, cause the most trouble of all Cruisers when it comes to things such as littering, refusing to pay for services, anchoring too close to other boats, running over mooring lines, and just generally leaving “bad-juju-jetsam” in their wakes.
Love them or not, though, the French know how to "let the good times roll" better than anybody. While at anchor in Les Saintes, we witnessed the wildest party I’ve ever seen on boat (and that’s saying something). One of the big 57 foot Lagoon catamarans in the SWITCH charter fleet pulled in late one afternoon. The boat, named “Pharo” was loaded with scores of the young and the beautiful – it looked like a photo shoot for Tommy Hilfiger. As the night set in, the music ramped-up and they were up until the early morning hours. Half-naked (and I am sure ultimately totally naked) bodies danced to the beat on every square foot of that big cat – it looked like an “E” television's “Wild On” episode, where the producer reports on the wildest parties in the World.
I am getting old though. As I watched the party, all I seemed to be thinking about was the boat. There were too many people on the boat, jumping around unmercifully. Surely all that stress on the boat could result in de-lamination or degradation of the decks. I also thought to myself: this is a good argument to never, ever put a 1.5 million dollar catamaran into charter service.
All said, our stay at Les Saintes gets very high marks. But, alas, it was again time to move on. Where to next? Dominica, where dense jungles and waterfalls await!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . .
It is here at Dominica that our wildest Cruising dreams were fulfilled by day as we explored an indescribably beautiful, unspoiled jungle paradise. It is also here that our worst Cruising nightmares loomed by night as we slept restlessly in stale air under locked hatches, with flare guns, mace, and a handheld VHF radio in the bunk with us, all while fearful of being boarded by robbers.
Before we get into the details, though, let’s examine why Dominica is so different than the rest of the Leeward and Windward Islands. And, let’s get the pronunciation right. It is: “DOUGH - MINN - EEKA”
So why is Dominica different, you ask? First of all, there are scant beaches and the few there are black or brownish volcanic sand. The shores of Dominica are mostly comprised of rugged rock formations. Secondly, there is a smallish airport that does not accommodate big jet traffic at all. And there are not many hotels. There are no big-name resorts at all.
Hmm. . . no idyllic beaches, very few hotels and no big jets. You guessed it: not much tourist traffic! Also, the population is only 70,000.
Cruise ships come in, but only one at a time and not every day. The island does not have the typical land-based resorts spread around its perimeter like other Caribbean Islands. The tourist area is pretty much concentrated down by the cruise ship docks at the city of Roseau on the southwestern shore.
Aside from the lack of major tourist traffic, it is Dominica’s large size and rugged topography that primarily sets it apart from all the other islands. Most all the other volcanic islands in the Eastern Caribbean have a single volcano. Dominica is a relatively big island that is almost 35 miles long and 10 miles wide and it has EIGHT, large potentially-active volcanoes with three of the volcanic peaks rising to elevations of 3,800 to 4,000 feet!
In our Cruising Guide, it is reported that when Christopher Columbus appeared before the King and Queen of Spain upon his return from this area, at some certain moment he resorted to crumpling up a piece of paper to try and illustrate just how rugged and dramatic the peaks and valleys are on Dominica.
Considering its large mass and high elevations, Dominica annually squeezes from 250 to 300 inches of rain from the trade winds. Accordingly, the tropical climate produces very dense jungles with a fantastic array of spice and fruit trees.
In addition to the striking appearance of Dominica, it is geologically dynamic and hosts boiling lakes, bubbling sulfur pools, many rivers with waterfalls and several hot springs. The best way for me to describe Dominica is that the entire island itself is alive! It is an active geological and botanical wonderland that has no equal, not even a distant second, in the Eastern Caribbean.
So, let’s get going with our report about this breathtaking island!
Loaded down with French breads and pastries, we set sail from Les Saintes, headed south to Dominica and to Prince Rupert Bay where the city of Portsmouth is located. As usual, we were on a close-hauled port tack with the trade winds always seeming to sneak to the south of east and deny us an easy beam reach.
I always joked to Melissa that our sails will probably be deformed and refuse to set on a starboard tack after this whole season of port-tacks down the Caribbean. Almost every passage, for months now since leaving the British Virgin Islands, has been dominated by wind close to the port bow and the sails close-hauled on a port tack, with the breeze hitting me directly in the face (and spray on occasion) all while seated at the helm on the port side of the cockpit.
This has gone on so long now that my entire perception of “what sailing is” has somehow been transformed into that experience alone. We often discuss how wonderful it will be to sail downwind again someday and we speculate that it will not happen until we leave Grenada headed west to Venezuela.
One more thing about Dominica: it is the first island in the chain (moving south) where “Boat Boys” become a consideration. Boat Boys are a down-island phenomenon. They scan the horizon for the next victim, ahem. . . I mean customer . . . and once they spot a boat coming in, they race out in open wooden boats with fast outboard motors. They will meet a boat as far out as two miles from the island in an attempt to be the first to obtain a new customer. They want to lead you to the anchorage, sell fruit and fish, run errands, and do anything and everything for a buck.
The reputation of Boat Boys has been poor in the past. And, of course, all of us first-timers in the lower Caribbean were leery of what the Boat Boy “experience” would be like. Just the thought of Indigo Moon surrounded by a dozen or so rugged, wooden boats (with nail heads bristling from their rub-rails) was enough to totally freak me out. Plus, you hear and read of the stories about places like St. Vincent where the Boat Boys are so aggressive that they swarm your boat by day and demand money. If you don’t make a “contribution” they might come back by night and chop your dinghy loose with a machete (and chop you too if you resist).
Moreover, farther south in St. Vincent, Boat Boys have been known to feign an engine breakdown and ask for a tow in, only to intentionally flip their boat while being towed, using the "accident” as a subterfuge to extort money. Or, if you let them get close enough, they will simply lasso a cleat without permission while you are underway and do the same thing! Point is, we were uneasy to be entering Boat Boy territory for the first time and we didn’t quite know what to expect from the Boat Boys of Dominica.
Good news: the Boat Boys of Dominica are now self-regulated and recently formed the "Indian River Guides Association" that in turn ran unscrupulous Boat Boys out of business. We were pleasantly surprised by how professional and friendly the River Guides were (no longer referred to with the politically incorrect label of Boat Boys). We did not ever feel threatened or hassled by them.
Let’s peruse some pictures of our arrival:
We anchored at the south end of Prince Rupert Bay, just off from the Coconut Beach Hotel. Our friends Howard and Suzanne Clarke on Leadership had been to Dominica a week or so before us and were already gone, but they e-mailed us indicating that they were able to pick up a wireless internet signal there. So, we chose that anchorage, as did Chuck and Terri Hill on Maker’s Match.
We also met up with Steven and Carol Argosy, new friends we made while at the Wayfinder party in Les Saintes. They came into Rupert Bay too and anchored their spectacular yacht, a 62 foot Nordhavn trawler named Seabird.
Also in the “fleet” were Hoyt and Lola on Wounded Spirit. They did not anchor next to us. Wanting to avoid any Boat Boy interaction whatsoever, they anchored all by themselves, in between and about a mile from each of the two customary anchorages.
Prince Rupert Bay is about three miles long. The main anchorage is on the north end of the bay directly offshore from Portsmouth. The anchorage we were in is all the way to the south directly offshore from the Coconut Beach Hotel.
We hooked up with River Guide Andrew “Cobra” O’Brien and used his services to set up a land-based tour of the north part of Dominica. Actually, the River Guide Association is so commercialized now that we never met Cobra himself, but instead dealt with one of his “Associates” who in turn arranged for a Rasta Man nick-named “Buddha” to take us on a day long tour.
Here is a link to Cobra O'Brien's web site: Cobra Tours
It turned out to be a very cool trip. Here are some highlights:
Cocoa, cashew, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut, banana, apricot, bay – the list of fruit and spice trees seems endless. Buddha often disappeared momentarily to climb a tree and bring back samples! We sucked on fresh cocoa seeds, ate various fruits and learned the medicinal value of various plants.
At one point, Buddha picked up a vine and explained: “Go to da terd branch from da first fork and follow it to da second branch after dat and use da terd leaf on da left side only; make da tea and it will cure da prostate cancer; my grandfadda had da cancer, drank da tea; no more cancer.”
A pocket knife rendered a sliver of bark from a cinnamon tree was divinely, brilliantly aromatic with the smell of pure exotic cinnamon.
And, as you might have guessed, it also seemed that every other plant allegedly had Viagra-type attributes.
We also visited sulfur pools that stunk so pungently with sulfur that it made me nauseated!
About mid-morning in the tour, Buddha asked if we wanted to “drink the coconut.” We said "sure" and Buddha took us to an area he called “The Ghetto.” We drove up to a house and got out of the van. The doors and windows of the house were wide open and pouring out smoke so thick it looked like there was fire inside. One whiff and it instantly took me back over thirty years ago to my misspent youth! There was MAJOR dope smoking going on in there!
Buddha entered the building and, like a firefighter on a rescue mission, he disappeared into the smoke! Soon thereafter, he and three other guys came out. We all walked with them over to a stand of big coconut trees behind the house.
Buddha grinned and elbowed me: “Bud-dee, you ever see da monkey wit no fur?” About that time, one of the completely stoned guys climbed effortlessly up a huge coconut tree. Nothing but the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet touched the tree trunk!
“STAND BACK!” was Buddha’s order as the “furless monkey” began stomping on top of the coconut fronds, causing coconuts to fall off (with coconuts sometimes rolling down and outward on a frond and falling far from the trunk of the tree).
As this process continued, Buddha and the other guys passed around a marijuana joint the size of a Have-A-Tampa cigar. Buddha and his buddies got quite a buzz going!
Once enough coconuts were on the ground, the “machete man” of the group got busy, chopping them open. We “drank the coconut!" Hoyt was a little recalcitrant and didn’t immediately drink-up. Buddha immediately noticed Hoyt’s reticence and pointed at Hoyt in condemnation and shouted: “YOU! You are not an Adventurer!” Hoyt immediately hoisted his coconut and began drinking as if his life depended on it.
As I wondered at this curious, delightful, scary, funny, surreal part of the tour, I noticed small children watching from next door at a neighbor’s house. They were keeping their distance, but nonetheless their eyes were riveted to the goings on. As soon as we all had enough of the coconut milk (which was clear, watery, only slightly hinted with a coconut taste), we set the coconuts down, tipped all of Buddha's buddies with a few bucks and headed toward the van.
The kids next door moved in immediately and methodically drank every drop from every coconut. It was obvious that this routine was "old hat" for them and when we showed up they knew fresh coconut was in their immediate future.
I imagined that the children surely must have announced our arrival: “Mama, I see White People . . . drinking the coconut again!”
It was an unusual experience for sure. Just to make sure he was ready to entertain us for the rest of the tour, and before we split from the Ghetto, Buddha got several more deep hits from one of the “B-52 Bomber” reefers going around. Then, he was back behind the wheel to drive us around some more!
Here is a look:
We left 'The Ghetto" and headed to the north shore for lunch. We had a nice relaxing lunch near the water's edge and were then ready for a hike into the mountains where we would follow a river up to waterfalls and pools, climbing over huge boulders and rocky shorelines along the way.
After our meal, I headed for the van and got in. While waiting for everyone else to shuffle out of the restaurant and get in too, I noticed a young man stapling fliers to telephone poles. Very workmanlike and in a big hurry, the young man was gone as quickly as he appeared.
Immediately thereafter, two pretty young girls in perfectly neat school uniforms ran up and were very excited. Although I could not see the flier, I surmised it was a about a musical group or some sort of concert. It was fun to see them so animated, like all kids are everywhere.
That brings up another observation: The people of Dominica were much warmer and open than the people in the Virgin Islands, or St. Kitts or Nevis for example. I don’t know if it is because Dominica is not a major tourist destination, but whatever the reason, we found the people of Dominica to be much quicker to smile at strangers, and much more willing to genuinely offer a friendly “hello” back to you on the street. Dominicans were generally more approachable and we enjoyed that.
Now, back to the tour! We all have full stomachs and Buddha has a serious “buzz” going that will surely last three hours (based on years of my independent research a long, long time ago). We’re headed up steep, narrow roads into the northern mountains of Dominica.
As we drove along the narrow ridge of a mountain with steep drop offs on either side, Melissa was a bit nervous at times, thinking about Buddha being “ripped” and fearing he might not be fit to drive. As they say, though, he was obviously “working with the drugs” and did fine. In fact, I suggested to Melissa that we might be at more peril if he did not have his “everyday buzz” on. Plus, I reminded her that Buddha has a “degree” and is a genuine herbalist Rasta-Man who studied in Jamaica and elsewhere for years: “Melissa, for all you know, he smoked only the third marijuana leaf on the second bud from the fourth branch – and he knows such a buzz will make him an entertaining tour guide and a great driver.” Melissa gave me the “Oh, Puh-leeeze” look.
Ok, so what’s the next stop? It is the Bense Chaudiere Pool where there is a nice waterfall and an area for swimming. The boulders forming the waterfall itself were smooth enough to use as a water slide. Also, the pool was deep enough for us to jump from the high cliffs above and land in the cool clear waters. It was a fun hike of about thirty minutes to reach the falls and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Let’s view some scenes of our afternoon hike and swim up to the Bense Chaudiere Pool:
At the end of the day, we returned to the shores of Prince Rupert Bay. As part of our arranged tour, we were set to take a sunset trip up the Indian River. We all liked Buddha so much that we told Cobra’s Associate that we wanted Buddha to conduct the River tour as well, and that we simply would not do the tour with anyone else. Buddha beamed.
In short order, Buddha retrieved one of the row boats (motor boats are not allowed in the river), and we were on our way for a sunset tour of the Indian River, including a section where scenes from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man's Chest were filmed.
By the end of the day, we were in love with Dominica, mesmerized by its phenomenal natural beauty. It boasts the most tropically beautiful mountains and rivers and waterfalls imaginable, and the noticeable absence of other tourists made us feel like the “adventurers” Buddha demanded that we be. In fact, in the jungles we didn’t see any other tourists that day that I can remember. Wherever we went in the jungles, it was just us, Buddha, and an occasional Dominican amidst the pristine, serene beauty.
Buddha gave us all rides back to our boats at sunset. Melissa and I were very tired from the day’s activities and we relaxed in the cockpit of Indigo Moon, soaking up the last light of this perfect day and reflecting on how amazing Dominica is.
We drifted off to sleep by 8:00 pm – perfectly content. We felt we had finally, and for the first time ever, arrived at a wild, unspoiled, tropical destination aboard Indigo Moon.
Little did we know, while we slept soundly, a drama played out a half-mile away on the decks of the schooner Wounded Spirit. As explained before, Wounded Spirit is a 40-something foot aluminum-hulled, custom made schooner with Hoyt and Lola aboard. We call it "The Purple Pirate Ship”, because its hull has the lines of an old square rigger and has been painted a deep purple, much the color of eggplant.
I don’t know how or why, but I only have one picture of Wounded Spirit from afar, under sail from Antigua southward. Here it is:
At around midnight, Lola was awakened and when she got up and peered out of Wounded Spirit’s companionway something caught her eye in the darkness. As she focused, she realized there was a dark-silhouetted figure crouched on all fours on the deck. With her mind still half asleep, it took a few seconds for Lola to figure out it was not Hoyt!
Her adrenaline kicked in, and with all five feet of her fit, nude body (she used to be a California body-builder in her weight class), she ran up on deck and began shouting at the intruder who in response slid smoothly over the transom’s edge like a snake and climbed back down the rudder gudgeons to swim silently into the darkness toward shore. By the time Hoyt woke up from the noise and got up on deck, the burglar was already long gone.
The next morning, I overheard Maker's Match on the VHF reporting this incident to a fellow cruiser in order to have it broadcast on SSB radio during the Caribbean Safety and Security Network sessions. After getting the info out to the Safety Net, Chuck and Terri from Maker’s Match picked up Melissa and went ashore to the big produce market held every Saturday in downtown Portsmouth. While ashore, Chuck notified the Police that Wounded Spirit was boarded. Chuck also informed Buddha and the rest of the River Guides and they went NUTS! They apparently all know of the robber, dubbed “The Cat Burglar” and they were asking Chuck to tell cruisers to shoot and kill him if he comes aboard again!
Here is a link to the Safety Net, where crime statistics for various islands and ports are cataloged for your perusal: Safety and Security Net.
By the way, despite the fact that the incident was reported to both the Dominican Police and the Safety and Security Network, it has not shown up in the written reports of the Safety and Security Net to my knowledge. The Safety and Security reports are posted on the Caribbean Cruisers’ website and these reports can be perused by country and anchorage, etc. The reports make for interesting reading and we referred to them often to determine how dangerous various areas might be. Many petty crimes go unreported and even the reported crimes don’t get documented all the time. Considering crime on Cruisers has been such a hot topic this year, I will soon publish a full stand-alone report on it.
Dominica marked the end of sleeping soundly under the stars with the tropical breeze flowing through a completely open boat. From that night on, as we moved south in the Eastern Caribbean and to Venezuela, we slept with flare pistols, handheld VHF radios and mace nearby, with the hatches dogged-down. At least our hatches can be locked in a slightly open position with a one inch crack to allow for some air flow, but it was not fun and it was often stifling.
We did not enjoy the increased threat of crime against our persons, nor the fact that it diminished our freedom and tainted our adventures to some degree. We were also extremely displeased with the reports from other Cruisers (who were victims) that local Police Officers on many islands are extremely lazy and lackadaisical about crime upon Cruisers.
In Dominica, the River Guides have already accepted the fact that the Dominican Police are useless when it comes to insuring the safety of Cruisers. Thus, the Guides themselves have begun patrolling the northern anchorage at Portsmouth, trying to save their livelihoods and keep Cruisers coming to Dominica despite the crime threat and the indifference of the local Police. The River Guides realize that reports of crime travel fast through the cruising community and that they could suffer terribly from large numbers of cruisers skipping Dominica as a cruising destination.
At any rate, Dominica marked the end of the innocence and Cruising took on a new complexion for all of us.
Crime on Cruisers has come of age. I met a couple a just a week ago in the Virgin Islands who are selling a $750,000 dollar yacht that is only one year old. They are quitting the Cruising Dream because they are so disillusioned by the crime wave down south in the Eastern Caribbean, Trinidad and Venezuela. I talked to a 40 year Cruiser now retired in the Virgin Islands and he said that in the old days, there might be only one theft in the entire Caribbean in a whole year! A perusal of the Safety and Security Net demonstrates that those days are long gone and crime is a serious issue now.
Thus, within 24 hours Dominica was simultaneously the place we loved the most and hated the worst at that point in our travels down south. It was truly the best of times and the worst of times.
After we digested what happened to Wounded Spirit, we all decided to move south to the southern end of Dominica and moor in Soufriere Bay. Wounded Spirit was underway quickly the next morning, still badly shaken from being boarded and desirous of leaving Prince Rupert Bay.
By the time we approached Soufriere, Wounded Spirit called Maker’s Match on the VHF and I listened in. Hoyt had already met Boat Boy “Pancho” and had arranged for three moorings: one for him, one for us, and one for Maker’s Match at a “volume discount price.”
The harbor is very deep at Soufriere, up to sixty feet very close to shore. No real beaches. Rocky shores and lots of surge make anchoring impractical except for the most ardent souls who would rather risk everything instead of spending ten dollars on a mooring. Considering we planned to take more tours and hikes inland, and would be leaving the boats unattended all day, renting a mooring was a “no-brainer.”
As we approached the Bay, still about two miles out, a small wooden boat with an outboard raced to meet us. It was one of Pancho’s competitors. He was none to happy when I shouted “PANCHO! PANCHO! PANCHO!” and pointed toward the mooring field where I could barely make out with binoculars Wounded Spirit.
By the time we got to the mooring, Pancho met us in his small boat and handed us the mooring line. That afternoon, we all assembled on Maker’s Match and invited Pancho aboard for a beer and to introduce ourselves and discuss what waterfall and jungle tours he could arrange for us – also to find out what other services he offered.
We had a lot of fun “negotiating” with Pancho, trying to get a reduced group rate on a tour up to Victoria Falls, etc.
Well into the discussions, led enthusiastically by Hoyt, Pancho finally grinned wide and put his head in his hands and exclaimed: “YOU PEOPLE! You come here and practice your negotiation skills on me!” He raised his head and was laughing in resignation. It was all good natured. We struck a deal.
Thereafter, we joked around and had lots of laughs. Pancho is cool, approachable, funny, and smart. I laughingly explained to Pancho that while I was not at all offended by his remarks, once upon a time a guy named Ross Perot referred to a fund-raising audience of well-heeled African Americans as “You People” and everybody got severely pissed off and it sparked a firestorm of controversy that basically ended Ross Perot’s run for President of the United States. Pancho got a good laugh out of that!
So here is the plan for tomorrow: Pancho has arranged for another Rasta Man, Archie, to take us up the river to Victoria Falls, to the Emerald Pool, and to Trafalgar Falls.
Let’s take a look:
We also visited the Emerald Pool. The inaccessibility of Victoria Falls makes it remote and unspoiled. Conversely, the Emerald Pool is easily accessible by anyone who can walk and it is a routine stop for Cruise Ship masses. As such, it was interesting to see, but not at all as alluring and pristine as Victoria Falls.
Rounding out the day, we went to Trafalgar Falls and swam. Also, we enjoyed pools of naturally hot spring water, nature’s own Jacuzzis heated by the hot core of the volcanic island.
Here are some more pictures of the afternoon’s tour:
It was another long day and we were “the good kind of tired.” We finished off our tour with a delicious creole meal up in the mountains where we had a nice view of the jungle below.
Upon our return to the dock where our dinghies were, the girls were intent on looking in the dive shop and shopping in another adjacent gift shop. Hoyt and I didn’t go in with them; instead we walked across the street to look for candy – that’s right, candy! Hoyt was craving M&M’s and it seemed both our boats were out of sweets. So, we figured we’d walk across the street to the Texaco station and buy some candy.
No deal. This was not your modern gas station and they had nothing in the office at all. The lady inside cocked her head and smiled at our candy request. She said we should walk to the Seven-Eleven: “It’s only five minutes that way” as she pointed north toward the City of Roseau.
Ok, so Hoyt and I didn’t tell anybody where we went (that would have required going inside a gift shop, and that is to be avoided at all cost). So what the Hell, we decided there were enough gift shops to keep the girls busy for another five minutes, so we struck out toward the Seven-Eleven. Ten minutes into the walk, Hoyt and I were two grains of salt in a sea of pepper and we were definitely an oddity to be gawked at by the locals! Hoyt is as thin as a rail, about six-foot-three, and sports a huge straw hat, so being inconspicuous was pretty much impossible, considering I had the equivalent of a caucasian beach umbrella escorting me down main street.
We stopped after fifteen minutes and asked a young man (sitting on the front steps of a small house) where the Seven-Eleven is. “Why?” responded the young man. “We want some candy – some M&M’s.” He suggested we simply go to the tiny shop right across the street. We went there; no M&M’s, but further instructions that the Seven-Eleven is still just “five minutes away.”
This went on and on and on. We had been walking almost an HOUR! That lady at the Texaco was probably still laughing. Nonetheless, we were in that terrible zone: too far to get back quickly enough to obviate the certain worry of our significant others and already too close to the Seven-Eleven to turn back empty-handed.
So, we stayed the course and walked about three miles total and finally found the Seven-Eleven where they DID NOT have any M&M’s! Mercifully, there was a limited selection of other acceptable chocolate candy that at allowed us to go home with something to show for our efforts.
Melissa was worried, and rightly so! It was not like me to disappear like that. Chuck from Maker’s Match was also worried and suggested to Melissa that a search may be in order. Chuck inquired at the Texaco station, where the lady said she had seen us and said: “Yes, I saw them; they went to the Seven-Eleven to buy candy ”
Hoyt and I returned, sheepishly knowing we had been stupid and had worried everyone. Making matters even worse, while he was looking for us, Chuck’s outboard engine was damaged while at the dock. A surge lifted the side of the outboard against the underside of the dock and the shifter lever was ripped completely off. The next day Hoyt and I helped Chuck alter a spare part he went and bought. It didn't fit at first, but we used all our tools and group ingenuity to modify the part and get the motor shifting again.
Let’s just say that I can testify that M&M’s can cause as much trouble as whiskey!
After a day of hiking, followed by the M&M debacle, I was beat! In no time at all after the sunset, I was fast asleep with Melissa, my flare guns, a VHF radio, and cans of mace to keep me company as I snoozed under the locked hatches. Mercifully, none of our boats were molested for the remaining duration of our stay in Dominica, in part thanks to Pancho, who patrolled the anchorage at night.
After healing up from hiking, we spent the next day running errands and exploring Roseau. Pancho came by and picked up laundry and a propane tank that needed to be filled.
I saw Pancho later that day, with long dreadlocks flowing in the wind at about 30 MPH in his little Boston Whaler while taking his five-year-old blue-eyed half-Dutch son out to go fishing. It was a very cool image. Here is a link to Pancho's web site: Pancho Services
Once all the chores were checked off the list, we were on our way to Roseau for a city walkabout. It is an old city that is now visited by some of the smaller Cruise Ships.
Here is a look at the walking tour:
With our tour of Roseau complete, our time at Dominica was at an end. Pancho returned in the evening with our propane tank and our laundry. We said our goodbyes and were set for an early morning departure to Martinique, the most northern island in the Windward Islands. As such, our tour of the Leeward Islands was at an end.
The next morning we made ready for sea. Wounded Spirit was long gone, having slipped lines at first light. Maker’s Match dropped its mooring line and was underway by 9:00 am. Unfortunately, our mooring line had pulled through the mooring ball. My bridle lines were running down through the mooring ball, and the shackle I was tied to was about five feet under water.
It was time for me to leave! All my “buddy boats” were disappearing over the horizon. I had already called on the VHF and talked to Pancho's wife. He was supposed to be there an hour earlier to get his mooring ball (if I slipped my lines, his mooring line would fall to the bottom 60 feet below, and his mooring ball would be blown out to sea). He had painted his name on the Mooring Ball and it was a nice job. His wife finally called back on the VHF in her Dutch accent: "I'm sorry, he has another job he must do and can't come. He says just to drop it and let it go, that is all we can do."
Hmm . . . Melissa went below, emptied a Downy bottle into another container and I cut some rope from our spare rope supply. We went to work. I pulled hard and got the shackle back up through the mooring ball. With me continuing to pull hard, we managed to tie the Downy bottle onto the shackle with a very sturdy amount of rope so that the bottle kept the mooring line from pulling back through and falling when we let it go. I hailed Pancho’s wife on the VHF radio again before getting underway and told her I had temporarily fixed the Mooring for now, and that I just could not bring myself to just let Pancho's mooring ball blow away. I like Pancho and hope we meet again.
And so we said goodbye to Dominica, an island that still remains THE Cruising destination in the Eastern Caribbean for experiencing unspoiled jungles, pristine waterfalls and an overall experience that most-closely lives up to the Dream of arriving at a tropical island paradise.
As we watched the Leewards disappearing over the horizon aft, we were excited to be heading into the southern half of the Eastern Caribbean. The next stop is French Martinique, where 1700's and 1800's success resulted in such prosperity and culture that the French dubbed Martinique's city of St. Pierre "the Paris of the Caribbean", that is until the Mt. Pelee's volcano exploded and incinerated the whole city in May of 1902! Interesting history is only a day sail away, so get ready!
Stay tuned; we’ll keep the updates coming!
Until next time, and hoping this finds everyone happy and healthy,
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