The Windward Islands of the Eastern Caribbean
As I wrap up writing this installment, we are still absolutely content to be moored in a beautiful bay on the north shore of the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Having been here for over three months, we are quasi-residents and have enjoyed meeting many locals and making new friends.
I am still working five evenings a week as a volunteer for the National Park Service and have stayed in great shape while hiking all the trails on St. John. We also experienced a surprisingly good SCUBA diving trip at Frenchman’s Cap, a tiny island about five miles south of St. Thomas.
Of course, we still have deep tans that we've worn all year and continue to enjoy summer conditions. In the Virgin Islands we have easily "endured" the winter weather here (comprised of 85 degree highs and 70 degree lows, all while record snowfall and record-low temperatures are keeping folks in a deep freeze up north -- is the current deep-freeze up north being caused by "Global Warming"?).
At any rate, we are so very lucky to be frolicking through our first “swimsuit weather winter" in the tropics proper. I can report that it is absolutely and completely as decadent as it sounds. I highly recommend it!
As usual, we enjoyed many emails from around the world after our last report and it makes us very happy to know that many of you enjoy the website so very much. It's great to have so many "virtual crew members" along on this adventure with us. Thanks for all the kudos!
Without further ado, let’s pick up where we left off last time and move all the way south through the Eastern Caribbean
Continuing onward toward our “hurricane avoidance” destination of Venezuela, we departed Dominica, the southernmost Leeward Island, setting a course farther south to the next island: Martinique.
As we sailed past the southwestern Dominican shores, we got one last look at the jagged, jungle-canopied topography of Dominica: an amazing, unique island born from eight volcanoes.
With the amazing sight of Dominica fading in our wake, where will we arrive next? It will be French Martinique, the northernmost island in the Windward Island chain! But, before we get to Martinique, let’s look at the Windwards in general a get oriented.
Moving from north to south, the main islands of the Windwards include French Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and The Grenadines and finally Grenada.
Martinique has always been a French Colony, whereas St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada have British roots and are now all independent counties.
In general, all the islands have histories similar to the Leewards: early agricultural efforts made extremely profitable through slavery; conflicts of ownership between Britain and France; the ultimate abolition of slavery and a depletion of the soil’s nutrients; and, a slow shift from agriculture to modern day tourism.
Located just barely above 12 Degrees Latitude, it is Grenada that punctuates the end of the entire Eastern Caribbean Archipelago and where we will wrap up this trip log.
Here is map to help you get your bearings:
Heading south into the Windward Islands represented a turning point for us, both figuratively and literally.
The Windwards make up the lower half of the Eastern Caribbean Archipelago and the islands form a chain that slowly runs in an arc that swings just west of south. Thus, sailing in a southerly direction is perfect in the Windwards. With headings of 180 degrees or greater in the often 090 degree trade winds, we finally enjoyed sailing angles directly on the beam or slightly abaft thereof, making for fun, fast, comfortable day sails between the islands.
After clawing our way to windward for months (in fact ever since we left Ft. Lauderdale and all the way to Dominica), it was wildly satisfying to finally have the wind at a fast and friendly sailing angle behind the beam, with a noticeable absence of spray on deck (and our faces).
The Windwards presented a psychological turning point as well. It was early May when we departed Dominica. For the first time, we actually started perusing charts for the purpose of deciding on a “schedule.” We mapped out where we would go and how long we could stay at any given island and still make it below the latitude of 10 Degrees 50 Minutes North by July 1, 2006 (our insurance requirements in light of Hurricane Season).
Also, in addition to the new pressure of a "schedule", as we moved south in the Caribbean through winter and spring of 2006, we were hearing more and more reports of increased crime against Cruisers -- not just the usual dinghy thefts and petty thefts that have been present in the Caribbean for a couple of decades now, but an unprecedented change in the nature of crime: violent crimes against persons were being committed.
A severe beating and rape of two persons whose boat was boarded while at anchor in St. Lucia, multiple rapes on a hiking trial in St. Vincent, machete attacks during dinghy theft attempts in St. Vincent, scores of thefts and assaults in Trinidad (with a murder rate of over 300 annually) and various armed robberies, shootings, and vessel boardings in Venezuela where armed robberies are not only conducted by thugs but, unbelievably, allegedly by uniformed law enforcement officials as well.
Of course, after our friends were boarded in the middle of the night in Dominica (thankfully with no harm done other than scaring the Hell out of them and all the rest of us in the anchorage), we were already in “lock-down” mode as we entered the waters of the Windwards, sleeping with locked hatches and getting used to living with the threat of crime against both our property and persons. It became something we had to grudgingly accept. The mantra down island is “Lock it or Lose It.”
Thus, as we set a course down into the Windwards, a few emotional “dark clouds” began to threaten the “Disneyland Vacation” style of Cruising that we enjoyed so much early in the season while in the Virgin Islands and the Leeward Islands from Antigua north.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible to be in the Windwards, or even Venezuela for that matter. We were extremely cautious and we were very lucky and had no trouble at all.
In fact, based on our sole experiences, if we were ignorant of crime statistics we would probably report that it is perfectly safe in the Windwards and Venezuela. We had a great time. But to put such a “rose-colored glasses” spin on things would be a grave disservice to others following in our footsteps. More important, merely glossing-over the crime problem down-island would unforgivably deprecate the seriousness of what happened to fellow Cruisers and tourists who were not so lucky. Their lives will literally never be the same after the nightmares they suffered. The truth is that there is no shortage of angry, poor people down island in the Eastern Caribbean. And those few with a criminal inclination have no qualms whatsoever about targeting “rich” Cruisers passing through the anchorages.
And so, as we moved south, unpleasant thoughts about crime firmly held their ground in the dark, shadowy edges of our consciousness, and those nagging thoughts remained with us all through the Windwards and throughout Venezuela. It was not until we reached Bonaire that we were able to totally "forget" to be fearful about crime against our persons.
But, I am getting way ahead of myself. Let’s get back to all things positive by reporting on the spectacular natural beauty of the Windward Islands themselves. Like their northern Leeward sisters, the Windward Islands form a line separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea.
Much like a football team’s “defensive line”, the Windwards' eastern shores shoulder the head-on, harsh currents and trade winds of the open Atlantic Ocean’s "offensive line" that perpetually advances in an attempt to break through into the Caribbean Sea. Predictably, the eastern shores of the Windwards are, for the most part, rugged, rocky, forbidding, and just plain violent from a nature standpoint.
Continually assaulted by the trade winds and the pounding, surging seas of the Atlantic, the eastern coastlines possess a dynamic beauty that can only result from heavy winds and seas working for thousands of years upon volcanic rock. Behind the “defensive line” of the Windwards’ eastern shores, “in the pocket” on western shores of the Windwards, the seas are calm, clear, and present turquoise waters that rim tranquil beaches that are stunningly beautiful – all pristine real-life examples of the idyllic coconut palm-lined Caribbean beaches all us boatbums dream about when first setting sail.
So, let’s get going! First stop in the Windwards: French Martinique!
Martinique is a well-developed French island with an intriguing history which is outlined in one of our Cruising Guide Books as follows:
French Empress Josephine grew up on Martinique and lived on a 200 acre estate that utilized 150 slaves. Considering it was Josephine's childhood home, by default the island became important to Napoleon as well. By the early 1800’s Napoleon was in control of mainland Europe, but the British had far superior Naval forces that still controlled the seas, including the Caribbean.
It is reported that British seamen, while superiorly skilled, were nonetheless spread thin as to the number of ships in the fleet. Always ingenious, the Brits recognize that Diamond Rock, situated close to shore at the southwestern end of Martinique is located in the precise position that a ship would be located to spring a surprise attack upon inbound vessels.
So, Britain actually commissioned Diamond Rock as a “ship” and manned it with a crew a cannons, etc. Napoleon was not happy about the trouble that Diamond Rock was causing, not to mention the fact that the ingeniously irritating effort was being staged at “Josephine’s island.”
Napoleon had enough! He ordered French Admiral Villeneuve to get underway and destroy Britain’s Admiral Nelson once and for all, and take back Diamond Rock too while he was at it! Villeneuve snuck by the British Blockade near France and managed to cross the Atlantic and take Diamond Rock back, but Villeneuve did not engage Nelson. Nelson eventually got wind of the French Fleet’s movement but mistakenly thought Villeneuve was headed for Trinidad instead of Martinique, and Nelson went on a “wild goose chase” to Trinidad, trying to find Villeneuve's fleet there.
Napoleon got word of all this and was incensed that Villeneuve had failed to engage Nelson, and Napoleon ordered Villeneuve to report to him at once (in disgrace). Rather than do so, Villeneuve set sail into battle and clashed with Nelson’s Fleet at Trafalgar, expecting to be killed in glory instead of returning home to face the contempt of the Emperor of France. Ironically, it was Nelson who was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar and Villeneuve survived.
Those are a lot of "dots to connect", but it was Martinique's Diamond Rock and Villeneuve’s initial run to free it that set the final chain of events in motion that ended with one of the the most-famous battles in naval history.
Aside from historical connections as referenced above, our Cruising Guide points out that Martinique has itself seen more than its fair share of sensational occurrences in its past. For one thing, by 1900, the northwestern seaside city of St. Pierre had a population of 30,000 and was dubbed the “ Paris of the Caribbean” with a major theater, brothels, clubs, and a "big-city" air that was cosmopolitan in the day.
Agricultural efforts on the island were extremely successful and the affluence on Martinique rivaled that of all other Eastern Caribbean islands, all stemming from the production of rum, sugar, coffee and cocoa.
All that was changed forever on May 8, 1902, when just after 8:00 a.m., Mt. Pelee’s volcano erupted. The side of Mt. Pelee facing St. Pierre literally exploded and a massive fireball of super-heated gas completely engulfed not only St. Pierre but the entire harbor as well. Known as “Ascension Day” it was a disaster of tremendous scale.
It is estimated that 29,933 people were cremated in an instant by the explosion that was more powerful than an atomic bomb. Only two people survived: a cobbler who was in his cellar at the time; and, the famous criminal, Cyparis, who was imprisoned for murder in an underground solid-stone-walled cell with very small openings.
Legend holds that the mountain exploded due to the curses of native Carib Indians who placed said curses upon the European Settlers (who eventually wiped out the Caribs by 1685). The Caribs allegedly conjured the mountain to “take its revenge” on the murderous European Settlers.
Let’s take a look at all this!
The Harbor is unusually confined here. There is a very narrow strip of sand bottom, close to shore, that affords water with depths of fifteen to twenty feet. Just a few hundred yards from shore, however, the bottom drops off immediately to well over one hundred feet and then quickly to even more extreme depths thereafter. So, it is a must to anchor very securely – there is absolutely no margin for error or for dragging. If your anchor fails, your boat will be headed out to sea and be taken swiftly westward in the trades! As a result, we didn’t venture too far from Indigo Moon.
Adjacent to the Fort area overlooking the Harbor, there is a museum memorializing the terrible explosion of Mt. Pelee on Ascension Day in 1902. Here's a look:
Not far from the museum, the preserved ruins of the theater are a testament to St. Pierre's standing as the "Paris of the Caribbean" prior to "Ascension Day."
A placard at the museum reads as follows:
The first theater was built in St. Pierre in 1786, despite some local hostility. During the French Revolution the tri-coloured cockade was first seen in Martinique in the theater, not without causing some incidents. The building was restored in 1816, and by then the facade was already identical to that of the later reconstruction. This reconstruction took place in 1831-1832, to a design of 1823. The theater of St. Pierre was a miniature version of that of Bordeaux, and was nicknamed “Little Red Riding Hood” by the inhabitants of Bordeaux. The depth of the stage allowed big productions and the slope of the land had been turned to maximum advantage by a remarkable set of stairways. The Foyer des Artistes offered accommodation to troupes from abroad, in particular from metropolitan France. It was immediately to the south of the theater and communicated directly with the stage.
On evenings when there were productions, the stairs and the entrance railings were crowded with many orange, pistachio, and sweet sellers. The public was as varied as the productions. Monsieur de Lesseps, on his way to Panama, saw a production of “The Jewess.” The theater sat 800, and was often booked out, offering plays ranging from classical to vaudeville as well as great operas. Political meetings were held here, and even balls during the Carnival period. . . . . "
Here are some pictures of the theater ruins:
Near the theater entrance, a life-size statue of a nude woman remains. The expression on the face of the woman is ambiguous and simultaneously conveys the two, polarized emotions of this place: pleasure associated with the theater’s successful years and pain associated with the theater's incineration when Mt. Pelee exploded.
Looking at the statue reminds me of a freshman psychology class where as students we perused photographs of facial expressions. We learned that extreme pain and intense laughter produce surprisingly identical facial contortions.
Also very near the theater, the famous jail cell of Cyparis, an infamous murder, stands relatively unscathed by the blast of Mt. Pelee. With solid stone walls at least a foot thick, and with only two small openings, it was situated inside the basement of other stone structures. As such, the jail cell functioned as the ultimate "bomb shelter" that protected Cyparis from the death suffered by every single St. Pierre resident except a lucky cobbler who just so happened to be poking around below ground in his cellar when the blast hit.
We walked up toward Mt. Pelee one morning and visited the sugarcane fields and a Rum factory. Being from South Louisiana, and growing up in Pointe Coupee Parish from age six to my late teens, I am already very familiar with sugarcane plantations and the mills that crush the cane and extract the sweet juice.
Thus, the fields and machinery of the Depaz Rum Distillery made me feel right at home and we enjoyed seeing their operations in motion. The Depaz distillery is obviously very successful and the plant is clean and includes expensive, well-presented and preserved exhibits from the “old days” that can only result from a proud and prosperous history.
Also, though not open to the public, an honest-to-goodness French Chateau is situated just above the mill and bespeaks of a life of immense privilege and profit, albeit directly under the perpetual glower of once-deadly Mt. Pelee.
Here is a walking tour of the Depaz farm and distillery:
The sugarcane processing operation starts with a front-end loader dumping sugarcane stalks into a hopper that feeds underground conveyors that in turn transport the cane to the grinding house.
The smell of sugarcane processing is very strong: a stout and pungent mix of smells that include smashed stalks and sweet juice – the smell is so strong it almost invokes nausea in some folks. Weird as it sounds, the smell of the inside of a sugarcane plant always reminds me of a mix of fresh, pungent cow manure and extremely sweet pancake syrup.
While in St. Pierre, we got together late one afternoon with other Cruisers for a “pot luck” dinner ashore. On the waterfront in downtown St. Pierre, there is a small Waterfront Park with plantings and seating areas that served us well and allowed us to break bread with fellow Cruisers, some of them old friends and some of them new ones. We enjoyed telling stories, talking boats, and comparing plans on where we would all be heading next.
St. Pierre was also interesting from a personal history standpoint.
Melissa and I took a cruise (our one and only), on a Royal Caribbean ship back in 1998. Martinique was one of the stops and our ship docked in Fort de France toward the south end of Martinique. We took a bus tour of the island back then, and by late afternoon we reached St. Pierre and stopped ever so briefly at its shores.
I distinctly remember gazing out at a half-dozen sailboats anchored very close to the shore. Behind the anchorage to the west the sun blazed low in the sky and made me squint and use my hand as a visor as I surveyed the boats and inventoried flags that were brilliantly illuminated as the sun set behind them. The flags were from France, Holland, Italy, United States, Canada, Sweden and a couple I could not readily identify . . . less than a dozen boats, but an amazing variety of home ports from far, far away.
I marveled at how far these small yachts had sailed in open seas to get to this little island: “You have to be a ‘blue water’ sailor to get here” I say to myself. I then thought about how magnificent it must be to enjoy an adventure of that magnitude.
Further, I studied the decks of the boats, many of which were extremely cluttered compared to what I was used to seeing back home amidst weekend sailors. I tried to envision the utility of all the cruising equipment and attachments I was looking at -- obviously all that “stuff” represented the special needs of these sailors who spend long periods of time in the open sea or at remote islands, etc.
It was intriguing. I was disappointed when our bus driver called for us to board. As we drove away from St. Pierre, I watched the yachts disappear as we rounded a corner headed south. At that moment, I had two thoughts running in my head: 1) I would give just about anything to go sailing like that; and, 2) I was quite sure (and sadly so) that I would never, ever in a gazillion years have such an opportunity.
And so, now standing in St. Pierre nine years later, I am humbled by taking in that same view with my beautiful wife still at my side, but this time the view includes our beautiful Indigo Moon as well. It was a quiet, deeply satisfying moment of reflection on a scale that does not come along often in life.
We enjoyed our stay at St. Pierre very much. It was time to move on, though. But, before heading south to St. Lucia we decided to see a little more of Martinique. We set sail to the southern end of the western shore and spend a night at Grande Anse D’Arlet.
The next morning, we set sail for the next island in the chain south: St. Lucia. It was one of those grey mornings at sea. The winds were light and squalls with winds of less than 20 knots were drifting from east to west through the eighteen-mile-wide channel between Martinique and St. Lucia.
Stormy days at sea present a beauty that far surpasses that of any “perfect” sunny day. This was one of those mornings where majestic vistas result from the interaction of sunlight, shadows, clouds, shafts of rain pouring from isolated squalls, and the ever changing textures of the sea surface as the wind direction and speed varies.
We got a nice look at the British Warship Diamond Rock, which was eerily highlighted by a single shaft of pure sunlight peeking through the squally cloud cover and brilliantly striking the sea at the foot of the island.
As we continued toward St. Lucia, we noticed a relatively large patch of disturbed sea surface ahead. As we drew nearer, it was apparent that it had to be fish schooling. But to our surprise it was hundreds and hundreds of pink-bellied dolphins moving along in a line perhaps two hundred yards long and fifty feet wide.
In several, perfectly spaced alternating waves, they jumped in tight formation. From afar, the several low arcs of simultaneously jumping dolphins resembled the back of huge sea serpent rippling forward along the sea surface. We’ve never seen anything like it before! Could such a sight have been mistaken as a Sea Monster by ancient sailors whose visibility was less than perfect due to distance or weather? Regardless, it was truly amazing.
We pondered the Sea Monster made of dolphins as we sailed onward. By mid-morning the skies had cleared and we found ourselves approaching St. Lucia well before noon.
St. Lucia is a volcanic, jagged, jungle-canopied island with topography very much like that of Dominica. St. Lucia is only 20 miles to the south of Dominica, but it might as well be a million miles away. Whereas Dominica is relatively undeveloped, unspoiled and has scant tourism, St Lucia is the exact opposite: completely developed with upscale resorts, marinas, chandleries, and an endless list of tours, hikes, restaurants and other things to do.
We were excited to arrive in St. Lucia and planned to stay a week or so at Rodney Bay Marina where we could enjoy shore power and air conditioning and wash the boat to our preferred extremes of cleanliness.
While cruising it is a nice contrast to return to the “civilization” of marina life once every few months, where you can leave the boat without worrying about the anchor dragging and simply step off onto the pier rather than deal with the dinghy and finding a place to dock it – not to mention being able to provision without hauling everything out to the boat in the dinghy. And so, it’s nice to splurge on a slip in a marina now and then.
Plus, it was time to do some cosmetic maintenance on Indigo Moon and these tasks are always easier when you can step off the boat and shop for supplies and use unlimited dock water. Directly adjacent to the Rodney Bay Marina there is a nice Island Water World marine store and a grocery store too. Plus, there is an ice cream kiosk and several decent restaurants on site.
We were quickly disappointed after securing our dock lines, however. We immediately discovered that the AC shore power was British 220 volt, 50 cycle power, instead of 110 volt U.S. 60 cycle power. Ratty-looking transformers were available to convert the 220 volt power to 110 volts, but there is no way to adjust the cycle of the power.
So what does that mean?
Ok, here’s a quick and dirty electrical review. DC means “Direct Current” and is straightforward. Car and boat batteries, flashlights, car radios and all that good stuff run on a system where current flows one way only. Power leaves a battery from its negative terminal and flows to whatever device is being power and always endeavors to return to the positive terminal of the battery (most people think the positive terminal spits out the juice, but it the other way around – I’ve been reading Nigel Calder’s great textbooks on boat electrical and mechanical systems).
AC power, on the other hand, means “Alternating Current” which in turn refers to the fact that the positive and negative electrical charges in such systems alternate very quickly back and forth between the two electrically charged wires (the “hot” positive wire and the “neutral” ground wire).
AC current alternates at a very specific and precise rate per second, referred to as the “cycle” or “hertz.” One hertz is equal to one cycle per second. This cycle speed is produced at the power plant and is constant throughout the entire power grid. Many appliances are “cycle-sensitive” and will not operate within engineering specifications (or maybe not at all), unless both the voltage and the cycle numbers are correct.
I resisted the temptation of plugging into a St. Lucia shore power transformer “just to see what would happen” (don’t laugh – people do that kind of stuff all the time and then pay dearly to repair and replace equipment that gets damaged).
Instead, I pulled out Nigel Calder’s book and learned that electric motors are especially touchy when it comes to specified cycle requirements. A 50 cycle British motor plugged into 60 cycle power will run faster. A 60 cycle U.S. motor plugged into 50 cycle power will run slower (the cycle of the power regulates the speed of the motors – the faster the cycle the faster the motor speed). And more: according to Nigel Calder, the U.S. motor will likely overheat and eventually fail prematurely if forced to run at the lower speed!
So, after studying-up before plugging-in, I then set about searching the boat’s equipment and manuals to see what type of AC Cycle all our equipment required. Drenched with sweat and with no breeze in the marina as I attended to all this, I quickly began to feel like going to the marina was a giant hassle compared to simply dropping the hook.
My flat panel LCD televisions are 60 Cycle. The laptop battery charger specifies either 50 or 60 cycle, so some equipment is engineered to run on either cycle (but, of course, the 220 volt St. Lucia power would still have to be transformed to 110 volts, irrespective of the “cycle” issue).
Our Crusair air conditioning units specify either 50 or 60 cycle, but the separate, Taylor Made 110 volt water pumps that provide sea water cooling to the AC units are definitely "60 Cycle only" pursuant to their labels! Yikes, they are simple electrical motors and are exactly the type to be most cycle-sensitive.
That meant we could not use shore power to run the air conditioning – the ONE luxury we had been looking forward to most after sleeping in the stale air of lock-down mode that became necessary to ensure that the antics of any machete-wielding guests are restricted to upper decks only.
It also meant that we were now in a marina where the breeze is often blocked, causing hot nights in the cabins below decks. So, we had to run the generator in the early evening to cool down the boat while in the marina.
And we were not alone. It was an odd scene. Marinas are usually quiet, but many generators hummed as we walked down the docks, all as a result of the 50 cycle power issue.
After sorting all that out and getting over the initial disappointment associated with the electrical incompatibility, we were still happy to be in the marina and enjoyed shopping and took a tour with fellow cruisers.
Also, I was happy to be able to wash the boat perfectly. I literally spent 30 hours polishing all the stainless steel rigging, stanchions, lifelines, rub rails and deck fittings. Then, just for fun, I applied three coats of teak sealer to the wooden toe rails on deck.
Finally, just to make sure I had more enjoyment than anybody else, I borrowed a big floating piece of Styrofoam from one of the marina workers, hoisted the dinghy on the davits, floated under it with a spackle blade in hand, and spent an hour scraping hundreds of barnacles off the dinghy’s hull (as the barnacles in turn fell all over me).
The barnacled dinghy was a self-inflicted wound, though. While there in the marina, I left the dinghy in the water for five days and paid a very dear price for so doing. The dinghy does not have antifouling bottom paint, and a shocking amount of bottom growth erupted on its hull in that short time period. Since that episode at Rodney Bay, it is part of my “daily exercise program” to hoist the dinghy up on the davits every single night, no matter what.
It was not, however, all work and no play at St. Lucia. We still had fun and enjoy seeing much of St. Lucia along with friends. We had a nice day tour of the western shores of St. Lucia and shared a small tour bus with four other couples. It was quite an adventure and St. Lucia is yet another stunningly beautiful jewel in the Caribbean Archipelago.
Here are some shots from a day tour we took from northern Rodney Bay down to the southern Pitons and back:
During our tour we also visited a botanical garden that includes a waterfall and mineral springs that are pumped into pools where you can soak in allegedly medicinal waters. The gardens were truly spectacular.
Here are some scenes:
The above picture is very special to us. Prior to the tour that day, we had not yet met the Wolferts. We had a great time with them. Roger, a retired physician, from Dallas, Texas named the boat “Doc No More” meaning both that Roger was retired (doctor no more) and underway on a long-term cruise (docking no more).
We did not get to spend any other time with them aside from the tour and we hoped our wakes would again cross, because they were so quick-witted and full of mischief.
Much to our absolute shock, however, a few months later we found out from other Cruisers via the “coconut telegraph” that Roger was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only a couple of months after we met and passed away a few months after that. Heartbreaking, it is. Earthly life is precarious at best and we are often reminded that every single day out here “Living the Dream” is a priceless gift.
Turning our attention back to the trip, we enjoyed a guided tour of the botanical gardens and explanations regarding the plethora of plant life on St. Lucia.
Also on the agenda: sulfur springs. Volcanic islands still vent gases from deep within and the strong stench of sulfur is almost overwhelming at the sulfur springs of St. Lucia. Bubbling scalding-hot pools emit the malodorous gases from deep within the innards of St. Lucia.
We enjoyed lunch at the luxurious Dasheen Resort perched high above the shore between the Pitons. With spectacular views of the Pitons and the Bay below, it was a nice setting for a meal and we all had fun relaxing and taking in the view.
The dining tables included toys: brightly colored water pistols! They are provided to deter the bird population. There are some pretty aggressive birds in the jungle. They will steal food off of your plate with you sitting right there. A shot of water sends them fluttering away momentarily.
Of course, take a guess as to what happens when you seat five Cruising couples at adjacent tables and give them water guns. It was not long until someone took a surreptitious shot at another table. Soon thereafter, it looked like a gun-battle scene from the Godfather!
I think we scared nearby patrons with more delicate sensibilities, and admit there was a little “collateral damage.” But, we managed nonetheless to avoid being ejected from the upscale facility (which pretty much sums up the main challenge of most dining experiences as Cruisers).
Melissa and I knew we would be sailing this way from Rodney Bay and had already planned to bring Indigo Moon to the Pitons – there are few moorings in the Bay between them and after seeing the Pitons on this day tour, we were excited about the prospect of sailing to the Pitons as our next cruising destination.
After a late lunch, it was time to return to Rodney Bay. It was Friday afternoon and our driver evidently had extremely pressing plans for the weekend. He drove as fast as he could for the two hour trip. Steep mountain switchbacks, unbelievably close calls with other traffic and pedestrians, and a violent “hang on” ride resulted in my Curried Chicken lunch parking itself in its entirety just below my “Adam’s Apple” for the last full hour of the ride.
I am not at all prone to motion sickness, but this ride damn near got the best of me. It was literally dangerous and afterward all of us remarked at how extremely uncomfortable we were.
We arrived back at the Marina very late in the afternoon, and all was well with Indigo Moon. I had completed all the projects I had scheduled and Melissa and I squared things away for departure.
Just after sunset, in the soft evening twilight, I collected the trash and walked it down the dock and out to the dumpster in a far parking lot. On my return to the marina, an attractive African West Indian lady stopped me on the dock and said: “Good evening, would you like a massage?”
Her outfit was the St. Lucian equivalent of an I Dream of Genie costume, but with bright oranges and yellows in tropical patterns -- an island version of Barbara Eden’s famous television character.
I said: “No thank you.” Slow on the uptake, I didn’t immediately realize she was actually a “working girl.” Not to be deterred, she instantly tried another angle: “Do you need any cooking or cleaning, or would you like to have sex?” Wow, that last part rolled of her tongue so effortlessly it was amazing, as if she was taking my dinner order and wanted to know would I like "baked potato, fries or sex with that?”
I couldn’t help but grin as I again kindly replied: “No thank you.” She responded with a coy smile as she cocked her head and then placed her hand on my forearm. Quite the saleswoman and a good “closer” she tried again: “Oh, come on Mon, have me to your boat for a just a little drink; we’ll have some fun!”
I was very friendly and even took on an apologetic tone: “No thank you – I am very sorry, but I just can’t!” She said: “Oh, I think I understand! You are already with someone!”
I said: “Yes, and she is not just ‘someone’ – she’s my wife!” She laughed with a wide bright-white smile that beamed in the twilight, and her hand gently slipped from my forearm as we moved on in different directions with nothing more than a laugh at that point.
Having enjoyed Rodney Bay without incident, we raised sails and participated in a picture-perfect sail down the west coast of St. Lucia. The winds were in the upper teens and directly on the beam with relatively flat seas on the lee side of St. Lucia. Those conditions are as good as it gets and we enjoyed a fast, fun, dry, stable sail to the Pitons, only using engines to get out of the marina and get the sails up in outer Rodney Bay.
We sailed into the bay between the Pitons and picked up a mooring with the unsolicited help of a rugged-looking Rasta Man who also had rudimentary wood carvings for sale. He sped up in a small wooden boat and was absolutely determined to get a tip for helping us moor, so we let him. I gave him ten dollars for handing me a line that was already on the end of my boat hook when he grabbed it.
We were very nice to him, sensing that he relied on much of his income from Cruisers visiting the Pitons. He insisted on showing us his wood work too. I paid him ten dollars for a crude woodcarving and he was happy to be rowing away with twenty bucks.
Finally moored, we started to take in the beauty of the Pitons. First of all, the water is a vibrant indigo blue here. Second, the scale of the Pitons is astounding. Petite Piton is more like a spike than a mountain: it is relatively narrow, yet it rises almost 2500 feet! Third, the winds are exaggerated tremendously here between the Pitons.
Not long after we got settled in, a helicopter came in for a landing. There is a Jalousie Hilton Resort and Spa located right on the beach between the Pitons and a surprising number of folks were flying in and out by chopper (maybe a good call considering our wild taxi ride). It was amazing to see the chopper pilot negotiate the extremely strong and confused winds between the Pitons. He came and went about five times that afternoon and I was amazed at his skill in dealing with the treacherous wind conditions.
Late in the evening, Melissa and I took the dinghy to the Hilton Resort and did a “walkabout” – what a super-cool place! The Pitons provide a dreamlike setting of immense scale. This place is so alluring that we declared we will seriously consider coming here on a vacation one day after our Cruising life is over.
We enjoyed seeing the grounds of the Resort and then we wandered back to the beach where some mellow jazz music was being amplified at a nice level and just loud enough to get a pleasing acoustical “ping” off of Petit Piton, emphasizing the tremendous scale of the area.
As we got closer, we discovered that a live musician was playing an alto saxophone, being accompanied through the P.A. system by a pre-recorded soundtrack. The guy had a wireless microphone on the bell of his sax and was barefoot and wading in the shallows, serenading the guests who lounged in beach chairs and sipped cocktails and munched on popcorn as the sun set. It was quite unusual to say the least.
Seeing the Pitons by boat was the best, most unique part of St. Lucia for us.
The next morning we were heading south, underway again to the next destination in the Windwards: Bequia. Our route to Bequia was on the outside, in the Atlantic Ocean where we sailed right past St. Vincent altogether.
We decided to bypass St. Vincent. Friends just ahead of us reported that the Boat Boys in St. Vincent are unbearably aggressive and hostile. Plus, a dinghy theft had recently turned into a machete fight where a Cruiser defending his dinghy was seriously injured. As if that’s was not enough, a woman and her two daughters were all raped on a well-known tourist hiking trail.
However beautiful it may be, St. Vincent has a very bad reputation and it was our view that we would not support such an uncivilized island, period. Plus, unlike St. Lucia where the government is trying to take actions to prevent crime against tourists and cruisers, St. Vincent’s government appears to be wholly unconcerned according to various reports we have read. Thus, we opted to leave neither penny nor footprint there.
We had a delightful sail past St. Vincent. By taking the "outside" route we enjoyed steady trade winds and beautiful views of the rugged, windward side of an island for a change. Bad crime reputation aside, St. Vincent itself is phenomenally beautiful from the water.
Here is a look at our day sail from St. Lucia’s Pitons past St. Vincent on the east side and then on to Bequia:
Bequia is a wonderful place. It’s a small island with whaling and boat building in its history. They still actively hunt whales during the season from February to April and have a limit of four per year as mandated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Bequians are descendants of whalers from North America along with Scottish, French and Africans who made their way to the small island to engage in the industry.
The island is very picturesque and Admiralty Bay is well protected and lined with nice beaches. As most islands, it has a feel and personality all its own.
Here’s a look:
There are a couple of marine stores in Bequia, but supplies are limited. Also, it is the one and only place I’ve ever been to where liquid products had been repackaged in wine bottles!
One afternoon we enjoyed a nice lunch at Tommy Cantina, one of the few Mexican restaurants we found in the entire Caribbean. We got caught in a little squall while riding the dinghy in, but enjoyed the rain shower once under the canopy of the restaurant.
Very near the restaurant, a small boat caught my eye. A local had done an amazingly meticulous job of finishing the boat and outboard with custom paints. Way cool!
After lunch, we walked around a bit more and enjoyed the slow pace of this lovely island.
We enjoyed several days at Bequia. The downtown produce market was a trip! There are about a dozen different vendors under the open air market, but a visit there is sort of like a low-grade mugging. All of the vendors pretty much pounce on you, cutting fruit and making you taste it and shoving products at you while small side-skirmishes break out between rival vendors vying for our business.
On her first visit, Melissa was so overwhelmed that after only a minute she literally pushed her way through the vendors and ran out of the market! She gave it another shot a few minutes later and took control by entering the market and shouting (like a crook conducting a bank robbery) that everybody needed to “stand back!" or she would not buy anything from any of them! The vendors complied and Melissa was allowed to shop normally.
I enjoyed visiting the local fishing shops where I bought lures and obtained local knowledge regarding sport fishing in the area.
Our time in Bequia came to an end and we looked forward to our next stop: Mustique.
As we sailed out of Bequia, we followed the coast south and saw the most unusual residential development in all of the Eastern Caribbean. Known as “Moonhole”, out on a peninsula there is a development of cave dwellings designed by Architect Tom Johnson. Set back into solid rock, the setting looks like an illustration in a fairy tale, or perhaps the movie set for The Planet of the Apes.
Our sail to Mustique was only ten miles and we left Bequia mid-afternoon with plenty of time to make Mustique in daylight.
Like Bequia, Mustique is part of the Grenadines, but it is unlike any other island in the Caribbean in that it is entirely privately owned. Mustique is the home of approximately 90 super-expensive estates. It is a stunning example of what a Caribbean Island can look like when hundreds of millions of dollars is thrown at it and no riff-raff is allowed.
Allegedly, estate owners have included Mick Jagger, Raquel Welch, and David Bowie. The range of ownership swings from true Royalty such as Princess Margaret to the Neuvo Riche such as country singer Shania Twain. If you really “make it” financially one day, then Mustique is a great place to buy an estate.
You have to check in with the Harbor Master and rent a mooring if you want visit Mustique on your boat. I got a chance to speak to the Harbormaster who came around to collect the mooring fees and he explained that many famous people like the island because, considering it is privately owned, the paparazzi can’t access it freely and anyone suspected of paparazzi activities is immediately expelled from the island.
The most recent "famous face" spotted here: Denzel Washington who is reported to be extremely down to earth and who displayed a keen interest in playing board games with the local kids and cutting up with them.
Although it is a completely exclusive island, we were lucky that visiting yachts are still welcome and we were able to eat dinner at a shore side restaurant, do a little shopping, and share a golf cart rental with other couples in order to tour the island.
It really is unbelievable to see this much wealth concentrated on an island a little over two miles long and a mile wide.
Here’s a look:
We spent two nights at Mustique and there was no doubt that we had seen the most beautifully developed island in the entire Caribbean.
The islands are very close together here in the Grenadines, so making the next jump becomes nothing more than an hour sail that can be accomplished any time of day. The next logical destination was Canouan, another passage of less than ten miles.
Our sail to Canouan was too short to be memorable. We had, as usual with all our destinations, already read about Canouan prior to our arrival. It is a hybrid, where the northern half of the island is privately owned like Mustique. The private developments here, though, are not quiet private estates like Mustique, but rather a golf course, Raffles Resort, and Trump Casino and Luxury Apartments.
There is also a Moorings charter boat base here, which makes sense for those who would like to explore the beautiful Grenadine islands.
Turns out the locals are seriously angry about the new private Trump and Raffles developments. Allegedly, part of the consideration for the locals allowing the private development was to make sure there was a stipulation that Canouan citizens would still have access to the northern beaches and shores of their island, including historical sites such as an old church that is now within the confines of the private venture.
Well, as a lawyer I always like to say: “The large print giveth and the fine print taketh away.” Apparently, in the end, some fancy language in the contracts prevents any local access to the development and the locals are absolutely incensed.
On our walking tour of the island, we strolled from the harbor northward along the shore and up a hill to finally dead-end at the gate to the new Raffles/Trump development. The uniformed lady at the gate was professionally curt, stating it was private and we could not enter. We also found out there was a televised golf tournament underway and there were rumors that Trump himself was in for a visit.
The guard at the gate would neither confirm nor deny Trump’s presence, nor would she engage in any casual conversation whatsoever. There were a few local guys hanging around by the gate too, and a few seconds into my exchange with the guard, I noticed the locals were glaring angrily, searing holes right into me. I really thought for a moment that one of the guys was going to attack me, with his hands shaky and eyes wild with hate.
Bottom line: these people are extremely pissed off right now! If all the allegations we heard are true, I can’t say I blame them. Moreover, I contend that one can presume that doing business with Donald Trump probably feels more like being mugged than anything else.
And thus the juxtaposition of Canouan’s current personality: a beautiful island paradise that is naturally welcoming, but with a people who are in the throws of severe emotional distress spawned by allowing big-money developers to invade and take over their island in the name of bringing jobs to the poor.
So, the question becomes what will be their final legacy: jobs and more money and a better life, or regretting a deal with the Devil that cost them the much more in precious ownership and control of their island? This business scenario is neither new nor novel, I guess. Hate, jealousy and inequities always result when those with massive wealth do “business with” (or perhaps better described as doing “business to”) those who are relatively impoverished.
Regardless, there was a striking dichotomy as we walked the highway toward Trump’s resort. Some islanders were zooming by in brand-new company vehicles, wearing bright-white starched, collared shirts and khaki pants. One vehicle slowed down and the super-friendly driver asked us if we needed a ride.
Just over the next hill, we walked past a group of about ten young men sitting outside a small house directly on the street. Shirtless, dred-locked, and smoking so much marijuana that Melissa and I had to walk through a cloud to get by, they watched the “employed” zoom back and forth in the shiny vehicles. They seemed more entertained than envious, though, and from what I could see they perfectly preferred getting seriously stoned at 8:30 a.m. over a job with a fancy car and a starched shirt.
Here are some sights from our walking tour:
We enjoyed Canouan despite the fact that some of the locals were not “happy campers” at the moment. As part of our visit, we had a terrifically fun Birthday Party for Sue O’Conner. Sue and here husband Steve live aboard the Manta 42 catamaran Evensong. Several other boats we knew were in Canouan at the time as well, so we all got together at the Tamarind Resort for a Birthday Dinner Party for Sue.
As part of the fun, I decided to secretly take a costume with me to the party and make a surprise appearance in order to have some “sport” with Sue. I brought a T-shirt, hat with long hair sewn in it (lent to me by Carol and Steve Argosy aboard Seabird who were in on the trick), and a set of “Billy Bob” fake rotten teeth that are so awful looking that Melissa will not let me touch her when I have them on.
Also, Melissa knew we were going to have this party, so she had purchased “party poppers” at one of the gift shops on ultra-exclusive Mustique (trust me, in the Eastern Caribbean, only a private island worth hundreds of millions of dollars would have party poppers in inventory at a local gift shop!)
After everyone loosened up with a few drinks and got settled in at the table, I excused myself to go the bathroom in order to change into costume.
I returned to the table from a wholly different direction. In my best, brash, LOUD Southern-Redneck-Deliverance accent (not much of a stretch really), I blurted out “Who’s-a-that a-havin’ a-Birthday a-round here?”
I made sure my entrance was loud enough to make a scene.
Taking on an affect of being both drunk and gene-pool deficient, I kept boring in on Sue with redneck advances and even made her kiss me on the mouth! She was so even-keeled about it all that I thought she had “made” me from the start, but no way.
As other friends at the table began figuring out who I was, they began laughing hysterically, especially Sue’s husband, Steve, who damn near had a coronary he laughed so hard. I continued my routine after finally taking a seat at the table a carrying-on with all sorts of redneck-isms.
When Sue finally realized it was me, she was so unraveled that she could only stutter: “you, You, YOU! . . . YOU ARE HIM!” We all laughed until we cried!
Later we learned that she had no idea it was me and I was totally freaking her out, but she has had so much experience as a social worker that she was simply dealing with it!
Not about to let me close my "act" yet, Steve Argosy called the waitress over and informed her that I was an uninvited drunk who sat down and that needed to be ejected. I immediately became belligerent: “I ain’t-a-goin NOWHERE dude! I’m a goin to PARTEEEEE! I ain’t-a-hurtin’ nobody. I want me anudder won-o-dem Careeeebe Beers! Ahhyeeee!”
The waitress had to pass by my end of the table to go get the manager. She nervously kept her eyes on me as if trying to pass by a wild animal in the bush.
When she got near, I made slight move toward her and her eyes went wide as she skipped a step and broke into a full run, still never taking her eyes off me.
I immediately pulled out my teeth and took off my hat and we called her back. We all had some great laughs, although I’m not sure that the waitress was a good sport. My dinner order was lost and I was still waiting long after the entire table had finished their meals. Note to self: never scare the waitress before you get your food!
The next morning we were all still smiling about Sue’s great Birthday Party and it was one of those times when things just seemed to work out to be truly memorable.
Here are some photos:
All in all, our invasion of Canouan was much less intrusive than Trump’s and unlike Trump we left no ill will in our wake. It was a fun stop despite the tension on the island and Sue’s party was definitely a major success.
Here is a look at the crews who attended the party:
The next morning we enjoyed snorkeling with Steve and Sue O’Connor just to the north of the anchorage. There are beautiful reefs at Canouan. Also, unlike the Leewards to the north, there are larger areas of sand shallows adjacent to the islands, marking a change in the topography of the sea floor at the Grenadines.
After our snorkel at Canouan, we weighed anchor and headed south into the Grenadines proper. These islands include the Tobago Cays, Mayreau, Palm Island, Union Island, Petit St. Vincent, Petit Martinique, and Carriacou.
The Southern Grenadines and Tobago Cays
Arriving in the Southern Grenadines is exciting! This area provides a welcome contrast to the entire Eastern Caribbean and the Virgin Islands to the North.
It is here in the Southern Grenadines that large areas of eight to ten foot deep shallows with bright white sand bottom can be found. The Tobago Cays very much mimic the look and feel of the Bahamas. In the Tobago Cays especially, behind a protective outer reef you can find very large areas of open sand bottom in depths of four to ten feet, all with areas of coral heads scattered about.
The snorkeling is great and the Tobago Cays are a wonderful place to hang out. While there, we enjoyed seeing several of our friends on various boats and participated in group activities such as snorkeling and playing board games with fellow cruisers on the beach.
The other small islands, such as Mayreau, are awesome and the beach at Mayreau's Salt Whistle Bay is one of my favorite stops ever. It was simply perfect:
Adjacent to the beach, Salt Whistle Bay Club is hidden in the palms – the restaurant there produced a decent “cheeseburger in paradise” and the setting was as good as it ever gets!
The Salt Whistle Bay anchorage at Mayreau is very nice, because the island is very narrow at the northern part on the anchorage, with only a thin stand of coconut palms between you and the trade winds and the Tobago Cays beyond. Thus, while anchored only 100 feet from the beach in perfectly clear, shallow water over pristine sand, we enjoyed the cool breeze of the trade winds too. Intoxicating!
At the back of the anchorage at Salt Whistle Bay there is a nasty little reef downwind that you don’t want to drag anchor onto. There are numerous charter boats in this area. The Moorings has a base in nearby Canouan, and the French “Switch” fleet is in full operation here, so the anchorage can get crowded by sunset.
We were anchored so close to the beach it looked impossible from farther back in the anchorage, almost as if Indigo Moon was beached. In truth, however, there was a solid ten feet of water very close to the beach.
One evening, just at sunset, I saw a monohull charter boat come in and drop anchor all the way back by the reef -- way too close! There was a prime anchoring spot just off the beach right next to me and I just could not resist jumping in the dinghy to see if I could diplomatically "suggest" that the charter boat was anchored dangerously close to a reef and that a “primo” spot was available up by the beach.
Offering unsolicited advice to fellow boaters can blow up in your face. A few of them are “know it all” sailors. Unsolicited advice from another sailor is taken as a personal affront to those with their egos on the line. But, the binoculars revealed that the boat at the back of Salt Whistle Bay held an approachable crew of a single family with teenagers and small children, all of whom were barefoot and in swimsuits and T-shirts (from bitter experience, I never approach crews clad in polo shirts and Sperry Topsiders).
Anyway, I had a beautiful spot for them that they would probably never forget, and I could not resist going over and talking to them, if for no other reason than to warn them about the reef.
They were extremely easy going and appreciative and within ten minutes they were anchored in a prime “front row seat” right next to us. A few minutes later, two of their older teens motored over in the dinghy in order to give their little seven-year-old sister a ride over to our boat.
Adorable “little sister” brought us gifts of Mixed Nuts, Tootsie Roll Pops, Twizzlers and other candy in thanks for our help. It is always precious when we encounter truly good people out here. We had very interesting 45 minute chat with them.
There was another "happening" at Salt Whistle Bay. One of the French charter catamarans anchored near us and the crew, a man and two women, quickly swam ashore and lounged in the shallows. The shapely young women were both topless, and wearing tiny “thong” bottoms to boot.
A few minutes later, we. . . well . . . ahem . . . a few minutes later, I noticed that the women had begun rubbing themselves down with the very fine sand that makes for a healthy dermabrasion treatment. Things got pretty erotic when the man “helped out” with the head to toe applications. I looked around the anchorage behind me and laughed out loud when I saw that every single boat had crews with binoculars trained on the event!
As beautiful and as fun as Salt Whistle Bay was, we needed to move on. Next stop: the Tobago Cays.
Just east of Mayreau lies the famous Tobago Cays. Horseshoe Reef forms as crescent that runs for about three miles and protects a large area of shallow sand and coral heads that comprise what amounts to a giant aquarium where you can spend hours of blissful snorkeling. It is a National Park area and the wildlife is protected.
It was amazing to see such an expanse of shallow sand bottom again! Not since the Bahamas had we seen such a sight.
Also, considering the Tobago Cays are only a few miles from Union Island and other developed areas, Boat Boys made rounds daily and we were able to buy bread, etc.
We loved the Tobago Cays but could not stay as long as we wanted. And that is the problem with a schedule. As our Eastern Caribbean trip neared its end, we knew we had to be in Grenada soon to catch a flight to Baton Rouge. Thus, we only spent a few days in the Tobago Cays. We would have preferred a few weeks there instead.
Here are some shots:
We departed the Tobago Cays, passed by Palm Island just to have a "look-see", and then headed to Union Island to clear Customs and head for Carriacou by sundown, thus leaving the Grenadines behind and entering the new jurisdiction of Grenada.
Carriacou and Grenada
Carriacou and Grenada are the final “punctuation mark” of the Eastern Caribbean. Accordingly, this leg of the trip was a bit sad simply because it evidenced that our first, wondrous romp through the Eastern Caribbean was at its end. In the life span of any adventure or journey, the final hours always bring forth a mix of strong emotions and reflections on the adventure as a whole.
Also, as we departed for Grenada, our minds were necessarily shifting into “work mode". We arranged in advance to have Indigo Moon hauled in Grenada and stored while we flew home for a visit.
Also, we knew that the next stop after Grenada would be the Bahia Redonda Marina in Venezuela where we would sit idle at the docks for months. Thus, I wanted to put a coat of fresh antifouling paint on the bottom, and knowing we would be plugged into shore power and running the air conditioning 24/7, I needed to replace the sacrificial zinc anodes on the sail drives and make sure any stray current did not corrode my propellers and/or saildrive housings. Plus, it’s a good idea to change the saildrive oil early and often.
It had been a long time since I felt that “last day of the vacation” or “last day of a long weekend” type feeling – that emotional veil that falls and attenuates my enjoyment of whatever is happening in the moment. My mind wandered and pondered: will I be able to get the parts I need in Grenada? Will the boat yard be reasonable or will it be a rip-off in the end? Will this? Will that?
Anyway, this leg of the trip clearly marked a change in attitude and by the time we reached Grenada, I was no longer in tourist mode, but instead my brain was locked into boat work mode again.
Here are some shots of our journey from the Tobago Cays to Grenada:
We cleared out of Customs for St. Vincent and The Grenadines, checked our e-mail at an internet café, and were quickly on our way to Carriacou. By sundown we were anchored off the beach at Hillsborough, Carriacou and ready to clear in with Customs first thing in the morning.
As I watched the sunset, I made a quick repair to the nose of the dinghy. It got punctured under the ragged dock at Union Island and I set about patching it.
My visit to Carriacou the next morning lasted a total of 45 minutes. Melissa did not even come ashore. My mission was to simply check into Grenada’s waters and then head immediately on to Grenada. However, we have heard from many, many cruisers that there is much to love about Carriacou and some cruisers choose to spend their hurricane season there. Supposedly, the boatyard there is very competent and reasonable and many cruisers do their annual haul out in Carriacou.
Here is a quick look at Carriacou:
As soon as I cleared Customs, I returned to Indigo Moon and pulled anchor, headed to the south end of Grenada – the “end of the line.”
We decided to sail on the Atlantic side and utilize the full force of the tradewinds to make a speedy run to Prickly Bay around the southern end of Grenada.
It was not until I reviewed the pictures that I realized how much more comfortable we have become with ocean sailing. It got pretty rough and squally on the outside while heading down the eastern shores of Grenada, but we didn’t even notice – just another day under sail in the ocean for us. I listened to music on the MP3 player and Melissa read a book while Indigo Moon danced on the big waves, her sails filled with fresh trade winds.
Also, just to add to the “fun factor”, at the north end of Grenada, there are a couple of islands, namely Isle De Ronde and The Sister. Just to the west of those islands, there is an underwater volcano, its peak rising up 1,000 feet from the sea floor to within 500 feet of the sea surface. The volcano is considered active and there is a voluntary “exclusion zone.”
I sailed right over it. Melissa was not happy later when she saw that our GPS trackline passed right over the area, but our sails were set and we were “dialed in” and I hated to disturb our perfect headway. Luckily, the "volcano gods" spared us and we traversed the area without incident, all as Indigo Moon sped across the sea toward Grenada, just like a horse headed for the barn.
Here are some photos:
We had a nice romp of a sail the whole way and made it into Prickley Bay by late afternoon. It was a homecoming of sorts. Many of our cruising friends were there, which makes sense. Grenada is the last stop where many boats hole up after an Eastern Caribbean tour.
Also, it is a natural resting place for yachts prior to jumping far south to Trinidad or Venezuela, both requiring relatively long passages compared to all the little island hops we all made down the archipelago of the Eastern Caribbean. Like logs jammed up in the bend of a river, Cruisers accumulated in Grenada and we were reunited with many friends.
It did not take long for us to get hauled out at Spice Island Marine, located in Prickly Bay. I was pleasantly surprised. They hauled the boat for a reasonable price and left me alone. I could do any and all work myself and there were no requirements to buy anything from them or use their services.
As you might recall from my trip log long ago in River Bend Marina in Fort Lauderdale, that particular boat yard will not let you wax your hulls or paint your bottom; you have to let them do it and in the end you have to redo some of the work after paying top dollar for less than perfect work, etc. There was none of that nonsense at Spice Island. They professionally hauled, blocked and chocked the boat and then left me alone. I was very happy about that!
In the realm of “it is a small world,” long before going cruising I made many cyber-friends on the internet – kindred spirits who also have the Dream of Cruising. Some were already “out here”; some were hanging around on chat boards and dreaming and perusing magazine advertisements for boats, etc.
One of those cyber-friends, Michael Landry, had a boat in Grenada in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan devastated the island. Although I didn’t realize it at the outset, my visit to Grenada was soon to evolve into a Tale of Two Hurricanes: Ivan and Katrina.
I found myself in a position where, within a couple of weeks, I would survey both Grenada and New Orleans and witness the devastation of both Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. Let’s cover each hurricane independently.
A. Hurricane Ivan:
Prior to Hurricane Ivan’s direct, devastating strike on Grenada a few years ago, Grenada was considered a hurricane-free location. It had not been severely damaged since September 23, 1955, when Hurricane Janet struck with 115 mph winds. It had been so long since that strike, sailors and insurance companies alike began to think that Grenada was immune and far enough south to avoid the threat of hurricanes.
In early September 2004, “Ivan the Terrible” ripped through Grenada as a category four storm, shattering its image as a safe hurricane avoidance destination.
Michael Landry was there and witnessed the destruction first-hand. Michael alerted all his cyber-friends to the bad news within a few days after the storm: Michael’s sailboat was driven up onto a rock in Prickley Bay and it was a total loss insurance-wise. Michael was left literally with a handful of possessions and it took quite a while for him to get back on his feet.
Michael, now living in Costa Rica, had emailed me long before I arrived in Grenada, wanting me to look for his old boat, a ketch named Triumph. He heard rumors that the owner of Grenada's True Blue Bay Resort had bought the boat at auction and was trying to resurrect it. Of course, I said I’d keep my eye out!
Well, on the day Indigo Moon was hauled out, I carefully supervised the job and focused on making sure the blocks were placed properly under the keels, etc. It is pretty intense when your home is lifted up in slings and hauled across a parking lot! I did not notice anything else in the yard while all that was going on.
Once Indigo Moon was safely blocked and chocked and at rest, it was time to exhale and look around a bit. Wouldn’t you know it?! Right behind Indigo Moon sat Triumph, being repaired. I was able to talk to the new owner (who in fact is the owner of True Blue Bay Resort) and he advised that the boat has a brand new engine, all new wiring, and the huge holes in the port side of the hull have been repaired.
Michael was glad to hear that his “baby” was still alive. I couldn’t believe our boats wound up "next door neighbors" in Grenada!
Things have changed a lot in Grenada boat yards post-Ivan. There are very strong steel cradles now used to secure monohulls to the ground. Catamarans are strapped to seriously-stout ground anchors. Most importantly, catamarans are stored separately from monohulls. A significant amount of yacht damage during Ivan was caused by monuhulls falling over on catamarans that would have been relatively unharmed otherwise.
The day after Ivan hit, photographs of Spice Island Marine’s boat yard were sickening. It literally looked like a giant salad bowl of boats that had been tossed over and over. At least three people in Grenada were killed by Ivan.
Also, there are rumors that local boat yards, including Spice Island, took advantage of boaters after the storm. Ivan dealt a terrible blow to live aboard cruisers who found themselves helplessly caught in a vise between local profiteers and predictably recalcitrant insurance companies.
The boat yards in Grenada have since gone over and above the call of duty to provide safe storage, even in the face of another Ivan. Much of their income historically came from being a storage destination for yachts completing a run down the Caribbean and the boat yards there are trying to preserve that income.
As we all know, Ivan’s wrath was not contained to Grenada. All the way north in New Orleans, Ivan became a threat to Indigo Moon as well. After demolishing Grenada, Ivan tracked its way up through the Caribbean Sea and into the Gulf of Mexico toward the Gulf Coast, threatening New Orleans with a direct hit.
At the time, we were keeping Indigo Moon at South Shore Harbor in New Orleans and we spent six hours readying the boat for Ivan’s arrival.
Here are some shots of our New Orleans experience with Hurricane Ivan:
On the morning of September 15, 2004, we drove to New Orleans to secure the boat for Ivan’s possible impact the next day. We knew we were in trouble when we got on the interstate in Baton Rouge and saw a solid stream of traffic on the interstate coming out of New Orleans. After securing the boat to our satisfaction, we joined the exodus from New Orleans and it took us nine more hours to drive 80 miles back to Baton Rouge! Louisiana’s government officials were negligently late in ordering that all four lanes of I-10 be made one way north (contra-flow, I think they called it).
There was the usual Louisiana finger-pointing with all the politicians ducking accountability. As the “blame game” played out, New Orleans was a tangled mess of traffic. The evacuation was botched and it was a foreshadowing of Katrina and the inadequacies of our resources and leadership in Louisiana when it comes to emergencies of such scale.
After a terrible trip back home from readying the boat, I spent the night awake as Ivan bore down on the Gulf Coast. I have been through many hurricanes and the nightlong vigil of “hurricane watch” is not new to me.
I was very young when Hurricane Betsy wound its way up the Mississippi River, with its eye passing directly over the small lakefront town of New Roads where I grew up. The house shook wildly on its foundations and the fury of Betsy was fierce. My childhood fear was amplified by the fact that the attack was staged in darkness.
I also well remember the obligatory “next morning” tour of New Roads to see older buildings off their foundations, downed trees, and flocks of confused seagulls circling in the grey skies above False River, the 12 mile long oxbow lake that used to be part of the main channel of the Mississippi. I have always wondered how long it took those gulls to find their way back to the Gulf, over a hundred miles to the south.
Hurricane Andrew smashed through Baton Rouge in the early 90’s and left us without power for a couple of weeks. It arrived at daybreak in Baton Rouge and was the first hurricane I had seen at work in daylight. There was an eighty foot red oak across the street from me where I lived in the Garden District. I still can not believe that such a tree can bend so far over without snapping or being uprooted.
The point is, I have a lot of first-hand hurricane experience and the threat of Ivan hitting New Orleans was terrifying. The Cruising Dream Melissa and I had worked so hard for was tied pitifully to the dock in New Orleans, completely vulnerable in the end. I knew that a direct hit would be the end of Indigo Moon and most likely the end of our cruising plans forever.
And so, from my computer at home in Baton Rouge I monitored the NOAA weather websites, watched the sea buoy readings and also called a Captain on the big power yacht tied on the other side of the dock from Indigo Moon. He decided to stay on that boat to protect the owner’s interests. Thus, I had an eyewitness to call via cell phone every hour or so.
The weather experts predicted that Ivan would turn east and hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but we know that hurricanes can be very fickle. Betsy was supposed to turn too, but she barreled straight ahead through Louisiana.
By midnight, the sea buoy off of the Chandeleur Islands and Mississippi reported 54 foot waves! Our mast height on Indigo Moon is 57 feet and 54 foot waves seem utterly impossible, but that is in fact what was happening offshore. I think: we would surely never live to tell the tale of seeing such seas from the deck of Indigo Moon.
As the “feeder bands” of Ivan swept the coast, I called the Captain of the boat tied next to Indigo Moon and he reported: “Well, I have recorded 70 mph winds now and then, with steady 50 mph winds, and there are three foot seas inside the marina, but your boat is riding the waves nicely. I went and adjusted a fender on your boat a little while ago, and it looks like everything will be fine. It’s ok so far – not a scratch!”
By morning, Ivan had slammed into the Gulf Coast near Mobile Alabama as a category three storm, killing 23 people and causing billions in damages. And my relief that New Orleans and Indigo Moon were spared causes terrible, irreconcilable dissonance in the face of the devastation Hurricane Ivan visited upon our neighbors and friends in Alabama and Florida. That is always the unacceptable outcome of "Hurricane Prayers" over the years; the only way we can be spared on the Louisiana Gulf Coast is by the terrible sacrifice of others nearby in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida.
And so, Ivan was a horrible storm that traveled far. In Grenada, it cruelly short-circuited my friend Michael’s short-lived Cruising Dream, and threatened to end my Cruising Dreams before I even had a chance to leave the dock.
After we arrived in Grenada, and within thirty minutes of being hauled out at Spice Island Marine, it was all quiet in the vicinity of Indigo Moon. The Travelift was driven to the other side of the yard and the workers had moved on, leaving me alone in peace. I sat down on a block of wood under Indigo Moon and in the cool shade I looked out at Triumph and pondered all my "hurricane thoughts and refelctions" related herein above.
With all that spinning in my head and gazing at both Indigo Moon and the resurrection of Triumph before me, it was not hard to gain a deeper understanding of just how cruelly unpredictable life can be. It served as yet another reality check and a time for immense gratitude and humble thanks for the lucky Cruising Life Melissa and I have enjoyed for so long now.
B. Hurricane Katrina
Not long after getting hauled out in Grenada in early June, 2006, we secured Indigo Moon as she sat on the hard, packed a few bags, and got ready for a plane ride to Baton Rouge. We had a nice visit back in Louisiana, and in between attending to tasks like annual doctor visits and various appointments, we managed to see many of our friends.
One weekend, we drove to Mandeville on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain to visit John and Judy Blackman aboard their spectacular 473 Beneteau sailboat Omega. We had a fabulous lunch at one of the quaint little restaurants that operate in Old Town Mandeville near the shores of the lake. We also rode around with John and Judy a bit to see some of the damage Katrina did to Mandeville.
After lunch, Melissa and I said goodbye to John and Judy and drove south across the Pontchartrain Causeway to New Orleans to see what the lakefront looked like post-Katrina.
On August 29, 2005, Katrina plowed over New Orleans and high waters breached the levee system. Our visit was in June, 2006, ten months after the disaster. We didn’t know what to expect. My stomach tightened as we crossed the Causeway and the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain rose up on the horizon. We would soon be at West End on the lakefront, where Southern Yacht Club, the Municipal Yacht Harbor and other marinas held hundreds of yachts.
Most people would be surprised that it is not Rhode Island or Massachusetts or Maryland or Maine, but Louisiana and New Orleans where one of the oldest yacht clubs in North America is located – Southern Yacht Club, founded in 1849. Only the New York Yacht Club can document an earlier founding date. Thus, New Orleans' Southern Yacht Club is the second oldest yacht club in America and boasts a rich history of sailing tradition.
As we came down the levee and rounded the turn into the huge cul-de-sac that circles West End’s various yachting facilities we were shocked. It looked more like Katrina hit ten days or ten weeks ago, not ten months!
Here is what we saw:
Once we reached the actual shores of the marinas and peered over seawalls into the dock areas, it was unbelievable, all while keeping in mind that almost a year had passed since Katrina hit.
We were in shock. As we made our way through West End, it was appalling. I have so many priceless memories here, where I started sailing on a whim in the late seventies and fell in love with sailing to the point that I eventually sold everything and cruised away under sail three decades later.
Mere words are useless. New Orleans not only holds all my memories of falling in love with both sailing and my wife Melissa, but also holds a special place in my family members' hearts as well.
Quite literally, I would have to pen several books to even scratch the surface of how unusual and precious New Orleans is to me.
And there we stood with much of the City I love the most in utter ruins. It was a hard thing to comprehend. Melissa and I had lumps in our throats and we didn’t talk much as we continued our tour of the devastation.
We departed the West End area literally in tears. Robert E. Lee Boulevard winds its way east through several neighborhoods, through the University of New Orleans, and then makes its way to the shore again and passes the new FBI complex (sensationalized in Novelist Greg Iles' book Dead Sleep). Thereafter, it continues onward over the Seabrook Bridge past Lakefront Airport and finally to South Shore Harbor. Indigo Moon spent a year and a half in South Shore Harbor as we readied the boat and dismantled our shore side lives in order to sail away into our Dream of Cruising.
As we drove the several miles down Robert E. Lee Boulevard, it became obvious as to why things have not yet been cleaned up in New Orleans. No camera, no photograph, nor can any film crew convey the scope and scale of the damage. For miles and miles and miles, through neighborhoods of mansions and “shotgun shacks” alike, the first floors of structures are stripped down, often to bare studs. You can see right through the first floors of many. Looking left to right and down side streets, the same damage is present for mile after mile, as far as you can see.
It is totally irreconcilable. Who in their right mind would rebuild on a deserted grid of streets with nothing but condemned buildings for miles around? Who in their right mind would undertake removing hundreds of houses in such shape? It is the essence of impossible. I guess it all must, and will, be cleaned up in the fullness of time. But, right now I can’t imagine how this area will ever be restored, especially considering that President Bush did not even acknowledge New Orleans’ continued desperate situation in his most-recent State of the Union address in early 2007. Clearly, New Orleans is now on its own.
And so, as we rode through the lakefront neighborhoods our emotions ran the gambit from shock, to severe emotional pain and sorrow, and then finally to utter numbness. By the time we reached South Shore Harbor we had stopped talking altogether. It was awful and we quickly determined that Indigo Moon would have been totally destroyed had she still been at her dock when Katrina demolished South Shore Harbor.
Melissa and I left New Orleans and returned to Baton Rouge where we concluded our visit home. Only a few days after surveying the destruction in New Orleans, and with it fresh on our minds, we found ourselves right back in Grenada where we began readying Indigo Moon for a journey south to Venezuela to hide from what else but . . . . . . . Hurricane Season!
That brings us full-circle back to Grenada and concludes our “Tale of Two Hurricanes.” Now, let’s get back to the trip and focus on the next big thing: getting ready to sail to Venezuela on the northern coast of South America!
It took a week or so to paint the bottom and service the saildrives, etc. While working on the boat, we rented a room at True Blue Bay Resort and enjoyed the company of friends aboard yachts Wayfinder, Seabird, Take Time, Leadership, Maker’s Match, Gypsy Palace, Lady Ann, Wounded Spirit, and last but not least, Libertas.
It was great to be “back home” to Indigo Moon and we quickly completed our work, splashed the boat, and then moved over to True Blue Bay where we anchored and waited for a weather window to head to Venezuela.
There was great debate brewing amongst all the Cruisers as to where to go and what to do for Hurricane Season 2006. Wounded Spirit, Seabird, Gypsy Palace, Take Time and Lady Ann opted for Trinidad, and so did many other people in light of reports of a Cruiser being shot and robbed at anchor off the coast of Venezuela, not to mention that Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez, is vehemently anti-U.S.A.
Like us, though, Wayfinder, Maker’s Match and Leadership all planned on heading to Venezuela anyway, to the mainland area of Puerto La Cruz where the El Morro complex offers gated marinas with effective private security.
As Hurricane Season kicked in, it was time to be ready to take the first weather window and we waited for one while lounging in the anchorage at True Blue Bay. Considering we had rented a room there while Indigo Moon was on the hard, the resort had no objection to us taking the dinghy in and using the True Blue Bay swimming pool in the afternoons (and spending more money by eating dinners there too).
So, the pool at True Blue Bay was often the meeting place of all the Cruisers at anchor in the Bay. We had fun and got ready, emotionally and otherwise, to enter South American waters where the crime issue was really heating up.
Here are some scenes from True Blue Bay:
We enjoyed quite a few meals together with fellow Cruisers at True Blue Bay. One evening we dined with the crew of 4700 Leopard catamaran Libertas. We enjoyed several meals at True Blue Bay with many other Cruisers too, including Mike and Sara Wise on Wayfinder, Dale and Lorie Boyd on Gypsy Palace, and Wayne and Carol Watjus on Take Time.
All good things must come to an end, though, and the day finally came when the weather cooperated and it was time to clear out of Customs and head to Venezuela. Mike and Sara Wise were headed the same way and we decided to “buddy boat” for security purposes.
Getting ready to go, I took the dinghy out of True Blue Bay and headed west around the point into Prickly Bay and to Customs. I cleared out and bought some bread and other provisions at the little store there.
With all the boat documentation, passports and groceries in my backpack, I headed back to True Blue Bay. Using a throttle extension of white plastic PVC pipe on the outboard, and holding onto the bow rope, I was standing up and running fast. Some people don’t know why people like to stand up and run the dinghy. It is a “must” in the Bahamas and in shallow areas because it is so much easier to spot reefs and shallows while standing up.
Anyway, I was back into True Blue Bay and it was high noon as I ran along at about 20 mph. I passed a red mooring buoy on my port side and to be safe I gave it at least 50 feet of clearance.
A few seconds later, things suddenly went into slow motion – instantly everything went quiet and I was flying through the air! I’ve been water skiing all my life and this sensation was all too familiar and a second later I hit the water and skipped like a flat rock a few times before digging in and coming to a stop!
It took a few seconds more to realize that the dinghy had come to a complete stop and I kept going, flying over the bow of the dinghy without so much as my toes touching the bow; I flew over and out of the boat like Superman!
I swam back to the dinghy and was back in it so fast that the bread in my backpack didn’t even get wet. The only casualty was a cheap pair of sunglasses.
So what happened, you ask?
Well, the mooring ball I passed by had about 100 feet of slack floating nylon line drifting out across the water and I never saw it in the glare of the sun. The foot of my outboard caught on it like the tailhook of a fighter jet landing on an aircraft carrier. The mooring line simply slipped smoothly around the front edge of the lower unit of the outboard until the mooring ball itself reached the dinghy. The mooring ball then jammed itself between the outboard and the transom – that is the point when all the slack was gone and the mooring line became taught against its anchor on the sea floor. It yanked the dinghy to an instant, full stop, taking the boat from 20 mph to absolute zero in about six feet. Exciting!
The good news is that I was wearing the little "kill switch" tether around my wrist and the outboard was automatically shut down when I parted company with the boat. You would be surprised at how many outboard boats come back and attack people who have fallen out. I would be lying if I said I religiously wear the kill switch tether, but thank God I was wearing it that day. I’ve been much more vigilant since that incident.
Unbelievably, no one at the busy True Blue Resort waterfront restaurant, or anyone in the crowded anchorage saw my stunt! So, there was not much to talk about in the end and I simply dried off and got ready to head to Venezuela.
That concludes the highlights of our Windward Islands adventures!
When we pick up in the next trip report we will set a course to South America and report on what it was like to make a night passage and not care at all about wind and seas, but instead be completely preoccupied with worries about getting attacked by pirates.
Also, we will convey what it was like to spend three months behind locked gates and under the protection of armed guards while in a marina on the Venezuelan mainland. Some of the things we discovered in Venezuela will pleasantly surprise you.
Then we will “escape” the Venezuela Marina scene and explore the stunningly beautiful offshore National Island Parks of Venezuela, finally ending up at the Netherlands Antilles island of Bonaire, a scuba diver’s paradise.
So, stay tuned! There are many adventures yet to report and we look forward to having you aboard for the next installment. Please continue to sail with us, and by all means feel free to invite all your friends!
If you would like to receive an e-mail notifying you of updates to the web site, subscribe here.