Our sail from Grenada to Bequia was to be a long run and nearly dead upwind so we prepped for a rough passage – on starboard tack for the first time! We motor sailed the distance and arrived just after dark in Admiralty Bay, Bequia. The anchorage here is large and there was a good moon so arriving at night was not difficult except that we were all pretty tired from the 13 hour trip.
We did school the following morning then headed ashore to clear customs and trade our most recently caught tuna. The fishermen ashore weighed the tuna and gave me an equal 2 lbs of fresh Mahi Mahi in steaks cut with a machete. We cleaned and marinated the steaks for the rest of the day and had a fabulous dinner with coconut flavored rice. Well-fed and well rested we left the following morning at dawn bound for St Lucia. We were hoping to make it all the way to Rodney Bay at the north end but had Marigot or the Pitons as a backup plan. The trip behind the lee of St. Vincent was deceptively calm. We motored just off the coast in water as smooth as glass in the cool early morning light. Upon rounding the top of St. Vincent we were greeted with the expected 30kt headwinds. This time the wind had just enough east in it to make it possible to sail close hauled on starboard tack. We needed to hold a course nearly 25 degrees higher (to the right) of our intended destination to counter the effects of a strong westerly running current. We set the main with a reef and the staysail on the inner forestay, adding the full mizzen and we were able to make 6kts through the water. About halfway across the passage the current became more northwest and boosted our speed over the bottom to 8kts. As we rounded the bottom of St. Lucia the wind bent aft and allowed us to FINALLY ease the sheets. Here we had a glorious sail up the leeward coast of St Lucia with favorable current we were making nearly 9knots over the bottom. The wind shut down off of Marigot and we motored the rest of the way to Rodney Bay. Our next island north was to be Martinique.
We have learned that the French islands have very lax customs and immigration policies and do not require you to present outbound clearance papers from your prior port. With this in mind we opted to save some money and not check into St. Lucia. Because of this we did not go ashore and left the following morning bound for Fort de France Bay. Most of the bigger French islands such as Guadeloupe have direct flights from France daily and they do not require passports for folks arriving. I salute the French for this as it makes customs clearance much simpler and cheaper. Most French islands you clear at internet cafes by typing up a form on the computer, printing it and paying a few Euros. Rarely is the form verified against passports or other documents. It wouldn’t be French if it weren’t for the little twist of learning to type on French keyboards. To be unique, the French have moved a few letters on the keyboard from the standard QWERTY format. It makes for some slow typing….
We had a wonderful sail with sheets eased across to Martinique but then had to harden up for the last 5 miles up into Fort de France Bay. I was enjoying the sail so much so that I opted to short tack our way up to the anchorage instead of simply motoring the last bit. (Note from Claudia: this, amazingly, is the first time we have tacked during a passage since we left BVI, I think!!) Tacking to weather is something many cruisers choose to forgo when possible ourselves included. I was however pleased with the windward performance using the staysail as with some tweaking we were able to tack through 100 degrees which in 25kts of wind is very good for a heavy old boat such as Demeter. We had been to Fort de France before and I recalled clearing customs in a marine supply store where there was no charge for clearance so I opted to clear in and out simultaneously. We would be next headed to Dominica where they are much stricter with customs policies and would require outbound clearance forms from our prior port. There is a downside to the loose policies of the French islands, much more smuggling of illegal drugs and human trafficking. We had an interesting meal out in Fort de France at the only place open on a Sunday, the same Mexican restaurant we had been to on our way south. Trying to interpret a Mexican menu written in French was again a challenge and at the end of the meal I asked for our bill. Instead of the bill I was given a shot of Jack Daniels? I thought maybe this was some custom and the bill would come after the shot? Not so, (must have been our sketchy French language skills) we ended up paying at the counter including an additional 8 euros for the shot. The next day was Monday so stores would be open the usual French hours of 9-noon then 2-5. We found some internet access and did a little shopping, but when we returned to the dinghy dock we found our dinghy in a disheveled state and the stern anchor I had set was severed and lost. Someone had been messing with the dinghy and the kill switch lanyard was gone too. Max and I motored out to the boat put away groceries and get snorkel gear in hope so retrieving the lost anchor. On the way a fellow yachtsman signaled us to come closer. He told us in broken English that the group of teenage boys on the shore was the ones responsible. That they had attempted to steal the dinghy but were not successful. We thanked him and I turned around and proceeded to shore. I confronted the youths and gave them a piece of my mind. I found one still had the kill switch lanyard so I knew I had the right bunch. Once I mentioned calling the police they instantly forgot all of their English and tried to claim they could not understand me and only spoke French. They started gathering their things with plans to leave. I told them I would be following them home to discuss their actions with their parents or the police, whomever I found first. At this they got pretty nervous and I could see the fear in their faces, my job was done, they took off running in different directions looking very scared. We were able to find the anchor and no permanent damage was done so we left it at boys being boys and advised the other cruisers in the area of our experience.
The following morning we left early for our passage to Dominica. So far this island has captivated us more than any other. The lush jungle, steep mountains, hot springs, waterfalls and abundance of fruit make this island unlike any other in the Eastern Caribbean. The sail over was delightful with sheets eased and full sail in 18-20kts. Demeter flew along at 8-9kts with favorable current and we made the anchorage at Portsmouth by 4pm. Several miles off we were as usual approached by boat boys offering their services. We had such a good experience with Eddison the last time that we told the others that was who we worked with here and our wishes were instantly respected by the others. The boat boys in Dominica were all very respectful and helpful and we try to use their services whenever possible buying fruit daily. Just as we were about to anchor a rain squall threatened so we opted to idle in the anchorage and let the rain pass instead of getting blasted with wind and rain while trying to get the hook down. This was the first rain we had seen in nearly a month! Once it passed and we anchored our friend Titus came by welcoming us back and warmly greeting the kids. We told Titus we wanted to take another tour with the guide we used previously, Ken. Within an hour Ken and Titus were aboard in our cockpit with maps as we planned our next adventure on Dominica. The last time we were here we had seen the northern part of the island and hiked to Sari Sari Falls. This time we wanted to see the southern part of the island and other inland sights.
We began the trip the following morning at 9am with a 2 hour drive down the coast and inland to the mountainous interior. Here we visited a freshwater lake much like the one on Grenada but much higher. Here the air was cold and we were in the clouds. The plants growing were all very small due to the elevation and temperature. The lake and surrounding hills were spectacular. After a bit we decided to press on to other destinations. It was at this point that our trusty guide Ken discovered he had lost the key to our truck! There was no one else at this remote spot and there was no phone service this far up in the mountains. We tried searching in vain for an hour and did our best to stay warm. Ken felt terrible for his mistake and was thoroughly embarrassed. We weren’t very concerned and just chalked it up to part of the adventure but this did little ease Ken’s feelings. We chose to keep looking while Ken hiked down the mountain a ways in search of a cell signal to call for another set of keys. A while later Ken returned with a truck and another guy with an enormous smile named Elvis. Elvis took us to a friend’s house where we could wait for a spare key to be brought down. Here we were treated to the most amazing experience with a local family. There were 2 other children for Max and Anya to play with and while this family lived in a dirt floored hut perched on the side of the mountain the kids took instantly to one another. They were just making lunch and upon our arrival simply threw another potato and more pumpkin into the pot. The adults welcomed us into their home with such generosity both Claudia and I were overcome with emotions. The conversation was fascinating as we learned how they lived off the land here with fruit and vegetables growing all over and chickens, goats, and rabbits being raised nearby. They offered me a rum drink and upon my acceptance proceeded to pour rum into a glass. Next our host reached up to the tree above my head and pulled down a grapefruit which he cut in two with a machete and I squeezed fresh juice into my glass. That might just have been the best rum drink ever! We spent the next several hours in the company of this delightful rasta family and had an amazing discussion of the geo thermal energy exploitation that was taking place on the island. A delicious vegetable soup was served that even the kids enjoyed. We told Ken our guide that his losing the keys made for the best part of our day. When the new key arrived we thanked our hosts and attempted to give them something in appreciation but were sternly refused. Amazingly after learning that this family just got electricity last year we found they are on Facebook…
Our next stop was Titou Gorge a spot where part of Pirates of the Caribbean II was filmed. Here there is a slot canyon about 5 feet wide with 20 foot high walls that leads to a waterfall. You have to swim in 15 foot deep water to reach the falls which is a grueling but rewarding swim. At the entrance to the canyon is a hot spring where you can warm back up after the cool swim to the falls. I tried to get photos with the go pro while swimming but water drops on the lens ruined most of the photos. After Titou Gorge we headed down to the southernmost point of the island and had a delightful meal of locally prepared salt fish, boiled green bananas, and a mixed green salad. After the meal we headed to hot springs where we swam in a naturally hot pool. We relaxed in the hot pool in the jungle as the sun set and gazing upwards we watched bats flitter about the tree tops. Just before dark we drove back up the coast to Portsmouth and had a few beers before calling it a night. What an amazing day! We slept until 8am, late for us, and then headed north for Guadeloupe. Yet another fabulous sail reaching with 20kts of breeze and full sail. We hooked, but failed to land another tuna. I got lazy and attempted to bring him aboard without the gaff and in the process he spit the hook. We made the anchorage of Deshaies at 3pm and anchored in about 50 feet of clear clear water. After a short swim and dinner we went ashore for a treat of ice cream. The following day Claudia had client calls to make so after a morning of school we sent her ashore to internet cafes to work. The kids and I finished school and headed off to snorkel the reef next to the anchorage. That afternoon our friends Skip and Madeline arrived on their sloop Saralane. We had a great evening of catching up with them over sundowners. The kids quickly made friends with the 5 other kids on a catamaran anchored close by even though they spoke no French and the others next to zero English. I never cease to be amazed and proud of how well our kids adjust to new surroundings. That evening I took the kids and two of the French kids ashore for ice cream. We hope to see them again in St Martin.
The following morning we up anchored and headed for Antigua. The wind had just enough east in it to allow us to sail close hauled under full sail and fetch Falmouth Harbor. We arrived at 2pm and after clearing customs and dropping off some laundry we opted for a happy hour ashore and some cold Red Stripes. Most of the mega yachts have left Falmouth harbor so the wifi works much better and the docks are less crowded. We had a fabulous gourmet pizza dinner ashore and capped the night off with ice cream at the Antigua Yacht club. The following morning Max had his mid-year exam and we are pleased to report he scored a 92%! We have a few errands to run while here in Antigua before we make the trip up to St. Martin. There we will meet my brother and his wife who will sail with us for two weeks before they fly home from the BVI. Will try and get some photos loaded here soon.