Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wendy's Birthday and St. Lucia to the Grenadines

Wendy's Birthday - June 13th

What a difference a year makes! Not in my figure which doesn't improve with age! But in the fun you can have on your birthday. Last year on my birthday we were motoring to Big Ambergris Cay in the Turks & Caicos when our fresh water pump blew. Suddenly we were without an engine! I don't think I'll ever forget that birthday. Two days later we headed to the Dominican Republic under sail only, a difficult trip that took 58 hours.
A year later we are in St. Lucia along with lots of friends we've made along the way. Jim invited them to join us for happy hour at Iguana's Bar where cocktails turned into dinner and birthday cake. A special thanks to my friends Pat & Carol for surprising me with the cake. Yum!!!
Here we are having a drink before our friends arrive.
Lynn (High States), Wendy, Marie France (PhoenixIII) and Manon (Le Bete).

Gilles (Phoenix III), Randy (High States), Gervais (Le Bete) and Pat (Songbird).

Derek and Kathy (S/V Idyll Island) with Wendy.

Wendy with Val and Lloyd (Puddle Jumper).

Another Happy Hour, this one at Spinnaker's Bar with Carol and Pat.

Jim, Carol and Pat on our hike to the ruins of the old fort above Rodney Bay.

Sailing from Rodney Bay south to Soufriere. We're heading toward the Pitons, one of the most beautiful spots in the Caribbean.

St. Lucia has it's "Boat Boys" too. Here's Eddie talking with Pat and Carol after he showed us to the moorings.

Just "limin" and enjoying the view.

Merengue at anchor under the Pitons.

This seemed to be the common theme as we toured the island, so much so that they put it on a sign.

They paved paradise!!! We vacationed in St. Lucia 20 years ago and this hot water falls was pristine then, falling into a beautiful grotto where you could swim. I guess they thought the tourists would like it better if they created a series of cement pools. What a shame!
Now, before you start to think we didn't like St. Lucia, that's not true. St. Lucia is wonderful. But we knew there would be change and there certainly is. Many more hotels, tourists and all the trappings that go with it. We were glad to see that the government has established national park space to preserve much of the natural beauty of the island.

Here's the new "cement pond" Jethro!

The town of Soufriere.

The waterfront in Soufriere with a group of students taking a break for lunch.

We left St. Lucia at 4:30 a.m. for the 55 mile sail past St. Vincent to Bequia in the Grenadines. We had lots of wind (except in the lee of St. Vincent where the wind died completely) and made the trip in just over 10 hours. It was great sailing!
We decided to skip St. Vincent because of all the reports we'd heard about crime and the boat boys who were described to us as aggressive and intimidating. With so many beautiful places to visit, who needs that! St. Vincent really needs to get a handle on the situation if they want yachts to visit. We talked to dozens of cruisers and didn't find any who planned on stopping there.

Here's Jim raising the courtesy flag for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
A view of Admiralty Bay in Bequia (pronounced Beck-way). We are anchored in 8 feet of crystal clear water, perfect for swimming right from the boat. It's beautiful!
How's this for ingenuity! He's using a garbage bag for a sail. And what a fitting name for his boat!
How's this for a cool picture of Jim getting ready to set the hook. Pat on Songbird was snorkling with his underwater camera when we came in to anchor.

The end of another great day as we head home in our faithful dinghy. It's kind of like having a little compact car. It doesn't have great pick-up and there isn't much cargo space but it'll get you where you need to go.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dominica & Martinique to St. Lucia

“Dominica is remarkable for the beauty of its mountains.....and must be seen to be believed.” Christopher Columbus, 1493

We arrived in Dominica (pronounced Dom-e-nee-ka) on May 31st and spent the next 2 days touring the island. It really is beautiful. After being discovered by Columbus and claimed for Spain, it was first settled by the French and later the English, changing back and forth several times. Dominica became a self-governing British possession in 1967 and finally an independent republic in 1978.

First, for our cruising friends who might be reading this, Portsmouth was an easy place to clear in. Forget the horror stories you’ve heard about the “boat boys”. We found them to be courteous, helpful and friendly. The boat boy/tour guide who greeted us as we entered the bay said “Welcome to paradise! Your friends are already here. My name is Alexis. Just call me on channel 16 if you need anything.” And off he sped. Some of the fruit vendors who paddle out on their surfboards are a little more persistent but after a no thank you, they paddled off. One of them named Junior noticed that we had a small pot with basil growing in it. When he brought us our order of mangos, lettuce, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, he brought us a bag with some soil and some thyme to plant. What a nice gesture! As I was chatting with Junior he mentioned that his last name was Wallace. He seemed intrigued when I told him that maybe we were related because I have ancestors named Wallace. He said, “It could be, because my grandmother is not my color. And anyway, we are all the same color inside.”

Our first day on Dominica started at 6:00 a.m. with a hike through the rainforest. This forest looked very different then the rainforest we hiked through on Saba. The canopy was much taller, massive trees with incredible root systems. We went with 2 other couples, Kathy & Kerry from “Bellagio” and Paul & Mary on “Sea Otter” along with our guide, Alexis and his trainee Royce. Alexis was very tuned in to the environment around him. At one point he left the trail following a bird call into the forest. When he motioned for us to quietly follow, we discovered that he had located a Sisserou parrot, the national bird of Dominica and the centerpiece of their flag. A large parrot of 18-20 inches long, they can be difficult to see in the wild so we felt extremely fortunate. The Sisserou sat in the top of a tall tree allowing each of us to get a good look at him.

Our tour guide, Alexis doing a little tree climbing.

Wendy, Mary, Paul and Kathy with Kerry and Jim behind.

The second part of our hike that morning was through farm area to a waterfall. Alexis picked fruit off the trees for us so that we could sample the wonderful papaya, mangos and oranges.

This is a cocoa pod open to show the fruit inside.

That afternoon Alexis took us for a boat ride up the Indian River. There are 365 rivers on Dominica and it is one of the few islands where fresh water is abundant. We watched the birds, fish and iguanas along the way. The Voodoo Lady scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean Part 2 was filmed at a site we passed along the river.

To keep hydrated, we stopped for a rum punch at a bar on the river. A lime punch for Wendy and a DYNAMITE punch for Jim. Alexis claimed that the last person who drank a dynamite felt strong enough to swim back down the river. Jim can handle a punch and opted to ride back in the boat. Another idea would be to drink the Dominica beer Kabuli. It has a map of Dominica on it so a person could use it to find their way home!

A hummingbird sitting on her nest along the river.

Day 2 was spent touring the island. We were with Kathy and Kerry again and Val and Lloyd from “Puddle Jumper”. Our guide Winston was wonderful, pointing out all the local attractions as he drove us around the north half of the island.

As Winston was pointing out the abundance of fruits and vegetables growing alongside the road, we asked him if breadfruit was in season. Breadfruit is what Captain Bligh and the crew of the Bounty were sent to Tahiti for. He said yes and asked us why we were interested. When we told him we wanted to try cooking some he stopped in the next village where his home happened to be. He asked if any of us ever played basketball. I said “Did you see how tall I am Winston? I come from a long line of basketball players.” At 5’10” I’m a lot taller than Winston!

He had me get under a huge breadfruit tree growing in his yard where he took a long pole to knock down one of the cantaloupe-size fruit. My job was to catch it before it hit the ground and was bruised. I’m happy to say I was successful and didn’t embarrass my family!

A stop at the ruins of a sugar plantation.

More scenic views along the way.

Our tour included a drive through the Carib Indian reservation where descendants of the Carib’s still live. The Carib Indians were living in Dominica when Columbus arrived.

Beautiful handwoven baskets for sale.

Next stop, a beautiful waterfall called The Emerald Pool where we swam in cold, clear water. It was a wonderful day on a beautiful island.

A short trip down the coast to Roseau for the night and then it was on to St. Pierre, Martinique. St. Pierre is best known for being the victim of a volcanic eruption in 1902 that destroyed the town and killed 22,000 residents. Clearing customs in St. Pierre was an interesting process. No formality or stoney-faced custom agents in this French port. Customs is located in a restaurant/bar/cyber café which is only open in the morning and then again at 6:00 in the evening to correspond with the café hours. You fill out the form on-line and print out a copy. It’s OK to drink a beer while you’re doing it. Then you take the form to the owner/bartender/customs agent and she stamps it. I keep telling you, the French know how to make it easy! And then to show you it’s a small world, the bartenders’ boyfriend is an engineer and is working on a project in Milwaukee, our home town.

Except for wandering around St. Pierre, we didn’t get to tour Martinique. We just spent a night anchored in St. Pierre and then sailed to the quiet anchorage at Anse Noir for the second night. We had a good, one-day weather window so we decided to move on to St. Lucia while we could. That decision proved to be a good one as we enjoyed a great sail in near perfect conditions. Too bad we had to skip Martinique. It’s beautiful and home to numerous rum distilleries. We bought a few bottles to do our own tasting, minus the tours.

The anchorage at Anse Noir where we swam, snorkled and slept before heading to St. Lucia.

Black sand beach........

and Merengue at anchor.
We've been in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia since June 6th. We're anchored off a pretty beach lined with resorts and restaurants. This is one of the main tourists areas in St. Lucia. It's been nice just hanging out in this lovely spot.

Each day we get a visit from Gregory, the Fruit Man. He sells fresh fruits and vegetables to the yachts in the bay. He blows a welcome on his conch horn as he approaches each boat.

These kids were getting some sailing instruction and having a little race as they passed by the stern of our boat. Maybe one of them is a future Olympian!

Jim's been doing his best at beer tasting his way through the Caribbean. In addition to the great Belgium beers we've found in the French islands, there are a lot of good local brews.

We're getting a little bit of squally weather today. Nothing serious, just some rain and the occasional wind gust. So we'll hang out here for another day or so before heading south along the coast. We'll update again at the next opportunity.