So, where were we? Our last update had us reluctantly leaving
pretty little DesHaies in Guadeloupe, stuffed with French bread and
cheese, in a clean boat stocked and ready for the next leg of our trip.
"Pass the pate, si vous plait."
Our next stop was Iles des Saintes, a wonderful small sprinkling of
islands south of
Guadeloupe, a perfect miniature cruising area all its own. Throughout our
charts, the French people's love of food shines through in the way they named
various little rocks and islands; we passed two "sugar bread" islands, one cake,
the landmark we planned to anchor near was a big, flat rock named "The
Pate". We anchored off a
beach and watched grinning French vacationers zip around in pastel
colored little wooden powerboats. It was a peaceful night in
the quintessential picture of paradise, and we had to leave
straightaway the next morning. Boo! This quick-paced
island hopping thing doesn't suit us at all. Anyone who's
in the least with this log knows that when we find a place we like, we
usually drop anchor and explore for, oh, anywhere between 5 to 20
months. The Saints would've been a delightful place to explore
for at least a couple of weeks, but we pushed ourselves on in the
name of safety.
Sorry, perfect little beach, we've got to tear...
Hard on the wind, on droned our engine to Dominica, and we anchored in huge
Rupert Bay. Dominica is all mountains; essentially none of it
is flat. The island's verdant peaks (some nearly 5,000
feet tall) attract rainclouds like nobody's business; in fact, it's
one of the wettest places in the world. Average yearly rainfall
in the mountains on the windward side is in the neighborhood of 200
inches! Unsurprisingly, a rain squall was approaching right after
we anchored, so we put out the simple raincatcher we made before
St. Thomas (tarp, hose fitting, hose). The deluge filled our
- 120 gallons total- in 20 minutes flat! Distilled from
clouds from far across the open Atlantic, away from any land-based
source of air pollution, this water was extraordinarily delicious and
pure. Better still, we didn't have to burn any diesel to make it
with our desalinator! The best things in life are indeed free, or
least under twenty bucks or so for the cost of a rain-catching device.
Looking south, and here comes the free water!
Between showers, looking east, it's the Purple Turtle Beach Club.
It's hard to see, but a cluster of local kids are playing with a rope swing tied to a palm tree,
swinging over the water to do cannonballs. Luckies!
Our two nights transiting Dominica were bittersweet. The gorgeous interior
beckoned and our guidebook teased us with descriptions of all the
natural wonders this island is blessed with: 365 rivers(!),
galore, hot springs, hiking trails everywhere, a "boiling lake" heated
by an underground pocket of
magma, and a colony of Carib Indians, the original inhabitants of the
Caribbean all but wiped out by various European superpowers hundreds of
years ago. Hauling up the anchor the next morning and sailing
past the incredible scenery of the western side was torture!
Imagine being a big game enthusiast and finally getting to go on
an African safari, only to have to speed through non-stop at 80 miles
per hour. You press your nose against the window and whimper as
elephants, zebras, and lions all become tiny specks in the rear-view
mirror as quickly as you can spot them, and that's pretty close to how
we felt on this trip south. But Dominica is no place to be in a
bad storm; there's not one protected anchorage to be had on the whole island. So away we
went, vowing to come back to Dominica soon to explore, unrushed, to our
Ugh! That vertical stripe is one of the dozens of waterfalls. Dominica, you make it hard to leave.
We pushed on from Price Rupert Bay to the capital city, Roseau.
It's an extremely deep harbor; only about 300 feet from
shore, the water is still 80' deep. Three hundred feet further
out than that, the depth drops to over 600 feet deep. The shelf around the rim of the harbor shallow enough to drop
an anchor on was so narrow that SARABANDE's stern was only a few car
lengths from shore! Unsettling to be that close to land, and it
wasn't a great night - the wind completely died at sunset and we
drifted even closer to shore. Cars on the nearby road sounded
much too close and the oddness of it all kept us tossing and turning.
Pretty sunset water.
The next morning, we said goodbye to the rugged views of
Dominica, and bounced uncomfortably over the open sea, singing
ourselves hoarse to amuse little James, and arrived finally
Martinique. In the previous
French island, we'd faced a dirty diaper crisis; at this new one,
we faced an across-the-board laundry "situation". The diapers had
piled up, of course, and the captain and
admiral were scraping the dregs of their wardrobes. Our damp,
pile was getting high and stinky. We decided in favor of a quick
pit stop in St. Pierre, since our guide promised easy access to a
do-it-yourself launderette (no offense to Washie, of course, but when a
cheap laundromat is available, it's certainly quicker), an outdoor
veggie market, and some intriguing ruins. We felt safe stopping
for a day or two since Martinique has couple of OK hurricane holes we
could run to if something came up.
As you can see, there are some hidey-holes behind Pointe de Bout and down near Marin should any nastiness present itself.
Heavy rain diminished our view as we approached the northwestern tip from the sea, so we
were less than a mile away before formidable Mont
Pelee, an astonishing, vivid green giant, suddently emerged, towering, from the mist. Puttering past a local rowing
competition, we anchored at the foot of the volcano and in front of the
little town of St. Pierre (or, more accurately, we anchored three times
- holding was really poor and we had a hard time gettting the anchor set).
A dormant killer!
St. Pierre hasn't always been a small town; at the turn of the 20th
century, it hummed with a cosmopolitan French population of 30,000.
Plantations exported millions of dollars worth of sugar,
rum, coffee and cocoa, and the place was such a hub people
called it "Paris of the Carribean". But a little before that time, it was also the area
where the last remaining native Caribs were murdered by the European
invaders. The Caribs are said to have invoked desperate curses before
they died, begging the volcano to avenge them. And then, many years later, May 8th, 1902, it did.
It was Acension Day, so there were lots of people out and about, going
to church and preparing feasts for the holiday. Eyewitnesses from
Fort de France in the south reported that just after
8am, they saw the side of Mont Pelee swell and explode,
releasing an enormous fireball of glowing-hot gases onto the town
below. The intense energy and heat of this fireball leveled the
bustling town and sunk the 12 ships anchored in the
harbor. Only two people survived: a cobbler in his
basement and a murderer in the town prison. Everyone and
everything else was burned into oblivion.
Ruins lining the waterfront.
St. Pierre's destroyed theater
The saddest part is the townspeople could've been saved. The
volcano had been rumbling for
a month before and had even had several smaller eruptions in the days
leading up to the major one. These warning signs made people
wonder whether they should leave town (and a wise few did). But
the mayor, not from the island and in office for less than a year,
chose not to order an evacuation and told the town to sit tight.
There was an election coming up, and, listening to the wealthy
plantation owners who would've lost revenue if workers left town for
chose to wait and see. It was spooky to be anchored right in front of some
ruins, knowing the skeletons of the sunken tallships were just off our
Anchored at the foot of Pelee.
Too lazy to wrestle the outboard onto the dinghy, the next morning we rowed in with our passports and ship's papers,
hustling through the crowded streets only to learn that the
appointed customs clearance agent was a) closed and b) no longer handling customs anyway.
We followed our noses to the nearest open patisserie to
regroup, have a little coffee, and break our fasts with whole wheat
pain au chocolate. There seems to be almost no difficulty that
eating French pastries cannot vastly improve!
Mr. Jimmy Jams can't decide what to choose.
Much cheered, we set about locating the laundromat. After a
couple of hours, we'd found the town's garden, the outdoor market, the
grocery store, a drug store, and an outstanding creperie instead.
The town's architexture is a stylish mixture of old and new:
rather than tear down the charred ruins of the structures that survived
the eruption, people resourcefully chose to incorporate them in
their new buildings. Eventually we gave up on the laundry mission
and wandered around being tourists - American
tourists, unable to speak any French beyond "hello", "thank you"
and "would you like to dance with me?", no less! James was an
excellent ambassador, and we envied him more than a little, since he
didn't have to do any of the talking. Note to selves: it
turns out that in the French islands, the people speak, of all things,
uh, French! Learn a little bit before
you arrive! Anyway, with lots of smiling and some apologetic
sign language, we got by enough to come back to the boat with bellies
full of spinach and brie crepes, and arms full of baguettes, bananas
and tomatoes. We'd failed our mission to
clear customs, but we were happy with our day nonetheless. Breakin' the law! Breakin' the law!
Bead jewelry at the market made entirely of tropical pods and seeds. Alicia wanted one of each!
James makes a quick call on his tiny banana phone.
The next morning, we found the hidden customs officer up near the
museum. We sprang for the modest entrance fee, and found
the place both haunting and gloriously air-conditioned. A museum
employee helpfully gave us a tour in English, but the charred, melted
display pieces mostly spoke for themselves. Carib curse or no,
nature had truly decimated this town. In a somewhat mournful mood, we left
the museum and stumbled upon the mysterious laundromat at last!
We retrieved our smelly pile from the boat and Alicia went on a
washing spree while Brian and James went on a man-to-man photo expedition.
The hilly streets made it a photo expedition and a cardio workout.
The next morning, with fresh clean
clothes and a reserve of baguettes, we puttered southwards. The
weather report promised great weather for the next week or so, not a
tropical wave in sight, and we were determined to seize the opportunity to use
it well. After a somewhat rolly night in Anse Mitan, and a quick motor across
the bay to bustling Fort du France to check out with customs, we set our sights
on St. Lucia and our friend George of ROCINANTE.
Barca de Jorge
George is an old
pal from our days at Liberty Landing Marina in good old Dirty Jersey,
where the only way to live aboard in the wintertime is to build a
structure of 2x4s on the deck of your boat and shrinkwrap the whole
shebag from the waterline up. It's what all the maniacs do in
winter, and George was a fellow bubble-dweller like us on I-Dock.
leaving NYC, George has dismasted, re-masted, sailed down the Thorny
Path, been personally screamed at by Bruce Van Sant, become a
single-hander, and a few months after sailing into St. Lucia to make
some boat repairs became the Dean
of St. Lucia's medical school! He's truly a one-of-a-kind cat,
and it was a pleasure to drop the hook right behind his boat in
beautiful Rodney Bay. We almost ran over him, in fact; he was
We had a good catch up with our old buddy, and then it was time to pay
the piper: all that motoring on the wind doesn't come free!
We paid through the nose for 75 gallons of fuel at the Rodney Bay
Marina fuel dock. We were wondering whether fuel prices would
decrease as we got further down the island chain and closer to oil-rich
Venezuela, and the sad answer turned out to be no. But with the
summer wind firmly in the South East and storms brewing off the coast
of Africa, we didn't have a choice. So we took it on the chin and
filed the whole experience away under "Lessons Learned the Hard Way".
We bid George adios and continued (with the wind still right on
the nose, natch) on to our next stop, St. Lucia's Pitons.
Pitons, we're coming for ya!
Now, we were more than a little excited about the Pitons anchorage.
Back in NY, when we were dreaming about cruising, the used
bookstores were full of cruising guides from the 70's, and we purchased
an immodest number of them. All of them raved about the beauty of
this spot, making much about the fact that it was so deep that the only
way to secure your boat was to tie a stern line to a palm tree on
shore. Nothing says "Look at me! I'm cruising in a tropical
paradise!" like tying your boat up to a palm tree, after all, and in
our heart of hearts we were looking forward to doing so. Late
that afternoon, when we saw those eery, ragged peaks rising up before
us, things were looking very promising. But as we got closer, we
could make out a string of mooring balls, and closer still, a resort.
Out of nowhere, a hot pink pirogue piloted by two boys
sped up and offered to help us pick up a mooring for 25 EC (8.30
US). When we say 'boys', we mean literally children; the oldest
kid couldn't have been more than 13, and his little brother looked 9 or
10. It was Sunday, so we didn't have to worry about whether they
were abandoning their education in favor of making money off of
idle rich cruising sailors like ourselves. And really, they were
charming boys. For 20 EC, we decided that it was awfully
difficult for us to pick up a mooring all by ourselves. When we
finally did arrive, we were actually very grateful they were there, since the
weird wind and current without a doubt would've made for some
ungraceful snatching at the pennants on our part, never good for the
interpersonal dynamics of our crew.
We cleated off the mooring
penant, thanked the boys, declined their offers to bring us fish or
fruit or anything else, and settled down to relax. Photography
was a little frustrating, since it would've taken either an immensely
wide lens, or the energy to get off our butts and into the dinghy to
capture both peaks at the same time. We had neither of these
things. And we were OK with that. It was dusk,
the sky was clear, and when the sun went down we saw a green flash!
Piton #1 off our bow.
Piton #2 off the stern. For such an amazing anchorage, these photos are simply pathetic.
One of those "you had to be there" situations that it's so boring to be outside of, sadly.
Then, as the sky faded to a dark, royal blue and stars
began to emerge, the two peaks became dark, otherworldly silhouettes
and the little twinkling lights from the nearby resort were not nearly
as obnoxious as we worried they'd be. Another plus for the resort
was that they were featuring a really good steel pan player doing
nice, mellow songs and it was a pleasure to be eating our dinner out in
the cockpit, enjoying the soft music and staring at the Piton peaks.
There's something so strange about them at night - they seemed
almost alive. Before long, the eastern sky began to lighten, and
just as the steel pan player segued into "What A Wonderful World", an
enormous full moon burst up from the treeline and slowly rose,
perfectly centered, between the two Piton peaks. A warm breeze
rustled the leaves of the palm trees on the beach, touching our faces
gently, smelling like flowers.
"Oh, for Pete's sake," we said to ourselves. "This is almost too
much!" This anchorage, on that night, not only lived up to the
expectations we'd set out with as frozen city slickers almost three
years ago, but far surpassed them. We soaked up the moonlight and
music and felt entirely at peace as SARABANDE gently bobbed, tethered
to our humungous megayacht mooring in 168 feet of water. It was
as though a little note on beautiful stationery from the guiding
force of the universe had come in the mail, reading,
"Dear Alicia and Brian, in case you were
wondering, yes: what you're doing with yourselves
is utterly correct.
Force of the Universe"