Ship's Log

October 6th, 2011 - Woburn, Grenada PART II*:

"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean, roll!"
     - Lord Byron

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, and the landmark we planned to anchor near was a big, flat rock named "The Pate".  We anchored off a postcard-perfect 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 familiar 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 Prince 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 leaving St. Thomas (tarp, hose fitting, hose).  The deluge filled our tanks - 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 at 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(!), waterfalls 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 hearts' content.

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 in sophisticated 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, salty laundry 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 safety, he 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 stern.  

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.

Powerful stuff!

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.  Since 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 snorkeling.

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.  Bah!  

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 very 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.

                                                                                                              The Guiding Force of the Universe"

Alicia & Brian

*The purpose of this site is to not only keep our friends and families up to speed on our doings, but also for our own use as a keepsake to enjoy later, after we’ve (possibly) returned to a “normal” life on land (whatever that may mean).  For the latter reason especially, we went into a lot of detail so we’ll remember as much as we can.  For this reason, the account of the trip will be broken into three chunks.  Please indulge us; it’s been a long time since we’ve gone sailing like this!


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