We are celebrating reaching the farthest east we’ll get this season. There are generally two ways to get from the US east coast to the eastern Caribbean. One is to leave the US and sail straight east and then south to the islands. This avoids sailing directly into the trade winds, which down south blow from the east day and night and drag the waves with them. Leaving from the US allows you to skirt them. The other way is to go south through the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands, heading east in little jumps.
This is called the Thorny Path, because each step along the way is going into the prevailing winds and seas … and this is not fun for the cruising sailor. You end up using the motor a lot. The boat is often covered in salt and the bucking and bouncing will drive you to drink. So it is with a lot of relief that we’ve reached the lovely island of Martinique, after which our course is west of south all the way to Grenada, our destination this summer.
We left the US Virgin Islands and sailed directly to the oddly bifurcated island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten. It’s half French and half Dutch – actually the French side is a little
bigger because they say it was divided by giving a Frenchman and a Dutchman a bottle of wine and gin respectively and setting them across the island to meet up in the middle. Because the Frenchman was able to hold his liquor better, he carved out more land for the French. Anyway it’s the perfect island for the boater.
The efficient Dutch have every boat part and service you might want on their side, all available duty free to promote the boating industry. The French side, of course, makes available the things in life that no true French person will live without – good wine, cheese, baguettes and produce. What a treat to come home with a fresh baguette every day. As we would come to see and love, the French do not forego any of their customary pleasures merely because they are living on a tropical island instead of the motherland. To see some more photos click here. To top it all off, we caught up with old cruising pals and spent several weeks together celebrating Carnival, Mary’s birthday and anything else we could think of. Even watching planes land.
After a month of boat jobs and island living, it was time to move on. Do you get the theme of these late season blogs – keep moving south to get out of the hurricane zone for the summer. But first we needed to stop and restock our haute couture cruise wear because our next up was to be St. Barth’s, the playground of the rich and famous. Another cheese and baguette laden island with beautiful Europeans playing in the sun. For us, though, the anchorage was quite rolly and, since we had been there before, we only stayed a few days.
Reminding us that life is not just a wine and cheese party, St. Kitts and Nevis, two islands that are thriving under self rule, reintroduced us to the rasta way of life. Here the Rastafarian influence starts to exert itself and the smell of ganga is everywhere on the streets and the chill One Love attitude prevails. Goat curry, rum punch and exotic fruits are the order of the day here. Who needs Hamilton tickets for Broadway? We went to the source and visited his birthplace right here in Nevis.
After St. Kitts & Nevis, we couldn’t resist the call back to France by way of Guadeloupe and Îles des Saintes. We bypassed Montserrat, and its brooding volcano which we’ll visit on our way back. But it’s yellow smoke and sulfurous smell even 4 miles out was unmistakeable. Volcanoes are the name of the game down here.
We say some islands are dog islands and some are cat islands, but Guadeloupe delighted us by being a chicken and goat island.
The island’s charms did not stop with barnyard animals roaming the beach. Guadeloupe and its sister islands of Îles des Saintes have a je ne sais quoi above and below the sea making it hard to resist, and why would you want to.
“Boat boys” are men who greet boaters as they arrive and offer all sorts of services, sometimes being too aggressive and sometimes even playing both sides of the security racket, if you get our meaning.
The guys on Dominica have done something unique, which we wholeheartedly support. The “boat boys” got together to organize and regularize their services. They stomped out crime against cruisers and offer moorings, ice, fuel, BBQs and other services, as well as land tours of the lush Dominican interior. They really are pleasant to deal with and make you feel quite welcome in Portsmouth, their main focus.
After getting muddy in Dominica, we returned to France by way of Martinique. The quaint little town of St. Pierre is where the entire 30,000 person population, save two, was wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 1902. The only survivors were a prisoner in jail saved by the massively thick double walls of his cell and a cobbler high on a hill.
The little museum dedicated to the eruption is interesting, as are the many walls and ruins left in town from the old town. Apart from these few relics, every thing in this town was destroyed. The museum shows a stack of drinking glasses fused together and melted down into mush, a pile of nails from a hardware store that were forged into a single mass by the heat of the volcano and porcelain dishes, usually impervious to heat, that were melted by the blast. The 4,583 ft volcano is still there looming over the town as a constant reminder. So what do you do when a volcano looms large? You hike to the top of course. Or high enough. Mt Peleé was quite a trek up and up and up. It was 90° and sunny at the bottom and 60°, foggy and windy by the time we reached the second refuge. A tough one but well worth the effort for the experience, vista and opportunity to meet several locals doing the hike, one young girl climbing barefoot. We all had to pull back on the complaining after seeing that.
It may seem like we are romping through the Caribbean … because we are. Its July when we are writing this, hurricane season is underway, and we need to be south to avoid any risk. Next season we plan to visit the islands we skipped and return to the ones we loved.