Monday, February 17, 2014

St. Lucia, Martinique & Îles des Saintes

February 17th 2014

Position 15° 52.304’ N
              61° 35.116’ W

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We cruised north from Grenada and travelled directly to St. Lucia our destination being Marigot Bay famous for where Admiral Rodney used palm fronds lashed to his fleets masts to disguise them and
Approaching St. Lucia the
Pitons are conspicuous
hid from the French. Admiral Rodney eventually defeated the French fleet and Admiral De Grasse in 1746. It is very easy to see how Rodney pulled this off as the sand spit which protrudes from
Our first night in Marigot Bay
the northern side of the bay is covered in palm trees so the fleet being strategically place behind it with their palm frond ‘dressing’ made for the perfect disguise. We spent three days in Marigot, did some hiking and enjoyed a good rest after our trip from Grenada. From Marigot we cruised up to Rodney Bay and anchored in the huge bay for a week we walked through the national park and to the fort on the northern end of the bay. In St. Lucia we met Marty and Deb Campenella who own ‘Bay Pelican’ another 42’ Kadey Krogen, in fact number 76, four on from ‘Partners’. We visited with them in the marina where they are based and were getting some repairs before cruising north to Sainte Anne’s in Martinique. We invited them to ‘Partners’ out at anchor in the bay but unfortunately they couldn’t make it. This is where we met ‘Aquarelle’ with Terry and Evelyn, they did make it for cocktails and we had a very pleasant evening with the two of them. After a short visit to St. Lucia it was time to move on, we will return to spend much more time exploring this big island. The next morning we set off at dawn for our passage to Martinique, a rough trip but we made it safely.

Martinique is the first of the French West Indies Islands we have visited with ‘Partners’. We have visited St. Bart’s while on a Caribbean cruise some years ago. This year it is our plan to spend most of the winter cruising the French islands, Martinique, Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe, St. Bart’s and Saint Martin. Martinique is a department of France and therefore benefits from many of the things one would be familiar with in Europe, good roads, plentiful consumer goods, well stocked supermarkets and, oh, the wonderful food, wine and coffee! Thankfully a large part of the population speaks English! Lavinia does speak some French which helps; unfortunately I either didn’t pay enough attention in school or am suffering from a bad memory because I don’t. There are a lot of Frenchmen sailing the Caribbean and it seems that most of them are here! The French like the French and as unfamiliar as things generally appear foreign to us they are obviously familiar to the French. The very well stocked chandleries are full of French and German products, the grocery stores only have French items. We have not seen any familiar US or British products, none! In most of the other islands there is a mixture of British, American and European items...our conclusion is that the French do make a point of being French and do not show much tendency towards integration! Le Marin is the centre of yachting here in Martinique. If you need anything it can be found here. Any and all services are available and there is a wide choice of each. One thing which is very apparent is that the businesses here unlike Trinidad, for example, understand instant gratification; the shelves are full, no ordering here. If your heart desires it, the chances are you can get what you want in Le Marin. We had some trouble with our generator, which wouldn’t start! The local Westerbeke dealer came promptly to us in the Le Marin marina where we were able to get a berth at short notice. The diagnosis a 20 amp fuse! While we were marine bound we met three young sailors from ‘Tyke’ an ocean racer cruising sailing boat moored in front of us. They kindly invited us on board to see her and to enjoy sundowners with them. As I have said before this life is not just about freedom and travel but about all the interesting people one meets. The two men were Italian and were the crew, they had a guest crew member who had joined them for the sail north from St. Lucia to here. She was half Italian and half American, spoke perfect English, Italian and French and was pretty! Lucky guys! We left the marina and made the short trip to Sainte Anne.  

Nearby, just along the coast to the South is the small town of Saint Anne’s, a beautiful little enclave mostly unspoiled by tourism and a ‘Mecca’ for us boaters. The azure blue waters and calm anchorage beckon; the narrow streets with their friendly vendors all encourage a visit and exploration. This could be one of those places which is hard to leave...

The priorities, a boulangerie, the vegetable market, a liquor store and beautiful beach are all here. Our first trip ashore was to the beach where we found clear water and fine white sand. It is protected from the wind which allows calm water with no waves, wonderful. Along the half mile long beach are restaurants and bars, not too many just enough for a choice and easy accessibility, we floated in the perfect temperature water for an hour it was pure heaven. The saline content of the water is high and one can float very easily. Now remember that we are in early February, mid-winter for the northern hemisphere, and here we are basking in 84°F sunshine and swimming in 80° water. Our anchorage is in 17’ of clear water where we can see the mostly sandy bottom. Reefs, plus the headland of Saline, gives protection from the prevailing seas and wind, so it is calm. We woke up the next morning to new arrivals ‘Receta’ with Steve and Ann aboard also Terry and Evelyn from ‘Aquarelle’, who we had met in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, both had anchored in the bay. Our great friends Bill & Ann on board ‘Ann Louise’ had arrived back in Trinidad on the 3rd February after a visit to their home in Georgia for Christmas and New Year and were going to make an attempt, weather permitting, to ‘jump’ the 200+ miles from Chaguaramas, Trinidad to Sainte Anne’s and join us. We were really pulling for them and for the weather to stay travelable so they could get to Martinique, they made it! After the welcoming Bloody Mary’s and breakfast on board ‘Partners’ plans were made for some serious nonstop socializing. With the eight of us here, there is only one word to describe the ensuing days…fun! For the next few days we had some great gatherings. On Monday the 10th it was time for us to leave, we were sad to say our goodbyes especially to ‘Ann Louise’ as they were going south again back to St. Lucia. Due to the sale of their home they would be leaving from St. Lucia in March to return to the US for the closing. All this meant was that sadly we would be losing our travelling buddies for several months. Our plans will take us to Puerto Rico by mid-April so we can return to Florida and meet our children and grandchildren for Easter. Our goodbye to Bill and Ann included a promise to meet up again ‘somewhere’ south for hurricane season. ‘Receta’ would travel the same route as us stopping at Portsmouth on the island of Dominica and then on to Iles des Saintes and Guadeloupe so we were looking forward to their company.
Not always great weather in the Caribbean
'Receta' in Portsmouth, Dominica
Approaching Iles des Saintes
Cruise ship 'Wind Surf'
Our cruise to Dominica was a bit on the rough side with wind at a constant 25knts and seas to about 8’ - 10’. Our stabilizers helped but it was still a trip that could be over as soon as possible. After 4½ hours we were, at last, in the lee of Dominica where miraculously all went calm. After a really pleasant cruise to the northern port of Portsmouth we anchored in 30’ of water but rolled constantly because of the Atlantic swell which was curling round the north end of the island. I woke up at 02:30 and that was it…a long day ensued! Fortunately the passage from Portsmouth to Les Saintes is only 18 nm so with a slight drop in the wind and the sea from yesterday the trip was much shorter and calmer. Oh Les Saintes, these islands are picturesque to look at as one approaches and the archipelago reveals itself, upon arrival one can’t help but smile. The islands are isolated, no big aircraft come here, some tourist arrive by ferry every day from Point a Pitre, Guadeloupe so there are visitors other than cruisers. The islands, however, do cater to cruisers. The main ‘Bourg’ Terre de Haut boarders a protected bay and provides mooring balls at a very reasonable charge. We eagerly motored to our chosen ball and moored up. With the dinghy lowered and equipped with our ships papers we set off to clear in and then walk around to get the lie of the land. Boy, this cruising travelling stuff is fun! Approaching a new island and destination port is always fun and full of mystery and expectation. I used to be concerned about finding customs and immigration, where to dispose of garbage and generally gain the lay of the land...not any more; it is just the cruising life. Everything unfolds and the locals have always been helpful even in the French islands with the language barrier. Most islands will grant three months entry and some six without special request.

Les Saintes are a small cluster of islands that comprise two that are inhabited and several that are not, the whole land mass only covers 4.9 square miles so they are small. The population is about 3,000, 1,900 who live on Terre-de-Haut and the balance on Terre-de-Basse. Scooters and tiny electric cars are the transport of choice, one walks in the road and the vehicular traffic simply winds its way past and between the pedestrians. The pace of life is slow but oh how civilized. The shops all close for 2½ hours at lunch time reopen at 3 then close again around 6. The French locals like a leisurely lunch and really make the time for it. One immediately realizes that there is more to life than the daily rat race. We naturally, after only one day slipped into these ways. The first day I said to HT “let’s get a sandwich for lunch”, well sandwich shops which abound in the States don’t here, each small restaurant, and there are many, post their menu de jour on a blackboard, in beautiful hand writing, which lists the choices of the three courses available for lunch and we quickly realized a sandwich for lunch is not the 'done' thing! Dinner in the evening is another lengthy affair. An early dinner would be at 7 o’clock finishing 3 -4 hours later. The most popular time to sit down is 8.

The day after we had arrived ‘Receta’ and George and Jan on ‘Wild Cat’ sailed in. We had not met George and Jan, friends of Steve and Ann on ‘Receta’ so a cocktail evening onboard ‘Receta’ set that to rights. Great hors d'oeuvres were served courtesy of Ann, foodie extraordinaire. We meet such nice people as we cruise, we really do. On Valentine’s Day the 6 of us made a reservation at Les Petits Saintes restaurant, one of the finest in the French West Indies. We finish our outstanding, superb, wonderful etc., etc., meal at 11:30. It ended with Xavier Simon, the chef, coming to talk to

Our table
us and he was gracious enough to explain some of his techniques and ingredients. The meal was truly memorable and the presentation simply both creative and beautifully artistic. For those interested, here is a link to the Hotel and Restaurants website, they have pictures of some of their dishes... Having come from Europe where leisurely eating is more widely practiced, my ways had been amended during the 30 plus years I have lived in the USA where customs are different, so this pleasant reminder of the art of food and the way to savour it was fabulous, there is no table turn over here...

We were due to say our goodbyes to Les Saintes today but an undesirable weather report is going to keep us here for another week, oh yes! Sooo, what does this mean? Yep, more buttery croissants, delicious pastries, real bread and baguettes, tasty coffee and oh, that wonderful food. The scenery and water are pretty good too!

The anchorage at Terre-de-Haut can be a little uncomfortable at night as the wind drops and allows ones boat to sit in the small wave troughs, not bad enough to cause a loss of sleeps, however, but still a bit of a nuisance when moving around the boat, also the most uncomfortable rolling is when, with total disregard for the cruising boats in the bay, the high speed ferries speed by to the ferry dock. These boats travel at close to 30 knots and you can imagine the wake that they create, yes, glass breaking rolls ensue...thank heaven we can hear them coming and can prepare and thank goodness they don’t run at night! Iles des Saintes will definitely go down as a special place and one of our favourite destinations.

To close this entry I must pass a compliment to the French islands we have visited so far. They really have gone out of their way to accommodate the cruiser by building sturdy welcoming dinghy docks everywhere, they also provide accessible convenient garbage disposal and are the first islands we have visited that recycle, with containers for disposal on almost every street corner, bravo!

Life is good...     

Lavinia at the windward shore, Pigeon Island

We saw this Windjammer while at Marigot
When one sees the palm trees one
can just imagine Admiral Rodney
inside with this fleet

The fort at Pigeon Island, St. Lucia

Partners in Rodney Bay

Oh, the water!

Jet ski racing at St. Anne's Martinique

YT relaxing on the aft deck with a cohiba