Sunday, 30 November 2014

Dominica – A Garden of Eden ….. June & Nov 2014

Portsmouth,  Dominica – 15 34N  61 27W
A Slightly Cryptic Blog Posting
It’s November and we have just had a quick overnight stopover in Portsmouth, Dominica.  We only stayed a night as we explored Dominica extensively on our way south in summer, but when I looked back to see what I had published I found the following posting (half finished) still in the drafts folder.  So for now I am slotting it in here as we travel north then I shall “re-post” it in its rightful place.P6040075

Back in June ….. Heading South

I have been harping on and complaining about our bashes to windward all season, 6 months of sailing hard on the wind sometimes in very messy seas has made the sailing unappealing, uncomfortable and at times very wet (in my opinion!!)  So it is with much relief and joy that I can finally report that for our sail from Les Saintes, Guadeloupe to Portsmouth, Dominica the sheets were eased all day and we sailed a close reach  – not down wind yet, but it was a very welcome step in the right direction!
Prince Rupert Bay in Portsmouth sits at the top of Dominica.  The bay is guarded by Fort Shirley, built by the  British to fight French invasions, of which it seems there were plenty.  The fort area is now a National Park with some great hiking trails around the headland.
It is close to the anchorage so along with Truant III, Little Wing and El Lobo we set off for an afternoon of exploration in the National Park.  The hiking was interesting and the trails well shaded, the views from the top were magnificent and the barracks and other buildings have been restored.  mangoes up closeAnd then there were the mango trees, fallen mangoes lay everywhere and I came back with my daypack bulging at the seams, they are just delicious and those that can’t be eaten now will end up in a huge batch of mango chutney, yummy
Up The Creek With A Paddle

We did a morning tour up the Indian River with our guide Martin (Providence Tours), it was a dawn departure, the best time of course to see the birds and enjoy the cooler part of the day.  P6040042
Martin was excellent, his ability to spot wildlife was incredible, and his knowledge of the local flora and fauna was endless.  We saw countless birds as he quietly paddled us up the Indian River,  the extensive root systems of the BloodwoodP6040036 trees clawed their way along the rivers edge and vines hung down overhead, it was all very special in the early morning light.

How They Look Before They Get To the Supermarket!!!
We tied up the canoe and set off ashore through the jungle for an informative walk, here are the fruits of the forest.

pineapple cocoa bean podpink pineapple
Above: Regular Pineapple, Cocoa Pod – inside are the cocoa beans, and Pink Pineapple                        Below: ?forgotten? and Red Bananas .. see the banana flower at the steam bottom, and bird spotting
P6050004red bananaP6040023
vanilla vine clinging to cocoa treepassionfruit vine over treepassionfruit flower

Above: Vanilla Pods clinging to Cocoa Tree, Passionfruit Vines & delicate Passionfruit flower            Below:  Jumbo Passionfruit, Cinnamon bark & Cashew Nuts and red or yellow Pod/Fruit

big passionfruit, has another namecutting cinnamon barkcashew fruit and nuts
Above:  Starfruit & Apricots (not like apricots we know but tasted the same, hard shell )                          Below:  Local Man balancing his load, Cherries & Castor Oil pods
P6050038cherriescastor oil pods
We visited a local farmer who also just happened to have a rum shack, rum and coconut milk before our morning coffee – not something we normally do but I would have to say it went down very well!!
P6040051auberginefarmers house in Domnica
Then A Full Day Island Tour
The following day we again engaged the services of Martin and we went off on a full day tour of the northern part of Dominica.  This part of the island was very diverse, we drove high up into the cloud forest where we were colder than we had been in months.  We saw bubbling sulphur pools reminiscent of New Zealand, complete with silver ferns (see the photo below of the imprint on Martins arm).

P6050048We did another nature trail discovering more fruits, flora and fauna of the forest. passed cultivated gardens etched into the sides of steep hills and then we came winding our way back down to sea level on the north east coast and visited a couple of pretty coves sheltered by outlying reefs, stopping at one for a well deserved lunch break.

Then we carried on discovering landscapes that reminded us of the Canary Islands, a bald outcrop of rich red soil sculptured over the millenniums by endless wind and waves, it stood stark and out of place on this lush tropical palm fringed coastline.
P6050060  P6050068
We had an excellent stay in Portsmouth and our two tours were excellent, Martin was an exceptional guide which makes all the difference.  It is a wild and widely undiscovered island with friendly locals, stunning scenery and millions of juicy mangoes!
Southern Dominica Still to Explore

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Martinique ~ C’est Magnifique! ….. November 2014

07 – 14 November 2014:  St Anne to Grand Anse, Martinique – 14 30N 61 05W

PB100122 Enjoying the Flavours of France

We had another run of 25 miles across the large Atlantic ocean swells to get us from Rodney Bay, St Lucia to Sainte Anne,  on the southern coast of Martinique.  Martinique lies at the top of the Windward Island chain and it was skippers goal to get here before the seasonal northeast trade winds fully developed. Martinique is considered to be the most northerly Windward Island and from here we would sail a more favourable course through the Leeward Islands before turning west in a few weeks.       

We hadn’t stopped at Sainte Anne on the way south so it was great to have somewhere new to explore, French supermarkets to investigate, the best baguettes to discover, new rum punches to sample and excellent French food to savour.  I should mention that 36 hours of non stop rain initially put a slight dampener on things, but only just.


Filling Up The Lockers

The French do take their food seriously and they make it very easy for us cruisers to access all their goodies here .  Leader Price Supermarket in nearby Le Marin even has its own dinghy dock, how could we not take advantage of that?  PB100119 So despite torrential rain we did the long dinghy ride to indulge in the flavours of France, our lockers are now overflowing with canned duck breast, tins of ratatouille, stuffed olives, salamis and pates and the fridge has never seen so many different cheeses.  Now let’s not forget the French wines and Martinique rums, the dinghy was chocka full – all the shopping was wrapped in black bin liners so it wouldn’t get too wet and the provisioning excursion was complete. 

Downwind At Last

After 5 enjoyable nights at Ste Anne we finally managed a downwind sail along the bottom of Martinique, around the western tip and up to Grand Anse D’Arlet in company with FeijáoGrand Anse But us sailors are never happy, it was dead downwind and we didn’t put the pole out so we gybed backwards and forwards, rolling from one side to the other – but at least we weren’t beating to windward and it was only 15 miles.

About 200 mooring buoys have been laid in the large bay so we hooked on to one and settled in to watch the sun dip over the horizon.  We had planned to stay just the one night but it was such a pretty bay it deserved further exploration.  With Gina and Lenny we did a walk around to neighbouring Petit Anse D’Arlet the following day, it was a cute small seaside hamlet with colourful buildings, a restored church, lovely beach and we found fresh avocados and still warm baguettes – yummy.


Back in Grande Anse D’Arlet we found a shacky beach bar where the wavelets almost lapped at our toes as we ended another great day, Gina and I discovered a rather potent brew of Planteurs Punch while the skippers relaxed over a few local beers, a wonderful spot for sundowners.

Our weather window to head north was closing, so unfortunately we couldn’t linger any longer.  We had a dawn departure the following morning again in company with Gina and Lenny on Feijáo and headed north to Dominica.

Petit Anse de ArletPB130139PB130134

The French Islands – They Are Hard To Beat

Monday, 10 November 2014

Whizzing Through the Windward Islands ….. Oct/Nov 2014

28 Oct – 06 Nov 2014:  Tyrrel Bay, Carriacoú to Rodney Bay, St Lucia ~ 14 04N 60 57W


Farewell to Grenada

We were sad to leave Grenada, it had been all work and no play since we returned from England and we didn’t really feel as if we had done it justice this time around.  Conditions were perfect for us to start our journey north, light winds were blowing from the south east, seas were flat, the skies were clear – doesn’t come much better.

Conditions were also ideal to stay in the Grenadines and linger a little longer, visit the small islands we hadn’t previously been to and enjoy the area while there was an easing of the trades.  It was very tempting, we feel this area is one of the best in the Eastern Caribbean chain, with small islands close together, pretty anchorages, clear water and partly sheltered waters.PA290090

But the lull in the trades and a favourable slightly southerly wind angle also meant we could get through the Windward Islands without having to beat to windward.  Having previously visited this area during the infamous “Christmas Trades” we had no desire to experience those winds again and felt we just couldn’t pass this chance up. 

We had a lovely sail the first day up to Tyrrel Bay on the western coast of Carriacou amongst a large flotilla of yachts travelling north, including Australians Lenny and Gina on Feijáo and Canadians Jeff and Janet on Truant 3.  The Skippers all went into race mode and a fun day was had, rounded off with a few ice cold beers ashore as we watched the sun dip over the horizon.  


Back to Bequia

We had a leisurely start to the morning, checked out , farewelled Truant 3 and left in company with Feijáo with plans to stop at maybe Union Island or Mayreau for the night.  But once we had the sails set we were flying along in flat water, conditions were delightful and we calculated that if the breeze held we could make Bequia before dusk, and we did.  We have anchored in Bequia 3 times now and despite rating it as one of our favourite islands on our first visit  we didn’t go ashore on our way back down to Grenada or this time either, shame really.PA290085

It was an early night for us and a dawn departure, the winds were forecast to move more around to the east so we cracked on.  The channel between Bequia and St Vincent was comfortable enough and its only around 10 miles across so we were in the lee of St Vincent with calm seas again in time for breakfast.   A very pleasant sail followed in wonderful flat water, the vista of St Vincent a magnificent backdrop.  Hundreds of shades of green painted the landscape as lush virgin rainforest folded down very steep valleys dropping off sharply into the deep blue Caribbean.

P6110015 A Very Mixed Bag

The advantage of being in a convoy of yachts is that generally someone is in front of us, today was no exception.  So it was with some trepidation we forged on out of the lee of St Vincent and into to the channel between it and St Lucia.  We could see the seas running, a big Atlantic swell was rolling through with angry whitecaps flying off in the accelerated winds.  The forward boats heeled well over or rounded up with too much sail  as the gusts hit them – hang on fellas!! 

We had a reef in the main, rolled up the headsail and headed out like another little lamb to the slaughter.  We had gusts in the mid 30’s knots, sustained low 20’s and a very agitated sea, what a difference to the previous channel just a couple of hours ago.  Leaving the Pitons heading south, June 2014Balvenie galloped across coping well in the washing machine water state: wash – rinse – agitate – spin, on about a one minute cycle!!  Eventually the seas settled down, we rolled the headsail out a little and flew across the waves towards St Lucia.  

We had planned to stop at Soufriere on a park mooring nestled under the spectacular Pitons.  We had stayed there on our way south earlier in the season  and I was keen to return.  Skipper had Rodney Bay in his sights and there was no debating with him, when we entered calmer water the full headsail was unleashed, the winds were steady and Balvenie flew along in flat water doing over 7 knots heading for the finish line.  P6130018 We slipped into Rodney Bay with seconds of daylight remaining, dawn to dusk  - nearly 70 miles in just over 12 hours , an excellent effort.

Time to Get Blown Up

Our main reason for stopping at St Lucia was to have our liferaft serviced.  It is over 20 years old and we needed to make sure it was up for the journey across the Pacific.  We took it into the liferaft service centre and spent a morning with them as they carefully opened the outer shell,  removed the gas cylinders (they automatically inflate it in an emergency) unpacked the liferaft, and took out all the contents - then the moment of truth – will it inflate???  The air hose was attached and our big bouncy castle began to take shape.  

We were very happy and relieved to see our liferaft fully inflated in almost perfect condition, in the words of our service man “they don’t make them like this anymore”. PB030102 Give us a “Made in Japan” label any day – China might produce the quantity of goods these days but we are yet to find anything of quality that comes from its shores, especially in the marine industry.

We spent a week in St Lucia waiting for the return of our bouncy castle.  Feijáo were anchored nearby so we had company for happy hours.  A few more boats jobs were completed, skipper serviced our primary winches, stainless steel was cleaned and polished (no shortage of water when the thunder clouds gathered) and we finally started to kick back and take things easy.  We did an afternoon excursion to nearby Pigeon Island Fort & National Park, an enjoyable hike afforded some excellent views across Rodney Bay, south to the Pitons and north to Martinique.

PB050103 PB050107 PB050108 PB050112

We lost a day as we were not happy with the seal around the liferaft on completion so asked for it to be re-done.  As with our moan about “Made in China” products we are getting sick and tired of having inferior work done but top prices being charged for them.  The following day the liferaft returned with a watertight seal, as it should have the previous day.

Enough of St Lucia ….. Time for a Taste of France