Monday, 23 February 2015

Grenada at a push

You will have to read between the lines of this post. For those who can't, I apologise, but there are some things that don't go on the blog and because of that our plotting may seem obtuse. 

We have slid rather quickly down the arc of the Windward Islands. Forget the frog and the lily pads. What was I thinking? Enki is a racehorse. She loves to run at speed, and the Caribbean is such a great track. From St Pierre down to St Anne in the south of Martinique she blitzed the competition in a gruelling 15-mile tacking duel (well, only one other boat was involved but how many boats do you need to make a yacht race?). After the briefest of pauses in St Anne's vast turquoise anchorage, she shot straight through to Grenada on an unscheduled overnighter.

The dock at St Anne's anchorage, Martinique

Saturday afternoon wedding in downtown St Anne

The market is over

On the phone to Robyn

Emails and more emails....and more beers too

We put 160 miles under our belt, leaving St Anne at 0730 on Sunday and dropping anchor just inside the surf break off the eastern point of Prickly Bay at 1130 on Monday. The sailing was superb. The one thing you can say about the Caribbean is that the wind will always blow. We haven't taken on diesel since we left the Canaries.

Off the west coast of St Lucia (and below)

St Vincent obscured

We bypassed St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, because Grenada is generally considered to be outside the hurricane belt . Hurricane Ivan in 2004 put a giant hole in that theory, but still, Grenada along with Trinidad complies with most insurance company demands vis a vis hurricane season (July to November).  If I'd had to fly home immediately (which was on the cards), Alex could have organised to haul the boat at one of two acceptable marinas, one of them at the head of Prickly Bay and the other just a few bays further east on Grenada's south coast. Flights leave Grenada daily for the US mainland.

The luxuriance of Grenada's south coast (and below)

Enki is now at rest,  awaiting her next riding instructions. Over the past few days, the urgency to fly home has decreased though underlying anxiety hasn't, and we are considering our options, as people say. A tea leaf reader would help. That person not being available, we are very grateful for Grenada's superior 4G mobile communications. For the first time in many many weeks we are able to respond to emails from home in more or less real time, and to Skype.

Prickly Bay is somewhere I was curious about anyway. It's a popular place for people to stay living aboard their boats during the hurricane season. Afloat, that is.  Alex says he couldn't do that, sit at anchor, or on a mooring (there are a lot of moorings down here), watching the hurricanes spawn on the African west coast and waiting heart-in-mouth to see where they make landfall. Which island would cop the big one this year? Antigua seems to have more strikes than the average as does St Lucia, but people leave their boats in reputable marinas on both these islands, their keels sunk into the ground, hulls bolted down with steel cables, dis-masted, etc etc. This is all foreign to us but perfectly normal Caribbean practice.

The Pricky Bay marina bar - Carib beer is the local brew

In February, no-one is thinking hurricanes in Prickly Bay. They're thinking pizzas at the marina  restaurant (half price on Monday night), happy hour every night, live music and films in the sound shell and all day long an abundance of sun and wind so that power generation at anchor is the least of your worries. It's a very different kind of cruising here from the Mediterranean where yachts share harbours with fishing boats and the town/village is just off your stern. Places like Prickly Bay are not quite gated yachting communities, but a little that way. You lock yourself into the boat at night. You chain your dinghy to the boat. And the life of the island is elsewhere. Thus far we've found it a 30 minute bus ride away in St George's. There's more to come.

Every bus has a name - something catchy

On the waterfront (the Carenage) in St George's - and below

Looking down St George's steep slopes to the cruise ship dock

Friday morning market day (and below)

St George's is the hub. We'll be there often, I expect, because I can't live without fresh fruit and vegetables. The St George's market ladies are hustlers. Alban, he of the gold tooth and the sly smile, warned me about them.

Alban the charmer

He was set up on the footpath just opposite the bus stop. I told him I'd come back to buy his sweet potatoes, but he was dubious. "Those ladies in the market can be very persuasive," he said. He was right, but I did come back for his potatoes. And his mandarins. I'd already bought pigeon peas from Joan, who we met on the bus going into town. She was our first market lady though I didn't realise it at the time. She had me sized up. Good on her. She sold me a bag of peas, some tomatoes and a couple of christophenes from her basket,  produce the restaurant she was delivering to didn't want, she said. Once she'd sold them, she'd be on the bus back to Grenville, 45 minutes north on the east coast of the island. I guess she got home early.

The haul - washed and dried

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Swinging by Dominica

Portsmouth, Dominica (and below)

A different kind of yacht - motor sailing out of the Saints anchorage
We’re picking our way south through the eastern Caribbean pond like frogs hopping between lily pads.  We estimate the length of the jump, and the conditions for making it, we launch ourselves, and three or four hours later, sometimes longer, we land. Plop.  Another country.  Another set of formalities (and another internet barrier). We’re beginning to get a feeling for how things roll in the pond. We’re beginning to distinguish variations in the pond too. Not all lily pads are the same.

Prince Rupert Bay anchorage at Portsmouth

Most people apparently recognise this hut on the Indian River

Our guide, Sea Bird (Jeffrey) told us we were the first people he'd ever met who'd never seen the movies made on the river - Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3

Yesterday we hopped over from Roseau, on Dominica, to St Pierre on Martinique. You couldn’t pick two more different lily pads, though both are in glorious natural settings (the pond is beautiful – that goes without saying) and both have or had the title “island capital”.

Main street Roseau

Government House, Dominica

Public library, Roseau

Roseau is a dirt poor place with a smattering of  self-important institutions. A parliament. A university. A national broadcaster.  A cricket stadium.  Tourists come for what’s outside the town, the waterfalls and jungle, the mountains, the parrots, the sulphur springs, but for us this time it was the life on the street we saw. The roads barely paved but thick with traffic. The people congregated on the narrowest of footpaths (or in the deep gutters), sitting alone in deep shade on the lush grass of the botanic gardens, idling on the verandah of the many-sided public library, crouching on doorsteps almost in the road. The way they moved their bodies, even those on crutches, or pushing carts. Sensually. Their habit of greeting you as you walked by, even the young toughs. Especially the young toughs.  “Hello sweetheart,” a hand extended.


(Alex was feeling a bit off colour while we were in Roseau, so I'm switching for to a set of photos he took at the market in Portsmouth, in the north of the island - you could transplant the people to Roseau, I think, though perhaps I'm taking liberties here). 

I don’t imagine that St Pierre ever felt like Roseau, though it too was once an island capital.  St Pierre measured itself by European standards. It had an 800-seat theatre, modeled on one in Bordeaux.  Its main street was (and remains) named for Victor Hugo, and people apparently called the town the Paris of the Antilles. St Pierre’s prosperity was built on sugar and, until slavery was outlawed by the French in 1848, on trade in African people who worked the plantations. 

Mt Pelee, the mountain which destroyed St Pierre

The anchorage at St Pierre

 People don’t remember St Pierre now for its elegance, or its culture, or its brutality, but for the fact that on the morning of 8 May 1902 the town and its 30,000 inhabitants were incinerated by a toxic gas blast which shot out of the side of Mt Pelee, the volcano which towers over St Pierre. All gone. Melted. Caramelized. The only survivor was a prisoner, protected by the thickness of the walls of his cell and a trickle of water which kept him alive for five days until he was found amongst the rubble.

Roseau, St Pierre, Falmouth, Portsmouth. These names, a legacy of the colonisers, meant nothing to me less than a month ago. But that’s changing.  Yesterday I finished reading the second of two novels by Jamaica Kincaid, who was born in Antigua. I noticed that the Library of Congress had catalogued The Autobiography of My Mother under Women – Dominican Republic – Fiction and I was shocked. Didn’t those American librarians know the difference between Dominica and the DR?

The anchorage at St Pierre is a ledge along the beach
When we arrived in the anchorage at St Pierre, which is a narrow ledge along the beach (did the volcano’s several blowouts change the shape of the sea floor, we wondered, as we looked at old photographs of many tall ships anchored in the bay of St Pierre in the 19th century), we saw Sahula. We’d been keeping an eye out for David on his red steel sloop. David is a single-hander, a retired law professor from Queensland whom we’d met in Gibraltar, and then again on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. We’d met other friends of his, Paddy and Carolyn, in the Saints, off Guadeloupe. Their boat Kristiane, from Sydney, was flying a particularly bright new Australian flag. I was feeling the need for company, so I paddled over in the kayak and, as it turned out, they could almost have been neighbours back home. 

The Australian sailing yacht Sahula

Sahula's captain David Haigh

 Carolyn and Paddy were settling into the Saints for a longish stay, and she was hoping that David would arrive there before we left. She talked of putting a couple of joints of lamb in the oven for us all (there was a very good butcher/deli in Le Bourg, called Robbe whose meat came in from France).  Both Kristiane and Sahula have decided to delay crossing the Pacific until 2016, so it seems likely that any lamb we eat together will have be Australian not French-born.