Sunday, January 31, 2016

On the Way to Guadeloupe

We awoke at 6:00 am, hurried through our pre-sail checklist, and bid "Adieu" to Pain de Sucre at 6:30 so I could take my sunrise photo at sea. Just north of Îlet de Cabrit the sun appeared above Terre de Haut and we witnessed this beautiful sunrise.
We enjoyed a relaxing three hour sail, but when we reached the approach to Pointe à Pitre channel, the crew's tension level spiked because the outer channel markers shown on our chartplotter simply weren't there. The approach is riddled with shoals and reefs, and not knowing exactly where you are is dangerous, but by using the depth contours on our chartplotter, our depth sounder, our eyes, and some common sense, we found the two most important buoys: Green PP8 and Red PP3. These buoys are two miles offshore, and funnel traffic between the two shallowest shoals and into Pointe à Pitre's channel.
Once inside the river, which isn't really a river at all but rather a mangrove-lined cut between the two islands that form Guadeloupe, the channel was easy to follow and we anchored near Marina Bas-du-Fort.
With the ships, tugs, sailboats, fishing boats, speed boats, jet skis, and sailing students all jockeying for position in the channel, this river reminds us of our home waters on the San Joaquin River Delta. Back home it's not uncommon to have a bass tournament,  a sailboat race, and a tanker all sharing the channel at the same time.

Pointe à Pitre has one of the best yachting centers in the Leeward Islands and the marina has dock space for over 1000 boats. There are all kinds of services, restaurants, and things to see and do. There are ferries to the  neighboring islands and cruise ships visit regularly. We just hope to find a new propeller for our outboard. It "spun its hub" not long ago and the Captain jury rigged it, but we don't want to use it like this forever.

Oh, we found all those missing buoys. They're here on dry land awaiting refurbishing, I imagine.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Exploring Terre de Haut on the Motor Scooter

Most of the rental scooters on the island are 50cc and can barely make it up the steep hills, but because Malcolm keeps the "Motorcycle" sticker on his license we were able to get a scooter with a 125cc engine. Oooooh.
We picked up the scooter last night and parked it at the hotel near our anchorage so we could get a really early start. We hopped aboard this morning at 6:00 am and made it to Plage de Grand Anse in plenty of time for the 6:37 sunrise.

The scooter rental place had this map of the island to help folks find their way. I added pink dots to show the places we visited today.

#1 - Plage de Grand Anse
We sat on the beach drinking our coffee and waiting for the sunrise, and we were soon treated to this spectacular sight. All my other sunrise photos have been obstructed by the hills that we anchor behind, but today's photo, right at sea level, was so much more beautiful.

#2 - Fort Napoleon
Built in 1867, this fort contains an extensive collection of displays and artifacts describing the history of Terre de Haut. We found the naval history interesting and particularly liked the boat models.

#3 - Baie de Marigot
We zipped over to this lovely bay for lunch and found a picnic table under a roof right next to the water. The bay was full of fishing boats with not a tourist in sight. You can see Morne Morel in the background.
We shared our apples with this friendly native while we discussed what we've been doing for the past year. We both feel so lucky to be able to travel like this. Having the freedom to just wander around wherever whim and the wind take us makes up for all those years of hard work, long hours, and scrimping and saving. It's an incredible journey and we are so happy to be doing this.

#4 - Morne Morel
Next we drove out to the end of the road on the northeast end of the island and I hiked up Morne Morel while Malcolm waited with the scooter. It was a mighty steep trail, but the view was worth it. Looking west I could see Fort Napoleon and Baie de Marigot where we had just eaten lunch. Further in the distance I could see the biggest of the Saintes; Terre de Bas.
Looking north I could see Guadeloupe, our next destination.

#5 - Plage de Rodrigue
This is a popular beach for sunbathing, but the waves can be sneaky. We saw several bathers jump up, gather their towels, and run up the beach to avoid the big waves.

#6 - Plage de Figuier
This beach was totally deserted. Maybe because it had a lot of seaweed on it.
After a little gelato break, we returned the scooter and walked back to the hotel whose dock we have been using for our dinghy. (#7 - Hôtel Bois Joli)

Having the scooter for a day was great fun and we wish more islands had them available
To Anonymous: If you don't want to link your comments to your email address (which won't be published), at least sign off with your initials so I know who you are. Thanks. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe

Although Dominica was dreary when we left at 7:30am, the weather improved as we sailed North towards Îles des Saintes and we had a pleasant reach most of the way. Îles des Saintes consists of four tiny islands: Grand Îlet, Terre d'en Bas, Îlet de Cabrit, and Terre d'en Haut where we anchored near the point called Pain de Sucre. These islands are part of Guadeloupe which is part of France so everyone speaks French and the vibe is very European.

Here is a view of our anchorage with Pain de Sucre in the upper left. A two mile dinghy ride up and around it to the right takes you to the main town, Bourg des Saintes, where there are lots of tourist shops and restaurants for the day trippers who come over on the ferry from Guadeloupe.

This is Pain de Sucre (Sugar Loaf) which has good snorkeling around the base of it.

Being a part of France, Bourg des Saintes has baguettes, croissants, French wines and cheeses, great produce, and motorscooters galore. We rented one and intend to explore the island tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Carnival at Portsmouth, Dominica

Carnival in Portsmouth is a loud, exuberant, colorful celebration with a friendly, small town feel to it. Sunday at 4pm the whole town started lining the main street, visiting, laughing, and drinking while they waited for the parade to start. After two hours of waiting, even these laid-back folks were looking at their watches wondering when the parade would start. Finally around 6pm we could hear the music and see the trucks carrying the Queen and the Princesses coming our way. By then the sun was starting to set and the twilight made photos difficult, but in some ways these blurry photos perfect illustrate the excitement, movement and rhythm of the parade.

After the Queen came the costumed, stilt-walking characters and their protectors. The protectors were the only people at the parade who didn't always have happy faces. They take their job seriously and will do whatever it takes to keep people away from the stilt-walkers. Imagine the chaos if a spectator bumped into a stilt-walker; long fall, serious injuries, taking out another stilt-walker; not a pretty sight...

We were befriended by a local woman named Florence who literally took us by the hand and guided us to a good photo spot, explaining carnival as she went. She said this parade celebrates the freeing of the slaves here on Dominica and the costumes have roots in African traditions and dances.

As we squeezed between the writhing throng of humanity everyone was jumping (it isn't called a jump-up for nothing) and I was reminded of the chicken buses back in Panama. There's a certain nonchalant intimacy shared by strangers in these countries where the buses are crowded, the streets are narrow, and the people are more laid-back.

After the stilt-walkers came a truck with dozens of gigantic speakers blasting out music at a volume so high we felt it as much as we heard it. Behind the truck was a mass of people jumping and dancing along. Some of them were drinking, some of them were smoking, and everyone was having a great time.

Florence eventually led us back to the corner where she'd found us, wished us a pleasant evening, and went on her way. We wandered back to our boat as the locals were just starting to really party. At midnight I happened to wake up and the music was still going strong onshore. These people really know how to party.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Indian River Tour

We took the Indian River Tour with Albert this morning. He picked us up before 7am in his panga-like boat and we motored into the river just after sunrise. Once into the river he turned off the motor and rowed to protect the peacefulness of the swamp.
Albert has lived here his entire life and is very knowledgeable not only from his P.A.Y.S. training, but from personal experience. He has played on this river since he was a young boy and told us some of his boyhood adventures.
Dominica has 365 spring fed rivers, but Indian River is the largest. Its banks are lined with swamp blood trees, swamp ferns, ginger lilies, palms, and mangroves. 
Although the roots of the blood trees grow in fantastical shapes, the wood is too soft for any commercial pupose. In the past the local Carib Indians used the red dye from the trees for "war paint", but now they use it in their crafts.

This hut is a leftover from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. It looks like the hut where CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow met Tia Dalma.

Dominica has also been used for an episode of Survivor. With its virgin rainforest and swamp jungles, it's the perfect locale for primitive settings and our imaginations ran wild; we kept expecting a velociraptor to appear around the next bend, but thank goodness, none did.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Adventures on the Way to Portsmouth, Dominica

We slipped our lines off the mooring ball at Roseau at 0600 hours and motored due west. Our goal was to see sperm whales and we went where the whale tour boats normally go.

Our buddy boat was also motoring along towards the location when they found a wayward dinghy. They retrieved it with their boat hook, tied it to their stern, and called the fleet with the news. The owner responded and a meet-up was arranged.

As we bobbed around waiting for the whales, the owner arrived and a two-language conversation ensued about the dinghy. It wasn't over the VHF, so I don't know what was said, but one of the dinghy owner's crew members jumped in the water, swam to the dinghy, and eventually it was brought back to its owner.

Since there were no whales, the Captain and I had plenty of time to talk about how the hand-off was accomplished. We both questioned why someone would jump into the water and swim to a dinghy without motor or oars. Wouldn't it have been easier to position the owners boat downwind and simply release the dinghy? Certainly he could have snagged it just as easily as the finder did. Even in these calm conditions putting a person in the water seemed an unnecessary risk.

We continued to drink coffee and watch rain squalls sweep across the sea for quite a while, but no whales ever appeared. Eventually we pulled out the genoa and started towards Portsmouth.

When we arrived we walked around the town and discovered this eclectic residence. Even by Caribbean standards this house is a bit over the top. We also did our typical recon: find a grocery store, find a laundry, figure out where to buy ice and fuel.

Then we went back to the boat and enjoyed an unforgettable Caribbean sunset.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trafalgar Falls

Every excursion we do starts with a dinghy ride, then a walk, then a bus ride. After the dinghy ride, today's trip took us past the President's Office, then a neat old church,
then the Ruins Rock Cafe,
and finally to a bus/taxi called Shaper. The buses are Toyota 15 passenger vans like we've seen in so many Caribbean islands, but they seem to be more decorated here.

Dominica is known as the Nature Island and our drive up to Trafalgar Falls illustrated why. Not only is the island steep, rugged, and covered in tropical jungle, but it is sparsely populated. The views out across the craggy peaks were spectacular.

Upon reaching Trafalgar Falls we joined the throng of cruise ship passengers and headed down the trail, enveloped in a thousand different shades of green and the cool quiet of the jungle.

When we arrived at the falls we were amused to see a sign that said "Do Not Proceed Beyond This Point" and then see that that's where everyone was! I'm sure they have to at least suggest that you shouldn't climb across the rocks to the water, but of course, everyone did it anyway.

Above is Mother (75' tall) and below is Father (125' tall). They were very nice falls, but being from California and seeing the falls in Yosemite makes other falls pale in comparison.

When we got back to town we ate lunch at Le Cafe Desiderata. It's in a nicely renovated old building and they have a serene decor and a creative international menu. The food and service were both great and it wasn't very expensive.

Pollyanna (in her rose colored glasses) and Saint Malcolm had another wonderful day.

Champagne Reef and Bubble Beach

Dominica is still active geothermally speaking. There are several places where hot gases come to the surface creating hot springs, sulpher pools, and a Boiling Lake. We ran the dinghys down to Champagne Reef yesterday and had a wonderful day snorkeling, swimming, and lolling in the hot water.
Champagne Reef is a very busy tourist attraction, but we went later in the afternoon when the cruise ship folks were already back aboard, so it wasn't too crowded. We were all delighted to play in the bubbles and appreciated the warmth they created because we had already been snorkeling for quite a while by the time we got there.

The gases seep up from little holes in the ocean floor and stream towards the surface just like champagne bubbles in a glass.

The fish appreciate the bubbles and shallow water too and many different kinds hang around the vents.

The file fish were particularly interested in the humans.
After the reef, we went over to Bubble Beach where the vents are coming to the surface just at the edge of the beach. We could feel the heat of the geothermal activity even as we were landing the dinghy, and several times we had to quickly hot to a cool spot as we walked to the actual bathing area.
The hot water seeps out of the sand and rocks about 6' from where the seawater laps at the beach. You have to run across that super hot area quickly and get into the mixed water area. Then you lie down in it and get the most interesting combination of hot and cool water mixing and surging gently around your body. If it starts getting too hot, you can scoot towards the ocean, or simply wait a while and the surge will cool it down. If it gets too cold, you can scoot up, or dig down into the super heated sand. It reminded us of the Calistoga Mud Baths in that you could adjust the heat by moving up or down.
The Captain found the hot water particularly soothing after his gallbladder attack of yesterday. He felt fine all day and swam, snorkeled, and participated fully in the day's events. We think maybe a little adjustment to our diet will help. We found this wonderful pâté in Martinique and maybe we got a little carried away with that.....