Monday, 30 June 2014

'France' Again

Back to France! 

After a few days waiting for better weather we are finally off south. We plan to dive and or snorkel the Jacques Cousteau reserve in Guadeloupe and then dive the wrecks in St Pierre in Martinique.

As usual we have an early morning start and in the company of ‘Vivace’ we are off to Deshaies. The wind is a little south of east and at about a F5 we are making good time. About the half way mark we spot a small pod of what we thought were dolphins. They seem very large for dolphins so we spend a good half an hour studying the book to try to identify our cetacean sighting. It is always the way, you spend more time studying the book than you do watching the live action! Eventually we conclude that they were short finned pilot whales (we think!)

Pilot whale

Up ahead we can see another yacht, for once we are gaining on it, we are not the slowest or smallest out today, as we get closer we see it is ‘Horizons’, the wind is getting stronger as we can see there is a squall up ahead. ‘Horizons’, a 30ft catamaran, had left from Falmouth harbour in Antigua and are also bound for Deshaies, pointing higher in the gusts we easily sail to windward of them and leave them in our wake. We arrive in Deshaies at about 1530 and anchor in a flat calm anchorage. Compared to earlier in the season the bay is fairly empty.
We spend a day in Deshaies after checking in as it is a really lovely town and we like it here. On the Friday morning we plan to go to Pigeon Island and snorkel in the marine reserve. Friday morning we wake to no wind so we motor the 9 miles to Pigeon Island. By the time we have arrived the wind has arrived too. We pick up one of the yellow yacht moorings off the islands. 

Our mooring in the reserve

We are very close to the shore with barely enough swinging room with the rocks just behind us. Another yacht arrives behind us and tries to pick up the mooring alongside us; there is no room to arrive upwind so a downwind approach is the only way. 

The next 10 minutes can only be described as pure farce, it was very fortunate that it didn’t end in disaster. First, going too fast the yacht overshot the mooring buoy and headed into the gap between the two islands! Next, the crew now at the stern with the mooring rope threw it at the buoy! With this rope in the water they go astern only to catch this rope around the prop! Panic ensues as another member of the crew tries to swim to the buoy with another rope (which is too short) while they launch the dinghy to try to drag the yacht backwards to keep it from being blown ashore. Eventually the swimming crew is given a longer rope and manages to tie the stern off on the buoy. All that remains is to free the rope attached to the prop. This is achieved by cutting it and it parts with a loud “twang”! With engines in astern they motor backwards and attach the bow to the mooring buoy. While all this is going on there are divers surfacing from their dive and a dive boat circling around trying to pick the divers up! Disaster is narrowly avoided! We could not go and help as we had not yet lowered the engine onto the dinghy.

After all this excitement they abandon any idea of going snorkelling and go and anchor near the mainland side of the bay. Later they came back by dinghy!

Peacock flounder

The action under the water is every bit as good as the excitement above. 

Smooth Trunkfish

The marine reserve really makes a difference (no fishing) as there are many more mature fish here than anywhere else we have snorkelled.  

Pudding wife

 The water is very clear and there are lovely coral formations.We spend the afternoon snorkelling and then move to the mainland side of the bay for the night. We plan to be off to Dominica in the morning.

A slow sail down Guadeloupe

As usual there is little wind down the western side of Guadeloupe so we are motoring, we are confident there will be wind as soon as we reach the bottom of the island. 

Our own beer from Guadeloupe!

We are not disappointed and are met with a good F4 from the east. Unfortunately we are also met with a couple of heavy rain squalls as well. The breeze only lasts until we get to Dominica and dies as we approach the point on our way into Prince Rupert Bay. We are met by Martin (Providence); he is out fishing for the afternoon with his family. When he realises who we are he calls out to us “Welcome back”! It is nice to be back but we will only stop the night as we want to dive in Martinique. We anchor in front of the PAYS event house on the beach, close by is ‘Compass Rose’. Again, there are far fewer boats here than in March. Alexis stops by and greets us with “Welcome home”! This is a lovely spot but we are on a mission so we will not be here for the Sunday night beach BBQ, much to the disappointment of the ‘boat boys’.

We decide to go ashore (even though we have not checked in) and try to have supper in the ‘Blue Bay’, we order a drink and the barmaid says she is going home and closing (so much for supper!) Fortunately it is PAYS to the rescue and we end up in the ‘Purple Turtle’- a PAYS business. The menu is somewhat limited as there are only 2 portions of Chicken, but plenty of fish and burgers in the freezer. Between the crews of ‘Galene’, ‘Vivace’, and ‘Emma Louise’, we all manage to get something to eat (and several beers!)

Tomorrow we will go to Roseau, it is 24 miles and true to form we motor all the way. We are met in the bay by ‘Pancho’, who offers us a mooring by the Anchorage Hotel.  At US$10 a night it is really the only option as anchoring is almost impossible in the deep water off the hotel. The guide book says that if you buy a drink at the hotel you can use their pool. What a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, drinking beer lounging by a swimming pool in the Caribbean! You would think we were on holiday! Unfortunately there is some confusion between the bar staff and hotel management - management want to charge us EC$15 each to swim in the pool. This only comes to light after we had already dived in. Ok, no problem we will just get out then. I don’t think that was the response they really wanted. So no swim, just a quick dip and we lounge in the chairs drinking cold beer; I suppose we cannot have everything! Tomorrow it is back to ‘work’ as we will sail to Martinique and our planned dives on the wrecks in St Pierre.

St Pierre waterfront

The wind south of Roseau really blows hard and today was no exception. Well reefed down we scream across the gap between Dominica and Martinique, wind F5+ seas moderate to rough, things calm down in the lee of Martinique and we have to motor, but the wind picks up again as we near St Pierre, backing to the NE we sail right into the bay and anchor just north of the pier alongside ‘Vivace’. 
 We plan to spend a few days here, diving and maybe explore the island by car. With the Emancipation day carnival on the Thursday, we have hired a car for an island tour on the Friday, Saturday there is a ‘Big Band’ concert in the market square, so we will spend some time exploring ashore.

Before we dive we want to see if we could get our dive cylinders filled. No dice at Papa D’lo, we are destined to only have one dive as we cannot get our cylinders filled. The dive shop is very cagy about diving the wrecks and we gather they want you to dive with them, which is not what we want. We know the wrecks are marked with large buoys in the bay, they are all at 30+ metres deep but we will tie off on the buoy with our dinghy and go and see what we can see.

Our first dive is disappointing as the visibility is about 15m; the wreck is on the sea bed at 30m with odd bits of wreckage around the outline in the sand. Not a lot to see – a huge anemone on a box and a few wrasse and lion fish. Dave from ‘Vivace’ who is diving with us is newly qualified and can only dive to 20m so it is not a good dive for him either. We abort the dive so as not to waste our air and look for another site. Getting into the dinghy Rowena managed to drop her weight belt – oops! Fortunately we both have plenty of air, so leaving Dave at the surface, Rowena borrows Dave’s weight belt and we do a quick ‘bounce’ to 40m to retrieve it.  We find it easily, as it is a flat sandy bottom, but we both have to hang on to it and put a bit of air in our BCs to get back up. 

Lots of Lobsters

Technical diving over we look for another site, having watched where the dive boat goes we pick up another mooring, this wreck is called the ‘Italian Yacht’. The dive does not disappoint, lots of life, turtles, lobsters, soap fish, eels, mutton snappers and interesting bits of wreckage to look at.  We also see several lion fish on both wrecks, there seem to be more in the French islands, maybe they just do not do anything about them. At 18m we dive for 22minutes until Dave is out of air. We need to come back and dive the other sites but first we need to find out where we can get our cylinders refilled. 

The Parade

We spend the afternoon ashore at the carnival. There are dozens of stalls with traditional handicrafts, tropical flowers and local food. We watch the parade and stay for some of the live band and go back to the boat to watch the fireworks.

Church at Fond St Denis

Friday is our day with the car. We head across the island through the rainforest. 

Tree ferns in the Forest

The pretty villages in the mountains remind us of Switzerland, they are very neat as well. Each village seems to have a huge church with mainly small houses.

Tropical flowers in Stained glass

 In this area, they each have their own memorial to their villagers who died in the volcanic eruption of 1902. We finally arrive at Mont Pelee, the volcano. You can walk almost to the top but today as we walk to the viewing point we are shrouded in mist and rain so decide against it. 

Driving through farmland and miles of banana plantations and sugar cane we see a sign to the banana museum - maybe not!

Atlantic coast of Martinique

The Atlantic side is a real contrast to the Caribbean coast. It is much more rugged, with a fringing reef and offshore islands. I suppose you could cruise there as there are a couple of harbours but it is very exposed to the trade winds although the reefs keep most of the waves away.

Rum Museum

For the full cultural tour you have to visit a rum distillery! We went to the St James distillery that has been making rum from almost the beginning of the colonial times, the first distillery being started by Dominican monks in 1660.  Until I visited the distillery we never realised the difference between the French and English style rums. The Rhum Agricole in the French islands is made by distilling sugar cane syrup, it is generally white and the dark rums get their colour and flavour from aging in oak casks. The traditional dark English Rums are made not from cane syrup, which was used to make sugar but from molasses (the caramelized sugar residue) this produces the difference in taste.  A walk round the museum followed by a sampling led to the purchase of 3 bottles, the Vieux Rhum (old) the Amber (matured in oak barrels to give its’ colour) and a Coconut Rhum (white rum with coconut juice)

Mending Nets Case Pilote

Town Square Case Pilote

Our island tour concluded with a visit Carbet bay where it is believed Columbus first landed and a drive past the house where Paul Gaugin (the artist) lived. The house is a museum and gallery but unfortunately was closed for renovation. Maybe next year it will be open.

Columbus Hotel, did he really stay here?
The Saturday evening free concert was excellent, a mixture of Jazz, Swing and Latin rhythms. We were surprised that hardly anyone was dancing, on the former British islands as soon as the music starts people start swaying and dancing, maybe a bit of French reserve? Finally as the band was completing their encore a few people got up and danced.

‘Vivace’ who have been our companions for several weeks now, are keen to move on but we decided to stay another day in St Pierre, it was good that we did as we found a very obliging dive shop that would fill our cylinders, it is called Surcouf and is on the south side of the beach near the Esso filling station. We just beached the dingy and carried the cylinders up.

At this time of year everyone is moving south, many of the boats we know here are going to Fort de France, the capital. We will go to the Anse’s d’Arlet and enjoy the snorkelling there. 

Fishing Boat Petit Anse

Grand Anse we know is a sleepy hollow, but the bottom is lovely, sandy with outcrops of colourful sponge and coral and all the attendant fishlife. We spend part of an afternoon cleaning Galenes bottom with the scuba gear and the rest of the afternoon trying to get rid of all the minute shrimps that have crept into every crevice of out gear.

Petit Anse

Next day we discover Petit Anse is even quieter. For some unknown reason both anchorages were rolly so we got ourselves tucked in at  Anse Chaudiere  in the southern corner of Petit Anse. Totally calm with almost no wind.

French Grunts (of course!) and Black Bar Soldierfish

The snorkelling here is very good, we snorkelled the rocks off the jetty by the beach and also the rocks along the shoreline in Anse Chaudiere.  

School of White Mullet

 We saw many new creatures here including a lesser elecrtric ray, an octopus, rock hind, spotted snake eel (in fact, we saw 4 different eels on one dive!) different sea cucumbers and pufferfish as well as all the usual reef fish. 

Spotted Moray

We swam in schools of mullet, sergeant majors and ballyhoos as well.

Lesser Electric ray

Interestingly the café in Grand Anse where you used to be able to clear customs no longer has a terminal as it had changed hands, but now you can clear in Petit Anse at the internet services (Cyberbase) on the front street.  We also discovered a lovely bakery one street back.
Cleared out we are heading for St Lucia. This will be our final stop in the Eastern Caribbean this year. We will get some of our jobs done here before we go to Bonaire for the summer.

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