Friday, 17 July 2015

Dominica again!

Dominica again!

The passage from the Saintes to Dominica is usually a pleasant one, especially with the wind from the east. Tuesday the 9th of June was no exception. We are greeted with a steady F4 from the East with a slight sea. With our customary 1st reef in the main and a full genoa we sailed out of the SW passage and turned left towards Prince Rupert bay Dominica. In company with ‘Exit Strategy’ we were able to take pictured of each other - you rarely have good pictures of your own boat under sail.

The ships log has nothing of note except that we were hard on the wind entering the bay (nothing new there). We left at 0930 and arrived at 1400hrs, anchoring in 5m of water off the Purple Turtle bar (our usual spot), and close to Exit strategy who had arrived shortly before us.

As usual we are greeted by one of the ‘boat boys’ at the entrance to the bay. This time it is Monty from Cobra tours. We knew ‘Exit strategy’ wanted to try to arrange a tour with Martin (Providence) and we wanted to get some laundry done so were trying to contact Alexis (whose mother runs a laundry service) so we have the same ‘boat boy’ stresses of trying to please all three of them. They are all genuinely pleased to see us but of course want our business through tours etc. We will have quite a juggling act to do. Somehow we never manage to get it right so that we only have one of them to deal with.

We will keep Alexis happy for now as he can take Richard to customs to check in for EC$30 round trip, it saves a long wet dinghy ride. Having pre-cleared using the Sailclear system, the process is really easy now as the customs officer just prints the forms for the skipper to sign. No more filling in forms in quadruple with manky carbon paper, answering inane questions about how many tons of explosives you have on board or how many stowaways! One officer does it all, Customs, Immigration and Port Authority, EC$10 for clearance. Within 5 minutes we are cleared in and out for 2 weeks. (Other countries take note!) That evening we eat ashore at the Purple Turtle with ‘Exit Strategy’ and ‘Wild Matilda’ who pulled in just after us. Excellent BBQ ribs and several beers later we are settling in to ‘Island time’.

Wednesday we are met in the morning with Christian selling fruit from his aluminium rowing boat. We buy granadillas and mangoes. We call Alexis and arrange a pickup for the laundry, EC$4 per pound for wash dry and fold.  We see Monty and he can get our propane cylinder filled, EC$50 for 8lb and he brought it back the same day, excellent service. We have an afternoon conference with Rose and Dan on ‘Exit strategy’ to work out what we would like to see on our tour. The consensus is something in the interior and the Indian (Kalinago) village and territory. We have to rush to go ashore as it is the PAYS BBQ tonight, a good evening with excellent food as always and plenty of rum punch (strong enough to knockout a horse!)

Martin buying 'apricots' at the Jonny cake stall - Jonny cakes are like Vetkoek!

We have an early start the following day as Martin (Providence) has managed to get enough people to do an Island tour, there are 9 of us in total, but as always the best laid plans have been thwarted by 2 road closures, one by a landslide and the other by a local protest about lack of council repairs to the road! 
 A long circuitous route past the Airport takes us to Spanny falls, a double waterfall. 

Antheriums on the way to Spanny falls

We swim in the very cold pool of the lower falls, and look for the well camouflaged, freshwater crayfish, only about 5cm long but with big pincers. The climb to the upper falls is not for the faint hearted (or the chikengunyad), so we decide against it and enjoy the beauty of the rainforest.

Swimming in Spanny falls

After the falls we drove to the coastal village of Castle Bruce. Lunch was in the beautiful Islet View Restaurant overlooking the sea and the garden belonging to the restaurant. All the fruit and veg served here comes from their own garden. The lunch main course choice was fish or stewed pork, I suspect they catch their own fish and keep their own pigs as well. Fresh local juices of either Sourapple or Tamarind served in a coconut shell and garnished with hibiscus and bay leaves. 

We both had the Pork which came with dasheen, breadfruit, plantain, green banana, squash, coleslaw, christophene and a green salad. If that wasn’t enough, desert consisted of cinnamon cake and fresh pineapple and guava triangles! 

Lunchtime view

Thoroughly fed and watered we are off to the Indian Territory, unfortunately we arrive too late to visit the reconstructed village. We stop at a roadside bakery where they are baking cassava bread. This flatbread it has a distinctive flavour but is pretty tough to chew, probably best for dipping in soups and stews than eating on its own. A local craft stall is the next stop, lots of woven bags and baskets made from local materials as well as articles made from coconut shells and the usual calabashes. The people here in this part of Dominica are quite different to the rest of the island, most people on Dominica are of African or Indian (Asian) decent, here they look South American or even Chinese? I think there are very few true Kalinago people left anywhere in the Caribbean including Dominica, but they do cling onto some of their traditions here.

Toasting Cassava flour

Touring Dominica is always difficult due to the terrain and very windy roads, we eventually get back to the boat at about 1800 having left at 0800, a very full day.

The East Coast

We have planned a quiet day before the Saturday market and a Sunday walk to the hot springs. The hot springs are really strange, sitting in a rock pool the water really is warm and fresh water as well. Hot water, heated by geothermal energy, just bubbling out of the ground. 

Huge trees with weathered buttress roots weaving between the rocks give the place quite an otherworldly atmosphere. Little hummingbirds fly in and out sipping the water as it gently runs down a small cliff. It is just so relaxing, sitting in a warm ‘bath’. Next time we will bring a picnic!

Natures 'Hot Tub'

Monday we are off early to the Indian River. Monty has been badgering us to do this again and we relent. Our plans are for him to row us up the river early so we can see the birds and then we will walk back to the river mouth where he will take us back to the boat. Monty arrives at 0600, fortunately we are ready and we are off before the world is awake. The good side of this is that we are back at the boat by 0830! It is always lovely, quietly rowing up the river. They have added a few skeletons for atmosphere, but it does not spoil the trip.  We watch a yellow crowned night heron snatch a crab from the shallows, smash it on a rock and enjoy his breakfast quite unconcerned by us.

Up the Indian River

In the afternoon we go to snorkel the cruise ship pier but are chased off by the National Park security guard who said it was “too dangerous”. We mooched around the edge of the bay until we found a patch of sand about 30 yards away from the pier where we anchored the dinghy. The snorkelling here was very nice with lots of small fish, a school of squid and a warty sea slug! Yes another new creature. Tomorrow we are off to Roseau where we plan to go to the Botanical gardens. We have been in Prince Rupert bay for a week and never seem to have a moments rest!

Warty sea alug

Tuesday and we awake to rain and squally conditions. We decide to wait for a couple of hours before setting off for Roseau. Typically down the coast we get wind then no wind depending on the size of the hills ashore. We sailed for half an hour then motored for an hour then sailed again, right to Roseau, losing the wind as we entered the bay. A very pleasant 25 mile coastal sail. Arriving in Roseau we call Dominica Marine Centre for a mooring, Marcus all smiles comes to meet us “nice to see you back again” he says. The moorings are EC42 per night and well maintained as we saw them being serviced while we were there. It is also Marcus’ birthday so we give him something to celebrate with. 

We dine ashore at the Fort Young Hotel, probably the best restaurant in Roseau, the food is excellent as is the service, a 5* experience at ‘island’ prices.
The following day we visit the botanical gardens, not quite what was expected as the gardens are more trees than plants and we had to go to the forestry commission offices to get a guide book! At EC$25.00 well worth it as it has good photos and lots of information about the trees. Nevertheless it is a beautiful place complete with cricket square and I am sure a lovely place to spend a Sunday afternoon watching local cricket to the very English sound of leather on willow! You could almost be in an English park. 

Baobab tree

There are some indigenous trees but the majority are exotics. Some not so exotic to Rowena like Sausage trees, cycads, Tulip trees and a good sized Baobab that was blown down onto a bus in a hurricane (luckily no one in it at the time) but is still growing and in flower. Of the other trees my favourite is the Cannonball tree with spectacular almost alien looking flowers. The fruit, a kind of calabash, grow to the size of a cannonball.
The Cannonball tree

We also discovered that there are Anacondas in Dominica that grow to 10ft!

A pity we won’t be here at the weekend as the groundsman was doing a great job preparing the square, but we will move on again on Saturday, the weather looks good for our passage south to Martinique.

A final note on Roseau, security in the Roseau anchorage was funded by the Dominica Marine Association, (DMA) this paid Marcus’ salary, his boat and fuel. Marcus works for the Dominica Marine Centre (DMC), and the DMC now provide a boat and some fuel but Marcus still does the same job as if he was fully funded, sometimes buying fuel from his own pocket. The shortfall is hopefully being made by voluntary contributions (EC$5 per boat per day) from cruisers using the Roseau anchorage area. Well done Marcus and Hubert of the DMC for continuing to provide this service - shame on the DMA members who are getting the benefits of the secure anchorage without contributing.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A Sojourn in the Saintes

A Sojourn in the Saintes June 2015

At 0900 on Tuesday 2nd June we raised the mainsail at anchor as it was so calm and still and set off for the Saintes. Eventually we had 25kts on the nose so we motorsailed all day. Just at the bottom of the island the engine suddenly slowed. There had been a lot of Sargassum weed in the water and we thought maybe there was some tangled round the prop. We started a 360 degree turn and the engine cut out. The worst possible moment as we were now just south of the island and in the channel – nowhere to go.

The Saintes - beautiful as ever!

Luckily it started again and Richard went down below to investigate. The clamp holding the throttle cable had broken. He managed to jury rig a ‘clamp’ and we picked up a buoy off Bourg de Saintes at 15:30. Exit Strategy had anchored off Pan de Sucre but it is not an easy anchorage and we did not fancy trying it with a dodgy engine. As it was, we ended up picking up the mooring on the second attempt with the engine jammed in forward gear but at least we were secure.

France or the Caribbean? (Department 972 of course!)

Next day we went ashore for some shopping and laundry. Unfortunately the good wholesale drinks store just off the dinghy dock has changed so our plans on stocking up on diet soft drinks and beer were scuppered. After a baguette with Exit Strategy at Cafe de la Marine it was back to Galene and Richard spent the afternoon researching the throttle problem on the internet.

On Thursday Richard repaired the throttle – great relief! Then we got water at the ferry dock. We paid for 100l and were given a fob which you swipe at the tap and we kept filling jerry cans until it  stopped – we got about 130l, very generous. Bruce on Wild Matilda arrived from St Martin, so we had a really good dinner ashore with him at Au Bon Vivre.

Pan de Sucre from 'Galene'

On Saturday we finally joined Exit Strategy and Horizons at Pan de Sucre having two attempts at anchoring as we dragged the first time. Snorkelling to check the anchor we saw an amazing amount of life just under the boat. Several cushion sea stars and a few sand tile fish among many other creatures on the grassy bottom. Dinner on Exit Strategy was a lovely sociable end to the day.

'Spot' the shrimp next to the Anemone

Richard and Dan had a dive each of the next two days while Rose and I snorkelled. The sea life is really good here – baby trumpet fish or pipefish, not sure which they were, hamlets and many Balloon fish and Burr fish and all the usual reef fish . A cute tiny red crab and a slender file fish were two new creatures. The scorpion fish looks different to me but can’t decide which one it is and we saw a few of the spotted Scorpion fish as well. 

Scorpion fish - don't tread on it!

The dives off of Pan de Sucre were excellent with really good sponges, hard and soft corals. On both dives Richard and Dan saw Nassau groupers, this was a new fish to both of them. They also saw the ever invasive lionfish and a large one as well, remember what they say, “save the reef eat a lionfish”. We didn’t see lionfish on the menu in The Saintes but I am sure it will be on the menu when we get to Dominica. 

Sunday we were treated to supper again, this time on Horizons and they left the next day. This life is all hello's and good byes!

Monday the boys got their cylinders refilled, bought our last baguettes and checked out as Tuesday we were heading for Dominica.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Guadeloupe May/June 2015

Guadeloupe May/June 2015

A pleasant easterly F4 took us to Deshaies with the seas calming down throughout the day. While avoiding the many fishing floats near the island the wind died so we motored the last couple of miles. It was great to see the bay quite empty. We took one of the new mooring balls (free of charge) close in to the north of the bay just as the heavens opened so we were both soaked to the skin.

We had just got more or less organised when Rose and Dan from Exit Strategy stopped on their way back from shore. An impromptu reunion and we made plans to tour the island.
On The film set!
Ashore the next morning to check in we saw some more filming of “Death in Paradise” and spent a little while watching. We had seen them here last year too. The filming went on in various parts of the town while we were there. Very interesting to see how quite small sets are transformed when you see it on the TV.

We found a car hire place and said we would be in the next day to collect a car. Then, my first snorkel in ages – I must be getting better! Nothing remarkable just the usual very pretty Deshaies mini reef. We spent the evening on Exit Strategy planning our two day tour and arranged to meet at 9:00 at the time the car hire opened.

We had to run the boats engine to generate electricity. Not enough wind and our solar panels are failing and the wonderful Kipor generator is officially dead. We have ordered a new Yamaha one for collection in St Lucia, being the closest place that has one, so power generation is going to be an ongoing problem till we get there.

Our tour got off to a typical Caribbean start. When we arrived at the car hire shop it was not open. We waited a while and eventually Richard- the best French speaker- went off to see what he could find out. It turned out to be Emancipation Day, with most places being closed. Unfortunately the car hire man had not mentioned that to us at all or we could have collected the car the previous evening! We must remember to check public holidays whenever we arrive at a French island because we always end up having our plans thwarted by them!

So, back to the boat with a baguette, a rest and some more snorkelling – slate pencil urchins, a Night Sergeant and an octopus – then another rest (Rowena, still struggling) and a quiet evening.

Thursday morning we set off again and collected a car. The island of Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly,  so we had decided to do the western ‘wing’ (Basse Terre) one day and the eastern one (Grande Terre) the next.
Forest Walk

 Basse Terre is mountainous and has an active volcano with a rainfall of about 10 meters per year making it one of the wettest places on earth resulting in beautiful rainforest and spectacular scenery. We set off along the Route de la Traversee which crosses the centre of the island through the forest and mountains. The Maison de la Foret, our first stop, is an interesting visitor centre describing the plants, birds and animals of the area. Unfortunately the text was only in French, but lots of pictures enabled us to understand quite a bit.
A bit bigger than a fig leaf!

From there we had a short walk over a river and through the rainforest. We walked between huge trees with massive contorted buttresses, their branches home to ferns, lichens and bromeliads. From the floor rose heliconias, wax roses, antheriums and more ferns lit by filtered green light. Two new birds (to us), Plumbeous Warblers and Brown Tremblers went about their day calling and catching insects but we could not even catch a glimpse of the endemic Guadeloupe Woodpecker that we could hear drumming on the trees.
Beautiful Heliconias

Our next stop was the Cascade aux Ecrevisses, a pretty small waterfall not far from the road, named for the freshwater crayfish that live here, though we did not see any. Here we saw tiny lizards and hummingbirds darting in the foliage.
More bugs than you can count in here!

We then drove south, having decided to have lunch at Le Grande Cafe Plantation, a banana plantation. We went off the main road along small farm roads and had almost given up when we found it. It is still a banana plantation, with a small shop but we were happily informed that the signs saying it is a cafe are old and they no longer do food! We were given a few bananas and a recommendation for a restaurant along the main road. We did have a good local style lunch at Le Dame Jeanne and set off planning to visit Carbet Waterfalls, a series of three falls.

Richard had driven all morning and now Dan took over, another benefit of sharing a car! The road to the falls was closed due to a landslide we think, so we changed plan and went to St Claude for a view of the volcano. Another little walk took us into the forest again and Les Bains Jaunes, a pool made to gather warm sulphurous water. There was also a rather scary sign which said not to put your head under as an amoeba lives in the water which enters your body through the mucous membranes of your nasal passages and the resulting infection has 100% death rate! We did not go in at all, but on the way back after a walk there was a family in the water including a little boy about 4 – I cannot believe they were that confident that he would not slip and go under – amazing!

It was raining off and on and very misty so we did not get a view of La Soufriere anyway, but still a pleasant walk with hummingbirds and a mongoose! The drive back took us all along the coast road through some little fishing villages and some quite touristy towns.
Just like being back home!

Friday we set off across the bridge joining the two sides of the island in unexpected bumper to bumper traffic. Grand Terre is fairly flat and much drier and we drove through miles of sugar cane and bananas. We went straight across to the Atlantic side at Le Moule, the original capital and found Musee Edgar Clerc which houses an exhibition of pre Colombian life in Guadeloupe.

Pre-Columbian art

Entry was free and very interesting with many artefacts both useful and ornamental. It showed trade between the islands and as far away as South America – a necklace of amethyst beads and carved green stone frogs being one of the objects to prove this. Some of the pottery was very interesting -  glazed, with animal heads for handles, showing quite a sophisticated society, not quite what Columbus led us to believe. As for them being cannibals, this seems to have been disproved as well. Their burial rites involved ‘smoking’ the deceased slowly after evisceration, to preserve the body which was then usually buried in the family home with all the internal organs. This is probably what the first Europeans saw and misinterpreted. It reminded me of the ancient Egyptians and their mummies - different method, same result.
Distilling then

Then on to Distillerie Damoiseau – time for the boys to have a little fun for a change! An old rum distillery with plenty of interesting old stone work including a windmill, ovens etc as well as a totally modern distillery and you can wander around at will. So we saw the whole process from sugar cane delivery to storing in old whiskey barrels to bottling. Of course, you then get to taste the rum and buy some in their shop which is full of other interesting things including wobbly glasses and books. Richard and Danny both opted for the 5 year old to add to the collection!
Distilling now!

St Francois, a fishing village on the south coast was our lunch stop. It is also a bit touristy but we found a row of nice looking cafes overlooking the fishing harbour and Le Refuge de Port that offered a 3 course lunch for 10 Euros! Again, delicious local food, fresh fish and fruit salad dressed with rum.
St Francois fishing harbour

We stopped at Maison de la Noix Coco, a cute shop selling an amazing range of goods all made from coconuts or the coconut tree - beads, lampshades, spoons, bowls , sculptures, etc, etc. Then we reached Pointe des Chateaux, the rugged eastern most tip of the island where big waves crashed onto rocks and a nice small sandy beach. A bit too rough for swimming!
Pointe des Chateaux

Then back along the southern coast and a last stop at Le Gosier, an anchorage we wanted to see with an eye to going there next season. Rose and Dan have anchored there in the past so we parked and walked down to see. Many locals swim the mile to Ilet du Gosier in the morning or evening and we watched them towing their floats there and back. We also watched a man launch a drone and then follow its filming on his laptop. It looks an interesting area and I am sure we will come back in Galene.

Then it was back through the bridge traffic and we took the north coast road back to Deshaies with a stop at Super U for some nice French groceries.

A quiet day (especially for Rowena) with a quick snorkel followed and on Sunday we sailed to Pigeon Island, the Jacques Cousteau reserve where Richard and Dan planned to dive. With 30kt gusts as we anchored, it was a bit swelly and just got worse and worse. We had invited ‘Exit Strategy’ for dinner and Mexican dominos and cooking was quite a feat. Fortunately I had decided to do a chicken breast dinner in which each portion is roasted in foil with its own vegetables. So I just tipped each package into a bowl – plates would have been impossible it was so rolly.

Cliff – it would have been like the evening of the sausages on the Atlantic crossing!

After Rose’s magnificent coconut pie we managed the dominos by having sticky mat on the table and a Tupperware each for our spare dominos!

The boys set off to the small island for their dive next morning despite the swell. Rowena’s hands are still too sore to be able to dive. The girls had a snorkel along the edge – the viz not as good as usual probably due to the swell.  We saw squid, a lionfish, a sand tile fish and a turtle with a remora on its back! The Jacques Cousteau reserve is always good diving, even though the visibility was affected by the swell. We see so many adult fish species here, so many times in the Caribbean you only get to see small fish on a dive. Apart from the excellent corals, sponges and usual reef fishes it was nice to see large Chubb, Schoolmasters and several varieties of adult Parrot fish. We rounded off the dive with both Dan and Richard posing, touching the head of the Jacques Cousteau statue for good luck on all subsequent dives!
Turtle with Ramora

The swell dropped later and the next morning it was perfectly calm and clear but we had decided to leave for the Saintes so it was goodbye to Guadeloupe.