Just over 22 years ago I went on a 6 week adventure of a lifetime. I had lived with a young Irishman for some time and he had Visa issues and had to go back to Ireland for 3 months while we sorted out his Australian residency. So that we wouldn’t have to be apart for the entire time, we decided to go Sailing in the Caribbean. Ahhhh Sailing in the Caribbean, it sounds so Romantic, Adventurous and Luxurious. Travelling with someone can teach you more about them than actually living with them. The right travel partner can make or break any vacation. Sailing with someone, is even more intense because you are in each faces in such close quarters for most of the vacation.
We met up in New York and spent 5 wonderful days there exploring all the sites and things to do, eagerly awaiting the start of our Caribbean adventure. We shopped, flew over New York in a helicopter, went to the Statue of Liberty and went dancing at some amazing clubs as we both loved to dance.
We had a direct flight from New York to Martinique and since neither of us had visited this exotic sounding place before we were very excited. I speak French reasonably, so I was looking forward to some practice. I have also sailed since I was quite young, so we were looking forward to seeing our boat. All of my life I had wanted to visit this place.
Our Plan was to sail from Martinique to the British Virgin Islands. It all looks soooooo close on the map. Our Itinerary was
- St. Kitts
- St. Barts
- St. Martin
- British Virgin Islands
First Stop – Martinique
Due to the fact that our flight landed late, we spent the first night at the lovely Hotel Club3ilets. It is a beautiful little resort right on the waterfront. We relaxed there for the morning, as we couldn’t get our boat until after lunch. It’s a tough life 🙂 . The people were really helpful and friendly.
We arrived at the Moorings Office about 1pm. I was expecting all sort of tests to prove that we were capable of taking charge of a 42′ Beneteau worth $200K. When we had sailed in the Whitsundays, they had made us take the boat out and prove we could at least navigate our way around a buoy. Instead, the rather burly Martinican, just walked us down the jetty, pointed at the boat and said “your charts are in the front and you provisions have already been put on the boat, Good Luck”. OK, I thought, my sailing resume must have been so impressive they didn’t feel the need for me to prove them. We boarded the boat and her name was C’est la Vie. She was gorgeous. Compared to my lovely little 23′ Rainbow’s End she was huge inside. A great Galley, 3 cabins and 2 heads (that’s toilet to you landlubbers 🙂 ) with showers. I always laugh when I read the descriptions of these boats. They all advertise themselves as SLEEPS 8 etc. This was a lovely boat, but had 8 of you been on it, you would not have liked each other very much by the end of the journey. It would have been quite comfortable for 2 couples. It was perfect for us. We spent a few hours familiarising ourselves with the boat and all its gadgets. Then we were off. Not very far to start with, as we had yet to explore Martinique, so we just practiced with the boat by sailing around to the next harbour, Sainte Anne. This is a gorgeous little harbour that we used as a base for the next 4 nights whilst we did all the tourist things on Martinique. It has the lovely calm Plage des Salines right in front.
Martinique is a small island that’s brimming with ‘joie de vivre’ – a true melting pot of French and Caribbean cultures. We went to the Jardin de Balata and did the Diamond Rock Dive. The restaurants were great. We went to the Famous Rum Distillerie JM Martinique (22 years later I still have the Run), saw Anse Cafard Slave Memorial and climbed the active volcano Mont Pelee. After 5 days we were ready to contemplate our next stop, Dominica. I really got to practice my French as it was the main language. Sailing people are unique. No matter what culture or socio-economic group they come from, they are always generous and friendly. They are like a little community, bonded by a love of the ocean.
There is an amazing sailing guide to the Leeward Islands by Chris Doyle (http://www.cruisingguides.com/books/guides/cruising-guides) that no sailor should be without. It saved us many times.
On the map, the distance between Martinique and Dominica looks really tiny. According to the charts it is 49 nautical miles from Port of Fort-de-France, Martinique to the Port of Roseau, Dominica. According to our calculation and the weather forecast it should have taken about 7 hours. This was one of the longest hauls in our journey and in the most open sea part of the journey, but we thought piece of cake. Unfortunately, as we rounded the tip of Martinique,the weather changed and we hit some rough seas. Also, as I went to get the charts, we found that they had put the wrong charts on the boat. Again, thank you Chris Doyle. The planned for 7 hours quickly turned into 12. When you are sailing, things that look so close often seem to take forever to get to. I quickly discovered, that even though my partner and I had spent many pleasant hours on board my boat in Sydney, it seemed he became a bit of a panicker as soon as it got a bit rough. I, on the other hand don’t believe in panic. I hate people who scream and go into meltdown when in a bad situation. Especially in the ocean, you simply can’t afford to let her get the best of you and you ALWAYS need to keep a level head. We were very glad to finally see the tip of Dominica, Scotts Head and were exhausted. We had already decided to anchor in Roseau but it was getting dark and we were so buggered so we just pulled in around Scotts Head. Anchorage was quite difficult as it was quite rough and dark and you had to tie up bow to stern as Dominica is a Volcanic Island where the depth goes from zero to 30 metres within 10 metres from shore. BIG HINT, NEVER try to get into any anchorage in the Caribbean after dark. This is because unlike in Australia, most of the harbour lane lights don’t work.
They speak mainly English (or a form of it) in Dominica, which was a big relief to my partner or so he thought. Watching the looks on the native’s faces while he spoke with his extremely broad Irish accent was hilarious. I had to translate more than I did when they spoke French 🙂 . We moved around to Port of Roseau the next day as it was far more protected and closer to everything.
Dominica is a naturalist’s paradise. White sand beaches, Black Sand Beaches, Colorful towns, Waterfalls and RainForests. It is historically English but the native Dominicans are very friendly and helpful. It is expensive to provision here but the local food was very creole and good. We climbed waterfalls, and spent 4 days exploring the island. We were lucky enough to be there during the Reggae Festival. It was a hoot. We had our first fight here, as my partner had decided to stay on late at the festival and didn’t get home until the very early hours the next day. That would normally be ok, but our stern anchor had come loose and the boat was swinging dangerously close to the jetty. It was hard to manage on my own and I had to wake a man up from one of the other boats to help me at 4:00am. I was NOT a happy Jan. We did have fun though.
Then it was planning for the next phase. Dominica to Marie Galante. The distance wasn’t as far as the last leg, only 33 nautical miles and we expected about 6 hours. The weather was calmer and the sailing lovely. We saw dugongs and dolphins. It was a perfect day. We sang “we are Sailing” and “two drifters, off to see the World” from Moon River, all the way. It was restful and more like what we had imagined.
Marie-Galante is a dependency of Guadeloupe and a Region of France. . We didn’t plan to spend too long as it is a tiny island and the anchorages were known to get rough if the weather blew up. We anchored in St. Louis and the water was so clear you could see to the bottom in the moonlight.
Marie Galante has beautiful, white-sand beaches and wonderful, clear waters which it shares with Guadeloupe. For anyone who knows me, beaches are my thing. If there is no beach, there is no holiday. We hired a scooter to explore, as whilst it can take you 2 hours to drive around an Island, it can take you a week to sail around it. On the west coast we found lovely beaches at Anse Canot, Moustique, Folle Anse and Trois Ilets. On the east coast, Petite Anse, Les Galets and Anse Feuillard were all lovely beaches. The sensational Plage de la Feuillère at Capesterre is also protected by a coral reef, while we did some great amazing snorkelling at Anse Taliseronde. We visited the ruins of the sugar factory and a windmill. We spent 2 days relaxing on all the beaches and re-provisioning. We snorkelled and met lot’s of nice friendly people and again I got to practice my French. Ahh it’s a tough life. We missed some things though. Fresh salads provisions and fresh milk were almost non-existent. I hate UDT milk and getting a good milkshake, which was a favourite of both my partner and I, was an impossibility.
Marie-Galante to Guadeloupe is just under 30 Nautical miles and it is protected easy sailing. We anticipated about 5 hours. There is nothing on earth, quite so mind-blowing and relaxing at the same time as. that sensation of moving through beautiful clear water, with just the noise of the wind in the sails and the water and dolphins diving at the bow, can only be described as that famous Oz expression “Ahhhh, the serenity”. We were looking forward to visiting this place and going diving in the Jacques Cousteau Underworld reserve. Also there was a Mooring’ office there, where could finally pick up some decent charts. We also needed to re-provision and get fuel. Chris Doyle’s Guide had got us this far, but we were heading into areas far more scattered with reefs and hidden dangers, so charts would be a necessity.
The country of Guadeloupe is really made up of two large islands, Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, divided by the Riviere Salee, including some smaller islands like Marie-Galante, which we had just arrived from. It is often called the butterfly island because that’s what it looks like from above.
It had begun to get really hot, so we anchored at the nearest beach which was Sainte Marie. We literally just threw the anchor over the side and dived into the crystal clear water. We frolicked and splashed, and then lay on the beach for a while and had a lovely picnic lunch on the beach. We then decided to head into Pointe-a-Pitre to check in with customs and go the Moorings Office. We got ready to move and my partner supposedly secured the Zodiac to the Stern and we headed off. This took an hour or so and I just happened to turn around and see that there was no Zodiac dinghy trailing behind us. I looked at my partner ‘WTF’. He looked innocently back, like “who,ME?”, couldn’t possibly be my fault. We turned around and scoured the shores along the way we had come, but these are fundamentally poor countries and an adrift Zodiac with outboard, valued at the time at about $,1200, is simply too good an opportunity to be honest about. I was not amused. As the designated Skipper and he the crew, we had a clearly defined set of roles and responsibilities. I steered and cooked and he looked after the deck and was solely responsible for tethering the dinghy. But NOOOO not his fault. I hate the word FAULT in general, as what is done is done and I had taken out the required insurance. We anchored in Pointe-a-Pitre and had to hitch lift in to the Moorings Office and explain our predicament. Insurance forms were filled out and the credit card (mine of course), handed over for the $250 excess. Our replacement dinghy and outboard were nowhere near as good as the lost one but we had to make do. We spent 2 nights here as a base. We also had to check in to Customs. This was our first example of how scary that can actually be. We had already been warned that each passport had to have $20USD hidden inside in order to get stamped. The guy just looked so huge and threatening.
The next day we hired a moped and headed off to Pigeon Island to the Jacques Cousteau Reserve. I had read so much about it and it. It is written up to be one of the world’s top dive sites, I was a bit disappointed.. The waters surrounding the island are now protected as an underwater park. There’s even a sub-aquatic statue of Mr Cousteau near the Jardins de Corail (Coral Gardens) dive site. Divers who touch the statue’s head are supposed to have good luck, and good diving, for the rest of their underwater lives. I have to admit to being more than a little disappointed. I think we Aussies are spoilt by the Great Barrier Reef, (even if we don’t look after it). I am sure old Jacques was showing a bit of French bias in declaring this to be the Top Diving site. The visibility wasn’t that great and half of the coral was dead. The fish were pretty but not that abundant. Some of the caves were good but all in all if you had gone all the way there as a diver on that recommendation you would be pretty pissed.
Speaking of things French, Guadeloupe is very French. Again I got to practice but my partner was getting a bit sick of just talking to me. Even though there were lot’s of nationalities represented on other boats, even the English-speaking ones seemed to, as I said before, find his accent difficult to understand. He was happy though as he was very Catholic and the island was full of churches for him to confess his sins of having missed a few Sunday masses while we were on the move.
By this time you are probably sick of seeing photos of beaches and waterfalls and rainforests, but we certainly weren’t sick of seeing them. It would take months to visit every beach and park and waterfall on this amazing little island, but we had 5 days to see as many of them as possible.
We spent a day at Gosier on Creole Beach snorkeling. Again the Food was great with lot’s of gorgeous beach front restaurants and cafes.
We visited every waterfall on the island, all 6 of them, as after beaches, they are my second favourite thing.
One of my favourite places was Anse Betrand. It is tucked away in the northern most village. There are a group of small but stunningly beautiful coves surrounded by lush green coconut trees.It looks like something out of Adam and Eve.
The beach is wonderful, but the surrounding area has a lot to offer, too. Look for it on the North West coast of Grande-Terre. It’s located near, which is situated four miles to the south, and it is one of the area’s interesting attractions.
We did all the tourist Historical attractions such asto learn about Guadeloupe’s past.
The country of Guadeloupe is truly a beach connoisseur’s, like me, all that and a piece of cake.
We sailed a bit more around the coast. The beaches range from exotic ebony to dazzling white. Some shores, like those found on the island’s leeward side, boast golden brown sands, while others have pebbly shores edged by green grass near the mangroves. As most of the islands in this area are ex volcanic there are towering cliffs along west-end beaches.
On the southern part of Grand-Terre, the beaches face the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea, which are warmer and generally calmer than those of the Atlantic, particularly in the sheltered water of the lagoons. To the west of Basse Terre the beaches all had sand like sugar in the south, and gradually get darker as you travel to the north point.
One of the great things about sailing is that if you anchor out the front of one of the posh hotel beaches which are man-made and not open to the public, they allow you to use their facilities without having to pay the exorbitant nightly rates. We learnt that this will come in particularly handy the further north we went.
So after Day 5 we started planning our next leg to Antigua. There was talk of some bad weather coming and English Harbour in Antigua is the only deep harbour in the area.
This is where I will leave you for now. Stay tuned for much more excitement to come in Chapter 2.