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It’s difficult to believe that we arrived in the Caribbean at the island of Martinique after our Atlantic crossing only about two months ago. It seems like it should be longer. Wayne and I have often talked about how time passes so differently at different periods in life. This has been a very dense two months. As I write this, we are currently anchored off St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.
We decided to change our destination from Grenada to Martinique when we learned via email that our friend Philip was spending more than a month in Martinique to go kite surfing. We hadn’t seen him since his last visit to Turkey two years earlier.
I knew that Philip could also help me with a secret plan I had to surprise Wayne for his birthday on January 23. I wanted to throw him a Virtual Surprise Birthday Party. I emailed invitations to a Google Meet phone call to over 60 of Wayne’s friends, timing it for just after our dinner. Philip came over and we dined up on the Skybridge. I served up the bubbly and the homemade carrot cake to the birthday boy and his buddy, then I excused myself to go downstairs.
Down in the main salon, I set up my computer with an additional monitor. I logged in to the Google Meet and found that there were already a half dozen people there chatting away. I told them that I was going upstairs to get him and that they should yell “Surprise!” when they saw him arrive.
I had no idea if it was going to work, but it was amazing! More than half the invitees showed up, and we had people from the US, Canada, Europe and New Zealand. Unfortunately, there were only the 6 squares on the screen, but we could see the list of attendees on the side bar, and we tried to call out to everyone to get a chance to say hello. The whole thing was a challenge, but it worked fairly well for a first effort. Wayne and I decided a while ago that since neither of us needs more stuff, from now on we will give one another experiences instead of things for birthdays and Christmas. He really enjoyed his birthday experience.
Philip had a rental car, and one windless day, he invited us to go visit a couple of rum distilleries. The history of most of the Caribbean islands is tightly bound to the cultivation of sugar and the production of rum, and Martinique has done a good job of preserving this history through preserving the plantation estates.
The first place we visited was the Distillerie A 1710. The photo at the top of this post shows us tasting the rum inside the lovely old house. The property had never been a distillery before when it was purchased by a Frenchman who had a dream of creating a boutique, organic rum brand and distillery. He purchased the property of an 18th century home, “Habitation du Simon” that had fallen into disrepair, and has turned it into a gorgeous museum and tasting rooms. The photo at the top of this post shows us tasting the rum inside the lovely old house.
We toured the old carriage house where they distilled the rum, watched them crush the sugar cane for the juice, and visited the fields where the heritage seeds of the old blue and red sugar cane grew.
From there, we got back in the car and continued on to Habitation Clément, a much larger property and bigger brand of Martinique rum.
The grounds were gorgeous with sculpture gardens and several of the old buildings, including the old Clement family home seen above, and the huge storerooms with barrels of aging rum.
The following Sunday, Philip invited us to go with him to his kite surfing location located off a point close to Le Vauclin. It is located on the Atlantic side of the island, but a string of barrier reefs makes for flat water close to shore, and it is a world renowned kite surfing location. We had learned from some folks at one of the distilleries, that during the winter tourist season, they also have a Sunday jazz concert out there called Jazz a la Pointe.
We all had lunch at one of the restaurants along the beach, and then while Philip joined the other kite surfers, we enjoyed the music.
All too soon, it was time to say good-bye to Philip and to Martinique and start making our way up the island chain. Our next stop was Dominica, which has long been one of my favorite islands. From the friendly people to the gorgeous nature, Dominica is unlike any other island, not least of all because it is the poorest and least developed island in the Caribbean chain.
We anchored off Portsmouth where the locals have made life easy, safe and fun for the cruising boats. We contacted Cobra, a very entrepreneurial character, who came out to meet our boat and arranged to clear us in and out of Customs and Immigration, and to handle any tours we wanted. We usually handle our own clearances, but I am always so much happier to spend money when I know it is going into the islanders’ pockets. Dominica still hasn’t fully recovered from the devastation from the Cat 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017, so I told Wayne we would kick back and make us of the services Cobra offered.
Because the island does not have any long white sand beaches, Dominica has not been developed to the degree that the other islands have. I’ve always viewed that as a plus. It means the island is gem for those looking for a eco-tourist experience. Instead of big corporate resorts, Dominica has small inns and guest houses, and for the boaters, there is the option to go on various tours of the incredible rain forests, rivers and waterfalls. Our first tour was the trip up the beautiful Indian River with Albert as our guide.
The next day we went on an island tour with Cobra himself as our driver. We shared the tour with Elise, a lovely Norwegian woman sailor. We were gone from the boat for 10 hours and we learned so much about the island - and about Cobra’s life.
Then we hiked up to Trafalgar Falls. Click on any of the photos below to see them full size.
And just when we needed to relax a bit, Cobra took us to Wotton Valley where there are hot springs everywhere. We hiked around a bit, then went to a place where a family had created pools for soaking. We changed back into our suits and tried the various pools that were at different temperatures.
The next island on our trip north was Guadaloupe. After a sporty crossing of the channel between the islands, we anchored off Base Terre to clear in.
Once we were cleared in, we motored a few miles north and anchored off the village of Bouillante, where a power plant generates electricity through the water from a hot springs, and the locals and tourists alike enjoy swimming in the warm water that flows into the sea.
I paddled our inflatable kayak to shore on the Sunday that Bouillante was going to have their Carnival Parade for Mardi Gras. I was surprised to see lots of little boys cracking whips, so I did some research into this practice. Since Carnival is partly a competition between different groups to have the best floats and the best music, it seems to have become a way for young men from rival groups to prove their manliness. They are booed by the crowd if they are not very good at cracking their whips, cheered if they succeed. Some local people hate the practice, finding it dangerous and wondering why they needed to revive this object which was used to beat the African ancestors during slavery. I found it strange, I admit, but that is part of what travel is all about: learning about other people’s customs.
The wind increased while I was on shore, and the parade start was on island time. The crowds, the noise, the cracking whips and the wind drove me back to the boating we watched from a distance.
I am always the weather router and planner on board, so when I saw a particularly good weather window approaching for a sail to St. Martin, we decided to pass on visiting Antigua and to go straight to the half French, half Dutch island. After an easy overnight sail and a night spent anchored in Simpson Bay, we lined up for the 9:30 opening of the drawbridge to enter the lagoon.
The lagoon at St. Martin is a fabulous swell-free anchorage and has for decades attracted boats of all shapes and sizes.
As a result, the marine industry has grown there too. Add to that the fact that it is a duty-free port, and you will understand why it attracts so many boats.
We took advantage of our time in St. Martin to reprovision at several of the many fabulous grocery stores, to rent a car and tour the island, and to order ourselves some new equipment.
After more than two weeks, we once again saw a perfect powerboater’s dream weather window for an overnight passage to the Virgin Islands across the notorious Anegada Passage.
That night the sea was so calm we never even considered using our paravanes. We had an absolutely perfect passage and arrived at dawn off the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. For the first time, after sailing Möbius all the way from Turkey, we had brought our new boat to the shores of the USA.