A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
On the morning of May 8, we left Martinique for St. Lucia. The first part of the trip was quite uncomfortable, with short period, steep, confused seas, and wave heights around 8 feet, with the occasional bigger one. At one point, Kendall, Eoin, and Brian were up at the helm and found themselves eye-level with the crest of a wave. It seemed more than 14 feet high. Fortunately it was the only one of its kind! The sea state caused some seasickness on board. Eoin threw up, Kendall was incapacitated on a cockpit bench for a couple of hours, and Marin felt slightly queasy. Isla was the only one who took Dramamine and she read comfortably for the entire trip. Brian, as usual, and very fortunately, was unaffected.
Once we were in the lee of St. Lucia, we experienced calm following seas and everyone got their sea legs back under them. By 1:30, we were on a mooring in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. This would be our home for the next week or so; Brian was heading to North Carolina for Duke’s graduation weekend and we decided that Kendall and the kids would stay on the mooring while he was away.
The marina was part of a resort complex, and while we were at our mooring, we had use of the resort’s pools. It isn’t always nice to swim in a marina and we were happy to have access to the pools because it was still and hot during our visit. The bay is very sheltered, and is known to be a hurricane hole. Hurricane holes are definitely sheltered, usually at the cost of air flow, and they become hot, still, and often buggy. In addition to the resort, the bay was surrounded by restaurants, all of them good, and all with good views. Brian and Kendall were able to satisfy their love of Indian food (on multiple occasions!) at Masala Bay and splurged on a date night at the Rainforest Hideaway.
We were also able to catch up with our good friends, Nancy and Curt from SV Rum Tum Tiger (Leopard 40) while in St. Lucia. We first met them on New Providence in The Bahamas back in December, then saw them again briefly in Turks and Caicos where we compared plans for our upcoming passages to Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, we spent some time catching up at the Marina Pescaderia in Puerto Real. After Counting Stars left Puerto Real, we often exchanged emails with the Rum Tum Tiger crew, keeping up with each other’s location and progress. We are planning to haul out at the same yard in Grenada in June and knew we’d see each other then, but hoped to catch up sooner, and we were very happy to see them in St. Lucia.
After Brian returned from Durham, we moved to the dock for fuel, and stayed there overnight so we could plug in and equalize our batteries. Our next stop would be Bequia in St. Vincent and we were looking forward to seeing the famous Pitons along the way down the St. Lucia coast.
We set off for Martinique on the morning of April 26. For the first three hours, the winds in the lee of Dominica were light and we needed to motorsail. Once we reached the channel between the islands, however, the wind picked up and we were able to shut down the engine and sail until we were in the lee of Martinique. Our first stop was St. Pierre, the town that was known as the ‘Paris of the Caribbean’ until Mont Pelee erupted in 1902. As we turned toward St. Pierre, we had beautiful views of the volcano and the town. For the next two nights, we were anchored just south of town at Anse Turin. While in St. Pierre, we visited the volcano museum, saw the ruins, did some boat school, and swam and snorkeled off the boat.
On April 28 after a two-hour motor into the wind (and after having to change the fuel filter in the starboard engine since it stalled repeatedly just as we entered the tight anchorage - quick change of course back to the bay!!), we anchored below Fort St. Louis on the Fort-de-France waterfront. We hadn’t been to a city in a while, so we made sure to do plenty of shopping, visit a restaurant or two (yum - crepes!), replenish our provisions at a large, modern grocery store, and enjoy croissants and other treats from the patisseries. One afternoon, we took a ferry across the bay to Trois Ilets to visit the beaches there. We also caught up briefly with Mike and Eva on SV Tell Tales Again. A large park on the waterfront hosted a gospel festival over the weekend we were anchored there. On Saturday night, the soldiers stationed at the fort held an 80s party – you can imagine how those two music genres sounded when played loudly at the same time!
After a couple of days in the big city, we were ready for a quieter anchorage and sailed about two hours south to Anse Chaudiere. This is a quiet anchorage just south of the village of Les Anses d’Arlet. We spent two days here swimming, working on school, and just relaxing. It was a quiet couple of days – the most excitement was when we went to the ATM in town for more Euros and the machine kept Brian’s card. The bank was not yet open so we had time to consult our resources, figure out how little cash we had, and learn how to explain the situation in French. Fortunately, the card was available once the bank opened and we were on our way to Sainte Anne at the south end of the island.
We arrived in Sainte Anne around noon on May 2. Earlier in the week, we had received an email from Janet on SV Maple (we met in Dominica) letting us know of two other kid boats anchored in Sainte Anne. As we motored through the anchorage, we looked around for the other boats. It was a large anchorage with at least 150 boats and we weren’t sure we’d find them right away, so we just picked a spot and anchored. However, once we were securely anchored, we looked around and felt that the neighboring boats were just a bit too close for our comfort. So we picked up the anchor to find some more space. We found a nice big spot with plenty of swinging room near a couple of catamarans. Hmmm – a couple of catamarans – we got the binoculars to take another look and realized that we had found the other two kid boats – they were the ones right in front of us! While we were tidying up the boat, Shaun and Sherrie from SV Element (home to Jordan, 7, and Paige, 13) dinghied over to say hello. Soon afterwards, Greg and Melanie from SV The Amazing Marvin (home to Allie, 10, and Tommy, 12) came by and introduced themselves. The kids were very excited to meet, and school was completed at a record pace that day. Once school work was done, they swam from boat to boat throughout the afternoon, swimming and playing. Later, after the day’s boat work was done, the adults gathered for sundowners and a beautiful sunset on The Amazing Marvin.
We spent a very enjoyable few days at Sainte Anne, with fresh croissants most mornings, playdates every day for the kids, a sleepover, and family gatherings most evenings. Just before we left for St. Lucia, another kid boat anchored nearby and on our last night in Sainte Anne, the Counting Stars and Element families met for sundowners with the SV Flip Flops (Erin, 8, and Michael, 14) family. We were sad to be leaving our new friends, but as we are all headed toward Grenada for the hurricane season, we knew it was ‘see you later’, not ‘good-bye.’
Dominica was amazing. Absolutely amazing. By outward appearances, it is among the poorest islands we have visited so far, but the scenery is dramatic, the land is productive, the people are helpful and welcoming, and the nation has a strong commitment to ecotourism. It is home to the Waitakubuli Trail, a 115 mile long trail comprised of 14 segments. It begins at the south end of Dominica at Scott's Head and continues to the Cabrits National Park in the north. We walked on part of the trail on one of our tours and would love to be able to return some day and hike the entire length. Despite repeated hurricane impacts (in 1979, David devastated the island, and in 2015, Erika caused unprecedented flooding) and infrastructure challenges, Dominicans seem upbeat and devoted to the future of their island home. We wish we could have stayed longer and we hope to visit again sometime in the future. Grab a refreshment and get comfortable: this is a long post with lots of photos.
We arrived in Prince Rupert Bay in Portsmouth, Dominica, following a fast sail from Les Saintes. After motoring for about 30 minutes to get ahead of some squalls, we raised the sails and away we went! The wind was never below the mid-20s, sometimes gusting into the 30s, especially as we approached the north coast of Dominica. Despite the 2-3 meter swells and the heavily reefed sails (3rd reef in main for the entire trip, while progressively decreasing genoa sail area during the trip), we made the 2o+ nautical mile passage in less than three hours despite noodling around in the beginning, with average boat speeds around 8.6 knots.
As we turned toward Prince Rupert Bay, a brightly painted boat sped towards us and came alongside. With a warm and enthusiastic, "Welcome to Paradise!", Alexis introduced himself and led us to a mooring in the bay. He gave us an overview of the area, pointing out restaurants and bars on the beach, and we booked an Indian River tour for the next morning. Alexis is part of the Portsmouth Area Yacht Services (PAYS) group. PAYS is a self-organized nonprofit group of formerly independent tour guides that provides security and services to cruisers. Cruisers who have been here before often have a PAYS representative that they prefer to work with and will reserve in advance with them (you will hear this happening on the VHF in one of the videos below; more on that later). Those who do not reserve and/or have not been to Portsmouth before, like us, are met by one of the PAYS members upon approach to the bay. Most often the person who meets you and shows you to your mooring is the one who will help with tours and pretty much any other needs you may have. We booked two tours through Alexis, and he took our laundry out to be washed and folded. He checked in with us each day to make sure we were doing well, to see if we needed anything, and to let us know if he was organizing any tours. In addition to tours and other needs, PAYS also provides day and night security in the anchorage and keeps an eye on unattended boats. We would absolutely work with Alexis again and have recommended him to other cruisers heading to Dominica.
If you watched both videos above, you may have heard the following on our VHF in the background: "Albert...Albert...Albert...Avocation...Avocation." This is a skipper hailing a PAYS member. What is particularly interesting about this call is that Avocation is the boat on which Kendall experienced her first offshore passage (Bermuda to Huntington NY) in the summer of 2015. It was on this passage that she realized two things: it is possible to be more seasick than you had ever imagined or expected and that she was not the least bit wigged out by being out of sight of land for multiple days. Avocation is a Swan 48 owned by Hank Schmitt. If you read a lot of sailing magazines, you have no doubt read some of his articles or read about him. Hank owns Offshore Passage Opportunities, an organization helping captains find crew for boat deliveries and offshore trips. He is also a strong supporter of PAYS and spearheaded an effort to raise funds from the cruising community for new moorings in Prince Rupert Bay. It was great to catch up with Hank that evening and we hope to cross paths again in the future.
First thing Thursday morning, Alexis came by to get us along with Mike and Eva from SV Tell Tales Again (a Leopard 43 from Virginia Beach!) for the Indian River tour. Alexis motored across the bay towards the river mouth. As we passed under the bridge, he shut off the engine and went to the bow to pick up his oars as motorized traffic is not permitted past the bridge. He told us about growing up on Dominica and about the wildlife and trees and plants. We saw many birds along the shore and every now and then, some big fish in the silty water. As we made our way up the river, we marveled at the profusion of green that surrounded us. Tree roots snaked across the ground and to the river's edge. We stopped at the Bush Bar for refreshments and to explore along the riverbank. Kendall highly recommends the coconut punch, a concoction of coconut milk, rum, and spices. Actually, Kendall's love of all things coconut is quite happy in the Caribbean...
Since the Indian River tour had been so much fun, we decided to book a half day with Alexis for Friday morning. Again, Alexis came for us and the SV Tell Tales Again crew first thing in the morning, and delivered us to his neighbor Serge, who was our guide for the day. First, we did a loop hike in the Syndicate Forest, hoping to see the Sisserou, the national bird of Dominica. There are two species of parrots endemic to Dominica: the Sisserou and the Jaco. We did not see any in the forest, but again, the greenness was almost overwhelming. The next stop was Syndicate Falls, which was on private land. Instead of taking us up to the small parking lot at the trailhead, Serge parked at the end of the small road, and we walked up instead. Along the way, he pointed out all the crops in cultivation in the area, including nutmeg, daschine, sweet potato, callaloo, cocoa, coffee, bananas of all kinds, coconuts, cinnamon, and papayas, to name a few. At one point, he went into the brush at the side of the road, emerging with a stick of sugar cane that he cut into small pieces for each of us to chew on as we walked. At the pay station for the falls, the landowner had put out dishes of freshly cut coconut, sugar cane, and pineapple for the visitors. The falls were beautiful, but I think everyone's favorite part was swinging across the river on the vine!
As we were on the way back to Portsmouth, Serge suddenly hit the brakes, and said, "Parrots!". We piled out of the van and peered into the trees. We could hear them and see them in the trees but they were well camouflaged. Suddenly, two took flight and we got a good look at the national bird of Dominica before they landed again. After a couple more stops along the way to gather ginger from the side of the road and to show us more plants and trees (cashew and almond trees), he took us to his house and gave us breadfruit, plantains, and coconuts from the trees in his yard.
On our last day in Dominica (Monday, April 24), we rented a car for the day and drove around the northern half of the island. It was a rainy, overcast day, but the lush green forest and farms were nevertheless breathtaking. Although we had two different maps of Dominica, it wasn't always easy to navigate. For example, one map showed a road connecting to another road, while the other map showed the road ending without meeting the other one. Perhaps because of wishful thinking (we really wanted that road to connect!) and because each map had proven to be somewhat flawed, we decided to go with the map that showed the roads connecting. As we drove down the road, evidence of maintenance was lacking and the vegetation had begun to take over. At one point, the road was heavily eroded (but intact). Then it began to head down toward the river it would eventually cross. We took this to be a good sign (at least we were on the road we thought we were on!). By this time, it was barely one lane and the only evidence of humans was the occasional small farm cut out of the surrounding jungle. We passed an older, dreadlocked man walking in the opposite direction. He called out as we passed but neither of us caught what he said; we assumed he was saying hello because everyone in Dominica had been so friendly. Not five minutes later, we realized that he was most likely trying to tell us that the bridge was out just ahead. The road did not go through - we'd trusted the wrong map. When we passed him on the way back up the hill, we shared a laugh about the bridge and he gave us directions to the right road. Soon we passed two more men who were carrying large loads of produce from their farms up the steep road in the middle of nowhere. How we wished that we weren't already over capacity in our little rental! Even though we couldn't give them a ride, they were very helpful and made sure we were pointed in the right direction.
Everything grows on Dominica and you can find just about any fruit or vegetable you want. Alexis had told us the Saturday market was not to be missed, but that we had to get there early before all the good stuff was gone. So, Brian, Kendall, and Marin went early on Saturday morning. It seemed that all of Portsmouth was there, shopping, selling, or visiting. The vendors at the stalls were happy to give us directions on how to prepare fruits or veggies that were strange to us. It was a colorful, vibrant, and lively morning.
One afternoon, as Kendall was sitting on the beach with the laptop trying to catch up on our neglected blog, a woman approached and asked if we were from Counting Stars. She and her family had heard about us from SV Alkemi, who knew we were in the area. Janet and Darryl are a Canadian couple traveling on a Leopard 38 called SV Maple with their two girls, Ella and Iris. They had been on the lookout for us because kid boats are always looking for other kid boats. The girls all hit it off, as boat kids tend to do, and were happily playing on the beach. Later, Marin and Isla went back to Maple for a short playdate and plans were made for another playdate and a birthday celebration on Counting Stars.
The next day, the girls had a great time playing together. After a couple of hours, Janet and Darryl joined us for Marin's birthday cupcakes. It was a fun gathering for both kids and adults. It is always nice to meet up with other cruising parents to share stories of past travels and to discuss future plans, boat maintenance, and boat school. Unfortunately, we weren't able to spend more time with the SV Maple crew as they departed for Martinique later that night. We are all headed to Grenada, so hopefully will catch up with them again in the coming weeks.
Eoin raised the anchor around 7:45 on the morning of April 13, and it was good bye Antigua and Guadeloupe, here we come! We were all looking forward to visiting another French island for the culture, infrastructure, and of course, the boulangeries. The wind was on the nose and decreasing over the course of the day, so we motorsailed the 7-hour trip from Carlisle Bay to Deshaies.
The anchorage at Deshaies is notorious in the cruiser community for its high winds and poor holding in mostly deep water. It gets crowded and people don’t want to swing into other boats, so some let out less chain than is optimal. As a result, boats often drag anchor with a variety of consequences: from hitting another boat to drifting west across the Caribbean toward Central America. We motored through the crowded anchorage watching the depth readings consistently over 50 feet and finding insufficient swing room in the shallower (30 foot) areas. Fortunately, at the southwestern edge of the anchorage and close to shore, we found 20 feet of water over nice sand. After getting in the water and finding the anchor deeply buried, we felt confident that we would not be dragging it around the anchorage!
Brian went ashore to check in, which is super-simple in French countries. All he has to do is go to the shop or restaurant that hosts the customs and immigration computer, enter everyone’s information and that’s it. No paperwork, no one looks at our passports. We hoisted our little French flag to the starboard spreader and we were officially in France!
The highlight of our visit to Deshaies was the Jardin Botanique. After school on Friday morning, deciding that exercise would be a good idea, we walked up a very steep and long hill. The kids were wilting in the heat and exertion and we were all red-faced and soaked with sweat when we arrived at the garden. After recovering and refueling over a delicious lunch at the restaurant overlooking the garden, we walked through the garden, marveling at the strange and beautiful flowers and trees. It was especially interesting to see the same kind of plants we have had in our house in the past growing in their natural, and much larger, state. There was an aviary filled with almost tame rainbow lorikeets where visitors could buy small cups of food for the birds. It wasn’t long before a couple of birds landed on Kendall’s arm and drank from the cup. The birds were landing on people’s hands, arms, and shoulders. One even landed on Eoin’s head. We ended the afternoon enjoying a beautiful view of the anchorage while the kids played on the playground.
Later that afternoon, Kendall, Isla, and Eoin snorkeled from the boat. They saw a good diversity of fish and coral, despite the three large lionfish also in residence. Brian was sad to miss the snorkeling, but he was out of the water for a few days due to a rather gory toe injury. The previous night, as we were walking down the sidewalk toward the dinghy dock, he stubbed his toe on something. It was dark and we did not realize the extent of the injury until we returned to the boat and saw all the blood. It was a LOT of blood and it appeared much worse for the first couple of days than it turned out to be. Fortunately it healed quickly, although the tip of his toe is no longer as rounded as the others…we have photos of it (in case we needed to contact some doctor friends back home for advice) but we’ll keep those to ourselves.
On the morning of April 15, we set off for Iles des Saintes, a group of islands to the south of the Guadeloupe “mainland.” Many mooring balls have been installed in order to help protect the seabed from anchors. Boats are allowed to anchor outside the mooring fields, but the water is quite deep: at least 60 feet, usually more. It was crowded when we arrived and we did not find any available moorings in three different fields near the main island, Terre-de-Haut. Not wanting to anchor in the deep water and high winds outside, we headed over to Terre-de-Bas to try our luck. We were glad to find space and good holding in Anse Fideling. It was quiet and we enjoyed two relaxing days there, despite the Easter Bunny not finding us on Sunday due to our remote location. Oops.
We went ashore Easter afternoon to see the town and promptly got caught in a torrential downpour. Taking shelter at a bus stop, we practiced our French with the slightly inebriated Creole man who was also waiting there for the rain to stop. Upon realizing that the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, we continued on our soaking wet walk. Since it was Easter, everything was closed, but we enjoyed seeing the cozy, well-kept, and gaily painted cottages and saying hello to the families gathered on many of the porches.
On April 17, we pulled up the anchor to try our luck in the Terre-de-Haut mooring fields, and were excited to find a mooring at Pain de Sucre. We spent the next two days exploring in the afternoons once the schoolwork was done, visiting Fort Napoleon, having a nice French dinner, and spending an afternoon on the waterfront playground.
The anchorage/mooring field in the foreground is the main one at Terre-de-Haut. We were moored at the Pain de Sucre anchorage, which is behind the low area between the tall mountain in the center and the smaller, rounded hill in the middle far right of the photo. Counting Stars is the white speck right behind the low spot. It was a beautiful place and well-protected from prevailing winds.
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars