Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Northbound: Martinique

On our way south to Grenada, Mark and I only spent about a week in Martinique, stopping in the capital Fort-de-France and its surroundings and in Grand Anse d’Artlet, not being impressed with the country. The beaches we saw were fair, with “Dogs Prohibited” signs all over them. Luckily, few Caribbean “rules” are enforced and nobody yelled at us. On the other hand, Martinique’s check-in procedures are very quick, easy and free and bringing Darwin into the country is not a problem at all. You got to love the French islands for that. The forms don’t even have a box to check for pets.

This time around, we planned on visiting different places, doing some boat projects and stocking up on delicious French products. After a bumpy crossing from St. Lucia, we arrived in Le Marin, known for its boat services. Never have we seen so many boats together in a bay. There must have been more than a thousand, mostly French registered, sailboats packed in the area. Our guess is a lot of French people come here to work and live on their boat. As a result of this, the water is pretty dirty and grimy looking. Time to do the dishes in our sink and skip showering for a few days…

We are training Darwin every day to be left alone again, starting slowly with 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes in Martinique. During one of those sessions, we scoped out the Leader Price, a favorite grocery store amongst cruisers, because of its reasonably priced French goods. I went back later to load up our fridge and cabinets with cheeses, salami, smoked salmon, pâtés, snacks and affordable European milk and granola. A couple of nights in a row we splurged on these things with fresh baguettes. Mmmmm….

One day we managed to finish two big boat projects that had been hanging over our heads for months, which created a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. I finally decided to do one load of laundry in a real washing machine, because this was needed for a while. Just the washing cost us the equivalent of US $ 10, which is why I do most of it by hand when we have enough (rain) water. The hot water (precious to come by in machines around here) made it worthwhile, this time!

From Le Marin, we moved Irie a bit down the bay, to the cute looking town of Ste. Anne, where we spent a few days. The clear water, nice views and proximity of a good bakery made this place attractive to us, even though Darwin was looked at with fear and annoyance a few times. We ignored the “No Dogs” signs, but felt awkward walking him on the beach.

The biggest draw in this area are the southern beaches. We learned about a 3 mile trail to Salines Beach, the prettiest one in Martinique, and one day, we set out exploring with Darwin. First we had to walk through town and along a hot road for a mile or so, but the hike itself was a wonderful retreat in shaded forests, following an attractive coast, through mangroves and along white sand beaches. We stopped at one of these along the way to cool off, being the only people around. Martinique has many well marked trails and this one runs all along the south coast and up some. It is called “Trace des Caps”.

In Salines, there are food stands and cold drinks for sale. The beach is long and quite pretty, backed by greenery and palm trees. No development to be seen and lots of vacationers and families were enjoying the cool, clear water. We hung out for a bit, before making the walk back to Ste. Anne and the dinghy.

For a long time, we were going back and forth about what to do over Christmas. Some people we knew from Grenada were going to have a beach picnic with tasty finger food and that sure sounded good. But, a north swell would be running for a long time to come and we really didn’t want to get stuck in Martinique for weeks because of the weather. We played with the idea to visit St. Pierre in the northern part of Martinique and Roseau in the southern part of Dominica on days with little swell, since these anchorage are quite open to the sea. Swell less days would be far and few between, so we did decide to give it a try and left Ste. Anne on the day before Christmas, mostly because there was no good (read: cheap or free) WiFi there. We spent one night in Grand Anse d’Arlet (with great internet), where we took Darwin for a walk to picturesque Petit Anse ‘dArlet, before arriving in St. Pierre.

We didn’t have to worry about the north swell in St. Pierre. There was none; instead a big swell from the south (because of the rare southeast winds) rolled in, making the place pretty uncomfortable. Since it was Christmas Day, the whole town was dead and we were left rocking on Irie with gorgeous views of the volcano (Mt. Pelée) and a simple meal. A quiet one for us, this year.

The next day, the three of us visited the center of St. Pierre, once completely ruined by the volcano eruption of 1902. Scattered around, you see remnants of this disaster, which killed all but two residents. Old walls are integrated with the rebuilt town and some ruins still exist, like the theatre ruins and the prison cell. This cell saved one prisoner in 1902 because of its thick walls. The clear weather treated us with marvelous cloud free views of the volcano all day long. I couldn’t get enough of photographing this majestic mountain.

On this day after Christmas, we also remembered Kali. We still think and talk about her a lot, but exactly one year ago she passed away and that day we lost something very important to us and our lives. A candle was lit all day, we looked at pictures, recalled stories and reread my incredibly sad diary entry from December 26th 2008. The following day, we left for Dominica.

(For many more pictures of Martinique, see

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Northbound Again

When Mark, Darwin and I left the Tobago Cays, we wanted to make a quick stopover in St. Vincent before spending some time in the next island, St. Lucia. On the way south, we had spent the night in Chateaubelair Bay without any problems, even though a boat boy had told us about a robbery not too long before. We didn’t sleep very well, but it was the most convenient stop for us. This time, we planned on doing the same, since Chateaubelair is the best jump off point for St Lucia from St. Vincent. So, we motor sailed all along the wind free west coast of the country, to arrive in our bay of choice, despite other cruisers’ warnings it wasn’t safe there.

In some Caribbean islands, boat boys welcome you to the anchorage. They sell all kinds of things from fruit to fish to handmade souvenirs, want to hand you the line to a mooring ball or help you tie up to shore when needed. All in return for some money, of course. When we arrived in Chateaubelair this time, however, a boy that recognized us (or was it Darwin he recognized?), paddled out on his surf board and didn’t want to sell anything. Instead, he warned us not to anchor at this spot anymore. He mentioned something about another robbery that happened recently (and which we read about later in the Caribbean Compass newspaper) and about the police not wanting boats to anchor this far away from town anymore. Mark and I were contemplating. Do we believe him? Does he just want us closer to town so all his friends can try to sell us things? We were tired, didn’t feel like motoring back south to the previous anchorage and wanted an early start the next morning. We did know ourselves enough to realize we wouldn’t sleep in this place, dog or no dog, and we would be happier in a safe bay. So, we picked up our anchor and took Irie back to Cumberland Bay.

Cumberland Bay in St. Vincent is a very deep bay where one needs some boat driving skills. Since it was getting later in the day, more boats had taken a spot than we had seen before and we had to maneuver Irie backwards between two monohulls, towards shore. At the right moment to give us enough scope (length of anchor chain), Mark had to drop the anchor in more than 40 feet of water and then I had to drive backwards between the two parked boats until we were close to shore, where a boat boy tied our stern line to a palm tree for the equivalent of $ 4. It only took us two tries, while all the other boaters, mostly charterers, bluntly watched.

Cumberland is an interesting place. It is very small and cozy and even though the locals look a bit out of place, they are very friendly. There is a small shack on the black beach and a fresh river to rinse off the salt water. A lot of people just hang around and some of the boys show how brave and cool they are by hanging on your lines and anchor chain. We didn’t have to put our outboard back on the dinghy during this short stop (we always haul it on deck on crossings between islands), because we could just pull ourselves ashore with our stern line to let Darwin out. When we inquired about the situation in Chateaubelair, the police ordinance was confirmed and the bay is openly called unsafe. We were glad about our decision to move for the night and slept well as a result.

The sail to St. Lucia was gorgeous and to top it all off, we were welcomed to the country by a huge pod of dolphins. They played in front of our bow for 15 minutes and we thoroughly enjoyed their beautiful presence. I filmed part of their activity. You might have seen it in the right column of this page! The sight of the Pitons is always breathtaking and we could see them from pretty far away. That in combination with the dolphins created a truly magical moment. This is a very scenic region in St. Lucia and we hoped to spend some time in the National Park.

We stopped in St. Lucia on the way south to Grenada and were very pleased with the country and its officials. We had no problem checking Darwin in and that was one of the reasons we wanted to come back. This time, things went a bit differently, though. The captain, Mark, went to shore in Soufriere and checked us in. A guy from the agriculture department would arrive an hour later and Mark would have to pick him up, which he did. This “official” came to the boat to “inspect” Darwin, but, instead of scanning his microchip, giving him a quick exam and looking through his vaccination records and handing us a permit for EC$ 45 (US$ 18) like the vet on our southbound trip had done, this guy just looked at Darwin, briefly scanned our paperwork and wrote something on it. All for the round amount of EC$ 150 (US$ 60!). Luckily, Mark could “bargain” this “government fee” down to EC 95 (US$ 38), still a lot of money for us, but what are you gonna do? It sure put a sour taste in our mouth about this visit to St. Lucia. One would wonder why we still go through all the effort, time, hassle and money to check our dog into every country along the way… Do you know anybody else who does? And, just for the record, all this happened after we tried to contact the agriculture department for two weeks about checking Darwin in in Soufriere and hearing nothing back. We also wrote them about this last experience to no avail.

Soufriere is not a place we recommend for cruisers. Checking in is easy, but other than that, the people are very aggressive and unfriendly and boat boys abound wherever you anchor in the bay. The mooring balls which you are obliged to moor on and pay for (they are part of the National Park fee) are very close together, making it very tricky NOT to hit another boat. We managed for one night and then moved to Anse des Pitons, the favorite of many cruisers.

This anchorage is located between the two Pitons and is scenic indeed. On shore, a big resort owns the grounds, but boaters have permission to land their dinghy and walk around. Dogs, however, are not allowed on the private property. They are welcome on the beach, but since that’s where a lot of hotel guests hang out, we didn’t feel very comfortable walking Darwin around, even though we “pick up” after him. So, after one night, we left there as well.

Our next stop was called Anse Mamin, near Anse Chastanet. We were the only boat on the moorings and enjoyed the quiet bay and nice black beach with palm trees. This area is part of another resort, but beaches are public in St. Lucia and we didn’t feel unwelcome here. We discovered a maze of trails in the jungle behind the beach and enjoyed a few walks there. Nice place!

We hoped to spend a few nights in Anse de Canaries, but the fishermen removed all the mooring balls, so we had no way of telling where to put the boat. Instead, we spent the remainder of our park days in Anse Cochon, a pleasant enough bay with a nice beach. Because of its popularity, all the cruise ship passengers taking catamaran tours end up here as well.

To finish up our visit to St. Lucia, we anchored over a week in Rodney Bay, the most comfortable anchorage in the country. The bay is huge and there are different areas to drop the hook. The north side and the south side are very busy with vacationers on the beaches and in the water on jetskis, waterskis or Hoby Cats (little sailing catamarans). We started in the northern part of the bay to have a wonderful meal and evening in Jambe du Bois restaurant and to visit Pigeon Island National Park. Dogs are not allowed on the “island” which is now a peninsula, so I explored the park by myself. There are nice walks to the top of two hills which offer fantastic views, and many ruins dot the property.

The south side of the bay is very convenient to go ashore in the marina, walk long and nice Reduit beach or do some grocery shopping via the lagoon. After we did all that, bounced up and down during the day because of all the water sports commotion, lied awake all night because of loud music on shore and had a Hoby Cat run into Irie twice, it was time to move to the middle part of the bay. And there we stayed until the weather improved and it was time to sail to Martinique.

(For many more pictures, see

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Happy Birthday

The day after our visitors left Irie, Mark checked out of Grenada and off we went! Our trip back north started with a first stop at Chatham Bay in Union Island. The long beach is great for walks and the people were very friendly and welcoming. Not many yachts were present, making this a quiet and enjoyable stop for the night.

November 28th is my birthday and this year, we decided to actually do something fun and make the day somewhat special, by sailing to the Tobago Cays in The Grenadines. Mark and I have wanted to come here many times, but it had never worked out thus far. We tacked to the east for a couple of hours to find some of the prettiest water in the midst of a group of little islands and anchored behind the big horseshoe reef for protection against the seas. We managed to find a nice spot away from the other 50 or so boats. It was very windy and quite swelly, but we dealt with it for the short time we were there.

Before lunch, I checked out the reef with my snorkel gear. Mark had to stay with untrusting Darwin. Swimming into the current to reach the patches of coral was very hard and tiring, but getting back to Irie was a breeze. The choppiness of the sea made the experience less fun, but the coral and the fish were pretty enough. We’ll be back next season to explore this area more…

The best thing about birthdays is that I didn’t have to do ANYTHING! Mark made a nice egg sandwich breakfast, fried hot dogs that “hit the spot” for lunch, prepared a wonderful spaghetti carbonara with garlic bread for dinner and did all the dishes, while I soaked up the beautiful views around us. I even got a gift this year and what kind of one… It sure made up for last year’s “birthday”!

In the afternoon, we relaxed a bit and I took off snorkeling again, this time to see the many sea turtles near one of the beaches. I observed a bunch of these gentle creatures, while they nibbled on sea grass, moved through the water and swam to the surface for a breath of air. Later on, we all explored one of the little islands and enjoyed a nice sunset in Irie’s cockpit, while drinking my favorite cocktail of coconut rum (thank you, Griet and Wim) and pineapple juice. Is this what vacation feels like? I can’t wait until it’s November 28th 2010!

(For more pictures, check out

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Grenada with Visitors

Mark and I have been very busy lately and the arrival of visitors would mean we HAD to relax and do some fun stuff, at least while they were in Grenada. Irie got put back in the water right in time for the arrival of my cousin Griet and her husband Wim. The preparations were made for a nice, easy vacation and my plans included lots of sightseeing, relaxation on beautiful beaches, anchoring in deserted bays, swimming in the clearest of waters, watching millions of sparkling stars and snorkeling with tropical sea life. Why do I always have high expectations? When will I learn that making plans is impossible while living on a boat? Well, making plans is the easy part; it’s the execution of those well planned activities that require a little more than luck and agreeable weather gods…

For a little bit of extra money, the bus driver dropped me off at Grenada’s airport on Thursday, November 12th. Mark stayed with Darwin. He can’t be left alone these days and we needed the room in the dinghy for the luggage anyway. Griet and Wim arrived from Belgium a bit tired, but in a good mood and ready to take part in our sailing life. The first evening we had a lot of talking and catching up to do. The cocktails added to a wonderful evening.

The first few days we stayed in Prickly Bay. It’s easy to take a bus from there into the capital St. George’s, which is exactly what Griet, Wim and I did on Friday. Mark had a lot of online stuff to do for The Wirie, since that got neglected a bit in the boat yard, where we needed to focus on Irie. I led my family around Fort George with its nice views of the town and The Carenage (the inner harbor) and we explored one of the many churches, the center and the local market. At night we all went out to the Tiki Bar for tasty drinks and the best pizza in the Caribbean.

On Saturday, we planned to rent a car for the day to visit Grenada’s interior. Darwin, however, decided to start ruining our plans. He had gotten into his tail again the previous evening and needed to be taken to the vet. This would be the fourth time! We still hoped to combine the morning vet visit and the island tour, but when Darwin-left alone in the vet office by the doctor for a few minutes- bit his tail until it bled, he and his disappointed daddy went back to Irie. Griet, Wim and I set off inland. Wim did a great job navigating the narrow roads, avoiding the crazy drivers and staying on the left side. I focused on suggesting the correct turns and keeping him from falling off the edge of the road. A high level of concentration was needed!

We had a great day visiting Annandale Falls, avoiding cruise ship passengers, laughing at the absurd tourist traps, enjoying peaceful Grand Etang, observing a couple of monkeys, having a yummy sandwich in a local establishment, driving around the countryside and exploring the Seven Sister Falls, our highlight. After following a narrow, bumpy dirt track, we arrived at the muddy trail to the falls. For about half an hour, we walked and slid through the mud down a hill to two pools at the bottom of nice waterfalls. After some quiet time and a dip in the water, we splashed back to the car.

Our last day in Prickly Bay was spent on a beach with many of our cruising friends. Over drinks and a BBQ, we shared stories and said our goodbyes for the time being or for longer, since all of us have different plans for the winter season.

Then, it was finally time to leave the South Coast of Grenada. Irie and her crew spent two days in Morne Rouge for some snorkeling, beach time and relaxation. Darwin behaved, but only because he wasn’t left alone. Mark and I decided against more tests for now and took the dog to the vet one more time in St. George’s to obtain a health certificate for the trip north. We also went shopping for the last time in a decent grocery store. That day, Griet and Wim did a few more sights in the capital and treated us to a fancy and tasty dinner.

The day before our planned crossing to Carriacou, a part of our outboard engine broke. With a lot of effort, Mark brought the four of us to shore. Our guests went of by themselves again to see their last points of interests on the island of Grenada, while I ran errands in town and Mark tried to locate the engine part for the dinghy. Our dinghy is as important as a car on shore, or even worse, since we can’t get anywhere without it. Having to take a dog to shore at least twice a day makes the dinghy invaluable for us. Darwin stayed home with a huge cone on his head. When Mark and I came back after a couple of hours, he had managed to reach his tail and bite more fur and skin off it! Needless to say, our moods were pretty foul… Mark spent the rest of the day fixing the engine in the beaming sun. He succeeded and I was very proud of him!

Once we left for Cariacou, the sky cleared up, figuratively anyway, because it actually did start to rain a bit more… Our group had lunch and a wonderful snorkel experience in Ronde Island, before continuing on to Tyrrel Bay, where we spent two comfortable nights. We all walked to Paradise Beach, one of the nicest beaches in Grenada and soaked ourselves into the local, relaxed culture of the island.

The following two nights, we anchored at peaceful Sandy Island for some snorkeling and rest. We also hopped over to Hillsborough, Carriacou’s “capital” to run a few errands and book a flight back to Grenada for Griet and Wim.

Next, Irie brought us to Anse La Roche, a cruiser’s secret of a harbor. We were the only boat there and the nice, undeveloped beach, clear water and snorkeling spots belonged to us for the day! Before we headed back to Tyrrel Bay, the next day, we took Griet and Wim out sailing for one last time. The hope was to catch some fish, but we failed. We nevertheless had a wonderful sail and a nice dinner on shore that evening.

All in all, we had a great time together and all of us enjoyed the experiences. Mark and I are very appreciative of Griet and Wim’s attitude on the boat. They were very easy and flexible guests, “taking it as it comes”, making all the things that go wrong less stressful for us. We are happy we could share our “usual” life on Irie with them. Their relaxed and positive moods rubbed off on us, while we have picked up our cruising life once more. Now I just have to get used to doing those dishes myself again!

(For many more pictures, look at