Hanging out in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe

With weather forecasting some large northerly swells and strong winds, we decided to head into the very well protected bay of Pointe-a- Pitre on the south side of Guadalupe. It’s not a scenic place as it’s near the container ship docks and the power plant but it’s convenient to town and as we learned last year it’s to be a good place to wait out weather and swells. Guadeloupe is actually two large islands separated by a river. It’s a good island to explore by car and a good spot to provision and do work on the boat.

We waited for breeze to fill in and headed to Guadalupe enjoying a lovely sail along the way. We threw out a line and tried to catch a fish but only caught sargasso weed. We sailed right into the harbor but had to anchor four times before finding a spot we were comfortable with. The bottom was soft mud and Mermaid is a very heavy boat so we just seemed to plow through the mud when we tried to set. We finally set next to our friends on SV Coho.

Weather reports still predicted high winds and seas but it was quite calm in the anchorage most of the time so we took advantage of the time in Pointe a Pitre to refinish the teak in Mermaid’s cockpit. Mike sanded everything down to bare wood. A task made more complicated as much of the teak is hand rails with many curves and hard to reach spots then put several coats of Cetol on. The teak in the cockpit went from looking shabby to fabulous and the Mermaid Lounge was ready for business.

It wasn’t all hard work and no play… we ended up extending our stay because friends kept showing up. We enjoyed evenings with friends in a cockpit for sundowners and a night aboard Kalunamoo with Oasis for a jam session.

We rented a car one day and took off on a tour of Basse Terre, the bigger and higher island on Guadeloupe along with our Romanian friends Sorin and Ana of SV Mehalah. We took a hike in the rain forest to see the Chute du Corbet waterfall. Driving up the west side of the island we happened upon Fort Louis Delgres and went in to check it out. Much to our surprise the fort was in amazingly great shape and it seemed much work was being done. There was even a brand new museum inside and we were impressed because it was all free! We did inquire as to the work being done and found out that the museum should be finished in March and we assume and will not be free any longer. Good timing! The fort has a long and twisted history. It was originally built by the French but later stormed and captured by the English. Years later the French recaptured it. The cycle repeated itself many times and the fort was renamed and added onto dozens of times through the years.

Heading back over the hill a traffic accident stopped us on the road through the middle of the island and we were stuck for quite a while. Just as the police finished clearing that accident, another one happened right in front of us. The roads in the rain forest were quite slick. Because of the road delay we didn’t have time to do the next hike we hoped to do in daylight and headed back to the harbor with a stop at a grocery along the way.

That One Particular Island, Marie Galante

You know those places that you pass but never stop? Marie Galante was one of those places for us. It’s a small French island near Guadeloupe and we’ve wanted to visit but to us it was just a low, mysterious island off in the distance. The reason we hadn’t visited is that Marie Galante is a bit east and the wind normally blows from the east, which means that you have to bash into the trades to get there. We’ve been told stories of what a sweet spot it is but it had always remained a closed book to us. The wind gods must have been looking out for us because while we were in Dominica (just southwest of Marie Galante), the winds shifted to the southeast setting up a comfortable reach for Mermaid to lay the island. We hauled up the anchor and headed out. The forecast was good to it’s word and it was a lovely sail to Marie Galante.

Marie Galante is very laid back with friendly inhabitants and very few tourists. Brush up on your french before you go because only a handful of the population speak any English. It’s different geologically from the other islands in the area. Marie Galante is made up of a limestone plateau while the surrounding islands are volcanic. Back in the bad ‘ol days the island was covered with sugar cane harvested by slaves who turned much of the cane into Rhum Agricole. That’s rum made from suger cane instead of molasses like the regular rum. Rhum Agricole is a fiery liquor but as we were to find out, it can be tamed.

We found our friends Gordon and Louise on SV Coho in the anchorage who told us that they made the trip Marie Galante to stock up on their favorite rhum. That’s a long way to come for rhum so we knew right then that we had to try it. They had already rented a car to go to the distillery the next day and invited us to tag along. The next morning the four of us hopped in a rental car and headed to the Bellevue distillery for a tasting. We stopped and played tourist at the ruins of an old plantation house on the way as well as a pond where the slaves had poured out the stock of Rhum Agricole during a rebellion.

Habatation Belvieu is a large Rhum Agricole distillery and their 59º brand is found throughout the French West Indies. it’s called 59º because it’s 59% alcohol or 118 proof. You can’t carry it on a plane because it’s flamable. Luckily, that wasn’t what we had come for. Louise’s favorite drink is the Belvieu shrub rum and it’s only available at the distillery. We headed for the tasting room and found it very different and quite good. Shrub rum is a generic term for any rum that is infused with herbs or spices. It’s a very popular drink in the French West Indies as well as down island in the Windwards. This one was special. It was as smooth as silk with hints of cinnamon and vanilla. A taste is all it took for us to stock up. Gordon and Louise are ardent hikers so while we had the car we were treated to an island tour that included a couple of short hikes to beautiful vistas.

The water where we were anchored was gin clear so next day we took a long dingy trip in search of some snorkeling. We’re always in search of an off the beaten path snorkel spot but didn’t find it this time. We saw beautiful bays and beaches but found the snorkeling not the best. With a big north swell heading our way from an Atlantic storm but the it was time to move on. We hope to return someday but at least Marie Galante is no longer a mystery island.

North to Dominica!

We checked out of Martinique, departed St Anne’s and enjoyed a downwind sail to the southwest tip of Martinique. This was quite enjoyable because we so very rarely get a downwind sail in the Eastern Caribbean. We were surprised to be able to continue to sail up the lee side of the island making it almost all the way to St Pierre near the north end of the island before having to call on Henry. Henry Ford that is. That how we refer to our 120 horse power Ford Lehman. We stopped just to sleep in St Pierre under Mount Pele which was surprisingly not covered in clouds.

Early the next morning we hauled up the anchor and raised the sails heading for Dominica. Mermaid motored into Prince Rupert Bay, a large bay protected from the prevailing trades with the town of Portsmith on the shore. We almost always anchor out but in Prince Rupert Bay we make an exception. We always take a mooring from our friend Alexis who is one of the PAYS boat boys. PAYS stands for the Portsmouth Area Yachting Services. The group was formed by a group of “boat boys” in the area. The group installed moorings in the bay and holds a weekly barbecue that is famous for serving a deadly rum punch. PAYS works like a collective where the revenue generated is accounted for and split up among the members. We heard rumblings that the boat boys weren’t getting a share of the revenue last year and things looked like they may be coming to head but more about that later. First, some fun. We found our friends Mick and Gil of Blue Jacket already there and we took an island tour with them the next day.

Island tours are a mainstay of Dominica and are offered by all the boatboys. Alexis has his own van and driver who picked us up bright and early and headed out. We headed over the central mountains and down to the windward coast passing through towns like Calibishie and Wesley. The culture of Dominica is a mixed bag. The island was originally settled by the French but after trading hands several times the British got the upper hand. English is the official language but there’s an undercurrent of French. Along the way the driver tried to teach us a bit of the local patois which is a mixture of mostly French with a little African and Carib and a dash of English and Spanish. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember any of. One of our first stops was at a chocolate factory. The owner’s name sounded familiar to Robin who had just finished reading “Black and White Sands”. It’s written by a free spirited Scottish woman who moved to Dominica with her husband and grand children in the early 1930s. Turns out the author was his grandmother.

As you likely recall Dominica was devastated by hurricane Irma in September of 2017. When we visited last year just a few months after the storm the island was in the early stages of recovery. Many of the homes still had blue tarps over their roofs but now most of the roofs have been repaired, the roads and infrastructure are in better shape and life is returning to normal for much of the population. The forests are starting a new cycle of recovery, just as they have many times before after hurricanes.

After a lunch stop we headed inland to Spanny Falls. Robin loves swimming in the waterfalls in Dominica and Spanny is her favorite. You have to hike a quarter of a mile from the parking lot to the falls with much of it a steep path down the side of the valley where the falls are. The water is quite “refreshing” as we used to say when it was freezing. In spite of the chilly water we all had a nice splash around and stood under the falls.

Dominica has a lovely Saturday morning produce market so when Saturday rolled around we grabbed bags and headed in for fresh veggies and fruits. Everything was fresh off the vine and picked up some very tasty papaya along with staples like onions and tomatoes.

One of our favorite places on Dominica is the Green Bar. It’s in Portsmouth but it’s kinda hard to find. There’s no sign and if you ask someone for directions they’ll tell you its across from the chicken place. Of course, the only sign at the Chicken Place says “FISH” in big letters. As you may have guessed its a hole in the wall, local place. Osborne, the owner was very happy to see us as we had lots of friends along and filled his little bar. Osborne is a tall man with a bushy mustache, megawatt smile and an infectious laugh. Mike bought the first round including a few for a couple of locals who ducked in when they saw Mike was buying and were happy at the opportunity. The Green Bar consists of a table and a few chars on Osborne’s front porch and a small bar in his converted living room. Osborne serves cold beers from a fridge and a variety of fiery, spiced rums. Dominicans love spiced rums and infuse the local rums with just about every possible combination of sticks and twigs imaginable. It would have been impolite not to sample a few. While there we learned by the stream of people who stopped in that Osborne is also an apothecary. He dispenses herbs, bark and leaves from plants gathered in the forest to relieve the ailments of his neighbors.

An OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) rally kicked off a few days after our arrival so we joined in on some of the fun including a beach barbecue. The event calendar showed that the first event was the PAYS barbecue and Martin, one of the PAYS boatboys and the OCC host for Dominica came by and sold us tickets. Later, another boatboy came by selling barbecue tickets and says what we have aren’t tickets to the PAYS barbecue. Hmmmm, it turns out that Martin is holding a competing barbecue just down the beach from the PAYS pavillion. It’s the same menu and the same all you can drink rum punch as the PAYS barbecue but Martin gets all the proceeds. OK, after some digging we learn that several of the boat boys aren’t happy with PAYS. To be clear, these aren’t boys, they’re grown men many with families and they say that they haven’t received any money from PAYS and that the accounting for the funds that PAYS collects hasn’t been released as required by the by laws. Meanwhile, the president, who they say has appointed so many family members to the PAYS organization that ensures reelection every year, has found enough money to open a bar on the PAYS property. PAYS has been held up as a shining example of how locals can band together to build a business but some cracks are starting to show and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Bequia to Martinique

Christmas morning Mermaid was anchored in Bequia and while sipping coffee and checking the weather for our departure on the 26th, the forecast had changed slightly and the weather for the 25th was perfect for a northerly sail. We had already checked out so we jumped into gear and got Mermaid prepped and ready for sea in record time. We were raising the anchor at 8:30 and headed out to sea. Mother Nature had a Christmas present for us it seemed. We had the most amazing sail! It’s a short hop up to St Vincent and Mermaid cruised along at 9 to 10+ knots on a beam reach. We were able to sail most of the way up the lee side of St Vincent before popping out into the channel between St Vincent and St Lucia. Our angle wasn’t quite as good but with the apparent wind just forward of the beam Mermaid blasted along at 8.5 knots. We anchored for the night in Rodney Bay near the north end of St Lucia just before dark. St Anne, Martinique was just over 20 miles to the north. Mermaid dropped the anchor in the large, protected bay off St Anne before noon the following day. St Anne is a favorite with many cruisers. The anchorage is large and very well protected. You could anchor the navy in the bay and there were hundreds of boats already there when we arrived but there was still plenty of room.

We had several of our Ocean Cruising Club friends sail in the following day in Martinique (their sail was not as epic as ours was) and the cruiser fun began again. While visiting exotic locals is great, having friends to share your experiences makes them even better. We’ve met so many sailors in the islands and many have become great friends. We enjoyed sundowners with friends on their boats and ours, took a long hike with a fun lunch in the middle and Mike made Ti Punch for all which we enjoyed on the beach. Ti Punch is a favorite French cocktail made from strong rum, a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lime but Mike makes it much better. His tastes similar to a margarita and everyone seems to love it. We also had days with lots of wind and rain which meant we took a break from the fun and got lots of boat chores done. Besides the anchorage, one of the reasons that St Anne is so popular is that the town has retained it’s local character. There’s shops and restaurants that cater to visitors but there’s also many places that are favored by the locals. The Culture is Distinctly French. Even in the restaurants it’s unusual to find a waiter who speaks even basic English. It’s a place to go to kick back and immerse yourself in another culture. One of our first stops was at the boulangerie, the french bakery where we loaded up on pain chocolat and bought two baguettes. We always get two because they’re so good the first one doesn’t make it back to Mermaid. On New Year’s Eve we met a group of friends at one of our favorite spots. It’s a small bar on an ally connecting the two main streets in the town and in the evening they set up tables in the alley. If the place has a name we haven’t been able to discover it. There’s no sign except for the one advertising Lorraine, a local beer. We ordered Lorraines and acras, a French West Indies appetizer that’s somewhat like a hush puppy. It’s made from dough and a bit of fish that’s deep fried and is a perfect with a cold beer. Not wanting to stay out until midnight we decided that since we were in France we’d celebrate the new year at midnight in Paris… 7:00 local time. It was such fun and since there so many were Brits in our group we did it again at midnight London time which was 8:00 in Martinique.

The Grenadines

Mermaid finally headed out from Woburn Bay where we had been on the hard then on a mooring at Whisper cove. We headed around the southeast corner of Grenada and stopped for the night in Black Bay Point in Halifax Harbor. We had the place to ourselves and found it quite lovely with good holding, calm water and great snorkeling with beautiful coral. The next day we sailed to Tyrrel Bay in Carriacou. This island is one of our favorites. We ate out, took walks and had some good snorkels. With Christmas approaching we got on a bus one night with a group of cruisers to go to the main town of Hillsborough for a Christmas event. It was a well attended event with the whole community turning out. The seniors acme early had claimed the limited seating and there were lots of kids frolicking through the grounds. The locals were entertaining the crowd by singing Christmas carols. Our favorites were a group of three church ladies who may not have been the best singers but they were spirited.

When the weather forecast had the winds a bit south of east we couldn’t resist continuing our sail northward so we checked out and headed to Bequia for Christmas. Bequia (pronounced bek way) is less than ten miles from it’s big brother St. Vincent but the two islands couldn’t be more different in their reputation with cruisers. Bequia is a lovely island and the locals are very friendly and welcoming. St Vincent shares the natural beauty but a series of violent crimes against cruisers in past years that has gone unsolved and are perceived to be ignored by local police have sullied it’s reputation. The cruising community shares and sometimes exaggerates the tales of past misdeeds as they spread through the coconut telegraph. Cruisers are intolerant of crimes against boaters that they believe aren’t being taken seriously enough by the local police so while Admiralty Bay on Bequia is full of cruising boats, most cruisers give St. Vincent a skip. That included us. We enjoyed our stay in Bequia hiking, swimming and of course, hanging out with cruising friends. We were treated to some good roti at a couple of the restaurants in the area. Roti is kind of like a West Indian version of a burrito. It a curry dish that can be made from just about any meat or vegetables that’s served wrapped in a tortilla like shell. We missed the lobster roti that was recommended by a friend … good reason to come back!

Launching Mermaid in Grenada

Returning to Grenada came mixed feelings. I was looking forward the cruising season but knew that a few weeks of hot, hard work was in store while Mermaid was still hauled out. Mike returned a week before Robin joined him and got the bottom sanded and antifouling paint applied. Life in the yard is not easy maybe that’s why it is called being on the hard. We rented a small (air conditioned) apartment not too far away from the boat yard so at least we had some relief from the heat at night.

When the checklist was finally done we launched Mermaid on November 19th and spent a few nights on the dock at Clarke’s Court getting her ready for the season. It was nice to be back aboard. As we departed the dock Robin noticed that there was no water coming out of the exhaust and told Mike to go back. She threw lines to the dock guys and we turned the engine off and went below expecting bad news. Good news! A hose clamp had failed (of course it was one that was out of sight) and water was shooting into the engine room. No big deal as the bilge pump was keeping up but we were very happy it had happened when it did. Back at the dock we put a new hose clamp on and departed again. We went all the way across the bay (a few hundred yards) and picked up a mooring ball at Whisper Cove Marina intending to stay a few nights. We fell in love with Whisper Cove Marina! What a sweet little spot… we stayed a few weeks. Once we were in the water it was time to have some fun. We hung out on Hog Island on Sunday afternoon, went to a dingy concert, a full moon party and Mike played the harp on open mike night at Nimrod’s and Taffy’s.

Nonna and Granddaddy visit Alaska

Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. This time they did. It was October and we were planning to head up to Juneau Alaska to visit our Daughter and grandkids. In October it’s cold on Compagnon in Holland and hot on Mermaid, who was waiting down in Grenada. It just so happened that at our son in law’s parents were heading for sunnier climes and looking for a house sitter in Juneau, Alaska. Bingo! October is chilly in Juneau but not really cold. We dog sat and hung out on Douglas Island across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau. We spent some quality time with the kiddos, had a great Halloween, Mike escaped ice skating without injury, an awesome night camping at Eagle Beach and spent many of the evenings playing golf with our daughter and son in law. No, not that kind of golf this is a card game we had recently learned from our nephews in Texas. As October turned into November it was time to pack up and head south to get Mermaid ready to launch for another season.

Summer in Friesland

Next it was off to Amsterdam on a quick flight, then a train to Weesp and Compagnon. We launched on July 4th (just another day in the Netherlands… no fireworks) and our youngest son, Austin joined us. We took the train to Amsterdam for a day at the Rjiks museum then stocked up on provisions and headed towards Friesland for the season. Friesland is a lovely province of the Netherlands on the north coast. To get to Friesland we went through Flevoland; which is mostly reclaimed land called Polders and the area much younger than the rest of Holland. It’s odd because when you enter Flevoland you start on at sea level and go through a lock that drops you down to around 15 feet below sea level to the land that was reclaimed from the sea. In true Dutch style everything in the polder was well planned and laid out. The polders were mostly farmland but there were also nature areas planted with trees and cities with large parks and sports facilities.

Friesland was our destination for the season. It’s the most popular region for boaters in the Netherlands because of the many canals and lakes and abundant marinas, almost free moorings in the lakes and historic towns with canal side moorings as reasonable prices. The Dutch are a boating culture and the vast majority of boats in the area are Dutch. They use the canals and lakes to get away and relax but we were just there soaking up the culture so we spent more time in town than out on the lakes. Nothing in the area disappointed us! The history and beauty was incredible. Part of the pleasure of having Compagnon is sharing our adventure with friends and we had a number of guests over the summer and the visits were enjoyed by all. We spent our days wandering through town, visiting museums, looking at the multitude of old, restored canal boats that were built for transporting cargo along the canals in the days when water transport was the main way of moving around but now refit as beautiful live aboards. We loved the larger towns like Leeuwarden and Gronigan but our favorites were the smaller places like Grou, Sneek and Stavoren. We mostly happened upon several local cultural events. In Stavoren we arrived just before a big festival celebrating their fishing heritage with loads of traditional fishing boats parading through town with everyone in traditional dress and singing old songs in Frisian. The more modern fishing vessels who trawl for small shrimp offshore were also in the harbor with pennants flying.

Relaxing with Jeff and Melody

Later, we were heading for Grou but when we arrived the waterways were chocked with spectator boats out to see the skutsjessilen, an annual regatta where traditional, flat bottomed boats called skutsjes (pronounced scoot-cheese) duke it out in a series of races that move from town to town over a couple of weeks. Scutsjes were built to move goods from the farms to town and while they don’t look like what we would call a racing boat today, skutsje races started back in the early 1800s. Today, local towns sponsor an entry and the races are wildly popular in Friesland with thousands there to watch and cheer on their town’s boat and many more watching on television. Seeing that there was no way we were going to get a berth in Grou we moved on and watched the races on TV in a local pub.

The festivals were great but most days we spent sipping a beer and having bitterballen in a sidewalk cafe and watching the world go by. One evening we were serenaded by a group of local men who were singing traditional sailing shanties and drinking beerenburg, jenever that has been infused with herbs and aged in oak barrels.

When October rolled around the weather started to turn cold and buttoned up Compagnon ready for her winter rest and flew off to Texas to visit Jessamine, family and friends.

The United Kingdom

We left Mermaid on the hard in Grenada and flew to LA for five days to get passports renewed and visit with David and Kathy in Pasadena. It’s always a hoot there and all had a fun playing Big 2, going to the movies and attending a MLS game in the new LAFC stadium near downtown.

Next, it was on to London where we stayed at the Cruising Association’s guest quarters in Limehouse. We found it convenient to the tube and all the attractions. We wore ourselves out visiting museums, palaces, The London Eye and other attractions. Our friends Tony and Hazed of SV Longbow joined us for a few days and it was great seeing them again.

We took a bus from London to stay for a few days in the Cotswolds with Richie and Claudia. Claudia has converted an old barn into a chic and comfortable home. Its a laid back place with sheep and horses grazing contentedly in verdant fields that cover the low, rolling hills.

Next it was off to Scotland to see our good friends James and Charlotte. We took a train and spent a day in Edinborough to see the sites. After a few days of fun with them we rented a car before heading out to explore Scotland on our own. James outdid himself gathering information for us as our tour guide with maps and information on sites not to be missed.

We headed north and west on the very narrow windy roads with Mike still getting used to driving on the left. Much of our route was along the North 500 loop and we were awed at the sites. Everyone had warned us about the weather in Scotland and told us to bring rain gear, boots and sweaters. We did but found ourselves in shorts and short sleeve shirts every day. The weather during our stay was spectacular. Robin really wanted to see the puffins so on the Isle of Skye we hopped on a tour boat on Isle of Skye and were not disappointed! It was a pleasant sunny day and motored out to a small island with a puffin rookery where we got up close and personal with the colorful birds bringing sand eels they had gathered back to their chicks. We also had quite an adventure up on the north coast at Dunnet Head up on the north coast where Robin leaned out over the edge of a 300 foot cliff to get puffing photos while Mike held on to her belt loops to make sure she didn’t go over. A highlight of the journey was the afternoon we spent hiking out onto a large peninsula near Durness. The peninsula was undeveloped and had spectacular beaches, sand dunes and sea cliffs. We trekked out through the dunes then along the very narrow paths that ran along the top of the cliffs enjoying the dramatic views of the sea and the abundant sea birds then back along the pristene beach. Of course, you can’t visit Scotland without visiting a few castles and sampling a wee dram of the local distiller’s creations so we did our bit.

Summer is Coming

With the season drawing to an end and our haul date approaching it was time to work our way south from Antigua to Grenada where Mermaid would be hauled. We worked our way from Antigua to Grenada – island hoping to get some sleep along the way. We weren’t in too much of a hurry so we enjoyed some time in Bequia and Carriacou. A favorite in Carriacou was our visit to the famous boat builders on the windward side of the island. They build the old fashioned Carriacou Sloops in the manner that they have been built for generations. After watching the excellent documentary “Vanishing Sails” about these boats and their builders it was a treat to see in person.

Hauling out is a bittersweet time. It marks the end of another season but is also a time with new and different adventures on the horizon. But first, there’s much to be done to get the boat ready to to be left for hurricane season. We arrived in Clarke’s Court Bay about a week before our scheduled haul out and summer storage. Three days at anchor and three more at the slip were spent getting Mermaid ready to haul, which is a lot of hot work. We removed all sails and everything from the deck, cleaned the boat thoroughly, did laundry and vacuum packed clothes and linens, cleaned out our food supply, got rid of dingy gas, and much more on the list. Finally we hauled Mermaid via “The Hulk” and watched as she was moved to her spot for the summer. Clarke’s Court Marina has four nice hotel rooms and we stayed in one for a few nights before we departed and enjoyed the air conditioning at night as well as long land showers after hard days work.