After Sue and Jonty headed back to UK, I sailed single-handed back from Saint Lucia in a blustery F6/7 to Martinique to await the arrival of my next crew. It was quite the roughest passage which Spellbinder has endured since leaving UK last July, but I managed it with just some minor repairs to make to the bimini. I then had a few days on my own getting Spellbinder ready, which gave me the opportunity to catch up with boat jobs, and re-visit a couple of nice anchorages.
The next crew comprised David and Johnny and Lucy. They arrived as Martinique was in full carnival mode. It was quite windy and rainy – the rain inevitably followed by sun – but nothing could stop the people of Fort de France from dressing up Mardi Gras style and thronging the streets. Men dressed as women, women dressed as men – anything went in a riot of colour and loud music. It truly was party time and we enjoyed the atmosphere, although it made getting back to the yacht with the crew’s bags all a bit of a challenge.
Carnival dressing up in Fort de France, Martinique
The carnival was centered around Savannah Park, just opposite the dinghy dock. It also rather famously has a statue of the Empress Josephine which somebody decapitated a few years back, and which has never been replaced. There is a slight ‘edge’ in the French islands about their history – particularly regarding the slave trade – a contention which runs on today in a slightly different way to the anglophone islands. Josephine’s presence did, however, give the name to an excellent restaurant called ‘L’Impératrice’ which David and I enjoyed prior to Johnny and Lucy’s arrival.
A headless Josephine
Our aim of the next leg was to head gently north to explore the southern Leeward Islands. First stop on our cruise was Saint Pierre in NW Martinique. This was my third visit and we enjoyed checking out of the excellent Alsace à Kay and eating by the beach on the terrace at La Vague. We also swam over the underwater statues. It was a good shake-out sail but the next morning – after replenishing our stocks of fruit and vegetables at the early morning market – we headed for Dominica. This part of the Caribbean Sea is interesting in that in the days before longitude could be accurately obtained, ships sailed down the 16th degree of latitude, arriving between Dominica and Guadeloupe, and then turned either left to the Windwards, or right to the Leewards: it is a point of demarcation.
The passage across was quite boisterous and the crew ‘found their sea legs’ to use an appropriate euphemism. The Trades had been quite strong for a few days and the swell therefore quite big. However, once in the lee of the island, as is often the case, the sea flattened out completely, the wind dropped and we motored into the wide Prince Rupert’s Bay and the town of Portsmouth. Portsmouth and the rest of Dominica was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and the damage wrought was plain to see, with forests still flattened and many buildings still damaged.
Hurricane damage from Maria in September 2017. Many of the buildings in Portsmouth were still uninhabitable
The people of this poor Commonwealth island are resilient though, and the Portsmouth residents have organised themselves to help visiting yachts. The PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) comprises a dozen or so men who help each other deliver various services including buoys, trips into the interior and beach BBQs. We were met quite far out by one of them called Alexis, who showed us to a buoy and came on board to discuss what we might do. The next day, having checked in (and out) of Customs and Immigration we went by boat up Indian River, seeing iguana and a variety of tropical birds and crabs. At the end was a bar where we were introduced to coconut rum punch, which was lovely, even at 1030am.
Thanks you, Alexis, for propelling us by motor then by oar up the Indian River
The rather beautiful ginger flower, which has medicinal uses. Alexis swore by it and the benefits of coconut. He may be right – the world’s most long-lived person died in Dominica recently at the age of 129
In the afternoon we headed into the interior of Dominica by taxi, visiting tropical rain forests and swimming in a waterfall.
It was nice to swim in fresh water for a change
Tropical rain forest, Dominica
Banana tree, showing a pod about to burst
That evening virtually all the yacht crews in the bay came together for a beach BBQ, which turned into quite a party and got the crew dancing. The next day we opted to leave Dominica, although I am sure it has a great deal to offer. We sensed that the population was doing its best, but couldn’t help wondering about the extent of UK DFID funding for this and the other hurricane-ravaged Commonwealth countries, which proudly use the East Caribbean Dollar with the Queen’s head on it.
Next stop was France and Guadeloupe. Some Dutch guys in a Dufour 40 had challenged us to a race, but at the appointed time they did not appear (they did, however, visit us with some beer to apologise later in Guadeloupe – they had partied too hard…). A pity, as I had fancied Spellbinder’s chances. We did though have a good passage up and entered into Les Saintes, a group of small islands to the south of the mainland. Not having tacked Spellbinder since July, I saw an opportunity and did so to approach the anchorage. Writing this reminds me of a time I met an Ocean Cruising Club member and asked him whether his yacht tacked well; he replied ‘my dear chap, I’m not sure as we only tend to tack on Tuesdays’.
The islands of Les Saintes are incredibly beautiful, and well run by the French. Electric mountain bikes seemed the way to go to explore the main island. Never having ridden one, they were a revelation; all the pleasure of biking with none of the sweat and toil associated with grinding uphill in 30˚ of heat. I hadn’t appreciated that if you want more exercise, you simply dial down the electrical assistance, so you have the best of both worlds. I sense another purchase coming back in UK…
Lucy enjoying helming between the islands, watched by Johnny
On electric mountain bikes, near Fort Napoleon, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe
Views of Les Saintes. They really are lovely islands, and part of the Guadeloupe archipelago
Sargasso weed piled up on the windward coast of Les Saintes, as on all the windward coasts of the Caribbean I have been to so far. One species triumphing over Mother Nature. In practical terms, the beaches smell and it is difficult to fish with a lure, but these are first world problems…
After our very pleasant stay in Les Saintes, which included a memorable lunch after our bike ride, taking another buoy beside the ‘Pain à Sucre’ (sugar loaf) hill, and a brief foray up the deserted Ile Cabrit to visit more ancient military fortifications, we headed over to the Guadeloupe mainland.
First stop was the Plage de Malendure, a nice but windy anchorage opposite a marine national park founded by Jacques Cousteau. We had a lovely dinner overlooking the anchorage and then in the morning swam around Pigeon Island, which proved to be the best snorkeling of all our trip. With large fish everywhere, it was like swimming in an aquarium.
Inquisitive fish inhabiting Pigeon Island
An otherwise unremarkable photograph, but I wanted to show the black shapes, which are the Pigeon Island fish: large, varied, and everywhere
Next stop for the night was Deshaies, on the north west coast of mainland Guadeloupe. I wanted to visit for two reasons: firstly, it is easy to check out, and secondly, it is the place where they base the filming of the BBC’s ‘Death in Paradise (DIP)’ which – despite its formulaic nature – is strangely compelling. Deshaies proved delightful – a small bay, quite sheltered, with everything a yachtsman needs in a compact place. We visited the DIP film set, had a memorable sun-downer in ‘Catherine’s Bar’, and David visited some remarkable botanic gardens.
Memorable sun downer in Catherine’s Bar, as featured routinely at the end of each ‘Death in Paradise’.
On the film set of ‘Death in Paradise’
We left Deshaies after a nice breakfast in town. Antigua beckoned, and a few hours later after another memorable sail we entered English Harbour and the delightful Nelson’s Dockyard marina. Berthed stern-to, we found ourselves at the heart of 18th and 19th century Britain exerting its influence in the Caribbean. Delightful architecture, great facilities, and a great base. We toured the harbour by dinghy, visited Galleon’s Beach and the Dockyard museum (if only they had known about the role of mosquitoes in malaria and Yellow Fever) and generally sorted our lives out.
View from Boom restaurant, looking across to Nelson’s Dockyard
Superyachts and Georgian architecture. Spellbinder was amongst the smallest yacht berthed in Nelson’s Dockyard…
Galleon’s Beach, English Harbour
A friend of a friend Bill and his wife Sam – residents of Antigua during the long Chicago winter – came on board for a drink and told us of Antiguan life and where to go. One place they had not visited, however, was Barbuda, which was to prove a memorable 2 day trip. 7 hours to the north of Antigua, it was devastated by Hurricane Irma, and the population was evacuated later when another hurricane beckoned. It is recovering very slowly, but is the most magical of semi-deserted places, with an incredible 11- mile beach, by which we anchored once we had navigated our way in through the reefs. Devastation, beauty, wildness – the photos tell the story.
It was nice to have lighter winds behind the beam – the cruising chute helped propel us to Barbuda and back. I hadn’t used it since Biscay
The devastated, formerly luxurious Lighthouse Bay Hotel
Hurricane-induced breach into the main lagoon in Barbuda
The crew walking along part of the magnificent 11-mile beach – here at Low Bay, where we anchored
Sunset at anchor. I am loving my drone, and its possibilities
It was a lovely stay overnight in a remarkable spot, seemingly at the end of the world. Real life did beckon though, and we sailed back to Antigua for the inevitable crew change-over.
We loved the southern Leewards and their diversity in particular. Thank you David, Johnny and Lucy for being such great crew. Next stop the northern Leewards, and onto the BVIs…