We’re back in Martinique!

After a very bouncy 18-hour passage from Bequia (ask our friend and passenger Kacia just how bouncy – poor thing, she learned the hard way that she actually does get sea sick) we anchored in the pre-dawn darkness at the back of the anchorage in Martinique.

As an aside, we have to learn a whole new vocabulary for sailing in the French islands. For example – the French word for anchorage (mouillage) translates to “the wetting.” And the most common word for mooring ball (corps mort) translates literally to “dead body”. Yikes! They don’t teach you that in French class.

The best part about anchoring in Sainte Anne, Martinique is that one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean is just a short walk away. Ok, it’s a 3-mile walk each way, but that’s par for the course when you don’t own a car and you go everywhere on foot! In less than a week, we’ve already done the walk twice and I think I could do it every other day without getting bored. The path is gentle and shaded, following the coastline beneath a canopy of mangrove branches. You frequently have the option of emerging onto a beach to dip your feet in the water and cool off, and often there’s a surprise! Maybe a wooden swing swaying gently above the tide. Maybe a massive picnic party, complete with a DJ and caterer, maybe (toward the end of the hike) a nude beach where everyone lets it all hang out.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you emerge from the final row of coconut palms and there it is – a mile long stretch of white sand, bordered by palms, with turquoise blue seas lapping gently at the shore. Whaou! Even better, there’s a row of beach bars about halfway down the beach where you can find anything from a hamburger, fries, and draft beer to a three-course French lunch complete with chilled rosé, coffee, and homemade dessert. Or, just follow the women dressed in bright madras plaid and ringing a handbell to find refreshing homemade ice cream. Is this paradise, or what?

On our first visit this January with our friends Chantal and Gary on SV Maracuja, we arrived too late for lunch but we were able to order cold drinks to go and enjoyed the people watching from a shady spot under the palm trees. The second time, we planned ahead and arrived at Chez Olivia just as lunch service started. Honestly, we hardly even needed to look at the menu. Planter’s punch? Check ✔️ Bottle of fizzy water, bottle of rosé? Check ✔️ Hmmm … Really the only tough decision is which fresh fish dish to order. Capt. Mike went with our favorite – tuna ceviche with coconut milk (thon à la tahaitienne) I always love the fresh grilled fish – although i did fail my French test a bit by not asking what is the fish of the day. I clearly look like a tourist because madame decided i would prefer the filet of daurade. She might actually have looked straight into my soul because I was thrilled with the generous portion, perfectly cooked in a delicious ginger and curry sauce. But if she had told me all of the options, I probably would have ordered the whole grilled vivaneau. I’m a sucker for whole grilled fish!

Service is island time slow, but we didn’t mind. We brought backgammon and as long as we made it back to the dinghy dock before sunset, we were fine. And heck, if we end up so on land at sunset, there are benches in the public square at the top of the dinghy dock just begging for people to sit, enjoy the sunset, and cheer on the kids playing games and giggling due to their ice cream sugar highs.

Ok, maybe i should do some grocery shopping and laundry tomorrow, but after that it’s back to Grand Anse des Salines beach the next day for another day in paradise!

Into the clouds…

Capt. Mike and I last climbed the La Soufrière volcano on St Vincent 20 years ago, so of course my memories of it are SHARP! Just kidding. My memories of that hike are actually as foggy as the thick clouds at the top of a volcanic mountain. So when Peter on SV Bakoua organized a trip to climb La Soufrière, we jumped at the chance to join.

For the first time in ages, we set an alarm for 5:00 am in order to take the 6:30 ferry from Bequia to Kingston, St Vincent. Oof, that’s a rough start to the day! And a rough passage crossing the channel between the islands. Jimmy met us at the ferry terminal with his big white van (after another taxi driver tried to poach us: “Who you waiting for? Jimmy? I know Jimmy. He tell me to pick you up”. Yeah, right!) It took about an hour and a half to drive up the east coast of St Vincent with Jimmy pointing out some of the changes since we last visited just before the volcano erupted in April 2021. We turned off the main road onto a skinny, bumpy track heading inland, past the sign saying “Volcano trail temporarily closed” 😆 We were the first bus to pull into the parking lot – yay! no cruise ship crowds!

We laced up our shoes, grabbed hiking sticks, and headed out into the bush. We made it barely 50 meters up the trail before the rain started. We were smart enough to bring rain jackets but, sheesh I didn’t expect to need them so soon. Luckily, the vegetation of the rain forest protected us quite a bit, and to be honest the jungle is quite atmospheric and dramatic in the heavy fog and light rain.

The first milestone on the climb that really proved we were walking on a volcano was crossing a riverbed of hardened lava. The lava stream was left behind by the eruption of 1979. Because of all the rain, the river was raging and full of dirt and ash, looking like a river of chocolate milk. It took a little encouragement to get me to jump across the flow!

Soon enough, we climbed out of the jungle and encountered the open, gravely flank of the top of the volcano. Instead of a trail, we now followed a series of rock cairns and plastic bottles topping branches. And a trail of blown-out shoes, lol. Holy cow, the rain and wind really got serious at this point. Capt. Mike estimates the gale-force wind speeds at the top between 50 and 70 knots, using the Beaufort Scale and later Googling “How strong does wind need to be to blow a person sideways”. 😆 Yep. I’d pick up one foot to climb, and find myself blown a bit to the left, planting that foot a couple of feet further left than I had planned. I should have eaten more Christmas cookies! Did I mention the rain? By this point, the gentle rain had transformed into big powerful drops, driving sideways into us with such force, we couldn’t decide if it was pure rain or hail. I had so much water running down my face and off the tip of my nose, it was tough to tell whether it was rain, tears, or snot. But at this point, the summit was only a couple hundred meters away, so we persevered. No lingering on the summit! We snapped a couple pictures and a short video and headed down to safety and comfort.

For some reason, the first little bit of downhill seemed even harder than the climb. I guess we were aiming a little straighter into the wind. And we were also trying to find the trail, instead of just talking any old route to the top. Kasia crab-walked sideways, and I was extremely grateful for two hiking poles. It wasn’t until we reached the shelter of the trees again that we could relax and stop for a quick snack and to drink some water. The rest of the trail was a walk in the park, and we found ourselves back at the van in no time. Soaked to the skin but at least it’s the tropics so we aren’t going to die of frostbite!

All in all, it was one of those “An adventure is never fun while you are having it” days, but we truly felt like we conquered the mountain. Now I’ll bet these memories of hiking La Soufrière won’t fade as quickly as those uneventful, nice weather, shorts-and-t-shirts memories from 20 years ago!

Playing tourist in St Vincent

Sanitas is safely tucked into Admiralty Bay on the island of Bequia in St Vincent and the Grenadines, greatly looking forward to an island Christmas. 🎄 Yesterday, we went on a grand adventure to the nearby big island of St Vincent to explore its west coast and to visit waterfalls, and the REAL Pirates of the Carribean 🏴‍☠️

Have I admitted our greatest fault as a cruising couple? We ALWAYS run a bit late. This time, I blame the Rum Shack Tour we attended the night before. Our cruising friends on SV Sonder must have been a little worried, because they called us “Are you awake? Are you on your way to the ferry? Should we just buy our tickets and go aboard?” No worries, mon. We made it just in time and found great seats on the upper deck to watch the world go by for the 1-hour ferry trip to the big island.

Fraser (the best tour guide in St Vincent!) met us at the ferry terminal, waving wildly to get our attention amid the hustle and bustle of Kingstown on one of the last full shopping days before Christmas. The six of us settled into his pristine white van and set off through the capital city traffic and soon onto the quieter, winding, motion-sickness-inducing west coast “highway”. After stops at stunning viewpoints of Kingstown and several black sand beaches, we made it to gorgeous DarkView Falls. We set off on an intrepid hike through the jungle, crossing a swaying bamboo bridge over a raging river to find the falls. Just kidding! We all did the walk in flip flops. The falls are impressive and beautiful, but today the pool was a bit too shallow for swimming. Fraser did jump in long enough to find us some cute little freshwater crayfish to cuddle.

Next stop, Walliabou Bay where Disney built an entire small city to play the part of Port Royal in the first Pirates of the Carribean movie. Much of it has faded over the years, but the jetty and a few buildings have been preserved as a museum. And of course there’s a bar/restaurant whose walls are covered with photos of the stars Johnny Depp and Keira Knightly smiling and mugging for the camera with local kids. Fraser told us a few stories about the filming and how it completely took over the island – there were no hotel rooms anywhere on the island, with some crew staying on yachts and even a boat ride away on Bequia. It’s kind of fun – by now we’ve sailed Sanitas into many of the most beautiful spots where the franchise was filmed. We’re going to have to watch all of the movies again!

Fraser’s own house is just down the road from Pirates of the Caribbean Bay. He was kind enough to take us there to meet his family and see his backyard garden. He taught us the island method of picking mangos. Did you ever think about how they get all 800-1000 ripe mangos off a mature tree before they fall to the ground or get eaten by birds? Apparently, you cut the longest bamboo stalk you can find, tie a bag to the end, and hoist the whole massive thing into the air grabbing one mango at a time with the bag. No mango is safe from Fraser’s skill. If I were in charge, only the birds would be fed.

Part of the fun of a Fraser tour is listening the Fraser’s stories – he’s the same tour guide we hired last year for a tour of the east coast of the island just days before the Soufriere volcano erupted! He’s lived and worked his entire life in St Vincent and is clearly a brilliant mind for business and a respected member of the community – proved by how many people stopped to wave and talk to him as we drove through each small town. We learned about Fraser’s childhood of walking 5 miles each way to school when the buses broke down. And his long career as a math teacher and accountant before a layoff inspired him to start his own tour and taxi business. And about his two very smart kids studying accounting and law in Trinidad. Maybe a future prime minister of St Vincent? After a lovely lunch on a black sand beach, we headed back to the hustle and bustle of Kingstown for a bit of veggie shopping before the return ferry. We honestly didn’t need much, because Fraser sent each couple home with three massive mangos from his tree, a huge papaya, and a hand of sweet red bananas.

When our ferry arrived safely back in Bequia after an extremely rough ride, I picked up my Christmas present to myself – a massive bouquet of ginger and birds-of-paradise flowers that arrived on the same ferry. I knew it was going to be big, but was still slightly shocked by the size of the bunch I received for about $15usd. I kept about half of the bouquet and turned it into my tropical Christmas “tree” while Capt. Mike played Santa and delivered extra flowers to three of our buddy boats. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas on Sanitas!

Our “Best Of” tour of the Grenadines

After leaving Dominica, we had to come to grips with the fact that our cruising season on Sanitas is almost at an end. Hurricane season is right around the corner, and it’s time to head south to Grenada to get ready. The country of St Vincent and the Grenadines still requires a COVID test and expensive health check fee to enter, so we almost skipped it. But…we had so much fun in SVG last winter, we couldn’t imagine heading south without stopping at our favorite anchorages. So here’s a glimpse of our favorite places south of St Vincent and north of Grenada 😎

We sailed Sanitas past St Lucia, admiring the stunning beauty of the pitons. And we had a salty sail down the coast on St Vincent before dropping anchor in what feels like our winter home of Bequia.

Our favorite things to do in Bequia are to hike to beautiful viewpoints, enjoy the fish chowder at Coco’s, to lime on Princess Margaret beach, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  This year, we also had the privilege of participating in the naming ceremony for Popeye and Lisa’s beautiful homemade wooden sailing dinghy Velocette.

We tore ourselves away from bustling, exciting Bequia and headed south to the paradise of the Tobago Cays Marine Park. There’s nothing here but nature, but wow is it beautiful. we snorkeled with turtles and rays, climbed to gorgeous viewpoints, and ate a delicious barbecue on the beach cooked by our friends Romeo and Juliette ❤️ If you’re ever in the area, Tobago Cays can’t be missed!

Our next little downwind hop to Union Island was a short, sweet sail. We nestled Sanitas right into our favorite anchor spot behind the reef in Clifton and went ashore to look around. Clifton looks great! Perhaps the number of tourists who are returning now as COVID restrictions ease is bringing valuable money back to the island. Lots of buildings have had a new coat of bright colored paint, and there are some cute new bars and restaurants. We made the 30-minute trek over the hill to the most beautiful beach on Union and spent the afternoon at Sparrows Beach Club. I warned you that this would be our “best of” reel, didn’t I? Lunch at Sparrows really did feel like a vacation from our vacation.

After another easy downwind sail, we cleared into the country of Grenada on sleepy Carriacou. We hiked with baby goats, got our Pfizer booster shots, and reconnected with a friend we hadn’t seen since Grenada. Every Wednesday afternoon is Paint and Sip at Allison’s Paradise Beach Club. It’s a great chance to meet other sailors, enjoy a delicious cocktail, and eat a wonderful meal. Our boat name sign that we painted in November 2020 is still there – along with a couple hundred newer works of art!

Sanitas will be pointing her bow south again in a few days, enjoying her last sail of the season. Soon, we’ll be back in her summer home in Prickly Bay, and Capt. Mike and I will be working our butts off to get her ready for hurricane season storage. Yikes. Until then, we’ll enjoy every sunset we can experience on the water 🌅

Chasing waterfalls in Dominica

We met up with the incomparable Kish Richards to explore more of the beautiful island of Dominica. First, we joined Holiday for lunch at Kish’s place. When I asked what was in the thick spicy soup she made us, Kish gave us a sly grin and said “meat” and made a scrambling running gesture with her fingers. Hmmm…Later, she showed us a picture of the critter called an agouti which flavored our lunch – maybe something like a big tail-less rat?

Sanitas in Portsmouth Harbor

We set out on a full day tour of the southern part of Dominica with Kish and a van full of other sailors. As we drove, Kish told us about the dramatic effects Hurricane Maria had on Dominica back in 2017 and how the island’s economy has not yet recovered. Kish herself had a great job in security at the huge American medical school in Portsmouth before the hurricane hit and the school left the island for good, leaving a ghost town of empty buildings behind to be slowly reclaimed by jungle.

Our first stop was a short hike to Trafalgar Falls. Oh my gosh! If I thought the Bwa Nef waterfall was beautiful, this set of twin waterfalls blows it away in terms of beauty. We visited on a rainy day so the falls were simply raging. Not safe to get too close or to go for a swim, but we just soaked up the beauty.

After a coffee break, we sought out our next Dominican waterfall. This time, instead of an easy paved trail, we earned our views with a steep and slippery scramble. Middleham Falls is huge! I couldn’t even capture its full height in a single frame on my camera. Supposedly, you can swim there on lower flow days, but we didn’t have to swim to get completely soaked from the spray on the viewing platform. Thus the theme of the day was established – we were going to be wet!!! All..day..long.

Did I mention we were going to get wet? Our next stop kind of took me by surprise. Kish told us we were going to visit Titou Gorge and I envisioned another scenic nature hike up a scenic river bed. Not exactly. We we told to change into our swimsuits and pay 5ec to rent a life vest. Next thing you know, we were even told to kick off our water sandals and to jump one at a time into a pool of very cold water. After a few steps, the stream was too deep to touch bottom, and the line of us doggy paddled our way upstream. The gorge immediately narrowed to only a couple meters wide, and we craned our necks to look up at the undulating sone walls covered with moss and dripping ferns with a rim high above our heads. Again, because of all the rain, the force of the water was too strong for me to make it all the way upstream to the small waterfall, but Capt. Mike fought through it for the best view. Once he gave up on his grip of the rocky wall, the stream spun him around and spit him back out downstream like a water slide.

The thrilling conclusion of our island tour was a snorkel at Champagne Reef. Remember those seven volcanos? The geothermal activity at this point on the island manifests as a steady streams of bubbles making their way through the porous material of the coral reef. We swam along the reef in snorkel masks and fins, drifting through the streams of bubbles, catching the bubbles with our fingers. Colorful reef fish nibble at the coral and at the bubbles. I was surprised to find that I could hear the bubbles popping and fizzing. So peaceful, and a unique experience!

After a sunset rum punch on Champagne Beach and a fresh fish dinner at Sunset Bay Club, Kish dropped us off at the dinghy dock long after dark. We tumbled out of the van with armfuls of soggy clothing and dinghied back to our boats to rest up and dream of our next Dominican adventure.

My new Dominican friend Beverly