25. Stuck in the Leewards with You

Hello friends!  S/V Delancey is on the move!  Here’s what we’ve been up to since departing Antigua.

  Bye Antigua!

Bye Antigua!

After a sunny afternoons motor in glassy seas, we arrived at Deshaies, Guadeloupe.  Our cruising guide calls Deshaies (pronounced Days-ay) “a picturesque fishing village” with 30 moorings for visiting boats and we can attest that both of these things are in fact true.  Unfortunately, most of the moorings were occupied by empty, resident boats, leaving the remaining 60 or so boats to anchor in the deep harbor.  After a couple failed attempts to set the anchor in the grassy bottom, we finally caught in 40 feet of water with 160 feet of our available 200 feet of chain, and settled in for the night.

  Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Deshaies, Guadeloupe

The next morning we awoke to find that a wind shift had put us uncomfortably close to a neighbor boat.  Seeing a vacant spot cleared by an early riser, we again upped anchor and relocated.  Once set, we buzzed the dinghy into town to check in with customs and explore.  Guadeloupe, like all French islands, makes the official process very easy.  In each port town, at least one local business keeps a self-service computer for clearing in and out.  Cruisers enter their boat and passenger information into an online form, print it, and hand it to the store cashier.  The cashier stamps it (perhaps checking passport numbers, perhaps not), takes their two Euro fee, and hand you your clearance. 

Clearance out of the way, we strolled around to get the lay of the town.  In addition to replenishing our supply of baguettes, we were quietly keeping an eye out for familiar sights.  For Deshaies is the real-life stand-in for the fictitious town of Honoré of the equally fictitious island of Saint Marie in the charming (and deeply undemanding) BBC television show “Death in Paradise”, a combination fish-out-of-water and closed-door-murder detective show on what must be the most life-threating island in the Caribbean (think a tropical “Murder She Wrote”).

  The church rectory, a.k.a. the Honoré police station

The church rectory, a.k.a. the Honoré police station

Shortly after settling in the unglazed window seat of a café with a glass of rosé, I noticed fellow cruiser Deb of S/V Expedition frantically making her way down the main street, peering into shops and restaurants.  Once I caught her eye she lurched determinedly toward the opening, announcing, “You’re dragging!”  I threw a 10 Euro bill toward the waiter, caught (my) Deb stepping out of a shop, and made for the dink.  We found the boat, stern tied to a navigation buoy by two French guys using their dinghy to fend Delancey off their moored catamaran.  We climbed on board and started the engine, took back the stern line, and passed the guys a bottle of wine in thanks.  We reanchored, dinked back to apologize to the French owner of the catamaran (who was understandably put out after fending off our boat for a couple hours) and returned to Delancey, now in 50 feet of water, to obsessively watch our swing relative to our neighbors.

That evening, we hosted Aussies Deb and Scott of S/V Expedition, as well as a single hander neighbor, over for sundowners.  Although the company and conversation were enjoyable, and the town still largely unexplored, we’d decided that resetting our anchor six times in two days was enough and that it was time to move on.

The next morning found us on the move, ever southward.  On the way, we could see Monserrat’s still-active volcano issuing a constant plume, its sulfur smell identifiable 30 miles to windward.

  Striking, smelly, Monserrat

Striking, smelly, Monserrat

We completed the short, 20-mile hop by lunchtime anchoring in a bay between Pigeon Island and the shore.  We snorkeled the nearby reef and dined at one of the Creole-food restaurant shacks lining the beach, joined by many vacationing French.

While waking to morning coffee, a neighbor rowed over to invite us for sundowners.  It turns out that we were one of three increasingly-rare US-flagged boats in the anchorage.  In this way, we spent a pleasant evening sharing stories with Jannika and Graham of S/V Leela (currently in their third “on” phase of a six-months-on-six-months-off cruise down from New Hampshire) and ocean-crossing singlehander Mark of S/V Passage.  At some point in the evening, Jannika looked up and caught her breath.  In a trip made up largely of beautiful sunsets, we all agreed that this one was remarkable.

  Sunset over Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe

Sunset over Pigeon Island, Guadeloupe

Farewells and fair winds all around, we next stopped at Iles Les Saintes, a tiny archipelago off the southern coast of Guadeloupe.  To quickly characterize Les Saintes:  If you live in Guadeloupe, Les Saintes is where you go for your vacation.  Deb had been concerned that we arrive here by today, as she wanted us to be somewhere special for my 50th birthday the next day.  “Look around!  How could we make this more special?” I asked.  Deb, accepting the unintended challenge, summoned her best telephone French (no helpful hand gestures), and made reservations for both a fancy restaurant and a (gasp!) hotel.

  Relaxed, unfancy lunch

Relaxed, unfancy lunch

  The town of Bourg des Saintes on Terre de Haut, from our hotel balcony

The town of Bourg des Saintes on Terre de Haut, from our hotel balcony

  The view from our fancy restaurant.  Ilet a Cabrit (and S/V Delancey) in the distance.

The view from our fancy restaurant.  Ilet a Cabrit (and S/V Delancey) in the distance.

After a decadent celebration including steak frites and proper showers, we hiked up to the fort (there’s always a fort) for a final view of this paradise-within-paradise, then we were off.

Another blessedly brief sail took us to a whole new country, Dominica.  As we motored into its northern harbor, Portsmouth, we got our first taste of the southern islands:  boatmen.  Boatmen, or Yacht Helpers (or other less pleasant names) are local guys in long brightly-colored wooden boats with giant outboards who zoom out to meet visiting yachts as they enter the bay.  They act as all-purpose concierges, helping to moor, sell fruit and ice, take garbage, and arrange tours.  By tradition, once you establish contact with one Boatman, you are his for the duration of your stay.  Before we even entered Prince Rupert Bay a yellow-and-red boat sped toward us.  In this way we met Lawrence Roberts, far better known as Lawrence of Arabia.  After exchanging offshore pleasantries, he radioed to a compatriot to help us onto a mooring and pointed us to the customs office.

  Ladies and gentlemen, Lawrence of Arabia

Ladies and gentlemen, Lawrence of Arabia

Readers from the east coast of the US may chuckle, “Who needs help grabbing a mooring?  I do it all the time by myself."  So do we.  The difference here is that the moorings are usually provided with only the tiniest buoy, a low ring, and no pennant, making catching one from the deck, if not impossible, at least very difficult.  This arrangement insures continued employment of the boatmen.  Why not just anchor, you ask?  The bays in these volcanic islands get very deep very quickly (e.g.: 40-to-200 foot vertical drops aren’t unusual), while the more tenable spots are filled with moorings (see employment-insurance, above).  No matter:  the moorings only cost $30 EC (The Eastern Caribbean dollar, used in former British islands; $1 US = $2.67 EC) and the boatmen are going to approach you at anchor anyway.  Just go with it.

I should note that Portsmouth has what I’m told is one of the best Yacht Helper systems in the Caribbean.  Realizing that their previously ruthless competition, with multiple boats hanging off the gunwales of yachts in the middle of anchoring maneuvers and fights breaking out over who had a proper claim was driving away visitors, the boatmen of Portsmouth set up a business organization, PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services).  PAYS runs security for the harbor, maintains the moorings, provides a water-buoy for offshore refilling, enforces professional standards, and regulates fees.  I’m happy to report that our experience was excellent.  Even the non-PAYS-affiliated guys paddling up on surfboards to sell fruit (and anything else) were fine and easily took no for an answer when we didn’t have any needs (although who doesn’t need more tropical fruit?).  My understanding is that things get less regulated as one travels south.  We’ll see.

  Walking into town

Walking into town

Dominica is not as touristed as the previous islands we’ve visited and is thus not quite as focused on invented novelty and making visitors feel as if they never left home.  As a preferable alternative, the volcanic, rainforested island offers spectacular examples of natural beauty.  Taking full advantage of our local assistance, we hired Lawrence to arrange some inland tours for us.

The first was a tour of the Indian River, a shallow winding waterway whose shores teem with life.  Trees emerge from a tangle of roots to form a vaulted ceiling over the river.  Tropical plants burst with color at every turn.  Crabs, fish, and birds go about their business all around.  For environmental reasons, the use of outboards is prohibited, so our breathing and the quiet plash of Lawrence’s oars was often the only sound not provided by the forest.

Saturday was market day so we returned to town to load up on locally-grown carrots, cabbage, ginger, onions, lettuce, potatoes, and tomatoes.

We approached one vendor with a table of plastic baggies, each filled with red star-like blooms.  Deb asked and was told that it was sorrel.  The vendor explained that it was steeped in boiling water with a little fresh ginger to make a drink.  Confused, we purchased a bag.  Back on the boat, a little internet research explained that Caribbean sorrel is a flower, distinct from the familiar North American herb.  Deb filled pot with water and got to it.

After turning the water a pleasing scarlet, she strained the liquid and gave it a taste:  watery, with a slight astringent note.  She boiled it down a bit and tried again:  sour.  She added sugar and simmered it some more:  palatable, but not something we’ll be searching out in future.  Lovely color though.

After our successful Indian River tour, we again engaged Lawrence to arrange a tour further inland to the Syndicate Rainforest and Milton Falls.  Lawrence hooked us up with minivan driver Slim, who expertly barreled up and down rutted narrow switchback tracks to get us places we never would have found on our own.

We finally said goodbye to Lawrence, casting off early in the morning for a longish sail to our next destination.  Our intention was to pass Roseau, the Dominican capital at the south end of the island, and drive straight on to Martinique.  Once past Scott’s Head at the southern tip, we, with only a single-reefed main flying, were knocked over by 30 knot winds on our beam.   After an hour, spilling most of our wind, we decided to call an audible and turn back for Roseau.  I’m certain that there are many many sailors (I suspect that Deb is one of them) for whom the above conditions sound like a great day out; a five-hour sleigh ride on our beam ends, rail awash, all the way to Martinique (Whoo hoo!).  These sailors are better than me.  I am not proud.

The following morning we set out for a second try, experienced the exact same conditions, and turned tail again back to our mooring.  We spent the day with hatches closed and the cockpit enclosure curtains fully deployed against the hourly rain, reading and checking forecasts for the next weather window.

One interesting discovery we’ve made since leaving St. Thomas is how fairly easy it is to stay connected with back home.  Sprint, our cellphone provider, has an agreement with Digicell, which serves all of the Leeward and Windward islands.  At each new country, we’ve had good (but expensive) voice and slow (but unlimited) data service.  On the one hand, this has allowed us to keep in touch with our folks back home.  On the other, it gives us instant access to the same daily outrages you’re seeing every day.  If we’re not careful, we can (and do) find ourselves lost in our phones, oblivious to the beauty and experiences around us.

With this in mind, and a couple stationary days while the weather moderates, we resolved to go explore Roseau.

  The dock at the Dominica Marine Center.  If you saw it in a movie, you’d say the set designer went overboard with the rustic.

The dock at the Dominica Marine Center.  If you saw it in a movie, you’d say the set designer went overboard with the rustic.

  King George V Street, Roseau, Dominica

King George V Street, Roseau, Dominica

The capital of and largest city in Dominica, Roseau has a pleasant botanical garden.  Inside, we climbed to the peak of Morne Bruce Garrison, one of many British cannon and signal stations protecting the lee (west) coast of Dominica in their wars with the French.

We wandered around the garden, fauna guidebook from the forestry service in hand.

  Banyan Tree

Banyan Tree

  This huge African Boobab tree was felled in 1979 by Hurricane David, crushing the (empty) school bus.

This huge African Boobab tree was felled in 1979 by Hurricane David, crushing the (empty) school bus.

  Bamboo cathedral

Bamboo cathedral

The current forecast looks good for a moderate-to-brisk passage in the morning.  By tomorrow afternoon we should have crossed from the Leewards to the Windward and back to France (well, Martinique).    La troisième fois, c'est un charme!