The Nature of Nature

We sailed from the Nature Island of Dominica to the French Island of Martinique in Nature’s strong trade wind hands and seas. Winds 20 to 25 knots with a squall to 35 knots, seas to ten feet, made the passage between the islands a true “salty sailing day”. Why sail in such conditions? Doesn’t the Caribbean offer ideal sailing conditions in warm waters, gentle breezes and frequent rhum beverages? Why did two ceramic mugs fly across the cabin and smash into tiny bits? And what do crickets do for fun?

Well, in regard to the sailing conditions, we do (mostly) wait for the right “weather window” to minimize discomfort and maximize the beverages. But there are times when that window is pretty small, and a sailboat has to do what a sailboat has to do. We climbed into the cockpit at dawn to brave the angry sea. The French Island beckoned and we answered the call.

Dosen’t look too bad from here!

Why did the two mugs fly? Maureen does an excellent job of securing Kalunamoo for sea. Hatches battened down, waterline portlights dogged, keyboard stowed in the v-berth, pillows wedged into the book rack, any loose items stowed away. The cabinet doors have latches but there are times when  Kalunamoo takes a broadside swell and gravity does what the law of gravity demands: Cabinets open and two mugs escape, their demise comes swiftly after a few seconds of freedom. Nature has cruel ways to demonstrate her laws.

About crickets. As mentioned above, Dominica is known as the Nature Island, hiking trails, rainn forests, waterfalls, great diving and snorkeling sites. It is one of the last unspoiled islands in the Eastern Caribbean (although some would argue that French pastries, or rhum, could never spoil an island). But Nature, as mentioned above, is not always kind.

Our good cruising friend Carol apparently contracted Dengue Fever only last week in Dominica after a female mosquito bit her. The history of Westerners, in these islands is a story of man and women against disease. That is mostly tamed now but Carol was laid out for a week and is slowly recovering. But the lesson has been taught: humans are not the only disrupters.

It was, therefore, not too surprising that we saw a cricket aboard Kalunamoo one evening while in Dominica. Anchoring out, very few mosquitos or insects make it out to the boat. The big exception is that they could hitch a ride on our dinghy and hide among the packages or boxes bought from shore. Cardboard is banned from entering inside Kalunamoo. Maureen is good at disposing all cardboard boxes (like cereals and pasta) right at the store as she transfers the contents to plastic containers. But somehow a cricket made it inside. I successfully extinguished it’s life force with my foot and thought that was that. Until Maureen started hearing high pitched chirps. It kept her up at night.

St. Pierre

Unfortunately, I have poor hearing. Especially for high pitched chirps. It is very difficult to track down sounds you can’t hear. We purchased some glue pads that managed to capture 3 crickets, my foot (a few times), my hand, a towel and a carpet. Boy are they sticky! Maureen still heard them, and so more aggressive action was taken. Raid Bug Spray shot to likely nesting spots. On a boat that is many! My only solace is that they cannot swim out to us. A second round of French Bug Spray here in Martinique is underway as I write this.

Of course, Martinique has its own history of Nature’s malfeasance. St. Pierre where the entire population of 30,000 people died in the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelee. The cathedral pictured below (only its first story survived) lies among old walls and foundations left from the eruption.     

The Nature of Nature is such that survival belongs to the fittest. We are bigger than those crickets so the odds are in our favor. They may be having fun now, but I’m confident we’ll be victorious. If only they were tree frogs I would hear them.        

Dominica With Friends

Dominica with Friends

“Birds of a feather…” The old expression accounting for the tendency of people to gather into flocks and travel together is no less appropriate for cruisers. The winds and seas are the initial focusing force that keeps sailors grouped; we all seek the same traveling conditions going from island to island. These conditions are not constant, and the slight variations yield eddies of opportunity to jump between islands, seek harbors of refuge or respite, or provide inspiration to travel on.

And, so it was when the window to sail south opened for us and the cruisers we knew in Les Saints in Guadeloupe sailed to Dominica. No less than eight boats that we knew ended up in Portsmouth, Dominica, some going north some going south, “…flock together”.

Dominica is one of the least “tourist developed” east Caribbean islands (and poorest in the Eastern Caribbean) and remains a true paradise for those interested in exploring a tropical island. Although we have been here a few times, it is always fun to share familiar places with cruiser friends. The Seven Seas Cruising Association, which we are members of, has a Cruising Station Host here and so we coordinated with them (the Smith’s) to gather our flock of friends for some fun and a road trip tour.

We gathered with our friends and other SSCA members at Smithy’s on a Friday afternoon. Smithy’s is owned by Toni and Jeff Smith. Toni, who is from Trinidad makes great rotis and after lunch we introduced Toni, her husband, Jeff and their two daughters to Mexican Train Dominos as we planned a road trip for the group the next day. One of the highlights of Dominica is the extensive hiking trails. This is something I miss as my hiking days are over, but I can appreciate the short walks to the more accessible interior waterfalls and rain forests. A road trip, with a driver that gives a running commentary about the island, is the next best thing and going with a group of friends is always fun. The Smith’s joined us our little road trip.

We managed to visit  Pointe Baptiste Estate in Calibishie, a chocolate “factory” – a small private home run by Alan Napier. He is the grandson of Elma Napier who immigrated from Scotland, wrote the book White Sand, and was the first woman elected to the Dominica assembly. Like many islands here, Dominica has an abundance of good land and the ability to produce many fruits and vegetables for its population but not nearly enough to be commercially exported. Grenada does exports spices and cocoa beans and has started to process the beans into chocolate. Pointe Baptiste may follow as it is the first chocolate maker in Dominica. It produces, from bean to bar, about a ton of chocolate a year. Needless-to-say, it must be considered “artisanal” but does keep people employed. Since the unemployment rate is 27%  any little bit helps. The chocolate is very good but I think Grenada has the edge.

A visit to the Emerald Pool and a refreshing dip in the cool waters was our next stop. There was plenty of water as the day offered plenty of opportunities to replenish the streams and rivers of the highlands. Well, we did have our bathing suits on!

Lunch and Trafalgar Falls were next. Thanks to the rains, the falls were in full “roar”. No opportunity to bath in the plunge pool but I would suspect that with the volume of water, it would not be that pleasant.

What was pleasant was the last stop a hot sulfur spa and spring. The warm, almost too hot springs are heated by the active volcanoes of the island. Despite being mineral rich, they did not have a strong sulfur smell as was expected. It was a very relaxing end to a day with friends sampling small parts of Dominica. In a few days the winds will dictate where we will sail to, and possible future outings together.

The Little Red Car Tour

By mid-January the strong Trade Winds abated and so we sailed south to Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe is the largest island in the east Caribbean (excluding Trinidad) and has the most varied geography. It is actually two islands “joined together at the hip”. One island is high mountains, the other flat as a pancake. They are joined together by a mangrove swamp with the River Salee running between them. All this leads to different anchorages around the island and varied experiences in each.

Two other cruiser boats that we have know for years, Moya Mreeya and Roxy joined us as we form a small flotilla heading south. We anchored in Malendure (Pigeon Island) to snorkel, Base Terre to see the city (a very rolly anchorage), Porte a Pitre for a land tour, and Les Saints to spend time in the small French seaside villages. Oasis caught up with us in Porte a Pitre and Pandora met us here in Terre-de-Haut in Les Saints. Our own little community of cruisers will be together until the winds, schedules and destinations change. So, it is with cruising here. Paths cross, but unlike ships crossing in the night, sometimes we stick together for a while.

Land tours or road trips through the interior of the islands entails renting a car for a day or two. Sometimes buses can be used but cars give us more flexibility to explore and shop at the same time. The Little Red Car Tour was one such trip from Porte a Pitre.

Roman and Olha were our companions in the car we rented for the tour around the island. Bob, Carol, Lynn and Mark (Oasis and Roxy) rented another car and followed along. The caravan of boats turned into a caravan of cars.

The rental car company only had one car for us, a small red one. Really small, really red. I think is was made in Eastern Europe, had four wheels and air conditioning – all that we needed. Roman was the designated driver of this stick shift, very small, very red car. Gasoline is very expensive in France and so it is here also (this being a Department of France). Therefore, the little red car had a little (color unknown) engine. At least we think it was a car engine. It might have been an outboard motor given the performance.

Upon signing the rental agreement, the very pleasant woman co-owner (spoke understandable English as she spent time in Chicago and San Francisco) read all the conditions and restrictions of the contract. What concerned us was that the car had to be returned “clean”. We could pay 50 Euros in advance or 60 when we returned it to pay for the cleaning. We took the chance not to pay anything and to return the car clean.

The first day we drove around Basse Terre, the mountains island. Road D25 took us over the center of the island where we stopped and took a short hike through the rain forest and another short hike to a waterfall. The lush greenery is always impressive in these forests as is the small waterfalls and plunge pools.

Olha, Lynn, Maureen, Carol… the girls on the Little Red Car Tour

The next stop was something we haven’t been to: the Maison du Café. It was located in the mountains outside of Vieux habitants and was billed as a great coffee museum amid the coffee trees. The narrow, steep and twisting road up the mountains proved a real challenge to the Little Red Car. It had a 5 speed transmission but could have used another gear between neutral and first. In any case all was well until it stalled out on a steep hair pin turn. Roman did a good job keeping it on the road and not falling off the mountain as we rolled backway to let another car pass and to get it going again. A short distance later we came to the end of the road and found no Maison du Café. We learned the place was closed, if there was any there, and so turned around and descended back to town.

The end of the road

After we stopped for lunch at shore side restaurant we were off to the Distillerie Bologne . Hours of operation in these French islands are very flexible. It was after 2PM but since they close at 5PM they were closed anyway. It did have a great view of La Solfrier, the still active volcano on the island.

La Solfrier

We continued back toward Porte a Pitre and made it back to Baie-Manhault and the big shopping mall there. We bought 2 beach chairs for Kalunamoo at Decathlon sporting goods store. They didn’t close until 8PM.

Day two of the Little Red Car Tour took us to Grande Terre, the flat island. The little Red car had a much better time on these more level roads where we made it out to Pointe des Collibrit. The cemetery at Morne-a-L’eau looks like a village of one room houses; although they were all closed and no one walked the streets. The Little Red Car fit right in.

The Distillerie Damoiseau in Bellevue was open although the big steam engine, as well as the rest of the distillery was quiet. The sampling room was open! The sugar cane to make the Rhum Vieux Agricole had another month or so to grow before they started the harvest. I guess you can say the cane fields were closed.

Swimming at St. Anne’s beautiful beach finished our tour before driving back to Port a Pitre. A stop at the large supermarket was made to stock up the boat before leaving. Finally, we stopped at a gas station to fill up and to vacuum and clean out the Little Red Car. The tourist maps that we protected the floor with were removed and disposed. Back at Porte a Pitre we returned the car where it passed the white glove test, just before they closed for the day.

Guadeloupe is a great island to explore. Our long hiking days may be over, but we still enjoy touring around, eating at the different restaurants, swimming at beautiful beaches and sharing adventures with others. Places that close early, close for lunch or are just plain closed, abound but it just adds to the adventure. This Little Red Car Tour was another that has been added to our list.