Saturday, March 31, 2012

Marie Galante

The nation of Guadeloupe consists of two large islands, and several smaller ones.  All are considered a Department of France.

One of the smaller islands is Marie Galante.  This is a quite unusual island for the Caribbean.  From the sea, it looks flat as a pancake.  Quite a contrast from the typical steep slopes and mountainous terrain we usually see.

Because it is so flat, Marie Galante has historically been an agricultural center.  There is still a lot of sugar cane grown there.

We like the island because it is a great place to go hiking.  The government has established several trails across the island.  We have learned the hard way that the maintenance of the trail markings has been small to none, but the island is small and it is hard to get too far off the track.

As we were hiking this visit, we noticed that there seemed to be an unusually large number of cattle, and especially bulls.  This seemed odd, because how many bulls does such a small island really need?  Then it struck us:  these weren't bulls after all -- they were oxen.  The residents still use oxen to haul sugar cane from the fields to the mill.

Some sailors think that Marie Galante isn't a good place to visit, because the anchorage is quite wide open.  Our experience has been that the anchorage is quite pleasant.  There is protection from big seas from the main part of Guadeloupe.  It would probably be quite rolly after a prolonged period of strong winds from the northeast, but that is quite unlikely this late in the year.

We had one unexpected adventure on Marie Galante.  We had decided to visit the village of Capesterre on the windward side of the island.  It has a reputation for having a great beach, protected by nearby reefs.  We had planned to take a taxi, but none were to be found when we arrived on the island.  The tourist office suggested a local bus.  That sounded like fun, and a way to save money, too.  It took two buses:  one to the town of Grand Bourg, and then a second to Capesterre.  The beach was wonderful, and we had an excellent lunch in Le Galette, a restaurant right on the beach.  After lunch a bit more time in the water, and then time to go home.  We walked back to the village, only to discover that the buses stop running at 1:00 pm on Wednesdays (guess what day of the week it was).  What to do?  More than 20km back to the boat, no taxis, and no bus.  Well, we walked back to Le Galette and begged for help.  They tried calling a taxi for us, but no answer.  Finally, one of the people there volunteered that her friend needed to head in that direction, and she called him and asked him to give us a lift.

Herve runs the Sa Ka Plonje dive center on Marie Galante.  We were extremely grateful that he was willing to help us out. He has excellent English, and was just generally a nice person.  During the trip to Saint Louis, we talked about dive schools.  We learned a lot about the advantages of smaller operations.  We will certainly think hard about arranging a course when we visit Marie Galante next year.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


One of the more interesting islands, though we've never set foot on it, is Montserrat.

A fairly large island (10 miles by 7 miles), Montserrat is the one Caribbean island with an active volcano.  In the early 90's, the island had a population of more than 11,000 people.  A volcanic eruption in 1995 destroyed the main town of Plymouth, burying it in 40 feet of mud. Following the destruction of Plymouth, more than half of the population left the island due to the economic disruption and lack of housing.  We understand that all were offered the chance to move to the UK, and many people did.  The remaining population is there by choice, and we hear that they consider it better than a London tenement.  There have been further eruptions since then, including a partial collapse of the lava dome in 2010.

Plymouth was the only really good anchorage on Montserrat, and yachts are forbidden to go there due to the potential for further volcanic activity.  The remaining anchorages are subject to significant waves and swell, making for a very rolly night.  That's why we have never stopped.  Reports are that the northern part of the island is extremely lush and beautiful.

This trip, though, on our voyage from Nevis to Guadeloupe, we passed just outside the two-mile exclusion zone, and had a glorious view of the island from that distance.  On the south side of the island, one can see two large areas of volcanic ash flowing down the mountainside into the sea.  It was interesting to see this, and compare it to the ash fields we saw on Mt. Etna when we visited Sicily last fall.

Internet & Mail, Nevis & Guadeloupe

The internet is very important to us when we are cruising.  It is our main source of news, the way we manage our finances,  our connection to family and friends via e-mail, and our access to our postal mail.  When we have a good connection, we can also use the internet to make phone calls over Skype.

Access to the internet is highly variable.  We have a high-powered WiFi adapter (a couple, actually), and that means that we can sometimes get WiFi from our boat.  But the quality of the connection can be good or it can be terrible.  Often the connection between the shoreside WiFi system and the internet is slow, and it is shared by many boats at a time.  Think back to the days of slow dial-up connections.

Other times, we cannot get WiFi on the boat, and must go ashore.  Some restaurants and bars provide WiFi, if you buy a meal or drinks there.  There are internet cafes that will get you online for a fee.  So we make do as best we can, and sometimes go for days without a connection. 

Handling our postal mail while sailing is a bit complicated.  We pay a fee to the Swiss Post Office to forward all our mail to a mail service in Florida.  They scan the envelopes automatically, and we can see the scans online.  If we ask, they will also scan the contents and make .pdf files available on-line for a fee.  So basically, we can read all our mail while traveling.  But it’s a week or more late.  And the fees add up.  And this all requires an internet connection.  The service will also forward items to any address we specify.  If we are having guests, we sometimes use them as mail carriers.  Rarely, we will have letters sent to us at an address in the Caribbean.  This is rare because a) we have to be in one place for several days, and b) getting quick delivery involves air services, which are very expensive.

We had a very good visit on Nevis, went hiking in the rainforest with a local guide.  We saw a wild monkey, many new plants, and fantastic views of the extinct volcano and of the sea.  Then came the longest daytime sail of our lives.  It is more than 70 miles from Nevis to Guadeloupe, and the whole trip is beating to windward.  Luckily, we didn't have to tack.  We left before 6:00 am, and the trip took 11 hours.  Fortunately, the sea was fairly calm, and the ride comfortable.

Guadeloupe is another French island.  It is very picturesque, and the sight of pastel-colored houses on the hillsides wonderful.  The stores are full of French wine and cheeses.  We are currently at Isles des Saintes, a part of Guadeloupe that is filled with wonderful restaurants.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Martin

We had an unusual stay-over on St. Martin.  First, we stayed more than two weeks.  There have been few islands where we've lingered so long.  Second, we had visitors for both weeks.  We have never had visitors back-to-back before.

Our daughter, Esther, and her friend, James, met us in Marigot Bay.  St. Martin is a divided island.  The northern part is French, and administered by France.  The official currency is the Euro, though US Dollar is  widely accepted.  Locals speak French, though we found that nearly everyone has good English. The southern part is Dutch, and administered by the Netherlands.  Their official currency is the US Dollar, and English is the main language spoken.

We really like the French part of the island.  Restaurants are extremely good, there is lots of excellent cheese and wine in the grocery stores, the people are friendly and helpful.

The week that Esther and James were with us started very windy, and that limited our activities a bit.  Gretchen and they visited a wonderful beach (Friar's Beach) one day while David waited on Callisto for the watermaker repairman.  We had a quite strenuous sail from Marigot Bay to Grand Case.  We also took a daysail from Grand Case to the small island of Tintamarre for some more beach time.  There was a running Pinochle tournament (David lost).   All in all, a very pleasant visit.

The day before Esther and James left us, Gretchen's mother, Lois, and her mother's friend, Pat, arrived on St. Martin.  Lois isn't much for clambering into and out of dinghies and so they stayed in a hotel near Orient Bay.  The weather had improved, and we enjoyed beach days in Grand Case and Orient Bay, and a tour of the main town on the island, Phillipsburg.  David was finally able to get a haircut in Phillipsburg, and has less hair on his head than he's had in many years.

It was a bit strange (and quite peaceful) to find ourselves alone together on the boat after all this activity.  We rested up for a day, and started our journey back south.  We need to be in Grenada by early May, to prepare for the hurricane season.  Our next stop is St. Barths.