Part 3: Pelée, Paris, and the Pitons
St. Pierre is the original capitol of Martinique but was completely destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Pelée in 1902. It has been rebuilt on a smaller scale and looks like most Caribbean seaport villages with a prominent church in the center of town, a front street of small shops, a dock, and a variety of restaurants along the waterfront. We ate dinner at La Tamaya, a tiny French restaurant at which we were the only customers. As the French say, “Ooh la la!”
Next came Fort du France, known as the “Paris of the Caribbean.” We took a ferry to it from our anchorage at Anse Mitan. It was not as I remembered it. The city had a very worn look to it with too many shops closed, the park overgrown, and the cathedral under renovation. So much for Paris.
The next day we set sail for St. Lucia with the intention of putting in at Rodney Bay on the northwest corner of the island. The wind was so favorable we didn’t want to quit sailing so we skipped Rodney Bay and sailed on to Marigot Bay. What a jewel! It’s a long narrow bay with high mountains protecting it on three sides and it was delightfully prosperous. Moorings Yacht Charters had expanded its facilities to include everything a sailor could want from provisioning to laundry to shops and even a spa with massage. Best of all, there was a Customs and Immigration office in the complex! A fine Mahi Mahi Creole dinner at Juliet’s on the mountain at the end of the bay provided a postcard view of the sunset through the palm trees at Doolittle’s, the end of a perfect day.
Seeing an island from the sea is wonderful, but you don’t know the island until you have experienced it by land. We rented a Honda CRV with its steering wheel on the wrong side and set off to see the Pitons and beyond. The Pitons are the most amazing geological feature of the Caribbean. From the water’s edge they stab at the sky like enormous shark’s teeth, 2400 and 2600 feet high. They are the highest points on the island. After admiring them from multiple view points on the twisting highway and fending off numerous vendors who wanted to tell us about the Pitons, we reached the ultimate observation point, Dasheen restaurant at Ladera Resort, a place we first fell in love with in 1993. Perched on a ridge further back on the island, it looks down at the sea through Petit Piton and Gros Piton. We finished the day by negotiating another two or three hundred hairpin curves around the southern tip of the island, up the Atlantic coast, across the central rain forest with its washed out roads, and back to Marigot Bay.
We thought it couldn’t get any better than that until we sailed from Marigot to Anse des Pitons, the cove between the two Pitons. A local man in a boat named Believe It or Not came out to form a business relationship with us and I told him we wanted him to save us the best mooring at the foot of the Pitons. Since it was late in the afternoon, we were afraid there would be no mooring balls, and it is illegal to anchor there. He did his work by leading a catamaran that was ahead of us to a mooring in Soufriere Bay. Then he came back and directed us to the only available mooring below the Pitons. It was a pleasure doing business with him! Soon after that a Rasta man in a boat named Distant Thunder came by to sell us bananas, mangoes, pineapples, and papayas. After snorkeling at the foot of Petit Piton we concluded that this really was as good as it gets.
Part 4: Sailing the Night Away
After a leisurely breakfast and more snorkeling at the Pitons, we slipped our mooring and set sail at noon. It was a late start but we were counting on sailing 48 hours to Montserrat, so we knew we would be sailing all night, perhaps even two nights. We would be sailing in the lee of St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, and Guadeloupe, so we set out about 12 miles offshore in hopes of having good wind. We were blessed with a steady wind of 12-13 knots so we sailed along at 7-8 knots, significantly above the 5 knots we had used to estimate our sailing time.
Richard and Gretchen took the 9 p.m. to midnight watch. Diana and I took the midnight to 3 a.m. watch, and I stayed up with Dan on the third watch until Richard relieved me at 4:30 a.m. Night sailing was a pleasure, even if it interfered with getting a regular night’s sleep. The night sky was beautiful, lights on the distant shores kept us company, and sunburn was no issue at all. A couple of times when the wind died down we had to run the engine to maintain our desired minimum speed of 5 knots. Clipping through the wide open Caribbean at night was a little spooky, but was a thrill. At one point Diana noticed the faint lights of another vessel in the dim distance. At night the chief danger is collision with another ship so we went on constant alert until we ascertained that it was a cargo vessel heading to Dominica, and though it was close to us it would not intersect us.
When morning dawned we had reached Les Saintes and the southern tip of Guadeloupe. The wind was growing fickle so we motorsailed on toward Montserrat. A gray naval warship drew our interest when it sped toward us, but apparently it wasn’t interested in us–it steamed past us and over the horizon toward Puerto Rico or Cuba. Twice we were entertained by schools of dolphins. They raced the boat and did circus tricks all around us. From the bow I could count 8 or 10 adult dolphins weaving back and forth in front of the boat, sometimes coming so close that the boat almost touched them. I think they had power in reserve and just enjoyed having something to play with.
We had planned to sail up the Atlantic side of Montserrat to avoid any ash that might be coming from Mt. Soufrierre, the volcano that destroyed half the island in 1995, but the wind shifted to a rare westerly breeze. That would have put us in the lee of Montserrat and in the path of ash, so we tacked to port and sailed up the Caribbean coast instead. This gave us a close-up view of the enormous lava flows that reached all the way down to the sea and extended the shore in several places. It also covered the city of Plymouth leaving not much more than roof tops exposed to mark the place where the capital once thrived.
We reached Little Bay on the northwest corner of Montserrat at 5 p.m. This gave us 90 minutes of daylight to anchor and relax over dinner. While we were eating in the cockpit, a storm brewed up. Then the most entertaining event of the day occurred–a waterspout develop about a hundred yards from us. As we watched it, it moved toward us, hitting the boat next to us and bouncing it all around. It missed us but hit another boat and rattled it strongly before reaching the shore and sucking the surf into it for a fascinating display of Mother Nature Power. We’ve got photos and video of it to amuse ourselves later.
There was nothing special on Montserrat to keep us, so we set sail at 6:00 a.m. the next morning with St. Barts as our destination. We saw the Kingdom of Redonda up close, Nevis and St. Kitts in the distance, and finally St. Eustatius in the far distance. We made good time and reached Gustavia harbor just before 6 p.m. We had just enough daylight to find an anchorage in the crowded harbor. The sun set as we set a big pot of chili on the table.
Today we will go into Gustavia to do customs and immigration, a little shopping, and wifi before sailing to Anse Columbier, a quiet bay with a lovely beach at the end of St. Barts that is only accessible by sea.