Wednesday, March 29, 2017

1980 (11) - Trying to Leave Martinique


To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

When we were ready to leave Fort de France, Ed decided he wanted to sail out of the anchorage.  I wasn't keen on the idea because, although we were at the head of the pack and could sail forward, there were an awful lot of people around to see us if we made a goof.  My objection duly noted, Ed raised the mainsail and mizzen, and went forward to the anchor.  My job was to put Tropic Moon where Ed wanted her.  For example, I'd pull in on the main sheet, the sail would fill with wind, and the boat would move forward, allowing Ed to pull in on the anchor rope.  (Note:  Tropic Moon didn't have an anchor winch - not even a manual one.)  Once the bow was over the anchor, I worked the main sheet, pulling the boom from side to side, pointing the sail in line with the wind.  This kept the sail luffing - and not pulling us forward.

When Ed had the anchor up, he came back to adjust the sails.  I took the wheel, and we fell off to starboard, sailing past the anchored boats.  Once out of the anchorage, we turned to starboard again, raised the jib sail, and headed westward for five miles to the entrance of Fort de France bay.  Outside the mouth of the bay, we pointed south, towards St. Lucia, and into the teeth of a S-SE wind.  It was a beautiful day for a sail, the blues of the ocean and sky rivaling each other in intensity, puffy white clouds floating by above.  We spotted a pair of shiny black whales.  They were between us and the island, and were having what looked like a great time, shooting out from the water, and diving back in.

We just wondered where the ever-dependable (HA!) northeast trade winds were, and why the wind was coming from the south.  Despite Tropic Moon's best efforts, we gradually drifted westward, taking us away from the line to St. Lucia.  After a few hours of sailing, it became apparent that the head wind would keep us from reaching St. Lucia during daylight.  We decided to put in at Ste. Anne for the night.  Ed started the engine, and we motor-sailed eastward, along the southern coast of Martinique.  It was our day for wildlife.  About a dozen dolphins joined us, frolicking alongside the boat.

Nothing ever topped the joy of dolphins swimming near the boat!

On reaching Ste. Anne, we decided to anchor off the beach.  I was at the wheel, while Ed was on the cabin top, furling the mainsail.  He wasn't paying any attention to where I was going.  While I was well aware of shallow areas to be avoided, I had thought I was clear of them.  I wasn't, and we came to an abrupt halt - a really strange feeling on a sailboat.  Since I'd been going slowly, there wasn't even a jarring motion; we just stopped.  I pulled the gearshift into neutral.  Ed told me to put it in reverse, with full power.  Tropic Moon pulled off, but the stern bore to the right, and we backed onto another shoal.  I put the boat in forward, with the wheel over to port, and we drove away, leaving a murky underwater cloud.  It did occur to us that, had we taken a taxi from Ste. Anne to Fort de France in the first place to clear customs, we could have avoided all this extra time and effort!

Monday, March 27, 2017

1980 (10) - A Boat Named Lyra

The anchorage at Fort de France, Martinique.  Internet photo

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

On April 21st, we sailed from Ste. Anne to Fort de France, to clear customs to leave Martinique.  While we were in Fort de France, a boat named Lyra arrived.  We had been anchored near Lyra for about a month in St. Maarten, but had only met Sandra and Leo when we were leaving the island. The day after Lyra arrived in Martinique, I invited them over to Tropic Moon for drinks. 

Sandra’s first comment, when she climbed on board, was to mention that the boat people in Martinique must be really lonely.  While they were still putting down their anchor, a boat they didn’t know invited them over for drinks.  Then some people on a powerboat extended a dinner invitation, to follow after Sandra and Leo had drinks with us.  Rather than be cool about it, and say I’d just wanted to see them again, I started telling them they wouldn’t believe how lonely I’d been.  I missed having a conversation with someone who spoke English.

Sandra and Leo were from Montreal (where he was in electronics, and she was a psychologist).  In 3-1/2 years, they had sailed Lyra as far south as Martinique.  We had finally met someone who traveled as slow as us….  Whenever Leo and Sandra were running low on funds, they stopped and worked.  They’d spent eight months in Puerto Rico, where Leo had a carpentry job.  They had just been in St. Barths (a French island) for four months, while Sandra worked in a boutique.  They’re bilingual in French and English; Leo also speaks Dutch, as he was originally from Holland.  While in St. Barths, Leo rewired a house for a man who collected solar panels.  Leo took one in payment for that job, so Lyra, like us, charged with solar energy. 

We bonded with Sandra and Leo.  We talked about the loneliness, the boredom, and the alienation from the life back home – as well as the many good parts of the cruising life.  We talked about politics, and religion, and not having children.  We both had some funny stories on that last one.  The people of the islands placed a high importance on having children.  We were frequently asked if we had kids.  I told one taxi driver that no, I didn’t have children, and didn’t want any.  He snapped back that I’d better not let my husband hear me talking like that!  He mellowed, and then waxed eloquent, after I asked him if he had kids.  He described his little daughter to me, obviously the prettiest and brightest child there ever was!  Large families were popular.  My “vegetable lady” in Grenada, and my “laundry lady” in Antigua each had ten children.

I asked Sandra how she answered the question.  She said she’d given up trying to explain about birth control pills.  She just shrugged her shoulders.  Sandra and Leo had spent four months in Haiti, probably the poorest island in the Caribbean.  While the Haitians were the poorest people they’d ever met, they were also the happiest and, in Sandra and Leo’s opinions, the most beautiful, physically, of all the islanders they’d seen.  Children and family were very important on Haiti.  Because Lyra stayed there several months, they became well known to the local people.  There was general concern that Sandra and Leo didn’t have children.  Leo said that after several months in the Bahamas, he had lost a lot of weight, and was skin and bones by the time they reached Haiti.  People looked at Sandra, and looked at Leo, and decided he was the one with the problem.  Several people approached him to offer potions to help him out!  Even the immigration officer was concerned, and told Sandra there were good doctors on the island who dealt with those types of problems.

Having company on a boat was a far cry from having company in a house.  We had to think about weather, and other environmental considerations.  The anchorage at Fort de France had the tendency to be very rolly, and this night was one of the worst.  All the boats in the harbor were rocking heavily from side to side.  We were sitting in our cockpit when the people on the powerboat, who had invited Sandra and Leo for dinner, came by in their dingy.  They said they had to cancel, because it was too rough to cook.  Our new friends were disappointed, so I invited them to stay and have dinner with us.  They accepted.  Ed, who was thinking a little more clearly than me (too much rum & coke), asked me what I planned on fixing.  I said, not to worry, and headed down below.  I quickly realized how difficult it was going to be to cook, despite the gimballed stove.  It was too late for my company quiche, which takes an hour to bake.  I decided on a tuna, macaroni, and cucumber salad.  The only part needing cooking was the macaroni.  With French bread, a cake I’d baked earlier, and the bottle of wine Lyra had planned on taking to the powerboat, we managed fine.

Friday, March 24, 2017

1980 (9) - Bourg Ste. Anne, Martinique

Diamond Rock (small bump on left) at sunset.  Taken from Bourg Ste. Anne

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

All the churches in the French islands ring their church bells, tolling the hours.  In Fort de France there were two churches within hearing distance, plus a noon siren, as well as our own marine clock, which chimed ships bells.  No two ever sounded at the same time, making the changing of the hour rather noticeable.  On Easter Sunday, at 10:00 a.m., I thought I heard the church bell chime eleven times.  I listened more carefully at 11:00 a.m., and counted twelve bells.  I mentioned this to Ed, and he, (not being one to fool around), glanced across the water to the clock on the church steeple, to verify Fort de France was, indeed, one hour ahead us.  We realized the island had gone on daylight savings time, but decided not to change our clocks, and to live in our very own time zone. 

Ste. Anne's Chapel

We didn't hear any church bells in Anse d'Arlet.  When we reached Ste. Anne, we were surprised to find their church on Tropic Moon time.  We decided it was some sort of independent move on their part.  Some time later, a Martinique student solved our time zone mystery.  We learned that for the first time in ages (maybe forever?), Europe had decided to go on daylight savings time.  Martinique, being a Department of France, had followed suit.  When the clocks were set ahead and everyone had to get up an hour earlier, the students weren't too happy about it.  After a week of protests, and student demonstrations, the government had returned the island to Atlantic Standard Time.

The Calvary is at the top of the hill

Ste. Anne was a small, pleasant village, and the people were friendly.  A beautiful Calvary, with stone monuments, climbs the steep hill behind Ste. Anne's church.  The Calvary formed the Stations of the Cross, marking the fourteen steps on Christ's journey to his death.  There were stone steps, and gradual inclines, zigzagging between the Stations, as they wound their way up the hill.  My Catholic upbringing came in handy, because I could explain to Ed the background behind the religious statues and monuments.  I told Ed that people are supposed to stop and pray at each Station, and what they pray for is the strength to make it up to the next one!  That wasn't such a joke in Ed's case.  Because of his pains, he stopped several times to stretch out on the walls, to relieve the cramps in his leg.  It was the week after Easter, and each marble monument was covered with partially burned candles. 

Station of the Cross, with burned candles

The view from the top of the Calvary was magnificent; you could see miles of island and seas in several directions.  The beauty was enhanced by the contrast between the white marbles and stone steps, and the bright reds, oranges and purples of the bougainvillea and flamboyant trees.  I had brought the camera along and took several pictures, including some of a miniature Tropic Moon floating far below us.

The view from the Calvary.  Tropic Moon is the second boat out.
Diamond Rock is the small bump on the horizon.

We moved the boat again, this time to the mile-long beach to the north of Ste. Anne.  The beach was lovely, and usually deserted.  It was part of a park and campground; cars paid a fee to come into the area.  I walked in and out several times with no one paying me any attention.  When Sunday came around, our beach really sprang to life.  Cars and buses arrived in the park, disgorging crowds of people onto the beaches.  Wind surfers and sunfish zipped across the water, making colorful patchwork against the blue green of the sea.  Tropic Moon became the tacking buoy in a sailboat race, giving us a grandstand view.  Snorkelers risked life and limb, finning their ways facedown through all the activity; some trailed bright balloons as warnings to the boaters.  Music and laughter wafted out to us across the water.

Three young women swam out to Tropic Moon, and were complimenting Ed on his "pretty boat."  I came on deck and invited them aboard.  They told us they were French language exchange students from Wellesley, Massachusetts.  They were highly flattered when we mistook them for Wellesley College students.  They explained they were mere "enfants" from the high school.  The young women were part of a coed group of fifteen exchange students.  They were at the beach with the fifteen Martinique students who had visited them in Wellesley a few weeks before.  Over the course of the day about twenty of the thirty young people visited Tropic Moon.  It was fun at first, but we did get a little tired of answering the same questions over and over.  One of the young women asked our ages, and I told her we were in our thirties.  It was a little disconcerting when she replied, "So are my parents"!  They enjoyed being on the boat, were very polite, and apologized for imposing on us (which they weren't, really).  Most asked to dive off the bow (the highest point of Tropic Moon's deck), when they headed back to the beach.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

1980 (8) - Health Problems

Ed in his pareu - bought at Ste. Anne, Martinique

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

During our fourteen years on Tropic Moon, receiving mail from home was an ongoing challenge – especially in the islands.  When we decided we’d be staying in Martinique for a while, we’d given our family a ‘Poste Restante’ (General Delivery) address for Fort de France.  We had our mail addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Edward Baardsen. 

The guardian of Poste Restante was ‘tres formidable.’  When I tried to collect our mail – though I had both of our passports with me – all I got was a slew of French in my direction.  I finally caught the word ‘Monsieur,’ and called Ed over.  He’d been waiting by the door.  That made her happy, and she gave us our mail.  You see, my name, ‘Jean,’ wasn’t written in the address….  The same lady was usually at the window.  After a while, she was getting to know us, and came really close to smiling.  We only checked the mail twice a week, so as not to antagonize her.

Post Office, Fort de France.  Photo from the Internet

Ed had started having some pain in his lower back while we were home over Christmas.  When we were back in Antigua, he decided to see if he was better by trying to touch his toes.  Somewhere along the way, he did some serious damage.  For about a week in Antigua, he could barely get out of his bed.  Ed rigged up a pulley system, with a rope noose, at the foot of his berth.  He would put his foot in the loop, and pull on the rope to lift his leg, putting some traction on it.  After a certain height, he wasn’t able to straighten out his leg.  He was also having problems if he sat up too long.  We weren’t able to imagine what was causing the problems. 

Though Ed would improve for a while, the pains returned, affecting different areas in his back and legs.  While in the Saints, he was getting cramps in his right leg.  Not one to let a little pain stop him, he and I hiked over hill and dale, into town and back.  Ed even climbed the local mountain, Le Chameau (by himself, it was too steep for me).  By Martinique Ed was in worse shape, and could only walk a short distance before getting shooting pains down his leg.  He finally quit going into town, except for the mail, as the post office was just down the street from the dinghy pier. 

Map, Martinique

We left Fort de France after three weeks, and sailed to Anse d'Arlet, a bay on the southwest corner of Martinique, where we stayed for almost a week.  From there, we decided to go the Bourg Ste. Anne, a small village on the south coast of the island.  It took us seven hours to sail from Anse d'Arlet to Ste. Anne.  I was getting rather tired toward the end of the day.  We’d been traveling to windward, tacking several times to avoid the shallows near the coast.  Ed was in one of his "sailing purist" moods, and didn't want to start the engine to motor in.  It appeared to me we’d need at least a couple more tacks to reach the village.  So I suggested we anchor off a beach.  Long, curving beaches graced either side of the town.  Ed asked, “Which one?" I pointed straight ahead, and said, "That one!"  I didn't want to face even one more tack.  We anchored off the beach, and then sat through two days of heavy rains.  When the weather cleared, we motored over to anchor off the village of Ste. Anne.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

1980 (7) - Fort de France, Martinique


To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Martinique was our first “repeat” island.  We’d been in Fort de France the year before, with Tony and Joyce, as we made our way north from Grenada to the Virgin Islands.  During our three-day visit in Martinique, we’d been more like tourists, eating out two nights, and wandering through the city of Fort de France on a Sunday, when all the shops were closed, and the streets were deserted.  That turned out to be an unrealistic indication of what it would it would be like to live at the island for several weeks. 

Fort de France was a big, hectic, bustling city with a population of around 100,000.  When I walked through the streets on a weekday, I’d almost think the whole 100,000 were out there hurrying along with me.  It was a city with a life of its own, quite apart from the influences of tourism.  Martinique was noted for its beautiful women. Empress Josephine, Napoleon's wife, was from Martinique.  There's a larger-than-life, Carrara marble statue of her in the Savanne, a beautiful 12-acre park near the harbor. 

Harbor at Fort de France

To me, there didn't appear to be racial stratification in Martinique.  I saw people of every shade and hue.  Part of what made the people so attractive was their attention to appearance and fashion.  The feminine daytime apparel was far dressier than anything I’d ever worn in my life.  Treacherous high heels, with no support other than a strap across the toes, left me in awe.  I enjoyed sitting on the steps of the post office, watching the passing parade, and feeling a bit like Cinderella, B.F.G. (Before Fairy Godmother). 

There were many beautiful buildings, new and old.  When my shopping took me across town, I made a point of varying the streets I walked.  The traffic was almost frightening to a simple pedestrian, long out of practice with city walking.  Cars, motorcycles, and mopeds frantically flew by, coming to jarring stops at the corners, and then speeding off for another block.  Salvation came from the fact that almost all the streets were one-way, with one-directional danger.

We’d been cruising in French islands - Guadeloupe and Les Saintes - but the fact that I really can't speak French didn't become totally apparent until we reached Martinique.  The truth surfaced because, when we stop at an island for a while, we start working on the boat, run low on supplies, and a certain amount of shopping has to be done.

The grocery stores were easy because items had the prices marked on them.  By watching other customers, I learned where to get my fruits and vegetables weighed and priced.  If I couldn't catch what the checker said, I looked at the cash register to read the total.  The clerks had methods for dealing with ignorant foreigners.  While I was mentally trying to work out what I needed in French francs, they would be taking the correct amount of money from their drawer, to spread on the counter for me to match.

Fort de France.  Photo from the Internet

When we needed some new screws or some rope, I would take a sample around with me to the marine stores.  The drain hose from the sink in the head had started to leak, and we needed new piping.  Unfortunately, we didn't think to take a sample with us.  We were sent from store to store, armed with the French words for plastic pipe.  At the third store, we found a man who was determined to help us.  He didn't know any English, but would work out what I was trying to say, and then repeat it to the man in the office.  Yes, they had plastic pipe.  Vingt centimeters? (20 centimeters in diameter?).  Oui.  Trois metres longueur? (3 meters in length?).  After a bit of not understanding, I gathered there was a 6-meter minimum (about 20 feet).  Ed wanted to know the price, and what I deciphered sounded reasonable.  I went into the office, where the manager wrote out my bill.  I came back out to find Ed shaking his head over a 6-meter section of rigid plastic pipe.  Our friend looked concerned.  I made lots of bending, flexing motions with my hands.  The light dawned.  With a "follow me" signal, he led us across the street to another store, and pointed in the window at just what we wanted.

I was less than happy with Ed when he decided he needed more bedding compound.  (That’s a thick, viscous, waterproof mixture that is laid down where fittings are to be fastened, to keep moisture out, and prevent rot.)  There was no way I was going to try to translate bedding compound into French!  We went through the several marine stores in Fort de France, and even spoke to clerks who knew some English, and who tried to sell us everything from glue to paint to screws.  Unfortunately, none of them had ever heard of bedding compound.

Friday, March 17, 2017

1980 (6) - Passage to Martinique

Martinique is labeled in orange, half-way down the island chain.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Facing a 100-mile passage to Martinique, we decided to do an overnight sail.  We left the Saints on March 13th, at 4:00 p.m., and anchored at Fort de France, Martinique, at noon the following day.  Ed had said it would probably take us twenty hours and it did, exactly.  Our last overnight sail had been three months before, when we headed from St. Maarten to Antigua.  It had really been a trial for me.  But since even my own mother, who wouldn't go anywhere on a sailboat, for love or money, thought that I got unduly upset, I decided this overnight passage would be different.  I pictured myself relaxed, and enjoying the sail, watching Orion march his way across the sky.  Well, it wasn't quite like that. 

While we averaged 5 knots for the trip, that was a combination of flying along at 8-9 knots, with reefed mainsail and no mizzen, when we were between the coasts of the islands, feeling the full force of the Atlantic, contrasted with one dead calm we had to motor through, and 3-4 knot sailing while in the lee of Dominica.  We encountered rough waters between the islands.  A few times we were buried under walls of water, one of which knocked me to the full length of my safety harness.  The wave tried to wash the man-overboard pole, and a cockpit cushion, overboard.  Ed grabbed me, I grabbed the cushion, and the pole got tangled in the mizzen boom topping lift, so we were able to pull it back on board.

Fort de France, Martinique, taken from Tropic Moon

I suppose I got more sleep than Ed.  I didn't go below all night.  Instead I curled up on the cockpit cushions behind where Ed stood at the wheel, and napped there.  That way I didn't have to worry about his disappearing over the side, because I could open my eyes and see him.  I only got sick once on the trip, which was a vast improvement over the previous night passage.  I had made a supper before we left the Saints, so Ed could eat when he got hungry.  I just gave him a withering look when he asked me if I was going to eat too. 

I had been asleep, and woke up to find us in the lee of Dominica.  Ed pointed out the lights of the town of Roseau to me.  I had expected to be able to see the outlines of the island's mountains, even at night, but I couldn't make out anything.  That caused me to worry that we were heading straight into the island by mistake.  I kept imagining I saw mountains ahead of us.  (Note:  this was a decade before personal GPS.  Many sailboats had satellite navigation, and most boats had radar.  We had neither.)  I was relieved when we felt the tug of the Atlantic again, and knew we had passed the southern tip of Dominica. 

Another unnerving thing that night was a large ship that looked like a huge, lit-up parking lot.  It was sailing in our direction at something like a 90-degree angle to our path.  Ed could tell we wouldn't be out of its way before it reached us, so we fell off to starboard, and ran downwind to avoid it.  A couple mornings later, a similar-looking vessel sailed into the harbor at Fort de France.  The ship belonged to the U.S. Navy, and carried helicopters and beach landing craft on its decks.  It entered the harbor at 8:00 a.m., using its peashooters to give a 21-gun salute.  The local officialdom responded with their own 21-gun salute, from the cannons at the fort, which boomed and reverberated through the entire anchorage, and got everyone on deck in a hurry!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

1980 (5) - Iles des Saintes

A poster I made.  Photo was taken from the Hotel Bois Joli
To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

A day sail from Barque Cove, on Guadeloupe, took us south to the Iles des Saintes (The Saints).  The Saints are a small volcanic archipelago, fully encircled by shallow reefs.  The Saints are composed of two very mountainous, inhabited islands – Terre-de-Haut Island and Terre-de-Bas Island, with seven other uninhabited islets.  Cruise ships visit the main bay, which is also a popular anchorage for yachts. 

Postcard from the Hotel Bois Joli

Our anchorage in the Saints was a small bay off the beach of the Hotel Bois Joli.  I was sitting on deck one afternoon, doing some sewing, when a couple swam out to the boat from the beach. She said a tentative "hello," and I responded with a "bonjour," which set them laughing.  They were the first English-speaking people we met in the Saints.  They came on board for a chat, and Ed was rather surprised when he woke up from his nap to find me entertaining company on deck.  William and Katherine were professors at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.  William taught Greek in the Classics department, and Katherine was an archaeologist.  They were on vacation in the Saints, and were staying at the Hotel Bois Joli.  They invited us to the hotel for drinks that night.  At the hotel, we met another couple, Bill and Joan, from New Brunswick, Canada.  We continued a conversation that centered primarily on boats and cruising.  It seemed that William had quite a yen for a sailboat.  He said he was forever breaking the 11th Commandment - Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's boat! 

I'm afraid we worsened William's yen for the cruising life by inviting he and Katherine to dinner on Tropic Moon.  Our meal started off with Rum Punches, followed by a dinner of mushroom quiche, salad and French bread, with a bottle of white wine that they'd brought along.  Dessert was a coconut cream/pineapple pudding.  I put a cassette of Vivaldi's Four Seasons on the tape deck during dinner.  The music floated out to us, sitting around the cockpit table, under a very starry sky.  The next evening at the hotel for drinks again, Bill and Joan told us that all they had heard about that day was quiche, Vivaldi and stars. 

View of the hotel from Tropic Moon

I had purchased a pareu at a small shop in the Saints, and wore it to the hotel that night.  The pareu is a wide piece of material that can be wrapped around the body in a variety of dress or skirt styles.  After a lot of practicing at wrapping, and unsolicited advice from Ed, I ended up wearing it as a smooth strapless sheath that went to below my knees.  Katherine and Joan had also bought pareus.  Katherine wore hers as a wrap-around skirt, with a white peasant blouse.  Around my neck was one of my pieces of white coral, strung on a gold chain.  As I didn't have any shoes that would enhance the outfit, I went in to the hotel barefoot.

Walking from our anchorage, to the town below.  Quite a hike!

The next island in the Caribbean chain is Dominica, which we decided to skip.  That left us with 100 miles from the Saints to our next port of call, Martinique.  Before we left the Saints, I was cleaning up the boat, and had a couple bags of garbage I needed to get rid of.  Ed didn't want to dump our garbage at the hotel until I asked permission.  I looked up "garbage" in my French-English dictionary and found the word "issues."  I tried asking the ferry driver, but he couldn't understand me, and started to look nervous - I've seen that look before.  He stopped a man walking by, with a "Parlez-vous anglais?" and we got a three-way conversation going.  The new fellow was Norwegian, knew English and French, but didn't know the French word for garbage.  So, if you don't know the general term, name the particulars, and he started listing des papiers, des plastiques, etc.  Finally a look of understanding from the ferry driver, and words about "la porte gris" (the gray door).  Of course I could put my garbage there!  Why ask?

When we were ready to leave the Iles des Saintes, I made an attempt at clearing customs by visiting the local gendarme.  He spoke some English with a marvelous French accent.  He took down all sorts of information about us for his records - even our places of birth - but wouldn't give me any written clearance, or stamp our passports.  "But, Madame, I am not ze Customs!  There eez not a Customs here!"

Sunday, March 12, 2017

1980 (4) - Guadeloupe

A poster I made using a shot of Tropic Moon in Barque Cove, Guadeloupe

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

February 24, 1980

We returned to English Harbor from our week at Green Island, expecting to find a good deal of mail waiting for us, including two sets of photographs, and letters that my Mom had told me were on the way.  All we found was one letter.  I started looking through the other mail boxes, and discovered a Christmas card in the cigar box labeled “N.”  I guess that makes us Tropic Noon!  We plan to leave for Guadeloupe, mail or no mail. We’ll stop in Antigua on our way north again.

I wanted to learn more about navigation, so Ed told me I was in charge of planning the trip to Guadeloupe.  He said to keep in mind that we should reach the northern coast around dawn, and Basse Terre, on the southwest coast, before sunset.  I worked things out, and got Ed’s approval.  I had us leaving the following day at 6:30 p.m. for an overnight sail.  That morning, Ed tells me he’s decided to wait another day, and do a day sail.  He says we’ll anchor in a bay on the northwest coast, and go on to Basse Terre (the capital) the following day.  So much for my trip planning!  I was writing to my Mom, and turned to Ed to ask him something about Basse Terre.  Then he tells me he’s thinking about skipping that city altogether.  He changes his mind every half hour.  I told him I was going to hang him from the mast by his fingernails.  Only God knows what we’re going to do, and even He must wonder sometimes.  In any case, I prefer doing the passage to Guadeloupe as a day sail.  I like to see where we’re going.  Now the plan is to leave at dawn.

Tropic Moon, Barque Cove, Guadeloupe

March 3, 1980

We had a good sail from Antigua to Guadeloupe.  As Guadeloupe is almost directly south of Antigua, we were able to make the trip as a day sail, and did the 42 miles in seven hours.  It’s always such a pleasure to be able to sail directly from one place to the next!  We didn’t tack until we entered Deshaises Bay on the northwest coast of Guadeloupe.  Lots of sailboats stop in Deshaises Bay overnight, heading north or south.  About ten different boats were in the bay with us, each of the three nights we were there.  There’s a very small town at Deshaises Bay.  With my limited French, we cleared customs, exchanged some money, and bought groceries. 

Tropic Moon, Barque Cove, Guadeloupe

A sailboat named Planktos, which had been anchored near us at Green Island, left English Harbor for Guadeloupe about an hour before us.  We saw them in Deshaises Bay, and were invited over for drinks.  Even though you’ve never spoken to someone, after you’ve seen them enough times, and waved from the dinghy, you feel a tenuous sort of connection.  Grey and Susan were from New Jersey, where he was a professor of marine biology.  He was on sabbatical to study the growth of coral off Antigua’s coast.  I had wondered why they’d spent so much time off in their dinghy while at Green Island.  It turned out they were busy selecting specimens of coral, and dyeing them purple by covering the coral with plastic bags, and injecting the dye into the bags.  While they’re waiting for the coral to grow, they’re vacation/cruising through the southern islands.  Then they’ll sail back to Antigua and, hopefully, be able to find the corals they dyed.  They tried marking them by tying bits of yarn to trees or bushes on shore.  It sounded to me like a combination of “watching a rock grow” with “finding a needle in a haystack.”

Postcard, Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe is a large island, but didn’t have much of interest for a cruising sailor.  We spent three nights in Deshaises Bay, then sailed about half way down the western coast, and spent two nights in a small bay called Barque Cove.  We hiked around the bay, and got some lovely shots of Tropic Moon at anchor.

Postcard, Guadeloupe

South of the main island of Guadeloupe is a small group of islands called the Iles des Saintes.  These are also French islands, and belong to Guadeloupe.  The Saints would be our next port of call.

Postcard, Guadeloupe

Thursday, March 9, 2017

1980 (3) - Circumnavigating Antigua - Part 2

Great Bird Island.  Antigua is in the background.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Leaving Dickerson Bay, we sailed eastward along the north coast, tacking back and forth between the coast and the outlying reefs.  Off the northeast corner of Antigua is Great Bird Island, where we anchored and stayed for a week.  Great Bird, our favorite stop on the trip, is a small, uninhabited, windswept island.  Only one other sailboat visited Great Bird during our week there, and it only stayed one afternoon.  Great Bird had two beautiful beaches, and a steep hill, which we climbed.  The view was spectacular – Tropic Moon peacefully floating off the point.  The waters were a myriad of blues, greens and browns clearly showing the locations of the underwater reefs, with the mainland of Antigua making a dramatic backdrop.  At the top of the hill we found a large hole that went right down through the island with the Atlantic surging in below.  It looked like a useful spot for human sacrifice, a favorite pastime of the Carib Indians, who originally inhabited the islands.  Lizards scurried through the colorful wildflowers, and all around us were a profusion of succulent plants, reminding me of the jade plants I used to grow back home.


We found good swimming and snorkeling around Great Bird.  Ed did some diving for conch shells - empty ones - as he wanted to make himself a conch horn.  He found two shells, and sawed off the small ends to make the horns. His efforts were moderately successful; neither seemed loud enough to carry very far.  One of the shells had an inhabitant that became our first pet of the trip.  It was a small scallop that Ed installed in a pickle jar filled with seawater, and complete with sand and a couple small shells from my collection.  I christened him Scully the Scallop.  He seemed to be surviving quite well, until we inadvertently got some soap in his seawater.  He wasn't looking his usual pulsating self, and was on the bottom of the jar, instead of clinging to the side.  Ed put Scully in a large bucket of seawater and put it up in the bow.  When we sailed back to English Harbor, the jib sheet caught the bucket and knocked it over.  We found a very fried scallop lying on deck when we reached the harbor.

Great Bird Island

It's unusual to find good anchorages on the eastern side of an island because of the exposure to the Atlantic, and the prevailing easterly winds.  Antigua is an exception because of the extensive reefs along the north and east coasts, which offer protection from the ocean once you’re safely tucked behind them.  Antigua's east coast gives the sailor plenty of practice at eyeball navigation.  It forces you to be good at it, because you seldom get a second chance if you put your boat up on a reef.  According to our cruising book:  "The only problem with Bird Island is that having found your way in, it's a bit tricky getting your vessel out."  The directions, which took us through the reefs with no problems, read as follows:

From the western end of Great Bird, the yacht should pick her way across the shallows heading for the SE end of Long Island.  The channel will soon be seen stretching away to the NE with Little Bird to port and North and South Whelk to starboard.  Two right angle turns, one to port and the other to starboard, follow in quick succession.  The yacht will soon be feeling the effects of the open sea and should be driven ahead with conviction into clear water.  The chart is none too accurate here, and it's definitely up to the watery old eyeballs to keep you in deep water.
We decided to take a break in our island cruise, and sail directly back to English Harbor.  The practical world was intruding - the garbage bags were piling up, and we were out of fresh provisions.  We spent two days in English Harbor, and took the cross-island bus into St. John to do our shopping.  The amount of money we saved just on our fresh vegetables was more than enough to cover bus fare for the two of us. 

That's Tropic Moon at anchor

We had a week left on our month-long cruising permit, and one more place we wanted to visit.  We sailed back around to the east coast to Green Island, which is located in Nonsuch Bay.  Here again we were in the protection of reefs off the Antiguan coast.  We anchored all alone in a small bay on the lee side of Green Island.  I had anticipated another peaceful week, but these illusions were soon shattered; several charter boats came in, as well as a whole contingent of French sailboats that seemed to be traveling en masse. 

One afternoon we rowed in to Green Island, and walked along the windward beach.  Mounds of sun-bleached coral gave the shore the appearance of an ominous graveyard of skeletal bones.  My beach-combing efforts were more successful than usual, and I found a few intricate pieces of white coral that would make pretty pendants.

Our cruising permit expired on February 21st, and we sailed back to English Harbor that day to begin preparations for our passage south to the French island of Guadeloupe.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1980 (2) - Circumnavigating Antigua - Part 1

Our circumnavigation started at English Harbor, on the southern coast.
To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

After returning to Antigua from the States, our plan was to explore the island’s sixty miles of coastline.  According to our cruising guide, the coast abounded in good anchorages that were well worth visiting.  We left English Harbor on January 24th for our circumnavigation around Antigua.  We had the wind at our backs as we sailed along the southern coast of Antigua, and then worked our way up about half of the western coast. It was a nice, peaceful sail in calm waters, on the lee side of the island, leaving the person not at the wheel free to wander about the boat, or sit up in the bow.  The calm waters meant very little spray.  Both camera and binoculars were on deck for studying and capturing the interesting features of the coast.

Coastal shot

Our first destination was Five Islands Harbor.  It was an easy harbor to find, as there are five little islands situated just outside the entrance of the bay.  Five Islands Harbor is a large bay with several inlets.  As we entered under sail, we bypassed the first inlet.  A large "pirate ship" filled with tourists from St. John’s, Antigua's capital, was motoring out of the harbor.  Some people lifted cameras to get a shot of Tropic Moon as we sailed past.  I got a kick out of occasionally finding ourselves a part of the local color.  We sailed into the second inlet.  After taking down the jib, we worked our way forward with just the mainsail.  When Ed was ready to drop the anchor, I lowered the mainsail. 

We could see the masts of a boat in the first inlet.  We saw it sail out shortly after or arrival, leaving us with the whole place to ourselves.  After the constraints of living in the densely populated parking lot of English Harbor, my first thought was that I could go skinny-dipping, and I promptly went over the side.  As you may recall, Tropic Moon didn’t have a shower.  We took our baths in the water, and it was a lot easier to do when I didn’t have to work within the confines of a bikini.

Banana Boats, St. John's Harbor

During the four days we were at Five Islands, just one other boat came in, and anchored near us, but only stayed one night.  One day we rowed to one of the beaches to climb the cliff of volcanic rock that separated the two inlets.  We had wanted a closer look at a waterspout on the far side.  There was a narrow cleft in the rock.  When the waves surged in, they would be funneled up the cleft into a geyser about thirty feet high.  It was really pretty to watch the surge, enjoy the light spray, and listen to the whooshing of the water.

We sailed from Five Islands one afternoon to continue up the coast to St. John’s, the only city on Antigua.  Our chart was rather vague about where we might anchor, showing shallow areas near the town.  Our cruising book (and bible) insinuated that yachts didn't anchor in St. John’s because it's a commercial port.  As we worked our way into the mouth of the deep-set harbor, we could see a cruise ship, and some anchored freighters.  Since it was getting late in the day, we decided not to tackle it, and sailed back around a point to Deep Bay.  Again we sailed in without starting the engine.  (We were getting really good at entering a harbor under sail!)  It took a few tacks, as there was a submerged, 3-masted sailing ship sunk in the middle of the entrance to the bay.  There were also a few anchored sailboats to avoid.

Tug Boat Annie

As we were approaching Deep Bay, Tug Boat Annie, a local excursion boat, was making her way out.  Our sails were up on our starboard side.  Annie was heading for that side when she decided to pass us to port.  That was the proper choice, so we could fall off to starboard if we needed to, but the decision was made a little late, and she crossed right in front of our bow.  I was ready to make an obscene gesture in Annie's direction, but all the tourists were waving.  I lost my nerve and just waved back.  We were recorded on a movie camera that time. 

Street Market, St. John's

We took Tropic Moon around into St. John the following morning, carefully measuring the depth of the water as we approached the town.  I drove the boat, while Ed stood in the bow, tossing the lead line.  We were still a long ways from the dock when we anchored.  The water had shallowed to seven feet, and as we drew six feet, it was as far in as we dared go. 

Street scene in St. John's

We spent the day sightseeing in St. John.  It was a good-sized town, with fairly modern buildings, and a variety of stores.  It was sufficiently well developed that the sheep wandering through the streets looked somewhat out of place!  We saw a sign for a marine chart agent.  We wandered through a garden, and up some stone steps, to walk into a room where a man was typing.  I thought we'd somehow missed the store, but we were in the right place, and spent some time visiting there.  The owner was a retired Commander from the British Navy.  His wife, whom we also met, was Antiguan.  Their business was only two weeks old, and we were the first potential customers to wander up as a result of their new sign, which had been completed just the day before.  We asked what other services they were providing, besides selling charts.  We were told he did marine surveys, while his wife provided secretarial services - as well as offering piano lessons.

St. John's Cathedral

A popular tourist sight in St. John is the cathedral located on a hill over-looking the town and harbor.  We walked through the cemetery reading the ancient stones, and entered the cathedral to hear the organist and some choir members at practice.  The church, which is Anglican, is very large with three altars and beautiful woodwork. There was an old carpenter at work who looked as if he wanted to speak to us, so we stopped to admire his handiwork.  He told us how the church had been damaged in an earthquake, as well as suffering progressive damage from termites over the years.  He had started doing carpentry work in the church eight years before, and was alone because one carpenter was all the church could afford.  His efforts were impressive - he had replaced sections of many of the pews, including the curving carved end pieces, all of which were done by hand.  He turned out to not only be the church's carpenter, but also the major fundraiser, and sold us a book on the history of the cathedral.

I combined two slides (in Photoshop) to get this panorama of the shore in St. John's Harbor.

Not comfortable spending the night anchored in St. John’s commercial harbor, we headed north a short way to Dickerson Bay.  It was the location of several major resort hotels.  After spending three nights in Dickerson Bay, we were ready to continue our clockwise circumnavigation of Antigua.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1980 (1) - English Harbor

Me, posing with one of the cannons at English Harbor
To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

During our 3-1/2 years in the Caribbean, we made several trips up and down the island chain.  Some islands we skipped altogether, while others, like Antigua, our favorite, we visited on four different occasions.

Nelson's Dockyard, English Harbor, Antigua

English Harbor, on the southern coast of Antigua, is one of the most beautiful and popular anchorages in the Caribbean. There are two sheltered deep-water harbors - English Harbor itself, and Falmouth Harbor.  Nelson's Dockyard, at English Harbor, is one of Antigua's finest attractions, and it was easy to spend hours wandering around the restored buildings.  The dockyard took its name from Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, who was based there for three years from 1784, and who led the construction of the Royal Dockyard.  Admiral Nelson's former home is now a small museum called The Admiral's House, and nearby is the atmospheric Copper and Lumber Store, which originally provided the copper sheathing for the hulls of the wooden ships. 

Copper and Lumber Store, Nelson's Dockyard

Many of the old buildings had been converted to modern use - a grocery, a post office, marine store, and sail repair shop. There were frequent reminders of how short in stature people were a couple hundred years ago. Leaving an office I had to reach way down for the doorknob, and Ed often bumped his head on the beams in the marine store. 
The Admiral's House, Nelson's Dockyard

A replica of the racing yacht, America, visited English Harbor during our time there.  In 1851, the original gaff-rigged schooner, over 100 feet in length, was the first winner of the America's Cup international sailing trophy.

Replica of America (my photo, treated with sepia, in Photoshop)