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24 February 2013

Strange day, ending in paradise

I'm on a somewhat limited Internet connection, and I brought my personal laptop - most of my photos are on the boat pc - so I may have a little trouble adding photos to this post.  Here's a slideshow of photos I took on a visit to Pointe a Pitre.
On Friday, we intended to navigate the Riviere Sallee, which runs between the two butterfly wings that form the island of Guadeloupe.  It is a kind of Intracoastal Waterway experience, narrow and shallow, and there are two bridges at the southern end.  The southernmost one is actually two bridges, one for pedestrians and one for motor traffic; it opens daily at 0500, and you have to be there about 15 minutes ahead.  We anchored near the bridge on Thursday night, got up between 0415 and 0430, and were in place awaiting the opening.  At 0500 - nothing.  0505 - nada.  0515 - rien.  We tried hailing them, though we had seen nothing that indicated that they monitor VHF.  We got a crackly response a couple of times, but we could not understand what they were saying, who was saying it, or even whether it was meant for us.  At 0520, knowing we couldn't get to the second bridge anyway, we headed back to our anchoring spot, dropped the hook, and went back to bed.  
I had made coffee cake batter the night before, so I popped that into the oven.  We got up for breakfast around 0800, and we called the Marina Bas du Fort.  It turns out the bridge is closed for repairs - for a year or two.  I'm sure if we had ASKED at the Marina when we stopped on Thursday for fuel and water that we could have been saved the trip and the oh-dark-thirty start to the day.  
So - on to Plan B.  We are in Guadeloupe for another week-plus, before Susan flies to the States on the 4th and JP and  to France on the 5th.  We have been to the Saintes (islands off the southern coast that are also part of Guadeloupe), so we looked to see what might be interesting in the southern part of the Grande Terre side of the island (it was already too late to head around to the west coast, which we were planning to do after exploring the Riviere Sallee and environs).  Susan found an anchorage at Ste. Anne, about 12 miles or away.  We motored, of course - heading more or less dead into the wind - and had the hook down (again) around noon or so.  We had lunch - but we were rolling so badly that it just didn't seem like the place to spend even one night.  SO - hook up (again), and on to the town of St. Francois, another eight miles or so to the east.
When we approached St. Francois, we were mildly alarmed because the anchorage looked very full - it's not reported to be very big, and it looked like a lot of masts.  BUT - after a very tricky entrance - lots of swell, a small opening (well marked) through the reef - we saw that they have put down mooring balls.  A couple of them were still free, despite the Friday afternoon timing - and we snagged one right in the front row, nothing between us and the gorgeous reef and the waters beyond.  As soon as I can, I will post pictures and a couple of videos I took of sail- and kite-boarders.
There is a marina here, surrounded by vacation villas and condos and a couple of hotels, several restaurants and cafes (lots of crepes and ice cream), and even a supermarket not far up the road.  What's not to love?
Hook up three times, and down three times, in one day - but an amazing place to be.  We may still go and visit Marie Galante (another island of Guadeloupe) but it will be hard to leave St. Francois.

14 February 2013

The Saint Lucia Enigma

We took a taxi tour of the northern part of Saint Lucia yesterday (I posted the photos here) in an effort to get to know the island a little better.  You could say that Saint Lucia is one of the more Americanized islands; tourism is very developed, there is a lot of airlift from the States, there are several very high end resorts, Oprah says the Pitons should be on everyone's bucket get the idea.  The marina here in Rodney Bay is of course staffed mainly by local folks, but we have never really felt that it was possible to get to know people in the same way we have in, say, Grenada or Trinidad.  We have spent more time on those islands, of course, but (for example) we spent less than a week in Cumberland Bay on the west coast of Saint Vincent last year and we felt much closer to the "real" island than we ever have here, and this is our third visit.  The taxi tour didn't yield much - the driver was nice and wanted to be helpful, but he (like many) has kind of a set tour that he offers, and though he knows his local fruits and vegetables (which include almost nothing that we don't find elsewhere), he didn't know enough about other Caribbean islands to help us understand what might be the same or different in Saint Lucia.  We heard one thing that is at least a partial "difference".  It seems that many residents (and this is the case elsewhere) still own family lands; some have been sold off to developers over the years, but much of the interior is still in local hands.  What we noticed, however, is much more building of new (concrete) houses - and very few stalled projects.  AND, our driver tells us (and we saw a number of billboard advertisements on the subject) that banks will loan residents money, using the land as collateral, to build these houses.  These are likely very long term loans (we don't know that, but are guessing that it's so), and of course if the family is at some point unable to pay, they stand to lose both the house and the land.  Until recently, many houses that were built on the land were built with materials from the land itself, not from the much more expensive (albeit more durable) materials for which they have to borrow.
The other oddity in Saint Lucia relates to the cruiser community itself.  This photo was taken from Rodney Heights, looking across the Lagoon that is at the back of the marina, and then on to Rodney Bay, with Pigeon Island in the background.  You can't see the marina in this photo; that's where we are at the moment, and there are a lot of boats here too.  But - with all these cruising boats here, you would think that there would be a social life and community of cruisers that would look at least a little bit like that of Grenada, or even Trinidad.  There is a morning net here - it tends to be very short, and extremely light on the kinds of regular or ad hoc social activities that we are accustomed to in the other two islands.  There are plenty of restaurants, both at the marina and off the Lagoon (in dinghy distance), but none of those establishment seem to engage with cruisers or the cruising community in the way of, say, Da Big Fish in Prickly Bay or Clarke's Court or Whisper Cove marinas in Grenada...I mean, really not at all.  I've been scratching my head over it, and I really don't get it.  It's true that no one typically stays here as long as many people (including Raconteur last season) do in Grenada - but I don't think that's the whole explanation.
Anyway, end of sociological, political and economic musings for the day.  We are planning to proceed northward to Guadeloupe in a couple of days; the Captain has a head cold, so we shall see.  We are scheduled to fly from there to Europe on the 5th of March, so we will get there one way or another in the next 17 days.