Our friends, Rob and Sally, flew to Martinique to join us on the Princess for three weeks of cruising up to Antigua where they flew back to the UK.
By the end of our three weeks together, the destinations, boat dramas and lovely dinners with views of the sunset over the sea were all starting to blur together, not helped at all by the tendency of all the islands to recycle place names. I have lost count how many times I have been to a “Grande Anse” (which basically means “big beach”) and a Pigeon Island. To help our collective memories, I have decided to make a day by day account of our itinerary.
Saturday 23 February. Fort de France. Martinique
Rob and Sally arrived at Fort de France. We dinghied them onto the Princess which was anchored in the cosy Fort de France bay in front of the Fort. It was like Christmas for us, as Rob and Sally had kindly brought over a cornucopia of items we had ordered through Amazon and had delivered to them; hard drives, electronics, chocolate and excitingly, new rubber seals for our vacu-flush toilet to name just a few. After unpacking we returned to stroll around the town, marvelling at its French influences and at how quickly everything closed down in the afternoon. We did manage to get in our first Carrefour provisioning trip. Barely arrived a few hours and our guests were helping us to carry our body weight in yoghourt onto the boat! In the evening Simon and I went ashore to see the “Lumières” carnival, a mad cap riot of colour and noise and a mere taster of the upcoming Mardi Gras week’s festivities on the island.
Sunday 24 February. Grande Anse d’Arlet
We all went ashore to Fort de France to find fags for the Skipper, had a coffee in the “Impératrice” hotel bar and managed to find Simon some Camels in a betting shop up a side street. A stranger that we stopped and asked for directions very generously gifted him a packet of Marlborough lights! Having got the skipper his fix, we then set off across the bumpy Fort de France bay with our shabby dinghy in tow. First dinghy drama… about a mile out of Fort de France it flipped over and broke free, snapping the attachment points on the front. Thanks to our new crew we managed to retrieve it quite quickly (and luckily the outboard was stowed safely on the stern of the boat)! We put the anchor down in Grande Anse d’Arlet, a bay around the corner. The small town on shore felt just like a French holiday resort (and the waitress who brought our beers was rather rude) but the views of the sunset over the bay were fabulous.
Monday 25 February. Petite Anse d’Arlet, Martinique
The anchorage in Grande Anse was rather tight so we popped around the corner to the adjacent bay, Petite Anse, where we had more room. I dived on the anchor and found that a turtle had made friends with our Rocna, seemingly making sweet turtle love to it (although Rob suggested that he might have simply been scratching his tummy). We went for our first snorkel together along the rocks at the side of the bay and I tested out our new waterproof Fuji camera which Rob and Sally had brought over from the UK for us. The results were not so bad! We went for a little stroll along the high street and I tasted yam ice-cream for the first and last time. Petite Anse was similarly very clean and pretty with the distinct feel of a French seaside resort.
Tuesday 26 February. Sainte Anne, Martinique
We sailed down to Sainte Anne, a huge anchorage in the south of the island which many boats use as a base. We put the hook down just in front of Rum Truffle and Marc and Gina came on board for drinks. The weather seemed rather on the Scottish side, grey and rainy, and we weren’t inspired to blow up the dinghy to go ashore on the first night.
Wednesday 27 February. Sainte Anne
We all went ashore to the postcard pretty village of Sainte Anne to sample their coffee and stroll down the main street. The boulangerie here was excellent, and our croissant and pain au chocolat breakfasts were a little piece of heaven for me! We bought sandwiches and had lunch on the beach before stretching our legs to walk uphill and look down over the bay. In the afternoon, Rob, Sally and Simon went out on the dinghy to go snorkelling on the reef which is further out in the bay. I was still recovering from an ear infection and held the fort on board.
Thursday 28 February. Le Marin, Martinique
With a noisy generator and a dinghy in need of patching up, we booked into Le Marin marina in the town of the same name, a huge yachtie complex by Caribbean standards with several chandleries and lots of yacht services around. We found ourselves moored up alongside an enormous 99 foot Swan, Alalunga. This stunning superyacht made the Princess look tiny in comparison. We had a constant stream of admirers come down our pontoon, unfortunately none of whom were making the trek to admire us! We had a delicious lunch at L’Annexe, a restaurant in the marina mall complex which is a particularly baffling place to find your way around. Rob and Sally stretched their legs while Simon and I stretched our budget with an afternoon of chandlery shopping, getting lots of goodies such as new rings to attach to the front of the dinghy and a second hand Raymarine switch. Sally cooked a delicious chicken dish with her signature minimal fuss and maximum taste.
Friday 1 March. Le Marin, Martinique
Rob and Sally took a hire car and drove around the island while Simon and I gave the Princess some tlc, servicing the generator and repairing the patch on the dinghy. Rob and Sally arrived with plenty of provisions from Carrefour as we knew that Dominica would not be an easy place to get hold of food. By the end of the day, Simon particularly wanted to get off the boat and we had some yummy burgers at the restaurant in the marina. Rob and Sally had to return their hire car the next day at lunchtime, so Simon and I found another car at a local car hire agency across the road so that we could get a flavour of the island before leaving the next day.
Saturday 2 March. Le Marin, Martinique
Rob and Sally took advantage of their morning with the hire car to drive to Sainte Anne fruit and vegetable market and top up on the provisioning. Simon and I drove to Francois, a wind-surfing, kite-surfing resort where wind-surf addicts are in heaven as long as they don’t mind the piles of sargassum heaped up on the beaches and floating in the water’s edge. We then went on the Fondation Clement, a rum distillery which Flo had recommended to us. We were not disappointed. This is a botanical garden and sculpture park, a beautifully laid out distillery turned museum, a perfectly conserved plantation owner’s home from the turn of the century and a rum tasting emporium all in one. It was certainly impossible to resist buying a bottle at the end of this visit. We drove past Fort de France, amazed by how built up it is with European style ring road and out of town shopping malls and the typically French dormitory style suburbs.
Driving north on the national road along the coast we went as far as Saint Pierre, the old capital of the island. This town was annihilated by a volcanic eruption in the early 1900s. You can visit the ruins of the old theatre and prison and see the remains of the cell where the prisoner, Cyparis was held. Famously he was one of very few people who survived the blast of the eruption as he was protected by the thick stone walls of his cell. We had a beer on the terrace of a bar overlooking the peak of Mount Pelee.
Sunday 3 March Le Marin to Saint Pierre, Martinique.
We prepped boat at Le Marin and sailed up to Saint Pierre in the north of Martinique. We arrived there after dark and put the hook down for a few hours’ kip before setting off in the early hours of the morning to Domenica.
Monday 4 March Prince Rupert Bay, Domenica
We had an early morning start to sail to Prince Rupert Bay in Portsmouth. After a stonking sail between the islands we progressively lost the wind on the leeward side of the island and Rob did some heroic helming in very light winds as we floated past the capital, Roseau, hearing the sound of carnival drums from a good mile off shore. We spotted a whale! Or at least we spotted the shadow of his back and his waterspout. Dominica is the only Caribbean island to have a resident population of sperm whales, apparently. When we arrived at Prince Rupert bay we were immediately greeted by a member of the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, (P.A.Y.S. … the clue is in the name). Martin on Providence helped us to pick up a buoy in very windy conditions. Rum Truffle were our neighbours and Mark zipped over in his dinghy and took Simon to the customs. However, as it was Mardi Gras, the office was closed and the $4 check in fee had apparently increased tenfold. Marc refused to pay the 40 dollar check-in fee until the next morning. We went for a very quick walk in Portsmouth. Quite a contrast to Le Marin on Martinique! We didn’t stay for very long and ate on board.
Tuesday 5 March Rupert Bay, Domenica
In the morning we took the Indian river tour with Marc and Gina. This tour is a short boat ride up a river which is now recovering from extensive hurricane damage. Martin was a very good guide, of course, giving us all sorts of information about the plants and wildlife around us. He rounded the trip off by presenting all the ladies with a very clever origami hummingbird that he managed to fashion out of some foliage. It is obvious that this island has been hit hard by the storms of 2017 (Maria, not Irma) and losing their cruise ship dock must have been a big blow to the tourist activities. They pull out all the stops to be professional and the people we met were very friendly and happy to talk openly about the island’s fortunes and aspirations.
I went ashore in the afternoon to see the Mardi Gras carnival and buy Simon some ciggies. It was not spectacular, with locals wearing orange reflective vests as carnival costume, but the atmosphere was friendly and fun. In the afternoon we walked up to Fort Shirley and were pleasantly surprised. This fort is beautifully restored with fantastic views over Rupert Bay and lovely hiking trails in the park behind. Unfortunately, that night the water maker sprang a leak and filled the lockers with salt water which Simon and I had to mop up before we could go to bed. Rob and Sally woke to a deconstructed boat.
Wednesday 6 March Bourg les Saintes, Terre d’en Haut, Guadeloupe
After putting the boat back together we left early to sail up to Les Saintes, following, gaining on but never quite overtaking Rum Truffle. We had a lovely beam reach sail with good constant winds and made it to Les Saintes by late lunchtime. Les Saintes are a group of outlying islands which are part of Guadeloupe and situated just a few miles to the south of mainland Guadeloupe. We anchored in front of Bourg des Saintes on the island Terre d’en Haut, the only town in the chain.
We were in a very swelly anchorage between the superb snorkelling spot behind Pain du Sucre and the town. That night we went into town to have dinner with Marc and Gina (although it ended up as being tapas rather than dinner, some of which were a little too fresh from the freezer). There was not one but two almost identical carnival processions through the town which comprised of three musicians playing strangely hypnotic synthesiser music on the back of a slow-moving van which transported a dummy to its grisly end followed by a small cortege of young people dressed in black and white. I had heard from Flo that the end of carnival season is the burning of a dummy which represents Le roi Varval. This is quite a spectacle in Martinique apparently, but a smaller affair in Bourg les Saintes where the little dummy was burnt in the carpark behind Carrefour, strangely enough to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. Deeply weird and lots of fun!
Thursday, 7 March Bourg les Saintes, Terre d’en Haut, Guadeloupe
We dinghied into the pretty town of Bourg les Saintes and had a late lunch then all went snorkelling around the back of the rock called “Pain de Sucre”. This snorkelling spot is known as “the aquarium” and despite the rain was a smashing snorkelling spot.
When we came back, I hastily tied on the dinghy and then rushed back into the water to try to take some pictures of turtles (which I had seen when swimming off the back of the boat the day before). The turtles didn’t show up that day and I came to regret my haste in getting straight off the boat without making sure that the dinghy was securely double tied on. We ate on board and it was only when Simon and I came to lock the dinghy onto the boat at about midnight that we discovered it had broken free and gone missing. My heart sank. This would not only be expensive to replace it would mean the end of all our plans which we had collectively spent the evening making to anchor in some of the most beautiful spots in Guadeloupe. A dinghy is essential to life on board. Neither of us had a good night’s sleep!
Friday 8 March Malendure, Ilet Pigeon, Guadeloupe
By some miracle, Shabby (our dinghy) had not floated far and at day break I spotted her on the beach just a few hundred yards from our anchor spot. For once it was a bonus to be anchored on a lee shore! I swam to our neighbours on a French catamaran who were up bright and early, and they brought the dinghy back for us. By some miracle she didn’t have a single scratch! We had even left the kill cord on the boat to facilitate the rescue job! We were hugely relieved and went into town to buy, among other things, a bottle of local rum to say thank you to our neighbours. Having provisioned up and breakfasted on the usual glut of French pastries we set off north to Pigeon island on the west coast of Basse Terre (which is the mountainous half of Guadeloupe) on Malendure point, where there is the Cousteau National Park.
According to Rob we had a good sail between the islands and then had to motor along the leeward side of the island. I took advantage of the extra crew on board to have a very long sleep! We found a nice spot to anchor just a very short dinghy ride from a lovely restaurant on the water’s edge, called “La Touna” where we ate out that night with a view over the bay.
Saturday 9 March Malendure, Ilet Pigeon, Guadeloupe
Doyle’s guide says that “Shopping here is fun” and he is right. There is a little river that ends in a natural pool which is all dredged for dinghies to use and which leads to a local shopping complex complete with tasty boulangerie and decently sized Carrefour. After stocking up on more goodies we set off to go snorkelling in front of Pigeon Island, a place given 5 stars in Sally’s guide book. We were not disappointed. This is an awesome place to go snorkelling although you have to be prepared to share it with other dive boats and snorkelling groups.
We snorkelled, chilled out and then enjoyed a pretty sunset with our usual rum cocktails on board. A very mellow anchorage indeed.
Sunday 10 March Deshaies, Guadeloupe
We set off early in the morning to visit Deshaies, the bay where many scenes from the TV show “Death in Paradise” are filmed. This little bay is very pretty but notorious for getting 40 knot gusts as well as having boats lie in every which direction if the wind dies. It was also extremely popular, but we managed to find a good spot and monitor it for a while and still have time to visit the botanical gardens on top of the hill in the afternoon. There is a free shuttle bus which takes you up the hill and which Rob managed to flag down almost immediately. The gardens are small but beautifully landscaped. A winding path takes you through the park in such a way that they really make the park appear to be larger than it is. After an afternoon of admiring stunning plants from around the world, lorrikeet photo opportunities and ice-cream we strolled down the hill and had a sundowner drink at the waterside restaurant, L’Amer.
We bought the most delicious street food from a food truck next to the dinghy dock and ate typical Caribbean chicken dishes back on board. We then watched an old episode of Death in Paradise on board, trying to get glimpses of different places we had visited.
Monday 11 March Deshaies, Guadeloupe
On our last day in Deshaies we failed to find a taxi, tour bus or hire car available for the day and took the local bus along the coast road north instead. Before getting on the bus I took the opportunity to take a couple of pics of the presbytery adjacent to the church which serves as the film site for the police station in Death in Paradise (although I declined to pay 20 Euros to go inside and see the desks and gift shop!).
Buses in Guadeloupe are a very different proposition from local buses on other islands, this was a comfortable coach with oodles of space and air conditioning. Rob and Sally got off at Lamentin and then enjoyed a pleasant stroll along some of the most picturesque beaches including Le Riflet where D.I. Mooney’s shack is located. Simon and I stayed on the bus to the capital, Pointe à Pitre. Safe to say that the capital is not a tourist destination (although I have since read that there is an interesting art centre dedicated to the history of slavery, which we saw from the outside but didn’t visit). We got the lay of the land though and visited one of the enormous out of town shopping centres on the way back. Mission accomplished, we bought a new beard trimmer to replace Simon’s old one which had come to a watery end when it fell into the toilet.
On the way back we experienced a Guadeloupe traffic jam. There is a lot of traffic around Pointe à Pitre and national roads are only single lane roads which can back up very quickly. We came to a halt about 10 kilometres from Deshaies when a tractor had apparently toppled over. In the end we spent about 2 hours on the final bus back. So, it was very welcome, arriving back in Deshaies to be revived by one of the best meals we have had in months. Rob and Sally had reserved a table at “La Kaze” which served Caribbean food with French refinement. It was our final “Death in Paradise” moment, as this restaurant was used quite often in shooting the first season of the show. Charming service, fabulous food and affordable prices, this restaurant is definitely in our note book to revisit if Simon and I decide to stay this side of the pond this year!
Tuesday 12 March Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
We had a forecast of low winds and were expecting to have to motor up to Antigua but were pleasantly surprised. A good fine reach all the way up to Antigua with winds of 20 to 25 knots the whole way. The anchorage at English harbour was chock-full but we had more luck in the roomy Falmouth harbour around the corner. Simon missed check-in by ten minutes which was advertised in the Doyle guide as closing at 3.45pm, on their government website as 6.00pm and in reality closed at 4.45pm. Go figure!
Wednesday 13 March Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
We all went ashore to Nelson’s Dockyard for check in. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and a taste of English history in the tropics. The restaurant where we had coffee and breakfast could have been located in St Katherine’s Docks opposite the Tower of London (except for the diving pelicans and bananaquits all around). We finally managed to get Julian, the water-maker specialist on board who took the faulty tube off and promised he would try to fix it for us. He turned out to be a much more amiable chap than his curt emails suggest! We put Simon up the mast to untangle the port side courtesy flag halyard and rethread the starboard side one. In the afternoon we dinghied to the Catamaran Club marina and had a beer in the waterside restaurant which was a nostalgia trip for Rob and Sally, who had already spent ten days in a nearby hotel on a previous sailing holiday.
Thursday 14 March St James’ Club Hotel, Mamora Bay, Antigua
We didn’t want to go far as we needed to check Rob and Sally out at Nelson’s Dockyard on the following day, so we motored around the corner to Mamora bay where the swish hotel resort of St James’ Club has a single pontoon which is available for visiting boats. For practically the same fees as staying in a regular marina we had the run of the hotel’s facilities for the day, including free hire of Hobie cats and paddleboards. As we all enjoyed playing with the Hobie cats and even got free beers in the evening we decided that this was excellent value for money. I have used the free wi-fi to upload the pictures onto the blog as well.
Friday 15 March Falmouth Harbour, Antigua
We returned to Falmouth harbour, dinghied in to Nelson’s Dockyard one more time to check out Rob and Sally who had to present themselves at the Immigration Offices with their airline tickets and then waved goodbye to our lovely crew. They put up with our foibles admirably and get the badge of valour for being unflappable in the face of various water-maker and dinghy related dramas. Always happy to muck in and give a hand and game for anything, Rob and Sally are definitely crew and not passengers.Looking back over these pictures we have many happy memories of our time together on this side of the pond. You are welcome back on the Princess anytime!