Tuesday, December 30, 2008

About eight seconds after I posted the photos below, I looked around the cafe and noticed that there was a new bunch of guys making a lot of noise. There was something going on on the big tv, so I figured they were making a big noise about that. Bunches of Caribbean men can be noisy. Then I caught some pushing and shoving out of the corner of my eye. Hmm. Michelle (from Mi Amante) and I both stopped what we were doing.

More pushing, more shoving, lots of yelling. Definitely more guys than there were when we came in.Maybe ten, twelve. I'm thinking, we don't need to be here for this, and I start shutting down the laptop.
Then some of the guys are screaming at each other, and there's fighting behind the patisserie counter, and everything that's going on is between us and the only exit. I'm like, Michelle, pack up. More yelling, someone's yelling into a cell phone, and there's a real barney happening now. The glass on top of the pastry display case shatters. Behind us at another table, there's a woman with two teenage boys - she's closer to Michelle, so I say, Michelle, ask her if she speaks English, ask her what they're saying. She does, and tells us the man says nobody should move. I'm still stuffing the laptop in my bag, and she puts her hand out toward me and says, don't move.

CRAP! We have no idea who the bad guys or the good guys are, so we just freeze. A big guy that was sitting close to us is now in the middle of the fray, quietly picking up members of the yelling and screaming and punching contingent and trying to move them toward the door. This bit of the struggles seems to go on and on. He finally gets one of them moved to the other side of the cafe, where, it turns out, there's a glass door, and all of a sudden all the curtains on that side of the cafe are being yanked off the wall in the struggle, nd there's a few cheers when a couple of the guys hit the street.

The place is still full of screaming and flailing, and most of it was the owner, we figured out later, having hysterics. The door closest to us was still blocked, but by this time, we were packed and ready to make a break. The lady translated that we were not to move until the police came. We couldn't get to the door anyway.

Moments later, a tiny French beater car, dents all over, zoomed from the wrong side of the road, jumped the curb, and out jumps these four huge guys, tshirts, jeans, bloody dangerous looking. They swarm the owner, now screeching and squealing on the sidewalk like a girl, a really angry hysterical girl, and I see a black night stick tucked under one guy's arm. Bloody hell. I grabbed the woman and said "those are the gendarmes, right? the police? that's the cops?" Michelle and I both thought that the Other Gang had just arrived, and we should probably hit the floor.

Yes, yes, the gendarmes, she assured us. Who would know? These guys were totally thuggy, white, undercover cops. A moment or two later, the doorway was clear, and we asked the woman if she thought we could leave. She was the high authority as far as we were concerned, since she could understand the shouting. Okay, go. So we go.

Out we go, onto the crowded street full of shoppers and cruise ship passengers. Life is going on like normal! We compare notes, and decide that from what we can put together, the restaurant owner was yelling that these guys were malade, malade, and had been harrassing him for two years, and the order not to move was because he wanted the witnesses there when the police came. We decided we wouldn't be much help, so headed back to pick up Charlie and head to ND for a rum.

Once we'd debriefed and calmed down, both Michelle and I agreed that our first reaction when we realized that we had to get out of there was "shit, and we had such a good wifi connection." Michelle even said to me in the middle of it, Well, if we're not allowed to move, at least I want to keep reading my email."
The music ashore has just cranked up to PAIN, PAIN, PAIN volume. What the hell are these people thinking????

Next morning: The incredibly loud music last night was brief - we figured it was a sound check for whatever atrocities will happen on New Year's Eve, so we're glad to be getting ready to go. Martinique is great, Fort du France is a great city to explore (except for the contretemps yesterday) and I've had the opportunity to view a lot of penises here in the anchorage. I think that Randy and Charlie are the only two men who don't enjoy urinating in view of all their neighbours.

We walked to the laundry the other day with a good-looking fellow from a French boat anchored in front of us. He was naked all the time on his boat. So I'm walking down the street with him and Randy thinking 'I've seen both of these guys naked every day this week!' Not that exciting, but something you don't get around to considering in Halifax in December.

Also we did find a laundromat, very nice, big Electrolux machines, and all in all, we spent about 30 Euros doing a month's worth of laundry. Randy went to the corner store and brought us back cold Heinies to drink while we watched the laundry go around. Also not a regular Halifax routine, but it does help with the monotony.

Yesterday, as we were getting ready to go to town, probably just for fresh bread, Randy watched a chartered catamaran drag by with people aboard sunning and fishing. They dragged about a half a mile, and there was no indication that they knew what was going on. We figured that the only people who knew how to run the boat had gone ashore, and sure enough, about a half hour later, when the cat was well out into the middle of the bay, we watched a dinghy zooming off to catch them. How embarrassing, and potentially dangerous. How far would they drift before they tried to turn on the engine?

We're waiting for the early morning showers to break up, then ashore (more bread) then we'll head for Marin to fill up with water, then off to St. Lucia the next day. We have to move, Randy's almost out of rum, and there's no rum in Martinique fit to drink. Ask anybody. Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm at CyberDeliss! in Martinique, and have a real wifi connection, so here's a bunch of photos from the last couple of weeks. Above, the guides' boats at the mouth of the Indian River in Dominica.


We use tube socks to store our wine, and this is what happens when the bottom falls out of a bottle of Merlot in the wine locker.


Great sail - full sail, averaged 7 knots across to Martinique


My xmas lights

xmas baking

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday greetings from beautiful Martinique.

Just about any French island is a good choice for Christmas week, and since it's blowing 25 knots and promises to blow for a week, we're very glad that we're stuck right here. Anchored below the fort at Fort de France, we're sheltered from the north and the east, and if it weren't for the *&^%&*!! ferry wakes all day, we'd be sitting pretty much in flat water. With little white caps just now. Randy's just translated the French meteorological report, and it's 25-30, gusting to 40-45 tomorrow, seas 3-5 metres outside in the open ocean.
The enormous Holland America Line Noordam is tied up just behind us, and Randy and I enjoyed about an hour and a half of Christmas shopping with a zillion other people this morning. That's it, that's all our Christmas shopping, and everything he's getting is edible.

On our way back to the boat after a rigorous morning of shopping, we were stopped by the smell of roast chicken. We walked by, and backed up, it smelled that great. Even street meat is more fabulous in the French islands. For 9 Euros, we got a fat little chicken and two big scoops of Creole jus poured in the paper bag with the chicken. Back to the boat, open the wine. Next, slice up some of the chicken, pour the jus in a bowl, rip off a piece of baguette, apply chicken, dunk in bowl, drip on clean clothes, eat, drink, repeat. Burp, nap.

All that's missing in my life, beside my son and daughter, my dad, sister, neice and nephew, Auntie Mary, decent Christmas music, a Christmas tree, a fire in the fireplace, eggnog, a cold Keiths, and, ahem, snow, is the ability to do about four loads of laundry. I've been hoarding the last clean set of sheets for Christmas, and we still have a couple of clean towels. Thanks to Frenchy's, lots of clean clothes, but storing dirty laundry is weird. I'm thinking if I fold it neatly, it will stash more acceptably. I've never really thought about folding dirty laundry before.

We had a lovely, quiet week in Dominica before we got to Martinique. Fabulous sail from Guadeloupe to Dominica, lousy fishing. Nice welcome from our boat guide Albert in Portsmouth when we got to Dominica. Anchored next to us was a boat from the Czech Republic, with two lovely young women aboard. It was a popular boat, and the view was stunning most hours of the day (they must have been out of clean clothes, they were down to wearing those uncomfortable thongs and not much else. Nothing else, Randy notes, and he should know.) Lots of desperately bad Christmas music from Big Daddy's bar on shore at the weirdest hours of the day. All night, short break between 5 am and 6 (a.m.), then back to the disco/Caribbean version of The Little Drummer Boy, and damn, it's awful.

After a night out partying with the Czech girls, Albert the river guide came over for a restorative beer or two, and we got caught up (it's been two years since our last visit) on his family, our family, changes in the neighbourhood, and just generally discussing the state of things. Albert made a trip up the Indian River and got us two lengths of bamboo for a mast and sprit for the rowboat. They're lashed on the cabin top, drying from brilliant green to brown, and by the time we get to Carriacou or Grenada, we should be able to put together a sailing rig for Marjorie D.

Bill and Leona on Voyageur C from Halifax were on their way north from Martinique, and we met up in Portsmouth for a couple of days. Had a great trip to Roseau on the bus, chatting with the ladies. Bill was very popular - he treated all the ladies at the back of the bus to roasted plaintain at one of the brief stops. Bill and Leona look great - cruising life agrees with them.

Sailed down to Roseau and spent a night or two there in that rolly anchorage. Roseau is a lively town and we always enjoy our visits, but the weather was right for a trip to Martinique, so off we go. Another great sail, 15 - 20 on the beam or just abaft the beam, and with everything set, we tromped along, averaging about 7 knots, in 5-6 foot seas. Almost no water on deck! Very poor fishing. We picked up one big barracuda just before we got to Fort de France, and before we could set about getting him off the hook, the knot in the line gave up, and he left with one of my new lures. Bugger.

After a day or so in Martinique, we were starting to be a bit glum about being "Alone" for the hols. Not very festive. Sunday morning, I'm below, and I hear Randy shout "We're saved!" Our friends Michelle and Charlie on Mi Amante had just sailed in and anchored ahead of us. She told us later that she saw our engine running and was terrified that we were just about to haul anchor and leave. No way. So we have friends to spend Christmas with, and friends of theirs, Swedish, and several other Canadian boats have come in since then, so we'll have to go round and say Merry Christmas, eh.

I hear that Canada is set to enjoy a white Christmas from coast to coast for the first time since 1971. I hope it's going to be pretty and I hope that you all have a wonderful time with your families and friends and trees and eggnog and snow. Have an eggnog and a Keiths for me. Not at the same time.
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finally made our way to Pointe a Pitre on Saturday. Nice sail, no barfing, reefed main and full jib, and it wasn't as windy as we thought it might be. The wind really honks between Guadeloupe and the Saintes - there's almost always major whitecaps in the channel. We finally saw a volcanic eruption - Montserrat, only 75 miles away, but there was a huge column of white cauliflower cloud that went up and up and slowly drifted west. Amazing.

The anchorage at PP was calm, empty, several permanent-looking boats anchored over at Isle de Cochon. Every place has a Pig Island it seems. Wonder why.

We found the dinghy dock at Bas du Fort marina. Huge marina, a thousand boats. Small shops, condos, gated village in the French nautical style (a bit grubby, but quite nice). We checked out the supermarket, and it wasn't bad, but of course, no fresh meat, which is what we were hoping for. We asked the security guard at the store where the Cora store was to be found (a huge grocery store) and we were told it was much to far to walk. The nice young fella with him said that there was a Match store in town, and he would show us where to get the bus.

He was so nice. When we said we could walk, he said it was much to far, and when his English ran out, he asked another guy he knew to help us. His name was Jesse, a law student at the university, and he said we shouldn't walk. "You could be assaulted." So we got on the bus with him, and got off in the centre of town and since he was headed in that direction, he walked us to the grocery store.

By the time we got there, both Randy and I were slighty panicked. The city seemed a labrynth. I knew we'd never find the bus station, a different one, to get back, we had no map, we were tired and overwhelmed. The parts of the city that we'd travelled through were as poor and tough as anyplace we've been, and much bigger. As we said goodbye to Jesse and I tried to imagine the directions back to the bus station, Randy said, screw that, we'll take a cab. And there they were, cabs at the curb. My hero. I felt saved, a bit. while feeling a bit of a middle-aged white-lady sap. It's the first time we've both felt concerned for our safety, and worried about getting back to the boat. Not a good feeling.

Nobody else we know had been to PP for shopping, although Axel, a German single-hander we met last year had to go to PP to have repairs done on his boat. When he got back to the Saintes, Randy asked him how he liked the place. He replied in his carefully enunciated English: "It is a wet hole." We should have been warned.

We spent 10 minutes in the grocery store, and at 4 on a Saturday afternoon, the place was jammed. We gave up, went outside, got in a cab and spent 12 Euros to get back to the marina. The cab was newish, clean, and the driver had one good eye. Zooming hell-bent down the six-lane highway, he undid his seatbelt and schooched over to peer closely into his wing mirror on the passenger side. He kept his foot on the gas the whole time, and I have no idea what he was peering at, but he got back into his seat and did up his belt and finished the trip with only a few more heart-stopping lane changes and some astonishingly ballsy acceleration.

We stocked up some at the original grocery store at the marina, and limped back to the boat for restorative drinks.

Next day, we took the dinghy deep into the marina - it goes way inland - and tied up at the Sunsail dock. From there, it was a 10 minute reconnaisance mission to find the Cora supermarket (closed on Sunday, but at least we knew where to go) and then we toured the Aquarium - very nice (photos below). Got back to the dock to find the Sunsail gate CLOSED (moment of panic) but not locked, so again, back to the boat for a bevvie. A recurring theme for our PP visit. We never do, normally. (Just a joke.)

Soon after we returned, we could hear live music blasting out from a building ashore, starting with drumming, and changing into an incredible variety of live music, men singing, women, young kids, fast, slow, traditional, pans, everything. It was great. And it went on until late. At nine, we could see through the binoculars that someone was collecting chairs outside the building. Randy said it wasn't over, it was just the old people who had been sitting down that were leaving.

When we got bored of listening to the music, we watched the steady, steady stream of boats returning to the marina from the river in the north, and from the Saintes and the other anchorages in the south. Hundreds of boats, motor boats mostly, every one of them dragging as big a wake as they could muster. A macho thing?
Monday morning off to Cora again (let me know if you're getting bored) and we decided to try leaving the dinghy at the marina dock close to the Aquarium.

Oh yes, this fella said, you can leave it here, no problem. Can we get back in the gate again? Oh no, the gate is locked, but someone will come along. We're not so comfortable with this, but then he says, I drive you to the grocery store, yes? Then he offered to pick us up again in an hour. Terrific! We zoomed around the store, heading toward the meat counter, visions of steak! pork tenderloin! something not a tail or a foot or a piece of gut or a tongue! and voila! Monday morning! the meat coolers are barer than a French charterer's bum. There's a small army of butchers in behind the glass cutting and packing, and by the time we had to go to meet our driver, there was still nary a bit of mince to be had.

Tonight, third round of leftovers - Randy's famous mushroom risotto. He defies anyone to make two portions of risotto. (But three days of it?) I bought a new lure yesterday, so we're hoping beyond hope that we'll pick up a fish tomorrow on the way to Dominica. We're also out of rum. R refuses to buy the Guadeloupe rum Agricole. We're still using the last stuff we bought to kill fish - one shot in the gills, and they gone. Now all we need is a fish.

See below for photos.

Spiny lobster. Nothing to write home about.

Piranha. Imports.

Sea anemone. All this stuff is hard to spell.

Turtle, wanting badly to be elsewhere.

Bad day for fish on Grand Anse beach. This one was chomped, and we saw several puffer fish that just rolled up on the beach in the big surf and couldn't get back.

Gangs could infiltrate the Saintes airport with ease.

Friday, December 05, 2008

It's late evening (7:45) and the charterers on the catamaran beside us are having a Bon Temps. There's at least a dozen of them, collected from two buddy boats, and for the second night in a row, they're bopping up and down in the cockpit, clapping and hooting and singing and dancing up a storm. From our vantage point, it looks and sounds like a great party, except that we can't hear the music. The wind she blow pretty good, and for some reason, Bob Marley shreds away, and all the hooting and hollering remains. They're having a great time.

Reminds me of the time that my sister and I were dancing in the living room, giving it all up for Michael Jackson sometime in the early '70s, and her boyfriend was out in our backyard watching us. I'm hoping he still suffers from the hernia he got laughing.

Still in the Saintes. This is a stupendously pretty place, with a neighbourhood feel about it, particularly since ND seems to be a magnet for French boats keen to anchor in such a way so that they don't feel lonely in the night. They come, they go. It's a holiday, weekendy sort of destination for the local sailors and the charterers, so there's not really any extended bother.

We've been hiking. My calves are bulging in a vulgar and painful way. Yesterday, we had a fairly laid-back beach and road stroll with Pat from Pasha (while Larry was banging on their refrigeration problems with heavy tools and, I assume, a growly sort of vocabulary). Our easy hike-du-jour was just to help us recouperate from the hike up to the top of some giant hill that we did the day before.

Today, after a day without vertical challenges, we pondered our options and thought we might try another giant hill, so off we go. We're still futzing around with sorting out the perfect tropical footwear again (a few months in real shoes really does a number on your feet), and bandaids and surgical tape are part of the gear we tote. Flip flops R Me, but there's often a need to protect your toes and have a bit more support on these monster hill climbs, so we compromise by wearing sturdier gear and stopping to stick plasters. It's an excuse to sit down and suck in oxygen.

We didn't leave the boat until about 10 this morning - had to run the engine, once every 3 or 4 days! - so by the time we started to hunt down the trail head, it was getting hot inland. Nice big sign indicating the trail, with one of those nice cartoony maps that bear no resemblance to the local landmarks (do we go up the concrete road? or over the hill on the left? or stop at the big snacky place for a beer and ask directions?). We went straight up the nearly vertical concrete road (calves! bulgerama!), looked around and found no indication that we had found the trail head, so we leaned back, made our way down the incline and decided to attack the trail from the other end.

Found that, no prob, about a half-mile away, and then it was bloody vertical for the next half hour. Man, I'm thinking, was this my idea? Every 30 seconds I'm finding fascinating things to stop and investigate and photograph. Lichen. Leaves. Ah, wait up, Randy, check out this plant! Oooh, look at this bug! Hey, is this the biggest goat dump we've seen this week?

By the time we round the top of the hill and start the downward slither and slip, we're overheated, soaking wet and grumpy (me). Randy's setting the pace, and I'm following these sturdy legs thinking, yeah, you go old guy, but I'm carry the pack (small) with the two bottles of water (diminished) and I'm getting over a migraine (not that bad) and you snored last night.

We exited the trail a few hundred feet from where we had been stumped at the top of the concrete road, though we never, ever would have found it coming the other way. Made our way down the last bits of the hill, turned left and headed for the beach, past some really big cow plops in the middle of the road neatly bisected with scooter tracks, and dragged our dehydrated butts to the beer lady by the beach. Two Caribs, cold, 5 Euros. While we guzzled, we watched a large black pregnant nanny goat attempt to rummage for food in people's packs.

End of day, showered and fed and enjoying the partying from the other boats, we're contemplating a trip 25 miles NE to Pointe a Pitre. We are in serious need of groceries. Sailors cannot live by fabulous bread, cheese, tomatoes and eggs alone. Although I did score a huge handful of basil today - growing in a concrete ditch! I'm ripping out big bunches, all wow, and Randy says, okay, okay, don't be a pig. We have one tomato left. Tomorrow's lunch!

See below for photos. Click on them to the get full splendour.

Nice view while I try to get my breath back.

Brief standoff.

First Christmas "display" we've seen. Unusual.

Restorative bevvie.

This goat went around digging in bags looking for food.

She had a good look at Randy before moving on to likelier victims.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The volcano on Montserrat erupted last night, and we missed it! It would have been quite a show from Antigua - apparently it was even visible on satellite images. Here's the report from the Montserrat Observatory (http://www.mvo.ms/):

Montserrat Volcano Observatory
Activity Report – 2 December 2008

There was an explosion and pyroclastic flow at the Soufriere Hills Volcano at approximately 9:35 pm local time on 2 December 2008.

The explosion happened without any warning. There was no precursory seismic activity.
The explosion appears to have taken place on the western side of the lava dome. The explosion sent large blocks to distances up to a kilometre from the dome. Incandescent blocks were scattered over the north-westen side of Gages mountain which implies a vertical element to the explosion. There have been no reports of air-fall pumice or ballistics in inhabited areas.

The pyroclastic flow was on the western flank of the volcano. It travelled down Gages Valley and into Plymouth and appears to have reached the sea. Buildings were set alight in Plymouth and could be seen burning from Salem for several hours afterwards.

The explosion and pyroclastic flow both generated ash columns and these were accompanied by lightning strikes. It was not possible to estimate the height of the ash columns. The ash was blown to the west and there have been no reports of ash fall in inhabited areas.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Quick hello and some pictures. We're shifting from the Bourge de Saintes over to behind L'Ile a Cabrit to get out of the roll, bounce, twirl, roll, upover and swoop. And then there's the ferry wakes. It's not that bad, but it's blowing like stink, and we're looking forward to a quiet night.

Photos from the last few days, which have included a romping sail over from Guadeloupe proper, and a night out with new friends from Pasha (Lunenburg! Pat and Larry), and Gail and Rick from Virginia (on Vision). Proper blog to follow.

Cactus flowers at the lovely garden at the fort.

Nifty stuff at the museum.

Nurse shark baby, dead one. Every collection needs one of these.

Lobster trap, southern style.

Killer view of the Bourge de Saintes on Terre en Haute.

Note the high-tech cruiser hiking footgear. Repair was effected with a strap from my bikini top.

Fabulous, fabulous beach at Anse de Pompierre. Correct spelling, I'm not sure, but the Captain says yes.

Dinner ashore. Yay.

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