12 February – 7 April 2011
When we arrived in Bequia we met up with some friends who we had met in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria but not seen since. They had recently crossed the Atlantic and were on their way south towards Grenada. It was lovely to get together again and catch up on each other's news.
After a couple of weeks the winds moderated a little and we made our departure at dawn on the 15th February heading for Soufriere or, possibly, Marigot Bay in St Lucia. We had an absolutely cracking sail and amazingly covered 74 miles in 10 hours – an average of 7.5 knots, an excellent speed for Impressionist – to anchor in the late afternoon further north than anticipated, in Rodney Bay. Our friends, Lynn & Ken very kindly invited us to dinner as we were quite tired.
The following day we had a much shorter journey to Martinique, departing around 9.00am, and again had a great sail to Le Marin on the south coast.
Dave & Trudy on Persephone made the passage the same day, followed by Denise & Jean-Pierre on Absaroque, and Lynn & Ken on Silverheels II over the next couple of days. We all met up at various times for coffees and drinks, and one day those of us who were anchored in Le Marin dinghied down to the beach at St Anne's to go swimming.
Denise & Jean-Pierre and ourselves hired a car for a day for a tour of the island. We visited the oldest family-run rum distillery on the island, La Favorite, where all the machinery is run by a 150-years-old steam engine still in immaculate condition. It was a fascinating visit – one of the workers there guided us round (in French – Denise & Jean-Pierre translated for us). We then headed further north into the interior where we stopped in a picnic area for our lunch (bread, pate, cheese and wine purchased earlier). We continued north-west through the interior to the Atlantic coast where we stopped at the St James rum distillery to see their museum and purchase some rum, then meandered south down the east coast to Le Marin.
On 24 February we sailed round to Anse Mitan on the west coast where we anchored in a sheltered spot as there were strong winds forecast for the next few days. An attractive small holiday village with a ferry service to the capital Fort-de-France. We took the ferry over to meet our friends as we were all anchored in different places. Managed to get on the wrong ferry back – but it was only a 20-minute walk away!
When the wind moderated we sailed across the bay to the anchorage at Fort-de-France and found it was much better than written up in the pilot book. We also discovered that a few days later it was Carnival – 4 days of parades and celebrations – so we decided to stay as it sounded like lots of fun.
On the second morning Anne woke early in severe pain and feeling very sick. Denise came over to help as she is bilingual; she contacted the French coastguard who arranged for an ambulance to be at the dock, and with the help of Jean-Pierre (her husband) we managed to get Anne into their dinghy to take ashore. At the hospital she was given an intravenous dose of morphine and cocktail of other drugs and was diagnosed as having a kidney stone. She was discharged at about 1.00pm with various prescriptions and wearing Denises’ dress (spare in her bag) as she had only thrown on knickers and t-shirt to go ashore. Being Carnival, of course it was a public holiday so everything was closed and the streets were cordoned off for the parades. Luckily we had a very helpful taxi driver who phoned up someone! and found which pharmacy was on duty and took us there. He also negotiated a passage through the cordon as Anne had no shoes and couldn’t walk far. On her return to the boat she went to bed for the rest of the day.
Jim went ashore on his own that day – Lundi Gras with the "Marriage Burlesque" where men dress as the brides and women as the groom.
On the 3rd day of Carnival Jim felt unwell (shock?) so Anne went ashore, dressed in red for "Vide en Rouge", and watched with Absaroque and some other friends of theirs. Almost the entire town was dressed in red that day – quite an incredible sight.
We both again went for the last day of Carnival when almost the whole town (and ourselves of course) was dressed in black and white for "Vide en Noir et Blanc". As dusk fell a huge crowd congregated near the dock where the Carnival King "Vaval" was ritually burnt and, as the flames died down the crowds chanted “Vaval, pa kité nou” (Carnival, don’t leave us).
The whole Carnival was terrific fun – a cross between Caribbean and European with a lot of cross dressing. For a selection of our photos please click here. We also took lots of video which we will post later when we have edited a short film of highlights.
Once Carnival was over we were able to arrange for Anne to have a scan and see a consultant as instructed by the doctor at the hospital. Fortunately she was given a clean bill of health – there were no more stones or any kidney disease. We have to say the health care Anne received was excellent.
By this time we had been in Martinique much longer than originally intended. We finally set sail on 27 March, anchored at St Pierre for an afternoon only so that we would make our landfall in the daylight.
The next morning we anchored in Les Saintes, Guadeloupe to meet Manu & Michelle on Teepee (friends from Las Palmas) and Yves & Dominique on Rusee (briefly met last year). We had a lovely few days with a meal out together, BBQs on the boats, walked up to and visited Fort Napoleon and had great fun taking turns sailing our dinghy around the bay until it sprung a bad leak (another repair job).
The day before leaving Jim was doing some engine checks and discovered that our gear cable had broken. There was nowhere to get a replacement in Les Saintes so we sailed to Point-a-Pitre, the capital of Guadeloupe, where we anchored. We were able to buy a replacement cable very easily and Jim was able to install it without problem. We had a brief walk around Point-a-Pitre; it's very attractive with a variety of building styles – 19th century, Creole and Art Deco buildings, the more modern buildings being mainly on the outskirts. Next year we would like to stay longer but we wanted to get to Antigua for Classic Week.
Our shortest route now to Antigua was through the Riviere Salee, the seawater canal through the centre of Guadeloupe. We motored up to the south end before the first bridge and anchored, then went through the canal in the dinghy with a marked and weighted line to check the depths at the shallowest part as our depth is the maximum recommended. The depth seemed to be OK so we were up at 04.30 for the bridge opening at 05.00 with about six other boats, motored north through the canal which was very well buoyed to the second bridge which opened at 05.20, continued on through the canal and were pleased to find at the shallowest part we had 0.6m under us. Once we had found our way through the shallows of the bay and were into clear water we were able to set sail and head for Antigua.
After another great sail we anchored in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua on 7 April in good time for Classic Week.