Looking for info about Koukla charters? Want to take a Day Sail or Overnight Trip around Penobscot Bay? Go to www.sailkoukla.com

The blog below is about the trip on Koukla to the Caribbean from 2013 – 2014 only

koukla

In the fall of 2001, the Cowan family left their home port of Rockland abroad their schooner Koukla, bound for the Caribbean. You can read all about it here.

Over a decade later, they are setting sail yet again, this time with two new crew members. In addition to this blog, you can follow their adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

NOTE: the trip is over and we all got back safe and sound in June. We are going to put up some of the late posts that we never got to.

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Koukla Charters at www.sailkoukla.com

It’s been a year since we’ve been back, and Koukla is all spiffed up and now available for day or overnight charters out of Rockland, Maine

For anyone looking for info about charters, day sails, or overnights, go to www.sailkoukla.com

This page is the blog of the trip to the Caribbean aboard Koukla from 2013 – 2014

Northern Grenadines / Bequia

Hello faithful readers, yes we are still posting about the islands that we never had a chance to post about during the trip.

After leaving the Tobago Cays, we briefly stopped at Canouan, which was notable for being not ‘touristy,’ but really wasn’t very interesting, so lets move on to the main attraction of this post and our last stop in the Grenadines, Bequia.

The harbor on Bequia

The harbor on Bequia

We had heard good things about Bequia from many cruisers and we were all looking forward to getting there, but we didn’t really know much about it. Ultimately, what made Bequia special wasn’t any particularly amazing attractions, but just the pleasantness of everything: a nice-sized town, good restaurants, not too crowded or built up, and most important, a popular cruising destination where we reunited with friends we’d made elsewhere. It just had the feeling of the perfect island community.

Whaling is traditional on Bequia, an a limited number are still caught each year. Thus, the whaleboner restaurant

Whaling is traditional on Bequia, and a limited number are still caught each year using traditional methods. Thus, the decor at the whaleboner restaurant.

There was a unique grocery / provisioning store with odds and ends shoved into ever nook and cranny. They make their own chocolate croissants there, which were ultimately the best of the trip (even better than the French islands). After trying them, Ted put in a special order for a dozen to pick up the next day, and informed the crew that four were for himself, and we could figure out how to divide up the other eight.

One neat attraction on Bequia is Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary on the other side of the island. We decided to walk the couple of miles over to go check it out. On the way we saw many great vistas and beaches along the northern shore.

Isaac pets a turtle

Isaac pets a turtle

The turtle sanctuary sprang out of decades of effort and the dedication / obsession of one man without any public funding. His idea was to gather turtle eggs from the beaches and raise the turtles in captivity for the several years it takes them to reach maturity, and then release them to the ocean. This avoids the high-mortality period when the turtles are small and have many predators.

He has raised and released thousands of turtles over the years and the operation has grown into a small warehouse full of pools of different aged turtles. There isn’t much in the way of tracking or follow-up after he releases them, so it is hard to know for sure the impact, but regardless it was neat to hear the guy’s story about how he has dedicated his life to raising turtles. Note that these are a different species than we saw in the Tobago Cays (Hawksbill vs. Green). The hawksbill turtles raised at the sanctuary are critically endangered, because they were formerly harvested for tortoiseshell.

So, everything is going great on Bequia, it sure is nice here… *CRASH* in the middle of the night. Everyone scrambling up on deck, in pajamas, a couple hours before dawn, a light rain is falling, and a boat is smashed t-bone style across our bow, our bowsprit broken through their railing.

“IS THERE ANYONE ON THIS BOAT!” shouts Horatio. It takes time for them to appear, dazed, unhelpful, one just curled up and clutching his head. I guess it was up to us. Their boat’s weight in the wind and current pushed us tight on our anchor, the chain was straining and we couldn’t back up. Danica and Horatio jumped in the dingy, maneuvered into position against their port side, and let loose with the 25 hp outboard motor. They expertly push the other boat straight sideways, getting them off without getting our bowsprit any more tangled up in their railing or rig.

Oddly, their boat then began to drift slowly out towards the sea. Ted decided that we better go find out their name for insurance. And so he and I (Isaac) got in the inflatable and chased them out of the harbor. The dingy is bouncing along as we’re approaching more open waters, it is still dark beyond the range of our flashlights, and with the misty rain and lack of clothes, cold. Their name is hidden behind a swim platform, and they yell at us to come back tomorrow. It was pretty odd, so we wrote down their hull number and left.

While on Bequia Horatio carved a new bit out of a piece of lumber. Pretty good!

While on Bequia Horatio created a new cleat out of a piece of lumber. Pretty good!

Ultimately everything turned out okay. They hadn’t really been running away… we later learned they were all hungover (which is why they were no use during the crisis), and I still don’t really understand why they had seemed to be leaving, but they eventually came back and re-anchored. Though part of their rail was destroyed, Koukla sustained no real damage. But one thing we did come away with was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

The view on the walk to the turtle sanctionary

The view on the walk to the turtle sanctuary

Southern Grenadies

Hello faithful blog followers. As you probably know we’ve been back in the US for some time now. There are a few places we never got to in our blog, so we will roll-out some belated posts to fill you in on the missing islands.

Happy Island

Happy Island

In the Caribbean, the ocean is constantly changing from one vivid shade of turquoise to aquamarine, to purply shades of dark blue in deep open waters.  I thought I had seen every shade possible until our final approach to Union Island, the southernmost island in the Grenadines chain.  As we entered the harbor, the ocean turned an unbelievable shade of vivid, electric blue.  It was like the ocean was glowing.

Kite surfers doing tricks right in front of us

Kite surfers doing tricks right in front of us

We anchored in between two coral reefs, one of which had a tiny manmade island on it, home to a bar called Happy Island. That evening we sipped drinks there and watched the harbor fill up with acrobatic kite surfers, doing tricks right in front of us. One of the kit surfers placed a GoPro in a dinghy to video their arial tricks, so we had a front row view.

The next day we were off to another island–Mayreau. It was such a short sail from Union Island to Mayreau that even though Scott grabbed a banana right after we got the sails up, he hadn’t finished eating it before dad gave the order to start flaking down halyards.

Once the anchor was down, it was off to the beach. Isaac and I headed off to explore the island, fully prepared with our bathing suits on under our clothes.

Off we went up a steep cement road, lined with ramshackle houses and Rastafarian eating establishments. One of these was completely and artfully covered with nautical bric-a-brack and other assorted flotsam and jetsam. We continued up the hill to enjoy the scenic overlook. The view was spectacular. Nothing but white sand, green palms, and ocean in various shades of turquoise as far as the eye could see.

The Tobago Cays as seen from Mayreau

The Tobago Cays as seen from Mayreau

On we pressed, in search of Salt Whistle Bay. When we arrived more than a little hot and sweaty, the bay did not disappoint. This place was picture perfect. The water was swimming pool calm, clear as glass, and refreshingly cool yet still pleasantly warm. We spent a glorious afternoon in relative solitude floating around and lazing on the beach.

Salt Whistle Bay

Salt Whistle Bay

After we were good and pruney we headed back to Saline Bay, where everyone else was swimming and then back to Koukla. That evening, we invited aboard one of our neighbors who we had seen off and on throughout the trip. The swiss gentleman was single-handing a specially designed yacht so he could comfortably sail himself around the world. But we thought he might like some company, so we invited him over.

Danica in a palm tree "forest" near Salt Whistle Bay

Danica in a palm tree “forest” near Salt Whistle Bay

To look at him and his boat, it would seem like he has it all. But he had a rather sad tale. He had basically just realized his dream–to sail his own boat around the world, but it was costing him in other ways. He had the misfortune of falling in love with a woman who was very much not a sailor. And now he must choose between the love of his life and the life he loves. Hearing his story, I think we all felt incredibly fortunate that we did not have to make such terrible decisions, and had been able to take our adventurous, reasonably seasickness-resistant significant others out on this amazing voyage. We were truly the ones who had it all.

But we also had rather a lot to thank this man for. The next island in the grenadines, or rather collection of islands, was the Tobago Cays. We were all itching to go there and visit the sea turtle sanctuary located there, except for the captain, who thought it would be too tight a spot for Koukla and not worthwhile. Thankfully, after talking to this man who’d just been there, he was convinced otherwise. So next stop, Tobago Cays!

The pristine sandy atolls of the Tobago Cays

The pristine sandy atolls of the Tobago Cays

As they were described to us, the Tobago Cays are what people picture when they think of the Caribbean–perfect sandy beaches, half a dozen different shades of turquoise, and palm trees. With no settlements, they are the classic image of island paradise. The Tobago Cays are so close to Mayreau we didn’t even bother putting up the sails, and just motored over. As soon as Koukla was settled on her anchor and the standard afternoon rain shower had passed, we hopped in the dinghy to head to the turtle sanctuary, snorkles in hand.

Just so that you know, snorkeling with wild sea turtles in the sanctuary is not only legal, but incredibly popular. The tiny coves were jam packed with boats. It was amazing how many people were in such a remote location. I guess island paradise attracts a crowd.

Snorkeling with sea turtles in the Tobago Cays is pretty high on the list of amazing things we did on the trip. It was incredibly peaceful, almost surreal, watching these graceful creatures munching sea grass and swimming around. The way they moved, it almost looked like they were flying. But it was almost a bit eerie how close you can get to them.

Along with the turtles, we saw a couple of huge manta rays. Isaac and I were swimming back to shore at a decent clip, and all of a sudden there’s this huge ray right in front of us, and we had to suddenly put on the breaks and try to swim backwards, which is a bit tricky. Ever since the whole Steve Irwin incident, I think people have had a much more healthy respect/fear of manta rays, myself very much included.

The solitude of the Tobago Cays

The solitude of the Tobago Cays… boat access only

That evening we enjoyed the significant lack of light pollution thanks to the uninhabited islands we were anchored next to. Isaac had been studying our field guide and had learned to identify several constellations, and we could see a good portion of the Milky Way. We spent quite a while laying down on top of he doghouse enjoying the sights and sounds of that balmy night.

Grenada

The next island-nation south of St. Lucia is St. Vincent & the Grenadines. However, St. Vincent itself (not the Grenadines) has a bad reputation among the cruising community, for both being unsafe and uninteresting, so we made the jump all the way down to Grenada.

Going all the way back to New Jersey, our overnight passages have been nothing but trouble, and sure enough, it was another sleepless night of storm-tossed seas… just kidding, this time it was actually gentle and pleasant. Danica and I woke for our 8 am watch to the calm and islet-studded waters of the Grenadines archipelago. The southernmost of the Grenadines happened to end up under Grenada’s jurisdiction, and so our first destination was actually the island of Carriacou. Carriacou wasn’t much, so we soon sailed the rest of the way down to Grenada’s southern coast.

The flag of Grenada. Note the nutmeg.

The flag of Grenada. Note the nutmeg.

The most memorable thing from Grenada was an excellent, daylong taxi tour, which I think the rest of the crew would agree, was our best tour of the trip. But first, you should know that Grenada is famous for its nutmeg. It is their number one commodity. Beyond just nutmeg and mace (a second spice from the same plant, made from fibers around the nutmeg), on the island they make use of every part of the nutmeg. The nutmeg’s fruit is turned into nutmeg syrup, nutmeg jelly and jam, and even used to sweeten barbeque sauce. Nutmeg husks are used like woodchips to cover walkways. Many billboards advertised medicinal products made from nutmeg, called Nut-Med (supposed to ease joint pain). There is a nutmeg on the Grenadian flag.

The demonstration at the spice estate.

The demonstration at the spice estate.

So, now you know why our first destination, and one of Grenada’s main tourist draws, is going to visit a spice estate. The estate we visited did not let you see the actual fields, but they have a showroom where demonstrations are given of the spices they grow. In addition to nutmeg / mace, they grow bayrum, cocoa, cinnamon, cloves, and anise. The demonstration showed us the spices in their raw form, including a very strongly scented branch of cinnamon wood.

After the spice estate, we drove to the northern tip of Grenada, a cliff known as Carib’s Leap. It was here that after losing in their war against the French, the remaining Carib Indians all leapt to their deaths rather than be captured.

Our guide presenting the freshly harvested cocoa pod

The tour guide presenting the freshly harvested cocoa pod

Next up was the Belmont Estate. The previous spice estate produced cocoa, but only in the raw form. Belmont is the only chocolate-producing facility in Grenada. An extremely energetic tour guide took us out to the orchard, where mango and citrus fertilize the trees to flavor the cocoa. He then climbed a tree and broke open a cocoa pod for us to try the raw seeds, still covered in white pulp. The taste was very strong, but of fruit and citrus, not chocolaty at all. Was this from their special fruit fertilizers? Since this was our first taste of raw cocoa, it’s hard to say.

Cocoa drying in a greenhouse. You can't tell from the photo, but it was suffocatingly hot in there.

Cocoa drying in a greenhouse. You can’t tell from the photo, but it was suffocatingly hot in there.

The tour continued through the various stages of chocolate production, which includes a long fermentation in wooden bins covered with burlap and palm leaves, then drying in the sun or greenhouses, and finally roasting. The cocoa beans can then be sold, or turned into chocolate right there (by grinding and mixing with other ingredients). At the end we were served strongly spiced Grenadian hot chocolate. It was delicious.

Belmont Estate also had goats

Belmont Estate also had goats

After a buffet-type lunch where we were able to try “oil down,” a local dish, we went to a very unique attraction: an airplane graveyard. First, some background. In 1979, Maurice Bishop came to power in Grenada through a coup. In 1983, other members of his party, favoring more radical policies, seized power and executed him. The US then invaded, the main reasons given being protecting US students at the medical school and concern about Cuban participation in construction of a new airstrip. Ultimately the country returned to the pre-1979 system of democratic government. How do Grenadians feel about this? I suspect he would avoid saying anything disagreeable to customers, but according to our taxi driver Grenadians had “loved Maurice Bishop,” so after his execution they were in favor of anything that would get rid of the people responsible, and so most people view the invasion positively.

Cuban planes left to deteriorate in the fields

Cuban planes left to deteriorate in the fields

A strange result of all this was that, at the time of the US invasion, a couple of Cuban airplanes were stationed in Grenada. Afterwards they were not allowed to leave, and left to molder away in a field outside of the old airstrip. There they still sit, surrounded by goats and other animals that local farmers graze on the land. They are not fenced off in any way, so we were able to go right up and examine the exposed engines and broken dashboards.

Molly at Annaberg Falls

Molly at Annaberg Falls

Finally, we drove back towards the boat, but only after first passing through the forested center of the island. This offered us some good views, but unfortunately no sight of monkeys, which are usually around earlier in the morning. There was also a neat waterfall just a short walk off of the roadside, which also includes a small garden, and a group of guys that wanted us to pay them to jump off the waterfall. To cap off the excellent tour, our driver agreed to swing by a grocery store so we could use his van to load up on provisions to bring back to the boat.

Walking through the tunnel

Walking through the tunnel

Other than the tour, we did visit the capital city of St. George’s, which has an enormous Saturday market with a large variety of produce and spices for sale. Also in town, a stone tunnel runs under a hill to connect the waterfront to the rest the city. It is just big enough for one lane of traffic and one lane of pedestrians, nervously squeezing against the wall to stay out of the way of the cars.

We had enjoyed our visit to Grenada, especially the island tour, but it was soon time to leave. As we rounded the ‘toe’ of the vaguely boot-shaped island, after many months of cruising, we turned north. We still had a few more places to visit, but we had officially reached our southernmost point and were now headed in the direction of home.

But wait, there was one other attraction to see before we left Grenada. Halfway up the coast is a sunken sculpture garden for snorkeling and diving. We tied up to a mooring, dingied over and went snorkeling around the fish and statues. Conditions were not ideal (the water was slightly murky), but it was still pretty cool, and definitely worth stopping for.

Fish and sculptures

Fish and sculptures

St. Lucia

There is a saying that whenever two boats are going to the same place, they are racing.

The rugged coast of St. Lucia. The sharp peak of one of the Pitons.

The rugged coast of St. Lucia. The two peaks on the right are the Pitons.

Remember back in Guadeloupe, we had met a family with two kids trying to catch a cat? Well, we ran into them in Fort de France, and it turned out they were also headed south, so we raced our new friends from Martinique to St. Lucia. Since their vessel was much smaller and sleeker, we figured we didn’t have a chance in our heavy gaff-rigged vessel, but we passed each other several times. At one point, they came right up alongside Koukla, such that the teenage kids could have swung over and boarded us pirate style. We had a great time waving and shouting to each other each time we passed, but eventually they pulled ahead and beat us in to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. But it made what would have been a long boring sail pass quickly and enjoyably.

We almost skipped out on St. Lucia due to a recent event on the island. A cruising couple had been boarded and robbed in the middle of the night, leaving the man dead and the woman severely injured. But it would be a long way to skip the island, and supposedly the perpetrators had been apprehended, and we’d be going nowhere near that area.

Despite the recent unfortunate events elsewhere on the island, we were surprised to find one of the most active and rewarding cruising communities in the Caribbean in Rodney Bay, and we had a full social calendar for our entire stay.

The top-heavy flag / produce / miscellany selling boat that puttered around the bay

The top-heavy flag / produce / miscellany selling boat that puttered around the bay

On our way in to shore the next day, we swung by our racing buddies to see if they would like a lift ashore. Subsequently, their son was sent in along with us to refill their propane tank. Meanwhile, Mom and Dad went to get a small puncture in our inflatable repaired. They found out that it could be repaired that day, but this meant that we were all stuck on shore for the day, including our young friend, who now with no way to get word back to his family, we’d practically kidnapped. Basically that meant Scott, Molly, Isaac, and I were charged with accompanying a rambunctious 13-year-old boy for the whole day who liked to roll around on the ground, touch everything in the stores we went to, catch rides on passing custodian golf carts, and asked everyone we met where to get kittens.

He and his sister were obsessed with finding a boat cat. Everywhere we went that day, he asked, “where are the kittens, do you have any kittens?” He was obsessed. At lunch, when he was ordering, he said, “I’ll have a burger with no onions, a milkshake, and where are your kittens?” The waitress didn’t know how to respond.

Anyway, eventually the rest of his family made it to shore, and that evening all ten of us went out to dinner at what was basically a Caribbean Chucky Cheese, but better. There was good pizza and an excellent playground where all the kids got to run around and play, including a free-spinning metal platform, of a type likely banned in the U.S. by this point. My mom called it a kiddie killer. But it was great fun for the kids, including some local boys who made fun of us and said their grandmas could spin them faster. And there were also slides, swing sets, a jungle gym, a trampoline, and even a bouncy castle. And as the other families left, we 20-something kids could play on the equipment without getting many dirty looks.

The whole time the kids had been going on about catching a cat, going all the way back to Guadeloupe, we really didn’t take them seriously. Then their family showed up to dinner with cat food and a litter box. They asked a local where the best place was to catch kittens, and sure it enough, it was right next to a rather upscale restaurant. So after our pizza, while people dined a few feet away, the father opened up a can of cat food and not five minutes later a kitten came out from under the porch and started eating. Then another, and another, and another… He snatched up the first one out, because clearly that was the smartest and boldest and would therefore make the best boat cat. The father had it cuddled up in his shirt while they dinghied back to their boat. And sure enough, within just a few days, the kitten was adjusted to its new home, climbing all over the boat and running along the boom.

The Unicorn

The Unicorn

The next evening we went to a cruiser’s potluck aboard the Unicorn. The Unicorn was a well-known boat, built in 1948 and had appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies. It had recently sold, and was being refitted as a floating bar/restaurant for tourists. It was a bit sad to see it being retired as a true sailing vessel, but at least it was being well kept and maintained.

The potluck itself was great fun. There was tons of good food and fellow cruisers from around the world. Isaac and I found another couple close to our age. They were from Sweden, and we talked with them for quite a while. They both worked online, in web and graphic design, thus enabling them to sail around the world while still earning a living.

Getting around the extensive marina / dock complex at Rodney Bay involves a floating dock with a rope

Getting around the extensive marina / dock complex at Rodney Bay involves a floating dock with a rope

But the most interesting people we met were a family from Seattle. I got talking to the mother and a friend of hers from France about nutrition while waiting in the (very long) line at the buffet. It was wonderful to be able to talk with like-minded people about food and nutrition, as I’m constantly surrounded by engineers. In between our food discussion, I learned their amazing sailing story.

Most live aboard cruisers have some sort of tie to sailing. In my family, there have been lots of seafaring Cowans going back many generations. Not so with this family. Apparently, it all started when the husband was at home watching TV, recovering from minor surgery. And he saw a report about the 16 yr old girl who’d sailed around the world, and thought, well, if a sixteen year old can do it, then I can do it. He had never been on a boat before. A few months later, he and his wife sold their house and most of their belongings and flew to France to buy a boat, taking along their two children. They spent a year cruising the Mediterranean, learning how to sail in the relatively safer waters of an enclosed sea (though that gives no protection against freak accidents like having their mast struck by lightning… but that’s a different story). They must have figured it out, and now with their sealegs, they crossed the Atlantic without major mishap, and from St. Lucia are headed to Panama, through the Canal, and then on to the South Pacific.

After making so many new friends in St. Lucia, we were a bit sad to leave, but it was time to be moving on. Especially since we were so close to our final destination—Grenada.

Martinique

St. Pierre, beneath the volcano

St. Pierre, beneath the volcano

After leaving Dominica, our next stop was Martinique, a French island. The northern harbor on the island is St. Pierre, the capital of the island until 1902. In that year, the nearby volcano Mt. Pelee (which looms over the landscape just outside of town) erupted and wiped out nearly the city’s entire population of 30,000 people. To this day, it is the deadliest volcanic eruption since Krakatoa.

St. Pierre, though no longer the capital, was rebuilt into a mid-sized town. We found it to be a nice place to stay due to the many attractions in walking distance. For one, the beaches were simply packed full of seaglass of all varieties and colors, extending into unusual things such as a fair amount of sea-smoothed ceramic tiles (remnants of the former city?), and even some seaglass marbles.

A short but steep walk south of town takes one to an excellent viewpoint of the harbor. At the site is a large statue of the Virgin Mary labeled ‘Notre Dame de Bon Port’ (our lady of safe harbor).

The volcano-proof cell

The volcano-proof cell

In St. Pierre, you can still go see many ruins of the disaster, including a ruined theater, several crumbling walls along the waterfront, and the wreck of nearly a dozen ships that were in harbor when the disaster struck (we didn’t actually get to see those because you need to scuba dive). Most interesting, you can also visit the jail where one of the two eruption survivors was safely confined within a thick stone, bomb shelter-like solitary cell. It is still standing. Afterwards, he joined Barnum & Bailey’s circus.

DSCN5227Finally, one day we made the longer trek to the nearby Depaz Rum Distillery. On the way up the road, the town development drops away to be replaced by rolling fields of sugar cane—as it turns out, all part of the Depaz estate. On arrival, we were met with a strange, smelly mixture of alcohol and burnt sugar. The distillery provided an excellent free self-guided walking tour of their facilities, where with very little restriction you get to see the whole factory operation. After harvesting the cane, crushers extract sugar, powered using a one-hundred-year-old steam engine (see video). The crushed cane stalks are then burnt as the heat source for the engine’s boiler, and when spent as fuel, are returned back to the cane fields as ash scattered for fertilizer.

The Eiffel Library (note: not actually called that)

The Eiffel Library (note: not actually called that)

From St. Pierre we motored down the coast to the big city of Fort-de-France. After the months of small island towns, it was quite a change to be in a congested, gridded metro again. We spent a day just wandering around and seeing the sights: a big park with many food vendors, a tiny chapel on a hill, and a library designed by Gustave Eiffel.

 

Horatio & Molly on one of the rope bridges

Horatio & Molly on one of the rope bridges

We decided the next day to take the bus to the nearby Jardin de Balata. It had many amazing landscapes of manicured plants, including some interesting cactus-like things, and tons of hummingbirds, but what really set it apart was a pathway of rope bridges suspended between the trees. It was pretty neat to go walking above the gardens below, while the bridges rocked and swayed under our feet.

But, the main thing we had come to Fort-de-France to see was Carnival. This is the festival that occurs just prior to the start of lent. It is most well known in Brazil, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but it is also a part of Caribbean culture and is celebrated on many of the islands.

One of the many marching bands (note: we have a lot more Carnival photos, but due to slow internet, we'll wait until we're back in the US to put them up)

One of the many marching bands (note: we have a lot more Carnival photos, but due to slow internet, we’ll wait until we’re back in the US to put them up)

Going to the parade on the first day, we didn’t know quite what to expect. People in costumes and feathers? Big floats on slow-moving flatbeds? It turned out there were only a couple of those, with most of the “floats” being just cars covered with paintings and designs. These would usually be packed with about a dozen guys, some riding on the roof, hood, or trunk. Every once in a while, they would all start jumping up and down and shaking the car while the driver would rev the engine to make it backfire and spit. The people in the parade were in costume, though usually without feathers. For most of the crowd Carnival-dress meant crazy neon colored clothing, with lots of mismatched pieced all piled on top of each other. For men, it frequently also meant wearing women’s clothing. Back in the parade, the thing other than painted cars that there was a lot of was marching bands, which usually included coconuts and bamboo in the percussion section.

Carnival in Martinique wasn’t really anything like what we expected or had seen before. We were all glad we got to see something that seemed to be mostly a local celebration with only little tourist influence. But, after three days of backfiring cars and marching bands, we decided that was enough parades and we didn’t need to stay through the end, so we sailed off to St. Lucia.

A perfect sunset off of Martinique

A perfect sunset off of Martinique

Dominica

A tallship anchored at Roseau, Dominica

A tallship anchored at Roseau, Dominica

Dominica is quite simply one of my favorite places in the world.  Our cruising guidebook states that of all the islands in the Caribbean, Dominica is one of the few Columbus would still recognize.  In my opinion, this island pretty much has it all—beaches, pristine rainforests, waterfalls, a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, unique geothermal attractions.  This is probably why it was chosen as a filming location for several of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  And everyone on Dominica seems to be quite proud of that fact, as all of the tourist maps point out the various filming locations.  They must have been a welcome boon to what appears to be an otherwise flailing economy.

At least it rather seemed that way from the ramshackle town of Portsmouth amid the white sandy beaches of Prince Rupert Bay in northern Dominica.  As soon as a cruising boat came close, while often still a couple miles out, it would be met by a one of the local wooden work boats, rushing out to offer tours, produce, laundry service, garbage disposal, Dominica flags, ect.

The first boat out to greet us was manned by Alexis, who is a member of PAYS (Portsmouth Association for Yacht Security), an organization that works to keep Prince Rupert Bay safe for cruisers.  They patrol the harbor at night and keep watch for potential boat robbers. We decided to book a tour up the Indian River with Alexis, one of the main local attractions.

Our Guide, Alexis, rowing us up the river

Our Guide, Alexis, rowing us up the river

The following morning, Alexis came right out to our boat to pick us up for the tour.  It was just four of us—Scott, Molly, Isaac, and me. At the mouth of the river, Alexis turned off his outboard and switched to oars.  It’s quite impressive that these river guides can row these heavy boats full of people for long distances, sometimes multiple times a day.

As he rowed, Alexis told us all about the various flora and fauna around the river and the island at large.  He mentioned that there is nothing poisonous on Dominica, and stated that if there was, he’d be dead by now.  He especially liked to talk about all the different birds, fish, lizards, and amphibians he grew up eating but are now protected.  He always followed with, “And you know what it tastes like… chicken.”  Even with many species protected, there are still plenty of wild fruits, vegetables, and animals to feed just about anyone on Dominica willing to go and get it: mangoes, breadfruit, papaya, bananas, plantains, and grapefruits grow wild throughout the island, just to name a few.

The movie prop shack on the river

The movie prop shack on the river

Our first stop on our tour was a small shack with a dock along the river, which looked almost exactly like the voodoo lady’s from the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  It turns out its actually a recreation of the same shack, in the same spot, for a different pirate movie, since the first was take down. This time, the Dominicans made them leave it up. Apparently many of the river guides had been involved in filming.  Alexis puffed up a bit when he said he knew Jonny Depp and Keira Knightley.

Gnarled tree roots on the jungle / mangrove / swampy riverside

Gnarled tree roots on the jungle / mangrove / swampy riverside

As we proceeded on down the muddy brown river, the trees crowded overhead to form a bright green canopy.  Crabs scuttled about in the roots of mangrove trees along the shore. The river gradually narrowed as Alexis rowed along.  Where it became quite narrow, we rowed over to a small dock, which led to a bar covered in thatched roofing with rough-hewn wooden seats.  We all ordered banana smoothies, most likely from bananas picked right around the corner.  While we waited for our drinks, we watched as several fearless little birds munched on fruit specifically left out for them.  At one point, when Scott had finished his smoothie and left it briefly unattended, a yellow-bellied bananaquit hopped up on his glass rim and stuck its beak in his straw.

Danica with the birds made out of a palm frond

Danica with the birds made out of a palm frond

As we relaxed and drank our smoothies, Alexis was hard at work making tiny birds out of palm fronds, which he artfully stuck into flowers and presented to us as souvenirs.

After our river tour, all six of us spent the afternoon ashore, exploring the city.  The village is stretched along an expansive white sandy beatch.  The town is made up of concrete buildings with flaking paint or grey weather worn wood.  To get from the dingy dock inland, we had to walk down narrow alleyways and over wooden planks over drainage ditches.  It was getting late by the time we were finished exploring, and decided to get a pizza for dinner.  They had some unusual topping options—including corn on the veggie pizza.  By the time we finished, it was almost sunset.  We watched through a chain link fence next to a hardware store as the sun set, and we all saw the famous green flash.  The four of us had seen it several times on our first trip, but it was a first for Isaac and Molly.  It can be a bit of a let-down for some, as the small green dot at sunset would be a better name.

The tree crushed by a schoolbus in a hurricane. Bus: wrecked. Tree: still going

The tree crushed by a schoolbus in a hurricane. Bus: wrecked. Tree: still going

The next morning we sailed down the coast to Roseau, the capital of Dominica, on the southern coast of the island.  We had now officially gone farther than we had on our first trip.  Last time we didn’t make it past Prince Rupert Bay.  We walked around the slightly less ramshackle city, and visited the nearby botanical gardens.  It was unlike most botanical gardens, as it was more of a public park with a scattering of strange looking trees that may or may not be labeled.  The highlight was a schoolbus that had been smashed under a tree in a hurricane.  A large tree had fallen on the (thankfully) empty school bus and went right on growing.

An immense tree in the Roseau botanical garden

An immense tree in the Roseau botanical garden

We decided to postpone exploring the waterfalls and hiking trails of Dominica’s interior until we were heading back north, so after a short stay in Roseau we sailed off to Martinique.