Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Favourite Islands Part 4: Martinique to Grenada

These are the Windward Islands and when sailing south, Martinique is the point where you no longer have to sail east to make the next island.  Who said Caribbean sailing was all gentle breezes behind the beam?!  At least from here on down the chain there's a good chance the wind won't be hard on the nose.

This is the final instalment in my little island series - here's the one that started it all off.

Approaching Martinique is much like walking into a tropical greenhouse - you can smell the flowers from a couple of miles off the island, especially at the end of the dry season when it seems just about anything that can bloom is showing off its most spectacular colours.  Visiting Martinique is like stepping into a heady mix of first world France on vacation in the Caribbean.  The island has just about every convenience and if you like shopping this is the place to come.  Also, if you have a French boat as we do, this is the place to find all those unique little requirements that are hard to source elsewhere.  Le Marin is huge and much like the lagoon on St. Martin offers services of all types and chandleries with direct supply lines to France.  The island of Martinique is a delight but is most easily explored by car on excellent European-signed roads.  Highlights include the volcano of Mt. Pelee, many rum distilleries and a banana museum, Fort de France - a bustling city, the mountainous interior region and we have particularly enjoyed hiking on the east coast.  The best thing about Martinique are all the anchorages starting with St. Pierre in the north, many little Anses around Fort de France and then Ste. Anne and Le Marin in the south.  Even if you don't speak French, the locals are friendly and will help out with quite a bit of English.
     Love:  Lorraine beer, cheap wine, great cheese, pain chocolat for breakfast
     Hate:  (apart from the effect on my waistline) There's really not much to dislike about this place - I suppose when you're trying to get a repair done, the French-Caribbean working hours are difficult to accommodate.  We use the mantra, "But of course, we are French."  Most trades work 9 to 12, 2:30-ish to 5, Monday - Friday and sometimes Saturday morning.  Also, if you use propane make sure you are well-stocked before visiting the French islands since you can only buy butane cooking-gas here.

St. Pierre nestled under the heights of volcanic Mt. Pelee.

Hiking the dizzying slopes of Mt. Pelee.

Fort de France - back to all the mod cons.

Night time concert at Fort de France.

The southern beaches and anchorage at Ste. Anne.

Christmas eve night in Ste. Anne and there's standing room only outside the church.

St. Lucia
St. Lucia is an independent island that has developed quite an infrastructure to support cruise ships and resort visitors.  After Martinique it feels a bit like visiting the wild, wild, west and in fact we have found there is even country music sometimes playing on the radio.  Rodney Bay at the north end is where most cruisers congregate and there is a good marina and boat yard with associated services here.  If you ran out of propane in Martinique because you stayed too long, this is the place to fill up (or to prep on the northbound voyage).  There are restaurants to please every taste and some of the best Indian food we have eaten down here.  However, it's not cheap so plan your visit accordingly.  In fact we find that St. Lucia is one of the most expensive islands to visit since prices are geared with cruise-ship and resort vacationers in mind.  On the flip-side, staying in the marina is affordable and a great place to take a little break.  Marigot Bay with access to the Capella Resort if you stay on a mooring is a delightful visit and we use this as our arrival and jump-off point to the south.  The south end of St. Lucia is dominated by the magnificent and iconic Pitons.  Many people do stop off in these southern anchorages but we prefer to view them from afar and avoid the clamour of the boat-boys.
     Love:  The ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) arrives in Rodney Bay in December and we loved the crazy energy of the place as these long-distance cruisers arrived.
     Hate:  It's hard to walk down the street without being asked for a hand-out.

Rodney Bay - another big anchorage where cruisers congregate.

Buying fruits & veg from one of the boat boys - just check everything for bugs and roaches cause they love to live in that canopy!

Gros Islet feels like a town out of the wild west, right down to the horses on the street.

Beautiful tiny Marigot Bay.

Sunset behind the palm trees.

Hiking here is straight up the mountainside!

Sailing to the iconic pitons.

Sunrise over Petit Piton.

St. Vincent & The Grenadines
St. Vincent (the big island) and the smaller islands of The Grenadines - Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Tobago Cays, Union Island and many little islets scattered in-between make up this nation.  We have not yet visited the big island of St. Vincent due to security concerns so Bequia is the first stop we make here when heading south.  We check CSSN regularly when cruising throughout the Caribbean and especially when in this area.  It is unfortunate since we have heard that the island of St. Vincent is magnificent, much like Dominica.  While some visit the island, most take a miss preferring not to take the risk of being the "one" vessel that ran into a bad guy on a particular night.  The island of Bequia has taken the cruising community to heart with many small businesses and restaurants all gathered around the end of large Admiralty Bay which makes this a delightful place to stop and visit.  The islands south of Bequia are unique in their various attractions and spaced apart to make day-hopping a pleasant activity.  Mustique - an expensive private island and resort for the rich and famous.  Canouan - another resort island with a dodgy reputation so we haven't visited (yet).  Mayreau - so small you can walk around the entire island but big enough to support a surprising number of bar/restautant establishments.  The Tobago Cays - turquoise, Bahamian-like waters full of turtles.  Union Island - we like Chatham Bay on the west side where you really get away from all the hustle and bustle.  All these islands have spectacular palm-tree lined white-sand beaches and look like they were plucked off a postcard.
     Love:  this is what you dreamed the Caribbean would look like
     Hate:  the unstable and corrupt government that has led to the security problems 

Bequia - Admiralty Bay from atop Peggy's Rock with 'Jetman' as our guide.

Bequia - Friendship Bay and the whaling station. 
Mayreau - Righteous & Da Youths bar.

Mayreau - Saltwhilstle Bay

From Mayreau - looking out over the Tobago Cays.

Tobago Cays - Petit Tabac and absolutely clear turquoise waters.

Sundowners in Chatham Bay on Union Island.

Grenada is our chosen destination for hurricane season (August to November) and as such has been our home for about three months of the year for the last couple of years.  We've had a chance to get to know Grenada up and down the island but spend most of our time on the south shore.  Before getting to the big island however, there is one more island to visit that is geographically part of The Grenadines, but politically belongs to Grenada rather than St. Vincent.  Carriacou is our gateway to this southern island and is a great place to get away from the busy-ness of Grenada during the season.  This little place is where time tries to stand still and if you haven't seen the movie Vanishing Sail, I highly encourage you do so.  Grenada, on the other hand, is a busy, vibrant island full of cruisers, university students, ex-pats and locals.  The cruising social scene really heats up in Prickly and Mount Hartman Bays but there are plenty of quiet little anchorages where you can safely tuck yourself away if you prefer a more peaceful sojourn.  Weekly shopping buses, Saturday Hashes, cooking classes, yoga, fitness, volleyball, loads of great haul-out facilities and boat services mean that Grenada is strongly competing with Trinidad as the place to stay or leave your boat during the hurricane season.  We like to kick off our stay in Grenada in August with the annual Spicemas - a week-long party in St. George's that celebrates Grenada and all things Carnival.
     Love:  the friendships and camaraderie of Grenada and the Grenadians
     Hate:  heat and humidity - why do we come so far south at this time of the year!

Beautiful Secret Harbour on Mt. Hartman Bay - our home in Grenada.

There are so many waterfalls on Grenada to visit - Concord is one of the easiest to get to and most popular.

Volleyball kept us busy at Secret Harbour.

We managed to play a round of golf too.

Carnival time and the ladies are in high gear with the sequins and glue guns.

Old and young - all love to parade in costume.

Jouvet morning and we're ready to party.  Who knew we'd make friends with young med school students!

The frenzy that is carnival.

Jouvet is all about the paint - we're heading for the communal wash-down next :-)

Every Saturday afternoon there is a Hash somewhere on Grenada.  We were lucky enough to be there for the 900th - 900 organized runs on this tiny little island!

Bring on the dotty potty for the birthday celebrations - there's always a reason to have another beer after the Hash.

Hash buddies - ON ON!

Well, there you have it.  These (and the ones in my preceding posts) are all the islands that we have come to know and in some cases love over our travels of the past two years.  We still feel that there is much more to discover but we are starting to get a measure of these places.  Have we found an answer to the question, "What's your favourite island?"  Perhaps not, but we definitely have favourites (plural):
     St. Martin - duty-free boat parts
     Antigua - great round-the-island cruising grounds
     Dominica - abundant nature
     Martinique - France in the Caribbean
     Grenada - home away from home
... oh wait - can I add more? - it's too difficult to choose!!

Our explorations are so enriched by these guide books - don't leave home without them!

Name the country!

And of course - Cheers to all the friends we've made along the way.

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