Flotsam and Jetsam: Useless or Discarded Objects (or in my case, stories)

20645210_10211811819162680_655747933828477481_o

“Everything is Beautiful…..”

We were anchored in Bequia, the Grenadines, when this very nice, handsome gentleman and his gorgeous young daughter approached Planet Waves on their kayak. The gentleman was quite interested in our boat and highly inquisitive and complimentary about her looks and design. They were anchored a bit away from us on a beautiful, 65 feet catamaran named “London Sky”. The man and his daughter had very British accents and explained that their boat was in charter out of the BVI for most of the year, that his wife was onboard, and as owners, they were only on the boat two to three times a year and always at Christmas. The boat had a full crew onboard fully engaged and had all the bells and whistles you would expect to find on a new yacht of that size. Anyway, we chatted a bit and as it turned out, discovered that we would both be leaving the next day bound for the same destination, Salt Whistle bay in Mayreau. So, we parted company with assurances that we would meet again and if possible, get together the next day.

At Salt Whistle Bay, the gentleman and his daughter came by that evening and invited us to dinner. We had already started cooking so regretfully had to pass on the invitation. He shared with us that he no longer lived in London, that his family currently resided in Los Angeles and that he and his wife were in the cosmetics business. He asked if we had ever heard of his product; Glam Glow. I apologized and said we hadn’t. After he left the boat I googled Glam Glow and learned the following story.

Like a lot of us, the couple had become dead broke during the recession of 2008 and were about to lose their home. They had lost their jobs as make- up artists, having been loosely associated with the film industry in Hollywood. During their hey- day, they had often sat around with friends laughing about the fact that there was no skin product on the market that could cure dry skin after a long flight across the country. So literally, with the very last bit of money they had to their name, they gambled it all with a chemist and came up with a mud pack concoction, packaged it into a decorative jar to sell (themselves) to their California friends. The gamble paid off. Within just a few years, both Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus had picked up their products, they had continued to develop their brand, and now their business was worth millions.

As I was reading in the cockpit, the sun had set, but while in the moonlit dark of night I heard the gentleman’s voice once again, back beside our boat in his kayak. It was dark outside and so was his face. He was wearing a mud pack and handed me an arm load of sample Glam Glow products. To say I was in heaven, is an understatement. Johnny and I both proudly looked good for a while, at least until the samples ran out. I’ll say it again, “you meet the most interesting people while messing around on boats”!

“Everybody Must Get Stoned…..”

We were sailing north on the west side of Guadeloupe. We had been sailing in tandem, so to speak, with a beautiful classic American ketch and were bound and determined in spite of the light winds, to out sail her. So, we tacked with the changing direction of winds caused by the williwaws off the mountain peaks and valleys, from east to west and back east again, staying close in to shore to capture the fickle wind in our sails.

Johnny was first to notice the sleek jet boat with two huge outboards drifting with a dive flag down in calm waters, close to shore, to our west, and said to me, “that looks suspicious.” “That’s not a typical dive boat.” So, I looked on the chart and noticed, sure enough, there wasn’t a reef where they were sitting but I could see a couple of people on board the boat. I said, “it’s probably nothing.” “I’m sure they’re probably just headed back in and saw some fish.”

As I completed this sentence, a plane came from nowhere off the island, so low in and above us that I thought it might clip our mast. We were stunned. As we followed the plane’s quick heading through the sky, we noticed the jet boat that had been off our beam, was nowhere to be seen. And in just one minute, the low flying jet had disappeared as well. We sailed on in a bit of a daze.

A few miles off our anchorage in Deshaise, the Guadeloupe Coast Guard approached our boat and hailed us on the VHF radio in French. I didn’t have to speak French to understand what they wanted from us. An English speaking officer asked if we had seen anything suspicious. We told him what we had witnessed. He thanked us and approached the classic yacht, who had by then gained on us by a few miles. Eavesdropping on their radio conversation, we heard them tell the Coast Guard they had seen nothing.

A few hours later, we dropped anchor next to the classic yacht who had beat us in, fair and square, but as we were setting our anchor, they began to pull theirs up. They smiled and waved to us as they tacked across our bow and shouted, “the winds are too good; we’re heading to St. Barts, Merry Christmas!” We laughed. “Merry Christmas!”

“Elected….”

We were in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, the night of the 2017 Presidential election. We had voted by mail and Fed-Ex in Trinidad and like every other American sailing the Caribbean, we were sick to death of the political campaigning, saturated by the total political bullshit from both parties, and yet, fully interested and engaged in the outcome of what we thought would be a “shoe-in” for our side. We went early into the bar to watch the election results. Too early. We would be drunk way before a winner could be declared, or so we thought, so we returned to the boat confident in our thoughts and winning attitude.

Probably within an hour of our return, my son Zach called and said, “Mom, are you watching?” “You better tune in; you’re not going to like it.” So yeah, the rest is history, right?

Next day, I was in the marina office early to schedule a fed-ex package to be delivered. There was a gentleman ahead of me, so I paused to watch CNN playing on the T.V. above the concierge desk. President Obama was gracefully assuring everyone that he would do everything he could to insure a smooth transition for the new president. Suddenly, it was my turn at the desk and I opened my mouth to speak, but instead, started to cry. At that point, the woman behind the desk started to cry too. We hugged. Eventually, we pulled ourselves together. Between tears, she informed me that half the marina staff had not reported into work that morning due to their devastation over the election results. We hugged again, dried our tears, and then sadly, she scheduled my package.

“Food Glorious Food…”

I love to cook. Here is what I try to always have on hand in my pantry. My Caribbean galley onboard Planet Waves looks a little like this.

From the French Islands:

  1. Good bread; preferably a fresh baquette
  2. A good French Butter
  3. Several types of Cheese: Parmesan, Guyere, Brie, Camembert, and Edam
  4. Herbs de Provence
  5. Dijon mustard
  6. Fleure de sel
  7. Olive oil
  8. An assortment of vinegarettes: sun dried tomato, balsamic and mustard
  9. White wine
  10. Chocolate

From the West Indies:

  1. Peppers to season (who needs black pepper)
  2. A good hot sauce; my favorite from Dominica called Bello is papaya based
  3. Limes, mangos and avocados so abundant in their long seasons
  4. Green seasoning: a home- made mixture that is a blend of herbs, green leaves from vegetables, garlic and pepper
  5. Dried chick peas, lentils and black- eyed peas
  6. Coarsely ground cornmeal
  7. Tubular root vegetables
  8. Curry, turmeric and saffron
  9. Garlic

Bon Appetite!

“I’m a Loser…..”

I wish I had a nickel for everything we have lost while sailing. At the very least I wish I had written it down. You know, made a list in a diary. Between wind, waves, seas and old age, we have lost a shit load of stuff while out cruising on old Planet Waves.

Take Bonnie’s stuff. Her bathroom area has been blown off the deck at least three times that I can recall; once in Montseratt, once in Grenada and once to the ocean waves in the middle of nowhere. I have lost two cell phones trying to get off the dinghy beach side. Once in Tobago, when I got off too soon and landed in deep water that was well over my head and then again in Cariacou, when I was rolled in the waves between the dinghy and the dock, in my party clothes, while trying to make a graceful entrance into an open- air restaurant.

We have probably lost keys and locks to the dinghy a hundred times. I honestly don’t know where in the hell they go off to. We have lost eyeglasses and sunglasses on almost every island. Johnny was once going to shore in Tobago to get water beach side. He anchored the dinghy outside of the onshore waves, got the water in the natural spring on shore, left Bonnie on the beach and carried the jug back to the dinghy. Setting the jug inside, a rogue wave sent the dinghy flying and rolled him several times over, to the amusement of the many on lookers who were watching and drinking from the make shift bar. Of course, his new prescription sunglasses flew off his neck and away in the waves to God only knows where. Several days later, angry but determined, he returned to the spot where he thought he had been thrown and snorkeled for hours until he found them, in about 4 feet of water and partially buried by sand. Random.

And then there was the time in Martinique, while stripping and varnishing the topsides, our original port window, detached from the cabin for refit, decided to sail into the wind off the deck into thirty feet of water. Quickly Johnny threw a flotation device attached to a small anchor to mark the spot. The next day on the cruiser’s net, he asked if anyone who was into diving, would like to try to help us locate this extremely expensive and hard to replace port window. A South African gentleman named Ferdie, a professional diver, and his son Dion, answered our call. Both free divers. Within 3 minutes, and I’m not exaggerating, Dion had located the port window as if it was a piece of cake! Needless to say, Ferdie, Dion and the better half of the three, Darelle, have become, I’m happy to say, fast friends.

I have had towels, bathing suits, shirts and quilts blown off my life lines while hanging out to dry. I have lost countless clothes pins this way. Dion once gathered up 10 of them while swimming under our hull in the anchorage in Grenada. Hats….. blown away like puff willows in a field. Tools gone overboard… a frequent norm. Some are recovered, a magnet comes in handy, and others lost forever.

One of my favorite “losses” was a full bottle of unopened Pantene Shampoo. While sitting at anchor in Chagauramas, Trinidad, I was showering on the back deck, reached for the shampoo bottle and promptly knocked it overboard. Johnny had the dinghy and was onshore at the time. The water in the bay is quite dirty and there is a vicious current that runs through it, so I did not even attempt to go into the water to save the shampoo. I watched it drift swiftly in the current, along with other various debri, toward Venezuela, South America, which I could see in the distance. Several weeks later, Johnny and I were walking alongside the boardwalk at the Coral Cove Marina. We were observing and talking about all the flotsam that rode the currents into and out of Chagaraumas and then subsequently got trapped between moored boats. Johnny said, “Wouldn’t that be funny if the Panteen Shampoo bottle showed up?” And just as he said it, there it was, trapped between two large power boats moored dock side and floating among branches, bits of tire and an old worn out shoe. We grabbed the bottle. It was dirty on the outside, but no worse for wear and completely sealed and full of shampoo. We took it home and used it until it ran out.

One more story. Johnny once lost an uncooked chicken breast off the lit grill of our deck barbeque pit while anchored in the crystal- clear waters of the Exumas, Bahamas. He didn’t say a word, just quietly dove into the shallow water, retrieved the chicken breast from the bottom, rinsed it with fresh water and placed it back on the grill. We ate it. It was delicious.

20280644_10211724673784100_4688157520086014886_o

Thanks for reading. I hope you will follow my pictures on Instagram @shelleysdavis.

Advertisements

Bequia Blues

13502090_10208264707567107_8329764966017792582_n

To be sure, we had had our asses handed to us coming up from Tobago. Someday, when I have the guts, I will write about that night offshore. Someday, when I’m still not trying to forget about my fright, I will talk about it, I suppose. A lot of hard earned lessons won that night, even after 30 years of ocean sailing. During the nightmare that was those 24 hours, I can say by far and away, it was most definitely the worst sailing experience I have ever encountered. It still weighs heavy upon my mind.

We had left Tobago in the early afternoon, in fair weather with a good forecast bound for Martinique on what should have been a nice beam reach. We ended up heaving to off the island of Canoan, in the Grenadines, on one of the darkest nights of the season, without a moon, in forty plus knots of wind, with a torn mainsail, our boom line wrapped around the prop, our auto pilot dead, physically and mentally spent from having to hand steer without the use of an engine, salty, unnerved and numb with fear. At daylight we limped in to a marginally safe harbor, set the anchor, thanked the heavenly Gods for our life and the endurance of the ship, and passed quickly into an exhausted state of dead sleep.

The next morning, we awoke feeling much wounded. Grieving for the state of the ship, trying to re-live and re-think our calamity, we tried to figure out everything that had gone wrong, what we had done wrong, what we should have done better. We decided to meditate on it for a while, thinking it would be best to do so under way and set our sights for Bequia. Bequia, we figured, was a holy land. Blue Bequia would be the island for our redemption.

With our mainsail torn, we could still raise it to its third reef point. Johnny, ever capable as he is, dove on the prop to untangle the boom line without too much trouble. This freed the prop which enabled the engine to turn once again. The shaft to the engine was deemed stable. The auto pilot was broken, but our mechanical steering vane was still in good order. After a quick inspection, there appeared to be no apparent structural damage to the rigging.

I guess the saying is true. When you fall off a horse, you must get back on it, and so that is what we did. Our winds had finally stopped howling and had diminished enough to raise the anchor and sails. We set our course north, sailed off our anchor without power, weaved through the narrow channel, somber, silent and cautious, searching for self- rejuvenation and confidence, some sort of proof that we still had the skills to carry on.

Sailing away from Canoan to Bequia, slowly but surely, psychologically, became pleasurable with perfect winds to round the end of the island and tack our way into Port Elizabeth Harbor. A professional photographer dinghied out to admire and take pictures of Planet Waves as she heeled from port and to starboard with each tack, in no apparent stress. The wide channel was easily navigated and the short tacks quite simple around the boats in the anchorage. With her bow pointed in to the wind, Johnny easily dropped the anchor in 25 feet of water off Princess Margaret beach and I guided her gently, as she backed with the wind in her reduced sails to set the anchor.

So why is Bequia a holy place? Bequia is a holy place because there are ancient spirits that live there; spirits of sailors, traders, buccaneers, shipwrights and whalers that hover beneath the clear blue water and above the clouds in the pale blue sky and over the steep and verdant green mountains.

Bequia is a Carib word meaning “Islands of Clouds”. Historians believe that in the late 18th century the famous pirate Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard, had his base in Bequia. According to local legend, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was not only Edward Teach’s base, but also the place from which Sir Francis Drake planned his attacks on the Spanish admiralty in Don Blas de Lezo’s Cartagena. Indeed, it is thought that Henry Morgan may also have anchored in Admiralty Bay as it was then the safest natural harbor in the Eastern Caribbean during hurricane season. Bequia was used as a repair facility for ships. Beside Nelson’s Dockyard on Antiqua, and the Carlyle in Bridgetown, Barbados, there were no other drydocks or shipyards in the area. Wooden shipbuilding and ship repair on Bequia was possible due to the presence of Cedar trees on the island and a sufficiently deep and sheltered harbor.

The island’s enduring seafaring heritage is one of its most striking features. Virtually every Bequia family has some connection to the sea, either past or present. In the late 19th century, the Yankee whalers came down to the Grenadines, following the whales which they caught on a commercial basis for their meat and oil for lighting. A seaman from Bequia, “old Bill Wallace”, who had worked on and built whale boats in New England, returned to Bequia to start a whaling station in Friendship bay. That whaling station still stands today. Whale oil became one of the main exports and whale meat a staple food for islanders. In the ensuing decades, the practice of whaling became an important part of local culture that is unique in the Caribbean.

Although the International Whaling Commission voted in favor of a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982, it continues to tolerate whaling in two non-industrial forms: whaling for the purpose of scientific research, and traditional whaling, the latter officially deemed “aboriginal subsistence whaling.” Aboriginal whaling is legally permitted in just four places in the world. Three of these are in the Arctic. The fourth feels about as far from the Arctic as possible; tropical Bequia, 13 degrees north of the equator. The island’s whalers can hunt an average of four humpback whales per year, yet they have hit this target only once in the past two decades.

A Bequian whale hunt goes like this: a scout on one of Bequia’s hillsides spots a whale in the sea below. Historically, this resulted in shouts of “blows!” (i.e., the sighting of a whale’s blowhole) to ring out over the island, after which observers on land would shine mirrors to direct the waiting whaling party toward the whale’s location. In the 21st century, much of this communication happens on cell phones. Harpoons are hand-thrown, so sailors must pull up directly alongside the pod to have any chance of success. This can be difficult on a vessel powered solely by wind and oars. Weather conditions need to be perfect and, even then, the boat must be handled expertly. We have climbed “Peggy’s Rock” a famous rock outcropping and the highest point on the island where Peggy spotted whales looking out over the large harbor and Caribbean Sea. We also have befriended a Bequian scrimshaw artist, Richard King, whose whale tooth art, traditionally taught and passed through the generations, is highly collectable.

19702633_10211517457843831_152454039611720087_o

Bequian shipwrights built many whaling boats over the years of the 19th century and then in the 20th century progressed to building wooden schooners which were built on most of the main beaches. There were 71 boats built in Bequia over nearly the same number of years between 1923 and 1990. Johnny and I ran in to our first Bequia built sailing sloop in 1995, “Plumbelly”, when we met the young, single-handed sailor/owner Daniel Bennet on the island of St. Croix in the USVI.

Plumbelly was built on a beach in Bequia by another young sailor, German cruiser Klaus Alvermann, in conjunction with the Bequian Boatwright Loren Dewar. The boat was designed by Klaus without plans, and fashioned with wood that went in to her by hand without power tools. She was named Plumbelly because she looked a bit rotund to the boatbuilding pundits who roamed the Bequian beaches in those days. She was launched on December 21, 1965.

Plumbelly was built strong and conceived from the keel up as a bulletproof blue water boat. Her construction is very heavy with a pine deck and topsides, 2.5 inch cedar frames on 11 inch centers, and silver balli (a Guyanese hardwood) below the waterline. All hull planking is at least one inch thick. Her interior is small, with just sitting headroom; her auxillary powerplant is an 8 hp outboard motor; her head is a bucket and her water tanks consist of six 5 gallon jerry jugs. She is a mere 22 feet on the waterline. She has sailed the world many times over.

19983473_10211589002832411_3187127715031572205_o

The largest wooden ship ever built in the whole West Indies was the “Gloria Colita” built in Bequia, on Belmont beach in 1939. The ship was 165 feet and weighed in at 182 tons. The schooner “Friendship Rose” was built in 1969 and continues to sit pretty at its mooring in Admiralty Bay. Built as a ferry and island trader, it now runs charters to the Tobago Cays and Mustique. Another famous ship built in the late 1980’s is the 70 foot schooner “Water Pearl”,   built on the beach close to where “Dive Bequia” is now situated by a team of Bequian shipwrights for the famous musician Bob Dylan.

19598623_10211510409307622_8343904794393163580_n

Why are the waters so blue in Bequia? We already know that the ocean looks blue because red, orange and yellow (long wavelength light) are absorbed more strongly by water than is blue (short wave length light). When white light from the sun enters the ocean, it is mostly blue, the blue that gets returned. Science recognizes that individuals are attracted to the color, blue. Blue is universally cited as a favorite color across the world. Do the ancient sailing spirits in Bequia create a power source for sailors? Does the color, blue, enhance that power? Will a sense of belonging to a power source in a very blue space bring together in individuals a blue mind? A mind that is a mildly meditative state, characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.

We are counting on it.

Thanks for reading. Hope you will follow my pictures on Instagram @shelleysdavis.

 

 

 

Log of Planet Waves 2016

20248319_10211716020527774_4701128267397805467_o

Quite a year for us: 15 Island Countries and 32 individual islands in the Eastern Caribbean!

January 1, 2016: Luperon, Dominican Republic

January 10, 2016: Boqueron, Puerto Rico

January 16, 2016: La Parguera, Puerto Rico

January 17, 2016: Gilligan’s Island, Puerto Rico

January 19, 2016: Ponce, Puerto Rico and Isla Caja de Muertos

January 25, 2016: Salinas, Puerto Rico

January 31, 2016: Cayos Caribes, Puerto Rico

 

February 2, 2016: Green Beach Vieques, Puerto Rico

February 3, 2016: Esperanza Vieques, Puerto Rico

February 6, 2016: Fajardo, Puerto Rico

February 12, 2016: Isla Palominos, Puerto Rico

February 14, 2016: Ensenada Harbor Culebra, Puerto Rico

February 19, 2016: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

February 26, 2016: Christmas Cove, St. James Island, Virgin Islands

February 28, 2016: Red Hook, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

 

March 6, 2016: Coral Harbor, St. John, Virgin Islands

March 15, 2016: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

 

April 2016: Varnish work in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

 

May 4, 2016: Honeymoon Island, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

May 6, 2016: Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

May 8, 2016: Marigot, Saint Martin (French side)

May 12, 2016: Simpson Bay, Saint Martin (Dutch side)

May 13, 2016: Saint Eustatia

May 14, 2016: Nevis

May 20, 2016: Montserrat

May 25, 2016: Deshaies, Guadeloupe

May 31, 2016: Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

 

June 4, 2016: Portsmouth, Dominica

June 9, 2016: Roseau, Dominica

June 10, 2016: St. Pierre, Martinique

June 14, 2016: Fort de France, Martinique

June 16, 2016: Anse Mitan, Martinique

June 20, 2016: Grand Anse Arlet, Martinique

June 22, 2016: Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

June 28, 2016: Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau, Grenadines

June 30, 2016: Tobago Cays, Grenadines

 

July 1, 2016: Clifton, Union Island, Grenadines and Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

July 7, 2016: Dragon Bay and Grand Mal Bay, Grenada

July 8, 2016: St. Georges, Grenada

July 9, 2016: Prickly Bay, Grenada

 

August 21, 2016: Chagaraumas Bay, Trinidad

 

September, 2016: Chagaraumas Bay, Trinidad

 

October 14, 2016: Scotland Bay, Trinidad

October 15, 2016: Las Cuevas, Trinidad

October 16, 2016: Store Bay at Crowne Point, Tobago

October 22, 2016: Mount Irvine, Tobago

October 25, 2016: Plymouth, Tobago

October 26, 2016: Mount Irvine, Tobago

October 27, 2016: Castaras Bay, Tobago

October 29, 2016: Englishmen’s Bay, Tobago

October 31, 2016: Charlottesville, Tobago

 

November 5, 2016: Canoan Island, Grenadines

November 6, 2016: Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

November 7, 2016: The Pitons at Soufrierre, Saint Lucia

November 8, 2016: Rodney Bay, Saint Lucia

November 21, 2016: Saint Anne, Martinique

November 24, 2016: Le Marin, Martinique

 

December 2, 2016: Saint Pierre, Martinique

December 5, 2016: Portsmouth, Dominica

December 6, 2016: Les Saintes, Guadeloupe

December 7, 2016: Deshaise, Guadeloupe

December 9, 2016: Falmouth Harbor, Antigua

 

Thanks for reading. I hope you will follow my travel pictures on Instagram @shelleysdavis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trinidad Voices

22308724_10212280480558922_3200426203680365174_n

“Planet Waves! You’re too close! Your anchor; you’re too close!”

Now, we had been up all night sailing to Trinidad from Grenada and I was tired and so was Johnny and anchoring Planet Waves is one thing we do a lot of and do very well, so I felt a little bit irritated by the warning and all the shouting.

I hollered back, “You’re kidding, right?”

The young, attractive, lean, and very blonde couple standing at the bow of their brightly painted yellow sloop named Giraffe, with a home port of the Netherlands written on the side, politely smiled back and waved but determinedly repeated, “you’re too close!” “You will swing with the current Planet Waves, not with the wind!”

Aaah…. And then it all came back to me, as Johnny and I nodded our heads at each other.

“Of course!” we hollered. “You’re right!” “We forgot!” “We’ll pick it up!”

And so was our first voice upon entering the murky waters of Chaguaramus Bay, Trinidad. After twenty-one years (almost to the day) of our leaving this port and our Caribbean life behind us, Johnny and I had returned. During the time between the then and now, we had forgotten about a lot of things; the tricky currents, the dark waters, the heat, the humidity, the hail size rain drops, the blaring steel pan, the continuous soca drum and the very real lack of wind on the inside water between the mountain peaks where we laid out our anchor.

But we did have great memories! Many of them. They filled our brains as we sat in the cockpit taking it all in, one thought after the other triggered by the quiet silence of green parrot wings flying over the boat’s mast, our senses acutely sharpened by the muffled sounds of monkey grunts hidden in the surrounding mahogany, teak and bamboo forested jungles. Nearby, Venezuelan fisherman line handed for shark in brightly colored fishing boats while oil rig container ships brought in to port their rich daily bounties. I was dreaming about eating Doubles for breakfast when the voice from our friend Graham, a Trinidadian native who we met in Grenada on the sailboat Pearl, smiled at us in greeting from his dinghy with “welcome to Trinidad Planet Waves!”

Many voices. Many memories. “Miss Shelley” the newly hired Trinidadian worker at Power Boats asked me in 1995, “do you know why we never get hurricanes in Trinidad?” Now I could have answered that question. I know a lot about gravitational currents, Cape Verde storms and latitude and longitude pathways, but I politely said, “no, could you tell me?” “Miss Shelley, we don’t have hurricanes in Trinidad because we Trinidadians pray, and we pray a whole lot.” I can’t say I doubt that.

Back then, walking along the well-worn path between Peake, Power Boats and IMS boatyards, one could find yourself skirting between colorful vendors selling spicy Rotis, exotic fruits or curried meats with hot pickled peppers, loads of “yachtie” and local kids playing as hard as they could at anything they could, groups of expertly skilled or newly apprenticed craftsmen coming and going with their equipment, artists painting on the sidewalks and musicians tuning up their instruments for the evening, a stray iguana chasing a monkey to dodge between your feet, and always, the busy sounds of countless yachtsmen and women from all over the world working hard on their boats with as much good cheer as possible, and with plenty of stories to tell to anyone who would listen. Trinidad was the hub! From Europe to the Pacific and all points in between, Trinidad was the stopping place, always fun, full of good times and one continuous party.

Voices. The German whose co-captain/girlfriend had agreed to cross the Atlantic only after she had lost her hand at poker and had nothing left to bet. The French doctor with his family who had left a prestigious practice in Paris to become a country doctor so he could take his family on a sailing adventure. The down to earth but blue blood couple who, little did we know, were the King and Queen of the Cape Cod Potato chip industry. The Rhode Island architect who left her husband to continue to sail solo and who later settled in the Philippines where she exhibited her art and lived in a tree house. The Swedish couple, on their second circumnavigation, who went out for one glass of wine at the end of each evening and who encouraged me to not lose faith or become fearful about money as there would always be a way, even if you had to make jewelry from sea shells as they had had to do to make ends meet in the Pacific.

“Miss Shelley, you’re not voting for Donald Trump are you?” “Of course not.”

In 2017, Trinidad has changed a little and it has changed a lot. It is most definitely not the sailing hub it once was. The island of Grenada has taken its place for the gathering of yachts during hurricane season for a whole host of reasons that I won’t even bother to get in to. The IMS Boatyard where we hauled our boat in 1995 is no longer in business, but Peake and Power Boats yards still maintain a large presence. The country’s oil industry has consumed the harbor. It was industrial back in the day but not to its current extent, as oil related shipping now presently dominates the area. Good for the economy. Trinidad has prospered greatly. Bad for the waters. They are unbelievably polluted. There are still vendors along the path between the boatyards but they are fewer and farther in between and close their stands promptly after the lunch hour. I didn’t meet or see any street artists while there but a few musicians on boats were still hanging around for weekly get togethers at the Roti Hut in the Power Boats Yard. There is far, far less activity in the boatyards with most boats hauled for storage purposes only. We saw very little work being done on yachts as compared to twenty years ago. Hardly any children among us! We were really glad to see our friends on the catamaran Salt Air 3, Brad, Krista and their adorable son, Cole, when they arrived and took up a mooring beside us.

But, even though Trinidad is certainly not the yachting haven it once was, we still love the place. I can’t really explain it but I believe it’s the feeling you get when you’re there. It feels different from the other Caribbean islands. There is an exotic, tropical vibe. It can hook you.

Trinidadians are a unique mix of races and cultures that can be traced back to Africa, India, Europe, the Middle East and China. There are Mosques, churches and Hindu temples standing side by side in peaceful harmony. The food is to die for. Even Anthony Bourdain ventured to Trinidad for his television series Parts Unknown, a month after we sailed away from the island. Indigenous musical forms abound; Soca, Calypso and the steel drum. The farmer’s market in Port of Spain is fabulous. Fresh food is plentiful. The people are open and welcoming and have a fascination for American politics as CNN, along with the current Rugby match, ran continuously on every television set we encountered across the island.

In Trinidad, the favorite local past time is “liming” which means just hanging out. Trinidadians are great partiers. Just try sleeping through the night in an anchorage over a weekend if you don’t believe me! Carnival festivals originated in Trinidad. The capitol, Port of Spain, along with Rio in Brazil, host the mother of all Carnival parties on the planet, hands down.

As for practicality, there are western conveniences which are greatly appreciated by sailors in the dead of summer like air conditioned shopping malls, grocery stores, movie town centers and excellent medical practices. The international airport in Port of Spain can fly you out and back to anywhere in the world. I flew to New York City and Miami during our visit.

Voices. “So, you were here twenty-one years ago? You came back. How has it changed? You must like our island. You were sailing with your little boy? Where is he? How old is he now? Don’t you love Trinidad? Are you on the same boat? You know Trinidad, anything goes. Will you come back again?”

“Yes, of course.”

Thank you for reading. I hope you will follow my photos on Instagram @shelleysdavis.

 

 

What’s Your Favorite Island Anchorage? Sainte-Pierre, Martinique

15272208_1264704080266994_8475894604746728975_oIn the afternoon (if you’re lucky) while walking along the cobbled streets of Sainte-Pierre, Martinique, you can hear a choir at practice, harmonious voices echoing around the stone walls of the central cathedral. As you walk, the Caribbean sun shines down upon the town and thick clouds hover over Mount Pelee, four miles away. The cathedral, officially called “Our Lady of the Safe Port” was originally known as the Pirate’s Church, having been built in the 18th century by donations from buccaneers. The structure was formally consecrated as a cathedral in 1857 by the Bishop of Martinique. Today, only the base of the original cathedral remains.

The extraordinary history of Sainte-Pierre lingers in the air as you walk. Time in Sainte-Pierre, it seems, is divided squarely into before and after the morning of May 8, 1902. That was the day Mount Pelee erupted, in one of the worst volcanic disasters of modern times. Thousands of tons of ash and lava poured on to Sainte-Pierre. The Martinique capital, also known as “The Little Paris of the West Indies” was destroyed in a matter of minutes; 30,000 people died.

Everywhere you walk in Sainte-Pierre you sense this unforgotten disaster. The town is spread out along the water’s edge of the Caribbean Sea, with Mount Pelee’s bright green slopes in the distance. It is breathtakingly gorgeous. At first glance, Sainte-Pierre looks like an ordinary French provincial town, with sun bleached stone walls and wrought iron balconies. But there are little details that set it apart; empty spaces between the houses, a few shells of abandoned buildings, piles of stone, overgrown greenery where the town meets the forest behind. What you sense is a bit of ghostly eeriness.

In the 18th century, the town of Sainte-Pierre clearly lived up to its “Paris” soubriquet. Nearly all of Martinique’s trade in neighboring islands passed through Sainte-Pierre. The artist Paul Gaugin passed through from France on his way to the South Pacific. The old Figuier Quarter on the water was fronted by tiered rows of warehouses and shops. There were 15 rum distilleries, an elegant wooden chamber of commerce and a solid stone town hall. The harbor was busy with freighters and sailing ships at anchor. In the upper quarters of the town, the influence of French style really became apparent. Cobbled lanes of houses with wrought iron balconies ran down to the sea. The 800 seat theater was modeled on that of the Bordeaux. There were sculpted botanical gardens and parks and even a psychiatric institute. At the southern end of town, near the cathedral, was the social nucleus of the Palace Bertin, with its sculpted fountain and its tamarind and chestnut trees. Visitors wrote of the town’s civility, bustling charm, its splendid cafes and restaurants.

Mount Pelee had begun to smoke in the spring of 1902. A minor eruption buried a nearby plantation in hot mud and on April 25 a shower of ash fell on Sainte-Pierre. Some townspeople moved to other parts of the island or sent their children away, but most stayed. Just before 8:00 a.m. on Sunday May 8, Pelee’s triangular cone blew off in one spectacular blast, releasing a force 40 times stronger than a nuclear blast. Ash and rocks began to rain down on Sainte-Pierre and a pyroclastic flow with a temperature of almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit swept towards the town, engulfing all before it. The Daily Mail’s weekly edition on May 17 described the result: “The whole city was buried in molten lava and was entirely obliterated in three minutes.”

We spent the day, along with a group of sailor friends, on a challenging hike up Mount Pelee. The mountain is 4,583 feet tall. We climbed the mountain via the Aileron trail on the east side of the volcano. The first leg of the hike was mostly scrambling up a steep, rocky trail before veering to the right along an exposed ridge which took us up to the rim of the crater. At the top, it was foggy, windy and very cool. From the grassed over summit, the view back towards town was staggering, with the sea glittering in the distance. It hardly seemed possible to us that the town, more than 4 miles away, could have been destroyed in minutes. But, pyroclastic flows, as one can easily read about, can and often do, reach speeds as great as 100 miles per hour.

Ruins remain today in Sainte-Pierre. The roofless theater still retains its two sweeping staircases covered in weeds. Some shops and warehouses still have walls, an old cannon looks out over the bay. Most poignant is the tiny stone cell of the only survivor of the disaster.

Cybaris was an islander who had been imprisoned for drunkenness, escaped from jail, then returned to finish his sentence. The warders threw him in a solitary confinement cell in the corner of the prison yard. Here, incredibly, he survived the eruption with just minor burns. His sentence was commuted and he later joined the P.T. Barnum Circus and traveled the world.

Mount Pelee’s pyroclastic cloud advanced through the town and over the harbor causing a tsunami and the subsequent destruction of at least twenty ships anchored offshore. The hurricane force of the blast capsized a steamship, “Grappler” and the cloud’s scorching heat set ablaze the American sailing ship “Roraima” killing most of her passengers and crew. The Roraima had the misfortune of arriving only a few hours before the eruption.

It is hard to describe how beautiful the anchorage is in Sainte-Pierre as it lies at the foot of the Mount Pelee volcano in front of the town. It is a roadstead really; a fair-weather anchorage open to the west and to northerly swells. The water is deep and the drop off steep but there is an adequate shelf on which to anchor in about 25 feet of water. A series of yellow buoys with a cross on top designate a no anchoring area to protect the dive site ship wrecks destroyed by the Pelee eruption. There is a beautiful, and well-lit at night, statue of the Virgin Mary holding out her hands in comfort on a high hill looking over the southern end of the town anchorage.

After the volcanic destruction, Sainte-Pierre came to be called “Little Pompeii of the Caribbean”. Mount Pelee is Martinique’s highest peak, still considered an active volcano, and its fertile foothills have been home to sugar cane fields and some of the Caribbean island’s earliest rum producers dating back to the 17th century.

We hiked to and visited the Depaz Rhum Distillery while anchored in Sainte-Pierre. The historic plantation and distillery were destroyed during Pelee’s eruption but had one family survivor of the volcano, Victor Depaz, who was away studying in Bordeaux at the time. He returned to Martinique 15 years after the event and rebuilt his family’s estate and distillery which is in business today and open to the public. The volcanic eruption had left extremely fertile top soil, which prompted Mr. Depaz to plant a rare type of blue sugar cane; the only cane that requires volcanic soil to flourish. Depaz presently sells some of the finest rum available today in France.

In hiking distance from the anchorage, just a bit south down the coast, is where Columbus landed in 1502, now the fishing village of Le Carbet. This historic village is also where Paul Gaugin lived for a while and painted in 1887 before sailing to the South Pacific islands. There is a small museum that contains some of his original papers and letters but no original art.

Hiking through Le Carbet and the Beauregard Banana Plantation, we followed the Chemin de Canal des Esclaves to the water source in the Carbet pitons. Built in stone by slaves in the mid 1700’s to funnel waters to the many plantations, the “trail” is actually the canal, only 12 to 18 inches wide with vertical drops as much or more than 700 feet. At the trailhead, you are warned about extreme heights, vertigo and hiking at your own risk. No one under 18 is allowed on the trail. We found the canal hike to be moderately easy, however. The canal has a gradual incline, is level and shady, but with heights that make panoramic views often dizzyingly precipitous.

So basically, we love Sainte-Pierre, Martinique. It is a beautiful, tranquil seaside village where the church bells toll from the central cathedral every hour on the hour. The town is steeped in history and artifacts. It is a nature’s paradise. The black sand beaches are exotic and the waters deep blue. There is a great Saturday morning market and an awesome boulangerie and patisserie. Creole restaurants are excellent. Nothing makes Johnny happier than sitting at the sidewalk café along the waterfront, drinking a cold Lorraine beer and watching the people pass by. Residents walk to town from their houses in the evening and gather in the central square where musicians and choirs do the entertaining. It is simply lovely.

Could we live here? If we spoke French and had the money to keep our visas going, you bet! In my opinion, Sainte-Pierre, Martinique is the jewel of the Caribbean.

 

 

Dominica “Nature Isle of the Caribbean”

13724089_10208401112897155_2649262026154268147_o

Contrary to popular opinion, there is actually serious hiking in the Caribbean Islands (and not just from the hotel to the beach) from the 10,000 foot scramble up Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic, the highest point in the Caribbean, through the hovering, misty clouds of Nevis Peak, to the winding trails of ancient petroglyphs on the island of Saint John. But the crowning jewel of the Caribbean, by far, is the island of Dominica. Dominica is a hiker’s paradise; a mountainous, velvety green lump in the middle of the ocean, 29 by 16 miles small with gorgeous uncut rainforest and the last intact Carib Indian territory.

Dominica has never been your typical Caribbean island. When the first Europeans stepped ashore in the 15th century, they were confused because the native men spoke one language and the native women another.  For the next few centuries, Dominica remained off the beaten track, a refuge to runaway slaves, too mountainous for the sprawling sugar cane plantations that came to dominate the rest of the West Indies.  Today, Dominica is one of the smallest countries in the world, population 71,000, 15 degrees north of the equator and southeast of the much bigger Dominican Republic, which it often gets confused with.  There are few beaches for tourists, no big hotels and no tiki-lighted limbo contests.  But, there are over 70 active volcanoes on the island, 365 rivers (one for each day of the year) and plenty of rainfall.  Every year Dominica gets a whopping 300 plus inches of rain, and our stay was no exception, as it poured down hard on Planet Waves while we were anchored in the beautiful harbor of Prince Rupert Bay, off the town of Portsmouth.

There is an upside to all this rain. As a result of the daily soaking, one is awarded with an unbelievable environment; an observable view from the cockpit of incredible fertility, with the hillsides carpeted in a million shades of green.  Venture into the interior and one is met with grove after grove of fruit trees; oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, mangoes, six varieties of bananas, avocados, coconut, papayas, guavas, star fruit, bread fruit and passion fruit to name a few.  Stunning green mountain peaks, some as high as 4,700 feet, make for a dazzling backdrop against a verdant skyline of blue.  Christopher Columbus was asked to describe Dominica to the queen of Spain.  He crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it on the table to show how mountainous and textured the island was!

Columbus would eventually learn why the native men and women spoke different tongues. The fierce Carib Indians, who had conquered all islands, exterminated the indigenous Arawak men but spared the Arawak women who continued to speak their own language.  Today, everyone speaks English, often with a slight British accent (Dominica, a former British colony, gained independence in 1978) and the island is calm, with a growing economy based on eco-tourism and bananas.

We were able to complete three, albeit wet, hikes while in Dominica: the Indian River Source Trail, a portion of the Waitubuluki trail and the West Cabrits trail. We also took a small, guided boat trip up the Indian River, turning around after visiting the lush Jungle Bar, before the rain quashed our plans, making Dominica’s many trails too dangerously slippery for us to further our hiking goals.  We will revisit Dominica in the dry season with plans to continue exploring.

13717395_10208401100656849_6863445666988934636_o

Along the Indian River and Water Source trail one can observe how the river quickly narrows and gets completely overhung in a canopy of huge, swamp, Bloodwood trees on both sides of the river’s banks. Their massive buttress roots spread out above the soil and down into the water, twisting and tangling into intricate, wavy illusion like designs.  Overhead, long vines dangle into the river, fish appear below the water and crabs crawl along the rooted shoreline. Sounds of insects, animals and birds, the white heron and iguana among them, make for a magical, mystical quality in the atmosphere.  The setting for the Witch of Calypso’s house, featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean 2, lies along the river’s trail where it is maintained for hikers to view.

Hiking along the first section of the Waitukubuli Trail, we swam off our heat in the cooling rapids of the Powell Basin pools after crossing a forested extension bridge that led directly uphill to an excellent view of Prince Rupert Bay, where Planet Waves lay at anchor. The Waitukubuli Trail is the National Trail of Dominica.  It is the Caribbean’s first long distance trail and runs the entire length of the island from north to south.  Reportedly, it takes 14 days to navigate the trail from beginning to end.

13690900_10208401096856754_4400533134723786698_o

Hiking in the Cabrits National Park, the trails took us to Fort Shirley, an old British fort dating back to the 18th century, through the abandoned barracks overgrown with massive rooted trees and to the top of the West Cabrits peak, for an excellent view across the Caribbean sea of the islands of Les Saintes and Guadeloupe.

What is it like hiking amid nature’s abundant and splendorous mountain rainforests? Something that can be described along the lines of this:

The sun disappears above the canopy of trees and you find yourself in a cool, dimly lighted world. The vegetation is incredibly thick.  The 125 feet tall Gommier or “Gummy” trees, with jungle vines dangling like tentacles, line the trail with spongy pillows of moss that you can put your fist through, huge, waxy elephant ears dominate the bush with dime size raindrops sliding off of them.  Unlike most other jungles, there are no dangerous animals lying beneath the trees, no poisonous snakes, with the fiercest creature being the yellow land crab, one of which tried to pinch me as I stepped clumsily through a rocky stream. As you hike, if you choose, you could play Tarzan and swing from the vines to sail over mud puddles.  We watched violet throated hummingbirds drink from lavender Morning Glories.  We peeled cool, delicious Mangoes for snacks and cracked open fallen Coconuts for fresh milk to drink.  The sounds in the forest are buffeted by crickets and frogs and the drumming of tropical rain.  Near the trails are running rivers, waterfalls and balmy, tranquil but rapid waters that can seep into your skin as you soak for a much needed rest.

Sometimes the trails in Dominica are perfectly marked and well cleared and sometimes they are not. The trekking could at times get tough and induce shortened wind and panting.  There are two types of hiking in the world: heads up or heads down.  Heads up means the conditions are good, the trail is smooth, and you can scan the tree tops for birds and gaze off into the misty distance.  Heads down means you ain’t looking at nothing except your own two feet in front of you and where to put them next!  Having a hiker’s staff can help.

We wish to do much more on the island when we head north. Dominica boasts a variety of nature including the 365 rivers I mentioned earlier, streams, waterfalls, hot sulphur springs, a boiling lake and four cold freshwater lakes more than 2500 feet above sea level.  The island is home to two species of parrots, both endangered, and found nowhere else in the world.  The Imperial, known locally as the Sisserou, is Dominica’s national bird.  The red-necked or Jaco Parrot is smaller and can be found at lower elevations than the Imperial.  Hiking enthusiasts claim the Boiling Lake Trail is the definitive, most challenging, best hiking trail in the Caribbean. Dominica’s Morne Trois Piton National Park is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Eastern Caribbean.

The island of Dominica is a floral paradise. There are over 1,000 species of flowering plants, including 74 species of orchid and 200 species of fern, with the national flower being the bwa kwaib. In the interior west coast there is an abundance of dazzling flowers, including the orange, pink and yellow Lantana and the bottle brush flowers of the Campech, red, yellow and green Heliconias and the purple leaves of the blue Wax flower.

13680075_10208401103416918_504704054113465712_o

Twenty one years ago, Dominica was a favorite stop for us, but very different then than now. In the capital town of Rouseau, we met a lot of local men and women who we found engaging and fun and listened seriously to their frustrations about their lack of opportunities for work.  Educated and skillfully trained, they were torn about the prospects of having to leave their island country in order to pursue a living in their respective fields. Then, we were required to anchor in deep water off Rouseau, and bring our stern along to the bank where it was tied off to a tree on the shore line.  A group of men had fought for the job of tying our lines for a paltry amount of money and we had felt constant pressure from them to purchase their so called services during our stay.  While anchored in Prince Rupert Bay, we had been hassled by the “boat boys” who clung to our lifelines and pestered the living daylights out of us to buy things from them or give them money.  I have video of a bewildered looking young man on a surfboard holding on to our lifelines with a strange look on his face while we stacked to the back of his surfboard all of our unwanted canned food we had purchased in Trinidad.  In shocked, unguarded amazement, he looks into the camera and says, “But…you have something to give?”

Today, Dominica appears more economically robust in general, and with the government’s help, has put into place a structural organization for the implementation of services to the yachting and eco tourist community consumers. The “boat boys” of yesterday are long gone and replaced by a group of gentlemen called P.A.Y.S. (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services) which are comprised of trained certified guides and local businesses that patrol Prince Rupert Bay and for a   regulated fee, help boaters with numerous services, from taking garbage, to organizing scuba trips, to interior driving tours, to guided hikes of all types, to mooring assistance and much more.  If you want to snorkel or dive in the marine parks, you must hire a guide and purchase a park pass.  There is plenty to do independently, but services are made to offer for a reasonable price, by gentlemen who are courteous, friendly, and very knowledgeable about the island.  Every Sunday the PAYS members hold a fundraising BBQ on the beach, all you can eat chicken and pork with all you can drink rum punch.  It is well attended and the food and music are fantastic!  In the city of Rouseau, rather than having to anchor in deep water, mooring balls are now provided at a reasonable price.  With the mooring fee comes the security of having the waters patrolled through the night and a safe place to land your dinghy.  In the downtown capital, we found a lot of activity, a booming medical school, a thriving shopping district and several construction projections.  Work opportunities seemed improved to us. We spoke with a young man who could recall playing along the waterfront as a young child some twenty years ago, during the time when we were anchored and tied to the tree, and appeared to be genuinely delighted to learn that having been in his country once, we had made a determined and enthusiastic point to return.

13710428_10208401106777002_1166662665815324089_o

Did I mention how beautiful the people are? Every person we encountered we found to be friendly and exhibiting a natural curiosity about us, our sailing travels and our home and family back in the U.S.  We were invited into homes, given fruits and vegetables from gardens, encouraged to share in homemade spirits from passed along family recipes, smiled at, waved to, and laughed with.  In sum, an extraordinary experience!

13679917_10208401098816803_436591718881863621_o

Thank you for reading my blog. I have a ton of pictures of Dominica so hope you will follow my Instagram account @shelleysdavis.

 

 

 

Caribbean Musings: Part 4. The French Antilles, Where France Meets the Caribbean

13731888_10208374881841395_9169913290893015709_o

“Not only do the French have the most beautiful country in the world, they also have the French Antilles”! The islands of Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Martinique have been among our favorite stops on our trip south through the Caribbean. The islands are volcanic with diverse landscapes that range from rain forested mountains, to white and black sand beaches, to attractive towns and quaint fishing villages reminiscent of the French Riviera.

The island of Guadeloupe is butterfly shaped and benefits from two different weather systems and landscapes. The wetter Basse-Terre, in the west is covered in rain forest and steep volcanoes including La Soufriere, the highest peak in the region at 1,467 meters.  Guadeloupe’s eastern region of Grande Terre is drier, with rolling hills and restored sugar plantations.

Les Saintes, part of Guadeloupe, lies six miles south of the big island and is comprised of eight tiny islands with only two inhabited, Terre-de Haut and Terre-de Bas. The islands have superb beaches, gorgeous bays, interesting historic sites and a charming village full of excellent restaurants and unique art galleries.

The island of Martinique has a French, Creole and African cultural influence and may be most steeped in history as the birthplace of Josephine, wife of the infamous Emperor Napoleon. Beyond the capital of Fort de France, there are pretty villages dotted around the coastline, rum factories, Mt. Pelee in St. Pierre, and fabulous beaches in Anse de Arlet, Grande Anse and Anse Mitan.

But, the greatest thing about the French Antilles…no doubt…and by far…for sure… is…the… FOOD!

When you anchor in the harbor at Terre-de Haut in Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, one is greeted by the “tourment d’ amour, or agony of love. It seems on Terre-de Haut, that sorrow comes in a deceptively sweet form, half tart, half cake, and infused with a seductive mix of shredded coconut, cane sugar, rum and wistful longing. For generations, island women baked these small, round Gateaux in anticipation of their lovers’ safe returns from the sea.  If the cakes staled, heartbreak ensued.  Today, ladies wait patiently by the pier, greeting arriving guests with their pastry-lined madras baskets.  They keep their recipe secret, so you can only eat them on the island, which of course, will entice you to return again and again.

Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Martinique, where sensory pleasures captivate, while small, subtle differences in character set them apart, only to have their local food culture, a mélange of traditional Creole and classic French cooking with a dash of African and Indian spice, unite them together.  The cuisine of these islands is both, local and exotic, rustic and refined.  It’s as easy to feast on made to order street food as it is to linger for hours over a meticulously prepared multi-course lunch.  I should know, because we’ve done both!

13701237_10208374871161128_9180934522229306118_o

Offering authentic flavors in their simplest fare on the streets, mom and pop vendors sell to eagerly awaiting locals and tourists, such island favorites as grilled conch served in a cone and hand churned coconut sorbet. Sold from take out windows alongside French crepes and baguettes, the “bokit”, a pita like pastry made from risen bread that’s been deep fried and folded over fillings like cheese, egg, vegetables, meat, tuna and salmon, can be purchased as the West Indian answer to guilty pleasure fast food. For the perfect island snack or appetizer, Accras et sauce chien, are much like savory beignets.  The salt cod fritters are deep fried in a batter of flour, scallions, garlic and spices and served at the beginning of nearly every meal along with “dog sauce”, a vinegar based condiment made from a zesty mix of carrots, onions, garlic, peppers, lime and cumin. Or, one can go first class like we did with our friends Hank and Caren, when we were treated to a three course lunch at the Hotel l’Imperatrice, that started with Duo Creole (Boudin and Accras) Steak de thon grille (tuna steak), sauce chabine, Persillade d’igname (sweet potatoes) and for dessert, Glace Caramel fleur de sel (caramel ice cream).  And of course, lunch was served on linen with a balcony view and a fine French Pinot Grio to accompany our courses.

The French Islands of Guadeloupe, Les Saintes and Martinique have great liquid offerings. We purchased coffee, made from 100% Arabica bean of the “”Bourbon Pointu” in Guadeloupe and found it to be pure and sweet with low acidity. No wonder it is considered by connoisseurs to be some of the finest coffee beans in the world.  We visited the DePaz Rum distillery outside of St. Pierre in Martinique.  The distillery survived the eruption of Mount Pelee, and its sugar cane fields that run up and alongside the mountain remain in production, as the distillery is one of many small, family owned companies in the French Islands that produce rhum agricole, which is made with pure cane juice instead of molasses. Rum is the national drink of the islands and if the islands had a signature drink it would likely be “le planteur”, a cheerful mix of tropical fruit nectars like guava, mango and passion fruit, flavored with cane sugar, syrup, lime, vanilla, cinnamon and a healthy dose of white rum.

13735509_10208374878041300_1072488720387668612_o

We visited the historical covered Spice markets in the heart of Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe. If thick bundles of vanilla beans don’t speak to you, the welcoming “doudous” will.  Dressed in madras plaid dresses with brightly colorful headscarves, these sweet talking women will lure you in with exotic scents, filling your bags with locally grown packets of saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg, Colombo, ginger and West Indian bay, if you’re not careful.

13735805_10208374893001674_1825524754046852359_o

French Island chocolates are fantastic. Since the 17th century, island farmers have been cultivating cacao and transferring it into raw ingredients like cocoa butter or cocoa mass, a paste sold in markets in the form of “koto sticks” and traditionally used to make hot chocolate.  There are abundant French chocolateries that sell artisanal chocolate candies made with various cacao percentages and we never tired of trying them out.

It is hard to walk, even a block, in every village no matter the size, without finding a traditional French Boulangerie-Patisserie. While in Fort de France, Martinique, we bought our bread and pastries from the oldest bakery on the island, Chez Surena, a proud institution that first opened its doors in 1906.

13717359_10208374895681741_6256561194692196772_o

Every morning in the French islands, we would begin our day at the nearest Boulangerie-Patisserie to buy our fresh daily made bread for the day, le baguette, costing no more than one dollar and sometimes less. After buying our bread, we would enjoy sitting under the shade of the outdoor tables that lined the establishment’s sidewalk to eat our croissants and drink our daily espresso with friends.  This, as you can imagine, became extremely addictive.  And of course, I developed a favorite, the Pain au chocolat (or chocolate bread).  The pastry is a Viennoiserie sweet roll consisting of a cuboid shaped piece of yeast leavened laminated dough, similar in texture to a puff pastry, with one or two pieces of dark chocolate in the center.  Can you say delicious?

Having the “France meets Caribbean” vibe means you can enjoy fancy cheeses and pastries while wearing flip flops. Fish dishes that are being served are always being changed based on the particular catch for the day.  Pizza is baked on open air fire hearths.  There are abundant French wines for the taking, stored in climate controlled cellars in out of way places.  Our preferences for cheese went with the soft, Camemberts and Bries, their consumption becoming routine.  Not knowing much about French wines, I did know what I liked, so purchased wines made from the Alsace region, primarily a white wine region in France in the upper Loire and known for their Savignon Blancs, widely available for reasonable prices.

We had the best sandwich in our lives at an outdoor café in Les Saintes. The sandwich was composed of a skinny, fresh baked, baguette spread lightly with Dijon mustard and layered with a thin sliced ham (jambon) and a thin slice of brie.  The iconic French Sandwich, a pure, simple sandwich with no other competing flavors to muddy up the delicious bread, high quality ham and creamy, fresh cheese.

And if you want to stay aboard and cook, the grocery stores have everything you need! Grocers   stock baked baguettes, good cheeses, French wines, fresh produce, freshly butchered meats (including pheasant, rabbit, lamb and duck) and a good assortment of canned French food and condiment products.  A real treat while you’re sailing, let me tell you.

13659130_10208374889681591_8475009851079075507_n

So, I guess, the bottom line is this. I aime les iles Francaises!  Bon Appetite!

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you will continue to follow me here and my pictures on Instagram @shelleysdavis.