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New Mañana Today blog

Welcome to all readers of the previous version! As some of you may have noticed, I have been having software difficulties of late, specifically related to uploading photos. Considering that Mañana is just beginning her greatest ever adventure, it was a bad time for her blog to go wrong! So I have launched a new one and hope it will turn out better.

For new readers’ benefit (if any!), Mañana is a Malö 36 sailing yacht, built in Sweden in 1999. She spent her first few years in the Mediterranean, until acquired by us in 2014. We are Alastair and Maria, co-skippers, and Mañana is registered as a British yacht. Here’s a picture of her:

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Martinique at Carnival time

As this is the Caribbean, we were expecting some celebration of Shrove Tuesday – Mardi Gras in French – but we didn’t know that the festival would extend from Sunday to Wednesday! Although there were no official public holidays, banks and offices were closed for three days! There were still things to see and places to go, though. On ‘Shrove Monday’/Lundi Gras we hired a car and toured the northern and central parts of the island. One of our main stops was at St Pierre, a town whose 30,000 inhabitants were wiped out one morning in 1902 by the eruption of Mont Pelée. Before the eruption, St Pierre was an important cultural centre. The pictures show the remains of the theatre, and also a prison cell (not unlike a dog kennel) whose occupant was one of the few survivors.

From there, we drove through the mountains along the scenic Route de la Trace. This skirts the volcano and heads south through the rainforest (yes, it rained on us). We stopped for an excellent lunch at the Balata Gardens, after which we looked at the church at Balata, which is modelled on Paris’s Sacré Coeur.

We then went on to Le Marin to see about our new inverter… we were told it should be delivered on Friday. We bought some items for the boat while we were there, so the journey wasn’t wasted!

On Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras we crossed the bay by ferry and went to the Carnival procession in Fort-de-France. Most of the spectators, of which there were lots, wore red and black, in keeping with this year’s chosen theme (the devil, apparently!).

On Wednesday, the locals were still on holiday, so true to the principle of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ we tried out a local beach! As you’ll have noticed, I generally don’t look good in photos and this one is no exception! I did go swimming and enjoyed it – I was trying to smile for the camera….

On Friday, yesterday as I write, we hired another car and went to look out the east coast of the island, starting with Le François. Near the town is the Habitation Clément estate; they grow sugar cane and bananas and are famous rum producers. The old steam-powered sugar factory and distillery have been restored (the rum is now produced in a modern facility off-site). The plantation house and stables can be visited, as can several warehouses where the rum is matured. Some pictures:

Driving south along the east coast (the rougher, windier side where few yachts go) we called at Vauclin for lunch. Then on to Le Marin, where (would you believe it?) our inverter still hadn’t been delivered (we eventually got it today!). From there we continued to Les Salines, where there’s a fine and popular beach. There’s also a brackish lake, unique in Martinique, which has hides for watching the extensive wildlife (we saw one egret and a Sun Crab!).

So tomorrow, after two and a half weeks in Martinique, we’re finally ready to move on! The plan is to sail north to Dominica – watch this space!

France – with coconuts!

It’s been two weeks since the last post, so I thought I’d better write one, lest anyone should think we have disappeared! We have been in Martinique all that time, but in three different locations. We started at Le Marin, in a very busy marina with lots of charter boats. It does a good line in mangroves:

There is an electronics dealer there, to whom we took our faulty inverter (see St Lucia report). He had to order us a new one, which is why we’re still in Martinique…. Anyway, the little town of Le Marin was a revelation, quite unlike places we’ve visited in other Caribbean islands. Apart from the coconut palms and mangroves, it could easily be in the south of France – the restaurants, shops, cars, road signs, Mairie, gendarmes and so on would not look out of place in Provence. And everyone speaks French, though they also have a local Creole, of which I know only one phrase: pani pwoblem (no problem)!

Here you see Le Marin’s 18th century church, and traditional local boats pulled up on the beach. Anyone who thinks it’s always sunny in the Lesser Antilles is wrong, hence the cloudy sky in the second view – it rains a lot in these islands, in frequent tropical downpours, interspersed with sunshine. It’s hot, though: 28 C on average.

After Le Marin, we anchored off the village of St Anne for three nights. It’s a big anchorage and very popular, but of course you have to rely on your own resources more when at anchor (water, power etc). For shopping, sightseeing and restaurants you have to take to the tender. Note the eco-friendly electric outboard (we even have a solar panel for recharging the battery, but that takes a long time).

St Anne is popular with tourists, not just the ones in boats, and consequently it has plenty of restaurants. Its beach is one of the best in Martinique. Behind the church, a path (with Stations of the Cross) goes up the hill, affording nice views of the anchorage. Mañana is in that mass of boats somewhere!

After our stay at St Anne, we sailed clockwise round the island to the Bay of Fort-de-France, and moored in a very small marina at Pointe du Bout, on the south side of the bay. On the way we passed ‘HMS Diamond Rock’, so called because when it was occupied by the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars it was given the status of a warship (albeit an unsinkable one). Apparently, the RN consider it still in commission and salute it when they pass!

Pointe du Bout, in the Trois Ilets municipality, is a good place from which to visit Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France, as a fast ferry links the marina with the town (it’s much further by road). St Louis Cathedral is an unusual building, the spire being designed (I presume) to resist hurricanes. The Schoelcher Library is unusual too, having been built in Paris for the 1889 World Expo, then dismantled and rebuilt in Fort-de-France. The Eiffel Tower was built for the same Expo.

The Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, came from Trois Ilets. We visited the church where she was baptised and the estate where the family lived. Their house had been destroyed by a hurricane by the time Josephine was born, so the family lived in the estate’s sugar factory! In the next suite of pictures you can see: the only part of the old house still standing (originally the kitchen block), the restored remains of the cane mill, the ruins of the sugar factory and a statue of Josephine in Fort-de-France, which has been beheaded at some stage! How are the mighty fallen!

As I write, on Ash Wednesday, Martinique is still in the grip of Carnival fever. It’s not just Mardi Gras here – les Jours Gras extend from Sunday to Wednesday and nobody goes back to work until Thursday! That’s why our inverter isn’t here yet… so they tell us! We hope to collect it on Friday. Another post will follow, covering Carnival and other places we’ve visited on this very French island.

Lazy days in St Lucia

It certainly seemed like that, as we stayed there for a whole fortnight, rather than the week we expected! The first delay was while we waited for an electronics supplier to get a price (and delivery time) for a replacement inverter. This is the machine that allows us to run mains powered equipment off our domestic battery bank. Then in the last few days, inclement weather (especially big waves) meant it was sensible to wait for normality to return before putting to sea!

Anyway, we got an electrician to test our batteries and the aforementioned inverter, and an engine man to look into our oil leak and ongoing issues with stopping the engine. We were based at Rodney Bay Marina, in the northwest of the island. This is quite a smart place, with useful shops and very good restaurants (we sampled them all!). Here are a two pictures of the marina.

The tall framework in the first picture, to the left of the taller coconut palm, is a ‘fish weigh station’ where people can weigh their tuna, barracuda and other sport fish. I was surprised to learn that the people in this part of the world are still allowed to catch a small number of whales. To assess these, of course, requires a whale-weigh station…. (Only one of the last two sentences is true!).

We got out and about around St Lucia, naturally. Our first organised excursion was to visit the rainforest (there’s plenty of rain in St Lucia…). We didn’t see the endangered St Lucia parrot, but we saw quite a lot of other flora and fauna. In the bit of forest we visited, a series of zip lines allows a close look at the forest canopy from 50 feet up! An open-air gondola lift gives access to the start of the course.

In colonial times, St Lucia changed hands between Britain and France no less than 14 times! Some French names remain – for example, Castries (the island capital) is named after a French minister. Like most Caribbean capitals, Castries gets a lot of trade from cruise ships. There’s a fine public square, formerly known as Columbus Square but renamed in honour of St Lucian Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. The Roman Catholic Cathedral is noted for its wall and ceiling paintings, in which all the biblical figures are black. The exterior needs a bit of work when funds can be raised.

A week into our visit we were hailed by a familiar figure, Julian, with whom we did our long-range radio course and exam in Southampton. We had also met him, and his wife Patricia, at the Cruising Association headquarters at Limehouse, where we all attended a seminar. Their new boat, A Capella of Belfast, was only completed in October and they had to be in Tenerife for the start of the Odyssey transatlantic rally to Barbados in November! They made it, though, and we went over to their boat for drinks; it was nice to catch up with them. It turned out they were anchored at the other end of Carlisle Bay, Barbados, when we arrived there on Christmas Eve! They joined us on Mañana for more drinks the following evening; the picture is of this event.

Another day we visited some of the tourist sites further south, mostly around Soufriere, St Lucia’s second town. On the way we stopped at Marigot Bay, where Dr Dolittle was filmed. We also admired (but didn’t climb) the twin peaks of the famous Pitons.

In the Soufriere region, Morne Cabaril purported to show what a plantation had been like (with donkey powered sugar cane mills!) while the Diamond Estate had a waterfall and nice botanic gardens.

Nearby is the so-called ‘drive-in volcano’, a partly collapsed caldera with boiling pools of sulphurous mud. It’s quite dramatic, but not nearly as impressive as Rotorua in New Zealand – I suppose we were spoilt by going there first! This is the St Lucia one.

Back in Rodney Bay, we took the tender across to Pigeon Island, a national park, where we spent a pleasant day. On one peak is the remains of Fort Rodney, from which Admiral Rodney battered the French coming over from Martinique! There are fine views and a nice restaurant, La Jambe de Bois, where we had coffee and lunch.

Finally, a picture of the fruit and vegetable boat that sold us some local grapefruit (also pictured) – although irregular and dubious looking they were excellent inside! OK, I admit, one of the fruit in the picture is a lemon! Anyway, you wouldn’t see items like that in Waitrose… and as a tailpiece, a photo of the marina cat, Bella.

Today we sailed to Martinique; although only 25 nautical miles from Rodney Bay to Le Marin it took us 7 hours, as it was ‘hard on the wind’ and we had to tack! More on this in due course.

Going through the Grenadines 

That’s what we’ve been doing since my last post. The Grenadines are a chain of islands, more than 30 in all, like a necklace of precious stones stretched across the sparkling Caribbean Sea between Grenada and St Vincent (I used to work in tourism – can you tell?). Nine are inhabited, the most famous of which is Mustique, as that’s where the late Princess Margaret used to go on holiday. We didn’t go to that one (you can, but we thought it too far to windward). We went to three: Carriacou (which belongs to Grenada), followed by Union Island and Bequia (St Vincent dependencies).

To get to Carriacou from Grenada, you have to negotiate an active underwater volcano with the charming name of Kick ’em Jenny. With hindsight we probably gave Jenny too wide a berth, as she wasn’t erupting, so our final approach to Tyrell Bay was hard on the wind. We got there, though, and spent two nights at anchor there. Carriacou pictures: Tyrell Bay anchorage, our tender (left) with a friend, beach and restaurant ashore. 


As Grenadines go, Carriacou is a big one, but few people live there and there isn’t much to see apart from beaches. Our next stop, Union Island, is much smaller, but has a wealth of coral reefs around it, making it good for snorkelling and diving. We moored at the Anchorage Yacht Club in Clifton, which accommodates up to eight visiting yachts. It’s hard by the small airport, to which I had to walk to ‘clear in’ with St Vincent customs and immigration departments. The dock is adjacent to AYC’s own hotel, which proved to have an excellent restaurant – so much so that we ate there two nights in a row! In the full day we had there, we took the tender out to one of the local reefs and went snorkelling; we saw a selection of tropical fish but no sharks or rays. Some photos taken on Union Island. 


Finally, we moved on to Bequia (pronounced Bekway), which is quite well-known as a sailing destination. The principal town, Port Elizabeth, is beautifully situated in Admiralty Bay. The town centre is a bit ramshackle and typically Caribbean (judging by what we’ve seen thus far), with lively markets and lots of noise and bustle round the ferry port. Yachts are encouraged to tie up to mooring buoys rather than anchor, so we did – but of course you are charged for a mooring while anchoring is usually free. There’s an excellent chandlery, though, and two sailmakers. Small cruise ships anchor off and send their customers ashore by tender. There are very good restaurants at one end of town. Here are some views of Port Elizabeth:


Leaving Bequia, we missed out mainland St Vincent (most people do) and sailed overnight to St Lucia. Another report will follow!

Sugar and spice 

Grenada is the only one of the Lesser Antilles that is known as a spice island. Although it does produce sugar and cocoa, the island is chiefly known as the world’s second biggest producer of nutmeg. With the nutmeg comes mace; cinnamon, cloves and pepper are also grown. 

We had a pleasant overnight passage from Barbados between the second and third of January. Reaching Grenada, we opted to sail down the east side, mainly because that was where the wind and current were directing us. Sometimes it’s best to ‘go with the flow’, as in this case. The picture shows Alastair reading the pilot book, with the east coast of Grenada behind. 


Grenada is hilly and lush, with some rain forest and generally fertile agricultural land. The capital, St George’s, is one of the more attractive towns in the region. We moored at Port Louis Marina, a luxurious facility on the site of an early French settlement. Perhaps improbably, the marina belongs to the old English boat building firm Camper and Nicholson, formerly of Gosport. The first picture that follows is Mañana, of course, the second gives an idea of the marina’s ambience, and the third is St George’s, seen from Port Louis, with Fort George on the hill to the left. 


Travelling into the island’s interior, we visited one of the waterfalls, the Concord Falls. There is no shortage of water on Grenada – even in the dry season (now) there are frequent tropical downpours, which keep the rivers flowing. Here’s a picture of the falls. 


We also saw various spices being grown, in particular nutmeg. Here you see fruit on the nutmeg tree, then one of the fruit opened up (the red part is mace, also a spice; beneath that is a hard shell inside which the nutmeg is found). 


In the middle of the island is the Grand Étang Forest Reserve, at the centre of which is the eponymous large lake (in an old volcanic crater). 


Some of the villages we passed through were in competition for their level of decoration, but unlike in UK competitions they tended to use more creative approaches than the floral displays we are accustomed to!


Back in St George’s, visiting cruise liners are important to the local economy. Here are two seen from the hill below Fort George:


Fort George, like many buildings in the town, was badly damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Of the churches in St George’s, two lost their roofs (recently replaced after years of fundraising) while the Scottish Kirk (pictured) was demolished except for the tower. 


Back on the waterfront, this statue ‘Christ of the Deep’ was donated by Costa Cruises, following the sinking off St George’s of their liner Bianca C, in 1961. And the nearby Sendall Tunnel was built by the French to link two parts of the town. It’s used by cars and pedestrians. 


So after a week in Grenada, we’re heading north to explore the Grenadines, a chain of small islands between Grenada and St Vincent. We have passed the southernmost point of our Grand Voyage, around 11 degrees north, so it’s all north and east from here back to Weymouth! Lots of places to explore before we go home, though!

Barbados 

As you have heard, we arrived in Barbados on Christmas Eve and moved into the Careenage dock on Christmas Day. We treated ourselves to a Barbadian Christmas lunch at a nearby restaurant. This proved a little different to the UK type, as one might hope; there was turkey, but among the accompaniments were a mini mac pie (made of macaroni), a sweet potato cake and pepper sauce in lieu of gravy. The ‘great cake’ served for pudding was very like normal Christmas cake, but with lots of rum in it! Nice Christmas trees in the area:


At the Careenage we were right in the centre of Bridgetown, which we explored fairly thoroughly, as well as walking along the beaches fringing Carlisle Bay. Barbados boasts the third oldest parliament in the Commonwealth, after Westminster and Bermuda, and we visited the parliament buildings, including the museum and both chambers. Here’s a picture of the exterior:


St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral was rather unusual in design, but had a nice airy feel to it. Here’s a shot of the interior:


It was Wednesday before we were able to go shopping, as Barbados (like Britain) has two public holidays for Christmas. That evening, we met local residents Trudy and Derek, relatives of an old friend of Alastair’s sister… they very kindly took us out to dinner and gave us a useful insight into the island. Unfortunately, we could not entertain them to a drink aboard Mañana owing to the hazardous nature of the boarding arrangements at low water!

On Friday, we moved from the Careenage, partly because of the aforementioned risky berth and partly because of the loud music from local venues every night. We thought about moving on from Barbados, but the harbour authority offered us a berth in the Shallow Draft Harbour, near the cruise ships (of which there are lots – up to six at a time!). We moored stern-to a concrete jetty, with our bow attached to a couple of buoys. You don’t get moorings like that where we come from; to get the bow properly attached to the buoy or buoys requires the dinghy to be launched. Here’s Maria in it. 


Barbados is known for its rum, really a by-product of the sugar industry. The oldest distillery is Mount Gay (est. 1703) and, as the latest instalment of our alcohol themed tourism activities, we went on the tour. This involved drinking an unusual amount of spirits for mid-morning! The red caps in the second photo are awarded by Mount Gay in the sailing events they sponsor. 


We also visited a plantation house at Sunbury Plantation, one of many plantations once dedicated to growing sugar cane. Wealthy plantation owners lived in comfort in these houses, while slaves and indentured labourers toiled in the cane fields. We had a personal guided tour and a good lunch. Here’s a view of the house:


The same day, we managed to catch the last tour at the Barbados Concorde Experience, the centrepiece of which is a British Airways Concorde, one of those that used to  fly a weekly service to the island. The tour was quite entertaining and culminated in a visit to the aircraft itself. We never got to fly in one for real… it’s surprising how cramped Concorde was compared to modern aircraft, but I suppose the passengers didn’t mind as it was all about the speed. 


Not a very flattering photo! Never mind, we can’t all have film star looks like many of the Concorde clients of old. Anyway, another day took us to the east coast of the island, where big Atlantic waves attract surfers. A railway once ran along the coast, before crossing the island to Bridgetown (the line closed in 1937). One of the stations was at Bathsheba, which has dramatic boulders along the beach. 


After Bathsheba we went to the Andromeda Botanical Gardens (very nice). Maria is standing next to something flowery and Alastair beneath a bearded fig, the tree which is said to have given Barbados its name, which was bestowed by Portuguese explorers (who didn’t stay). 


Our last stop that day was at the historic garrison in Bridgetown, once a major British Army base. The old military prison houses the Barbados Museum, while the old guard house has an interesting tower. 


There’s a racecourse in the middle of the garrison, also used for big public events. 

Reflecting on our stay in Barbados: we’ve had an interesting time! All the people we have met have been friendly and helpful. The island is green and lush, with lovely beaches if that’s what you want. Many visitors, we think, stay in the ‘environmental bubble’ of the smart hotels and beachfront areas and don’t really experience Barbados. The harbour authority is focused on cruise ships and doesn’t do much to support yachts, while the paperwork concerned with immigration and customs has to be seen to be believed. We have found everything very expensive, especially food, whether in restaurants or supermarkets. It’s been fun though, and it’ll be fascinating to see how our first Caribbean island compares with the others we visit. Grenada is next!

The long crossing

As previously noted, we were hoping for a Christmas Eve arrival in Barbados, and we made it! Two weeks and two and a half days at sea, over 2000 nautical miles, and at coffee time yesterday we arrived at Bridgetown Harbour, where we ‘cleared in’ with Immigration, Customs and Port Health Control. Then for our first night we anchored in Carlisle Bay – rather sleep deprived after all those ‘3 hours on 3 off’ night watches we went to bed at 9 pm! We found time to put up a very small tree! The baubles are actually festive earrings from a sale at Frost’s in Bridport!


The crossing itself was pretty good, apart from the sleep issues. The trade winds blew from the east or northeast all the way, mostly between Beaufort forces 3-5; no storms (thank goodness) but we had a couple of nights with fierce squalls – I got soaked two nights running! Some pictures taken en route: checking the rig on the foredeck, emails by SSB HF radio, and folding a sail on the saloon floor (note radical haircut).


The wonders of nature did not disappoint (at least when it wasn’t too rough to enjoy them, as it sometimes was). Every morning (more or less) we had dead flying fish on deck; we were circled on two days by a large bird (what is it?) while 1000 miles from land; and there were beautiful starry nights and nice sunrises and sunsets (one of each shown here, taken on the same day, 15 December). 


On Christmas morning we had breakfast in the anchorage, then we were allowed to move to Bridgetown’s historic town centre dock, the Carenage. All the shops are shut for two bank holidays, as in UK, but at least we can go for walks and we’ve got water and electricity here. Final pair of pictures for now: Christmas morning in Carlisle Bay (M in her pyjamas!), Mañana moored in the Carenage. 


Now we shall explore Barbados, and I’ll do another post in a week or so. Meanwhile, we wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!