The Windward Islands - and the end of a chapter
After enjoying our final few days in Îles des Saintes, Guadeloupe, we pushed south. It was a brisk sail - at least until we reached the swirly and confused winds at the northern end of Dominica.
What Dominica lacks in economic development and infrastructure (at least in contrast to Guadeloupe and the US Virgin Islands!), it more than makes up for in natural beauty, with lush cloud-wrapped volcanic peaks rising straight up from the sea.
Our first stop was the northern town of Portsmouth.
This had once been destined to be the capital by its British military administrators (until they got their hands on the French-held Roseau that had fewer mosquitoes). It was a sleepy but friendly town, with a barber who doubles up as a local novelist.
The next morning we went ashore and walked along the beach. Apparently we could have been enjoying a yacht WiFi service - but since the wooden box was discovered to be devoid of the advertised router, perhaps not.
Up on the hill behind the anchorage, we found ourselves at Fort Shirley. Solidly fortified, and with its cannons aimed towards wherever the French would have come from, it was yet another reminder of the region’s colonial and geopolitical history.
Not all of the fort has been restored or maintained. We hiked around the hill to find the commandant’s quarters, well on its way to being reclaimed by the voracious vegetation.
The next day we headed south, hoping to sail. But let’s just say that Dominica’s tall island peaks blanket the trade winds very effectively, and in zero knots of wind…?
Our next stop was Roseau, which, from the top of the neighboring hill, provided a great view against the vastness of the Caribbean beyond. As per usual in this part of the world, the country’s cricket stadium takes up a decent fraction of the capital city.
Down in the city itself, bustling market life and local food stalls galore, including some very tasty fresh coconuts.
We then drove up into the mountains. The valleys behind Roseau are precipitously narrow, rising up towards the famous Morne Trois Pitons National Park - a well-deserved UNESCO heritage site. Above the lush rain forest, fresh water lakes have formed in the craters of the island’s many volcanic peaks, and we trekked some of the steep ridges nearby.
Apart from feeding the hydroelectric system that the country installed in the 1950s, all that rain and fresh water has to go somewhere, and we spent the rest of the day exploring the many waterfalls in the canyons below. We rafted up one to reach a secluded waterfall in a grotto, made famous by the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. We were lucky to have it all to ourselves:
Next, we hiked up to the dual Trafalgar Falls, known as ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’…
…the former of which has a series of natural volcanic hot springs emerging at its base.
We spent plenty of time hanging out in the hot pools, as a relaxing end to our mountainous exertions on this beautiful gem of an island!
But with hurricane season soon upon us (or more accurately our insurance company’s requirements for us to be in Grenada by June), it wasn’t long before we needed to set off south again. Saying goodbye to Dominica, we headed next to Martinique, the second of the two French islands on our itinerary.
After an uneventful sail, our first port of call was Saint-Pierre. We cleared immigration back into France at an Alsatian restaurant, which was a fairly surreal experience.
Once a large and vibrant city - ‘the Paris of the Caribbean’ - Saint-Pierre was the main commercial and cultural center in the region. That was, of course, until the volcano exploded in 1902, and a pyroclastic flow destroyed the entire town.
Over a hundred years later, many of the old remains of the town have been left - the waterfront, the foundations of the huge theater, and the prison where the sole survivor of the disaster was incarcerated at the time. Like Plymouth in Montserrat, this was another a reminder of the tectonic fragility of these islands.
The capital city of Martinique moved after the eruption and is now Fort-de-France. We headed down to spend a few days there, anchored in front of the fort in question, and made the most of our final chance to provision the boat in a French supermarket.
And with that, it was time for our final major sail of the season. Knowing that we will likely be back to St Lucia, St Vincent, and the Grenadines once the hurricane season is over, we decided to skip them this time and sail directly to Grenada.
The 24-hour sail was most notable for being one of our fastest (being beam-on to the wind most of the way), but also one of our wettest, especially as we hit a large band of squalls heading into the small island of Carriacou, the country’s northern extent.
But after day or two of hunkering down in the busy little Tyrell Bay anchorage, the front passed. The regularly scheduled beautiful sunsets returned.
We needed to reach the southern coast of the main island of Grenada, and it was one last hop from Carriacou to get ourselves down to the 12th parallel, considered safe from most tropical storms until November. As the verdant island came into view, it was a wonderful final sail to finish off with.
But we weren’t quite done! As well as a place to hide out from hurricanes, Grenada is a beautiful island in its own right, and there was still lots to see.
First stop? The postcard-worthy La Sargesse in St David’s.
We sampled a few of the many anchorages in the southern part of the island, figuring out which might be good places to ride out storms safely in the months ahead.
And, to finish off the season with a real highlight, we headed up to Levera Beach one clear night, to look for turtles. And these giants did not disappoint! We were lucky enough to find a huge leatherback, laying eggs and nesting…
…as well as a clutch of hatchlings crawling their way, painstakingly in the dark, down the beach and out towards the surf.
The turtles were truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to end this season’s adventures. Ahead lie a few months of hiatus as we wait for hurricanes to come and go, hopefully leaving Scout alone.
As for ourselves. we’re splitting our time between the boat and the US for a few months, and so there won’t be any blog posts for a little while.
But, as we spend just a few hours flying back over some of the five thousand miles of water we sailed, what better time to reflect on our wonderful first year spent on Scout.
And we can’t wait to get back to bringing ourselves that horizon again in just a few months. See you in November!
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