Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guadaloupe - Pigeon Island & Pointe a' Pitre

May 25, 2011 Wednesday    Montserrat to Pigeon Island, Guadaloupe

Perfect cruising weather for a trawler - no wind and flat seas.  The sailor friends we have met along the way are cursing..... not their kind of weather!  This weather is unusual we’re told and we are taking advantage of it, stopping in places that would be difficult or impossible to stop in on our return during the winter months with much rougher seas and the howling Christmas winds.

We were so thrilled to be able to cruise along the south side of Montserrat rather than having to traverse up and around the north side toward Guadeloupe.  With no wind and no waves  and no ash blowing from the volcano, it was safe to make the run past it.

Montserrat in our 'rear view mirror'

So awesome is Montserrat

The view from this side is again a reminder of how power mother nature can be - vast swatches of earth that slid down into the sea and a clear view of the huge volcanic crater atop the mountain. 
Look at that power and it is only steam vents (at the moment)

Whale feeding at the surface
Three hours into our 6 - 7 hour cruise to Pigeon Island on Guadaloupe,  I saw what I swore was a the tail of a whale!  I only saw the tail once, but both Andy and I could see the whale blowing and it’s long body  as the whale cruised about, slowly feeding near the surface.    How excited we were...we have been looking for these large sea creatures for two years while in/out of the Atlantic and in the Lower Passage of British Columbia, nearly to Alaska and all along the way...always with no sightings.

Pigeon Island - both of these
Arriving at tiny Pigeon Island, just off Guadaloupe, (not to be confused with the Pigeon Island off the northern tip of St. Lucia) we hooked to a white mooring ball on what is the Jacque Cousteau Underwater Park. butted right up to the rocks.  Ah, I can just fall off the boat into the water teeming with fish and corals and not have to bug Andy to take me out somewhere in the dink.  We (Yes, WE - Andy actually snorkeled!)  were in the water 5 minutes after securing the boat - and were surrounded instantly by at least 50 beautiful fish!  Staying in the water exploring after Andy returned to the boat, I spied a turtle swimming below me near a wall, spotted an octopus that I watched slink along the ocean floor for several minutes before I lost sight of him among the rocks.  I  swam over some softly swaying corals and lots of brain coral, barrel corals and so many others that I can’t remember all the names.  Colorful fish were everywhere, ignoring me completely.  I love to be in the underwater parks - a No Take, No Fish zone.  The fish are not fearful and ignore you, swimming about doing their thing while people snorkel or dive all around them.  Usually, much of the underwater world takes off when they see you.

Suddenly I was startled by a loud honking of a horn as I neared Finally Fun.  A tour boat was yelling at Andy that he was moored to ‘their’ mooring and we had to move.  Well, we had two guide books aboard that said private yachts were to moor to (a) the white one and (b) the red ones.  We’d been confused by the conflicting information and never saw a red one, so grabbed the white.  Nope, seems we were to grab a YELLOW one, of which there were only two.  Scrambling back on board, I unhooked us as fast as I could and we pulled out.  Andy suddenly pointed at the water and said WHAT IS THAT?  Bubbles everywhere, like a giant something was in the water.  Realization hit - ANDY, get away from here - those are SCUBA DIVERS in the water!  Scary moments - we passed near them and I hoped they were WELL BELOW.   People chum won’t do it for anyone! 

Circling Pigeon Island
Confused about the mooring balls, we circled the tiny island again, looking for a better spot to snag that Finally Fun would fit in and not swing into the rocky island, as the mooring balls are almost on the island in places it seems.  Andy yelled to a couple in a dingy,  “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”    Yes, was the reply.  They proceeded to tell us yellow was the correct color -- this year.  Back around we went, carefully avoiding several big circular bubble patches on the surface indicating divers below, easily hooking up to a yellow ball and settling in. 

In a few minutes, here comes that English speaking couple in their dink -- “HELLO!   Are you hooked up OK?”  We met Krista & Bill Nugent, from a small town in Canada, just north of Maine,  who have been cruising these islands for 4 years now aboard their 58‘ sailboat, Secoudon.  What do boaters always do? “Hi, come aboard, the wine is chilled and the beer is cold!”   After introductions and cold beer, back intp the Caribbean Sea we flopped...snorkeling all about until we had seen it all - with Andy watching from the deck.  He so wishes he’d purchased that T-shirt he saw in St. Martin.....”Same s h i t , different island”.
Andy photo shopped OUT the middle finger for the sensitive types
He feels the same way about snorkeling....seen one fish, seen them all.  Bah.   


Deciding to go back around to the other side of the island where Krista and Bill had snorkeled earlier in the day, we hopped into their dink, snorkeling till nearly dark.  (NOT Andy!)

The south side of Pigeon Island is the best for snorkeling, with more coral, crevices and a little more color than the north side where we are moored.  

A Squid!!
Sitting on the aft deck of Finally Fun  hoping to see the rare green flash as the sun sets (which we did not see), sipping wine and beer and eating cheese and crackers with Krista and Bill, I suddenly popped out of my chair like a rocket had been launched under my butt....AHHHHH, I screeched!  Andy nearly choked, inhaling his beer, so startled was he!  A whale, breaching off our port side about 1/2 mile off!   This whale breached at least six times, jumping clear up and out, parallel to the water.  Then, a giant belly flop back into the water!  We were so excited!   We watched her till we could see no more in the dusk of the sea and sky.   Awesome!   Finally, after all these years, I have seen a whale in all its glory!  Breathtaking! 

Krista & Sharon
I tell you what -- you meet your soul mate sister sometimes in your lifetime.  Who else in this world dives or snorkels with PINK FINS?  Just me and Just Krista!!   Who else will snorkel all day til dark?  Me and Krista.  Who said in unison “ Quick, get in the dink - let’s get close to the whale!”  Me and Krista.  (The guys promptly shouted NO)   Who else shares the same philosophy of life?   BFF’s as the kids say now.  
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Bill and Krista were such a wealth of information about places to go and things to see, given their four years of cruising these islands.  I so hope Andy will ‘get into this’ more and agreed to stay longer.  I could stay down in these islands forever....take this morning for example:   Up at 5:00 am, I watched the sun come up over the mountains from our aft deck, sipping coffee, as I listened to the sound of birds from the tiny island beginning to chirp.  I watched fish feeding all around me - slapping fins on the water to alert me to their presence.  A huge turtle swam past, sticking his big head up several times and also sticking his big shell of a body up and out so I could see him more clearly.  Eventually, tiny birds flew past, landing on our dink up top to rest.   I left them alone, happily exchanging their bird poop for their tiny chirps as I sat below them on the deck listening and watching the water.  Now, after a morning like this - Why Would Any One Want to Retire to a House with the SAME View Every Day?

We’ve changed our plans again..actually, we really don’t have a plan - just plan the next day and review the weather and charts.  It’s now off to Point a’ Pitre with Krista & Bill - a place we had not planned to stop on our rush to get to Grenada by approximately June 1st.   This is Guadeloupe’s largest city - described as ‘lively Creole town with a hodgepodge of old and new buildings”.  We will cruise the few hours there and share a rental car to travel deeper within Guadeloupe....Never to miss an opportunity to see more, learn more and make new friends!!

May 27, 28,  2011  Friday, Saturday morning  Pointe a’ Pitre,  Guadaloupe

After a totally uneventful cruise from Pigeon Island to Pointe a‘ Pitre, we entered the huge harbor.  Knowing we were going off in a rental car and given the fact that our generator must run for some time (too much time in my book!) to repower the batteries, we wanted to be ‘free‘ of any worry about dead/dying batteries and hailed Marina Bas-du-Fort for a slip as rates are very reasonable in the islands.  In this one, power & water are included in the rate, which is a deal as electric and be VERY VERY expensive.

Ah, a new experience:  One backs in, tying stern to the dock.  The bow is hooked to a mooring ball, keeping the boat straight in the water.  A guide boat does come out to help hook the mooring ball after you’ve thrown a stern line.  Key learning:  I need longer lines in this situation..... had to quickly tie two lines together at the bow as my 100’ was not enough!  I also tied two lines together (75’ + 50’) for one of the stern lines.  Lesson learned.  I will be better prepared next time.  This method of docking seems to be the norm throughout the islands...certainly cheaper than building all those smaller docks of the main one.  A royal pain, however, to get off and on from the back of the boat!  Short legs always have a problem!

Bill & Krista
Our friends, Krista & Bill,  aboard Secoudon dropped their anchor in the harbor because it is too difficult to get off the rear of their sailboat in such a docking.  Although the cruising guide says one can anchor anywhere out there, they had a terrible time attempting to do so and finally gave it up, taking a slip next to us in the marina.   They had put out 200’ of chain (that is a lot) and kept dragging.  Seems the bottom is a couple of feet or more of pure silt.  The anchor drops in, the chain sank in that muck and nothing was holding the anchor.  It took them 30 minutes to hose off the chain as they pulled it up - solid with muck.  After 3 tries of that, they bailed. 

Note the tiny birds eating the food off the table

Would you believe - we arrived on a holiday - Friday is the anniversary of the slave emancipation and everything is closed.  Most things are closed on Saturday and always on Sunday.  Bah.  Ah well, we rented the car, driving most of the Grande Terre side of the island, along the pretty coastline.

 Stopping in Le Moule for lunch in an open air restaurant overlooking the water & big waves,  we amused ourselves watching tiny yellow birds eat off plates of food before the server could clear the tables.

Finally rousing ourselves,  we continued our travels, enjoying all that we saw.  Wandering about, we found a beach full of people, enjoying the holiday and the weather and wonderful water.  A church revival complete with baptisms in the Caribbean Sea was also underway.  A great day!
So fresh & so good @ the beach

All hand cranked

Child at the beach

Baptism at the beach - two @ a time

Church group watching the baptisms

Local restaurant along the way

Typical cemetery.  No born/died dates anywhere to be seen

Cemetery overlooking the Caribbean Sea

Back at the marina, after a long day on the road, we wandered about the little town & marina area, settling in La Pirate restaurant for dinner.  Enjoying the view from the patio, and after fondling the pirate,  we began a swift melt down in the hot humid night air. 

We’d already ordered, but Krista bravely went to the wait staff, asking if we could cancel all.  In her broken French and with much sign language, she explained that as a menopausal woman, she was DYING in the heat.  I think the poor young guy didn’t know what to do, so he ushered us all OUT.  I still chuckle every time of this of this!  

We ended up at the only air conditioned place we could find - Cote’ Jardin at the marina and had a wonderful French meal.  My lamb chops with garlic sauce were to die for & Andy’s fish platter of different types of seafood was wonderful.  We are still doing the math with the Euro vs the dollar and the liter versus the gallon.  We might be broke by now and don’t even know it!

Although we are enjoying the island, the people and everything we see, I must say the wifi is nothing short of TERRIBLE here in many places along the islands. Other times, booming in.  

I spent hours before arriving here searching for airline tickets back to FL and spent 10 hours trying to actually book the flights yesterday.  After struggling and in a raging mood, I left the marina (Andy in tow) and its off/on wifi server.  They directed us to Le Pirate where wifi is free and has a different server.  Four hours, two huge bottles of water and a salad later, I left in frustration, not knowing if the booking I’d completed on line actually went through.  The wifi seems to work from 5 AM to 7 AM, then people get on and it slows worse than using a phone line to connect and it cuts off every couple seconds or minutes.  

We had planned to pull out of here, heading south today, Saturday, but it took all day plus to get the tickets, so here we still are!  From the time I attempted to book, to the time I did finally make the reservation due to struggling with the connections, the price went up $200 per ticket and I got stuck with a flight two hours longer than my original selection.  There are few choices of airlines or flights in these islands and they fill up fast and I am booking nearly two months in advance... be forewarned!

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