Cruising the Leeward Islands
The Leeward islands span 200 miles and include 10 major islands. There are some sophisticated continental islands as well as some under populated ones where you feel at the outer edge of the world. We visited two quite different islands. We left Antigua to enjoy a boisterous sail to Deshaies (pronounced day-hay) on the northwest corner of Guadeloupe, the largest of the Leewards. We anchored next to the Spanish BW boat called Bionic and invited Jaime and Carmen on board for a drink.
The next day we went ashore with Jaime and Carmen to register with immigration, which thankfully was just filling in a form on the computer. Our next stop was the tourist office to find out about the botanical gardens, which were a mile or so outside the town and uphill. The Lonely planet said they provide transport and sure enough after the lady in the tourist office called
them they sent down their minibus for us. The gardens were beautiful with thousands of species of plants with everything from cacti to beautiful orchids and magnificent trees. There was a walk-in aviary where we could feed the brightly coloured paraqueets from little cups with a kind of liquid that they seemed to love. There were also some beautiful rosy flamingos standing around one of the numerous ponds. We spent several hours wandering around the path that meandered through the gardens to enable you to see it at its best. Many of the species that were growing freely in the gardens could only be houseplants in the UK, and they were growing beside huge banana plants and other specimens. We sat in the beautiful restaurant over looking a superb waterfall and beyond to the Caribbean sea where we enjoyed a delicious lunch together. We spent a bit of time in the gift shop and bought Bill a new hat (another one) and me a beautiful pair of sandals made of shells (more shoes!)
We were given a lift back to the town where we found a supermarket so I could stock up with some supplies. As Guadeloupe is a French island we were back to using Euros. We took our shopping back to Camomile in the dinghy.
The next day, after we had taken delivery of some delicious French bread and croissants, we left Deshaies just after 9am. We motored 10 miles down the west side of Guadeloupe to Pigeon Island, which is surrounded by the Cousteau National Marine park. We anchored close to the mainland in the recommended anchorage and took the dinghy over to the park.
Once in the water we found an amazing selection of fish of every colour and size. We spent several hours snorkelling before going back to the boat to watch the sunset.
The next morning we got up early and set off for Iles des Saintes, an archipelago off the southern tip of Guadeloupe. Imagine the natural beauty of the Isles of Scilly combined with French culture and Caribbean weather and you have Iles des Saintes. Unfortunately there wasn’t any wind so we motored all the way. We arrived at lunchtime and anchored next to Bionic off Le Bourg (which literally means ‘the town’) on Terre d’en Haut. The BWR Australian boat Gaultine III arrived shortly after and the crews from the 3 boats spent New Years Eve together.
We found a little Italian and sat outside for a delicious meal. A band set up in the little square and started playing at 10pm and continued through until midnight. People from the whole island were there dancing the night away.
The crew of Gaultine III decided to go back to their boat but Jaime and Carmen from Bionic shared a bottle of champagne with us at midnight while we were surrounded by glorious fireworks. We’re looking forward to a great year ahead. Happy New Year to everyone.
The next morning there was quite a bit of swell coming across the anchorage so we lifted the anchor and motored across the bay.
We re-anchored behind one of the other islands called Ilet Cabrit where we had a bit more protection. We were very close to the beach and were able to swim over to it. We took our snorkel masks and enjoyed a wonderful view of the fish swimming around the rocks below us. We really enjoy snorkelling. When you are on top of the water looking down it feels like you’re flying.
We left Iles des Saintes at lunchtime the next day.
We had a great sail across the ‘gap’ to Dominica the next island, completely different to French Guadalope. We were met by Albert, a boat boy, about a mile offshore who offered us his boat services. He followed us into Prince Rupert bay and showed us the best place to anchor. We had heard of the Caribbean boat boys and had been wary of them but Albert was in the pilot guide and turned out to be very helpful and knowledgeable about the area. The town of Portsmouth, on the banks of the bay, is the second largest on the island although it only consisted of a couple of streets with a lot of run down housing; what a difference to it’s English namesake. Some of the people are living in little more than a garden shed but they are happy. The people are very poor but rich in their surroundings.
We agreed with Albert that he would take us and Jaime and Carmen up the Indian river the following day, he arrived at 2.30pm as agreed and we all got into his boat. The waterfront was strewn with ‘dead’ boats that had been washed ashore in a hurricane more than 10 years ago. Once inside the entrance of the river Albert turned off the engine and got his oars out because engines aren’t authorized on the river. It quickly narrowed and huge swamp bloodwood trees on both sides soon overhung us, their massive roots spread out above the soil and down into the water, twisting and tangling into wavy designs.
Long vines dangle into the water and we saw crabs on both banks. The trees formed a cathedral like canopy above us. This, along with the sounds of birds and insects created a magical quality. We saw many birds and Albert even managed to spot an Iguana for us high in the trees above.
This photo was taken with a zoom lens. It took about an hour to row to the top where a bar had been created and we sat and drank the most beautiful Rum punch. Albert explained that many of the scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean 2 were filmed on the island and several on the river itself. We emerged from the river at dusk and the light took on an enchanting glow.
The next day the 4 of us went on a day trip around the island. We headed out of Portsmouth into the surrounding hills. Our driver Winston was very knowledgeable about the area; he stopped the minibus several times to show us a variety of things just growing beside the road. There were towering royal palms and seemingly endless banana plantations.
Winston explained that the blue bags covering the bananas were to protect them from insects and other problems. Each tree only grows one hand of bananas and once it’s been cut the tree is cut down and a new seedling growing alongside replaces it. The roadside was bursting with red-hued hibiscus and huge Poinsettias. We also saw lemon grass, bay leaf trees, cocoa plants, nutmegs, pineapples, mangos and papayas all growing along the road. Winston stopped the minibus many times for us to get out and see all these things.
He hacked the top off a green coconut with a machete for us to try the coconut water inside (I wasn’t very keen on it). We stopped by a grave, which Winston said was a past president who also happened to be his uncle! Winston liked to toot at everyone he knew, which was half the island, and also at all those who got in his way, which was the other half of the island! He probably used his hooter more times on that journey than we have in our whole lifetime of driving. We stopped at the top of a volcano and looked down onto stunning views of the Atlantic coast then drove along it to the Carib Indian territory. The 3700-acre reserve is home to the only remaining tribe of Carib Indians in the Caribbean.
Their homes were very basic but traditional.
We continued down the coast to Sineku where we stopped for lunch. The restaurant had the most stunning views over looking the Atlantic below. There wasn’t a menu; we were given a choice of fish or chicken. Jaime and I chose the fish and Carmen and Bill chose the chicken. When it arrived it was very traditional food without any thing we recognised. I wish I could say it was delicious but it wasn’t. The fish was salted cod and we really couldn’t eat it, although we tried, the Caribs have completely different tastes to westerners. We did have the most delicious freshly squeezed juice, which I think was Guava. While we were sitting eating our meal a pretty little gecko came to watch us hoping for a spare morsel. We got back in the minibus and headed back inland again through more rain forest. We were shown where the scene was filmed of Johnny Depp balancing on a wheel rolling through the countryside in the film Pirates of the Caribbean 2. The Dominicans are quite proud of how much of that film was shot on their island.
We continued to one of Dominica’s natural wonders, the deep Emerald pool at the base of a 40ft waterfall. It’s reached by a five minute walk along a jungle like pathway whose paved sections date from its original use as a Carib trail. The pool would have been wonderful for a dip but we just had a paddle instead. We walked back to the car park via the scenic route, which took about half an hour. That was the end of the tour; it had been a long day of 7 hours driving. The roads aren’t great in Dominica, luckily Winston knew where most of the potholes were and managed to avoid them. We got back to the boat tired but well informed about life on Dominica. It isn’t everyone’s idea of paradise but we loved the island and it’s friendly people who love their life and their island.
The next day Albert took us snorkelling around in the next bay. We drifted along with the current and Albert picked us up at the other end. Bionic left later that day but more of the BWR boats started arriving.
On the Wednesday, which was our 5th day there, we all went ashore to Big Papas for a barbecue and ‘jump up’. It was a great evening with 12 of us joining in the dancing to the very loud music. There were also some strange smells drifting around from the large cigarettes everyone was smoking!