Time for a Change of Season

The last stage of our travels this season has taken us from the Eastern Caribbean to the ABCs (as the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are known). These are very parched, arid islands with eastern coasts lashed by Atlantic seas and about the only thing that grows here in abundance is cactus. So much so that they even build their fences from cacti. In Bonaire we then said farewell to Dean and Sue after an enjoyable 430nm crossing from Bequia. Thanks guys!

We’d heard Bonaire offers some of the best SCUBA diving in the Caribbean (if not worldwide), but it wasn’t until we got there that we realised why it’s such a diving Mecca. This is the home of DIY shore diving. The whole island is just one gigantic dive site. In 1962 Captain Don Stewart arrived from California, fell in love with the place and spent the next 50 years both diving on and protecting the reef. His early dive gear is on display at one of the local museums. Complete with his low-tech depth gauge – a red ribbon! Water is much denser than air which means light gets absorbed more quickly. The longest wavelengths of light are absorbed first, so the colour red nearly disappears at around 5 metres. I guess he didn’t venture too deep. Many of the 90-odd dive sites were marked and named by him. Most are accessible straight off the shore. All you need to go diving is to rent a pick-up truck, pick up some dive bottles (with your PADI card), pick a dive site and just wade in. For the sites that aren’t accessible by car, you can do an organised boat dive with one of the many dive operators. Or for the sites close to the marina you just jump in your dingy and tie up to the dive site mooring buoy. Bonaire is so well set up for diving, and the underwater world is quite spectacular. One of the more novel sites we explored was the salt pier. No, that’s not me – the girl at the back of truck. (Image credit to Sanne Wesselman). I pinched a couple of images from the web to give you an idea. (Underwater salt pier image credits also to Jennifer Penner & Angie Orth). The pylons there are enormous and the fish life incredible. We hadn’t done any independent diving before Bonaire so it was good to hone some of our newly acquired advanced diving skills. In Italy there’s the passegiatta, where strolling couples acknowledge each other as they pass on the street. In Bonaire it’s a little underwater wave to the couple scuba-ing towards you. Weird! But depending on the dive site you may be the only ones down there and you often have that part of the reef all to yourselves. Just you and the fish. So many fish! At times I felt a bit like I was in that Monty Python sketch, you know, the one where all the fish are swimming past each other saying “Morning!”, “Morning!”, “Morning!” Some of the fish swim straight at you, not the least bit concerned by the bubble blowing monsters.

We were also intrigued to see the underwater coral nurseries that have been planted and subsequently found an informative exhibition on it at the local museum. I grabbed a couple of stills from the videos. Even though the diving is spectacular, apparently all is not well. The staghorn and elkhorn corals that once offered front line protection to the reefs have been steadily collapsing since the 1980s due to bleaching, diseases, deteriorating water quality and overfishing. There is now a very effective coral conservation push to actively restore the reefs. A couple of people, including another yachtie who is a marine biologist, mentioned the movie “Chasing Coral” which amongst other things is about the drastic bleaching occurring on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We’ve not yet seen it, but both people told us when we do we’ll cry.

Just near the salt pier is the salt mine, that still operates today. The large snowy salt piles stand out starkly against the pink salt ponds and blue sky. The pink colour comes from a micro-organism that thrives in high salinity brine, whose cell membranes contain carotenoid pigments. These “brine shrimp” are a favourite food of the local flamingoes, giving them their brilliant pink plumage. During the slave trade days up to six slaves would be housed in tiny huts, that you or I couldn’t even stand up in, to work in this salt mine. At the weekend they’d then walk for seven hours to the other end of the island to visit their families and collect provisions before heading back to the salt mine. Very tough indeed.

As we’ve travelled throughout the Caribbean I’ve be been surprised by how little commentary/acknowledgement/information there is about the slave trade, given it provided the labour that sustained most of these islands in their early days of development. Here and there have been a few museums, with disturbing images and/or artefacts that tell a small part of the story. The museum at Bonaire has a small section which refers to the more than 12 million slaves who were forcibly brought to the Caribbean, in over 35,000 voyages, to provide labour for the various types of plantations (sugar, cotton, coffee, cocoa and tobacco). The images of slave ships layouts are nothing short of horrendous. It’s said that these were what galvanised the movement to abolish slavery. Although slavery may not exist today, there sure is a heck of a lot of inequality around these parts. Not surprising then that crime is a very real problem.

We reached our final destination a couple of weeks ago after sailing through the openable bridge at Willemstad, Curaçao. This is a town with a definite European feel with quirky street art and colourful, brightly painted buildings. It also feels a lot more like South America too, which is not surprising given that Venezuela is only 35 nautical miles away. There’s a lively waterfront fruit, veg and fish market, where the Venezuelans who’ve sailed across sell their fresh produce.

We managed to get in a dive here also and noticed the artificial coral reef balls. Again, reef renourishment is been actively undertaken here. Afterwards we were somewhat entertained by the local “wild” pigs turning up on the beach. Clearly not very wild!

In Curaçao there are a number of massive gated communities. I guess they’re full of people who are scared of what’s on the outside. Hmmm. I wonder if that’s really going to help solve any problems long term. Doesn’t that just create an even greater sense of disenfranchisement to the people on the outside? Isn’t poverty yet another form of inequality? The Caribbean is a part of the world which invokes most people’s idea of absolute paradise. Soft winds, blue skies, gentle waves on long white sandy beaches fringed with swaying palm trees. Beach shacks selling rum punches and friendly, happy people. Sure, when you travel through here, you see some of that. But there is another side to what’s going in many of these “idyllic” places. It is also the reality of the women washing their laundry in the river, who gave us a friendly wave when we were walking across Union Island. Just up the road from there we chatted to some locals who were limin’ (hanging out) at the local. Really friendly people, happy to chat, interested in where we were from and where we were going. Then there are the store fronts that look more like metal cages. Clearly there are areas you simply wouldn’t venture out to at night. We found the Caribbean to be a really mixed bag. And you just can’t ignore the stark disparity you see here on a daily basis. Hurricanes continue to keep them behind the eight ball also. In some places we’ve encountered plenty of enterprising locals who’ve worked out how to capitalise on the steady stream of passing yachties, offering bread, ice, island tours or laundry services. But of all the thousands of yachts cruising around these waters, we didn’t see too many black people sailing around in their vessels (maybe one).

We’ve now hauled Loki out of the water – at midnight because we needed all of the high spring tide. The cleaning and packing up has been done and it’s almost time to start heading home. We’re looking forward to catching up with friends and family upon our return, but suspect the weather might take a bit of getting used to!

Ciao for now,


How to make your own island

If there is one thing that is synonymous with the Caribbean then it’s rum, or rhum, as they say here. Every island, if not every bar, has their own concoction and the local history often revolves around the sugar plantations of yesteryear. We visited the Depaz distillery, located in the foothills of Mt Pelee, Martinique. The earlier sugar plantation on the site dated back to 1651. The Mt Pelee volcano spectacularly erupted in 1902, killing all 30,000 inhabitants of the nearest town, St Pierre, except for three people. The entire Depaz family perished with the exception of a son who was away at school in France at the time of the eruption. He subsequently returned to Martinique and rebuilt the distillery in honour of his family. One of the more novel aspects of this site is the steam driven machinery which is still in operation today.

Another activity that’s been going on over here just as long is fishing. There are plenty of fish around and it’s not uncommon to see the local fisherman selling his catch of the day at a roadside stall. But if it’s pizza that you’re craving then look no further than the pizza boat that floats around Le Marin area, complete with oven on the back. We didn’t try it, but we did get a couple of excellent takeaway meals from some French cruising guys cooking awesome gourmet meals on their yacht. Plenty of good food choices in Martinique.

From Martinique we headed on down to St Lucia and the oasis that is Marigot Bay. We’d heard there’d been some problems with multiple dingy thefts up at Rodney Bay, so went for the safer option of Capella Resort. You can take a berth in the marina which provides 24 hour security and gives you access to the resort facilities and pool. Hiring a car and driving around the island was interesting. The volcano on this island is billed as “the world’s only drive through volcano”. One of the fumeroles is somewhat disturbingly named after a guide who some years ago fell into the boiling mud up to his waist, suffering severe burns. Luckily he was pulled out by quick thinking people and managed to survive. We drove to the main southern town of Soufriere, which was quite an eye opener, as it seemed incredibly poor and in very stark contrast to both the nearby Sugar Bay Resort and Capella. Yet another example of the massive disparity between the haves and have nots. No photos at Soufriere I’m afraid. It just didn’t seem appropriate to pull out a camera out there (not even an iPhone). We actually didn’t even get out of the car to stroll around.

We opted to sail straight past St Vincents, not feeling the need to stop there. So our next port of call was the delightful island of Bequia. The shoreline around the bay is dotted with some cute gingerbread buildings, a whalebone bar and a sandy beach. The locals are all super friendly. There are lots of Rasta guys with serious locks, including Brian and his “rosemary” (that’s what he calls his calf length hair). He told me he spends $100 per week on various shampoos, oils and spray – who’d have thought, a high maintenance guy!) They also have some weird looking sheep with no wool, which I thought were goats, that graze along the roadside. It’s all very chilled in Bequia.

We took the opportunity to stay here for a bit and brush up on our SCUBA diving skills, completing the Advanced Open Water Diver course. Diving in Bequia was an absolute delight. Great visibility, plenty of fish and coral, with the water temperature a balmy 26 degrees.

We then hot-footed it down to the Tobago Cays when the breeze backed off a little bit. The marine park here includes five small reef-fringed islands that are surrounded by wonderfully clear waters full of fish and turtles. It’s a bit like snorkeling in a giant fish tank made from an enormous bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and once again we were lucky enough to swim with turtles. The locals run a terrific BBQ dinner ashore with fresh lobster which or course we availed ourselves of.

You really start to feel old when you’re travelling around and you hear about an event of historical significance and realise that it happened in your lifetime. We visited the remains of Fort George atop the capital of St Georges. It was here that the revolutionary leader and Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, who led a bloodless coup in 1979, was executed. His death sparked events that lead to the US invasion. He was a British-trained lawyer who was subsequently placed under house arrest by hardline communists. However, Bishop was popular with the people and thousands of them freed him then marched with him to Fort George where he, along with a number of his supporters, was subsequently shot by firing squad in 1983. In the courtyard of the Fort there is a plaque that commemorates these events. Apparently the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States appealed to the US for assistance, along with the Grenaden Governor-General. President Ronald Reagan then sent in the troops. It’s hard to imagine that sort of thing happening today, or is it? It was in Grenada that we welcomed Dean and Sue aboard Loki. We hired a car to take a look around the island and visited the Nutmeg Processing Cooperative. It was interesting to see how much of the sorting, grading and packing was still done manually. No automation here. There was even a guy hand-stenciling the destinations onto sacks, whilst another was sewing them up by hand. Nutmeg used to be the main crop on the island before Hurricane Ivan wiped it out in 2004. These days it has been replaced by cocoa so of course we also felt compelled to visit the Diamond Chocolate Factory where you can see the whole process from raw beans to finished product, complete with sampling at the end!

From there we travelled north again stopping at Carriacou and Union Island. We’d heard from other yachties about a small island made out of conch shells that some bloke had built a bar on. Thought we had to see that. So we made our way out to “Happy Island” where we met Janti, it’s creator. He told us he’d landed a government contract to clean up the conch shells discarded by fisherman that littered the local beach. In 2002 he started piling up the conch shells on a shallow part of the reef, from where he proceeded to sell rum punches to passing yachties. The locals all thought he was a crazy guy. He kept on bringing in more conch shells and before long there was a working bar, a deck complete with tables and chairs, palm trees and dingy landing area. Janti seems like quite a character and he also makes a damn fine rum punch. Good luck to him!

Even before arriving here we started to see the beginnings of the massive seaweed problem they are experiencing all over the Caribbean this year. About two thirds of the way across the Atlantic we saw large areas of seaweed that we had to avoid from time to time. You really don’t want this stuff around your prop or fouling your engine water intake. From island to island we’ve seen the sargasso seaweed everywhere. It washes ashore on beaches and in harbours giving off a nasty hydrogen sulphide gas as it decomposes. There are a number of health risks associated with the gas such as: nausea, headaches and spontaneous abortion in pregnant women. This gas in the water was also responsible for destroying the desalination system at Virgin Gorda during the 2015-2016 season. There’s also a risk to turtle nesting beaches. Researchers are developing techniques to track and predict the weed masses, but the causes of the sargasso blooms is not yet well understood. Increasing weather extremes of heat and/or additional nutrients are thought to play a role. In the meantime we continue to pluck it off the deck every now and again.

Having spent the last three and a half months cruising through the West Indies it’s now time for us to head west. Tomorrow we sail for the Dutch Antilles, some 430nm away, or about two and a half days sailing.  The forecast is looking good, so we should have a pleasant trip.

I hope everything is good with you and life is treating you well.



A Tale of Two Punches

Soooo, apparently the word is out in Melbourne. I may as well share with you the details of an unpleasant experience that occurred at the start of our Caribbean tour. Our week-long visit to St Kitts earlier in the season was bookended by two very different types of punch. One was a rather lovely rum punch, which we shared with the O’Donohue family one evening at an idyllic beach bar shack, before they set off the next day to continue their yacht charter. The other was unfortunately the kind of punch that nobody wants to be on the receiving end of. Yes, I was assaulted. In broad daylight. At 10:15 in the morning. On a main road beside the waterfront. Happy Valentines Day. Not!!! The people who came to my aid were Venezuelan, as well as their gardener, who was a local Kittitian. The attack happened right outside their embassy and it was the Ambassador and his assistant who called the police, drove me to hospital and stayed with me the whole time until the police came back. They also managed to get word to Fitz for me. (We didn’t have local SIMs, so that was a little challenging). The irony was not lost on me that Venezuela is the one country here whose waters we can’t sail in. Our insurance policy specifically excludes their waters as being too dangerous. The fact is that there are good people and bad people everywhere.

Whilst my attacker gave me a broken nose he was unsuccessful in robbing me and is now sitting in prison. (Pleased to say I am all fine now, with no lasting damage). The police did a fabulous job, they had their suspect within an hour or so of the incident. Tourism is just about the one and only thing that drives the St Kitts economy, so the police were very determined to prosecute, show that Kittitian justice is done swiftly, make an example of the offender and send a very clear message to his mates. We’d planned to sail north to St Bart’s the next day so they rushed through proceedings and we were in court that same afternoon. The young man got eight months prison with hard labour. The police said he’d serve at least six.

Up until that point we’d enjoyed our time in St Kitts, met and interacted with some very friendly locals and had not felt at all threatened. Generally speaking, the people here are good people and are exceedingly polite. As locals board a bus or walk into a supermarket they say: “Good afternoon”, to which others respond the same. Many people here have better manners than a lot of the “first world”. The unfortunate reality is that bad things can happen anywhere. They even happen in Melbourne.

Whilst my assailant didn’t have any priors and pleaded guilty I think he got what he deserved; he wasn’t particularly remorseful. But the philosophical flip side of that is that there is a huge gap between the haves and have nots, not just here, but in many, many places. And that gap seems to be widening. I don’t have any great answers, but I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t part of the problem too. Whether you come here by private yacht, fancy cruise ship, or stay in your luxury gated hotel you are still a million miles away from most of the locals’ day to day reality. When you see the incredibly modest, humble homes that these people live in, juxtaposed to wealthy tourists, like us, you can’t help but contemplate that it’s a recipe for disaster. I feel that as this gap between the haves and have nots continues to widen, not just here but right around the world, this seriously isn’t a good thing.

I didn’t mention the incident in my first post of the season as I didn’t want family and friends to be unduly concerned about our safety. Travelling is fun, but at times it can be just a tad risky. It goes with the territory. The good thing is that it hasn’t stopped us continuing to explore new places and meet new people. Don’t feel too sorry for me as we’re not doing too badly over here, as you can see by the poolside shot of us taken at Marigot Bay, St Lucia recently. We are now in Bequia brushing up on our scuba diving skills and very much enjoying ourselves!

Take care out there!


Turtle kissing in Martinique

Just a quick post as I have a video I just have to share with you and luckily have good wifi for uploading. We had the best time ever diving the other day at Diamond Rock, Martinique. The story of the 175m high basalt island is an interesting one. Back in 1804 the British were fighting the French and running low on ships. Ever resourceful, they decided to commission the rock as a ship, which became HMS Diamond Rock, complete with cannons and a hundred or so men to man them. They say the French didn’t know what hit them as they sailed into Martinique. Apparently on today’s Admiralty charts the rock is still shown as HMS Diamond Rock and British ships are required to give it the naval salute as they pass. Sailors on the upper deck stand at attention and face the rock whilst the bridge salutes.

But it’s what’s under her waters that attracted us. When you look at the chart there is a shallow north side and a very deep south side. We enquired about diving there and were told we must have dived recently because sometimes there can be currents and you need to have good buoyancy control in the swim-throughs. On the second dive we’d go to a plateau where turtles often feed on sea grass. Our dive master, Cyril, said we may run into a large turtle by the name of “Paula”. He said if we find her we must be careful not to scare her. If she lifts her head from feeding, then drop yours so she doesn’t feel threatened. She’s often very friendly towards divers as they scrape barnacles from her carapace. He also said if she gets too friendly then a gentle push on her shell, rather than her flippers, is OK. Well, we did find Paula and she took quite a fancy to Fitzy. Not sure if she’s French though, as she didn’t kiss both cheeks! But then again Fitzy wasn’t entirely receptive to her advances. I think he was a bit focused on how close her rather large beak was to his air hose. And whilst we were watching Paula, the lobsters were watching us. Hilarious! We saw other turtles too, but none quite as engaging as Paula. It really is amazing down there. Our dive master, Cyril from Paradis Plongee, did a fantastic job of catching it all on video. At the end of the dives he very generously provided us with the footage that he’d shot. I was then able to edit it and add some music. It’s short and sweet but it’s really nice to have some footage that has both of us in it.

There’s also a quick look at going through one of the faults in the rock – you might have already seen this on Facebook.


Every island has something different to offer…

Chillin’ in Anguilla is easy to do with it’s white sandy beaches and stunning turquoise waters. This small British overseas territory is very laid-back and has a nice, friendly feel to it. We hired a car to drive around the island and couldn’t help but notice that it appeared more orderly than some of her Caribbean cousins. Generally speaking this island seems more prosperous than many we’ve visited so far. There are some very flash, upmarket resorts and luxury villas scattered along the coastline, some of which would give St Bart’s a run for their money. Not all are back to being operational yet. These days the coconut palms are not so much swaying in the breeze, but rather bent over backwards. Trees are still being straightened and propped up. Thankfully things are not nearly as hurricane ravaged here, including the wildlife. It was great to have turtles swimming around the boat whilst we were at anchor. The fishermen are back out there doing their stuff. The beach bars are mostly back up and running too. They sustained some serious hurricane winds on this island, but the houses are more substantial and solidly built, many with concrete roofs, so even though Anguilla is low-lying it faired better than the neighbouring islands. They still had their problems with looting and lawlessness in the immediate aftermath of Irma, but nowhere near as bad as other islands by the sounds of it. This place has a great reputation for SCUBA diving with a number of old ships sunk to create new dive sites that attract plenty of fish. I was unsure how good they’d be after the hurricane season, but need not have worried. The diving was fabulous. I have never seen so many lobsters in one place before! Plenty were hiding in the wreck I dived on, including one just hangin’ out, then scurrying across the ocean floor. Being in a marine park meant catching lobster for dinner wasn’t an option.

You’ve just gotta love a country that has a capital called “The Bottom” and when you’re driven there they actually say: “Welcome to The Bottom”. (Which is weird because you’ve just gone steeply uphill from the harbour, which is at the bottom of the island.) As you approach Saba her rugged, craggy peaks soar from the horizon. We both fell in love with Saba. Only five square miles in size, her beauty is found in both her 2,800 ft majestic peak and her treasures under the sea. This is an island (country) full of very friendly people, and almost non-existent crime. But then, if there are only 2,000 of you everyone’s probably going to know what’s going on. This tiny island was settled by hardy Dutch and a few Scots who apparently worked side by side with their slaves. When I first read the cruising guide I doubted we’d ever actually take Loki here, as the island is often subject to major boat-breaking swells (two moored yachts were lost on her coastline a year ago), but as luck would have it we had a good weather window and perfect conditions for our stay. We picked up a mooring off Ladder Bay, which until the 1940s was the only access point to the island. Here some 800 steps are hewn into an almost sheer rock face by which, for a long time, everything was transported to and from the island. In the image of “Loki” on her mooring you can just see the steps going up the cliff behind her stern. The anchorage is OK, so long as there isn’t a big swell. Needless to say we kept a very vigilant eye on the forecasts. (Photo credit for the aerial shot: sabatourism.com)

We were very fortunate to have a clear, blue sky day for our climb to the top of Mt Scenery, with not a cloud in sight and enjoyed walking through the lush tropical forest that is so often shrouded in cloud. The views from the top were breathtaking. Saba is a “special municipality” of the Netherlands, and you can have any colour house you like, so long as it’s white, with green trim and a red roof. The whole place is picture postcard perfect. It is spotlessly clean. Not even so much as a cigarette butt on the ground. (Are we still in the Caribbean?) One of the things I most enjoy about traveling is noticing how the small things differ. Here it was public transport, or the lack thereof. There are no buses, but everyone said: “just put your thumb out, most people will give you a lift” which was true. We even managed to hitch a lift with a garbage truck from the capital, back down to the harbour! And yes, the cabin was very clean.

We’d heard the SCUBA diving here was some of the best in the Caribbean and we noticed dive boats near a rocky outcrop as we approached the handful of moorings that are available. The first dive we did was awesome, diving on and around two rocky pinnacles that started in 5 metres of water then plunged 20 metres vertically down to a sandy bottom. The many colourful fish and coral we saw would rival anything I’ve enjoyed on the Great Barrier Reef. (Photo credit: SportDiver. The photo’s not mine, but is similar to what we saw.) They call Saba “the unspoilt queen”. She’s certainly an unforgettable gem. So glad we got to visit.

We had a few more days hanging out around St Kitts waiting for the right weather pattern before we headed south, then we were off to Montserrat. We’d last visited here in 1998, which was not long after the volcano ended 400 years of dormancy. Having seen what it was like in the aftermath we were keen to revisit and see how the small island nation had faired since then. The island has an immensely strong Irish heritage, so much so that they take a week to celebrate St Patrick’s Day! Many Monserratians who left the island after the volcano became active come back for the festivities. We met people from New York, London and Atlanta who had all come home to party. Just love the way the girls do their hair!

The other thing that Montserrat is famous for is its musical legacy. Sir George Martin (“the fifth Beatle”, who produced every record they ever made) set up his famous AIR recording studio here in the ‘70s. The roll call of who recorded here is a long list of rock & roll royalty: Paul McCartney, Sting & The Police, Elton John, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, to name just a few. Local filmmaker David Lea has set up a cafe which is like a shrine to the local musical past filled with photos, memorabilia and also found objects salvaged from the now ash-buried capital of Plymouth. There is even a photo of Little River Band with Glenn Shorrock sporting a pair of budgie smugglers! Had to go back to the boat and dust off the “Diamantina Cocktail” album after that. When we were last here in 1998 we managed to sneak into the exclusion zone of Plymouth, (only a year after the volcano blew). I have a photo at home of the clock tower, very similar to the one with David Lea standing in front of it, possibly taken around the same time. But after further eruptions it’s now it’s all completely buried. Nothing to see here. Considering these people have to put up with volcanic eruptions as well as hurricanes I think they are amazingly laid back!

So, think back to the last time you were standing in a Customs & Immigration queue at an airport, waiting to enter a country, passport in hand, surrounded by equally jaded travellers, with jack-booted, gun-toting officials everywhere. Instead, why not just go to the local clothing boutique and sit at a computer for 5 minutes to check in? Voila! You’re all done, welcome to Deshaies, Guadeloupe! We like to take the piss out of the French for their laissez-faire attitude, but every now and again it’s nice to be reminded that there once was a simpler time where officialdom didn’t permeate every aspect of our lives. Guadeloupe is an island shaped a bit like a lopsided butterfly. We toured around parts of the left-hand wing, taking in some lovely walks and watching locals enjoying the beautiful waterfalls in the well looked after national park.

But the part we enjoyed the most was Les Saintes, the small group of islands to the south of Guadeloupe, which is just like a small slice of France dropped into the Caribbean. Terre de Haut is a quaint fishing village, which has nice walks with terrific views and a great selection of well-priced restaurants. Just love the brightly painted Creole houses, many sitting right on the beach.

You can saunter along the waterfront and see the daily game of fisherman versus iguana (the fisherman has to distract the iguana with lettuce so he can chop up his catch in peace).

There’s a great hike up to the top of the island for stupendous views. After enjoying a week here we eventually dragged ourselves away.

As you sail towards Dominica you can see the outline of the spindly trees running along the ridges of the mountains. What you’d normally describe as green and lush, now looks green and shredded. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is still very evident, even from a distance. When you round the headland into Prince Rupert Bay there’s a guy in a small boat who calls out: “Welcome to Dominica! I’m Lawrence of Arabia. I can help you with a mooring.” He’s a member of P.A.Y.S, the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, a group of river guides who formed an organisation to provide services to cruising yachties, including: mooring buoys, boat taxis, organising tours, dingy security, etc. (formed out of necessity after a “bad incident” a number of years ago). These guys are really friendly and helpful. Titus directed us to our mooring and organised a tour of the island for us the following day.

Boy, if we thought St Martin was badly hit, these people really copped it. It’s now six months after the event, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was a few weeks ago, the devastation is still massive. Parts of the island reminded me of the Australian bush after a bushfire. Lots of trees stripped of limbs and leaves, with fuzzy new growth appearing along their trunks. All their crops were wiped out, so there are no bananas, mangos, papaya, cacao beans, etc. which is not only bad for the farmers, but also the local bird life as there is so little for them to eat. But a local will happily climb up a bay tree to get some fresh bay leaves for you. We visited a chocolate maker, who could only show us his empty bean drying shed and how his equipment normally worked. Happily he still had some product to sell us.

So how many different kinds of rum flavours are there? Well, apparently if you can grow it, you can soak it in rum. We stopped at a rustic cafe for lunch where they had an enormous variety of rum flavours each with special “medicinal” purposes. Passionfruit, nutmeg, lemongrass, basil, etc. I couldn’t get excited about the garlic flavoured rum, but the ginger rum punch was OK. Like everywhere else in the West Indies, once you finish talking about the rum just mention Sir Viv Richards or Joel Garner and you have an instant conversation. They’re all still made about cricket. (Max D, you’d be in your element!)

No point in going on a tour of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film sites here. None of the locations look like they used to. But despite the massive destruction that has affected so much of the island we enjoyed some of the natural attractions, taking a dip at the Emerald Pool (you get a terrific neck massage when you sit just underneath the falls) and the Wooten Waven hot springs. You can only imagine what this place used to look like, as much of the landscaping was destroyed, but the hot springs still felt good!

In the final stages of our tour I spied a young teenage boy perched on top of the remnants of a palm tree in the middle of a river. He’s old enough to remember Hurricane Erica (2015) & Hurricane Maria (2017). I wonder, how many more will he see in his lifetime? This is not a wealthy place and unlike some other Caribbean nations it doesn’t have a rich parent country to assist with aid. The bigger question is: “How will these people ever get ahead?”

We’ve had some great sailing between the islands and have worked out the weather patterns. There are usually wind shadows in the lee of the islands, but the forecast is often a bit underdone once you get out into open water. So 15-20 knots between the islands, gusting a bit more, has been the norm. Just need to keep a lookout for the occasional swells that come down from the north Atlantic. There are no land masses to stop them, so when you get a good blow up north they just head south and wrap around the islands. Choice of anchorage becomes very important!

I hope you’re all enjoying a well-deserved Easter break and all is good at your end.

Thinking of you!