Living in a big bubble
We all know the Bacardi-Rum commercials with people having a drink on a perfect beach under palm trees. That is probbably the picture most people have of the Carribbean. It is not all wrong this picture but there is a lot it does not show.
It does not show the huge economic gap between the black local population and the almost to 100% white tourists. The Carribbean Islands are all (including the French Islands Gouadaloupe and Martinique) struggling hard to make a living. They do not have many natural ressources and the export of fruits and vegetables does not provide much income.
So one of the most important sources of income is the tourism. It is clearly directed to „rich“ people from the industrialised countries. On land every island has one or several hotel resorts with the complementary array of bars, restaurants and leisure service businesses like diving, boat tours with glass bottoms, kitesurfing and the like. The roads and paths are nicely paved and it really looks like paradise (if it was even for at least European standards not so expensive). Then next to it normally you have the local people living with simple restaurants, supermarkets not offering by far the choice of goods as we are used to in Europe (not even in the Carrefour on Martinique). They all try to make a living e.g. by selling fruits and vegetables along the street.
But what is somewhat not understandable are the prices. A loaf of bread in a bakery on St. Vincent cost 3,50 East Carribbean Dollars (EC$) which is about 1,28 Euros. For the locals this is very expensive if you take into account that the minimum wage on these islands is around one Euro per hour. So it is about an hours wage to buy this one loaf of bread. And it was the officially displayed price so I have to assume that everybody pays it not just we whites.
This all feels like living in an unreal bubble. For us sailors this bubble of surreality is even bigger. On the anchorages are often hundreds of yachts, even some mega yachts with helicopters on them with professional crews comprising of white people from Australia, England, Canada or Europe, but only very seldom local blacks.
So on the anchorage it is only „rich“ whites and if you go ashore with your dinghy you find sometimes one restaurant next to the other, with the waiters being black and the guests exclusively white.
It looks all like a huge holiday park that has got nothing to do with reality. Most people probably just do not care about the surreality of this holiday life because it is just a holiday of some weeks during which they make use of the offered opportunities and then fly back home.
I found an interesting scientific article about the economic, social and ecologic situation on Martinique: Problèmes socio-économiques insolubles de la Martinique – Intractable social-economic problems of Martinique It gives a good overview into the problems these islands have.
What do all the sailors do here?
But what do all the sailors do and want here? I have to investigate more on that. The current feeling is that many of them do not really know what to do next. One issue is that currently there is the season here and one can stay in the Carribbean until mid of May before the hurricane season starts and one should be gone. But even that is not imperatively necessary, many people put their boat in a hurricane whole or just stay on the boat and in case a hurricane comes, they move the boat out of the way of the hurricane. Thanks to the US-American National Hurricane Center the forecasts are very good and you know many days in advance that a hurricane is coming and where it most probably will go along. Not every island here is hit every year by a severe hurricane, so in other words it is actually very likely that you will not experience a hurricane.
So those who want to sail back to Europe have roughly another two months during which they can explore the Carribbean Isalnds and they are just chilling at anchor and pass the time.
Others, who want to go to the Pacific also still have some time before they have to go to Panama to go through the Panama Canal.
But looking around especially here in the Le Marin bight on Martinique there must be many sailors who ran out of money, motivation or both. There are dozens of sunken sailing yachts of which you often only see the mast sticking out of the water but also many where the deck is still visible because they sank in shallow water.
I have never seen that before. Apparently nobody tidys them up, no owner and no authority. I wander how the situation will be in another ten to twenty years. Because the boats are from plastic they do hardly rot away and if every year a few more sunken yachts and catamarans are added the bay will be full of sunken boats. At least not nice to look at.
But what it mostly tells is that apparantly many people change their plan or had to change their plan.
Exploring St. Vincent and the Grenadines
I made a little map which should open when you click on this link:
Clean up of boat in St. Lucia
But let me tell a bit more what I did here in the Carribbean up to now. After we had anchored the first night we went into the Rodney Bay Marina the next morning to clear in at the customs, to take a shower, to fill up the water tanks, to get rid of the garbage and to clean the boat and wash clothes. On arrival at our berth we met again the crew of the German catamaran Blue Note we had met in the boat yard in Lisbon. It was very nice to be welcome by some familiar people. They told us a lot about good places in the Carribean and offered us a cold beer, which was the first after 2,5 weeks. It tasted very good.
The next day we went shopping in a St. Lucia supermarket and were shocked by the prices for some products but also generally speaking things were not cheap.
Fort de France on Martinique
Because we wanted to visit the Carnival on Martinique anyway and we were told that there the supermarkets are cheaper we sailed to Fort de France on Martinique the next day. That was just a short day trip of 6 hours. The anchorage was unusually rolly as other yachts told us but after two nights the swell had calmed.
And to my great joy some other familiar yachts came to Fort de France for Carnival, namely Mike and Asa on Seahawd, Eelko and his family on Pacific and Tinkerbell. On arrival we had already met the Kjell and Christin of the Norwegian yacht Emma we had met in La Coruna in Spain. So we were a nice community and we hang out for the parade of Carnival.
But Carnival here on Martinique is different from how we know it in Germany in Cologne or Mainz. In the afternoon there was a nice colourful parade with different groups dressed up in phantastic dresses and loud music at times. But after the parade people did not party in the street and even the pubs were closed, people seemed to go home. As I later learned from another German who had lived in Fort de France for some months already, people usually organise private soirées. That is probably where everybody went. But of course we were not invited to any of them. So we went on board of one of the Norwegian yachts and also had our private soirée.
Sailing to the Tobago Cays
The Tuesday after Carinval we lifted the anchor and headed south to the Tobago Cays.
Because it was rather far we started early and just before sunset picked up a mooring bouy in Souffriere on St. Lucia. The next morning again we left early and sailed along the west coast of St. Vincent to Bequia, which is just five miles south of St. Vincent and is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Again just before sunset we dropped the anchor in the Admiralty bay which was full of boats, it must have been hundred or more, with some mega yachts with helicopters on deck among them.
It was a very strange place. On the boats only whites, mostly American and British, the whole shore line of the bay was plastered with one restaurant, cafe, bar or pub next to each other, all not very busy but the few guests who were there where only whites and in almost all of them the waiters were black. There was one café which was run by a white couple.
The oddest place was a bar where a trio was playing some life music, the all white guests dressed up like for a cocktail party and being all American. It felt so unreal you can not describe it.
Snorkeling with sea turtles
After clearing in the next day we left the Admiralty Bay and went to the Tobago Cays 20 miles south of Bequia. This is a natural reserve protected by a coral reef. It has nice turquoise water, you anchor on sand and there is good snorkeling in ca. 2m deep water. The main attraction here are the sea turtles you can dive with. It takes some time and patience to find one but than it is a very peaceful sight to observe the turtles how they graze the sea weed and come up to the surface every few minutes to grasp some air.
There are many boats, most of them charter catamarans so it is not a lonely bay but the good thing is there are people on the beach in the two make shift (provisorisch) restaurants who offer lobster ( Hummer). Sörens mother had invited us for the Atlantic crossing to a dinner, so we made us of it here. It was the first time that I had lobster but it tasted really good. There were many other crew having lobster, at the neighbouring table a french crew who had also brought some music. You could also bring your own drinks, but because we did not know that, we ordered the drinks from the restaurant. Strangely at 21:30 the restaurant people shut off the generator and gave us candles, they said that they would now go home but we could stay and party on if we wanted. So we did. While we were sitting and talking there a young swedish man showed up and said he was looking for a boat that is going north. I said neither yes nor no to his request at that moment.
We three from SeaBelow had to find somebody to tow us back to SeaBelow because there was a strong wind blowing from the boat towards the beach and it would have been impossible to row back with three people. Suddenly a young french woman showed up out of the dark at our table and speaking good English. She took a seat and we chatted with her the whole evening and it turned out that she was there on her fathers 50th birthday cruise on a catamaran with a skipper. And this skipper acted kind of like her chauffeur with the dinghy. That was our great luck because they gave us a lift and tow for the dinghy when we later all were tired and went back to our boats. The next morning the Swede came along in a dinghy and repeated his request. Now I said yes why not, so he got his stuff and came on board.
In this bay again we met a boat I knew from Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, a Joshua and also called Joshua. Actually on Gran Canaria we had not talked to each other but here we did and we later met again in Le Marin on Martinique.
After two days in the Tobago Cays we went back north headed for St. Lucia because Marcos had his flight back home from there on 26th February. But we still had some days so we stopped on the only 5 miles north of Tobago Cays lying island Canouan. It is quite small with not may inhabitants but it was a quiet anchorage with finally not so many boats. The day we went ashore was Sunday 22nd February and while we were roaming through the little village we heard some music and singing which we followed. It turned out to be a church service held in a school. There was a gospel choir singing, drums and e-piano playing and the room was packed with people of all ages and all of them dressed up in their best Sunday dresses. Only we three came in our bleached out shorts and threadbare (abgenutzt, schlabbrig) t-shirts. We stayed a while and even listened to the sermon of the bishop who had come this day because it was the first anniversary of this church.
On the east side, which is always the side facing the Atlantic and from where the trade winds (Passatwinde) and the waves come, Canouan has a reef and between the reef and the actual island is a very nice shallow area where we went swimming and snorkeling and the first time we had the beach entirely just to ourselves.
To St. Vincent
The next day we lifted the anchor and had a hard day of sailing because we had to beat up (hoch am Wind) to Calliaqua on the south end of St. Vincent. It was the last possibility to clear out we had been told on the way north to St. Lucia. We treated us to the luxury of a marina and went into the Blue Lagoon Marina where we had water and later even electricity. By bus we went to Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and two of the marina clerks who were using the same bus as us, showed us a nice snack bar. Afterwards we went back to the boat.
We spent another day there during which we cleared out at the customs and immigration office and Sören looked for a place to stay because he had decided to stay a bit longer on St. Vincent. That was fine with me because I had already thought that when Marcos has left the boat I wanted to ask Sören as well to leave the boat because after two months I wanted my boat and thereby independency back.
When you are anchoring you always depend on the dinghy and nobody can just come and go to the boat as it one pleases. So it is not only full of people on the boat, you also can not get away so easily from it.
In this marina I let me hoist up in the mast for the regular rigg check which I had not yet done since we had arrived in the Carribbean from the Cape Verdes. And to my great shock I saw that at the top of the mast the forestay (Vorstag) started to break. One of the little wires was already broken.
So I knew it had to be replaced as soon as possible but the next reasonable place was Martinique.
Back to St. Lucia
The next day, we again started early, we sailed 40 miles beating against the wind up the east coast of St. Vincent to St. Lucia and took it easy on the rigg. We did not put up the full sails and all the time I sent a worrying look into the mast. We secured the mast with two halyards (Fallen) so that in case the wire breaks completely the mast would not fall immediately. But all went well and an hour after sunset we arrived in the bay of Vieux Fort on St. Lucia.
The next morning we went to the commercial harbour where there was a concrete wall with a ladder where we could drop off Marcos and all of his luggage. The Swede, Albin, had also decided to leave here to explore St. Lucia. The problem with this place was that there was a steep bank (Böschung) so at the back where the sensor of the echo sounder is it was still three meters deep but at the front we slightly hit a rock when we moored. We had no speed so now damage was done but we had to tie the boat carefully in the right position to prevent it from moving forward in the light swell. Marcos even dived to look where the rocks are exactly and more important how much space was left under the keel and also forward.
The customs office was just a few steps away and it was no problem to clear in and declaring that two crew members would leave the boat.
After Marcos and Albin had left the boat I went to the nearby anchorage and went shopping into town. I mainly needed drinking water.
On the anchorage I met Reinhard of the Austrian Hanse 545 “Möve” and Ute and Gerd of “Foftein” who are also from Hamburg.
Marigot Bay on St. Lucia
The next day I went to Marigot bay, half the distance I sailed with a strong breeze from behind with two reefs in the main sail and no genoa. But when I came around the south west corner of St. Lucia at the Grand Piton (one of the two famous pointed rocks) the wind at first died away and I turned on the engine and afterwards it was coming back directly from the north onto the nose with Beaufort 6. I was worried about my rigg and did not dare to set up proper sails to sail out this wind so I tried to stay as close to the land as possible to have less waves and did the second half under engine.
I finally reached the cosy Marigot bay and anchored there. Together with the crew of the neighbouring yacht “Tun” I made use of the happy hour of one of the restaurants and we had some drinks together.
The next day we went by bus to Castries, the capital of St. Lucia to the market and shopped for fruits and vegetables.
And here again I met Foftein but also the Dutch sailing yacht Cadans whose skipper told me which would be the best place on Martinique to get new a forestay.
Back to Martinique
So the next day sailed to Martinique. But I had picked the worst day apparently, the wind was still strong, Beaufort 6-7 and many rain showers. Luckily it was all in the Carribbean where sea water and rain are warm so the spray and rain did not matter very much.
But it was still exhausting and I was happy when I had finally dropped anchor in Le Marin on the south end of Martinique. On the way in I saw freight ships loaded with sailing yachts. That confirmed me to think about a this possibility which I had been thinking about earlier.
I went straight to the super market and in the evening the French couple Maud and Jérémy of their boat Cirrus came over and we had a nice evening talking about the Atlantic crossing and how difficult it is to find a good crew for such a trip.
Then the next day I went to Fort de France to pick up a letter that was waiting there for me with most important my new credit card but also a new frame for my glasses and a book. Amazingly this packet had arrive very fast and much earlier than expected. My aunt had sent it from Hamburg by Deutsche Post (NOT DHL!!!!) with insurance and tracking number. It had taken it only two days from Hamburg to Martinique. Normally it should have take 10 days.
And the best is, it cost only 5,90 Euros.
I do not know if this was just luck or whether that happens regularly that the packet is delivered so quickly.
I got my glasses put into the new frame and then headed to the main bus station. I quickly found the bus back to Le Marin but I had to wait 1,5 hours in the bus until it started because the busses here do not have a schedule, they start when the driver thinks that the bus is full enough.
A new forestay
The next day I went to see the rigger to make an appointment for the repair. He told me to come to his work shop during the weekend where I could moore and take down the broken forestay. So I did and with the help of the neighbour I got the forestay down. I had to go back to the anchorage because he needed the mooring space for another customer.
On the following Tuesday the forestay was ready and with the help of Reinhard of the sailing yacht Möve II and one of his friends we put it back on. It looks all fine now but I still have to test it.
Meanwhile I started to renovate the fridge because the wood and insulation was rotten and stinking due to mould (Schimmel) which had developed because the plastic foil used for lining (Auskleidung) the inside had got wholes through which water and other liquids found its way.
When I rebuild it I will not use plastic foil but plywood (Sperrholz) glued together in the corners with epoxy so that no water can get out of the fridge and it will get a drain (Abfluß) so that in case some liquid occurs it can easily be drained.
After I had the new forestay I went with my boat to St. Anne, a small village near Le Marin but a little bit further out the bay with much clearer water and nice beaches. Here I met Asha and Helge of Gegenwind who had just arrived after their Atlantic crossing and Susanne and Knut who had been here for some time already.
With Eva, a friend on board the boat of Knut and Susanne, I explored the beaches of Salines and Anse Meunier last weekend.