Dominica to St Martin
25th March to 9th April
Life on board Henrietta has become busy, after a few slow weeks. It’s worn me out a bit so not much time to update you. The itinerary, south to north, has been Dominica, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, Antigua, St Barth, and now, St Martin.
Summarising – Dominica: delightful, thanks to warm friendly people and wild unspoilt lush mountain scenery. It’s a poorer island still rebuilding after the havoc of last year’s storm (12 inches of rain in six hours had washed away roads, bridges, homes and more). Fellow sailors included three other singlehanders (and I’ve not so far met very many). One, a young and quiet ‘retired’ USAF man, ex Afghanistan, whom I asked, “Have you ever broken the sound barrier?” gently said “Yes, F15s do that. A few broken windows here and there”, and I felt I shouldn’t ask more questions. He volunteered that he liked the slower pace of his boat with minutes to react to hazards, not milliseconds; and also that Mr Trump was not his cup of tea. Another, a dignified Swiss gentleman, a retired lawyer singlehanding a vast yacht, speaker of numerous languages, tidily dressed and a good looking vegetarian was trying to find his girl Friday – fascinating stuff! My neighbours when I returned after a day out were the Chandlers on Lynn Rival. With their unwanted celebrity status following Somali kidnapping I did not acknowledge recognising them, only noting that we’d both joined the Cruising Association. I could go on and on, but (a) this is meant to be a summary, and (b) you don’t really want a diary of everything I did and everyone I met. Suffice to say, I liked almost everything about Portsmouth (the main anchorage) and the island of Dominica. Indeed, it was so active with walking, touring and viewing and so sociable with colorful, generous, interesting fellow sailors that I sought solitary respite and moved on to Les Saintes, a few miles north.
Iles des Saintes includes Bourg des Saintes, which is a busy colourful thriving French town with anchorage, chic boutiques, quality restaurants and crowds of day-trippers. It also includes Ilet a Cabrit, a tiny island unoccupied except for happy healthy goats. It used to have a few forts to keep away the unruly and aggressive English, but now they’re just crumbled ruins covered in goat droppings (the forts, not the English)
Then, north again for a couple of windy days and nights swinging wildly in the popular Guadeloupe anchorage of Deshaie. (It was the fourth time I’d been there, but it’s convenient for customs clearance – an ever-present chore with entry/exit in all these new countries.)
On next to Antigua and the unexpected pleasure of meeting up again with crews of both ‘Tern’ and ‘Tudor Rose’. The former I first met in the Canaries, and they kindly have me aboard for rare treat of a truly exceptional veggie supper. The latter, not seen since Portugal, includes Simon and Holly and Scrumpy (their wonderful spirited Jack Russell); they’re refreshingly young, indomitable and enterprising – though plans a bit modified now Holly’s pregnant. Click here for a link to their blog.
Next stop, St Barth. (About 80 miles north of Antigua, it was further than I can sail in daylight, so crept out of Jolly Harbour, Antigua in middle of night so as to arrive at St Barth in daylight.) To suggest, as does one of the tourist brochures, that St Barth may be”…hip and sophisticated or…discreet and laid back” seems to miss the main point. I reckon it’s just plain super-rich. It oozes wealth and quality, pure platinum. There’s a yacht size limit in the harbour of 60 metres and that keeps out the vulgar giga zillionaires – who might be Russian I suppose. Anyway, St Barth makes St Tropez look shabby. And if you’re one of those people who think labels matter, this is for you. Personally, I only wanted coffee, a baguette and a new pair of swimming trunks. And sure enough, I enjoyed my coffee and then saw a lovely pair of trunks, azure blue and patterned with many colourful fish, I asked, “Combien pour ces pantalon?” (which is schoolboy French, I know), “185 euro, Monsieur”. At which point I smiled and must have looked weak and pale, as Madam added in English “ah! but they are very fine,.Monsieur”. I’ll wait for Marks and Spencer’s, I think.
St Barth has that delicious peaceful hush about it that comes with great wealth. I think it’s because very rich people get others to do the shouting for them. It would be undignified for billionaires to raise their voices.
St Barth also has a lot of ‘bespoke’ places that can do ‘bespoke’ things for you – if you are rich enough, that is.
Trouble is, I’ve always had a problem with ‘bespoke’. It reminds me of a childhood spent living next to a big housing estate where a young lout named John B. used to live. He and his gang of fellow louts used to follow me on their bicycles as I cycled down Victoria Road, Wargrave. They’d then overtake, shout insults and hurl sticks and things into the wheels of my bike, trying thus to ‘despoke’ me. And in my mind, ‘despoke’ and ‘bespoke’ have forever been intertwined.
You, of course, may choose ‘bespoke’ because you have a big wallet and impeccable good taste. To me on the other hand, you may simply be yob, slob or snob.
And now, after an overnight stop at the uninhabited little island, Ile Fourchue, I’m in St Martin, near the top of this chain of islands. St Martin is part French and part Dutch (St Maarten). I’m anchored in the French bit (better bread) but was advised to go to the Dutch bit for a haircut (better/cheaper haircuts). Therefore caught bus to Philipsburg, found very much a back-street barber….very friendly and with three foot dreadlocks that he’d taken 14 years to grow. He was from Dominican Republic and spoke lots of Spanish, little English, no French. I speak no Spanish. Upshot was I’ve now got virtually no hair: most vigorous haircut of my life. (No photo to follow.)