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 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

French v. English Empire
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.
Friday, April 23, 2004: Marigot Bay, St. Lucia
    This is Eaux Vives' original home. Up in Rodney Bay, the marina manager where we will haul her out recognized her. Here we were approached by a French Canadian who captained her (and lived on her) for two years after she left the Moorings while working for Luc LaLonde, her original owner. The mechanic who installed her new engine is working here today on another engine. Now we have some idea why she looks a little hard used. Sailing here is a lot of fun. We've been reaching since Dominica, usually with following seas which Eaux Vives loves to surf. The run from Martinique to St. Lucia starred a dolphin show. Bouncing in our wake, diving under the bow and leaping in the seas off the beam, the dolphins will perform as long as someone is on the bow squealing with delight and pointing.
    The anchorages, however, are a little more iffy. We found the entrance to Marigot Bay by watching a catamaran we had heard radioing the Moorings base as he disappeared into a cliff face. The entrance to the outer harbor is visible only when you are right in front of it. We anchored four times before we were willing to sleep on the anchor. When we dive the anchor to check its set, it becomes clear why it is so hard. The bay is lined by shoals and drops off within a few yards to a 40+' bottom. The shoals are festooned with coral heads some of which are decorated with bottom paint from the less nervous yachtsmen (charterers, probably). While anchoring, watching the depth meter shoot from 30' to 8' on a small swing, tension levels ran high once again. The inner bay is entered through a kind of slalom around shoals and is a lovely mangrove swamp. Not many people here and the company provisioning store doesn't even stock beer. Definitely "down island".
    Down Island generally means a little more funky, a little more Caribbean and a little more "island". It excludes the Francophone Islands which are simply part of France. Although most of these islands changed hands between the British and the French regularly, the ones held by the French are quite different. Our first port of call after Dominica was St. Pierre, Martinique. This town, nestled beneath a dramatic volcano was once considered the Paris of the Caribbean. It was the first place the revolutionary tricolor was worn in public at its huge, imposing theater. The shops are full of French fashions and the locals dress, talk and act French. When a local fisherman waiting on me for the water tap asked me where I was from, I replied and then asked him. He looked surprised and then answered (in French, of course): "France". In a British (or formerly British) Island, the answer would be the Island he was from. We anchored down below a dramatically lit and very ancient looking wall. Climbing up through partially inhabited ruins of a once large town, we found the museum that explained why. In 1902, the volcano gave ample warning that it was up to something, with little quakes and plumes of smoke. Not wishing to disrupt business by evacuating the capital, the plantation owners and prominent citizens reassured the population that all was well. Most people believed that the small eruptions that had wiped out two plantations, were nothing to worry about. Then on May 8th, in the morning, the mountain erupted, with a gas ball more powerful than an atomic bomb that wiped out the entire population of over 29,000 people, except for two: one in a basement, and one in jail. 12 ships in the harbor were destroyed, one limped away with a few survivors. The museum has melted church bells, crockery, nails etc. The harbor is popular with divers visiting the largely intact sunken ships and the jail bird made a fine living touring with Barnum and Baily showing his scars.
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    Our next stop was Anse Mitan, supposedly a quiet Click for a journal entry listanchorage, except for the ferries three times an hour which spill everything. We took a ferry into Fort de France, the new capital across the bay and enjoyed the somewhat cracked ambience of colonial, tropical France. I wonder if this is what South Vietnam was like. French buildings, language, food, Gendarmerie overlayed on a Rasta, Caribbean base. Some really bad architecture and a lot of really lovely colonial gingerbread. Our last stop was St. Anne down at the southern end of Martinique. This is a lovely (though somewhat Disneyfied) coastal resort town. Martinique will be the last French island for this year. The French have a lot in common with Americans. Both believe that their culture and language is superior to all others, and have a sort of blase sense of entitlement that goes with that. The French are really proud of all their colonies, which are still France -- people here get vacation, education, child care, decent wages just like in France. Which means that there are a lot of white people on these islands, but still, the natives are better dressed, better educated and do that French air kissing greeting, kiss on the right, kiss on the left, then back on the right again. Oh and they eat better too. Many French boats carry a weird version of the American flag. Everything appears to be black and white but there are bombs where the stars should be. Must be a freedom thing.
    Rodney Bay, St. Lucia is the site of the main British fort in the Windward Islands. Except for the large, strategically placed Diamond rock off the southern point of Martinique that the British commissioned as a ship in the royal navy (HMS Diamond), this was the front line for defense of the empire. The decisive naval battle in which the "ships of the line" turned into the French line and broke it (instead of following tradition and sailing in line past each other firing broadsides at each other) took place in the waters between Guadaloupe and Dominica. It seems that this critical change in strategy and decisive victory for the British was owed to an unexpected wind shift. Also interesting was the account of a guerilla war in which escaped slaves living in the woods successfully took the fort. It seemed they liked the sound of "liberte, egalite, fraternite" a lot better than "for God and the Queen".
    This morning we held a fairly long discussion as to whether it was Thursday or Friday. We met a Norwegian resident on the dock who invited us to a jump up held every Friday in a nearby town and so the issue is settled. When you really don't know and furthermore, don't care: you are a real cruiser. Some of our cruiser accomplishments: double 12 dominos and a truly wild card game played with four decks called "shuffle". We found Alleluia (Tito and Roberta from Culebra) and a whole gang of cruisers we have met further up Island. I have finally got the radio signal cleaned up to the point where George, the HF weather man, greets Susie and me by name. We've traded books with Melodye of the Caribbean Safety and Security Net and yesterday we bought a basket woven by the same fellow who wove Eaux Vives' other basket many years ago. As we begin to feel that this is our other home, Eaux Vives must surely feel a sense of belonging. I just hope she doesn't get too nervous near that rock between the Pitons she hit so many years ago.
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