My wife, Meloney, and I flew into the bustling city of Fort de France, the capital of French Martinique, in late January. We boarded our friends’ 40-foot Manta catamaran SV Penelope, which was anchored in the shadow of Fort Saint-Louis.
Having started their latest Caribbean cruise 14 months earlier, our friends, Richard and Penny Flaherty, were heading “back to the barn” for good. We brought gifts of wine, nuts, toothpaste, decaf coffee, goggle defogger and many other expensive or hard-to-find goodies.
Day after day, sailboats of all shapes and sizes sail north on a beam reach against the easterly trade winds up the leeward side of the Lesser Antilles. Some wait for their weather window to get quickly north, often ducking into anchorages just for the night. Others spend days or weeks exploring in a harbor, rekindling old friendships with locals and fellow cruisers.
A sturdy, energetic lot, these cruisers sail in loose flotillas, meeting up again in the next port of call. They traipse all over the islands to waterfalls, museums, ruins, historic sites and diving spots with the zeal of Caribbean pirates searching for buried treasure.
We moved Penelope just 5 miles north to the tiny village of Les Trois-Îlets and enjoyed red Bordeaux wine, exquisite foie gras, and croissants to die for. We were in a French village, after all.
Then we sailed north to Saint-Pierre and hiked to the earth and science museum on the slope of the famous volcano Mount Pelée, which erupted and killed 30,000 people in 1902. We loved the museum and the narrated tour. Afterward, we hiked another 4 kilometers up the volcano to a restaurant and rum distillery. We all slept well that night.
Listening to a weather net on the SSB, Richard and I heard a forecast of 1- to 2-meter seas and diminishing winds; finally, we had conditions for a good passage to Dominica. We had 32-knot winds on the starboard beam with mixed seas and some rogues up to 3 meters high across Dominica Channel. When a halyard twisted up in the radar reflector and a starboard engine stalled after catching a floating net (thank goodness for shaft line cutters), our hosts declared that this was their toughest passage yet (except for the Mona Passage west of Puerto Rico). To us, it seemed on par with a snotty day out in the Santa Barbara Channel’s Windy Lane where we regularly sail.
We found the Dominicans especially outgoing and positive. Naturalists love Dominica’s unspoiled rain forests, nine volcanoes and 365 rivers. Approaching just 50 years of independence from Britain, Dominica is committed to preserving its natural beauty and cultural diversity. We moored just off Portsmouth, a village on the northwest coast.
This was Penny’s favorite island, and she and Richard showed us its unspoiled magnificence. We paddled up the Indian River, where “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” filmed the witch scenes. Then, we hiked into the bush to see fields of exotic fruits and vegetables. After trudging down the Cold Soufrière volcano crater with chilled bubbling sulfur ponds at the bottom, we were off to a village on the Atlantic side to visit friends of the Flahertys, who are local farmers. Niko, Vella, and their three children hugged Penny and Richard and proudly showed off their garden, providing herbs and fresh coconut water for refreshment. This was an exceptional and spiritual excursion.
After many more exciting adventures, we left Penelope and spent a few days on Antigua’s white sand beaches.
Richard and Penny eventually made their way back to Oriental, North Carolina. They hauled off all their personal items and hung a “For Sale” sign on Penelope. Although it was the end of an era for the Flahertys, they had inspired Meloney and me to purchase our own catamaran and cruise the rich and magical Caribbean islands for five wonderful years.