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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Thirty-Six

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour." We agree with Mr. Stevenson on both counts - most of the time. We certainly labor when we fix things. As a cruiser friend once told us, "Something breaks every day, but sometimes it takes a few days to find it." Once found, the wayward piece of equipment must be fixed. We usually get broken stuff fixed the third time we try fixing it. For example in the last few weeks, we have replaced sacrificial zincs on the prop shafts, re-caulked some leaky windows, fashioned sun light reflectors for our cabin top hatches, replaced leaky salt water pumps on the engines, repaired the crank on the hand powered washing machine and repaired the electric plug for the windlass. Most of those fixes took more than one try and we're still looking for permanent fixes for some of them. That's the labor part of cruising. And Mr. Stevenson is exactly right; traveling is sometimes more fun than arriving, although we have not been disappointed in any of our destinations yet. Some are not what we expected, but some are much more.

So far we have enjoyed many long visits to interesting places, but of late, we have been in a bit of a hurry. Our boat insurance coverage requires us to be south of the hurricane zone by June first. That means we have to be south of 12 degrees north latitude by the end of May. So, we didn't spend much time in St. Maarten and left that lovely island on May 9, 2001. We motored against the trade winds to St. Barthelemy, some 15 miles southeast, anchoring at Anse du Columbier, which is a lovely little cove on the northwest end of the island. The next day, we pressed on with an overnight sail to the island of Guadeloupe. During the night we passed the island of Montserrat, which has an active volcano, but we saw no eruptions. We anchored overnight in Deshaies Bay on the northwest corner of Guadeloupe and left for Anse la Barque, a small fishing village on the west side of the island the next day. Not spending any time ashore on St. Barthelemy or Guadeloupe was disappointing, but we plan to return to enjoy these islands after the hurricane season. Both islands are French speaking countries and appear very interesting.

On May 13th, we left Anse la Barque, Guadeloupe and sailed to Portsmouth, Dominica where we stayed two days. Dominica is an English speaking country that, like most Caribbean islands is very hilly due to its volcanic origin. Its highest peak is over 4,000 feet. The economy is based on farm products, mostly bananas, limes, coconuts, grapefruit and spices (these are the spice islands after all), plus a very large international medical school with over 800 students and of course, tourism. The people are very friendly, and very proud of their country. Like most Caribbean island nations, they are struggling to raise their standard of living albeit with limited resources. Columbus discovered Dominica on November 3, 1493, but the Spanish were never able to subdue the natives - the Carib tribes, who were fierce fighters and cannibals. The Caribs had subdued the original inhabitants of the Caribbean islands - the peaceful Arawaks. The Caribbean Sea is named for the Caribs. The French colonized the island in 1632 and held it until they gave it to Great Britain via the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The island gained full independence in 1978. There are native Carib reservations on the island that can be visited. On May 15th we sailed south to Roseau, the capital and spent one night there.

On May 16th, we anchored at Anse Mitan, which is on the south side of Baie de Fort du France on the island of Martinique. The capital city, Fort du France, lies on the north side of the bay. For 38 Francs, about six U.S. dollars, a round trip ferry ticket can be purchased for crossing the bay, a distance of about two miles. Martinique has had an interesting history. From its discovery in 1502 by Columbus, it remained relatively obscure until 1635, when a French company purchased it and used it as a headquarters and way-point for colonizing America. In 1674, the French Government purchased the entire island. It was designated a "Department" of France in 1946. Visiting Martinique is legally the same as visiting France. Josephine, Napoleon's first wife was born there in 1779. Her first husband was also a French army general, but was accused of being a counter-revolutionary and was guillotined in 1794. She married Napoleon on 1796.

We were fortunate during our stay, in that we rendezvoused with five other cruising couples that we had met at various stops in the Caribbean. Visiting ashore with other cruisers is interesting because the first stop we all want to make is to the local marine supply stores and the hardware stores to pick up odds and ends that are needed on our boats. Then the next stop is for fresh fruit and veggies. Sightseeing comes last. Of course we were still in a hurry to get south, so we did very little sightseeing. Mostly, we visited with the cruisers who had been there before and gained useful information for our anticipated return trip after hurricane season. Martinique has obviously benefited enormously from its beautiful bays and beaches and its French ownership. It has every modern convenience and is very clean and well developed, with fine roads and modern supermarkets as well as its old world charm. We will enjoy returning.

After two days, we sailed to Anse Marin, which is on the southern tip of the island and spent two more nights there. We anchored off the small town of St. Anne, which was a delight with beautiful clean beaches and wonderful bakeries and restaurants. Of course we also enjoyed visiting with other cruisers. We even visited with a cruising couple that we had first met in St. Petersburg, Florida in November 1999 and hadn't seen since. They were very excited because he is a surgeon and had just accepted a professorship at the medical school in Grenada and would start teaching pulmonary physiology in the fall.

We have decided that living aboard and cruising is wonderful for three primary reasons. First, we love to sail and see new places and experience new cultures. Second, we feel we have so much personal freedom, without ties to any one location that would limit our ability to move when and where we wish. Third, and probably the most enjoyable aspect of cruising is interacting with all the other cruisers. Most cruisers we have met are retired professionals. We have enjoyed the company of and learned a great deal from many new friends. Whether the subject is medicine, law, computers, radios, navigation, or cooking, some cruiser is an expert in the field. Stay tuned.

Dates: 2001-05-09, 2001-05-18
Locations: St. Maarten, St. Barthelemy, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.