In November of 2001 Gretchen, Thomas, and Kristen settled in to their lives in New Hampshire, Ben returned to St. Lucia and prepared Mother of Perl for the next winter sailing season. Kelly Charles of Anse Le Rey, St. Lucia, who had done the sandblasting and Awlgriping of the hull the previous winter, had completed the painting of the topsides with light gray Awlgrip. Lawrence 'The Chinaman' built and installed stainless anchor roller retaining frames. Ben retuned the sailing rig with more rake. On November 30th, Mother of Perl back in the water.
On December 4th, With Anna Graneli of Sweden as crew trainee, Mother of Perl started the trek north through the islands. A few lovely days provisioning and enjoying the area around Le Marin, Martinique was marred by the loss of the inflateable dinghy and motor. It took a week to sort out an new dinghy and used motor. By that time, Anna had decided to stay on in Martinique, so the 14th of December, Ben continued on north, single-handing Mother of Perl to St. Pierre, Martinique and then on to Dominica on the next day. The slopes of the west side of Martinique are covered with large fields of crops much of it is still sugar cane. There are less farm shanties and more finished homes. The overall impression is that Martinique is much more economically and culturally sophisticated than the other islands.
The passage between Martinique and Dominica was uncomfortable with seven foot seas rolling in from the Atlantic and little wind to help steady the boat. Ben hadn't yet acquired his sea legs. The rolling boat drained the thrill of single-handled sailing from him.. until he saw whales! A pod of six some 70 meters off the beam. Ben's immediate reaction was to dance with joy, the result being the discomfort was put behind him. Ben believes that a jig is natural solution to gaining sea legs. The whales were his necessary inspiration.
Dominica is a complete contrast to Martinique; it is almost primeval with its lush tropical forests and many cataract falling from the verdant peaks. Everything necessary for healthy life grows in abundance in Dominica. The people of Dominica are cheerful, though poor in contrast to heavily European influenced Martinique. Ben had planned to spend at least a week in Dominica, but because of the delays caused by the loss of the dinghy, he was only able to spend three days here, in the more rural harbor of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth's Prince Rupert Bay has a deep water dock for cruise ships, but this is not near the town and used more for taking on water than discharging passengers. As a result, the town of Portsmouth has been untouched by the tourist industry. There are no hotels, trinket shops, hustlers, or any of the other unpleasant side effects of the cruise ships. The only tourist business are the ten $EC river trips that take cruisers up the Indian River for about a mile. As in most such harbors, as soon as a cuising boat enters the bay, a launch boat speeds out to greet and contract the business of the yacht. There aren't any moorings, but the locals are glad to help the cruisers find a good anchorage for the sea conditions, provided, of course that there is an appointment made for the river trip.
The first boat to approach Mother of Perl was that of the enterprising Martin Carrierre. His advice about anchoring was most useful and the tour up the river, for which he rowed rather than used his engine, was unrushed and scenic. The only fault might be that the amount of data and information was overwhelming. Martin also will do boat provisioning, water taxi service, island tours, and will provide boat security. He is well respected by the community. You can reach him by phone at (767) 445-3008 and firstname.lastname@example.org. He is no the only person offering these services. In fact, this kind of business is a major source of income for Portsmouth.
On Sunday, Ben went into the village of Portsmouth to see what was there and found that there were a few shops open, and even an Internet connection. The people were very friendly and patient with his lack of local knowledge. The whole atmosphere was one of health and happiness without the pressure and challenges of big business and corporate enterprises. It is no wonder that people of Dominica live a long time. One woman is reportedly one-hundred-twenty-five years old!
Ben wanted to be in the Virgin Islands by Christmas, and it was already the 17th of December. So, up anchor and under sail to Guadeloupe's Saints, a cluster of small islands fifteen miles to the west of the main island. Mother of Perl dropped anchor in the tiny Anse Fideley harbor of Terre de Bas, Les Saintes at 1610. Ben had a peaceful dinner and a short sleep before getting back underway at 0200 for the 70 mile passage to Montserrat's new harbor. As the ruined city of Plymoth passed by on the starboard, the air became noxios with volcanic gases and light snowfall of ash covered the deck. The ruins of recent city of Plymoth are as depressing a sight as one can see in the Caribbean. Thousands of buildings and homes have been abandoned, most are partially covered by the ash and mud that volcano has discharged. There is nobody there. Empty roads, parks, schools, office building, docks, and homes. Great clouds of dust and steam continue to rise out of the mountain which is given scale only by the blasted trunks of skeleton trees protruding from the lifeless foothills.
By 1300, Ben had anchored inside the protection of Little Bay. But as he went ashore to check in with the authorities, he was informed he was too close to the ferry dock and would have to reanchor. The officials found reason to give Ben as much delay as possible, nearly two hours to answer questions and fill out forms, before he could return to the boat and reanchor farther away from the ferry dock, out in the swells. Ben believes that the delay was a result of his lack of foresight in bringing a Christmas gift to authorities shack.
Ben had rushed out to Mother of Perl to move her away from the ferry route, then, once the ferry had left, he went back closer in to the beach to get out of the swells which threating to yank on the anchor. But early the next morning, Ben was roused out to move again; the reason: the seas had built during the night and were threatening to throw the boat up onto the beach. By the time Ben had left with the boat that moring, he had reanchored four times. Good practice.
Shortly after getting underway and out from the wind shadow of Montserrat, they were completely under sail with the wind on the starboard quarter. Ben was able to put a second reef in the mains'l while underway. This was necessary to prevent the mains'l from disturbing the wind to the jib. After reefing, Ben put the boat on autopilot and made bread.
Early that afternoon, they turned for St. Kitts, putting the boat on a beam reach, with all sails set: jib, stays'l, main (back to one reef), and mizzen. They had the joy making 6.7 knots in only 17 knots of wind. They were rewarded by being joined by dolphins. By 1700 hours, Mother of Perl was anchored at St. Kitts harbor, quite near the cruise ship Dawn Princess. The next day: the island of St. Eustatia.
On toward St. Maarten and the Final Leg
A short sail to Oranjestad, St. Eustatia (Statia), a rolling night, and early start the next morning; Ben brought Mother of Perl to approach to Phillipsburg. While moving along in light winds at about 6 knots, Ben noticed that a very large three-masted sailing ship was slowly closing on diagonal. He called the bridge of what turned out to be S/V Sea Cloud II, and after determining their course and plan, had a very pleasant chat with the skipper who had been admiring Mother of Perl from the distance. By 1300 hours, Ben had anchored Mother of Perl off the marina, in the east end of the bay. He relaxed and tidied ship in the afternoon, and then had dinner at the Fisherman's Warf Restaurant, where he met and enjoyed the company of French wine merchants. The dinghy trip across the bay and through the hurrican ravaged dock pilings had been easy when going to the restaurant in the late afternoon light, but was very challenging in the contrasting dark of night and brilliant lights of cruise ships near where Mother of Perl was anchored. A local police boat stopped Ben to be sure he knew where he was going. No incident, though.
Since Ben had estimated that the last leg, between St. Maarten and Virgin Gorda, was going to be seventeen hours, more hours than daylight, he decided to make that leg at night and arrive in the daylight. He spent the day prior to leaving shopping in Phillipsburg and resting for the long night ahead. Phillipsburg is a famous duty-free port. The majority of buyers are the passengers on the cruise ships. Thousands arrive and depart each day. Needless to say, most of the shops and market stalls contain only trinkets and T-shirts. The prices are quite good, thanks to the competition. Phillipsburg has a very well equipted and managed Internet "cafe" very near the open market. Ben used this to get caught up on his Email. He hadn't logged on since Martinique.