When Gc (almost) sued Pope… and our stay in Grenada & Carriacou

Getting back to the Caribbeans after our summer break in Europe was no cup of tea. When Covid started to spread, all Caribbean islands shut their borders to avoid contamination. Health infrastructures in most Caribbean islands are very poor, or sometimes non-existent, so governments have been trying to protect islanders first by isolating them, and then by imposing very strict measures to people visiting their countries.

By September, most of the Caribbean islands had reopened, but procedures to enter the country were still very strict: not only you needed a negative PCR test to board the plane, but once landed, you were also requested to quarantine in a designated hotel for at least 4 days, until you’d get the results of a second PCR test. If they came back negative, you’d be free to move around.

Gc’s case was a bit more complicated……because he didn’t get the right test before flying back to the Caribbeans (he got a serologic test instead of the requested PCR test), and he got himself in trouble and was then requested to quarantine for the full 14 days. Luckily (at least for his pockets), he managed to quarantine on board his beloved Gladan, at Canouan Marina.

Sea view from Canouan Marina

The experience is not one he recalls with pleasure…instead of being able to enjoy the facilities of the 5 star marina he was paying to stay at, he was locked inside the boat, with 30+ degrees, 80% humidity level and tons of mozzies. One night the mosquitos were bothering him so much that, frustrated, he decided to challenge them. He shut himself in the bathroom, turned the lights on and offered himself as bait, waiting for them to attack. Fully armed with towels, our Italian Stallion of the Caribbeans, tried to kill as many as he could, shouting in a frenzy of rage. Luckily, there was no one around to hear him…

To buy food, he needed to text the marina staff, who’d come to pick up the list of food he wanted as well as the money, both conveniently placed inside a plastic box left outside, to avoid any direct contact.

Paradise Beach – Carriacou. Gladan is now part of the wall of fame!
Paradise Beach Club was a great place to spend an afternoon with plenty of other sailors and fun activities organised weekly!

After 4 days of initial lockdown, Gc was administered a PCR test by the Doctor of the marina, Dr. Pope, a very friendly and chilled out guy, whom we had previously met as he’s the one going around and taking sailors’ temperature upon arrival at the marina.

The day after, the results came back negative, which should have meant that he was free to go… Gc phoned Dr. Pope to ask for confirmation.

Pope said he’d check with the health authorities and get back to him. Few days went by, and no news from the Dr…..so Gc decided to get in touch with the health authorities directly. The person answering the phone that day was adamant he’d still need to complete the 14 days of quarantine even though he’d tested negative.

Ten days down quarantine lane, Gc was struggling to sleep and function normally due to the unbearable heat and the unforgiving mosquitos…

By then, with the quarantine almost over, it was time to get another PCR test as that was the requirement to enter the island of Grenada, the next destination.

GC got again in touch with Dr. Pope to schedule an appointment. “Good morning Dr. Pope, it’s Giancarlo here from Gladan” – GC said. “Ah, Giancarlo…..” – Dr. Pope’s voice sounded strangely apologetic. “Giancarlo, I’m so sorry…”

Sorry for what? Gc thought. He had just called him! “I was meant to call you back….wasn’t I?” – The Dr. continued. “To tell you that you were free to go… You’re not still in quarantine, are you?”

Gc couldn’t understand what Pope was trying to say…”Giancarlo please don’t sue me, I’m very sorry. You were free to leave when your test came back negative, but I forgot to tell you!” – Pope further explained.

Gc was on the verge of collapsing! Did that mean he’d spent 8 extra days in hell for nothing? He could have gone to the beach, the restaurant, the pool….instead of being confined inside Gladan. Gc couldn’t believe his ears!

Several G&Ts and a few days later, Gc was on his way to Grenada, leaving Canouan Marina, Dr. Pope, and the unhappy memory of his lockdown behind.

Gladan was wounded after a steel boat hit us in Guadaloupe….unfortunately we were not onboard when it happened, and neither were the owners of the steel boat when it started dragging towards us.

Gladan needed to undergo a bit of aesthetic work since another boat had crushed into us a few months before, while we were at anchor in Deshaies, Guadaloupe, a bay with notoriously bad holding.

Gladan at Clarkes Court Yard

Once in Grenada, Gladan was hauled out at Clarkes Court shipyard and spent 2 weeks on the hard.

By the time Gladan was splashed in, I was also back in the Caribbean’s, after quarantining in Barbados for 2 weeks, and – one might think – conveniently avoiding the joy of being stranded in a hot and dusty shipyard while the works were carried out!

My quarantine at the Hilton in Barbados…not so bad after all!

Once reunited with Gladan and my better half, it was time to discover the island!

Grenada is quite a big island, famous for its spices and chocolate.

We spent 3 weeks anchored in Gand Anse, a huge bay with a 3km long sandy beach. It was a great anchorage as it was quite sheltered from the prevailing winds, and located close to Spiceland Mall shopping centre as well as several good restaurants and bars.

View from 61° West restaurant & Bar, Grand Anse. Great food and drinks!
Walking around Carriacou

We rented a car so that we could move around easily: the island is big and not well connected by minibuses.

For us, digital nomads, finding a good spot to work from, whenever we move around, is rather vital. And such place needs to meet certain requirements; fast wi-fi, good coffee, air con (possibly not set to freezing temperatures..) and decent food.

As you can imagine, these things are not so easy to find in one place, but this time we were in luck! We managed to find two places that offered the perfect working conditions: “Knife and fork“, inside Spiceland shopping centre, and Bella Milano, not far away form the mall. The first had great smoothies and decent coffee, the latter real Italian coffee and pastries.

Office with a view…! Paradise Beach Club, Carriacou.

We also found one of the best pizzas in the Caribbeans at Antonio’s. After months in the Caribbean’s, a delicious pizza is always a treat and their pizza was really good even for Italian standards!

For drinks and live music Aziz was the place to be!

Grenada is famous for its HASH. Every Saturday, locals organise hikes in a different part of the island and everyone can join in by paying a small participation fee. There is a path to be discovered and clues along the way. Food, drinks and music await the “runners with a drinking problem” that find the right way back!

Grand Anse was also close to Port Louis Marina, easily reachable by dinghy. Every Friday morning, we’d visit the local fruits and veg market, inside the marina, where we’d get our organic provisioning and delicious homemade guava juices.

Carriacou is only 15 miles away from Grenada and is part of the same administration, together with Petit Martinique.

It is a small and rather wild island with basic (expensive) provisioning and beautiful natural beauties.

Sandy Island – Carriacou – Thanksgiving day’s Party

We spent most of our time between Tyrell Bay, the main (and rather crowded) anchorage, and Sandy Island, the most charming place on the island, where you can only stay at a mooring buoy by paying a daily fee.

A visit to Anse la Roche it’s also a must, and the lobsters served by Tim the King at his restaurant on the beach are to die for!

Pasta with lobster by chef GC!

While in Carriacou, we made a lot of friends and spent an incredible couple of weeks, eating loads of really cheap lobsters, snorkelling and walking around to explore the island!

Thanksgiving party on Sandy island – Carriacou
Sandy Island – Carriacou
Our friend Alex, he made us discover The Paradise Beach Club in Carriacou and kept us company during our stay on the island!
Alex, Karen and Hugo with their beautiful little one!
It’s always difficult to leave behind the friends you’ve made along the way…

When we (almost) faced hurricane Gonzalo!

Seventy two hours before Gonzalo was meant to hit the leeward islands, we were on our way to Bequia from Union island (Grenadines). 

Pelicans social distancing at Frigate Island – Union
Pelicans….so beautiful and powerful, even while at rest

We had found out about ‘it’ only a few hours before, when all of a sudden there was a commotion in Frigate island and everyone had started talking about this perturbation forming in the Atlantic. 

Within an hour, Frigate Island had quickly turned from buzzing place for kite surfers to open air consultation room, with sailors moving from one boat to the other, small groups assembling and dissipating, people exchanging calls on the VHF…

Frigate Island is THE place to be for kitesurfing!

When we got to the Caribbeans, one year ago, everyone would tell us that hurricanes could be predicted up to 2 weeks before, and that there would be plenty of time to move far away from their eye, in one direction or another.

Gonzalo on its way towards us…!

“Don’t worry!” – They’d say. “You’ll be sipping your rum punch in a safe place by the time the hurricane hits!” Well, it wasn’t exactly like that with Gonzalo!

Now, we all knew 2020 was going to be a very busy seasons for hurricanes, the signs were all there… it was the end of July and we had already made our way to the letter ‘G’ of the alphabet!

We also knew that 2020 hadn’t been herald of great news till then…with a global pandemic and our nostrils being closely inspected twice monthly, on average…

So it should not have come as a surprise when our friend Gonzalo started heading towards us and no one knew, up to 24 hours before, where it would end up!

You know it’s bad when the colour changes from blue to dark red….

I’ve very quickly learned that perturbations forming off the African coast, can either dissipate while travelling through the Atlantic, or acquire strength, become bigger and start heading north where they normally encounter more favourable conditions.

Our Gonzalo did not dissipate, did not get bigger, and wasn’t heading north but was acquiring strength nevertheless – so much so that 48 hours before its arrival it was forecasted as a category 1, possibly 2, hurricane. See, the issue with Gonzalo was that it was small and therefore unpredictable! 

The two main weather forecast systems, the European one and the American one were in total disagreement, with one forecasting Gonzalo heading north and the other south.

Now, considering that I’m not particularly fond of the idea of witnessing a ‘simple’ tropical storm, you could imagine how thrilled I was at the idea of finding myself in the middle of a category one (or possibly 2) hurricane. 

When we (almost) faced hurricane Gonzalo!

Panic started to take over!

Within 2 hours from Gonzalo appearing on all forecasting models, I was lifting the anchor and we were on our way north to Bequia, with the possibility of travelling further north once it would become clearer which way Gonzalo would head. 

Sundowner with other sailors, where should we go? North or South?

Once in Bequia, more “consultations” took place with sailors amicably discussing which way to go over a beer or two. 

All this discussing and drinking, though, didn’t bring us any closer to making a decision. So 30 hours before Gonzalo was meant to arrive, all options were still on the table: 

  • Heading all the way South to Trinidad and Tobago (150 miles, which equals one full day of navigation). Some experienced sailors were adamant this was the best choice as hurricanes heading south tend to lose strength;
  • Heading south to Grenada, (65 miles which equals roughly 12 hours of sailing) and try and find space in the mangroves. Some friends of ours were heading there, so that made this option quite appealing; 
  • Staying in Bequia – no hurricane had hit Bequia since 1955 and the locals were assuring us there is something about Bequia that just keeps them away. Do we believe them?
  • Going to Canouan Marina (25 miles which equals 4 hours of navigation). Our friends Tom and Laurie were there, and they assured us the marina was very sheltered and the staff friendly and helpful.
  • Heading North to St. Lucia (50 miles, which means roughly 9 hours of navigation) or all the way up to Martinique (90 miles, 15/16 hours of navigation).

The more we’d talk to people about it, the more confused we’d get. We kept changing our minds and the uncertainty didn’t make it easy to sleep at night. 

Finally, Gc and I decided that on Friday – Gonzalo was meant to hit us on Saturday afternoon – we would wake up early in the morning, check the latest weather forecast, and decide what to do. 

On our way to Canouan….hoping for the best!
We even caught a barracuda on the way to Canouan!

What did we decide then?

Friday morning at 6 am, we checked the forecast again and decided that the best option for us was heading south to Canouan Marina (only 25 miles away) for several reasons;

  • We didn’t want to travel too far and find ourselves out at sea in rough weather conditions hours before the hurricane-to-be would hit;
  • Being inside a marina, we would be able to prepare the boat, removing all sails, the Bimini, and anything that could blow away, and tie up the boat with as many lines as possible;
  • Worse comes to worst, we would abandon ship and take refuge in a nice 5 star hotel, drink a glass of red wine and take a hot shower praying for the worst to get over soon. 
When a big squall comes the sky becomes white, and within few minutes, you don’t see anything around you.

I knew Gc’s heart would be badly scarred for life, should something happen to Gladan, but it was a risk I was ready to take!

And so, 20 hours before Gonzalo would hit us, we entered Canouan Marina hoping our choice had been the right one. 

Gladan ready to face Gonzalo. She looked so naked without her sails up!

During our sail down to Canouan, we met several boats sailing south and several others motoring north as fast as possible. Clearly, no one had any idea of what was going on!!

Taking the main sail down is a tough job!

Inside the marina, we spent the afternoon and evening ‘undressing’ Gladan; removing all sails, deflating our paddle board and kayak, dismantling the Bimini, and creating a spiderweb of lines that would keep us in place. After many hours of hard work we took a nice, long, hot shower in the amazing bathrooms of the luxurious marina and went out for dinner at the gourmet restaurant.

The last supper! Better enjoy till you can, right?!

We checked the weather forecast once more, and with great relief, saw that Gonzalo had been downgraded to tropical storm and was headed south to Grenada! Great news for us, perhaps less for the ones that headed south….! 

The sky is getting darker and darker…something is coming!

The morning after, around 7 am, Gonzalo arrived – its eye deep south on Trinidad and Tobago. For us, that meant winds of up to 30 knots, with gusts of 40 kt, and torrential rain which only lasted couple of hours. Then it was over! 

Gusts of 40 knots and a lot of rain

I was still half asleep and I would have probably missed Gonzalo hadn’t it been for the noise Gc was making while giving a good scrub to Gladan. Who else would have thought of using a tropical storm to do some spring cleaning?!

This is real love!!!

We want to go home!!…Travelling in corona virus times!

Leaving the Caribbeans to head back home was no easy task!

After 8 months in the Caribbeans amid a global pandemic, lockdowns, PCR tests, and last but not least, hurricane season, home was looking more and more like a mirage. Would we ever be able to make it back?

The nurse told Gc off because his nostrils are too narrow for their rather enormous cotton buds!

After loads of research and negotiating, we finally found a safe place where to leave Gladan during the hurricane season so that we could fly back to Europe and see our families and friends.

The place was Canouan marina, which is brand new and has been built for luxurious superyachts, slightly bigger than Gladan…

It was built by Italian architects and it looks like a small version of Porto Fino or Porto Rotondo, with the addition of an airpot right next to it, so that yacht owners can fly in and out with their private jets in no time.

The Promenade with the reception, supermarket, bakery and gourmet restaurant.

We found out about this marina thanks to our friends who decided to take refuge inside it when Gonzalo, one of the first hurricanes-to-be of the season, decided to give us all a good scare coming right towards the Grenadines….but that’s another story!

Laurie on Imiloa, their beautiful Leopard 400!

Because of Covid, and thanks to the special hurricane rates, we managed to get a mooring in the marina for the whole month of August at a reasonable price, without having to sell any of our beloved limbs 🙂

The marina consists of a channel, almost a mile long, and once you’re deep inside, you’re so sheltered and the boat is so stable that you feel like being on land – which means you’ll sleep like a queen! And possibly sweat like a pig :)! It can indeed get a little hot if you, like us, don’t have air con on board. The moorings at the very end of the channel are so sheltered that no breeze will ever reach you! Only mozzies will!

Walking around the marina.

Yes, there is a little suffering involved, but it’s all worth it when you enter the marina’s bathrooms…which are literally to die for. I thought that Lymington marinas’ in the UK were great…until I actually saw these ones! Suffice it to say, Gc managed to do yoga inside the shower bed and neither of us had ever taken so many unnecessary showers before!

Shenanighans, restaurant and beach bar.

Not to mention that you’re escorted around the marina on golf carts and given lifts to and from the well assorted and very convenient supermarket inside the marina. (P.S. Prices are in EC not dollars, in case you were wondering!). The staff seem to take offence every time you venture out for a walk; wherever you are.. they spot you, chase you, and take you on board their golf carts or dinghies. There is no escaping from them…they’ll intercept you even by sea 🙂

Canouan Marina’s facilities are top notch! This is me enjoying the beautiful sunbathing area by the pool at ‘Shenanighans’, restaurant and beach bar, and the view of the Grenadines!

The staff is so friendly that it all looks rather unreal. But we were there and experienced it…it’s all true!

When we planned our trip back to Europe, we thought we had it all figured out. We would need to get a ferry from Canouan to St. Vincent (SVG), then a flight from SVG to Barbados and then finally a direct one to London. Easy! And of course, we would need a PCR test, taken 72 hours before travelling. 

On the ferry to Saint Vincent.

After phoning the ministry of health of all the islands involved in our journey several times (my advice is always double check the information you’re given as you might find yourself in troubles if you don’t…), as well as the various ferry companies (a reduced service runs between the Grenadines due to Covid 19), I found out very last minute (Friday morning and our departure from Canouan by ferry was meant to be on Monday..) that the SVG government had decided to postpone the bank holidays that would normally take place in May to…. August! And not just any time in August…. but the Monday and Tuesday before our Wednesday’s flights to Barbados and London. Sweet!

This had two types of consequences;

  1. the ferry we were meant to catch from Canouan to SVG was not running anymore…and
  2. we couldn’t get tested 72 hours before travelling to Barbados because even if we did, the lab wouldn’t be able to give us the results in time for our departure.. due to the bank holidays.

So what to do now?

Thanks to our friends Laurie and Tom, we got a lift on their sailing yacht from Canouan to Bequia where we spent 1 night before taking an early ferry to SVG where our first flight would take off from. We got to the airport way in advance and right when I thought I could finally sip the first coffee of the day (it was an early start so no time for breakfast…) two things happened;

  1. the airline staff didn’t want to let us board the plane because we didn’t have a negative PCR test…
  2. and, cover up your ears, all coffee places at the airport were shut!
Saint Vincent airport the day we flew back home…no one there except us!

Clearly, I was more concerned about the latter…this piece of news was truly devastating. 

What happened next? I forgot to mention that during one of my many conversations with the ministry of health officials, they had told me that it was ok to fly to Barbados without a negative PCR test because we could get tested at the airport upon arrival. “Yes, but we’d only spend a few hours at the airport while waiting for our connecting flight to London” – I had mentioned to them. “No worries”- they had replied- “we’ll email you the results and you’ll see them once in London”.

The logic of that totally escaped me, but I was not going to question something that for once worked in our favour, was I? Basically, the UK didn’t require a negative test for passengers to board the plane and we wouldn’t stay in Barbados longer than couple of hours. What would be Barbados’ government’s interest in testing us then? Apparently, they dig up your nose for statical reasons only…

Go figure!!

After putting Barbados’ ministry of health’s officials on the phone with SVG’s airport authorities – which was even more complicated than usual since, because of Covid, the staff were wearing masks so their voices were muffled and they couldn’t understand each other….then again because of Covid, they couldn’t hold my phone themselves and we had to hold it close to their mouth which was quite a job considering that there was PPE in between us! A Caribbean’s version of Shakespear’s comedy of errors was taking place in front of my eyes!

At some point during this whole shenanigan, Gc started to lose his temper and while listening to him explaining to the staff how common sense had gone down the drain and how this was the end of a civilised world…..all I could think of was: “if we finally manage to board the plane, will they serve coffee ☕️ during the flight?”

First coffee of the day!! At the airport in Barbados waiting for our flight to London.

In the end, we did manage to board the plane, and NO coffee was served during the flight because of Covid…

Few Covid forms and passport stamps later, around 2 pm, I had my first coffee of the day, in Barbados’ airport, while waiting to board the plane back to London. Life was great again!

Finally on the plane!!! Time to go home!

The best of the Caribbean’s: Saint Vincent & the Grenadines!

We spent almost a month in Martinique waiting for borders to open up so that we could head south. As soon as we heard that SVG – Saint Vincent & the Grenadines – were opening up again we contacted the authorities to enquire about the new Covid formalities to enter their country. 

Within 24 hours they’d got back to us with all the details. We would have to;

  • sail directly to the quarantine area in Young Island – without stopping along the way;
  • get tested upon arrival;
  • wait for the results onboard – it could take up to 48 hours.

In Covid times, rules can change literally any minute, so we decided to seize the moment and go!

We took off from St. Anne around 6pm, accompanied by our friends on board of Living Daylights, Luca and Leyla with their 3 beautiful children. It was a great overnight sail across to St. Lucia and along its coast.

Around 5 am we spotted the majestic Pitons in the first lights of the day. I was sitting on the little bench on the port side of the bow, taking in the warm breeze, feeling part of the night, and really connected to the universe, when I heard splashes around me; it was a school of dolphins which ended up escorting us all the way to the end of the island. Magical!

By 8 am we were still a few miles away from the North side of Saint Vincent. The wind had picked up and it was now blowing at 35 knots. The sea was very flat and Gladan was doing 9 knots with only the jib on! Considering that at 9.30 am we were expected in Young Island to be tested for Covid 19, there was no time to waste and we were glad for the extra push the wind gave us!

We got to Young Island 15 minutes before our appointment, just in time to take a quick shower after a sleepless night. At 9.30 o’clock we were on the dinghy dock with the others.

The organisation was great and within 30 minutes we were done with the test and ready to go to sleep after our long night of sail. The nasal swab was not particularly pleasant – unless you enjoy when someone’s trying to reach your brain through your nostrils, you’re not going to like it!

The swab lasts just a few seconds – the runny nose will stay with you for much longer though! Ouch!

Twenty-four hours later, we received an email with the results: negative! We were free to go. We wasted no time..we went out to celebrate with a few drinks and a delicious dinner!

The morning after, before heading south to Bequia, we found the time to climb the 255 steps up to the top of Fort Duvernette, a tall outcrop from which to enjoy an incredible view. The English built this fort to defend the colonial hub where ships were loaded with sugar before sailing off to England.

After only a few hours of navigation, we got to Bequia – which we had shortly visited over New Year’s Eve, when the only Corona we all knew about was to be served very chilled! Good old days….

Our friends in Bequia invited us over for dinner in their beautiful house. What a fun night and what a view from the terrace!!

Be careful when you go to Bequia…It’s got that Hotel California kind of vibes…once you’re there, you never want to leave! All the people we know agree with us; it’s one of the friendliest islands in the Caribbean’s and attracts only the nicest and most interesting people.

View of Admiral Bay – Bequia

Which is why it reminds us of Leros, in Greece, the island where our sailing adventures (almost never) started from….we liked it so much there that we stayed one and half years before finally setting sails to explore the world!

A quick list of things to do in Bequia;

  1. The Rum Shop Tour, to mingle with locals and support small businesses;
  2. Try one or… all the beautiful hikes of the island;
  3. Have freshly made, incredibly tasty cocktails at the floating bar;
  4. Try breakfast at The Plantation House: you’ll get the best pastries and full English breakfast of the island, in very sophisticated surroundings;
  5. Eat pizza and more at Mac’s Pizza & Kitchen;
  6. Enjoy sundowners at Jack’s beach bar – Princess Margaret Beach.

To avoid being sucked up by the island, after 10 days in Bequia, we made our way to the Tobago Cays.

Definitely one of the best places in the Caribbean’s – although I’m sure I’ve said that before… :). Tobago Cays is a group of 5 uninhabited islands (Petit Rameau, Petit Bateau, Baradal, Petit Tabac and Jamesby) surrounded by a 4 km Horseshoe Reef, with wildlife and pristine waters.

Definitely the best place for snorkelling and diving, with thousands of different fishes, turtles and a few nurse sharks. Paradise on earth!!

Baradal – The Turtles sanctuary

In high season you can eat bbqed food on Petit Rameau’s beach. There are tables and benches under the trees and 3 to 5 different stalls selling drinks and food. At the beginning of January 2020, we had lobsters served with rice and salad. Really tasty and so popular you need to book in advance to make sure to find space!

This time round, at the beginning of July, we had the Cays almost to ourselves and really made the most of them. The islands are totally wild and you need to get provisioning beforehand as there are no shops or bars. Some fishermen will stop by daily to sell fish or bread and pastries though.

When exploring the little island of Petit Tabac, we bumped into some volunteers taking care of the marine park. They told us the island had been a filming location for the first Pirates of the Caribbeans’ movie and mentioned we could walk around the whole perimeter. After the first few minutes of our walk, we started running as quickly as we could… trying to escape from the thousands of mozzies feeding on us! Wild stuff!

View from the top of Petit Bateau
Walk on the beach
Ready for our snorkelling expedition!
A nurse shark shying away from us

The Best of Martinique, even during lockdown!

We sailed to Martinique for the first time in January and arrived in the beautiful and crowded bay of St. Anne, in the southern part of the island, after a short but quite choppy passage from Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.

Sunset in St. Anne

Back then our friends Salvo and Patti were still on board of Gladan with us, our Australian friends Steve and Deb would shortly join us to explore the island together and none of us had any idea of what would happen to the entire world a few weeks later….

Balata Botanical Gardens

After four months, we are back in the same bay, St. Anne. While still very crowded, the atmosphere in the bay has entirely changed. Sailors keen to head north to explore the Leeward islands have now been replaced by weary skippers waiting for borders to open up and quarantines to be lifted to be able to head south, away from the hurricane belt. The Club Med resort on the beach is closed, most restaurants and bars are yet to reopen after the lockdown, and the cute little village has got a sleepy and somber look. The virus has brought silence where music and dancing were before, emptiness has replaced people’s buzzing around, face masks are now covering bright smiles and filtering laughter.

Water lilies. Balata Gardens

Despite all, combining our two visits we’ve managed to see quite a lot of this beautiful French island.

Here is a list of my favourite places to visit and things to do in Martinique!

  • Pay a visit to the Balata Botanical Gardens. They are close to Fort-de-France, and high up on the hills so getting there by car is not the easiest task! Once you’ll see the gardens though, you’ll realise it was worth the hassle. Jean-Philippe Thoze’s creation is a real celebration of nature’s beauty. The horticulturist, landscape designer and poet who designed the gardens, mixed together a hundred varieties of palm trees, tropical flowers, giant bamboo, and delicate water lilies – a real blaze of colours and perfumes!

A feeding station by the Creole house at the entrance attracts several hummingbirds, who seem to be welcoming you to this tropical paradise!

Steve and I admiring the gardens!
I was left speechless in front of such delicate beauty..
Tree top walk

Hike from St. Anne to Grande Anse des Salines. Follow the footpath that takes you along the coast through the woods.

Walking through the woods St. Anne to Les Salines

It took us more than an hour to get to Les Salines beach and I would advise anyone willing to embark on such a beautiful adventure to bring a lot of water and wear plenty of sunscreen. Along the way, there are several bays where to stop for a quick dip when it gets too hot! Once we reached our destination, we stopped in one of the bars on the beach (the one selling fresh local fruits) and had a tasty smoothy and a few accras (codfish fritters) to gain some strength back! Beware of their Capirinha though if you want to get back in one piece!

Grande Anse des Salines

Stop in Anse d’Arlet and breathe in the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere of this very picturesque village, with its cute church and long promenade. And don’t forget to do some snorkeling in the area marked by the buoys, on the left-hand side of the dinghy dock. We spent a few nights in this bay and saw beautiful trumpets fish and angelfish amongst many others.

Anse d’Arlet

On our second visit to Martinique, we finally managed to eat at L’Escale which is a gastro bistrot in Grand d’Anse. The place is normally very popular and therefore busy. In these special after-lockdown/Covid-19 times, it was half empty and the food was good but not as special as we expected it to be. Gc’s tuna tataki was definitely tastier than my dorado fillet and I started to fear Gc’s comments might not be so kind. Having insisted on trying this restaurant, I was the one to blame…. Luckily, I was saved by the dessert; a chocolate and toasted hazelnuts core fondant, served with coconut ice cream, which we shared and found rather delicious. Phew!! Gc was in a good mood again!

Grand Anse

The best restaurant in Martinique, in our opinion, remains Zanzibar, in Le Marin. The atmosphere is sophisticated without being pretentious, the service is excellent and the food is top quality. I think Gc said the sea bass he tried there was one of the best he’s ever tasted in his life! Big words :)!

Lunch at l’Escale
  • Visit Habitacion Clement Distillery in Francois. Definitely a must go! The distillery is set in a beautiful parkland with botanical gardens, open air exhibitions, indoor art galleries, an ancient mill, the old distillery, and the Creole house were the doctor and former mayor of Francois, Homare Clement, used to live. We were told the visit would last roughly 2 hours, but we would have spent many more wandering around this incredible mansion if it hadn’t been for the rum calling us! The boutique where the rum tasting takes place closes at 5 and it was 4.45 when we rushed through the doors ready for our shots!
  • Discover a totally unexpected pottery village in the heart of Martinique! We spent one night in Trois islets, a sleepy village around the corner from the much more popular and touristy Anse Mitan. The village itself doesn’t have much to offer and once you’ve visited the mangroves either by dinghy or canoe, you’re left wondering what to do next…that’s when we discovered this village literally in the middle of nowhere!
Trois Islets – Mangroves

We left the dinghy at the floating pontoon hoping to find it again when back and went out exploring. The village is massive with plenty of little shops selling ceramics and a gigantic brick factory. There are also a few restaurants in the village and we ended up having dinner in a very fascinating Thai restaurant, La Case Thai, totally booked up for the night. Our waitress was the kindest and funniest young lady you can possibly meet and the food was not bad! What an interesting discovery!

A random statue in the middle of the brick factory!!

From Saint Martin to Martinique; sailing in times of Corona virus…

Three months and a pandemic later, Gladan was finally able to move again! I have to admit leaving Saint Martin was tough….After spending so long in the same bay (Grand Case), we knew and loved every inch of it, became friendly with the locals and had our pet barracuda “Barry”, hiding under our hulls and making a daily appearance to say hi.

Dandi and James towed by us on their canoe. They showed us the best places where to catch fish in Grand Case…. !!

Before leaving for good, we managed to move from Grand Case to Orient Bay, a wonderful place and number 1 destination for kite surfers.

Simon and GC having a “friendly” race on their hobby cats

Now, Orient Bay is completely different from Grand Case. It is an upmarket touristy resorts with residences, bars, shops and restaurants. The scenery changes completely and the people around do too. Orient Bay has one of the longest beaches in Saint Martin and is quite exposed to the wind as it is on the East side of the island. Approaching the bay could be quite challenging if the weather is not settled as there are breakers forming at the entrance.

My favourite spot in the bay was the yellow beach by Îlet de Pinel. Waters are quite shallow here and anchoring might prove challenging, but if you find the courage to venture in, you’ll be highly rewarded. It is a very sheltered spot, the sea is flat as a lake and you’ll be met by hundreds of conchs when you land on the beach!

Yellow Beach

Because of the Covid 19 virus there were no tourists on the islet; we had it all to ourselves…except for a few iguanas and these friendly and funny looking mollusks!

A conch 🙂

Orient bay was great fun, especially for Gc and Simon who, after patiently waiting for the right weather window, managed to take kitesurfing lessons with Fred from http://www.gokitesurfing.com/ .

By the time Gc managed to stand on the board and actually surf on it for almost 1 minute, it was time to move southward :)!

With the hurricane season having officially started on 1st June, we were constantly on the lookout for islands whose borders would open soon. Towards the end of May, a post appeared on Saint Martin Facebook group saying that the French prefecture had approved a new decree that would allow boats to move freely between French islands, without having to quarantine.

We visited the beautiful little island of Tintamarre, only a few miles away from Orient Bay.

The news of the decree was out there but the authorities of the French islands didn’t seem to be aware of it. It took us some time and many phone calls to get assurance that moving from Saint Martin (French side) to Martinique, another French island, without stopping on the way we wouldn’t need to quarantine upon arrival.

Once we got confirmation from at least two different sources, we checked out of Saint Martin and prepared to sail 237 miles to Martinique.

We left Orient Bay on a Saturday at 4 am with a beautiful full moon and very confused waters. The first half day of sailing was very uncomfortable with steep waves coming from different directions and winds stronger than expected. Things started to improve once we passed St. Kitts and Nevis and Redonda island.

Once in the shadow of Monserrat the sea was much flatter, the wind a perfect 18/20 knots and the sun had just left space to a wonderful full moon fighting with the clouds to show its luminous face.

We could smell the sulphur from Monserrat’s active volcano and tried to keep away from the shore as much as possible not to be covered by its dust. Few squalls formed in the sky and travelled in our direction, but then, last minute, decided to spare us, leaving us to enjoy the beauty of the night with its silver coloured sea and the warm sea breeze.

Sailing with a full moon

Gc and I slept on the flybridge doing short shifts of 30 minutes each at first, then 1 hour, then 2 hours once daylight made its appearance around 5am. By then we had sailed to the southern tip of Guadaloupe.

The second day of navigation saw us sailing from Guadaloupe to Dominica, which being quite mountainous, was engulfed in clouds and difficult to spot. The weather was nice and we kept on sailing with two reefs on our main and the jib fully open. The highlight of the day was the to-date unknown fish we caught and unsuccessfully tried to identify.

This poor soul…whatever its kind… was delicious, thanks for feeding us!

The weather conditions started to deteriorate just before sunset, 30 miles from St. Pierre, Martinique; our final destination. We had the wind on the nose and the waves giving us a good, constant shake.

30 miles away from St. Pierre, Martinique..

We had to roll the sails in and motor all the way to St. Pierre where we got at 10.30 pm, tired and hungry. With only one great regret….We didn’t have any red wine onboard! We anchored in the dark, cooked some dinner and went to sleep.

Mount Pelee – St. Pierre. The volcano exploded in 1902 destroying the entire town and killing most of its inhabitants.

The day after we got in touch with Cross Ag (the coast guard) to inform them of our arrival and to ask permission to go ashore to check in. When they finally answered us, they said they’d send us an email with the health questionnaire to fill in and the instructions to follow re. quarantine.

St. Pierre, town centre

Quarantine? Quarantine?! What quarantine? The following 30 minutes were a whirlpool of thoughts and blame game.

My first thought, believe it or not, was that we didn’t have any red wine onboard!!! How would we survive 14 days without any?! Then I realised we didn’t have that much provisioning either… I quickly went to check the cupboards and found enough pasta for us to last more than a fortnight! Gc’s theory being “if you have pasta and rice in storage you won’t die of starvation”….which he happily remind me of every time we go to the supermarket and I complain about the content of our shopping baskets!

St Pierre, with Gladan resting peacefully after 2 long days of sailing!

Before losing hope, we explained to the authorities that we were told we wouldn’t need to quarantine and that’s why we had travelled 237 miles without ever stopping, and that we were very disappointed to find out the opposite. It took some convincing, but eventually we were given some good news; we wouldn’t need to quarantine and we could go ashore to check in!

After a big sigh of relief, we quickly went ashore, checked in and bought some Bordeaux! You never know what to expect in these difficult times…