Rum and Rastas

Sun 20 Jan 2008 23:38
14.03.965N  60.57.724W
Mike Holmes and Tony Black arrived in St Lucia last night, our  New Zealand crew for the voyage to Panama, Ecuador, the Galapagos and French Polynesia. They politely reminded me that nothing has been posted on this blog since 12 December, the day we arrived in the Caribbean. Perhaps it's the strength of the rum puches and other  rum -based concoctions  that we and our friends on other boats have become so proficient at making. In Martinique we visited a wonderful 18th century distillery where we tasted several different types of rum and purchased several casks. It's 45% proof and absolutely delicious--very different from the dreadful stuff that's made in Queensland. Anyway, that's my excuse. We've also had three sets of visitors over the Christmas and New Year period, all great fun and all in party mode.
All that is about to change as we prepare for the 7- day leg down to Panama. The boats are all arriving for the start of the World Arc, which with only 40 yachts looks like being a much more low key affair than the Atlantic rally which had 250 yachts. About one third of the boats in the Warc are British, with an assortment of French, Italians, Spanish, Canadians and Americans. Last night we were all invited to a party on a very glamorous 70 foot plus Oyster with a kiwi captain and first mate from Hawkes Bay and Whakatane, and there are quite a few social events between now and when we depart on Wednesday. Mike, Tony and I visited the market this morning, and it's decidedly third world, with hardly a white face to be seen. There's a huge contrast between the affluence of foreign visitors staying in glamorous resorts and on yachts, and the poverty of many of the local people. St Lucia, which is an independent nation propped up by China, and recently Taiwan, is much poorer than the islands like Martinique and Guadaloupe which are still part of France and heavily subsidised. Consequently there's a lot of crime on St Lucia and the other independent islands such as St Vincent to the south of us. Just the other day a yacht was boarded in a bay by balaclava -wearing guys who cut up the crew quite badly with machetes. And a couple of days ago a guided tour was attacked and robbed--all very upsetting for the local people whose income is entirely dependent on bananas and tourism.
Despite the niggling worries about security we've had a marvellous time in the nearly six weeks we've been here. Given the logistics of meeting guests, and the fact that we have thousands of miles of sailing ahead of us, we've limited our travels to the islands just to the north and south of St Lucia. The islands are all close to one another, other which is just as well, as the seas can be surprisingly rough. Soon after arriving we took off for Martinique which has a much more established marine industry, including agencies for all the French yachts. Unlike many of the Arc yachts we received very little damage but were keen to get the hydraulic steering checked out by an expert. Our friends the Treleavens on  their nearly new 50 foot Beneteau, Cape Finisterre, were not so lucky and discovered that their damaged mast would have to be replaced, and that it would take 3 months for a new one to arrive. All exceedingly frustrating, but made more tolerable by frequent imbibing of Ian's famous mojitos. There's that rum again! In Marin we found some great bars and restaurants where we were usually the only non French present. We even became groupies for a great band with a Czech blues musician, his saxophonist girlfriend and her 12 year old nephew who played a mean set of bongoes. It's the first time I've ever bought drinks at midnight for a child musician (coca cola, of course). We really felt like locals at Marin in Martinique, where days began with a swim at a stunning beach followed by coffee and croissants at a patisserie right next to the local market where the women brought their frit and vegetables each day. The Trelevens, Hunts and ourselves all sailed round to Anse Arlette to spend a very French Xmas Eve with Pere Noel at a very casual but stylish cafe on the beach. Although the French have a reputation for being unfriendly we all had nothing but great experiences in Martinique, including  stocking up in super markets full of foie gras, champagne, delicious cheeses, and New Zealand lamb!
With Mike making marmalade and Tony perfecting tuna confit in anticipation of all the fish we are going to catch, I'd better summarise the highlights of our time in the Caribbean before we head off for a beach barbecue. The overwhelming impression is of colour--the rasta hats, the brightly coloured houses and wooden houses, and of course, the people. The local people on the whole are delightful,and we have made good friends with the various taxi drivers and boat boys we've used. Many of them have wonderful names such as Man de man  and Mr Quality. Most people are very religious and have boat names like Thy Rod and Thy Staff. Even outboard motors are painted in rastafarian colours. A lot of ganga weed is smoked and pretty much tolerated by the police, who all smoke it too. I do happen to have a little seed planted amongst the basil and the mint--plus some Lion of Judea cigarette papers! The markets are a delight, with every kind of tropical fruit imaginable, as well as vanilla pods and cinnamon sticks. Unlike Martinique, the food in the Eastern Caribbean is mainly American which is a bit of a culture shock. No French duck breasts here.
Of all the places we've visited, including the Tobago Cays where we swam with turtles, I have to confess the absolute highlight was the island of Mustique where Princess Margaret had a place and which is now home to Mick Jagger, Tommy Hilflinger and the like. We arrived expecting the island to be like Fort Knox, but were pleasantly surprised to find the we had to pay only a tiny amount for a mooring, and were made very welcome in the famous Basils Bar, the Cotton Club and the Firefly Resort restaurant. We drove around the island in a 'mule' buggy and were able to see all the fantastic houses--huge, but super tasteful. There was not a hint of vulgarity anywhere, unlike so many places where the rich and famous hang out. On Sunday morning we picked up copies of that day's English Sunday papers and strolled round to the Cotton Club beach where we were provided with luxurious sun lounges for no cost at all. So as we read the papers and sipped our rum punches we thought this really was as good as it gets. Mind you the gourmet hamburgers for lunch weren't exactly cheap, but hey,  you have to push the boat out sometimes. There was a lovely little church where all the local women were heading, dressed up in their Sunday best, including hats. There's absolutely no crime on the island, which is privately owned. There are no visiting cruise ships, no day trippers--heaven. And it's only $i0 000 a week to rent the house of someone like rock star, Bryan Adams, who goes to church twice on Sunday when he's in residence.
We've got a couple of very busy days ahead preparing for our departure on Wednesday 23 January. What a pity that's the day the Mustique Blues festival starts--now that would have been fun! We plan to send a daily blog as we did crossing the Atlantic. With two ardent fisherman on board, expect lots of fishing news. Tony has brought with him a whopper reel and numerous alluring lures.Expect to hear from us on 25 January, antipodean time.