Written by Missy Johnston
The Caribbean was the haunt of explorers, famous admirals and pirates. Cruise from the Windward island of Martinique through the historic Leeward Islands of Dominica, Iles des Saintes, and Guadeloupe. Scattered through these islands are impressive fortifications each with a story to tell about the Colonial history. The natural beauty beneath the waves and high above in the volcanic slopes is phenomenal. Snorkel or scuba dive on pristine reefs and old shipwrecks and trek the rain forest in the company of tropical birds and exotic plants. The French West Indies offers sun soaked beaches, secluded coves, cozy restaurants with superb French / Creole cuisine and fabulous festivals and nightlife!
Fly into Martinique and join your yacht at Le Marin from which you’ll depart in the afternoon. Sail past the famous Diamond Rock which was commissioned as the English warship H.M.S. Diamond during the Napoleonic Wars. British sailors hauled guns up the rock to shoot at passing French boats until the French sent an unmanned boat full of barrels of rum to the rock one night. The legend recalls how the liquor-starved English sailors drank themselves unconscious when the French managed to recapture the rock! Pass by with a rum cocktail until reaching Petit Anse D’Arlet where you can swim and snorkel. In the evening, take the dinghy ashore and explore this charming little French Caribbean town. Dine aboard or you may choose to dine ashore at the superb restaurant ‘Le Gormier’.
Black Sand Beach at St. Pierre, Martinique
Begin your day with a morning swim and breakfast before sailing along the coast of Martinique to the famous town of St. Pierre. In 1902, Mount Pierre erupted sending a fireball of hot gasses down onto St. Pierre which was one of the largest ports of the Caribbean at the time. Thirty thousand people were killed in the disaster, which some blamed on a curse placed by the last Carib Indians of Martinique. Walking through the old town, you can trace the foundations of houses destroyed in the eruption. There is a museum, an old fort, a theater and a jail featuring artifacts from the time of the disaster, as well as a typical Caribbean fish, meat and vegetable market to explore. For the more adventurous, a hike through Mount Pierre’s tropical rain forest will introduce you to the local exotic plants and wildlife. There is also superb scuba diving on seven shipwrecks that sunk in the harbor during the 1902 eruption. For those who just want to relax, you can swim in the bay or suntan on the volcanic black sand beach.
Mount Pierre’s rain forest
The next morning, follow the coast of Martinique around to La Peric and cross the 26-mile channel to isle Dominica. This is a spirited sail of at least 4 hours. You will get a feel for the Atlantic swell and the famous trade winds as the yacht is no longer in the lee of an island. Your destination is Roseau where you can anchor and clear customs. Moor at the Anchorage Hotel where you can decide on rain forest minibus tours, hiking, scuba diving or relaxing by the pool. Enjoy cocktails and dinner on the aft deck.
After breakfast, you may choose to visit the last existing Carib Indian settlement in the Caribbean, the spectacular waterfalls (hot and cold), Emerald pool, and Syndicate forest – the best rain forest in the Leewards and home to the rare Sisserou and Red-Necked parrots. Then sail to Portsmouth and anchor at the Portsmouth Beach Hotel. In Portsmouth, you can walk around the very well preserved Fort Shirley, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, then trek through Cabrits National Park. Another unforgettable experience is a dugout canoe trip up the Indian River or you can snorkel and scuba dive on nearby coral heads.
After breakfast, set sail on a beam reach to Les Iles des Saintes where you can drop anchor at Pain de Sucre beach for a swim and then moor for the night at Bourg des Saintes. Bourg des Saintes is a charming little village with sun-bleached red tile roofs and balconies overlooking the quiet waterfront. The island Terre D’en Haut is small enough to be walked and has a number of attractions. You can visit the well-preserved Fort Napoleon (1867) which looks down over the harbor. There is a small museum housing antique furniture and French naval artifacts. The best view of the island group is from Le Chameau lookout tower which was built in Napoleonic times. There are a number of great beaches both large and small scattered around the island. After a leisurely afternoon exploring the sites, shopping in the town, sunning at the beach or diving with a local dive operator, relax with tropical cocktails. Then, dinner on board, or you may choose to dine at one of my fine restaurants ashore. After dinner you can sip a rum punch at a waterfront bar or the more adventurous can go on a night scuba dive!
Sunset in the French West Indies
Enjoy breakfast before sailing to Base Terre in Guadeloupe. Base Terre is the best location to see more rain forests on Mount Soufriere. You can choose to go to town by bus or taxi or walk. It is a twenty-minute walk for those who like to hike to see Fort St. Charles, souvenir shops and many restaurants. Alternatively, a minibus can be arranged to get up to Soufriere from Base Terre.
Base Terre Waterfall
Sail in the morning to Pointe Pitres, the most important town in Guadeloupe and a twenty-minute walk from the marina. There are excellent shops and fantastic Caribbean architecture with gingerbread balconies, intriguing archways and overhanging roofs. After exploring, enjoy one last evening of cocktails and dinner on board.
Disembark in the morning for your flight from Guadeloupe.