Guadeloupe (why doesn’t it rhyme with canteloupe?)

Pulling out of St Kitts at “O dark hundred” was actually quite fun. The sky was clear and the moon was out so there was lots of visibility. The wind was fairly light, so we hoisted main and mizzen whilst still anchored and then only ran the engine for a minute or so while we hoisted anchor. As soon as the anchor was secured on deck, we immediately bore off, shut down the engine, and quietly sailed off into the night. This allowed the kids, who inevitably wake up when the big diesel starts and 100 feet of chain gets piled up at the end of their bed, to get back to sleep quickly.

We had a nice night sail down the leeward side of Nevis before the wind died when we got a little too close to the island and lost our air. Once we cleared Nevis however, the wind returned and we had a nice close reach toward Montserrat.

Now, most smart folks, when sailing past Montserrat, the home of an active volcano, will pass to windward of the island so that volcanic ash doesn’t cover them and their boat. We might have done this as well. Except that Bojangles couldn’t point high enough to sail to weather of the island and I didn’t feel like using the motor to help her get there. Also, as dawn had now broken, it didn’t look like there was too much air pollution to leeward of Montserrat, so maybe all this talk about volcanic ash was just hype to scare away tourists.

So, against conventional wisdom, we decided to sail to leeward of an active volcano. We may be silly, but it was a shorter distance and a favourable point of sail. As a racer, I know that those are at least two reasons for risking the ash storm.

As it turns out, the ash wasn’t that bad. We kept a couple miles offshore and enjoyed great views of the island and the decimation that has occurred there in recent years. It’s quite hard to describe, but hopefully our pictures capture it. Additionally, we could see the smoke and steam rising out of the crater like nothing we’d ever seen before. And yes, there was ash. When we were immediately downwind of the crater, we got hit by little bits of ash that were basically invisible, but you could feel them on your skin and also in your eyes. Additionally, the boat received a light dusting of ash that rinsed away with the next rainfall.

We continued on sailing, now in about 20 knots of true wind, and made Deshaies, Guadeloupe by mid afternoon. We anchored in 30 feet of incredibly clear blue water amidst our friends Safari Tu, Stolen Hour, and Shining Time who arrived a day earlier.

Deshaies is a sleepy little French town that is quite pleasant, if not overly exciting. We spent a couple of days here enjoying the local botanical gardens (which were amazing) as well some of the local conveniences. Specifically, there’s a man who comes by the boats every evening to accept pastry and baguette orders for the following morning. Then, as if by magic, he shows up at your boat again at 0700 armed with fresh baguettes, croissants, and pains aux chocolat. What a place!

Our waistlines couldn’t take much more of the Deshaies baguettes, so we sailed down the Guadeloupe coast to Pigeon Island, which is home to the Jacques Cousteau National Park (keep in mind that Guadeloupe is part of France, so when you’re in Guadeloupe, you’re IN France). While the shoreside amenities didn’t really appeal to us, and the beach was blackish sand, we spent a really nice afternoon snorkelling there. The coral was vibrant, the water was crystal clear, and there was a good variety of fishes there. Additionally, on the seabed in about 30 feet of water was a bust of Jacques himself. I couldn’t help but free dive down to have a look.

Ashore there wasn’t much on offer and the beach was a thin strip of blackish sand populated by pasty white French folks on winter holiday. This wouldn’t have been an issue except that it was Robbie Burns’ day and we intended to shoot a video skit to send back to our friends in Stratford who would be celebrating Burns that night. Unfortunately, we could find anything remotely close to the quintessential Caribbean setting that have been so numerous up until now. How could we make folks jealous if we couldn’t have a decent backdrop? Anyway, after some help from Joseph on Shining Time (who happens to be a professional cinematographer) we managed to shoot our video. Unfortunately, there was basically no Internet access available here from where could upload the video. So… after all that work, we were unable to get our skit to the Burns party.

Oh, by the way, all this scrambling around was happing on Jan 23. My birthday. The first in my 43 years that hasn’t been freezing cold. And here I am scrambling around colonial France trying to find an internet connection. So, frustrated, we pulled anchor and sailed to Basseterre, the capital city of Guadeloupe.

Anchoring there late in the afternoon, we saw that there was a bit of a swell that would undoubtedly make the night uncomfortable, so I dug out our second anchor and set it from the stern. This way, I could adjust the anchor rode (lines) so that the bow of the boat would point into the swell rather than the wind. This way the boat may pitch fore and aft a bit, but not side to side – the former being much less significant in overall motion of the boat.

So, finally, around sunset I was able to relax on my birthday in the Caribbean and have a nice night on board.

The following day, we ran some errands in Basseterre, picking up some groceries and diesel fuel, and then sailed the 15 miles or so south to Iles des Saintes, a group of pretty little islands off of Guadeloupe’s south coast.

We spent almost a week in “The Saintes”. It has a nice little town with good bakeries, dress shops (for Kathleen and the girls), and restaurants. It also had a very relaxed vibe about it that allowed you to relax and simply enjoy the place. We worked on our French skills (as well as our pain aux chocolat skills) and explored this small island group, learning about its role in the seemingly never ending naval battles between France and Britain (The Battle of the Saintes – 1782).

It seems these two countries seemed to take great pleasure sailing about the Caribbean in wooden boats taking potshots at each other. Now, the boats are fibreglass and the shots are harmless.

Anyway, after a week or so relaxing and exploring in the Saintes and Guadeloupe, it was time to leave France and head to Dominica.


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