Guadaloupe (25th - 26th February 2009)

After 10 days we decided that Dominica should receive the highly coveted 'Island of the Month Award' which is given by Captain and Crew of the Good Ship to destinations that we've particularly enjoyed. Despite this great accolade which will no doubt be proudly quoted in future literature by the Dominican Tourist Board we were beginning to get itchy feet - the time had come to move on.

The next island along the chain and therefore the logical next stop was French Guadaloupe. On the other hand we knew it wasn't a great place to be because of the on-going strike. Yachtie gossip was that the strike had now been running for over 2 months, the shops were empty or shut or both and marches were becoming increasingly violent . As ever we took the information with a pinch of salt and then on the basis that we could always make a quick getaway if things got nasty decided that a couple of carefully chosen anchorages in Guadaloupe were preferable to a fairly tough overnight upwind sail to Antigua.

The first stop we plumped for was an island off the coast of Guadeloupe called Illes De Saintes; this was said to be calm. The second was a small fishing village at the north of the island called Deshailles (unaccountably pronounced Day-ay) this was said not to be calm but calmer than other places which were apparently really quite naughty.

The sail up to Illes De Saintes was another ‘reach’ straight out of a Sunsail holiday brochure. The crystal clear seas mean that you can often see the sea bed as it disappears under the keel. Flying fish, dolphins, pilot whales, the odd turtle and frigate bird all work hard to keep you entertained as you sail along. And then of course there’s the sea itself - quite incredible. Turquoise in the shallow areas changing to a deep blue as the depth increases but constantly changing as the sun rises higher in the sky. The Caribbean is the only place we have ever visited where magical pictures still fail to do it justice. Will the Solent ever be the same?
We anchored in 8.1m in Illes De Saintes having spent 30 minutes trying to find a suitable spot. The anchorage was deep, a bit rolly and very busy; presumably because everyone was avoiding mainland Guadeloupe. Either way we had to really squeeze the good ship in to a far from ideal gap. In the end we tucked in between two boats on mooring buoys but nearly touched in the night when the wind dropped and the boats laid toe to head in opposite directions. The anchoring process is not difficult when there's lots of space but most anchorages are increasingly busy which makes the process a tad more challenging. Suitable spots are further limited by depth because in anything more than about 12 m we need a windlass to lift the chain and anchor up … and we don’t have one! The basic procedure is to work out where you want the boat to end up, considering that boats on a mooring will not move significantly with the wind but anchored yachts will, point the boat upwind a distance equal to four times the depth of water, drop the hook and let the chain back as the wind blows you away from the anchor. Once the boat has stretched out on the chain you pop the engine in reverse to dig the anchor in and assuming you don’t carry on moving backwards, you turn the donk off and have a rum punch. Of course in reality this simple process provides a nest of opportunities for cock up such that on occasions we have had to pull the anchor up 3 times before we got it well set with the boat in the right spot.

The Saints was a lovely spot. A major tourist destination for European French and as with Martinique an atmosphere of mainland France in the Caribbean. The locals here were dead set against the strike which was doing untold damage to their livelihoods, the result was that most places were open but had nothing to sell! We enjoyed a quick wander ashore but the spirit of the place was suffering and moved on the next day to the northern coast of Guadeloupe to Deshailles.

We reached the bay late in the afternoon but when we were about 3 miles off Selma heard two English Boats on VHF describing smoke and riots in the town, our options, were simple - either sail through the night to Antigua or anchor in the bay and risk the reportedly riotous locals. We decided to have a peek in the bay and if it looked safe we’d stay and if there were any signs of trouble we’d leg it. Half an hour later we were snugged up at anchor with a handful of other boats, unsure of what the fuss was about - maybe the French destroyer that started patrolling outside the bay just after we arrived was a calming influence. Either way we stayed on the boat that night but never saw any riots.

Things might have been calm on the shore in Deshailles but that certainly wasn’t the case in the bay. The wind in the harbour was phenomenal. A mellow 15 - 20 knots trade wind blowing everywhere else was super-accelerated by the surrounding hills to a shrieking 40 - 45 knot screaming banshee. With the forepeak hatch open the inside of the good ship acted like a wind tunnel, at one point we had to hold Jack down to stop him being fired out of the boat like an air-rifle pellet. The howling wind created a wind chill that meant we needed sleeping bags for the first time since arriving in the Caribbean.

We didn’t go ashore that night but left early the next day bound for Antigua delighted to say goodbye to France.







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