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May 26, 2005

Deshaies, Guadeloupe

We had a really wonderful passage to Guadeloupe from St. Martin, even though we only got to sail for about 5 out of the 24 hours. We decided to leave St. Martin after only 2 days there, although it was very nice, due to the weather forecast. If we waited much longer we'd have the wind on the nose again, and big seas. We decided that a motorsail in flat seas sounded better, and there was always the possibility that the "light and variable" winds forecast would give us a light beam reach. Well, that didn't happen, but we still had a lovely passage. The moon was full and at times the sea was glassy smooth and calm. It was easy to cook, move about the boat, and sleep. There were a couple of tall thunderclouds with rain pouring underneath them that were easily visible in the full moonlight and on radar, and avoiding them kept the night watches from being too boring. At dawn we saw the smoking volcano of Montserrat to starboard, and soon we were surrounded by a school of bottlenose dolphins, some of which played at the bow and rolled over to gaze up at us with their intelligent and curious eyes. A little while later we saw a sperm whale heading towards us, just swimming along the surface of the sea. It passed a couple of boat lengths away. Here is the volcano at dawn:

When we reached Deshaies we found a pretty little town nestled between two steep green hills. We were just in time to catch the customs officers before they closed for lunch, and were soon all checked in and settled and lunching on delicious fresh-baked baguette from the boulangerie in town. St. Martin was the first French island we visited, and we were so happy to find cheap, wonderful bread at the bakeries. The customs procedures on the French islands are also much easier than many other countries, and it is free! After lunch we saw rain clouds coming. It looked like a lot of rain, so we decided to try to catch some to wash our clothes. Well, it was a torrential downpour that lasted an hour or more: not only did we fill up all of our water tanks and take lavish showers, but we got all of our laundry squeaky clean! We probably caught 50 gallons and easily could have collected four times that amount if we'd needed to. We were amazed at our industriousness, especially since we were pretty tired from the overnight passage, and felt rather proud of ourselves. We even had clean sheets to fall into, exhausted, that night.

Today we went into town to get more baguettes for today, and also bought a bag full of fresh local produce. It's so great to actually find locally grown produce after months and months of shops carrying only old, imported US-grown stuff. The prices aren't dirt cheap, maybe a bit less than we'd pay in the States, but the fruits and vegetables are gorgeous, and the experience of buying them in an outdoor market stall next to the sea makes it even more worthwhile. We also bought a bottle of the local "rhum agricole", limes, and cane syrup to make the traditional French West Indian 'Ti Punch.

It's SO hot here; we're wondering how we'll make it through the summer when we're even further south. It's 90F by 0800 in the morning! We'll definitely be making a point of staying in clean anchorages where we can jump over the side to cool off. We'll also do as we did today and make land excursions first thing in the morning (when it's not quite so hot) and then do school when we get back to the boat. Today we're doing quiet restful activities inside the boat in the super-hot (it is probably 100 now) early afternoon hours, and it seems very wise. All of the shops close at this time anyway, so resting in the shade for a few hours should work well. I have never seen a cat pant before, but poor Daisy pants all the time. She also sprawls out as wide as she can in the deepest shade she can find, and does not move at all for hours. Poor kitty!

These islands are so incredibly beautiful, so lush and green, with exuberantly colorful flowers and the sounds and smells of the jungle. The steep hills often rise nearly straight up from the sea, or from a palm-lined beach, and sometimes the tops are hidden in clouds. It is so very different from the flat dry Bahamas and even the more arid and scrubbier Virgin Islands. The unfortunate trade-off for the lush landscape is the increased amount of run-off into the sea; the water is quite a bit murkier than we're used to, so snorkeling isn't as spectacular.

After a couple of days in Des Haies, we set off down the coast of Guadeloupe. We stopped at a national marine park called Pigeon Island for some truly spectacular snorkeling, and then continued down the coast, sailing on a broad reach in flat seas. We'd intended to overnight in a little fishing harbor, but found it to be rolly and loud when we arrived. So we continued down the coast to the city of Basse Terre, where our guidebook said we could anchor outside the marina. We were badly in need of diesel fuel, so this seemed a good place to refuel and sleep before heading south again the next day. When we arrived, however, it was obvious that we could not anchor overnight. The island slopes off into the abyss only yards from the shore, and the one boat anchored precariously on the tiny shelf of 25-foot depths was rolling violently. What were we going to do? First things first, we needed fuel. We picked our way into the shallow marina and tied up at the fuel dock. After an hour of searching we found someone who explained why the marina was so deserted: it was a national holiday (Emancipation from Slavery Day) and everything was closed! That, however, solved our problem of where to spend the night. We just stayed tied to the fuel dock. The next morning, after getting a fresh baguette and filling up with outrageously expensive fuel ($5.25 per gallon!!!) we set out for Les Saintes.

Les Saintes is a beautiful little group of islands off the southern end of Guadeloupe. It is incredibly picturesque, and incredibly expensive! We had the misfortune to arrive just before a group of 75 race boats competing in the Around Guadeloupe race descended on the islands, accompanied by 50 more local spectator boats. This wouldn't have been so bad, except that they had, shall we say, very different ideas of correct anchoring techniques than we did! A boat from Pointe a Pitre dropped their anchor directly on top of ours (even though we'd told him where it was!) and they argued belligerently with us until we picked up our anchor and moved to a different anchorage behind Le Pain de Sucre, where all the other cruising boats were hiding out. Oh, well, so we had the stereotypical "rude Frenchman" experience! We had to move another couple of times when we were crowded out, but we still loved Les Saintes. Any other weekend it probably would be truly spectacular. Scenes from Les Saintes:

 

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