Over the past week or so we have had a brief tour of the large mountainous island of Guadaloupe, followed by the cluster of islands to the south known as Les Saintes. We’ve had a mix of seeing wonderful places along with a few miserable nights that makes one wonder why anyone would live on a boat.
Having made it as far east as Antigua we were looking forward to our jump to Guadaloupe as from this point onwards our rhumb lines are more south than east which would generally allow for close reaching or beam reaching with the prevailing trade winds. However, we started out with light winds from the South and expected to be double reefed by the afternoon in South Easterlies but instead the winds arrived later than expected and we motor sailed all day. The last half the journey we actually saw light South West winds which we thought odd for the Caribbean, but later realized it was due to the major influence of the land mass on the wind.
We arrived in Dashaies late afternoon to find most of the boats facing west in the anchorage due to the light south west winds. I really don’t like it when this happens as it makes it difficult to determine how everyone is located relative to their anchor. In light winds a boat can spin but not pull it’s chain into a straight line which makes it difficult to figure out how far they might move when the wind returns to the east.
Our first attempt to anchor failed, and we moved to a new location where the anchor set. Another boat anchored ahead of us (to the west) while we were setting our anchor, dropped what seemed like a rather limited amount of chain and didn’t bother to back down it to ensure it was set. This would make for an interesting night.
I cleared customs, which is done by filling in your particulars on a computer terminal in a little tourist shop. Then you print it, sign it and the store collects 4 EU and stamps that you cleared in there.
After our long day, we had dinner, walked Magnus and were quick to bed. We had set an anchor alarm as the latest forecast had confirmed that we were due for some very strong winds from the east overnight which meant the boat would swing 180 degrees and when the chain straightens, this presents a chance for the anchor to get pulled free. Regardless of what anchor you have, this scenario is always presents a high chance of dragging.
At 11pm the anchor alarm went off and we got up to see what was happening. We had set the alarm for a conservative distance as the holding is reportedly poor in this harbour. We determined that we had swung but the wind wasn’t strong enough to fully align the chain. Chrissy returned to bed while I grabbed a blanket and kept watch in the cockpit. Not long after, we had a few gusts to 20 knots and the chain did straighten. Soon I would find out if the anchor was still set. Unfortunately, the boat that had anchored in front of me with what I thought was too little chain, was now right behind us.
From this point on, every time the wind gusted to about 22 or so knots our chain would pull tight and we would sometimes swing within a few feet of his bow. The good news was that our GPS showed that we were swinging in an arc so we weren’t dragging, but I couldn’t determine if we had dragged a bit when the wind clocked around or if it was due to the other boat not putting out as much chain as we had. A couple hours later, Chrissy took a turn watching and we decided to pull up about 10’ of chain which ideally we didn’t want to do, but with a person watching figured it was preferred over moving, especially since we were holding steady.
I came back up around 4:30 to relieve Chrissy. At this point the wind gusts were getting stronger and I could see a lot of lights on through the anchorage. I wasn’t the only one watching and a couple boats had already dragged and were moving, trying to find a new place to anchor. The boat behind us and the one next to him were swinging so close they each put their fenders out. Then, an hour later the winds gusted above 25 knots and the boat behind us started to creep backwards and a few minutes later they realized it too. At this point, I was relieved as we were no longer at risk of hitting anyone, so I put out all the remaining chain we had and slept in the cockpit, waking with the sound of the wind gusts to check that everything was ok. The entire next day and part of the next night the wind consistently blew 30 knots with stronger gusts, so not many people left their boats, but instead endured the bouncing for the next 36 hours.
When the wind finally calmed down, the water cleared and I snorkeled over the anchor. Reasonably set and no sign of dragging, although I could see that the sand layer was thin and why the reported holding here is poor. While it didn’t get our night’s sleep back it did go to show that the boat behind us had dragged from not properly setting their anchor or using enough chain for the conditions. When the winds are going to blow, you really want to be conservative. An so far I have no regrets buying the Vulcan anchor for going with the size that is arguably over kill for our boat.
Deshaies is actually a nice, tidy little town with a nice assortment of shops and restaurants. They have a few tour boats that operate in the area and a little harbour for local fishing boats. Maybe one day we will return and spend more time on land.
While I don’t think Magnus would approve of the paint job, here is a georgeous Outremer 49, the big sister to my current dream boat, the Outremer 45 (Yes, I know I change my mind frequently)
Here is an older Outremer on the same day. Both were German flagged. I respect the high correlation I’ve seen of Germans with good sailing boats opposed cushy vessels that just happen to have a mast and sails.
We carried on south to Pigeon Island, where we anchored off of Pte Malendure. This is a popular tourist spot as they have good snorkeling, a dark sand beach and a few little shops and beach bar restaurants. Day trip boats and kayak tours run out to Pigeon Island which is a national park and very popular dive site. Unfortunately the anchorage is very rolly, so neither of us slept much as the boat rolled about 15 degrees back and forth all night.
The next morning I released the main halyard tension so I could remove it from the end of the boom and attach it to the sail, only to have the boom crash down and bottom out the boomvang. I guess it’s time for a new gas strut. They do say cruising is all about waiting in exotic ports for parts…
The island of Guadaloupe being so mountainous compared to the other places we’ve sailed has a huge impact on the winds for sailing. As we set off down the coast we put a reef in the mainsail and at times would see easterly trade winds funneling down the valleys only to be becalmed a few moments later and then at times have west winds as the trade winds were pushed so high up the windward side of the island that they were swirling back on shore on the leeward side. Then as we approached the final few miles of the island, the trade winds were being squeezed around the south end of the island bringing the 17 or 18 knot winds up above 30 knots for the final beat across the opening between Guadaloupe and the small islands to the south known as Iles des Saintes.
Iles des Saints have been French since around the time they were colonized and subsisted primarily on fishing. Reportedly there was no agriculture, so there isn’t any slavery in their history. Now they are primarily tourist islands with little shops, restaurants and water activities. The narrow streets are filled with scooters that the locals use to get around and can be rented by the tourists.
The day we arrived in Bourg des Saintes we wandered around the town for the later part of the afternoon and then had a simple pizza dinner on the main street. We observed some Mardi Gras celebrations as they passed on the street which consisted mainly of loud music, a somewhat inappropriate snowman float and a small crowd following on the street.
A short dinghy ride behind us was Ilet Cabrit which has a couple of beaches, one dominated with wind surfing, kite surfing and hobie cats, the other tucked around the corner with a hiking trail up to the old fort. Lots of fish were to be seen snorkeling along the shore line, and numerous goats on the hike.
Seeing these Hobie Cats on the beach has made me more certain than ever that I will get another when we return. While there are certain parts of sailing a cruising boat I enjoy, from a pure sailing perspective, the beach catamarans are my true interest.
Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?
Now that’s a view!
Overall, Guadaloupe is an interesting place with beautiful scenery but in future with the poorly protected anchorages and huge wind shifts from land effects, I’d be tempted to visit again on land instead of by boat as I suspect we would have been able to see a lot more that way, although we did limit ourselves by just travelling down the west coast.