DATE: March 02, 2007
We pulled the hook in Gustavia, St Barts, early the 21st after spending an hour with the weather charts, still a bit undecided about the next destination. I was leaving early enough that a direct route to Guadeloupe would put me at the small fishing village of Deshaies very late that night or early the next morning, which meant I would probably stand off the coast until sunrise. The small volcanic island of Montserrat lay almost on the same route lying a little west of the rhumb line some 75 miles distant. I thought if I could average 7 knots or a little better, I could make Little Bay Harbor in the northern part of Montserrat in decent light and maybe spend a couple of days there before proceeding on to Guadeloupe. If I had come to this decision perhaps an hour earlier and left St. Barts by 7:30 this would have worked, as it was I left at 8:30, closer to 9 by the time I cleared the outer harbor. The first hour or two of the trip the winds were fitful in the lee of St Barts and I only averaged 5 to 6 knots. The winds came on strong and we actually averaged 8 knots for the next several hours but the wind went foul 10 miles north of Montserrat after a mean little squall. I was within a couple of miles of Montserrat when the last of the evening light faded. There was a very strong northerly swell running which meant it would be breaking hard on the harbor shore and it would almost certainly be a very uncomfortable anchorage. I debated continuing on, the harbor is wide open and the entrance not complicated, but the moon was a few hours away yet, and keeping to my nearly hard and fast rule of not making a new port at night, I decided to tack away.
Plymouth, Capitol City of Montserrat was destroyed in 1995 when the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted. The volcano had quieted in the last several years and the hearty islanders who remained were welcoming tourists and trying to rebuild, unfortunately the volcano became increasingly active this past year dealing another setback to this beautiful island nation. The island needs and welcomes those hearty enough to visit and I was disappointed that I would have to miss it. As I sailed down the east coast of the island I was surprised to see the side of the volcano glowing a dull orange with lava flows punctuated with an occasional white-hot burst, which indicated that the volcano was quite active that night. Had I known that I would have sailed a little closer but it was still an awesome, sobering sight even from several miles off.
The attempted trip to Montserrat took a couple of hours and put me into some variable winds as the trades lifted over the mountains to leeward, and it wasn't until 4:00 A.M. that I closed with the Guadeloupe coast. I was only a few miles from Deshaies and rather than heave to, which is not to Parallax's liking, I rolled in the jib and put another reef in the main which slowed us 3 knots or so. I closed with the shore at first light, and as I suspected, fish traps and pots were everywhere. One of the reasons I avoid night landfalls.
As the dawn brightened, the red roofs of the little town appeared clustered around the single church spire. The church bells were ringing 7:00 A.M. just as we set anchor in the harbor; welcome to Guadeloupe. I spent a week in Deshaies, it is a great little town, friendly people, good little restaurants and most certainly French. I hiked up the Deshaies River searching for the waterfall, visited the botanical garden, and generally used the harbor as a base to explore the northern part of the island. I had wanted to spend a couple of days in the northern reef encrusted Grand Cul De Sac Marion. As the name implies the Cul de Sac is the dead end of several small cuts in the reef and the whole area consisting of the reefs and several islets comprise a national park. A few fishing villages are tucked behind the reefs, as well as the mouth of Grande Riviere A Goyaves, one of the longest tropical rivers in the Caribbean. It was a 10-mile beat to get to the cut through the reefs and I left Deshaies in time to insure a good light when I was to make the entrance but I had a fuel problem and neither engine was running reliably. The cut in to the cul de sac was narrow but most probably sailable but I didn't want to attempt the entrance and reef navigation for the first time without knowing that I had the diesel backup.(Moitessier would certainly disdain such timidity) I hove to and sucked down about a half gallon of diesel fuel trying to clear the lines and by that time the sun was on its western decent and would have been largely in front of me as I made the approaches through the cul de sac. Not good light for reef navigation, so we reversed course and headed back to Deshaies
Guadeloupe and its surrounding islands is a huge area to explore so in the end I moved south from Deshaies without exploring the northern areas, although I did make a day sail to Pigeon island off the northwest coast for some snorkeling. Guadeloupe is really two islands divided by the Riviere Salee (really more like a canal). The two half's look like a clipped butterfly. The western half is geologically more recent and mountainous, the eastern part older and eroded. The same people who named Greenland and Iceland must have been involved in the naming of Guadeloupe as the mountainous part is called Basse Terre or (low land) and the flatter clipped wing of the butterfly is called Grand Terre or (great land). There are so many ports around and between the wings of Guadeloupe you could easily spend a month exploring. I didn't have a month so I had to choose and my choice for the next destination was a group of small islands about 6 miles south and east of Basse Terre known as the Saintes. The 2nd of March brought a wind a little north of east perfect for making the Saintes. We hauled the anchor and made Terre Den Haut, one of the two larger islands comprising the Saints with just one short tack to east. The little village of Bourg des Saintes is located in a snug little harbor on the north side of the island. If there was ever a living postcard this is it, like Deshaies the single church spire overlooks the red roofed shops lining the waterfront and the constant activity on the church grounds gives you an indication that underneath the active tourist trade there is a real working village here. Little fishing boats, most of wood and of every color bob on their moorings to the right of the harbor near the open fish market. The streets are alive from morning to night with tourists and townsfolk alike, buying bread and pastries from the boulangerie , gathered around the fishermen and the days catch at the open market, or sipping café at one of many outdoor cafes and restaurants. It was easy to spend 4 or 5 days here. My only regret is that I didn't stray far from the town or explore the other islands that comprise the Iles Des Saintes. The morning of the 5th dawned with a wind south of east, which begged for a trip back to mainland Guadeloupe and the major city of Pointe a Pitre at the heart of the island. We were able to make the sail in one tack save for a short clearing tack off the point at Capesterre. The wind was perfect and we sailed thru the cut right up to the anchorage, dropped the hook, and launched the dingy to have a look around. .