"four little pilot whales were swimming in synchronicity, spraying plume as they went."
Last week we said goodbye to my aunt, who flew back from Antigua. Early the next morning while it was still dark, we prepared the boat and set off for Guadeloupe, just as the sun was starting to rise. We had a gorgeous sail with moderate winds on the beam all the way and some sunshine. This was my mum and my stepdad’s first sail since coming out to the Caribbean. They got very lucky indeed. At one point my stepdad turned to the back and gave a cry. It was a huge whale! The first big whale we have seen. We think it was a sperm whale - huge and grey. It loomed out of the water only a few feet from the back of the boat and gradually swam away, spraying plume as it went. Not long after, my mum looked out to the side and four little pilot whales were swimming in synchronicity, spraying plume as they went. Again, they were really close to the boat. We’ve only seen one from quite a distance in St Lucia and in England before, so this was an amazing surprise. We made it into the anchorage in Deshaies in Guadeloupe in the afternoon, where they film Death in Paradise.
Deshaies is a lovely little touristy fishing village. We cleared into Guadeloupe using a computer in a clothes shop; customs and immigration is very relaxed in the French islands. We strolled up to the police station and Catherine’s Bar, two of the locations where they film Death in Paradise. Next door to the police station is a cream coloured church fringed with palm trees. There are bars and restaurants overlooking the beach and the ubiquitous boulangerie. We also visited the botanical gardens and marvelled at the huge plants and flowers. They also had waterfalls, a pond full of glistening orange koi carp, opening their mouths wide out of the water and bright salmon coloured flamingos.
Unfortunately as we were leaving the boat, we had a little mishap. We were all loaded into the dinghy and Luciano had cast off the lines attaching us to the mothership. I was turning us round and as I did so, my mum and I, who were sitting at the back, realised that a load of water was pouring in through the sides of the dinghy where the tube connects to the back. Only the sides were no longer connected to the back, the glue had gone! We went back to drop someone back at the boat to lighten the load and stuffed a cloth in the gap, then we did two trips. Luckily we made it to shore and back this way, bailing out water inbetween. However, it was curtains for our much patched dinghy. We had wanted to visit Pigeon Island next, which is supposed to have excellent snorkelling, but realised that a new dinghy was a priority, or we would be trapped on the boat. The next place with a marina was Basse Terre, Guadeloupe’s capital in the far south of Guadeloupe’s western coast. We had a brisk sail down in gusty conditions, but as it was Sunday, there was no one to contact in the marina. We peeked inside, but no one was around. We anchored outside the marina and decided to wait for the next morning. We had a lovely swim around the boat and paddleboarded over to the black sand beach. Basse Terre unsurprisingly, is near the volcano.
The next morning we made it into the marina and hired a car to visit the largest town of Point à Pitre to buy a new dinghy. Great news - we are no longer trapped on the boat when at anchor. We also used the opportunity to explore the mountains of Guadeloupe’s western coast. Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly and some comedian named the mountainous western side Basse Terre, which means low ground. The eastern wing of the butterfly is called Grande Terre even though it is the smaller side of the island.
Our first stop was the Carbet Waterfalls. Set in the lush rainforest on the slopes of the La Soufrière volcano (I don’t know why every volcano in the Caribbean has the same name), the walk was shady and pleasant and the falls were spectacular. Sheer power that you feel in your belly. On the way back down, we visited the crater lake - Grand Etang (same name as the one in Grenada). Like the one in Grenada, it is surrounded with plants growing around and on the lake. Our next stop was La Soufrière herself. We had another pleasant walk in amongst giant leaves and vines, and got close enough to smell the sulphur, but not up to the top. We then visited Fort Louis Delgrés. It’s a huge fort in excellent condition, with surprisingly no entry fee. You can walk up high along the ramparts to a viewpoint with a 360 degree panorama looking out across la soufrière and over the bay. As we did so, a huge rainbow appeared over the fort. The fort has an interesting history, being used by Louis Delgrès, a mixed race military officer in Revolutionary France, who led the Guadeloupe resistance against the reintroduction of slavery by Napoleon in 1802. It was a vain attempt, but he and his band of men valiantly made a last stand by blowing up the gunpowder store to kill as many of the opposition as possible and deliberately killing themselves in the process. Last on the itinerary was a trip to the lighthouse on the southwestern edge of the island. All around the base of it, brave young souls were snorkelling in the early evening dusk.
The next morning we cast off from the marina and set sail again. But there were more challenges ahead. It was a gusty passage as we headed south and then south east towards the Saints, a group of small islands south of and part of, Guadeloupe. As we came in very close to the islands a squall blew up sending the wind meter reading a gust of 33 knots. The waves were increasing in size. We switched on the engine and turned onto a broad reach to furl in the headsail, but as we turned back, one of the lazy jack lines snapped. The lazy jack lines just keep the sail in place when bringing it down. They are not an essential piece of sailing equipment, but it would mean a climb up the mast to repair. The rain poured down, but as we moved into the shelter of the islands, the wind speed dropped and the squall passed. We were hoping to get a mooring buoy off the main town but they were all taken. You have to drop your anchor outside the mooring buoy fields at each of the anchorages in deep water. We only have 50m of chain. So we decided to head to an anchorage on one of the quiet islands. We managed to anchor here, but the wind was swinging in all directions and it was incredibly rolly. We were just pausing to assess our position when we were swung towards a catamaran, which in turn was swung towards us, revealing a boat full of naked men only a few feet away from us and one of them snorkelling just off the back of our boat, bare bum pointed to the sky. We hurriedly brought in some chain to give us a bit of space. We stayed the night, but none of us got much sleep, it was one of the rolliest anchorages we have ever stayed in. One bonus was seeing turtles in the bay though.
The next morning we motored back over to the town and found a free mooring buoy. It was also pretty rolly here, but slightly less extreme than the anchorage the previous night. We pumped up the new dinghy and launched it, started up the outboard motor and all of us piled in. I cast off the lines and then the outboard motor failed. We drifted away from the safety of the boat as Luciano in vain tried to restart the engine. In the end, we decided to paddle back before we drifted too far away. First my mum tried to exit the dinghy and slammed her back onto the bench. Then my stepdad fell in the water while trying to exit the dinghy. Luciano and I felt terrible, we were supposed to be showing them a good time, but it was one disaster after another. We got the outboard motor back onboard and eventually managed to get it started again. All of us eventually made it over to look at the town of Bourg des Saints. It’s a very pretty little town, but you would be very hard pressed to realise you are in the Caribbean, it feels exactly like being in France. We’re heading back up to the mainland today - we have all got a better night’s sleep last night and we’re heading west so the wind should be more behind us than when we came in.
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