Our first adventure away from the large community of Salty Dawgs was to Guadeloupe. Six hours of sailing, and arriving in Deshaies at 5 as the sun began to set, was delightful. Finding a free mooring in the wildly windy harbor was challenging. Where did all this wind come from? Outside the harbor was a perfect bluebird breezy day and now, in this amphitheater of cliffs, the wind howled in irregular bursts of fury. As we circled the harbor, we found all of the moorings occupied. Like a dog looking for a place to lie down, we whirled about looking for the largest space to drop our anchor that wasn’t too deep. With only 150 feet of anchor chain, we prefer to stay in less than 25 feet of water, so we don’t have to let out all that chain and rely on the connecting nylon rode. Finally we chose a spot far out in the harbor; a long dinghy ride, but no bumper boats for the night.
Clearing customs was a snap. The tiny retail clothing shop had a small computer set up in the corner where you typed in your info, hit print, and went to the cashier and gave her about 4 Euro. Why is it that some countries require so many formalities, others require hundreds of dollars, and here is so cheap and simple?
Another positive aspect of Guadeloupe was obvious from the harbor. Families here honor their loved ones after death. A huge cemetery, seen from the harbor and town, is full of dramatic as well as simple memorials. I’m not sure what they do when they start running out of space for more family members. Church also is a central part of the community. Many locals lingered after the service was finished. A teenager, wanting to practice her English with us, told us about her upcoming trip to New York with a school group. She, and her very shy friend, were selling fresh baked goods to raise money for the trip. What a common worldwide experience: selling baked goods to fund an adventure. Of course we enjoyed the treats we purchased!
A dinner party on Alembic, the second night in the harbor, was interesting. I wish we had taken photos. One couple was Canadian, and the other was Swedish. The Canadians had been cruising for many years in their old Whitby, a sister ship to Alembic, and the Swedes were on a gorgeous new Halberg Rassey. The Canadians were “getting out of the Caribbean as soon as possible” because they felt it was unsafe. They lock their boat up tightly at night, so the “intruders” can’t come in. It was so sad to hear them talk of locals so negatively, when our experience, and the experiences of all the other cruisers we have met, find the exact opposite. And the Swedes were leaving soon too, for a different reason. Marie simply misses home terribly, so she will be flying home this May, while Mats will sail their boat back with crew aboard. Usually our dinner parties are more uplifting, as most cruisers we meet are exceptionally grateful for this opportunity and are working on continuing the lifestyle indefinitely!
A new day dawned the next morning and we took in the spectacular Botanical Gardens, just a mile walk up a very steep hill from the dinghy dock. Lush is a word that describes this beautiful island of Guadeloupe. With plentiful sunshine as well as rain, the gardens were exploding with color. The Koi must be used to tourists feeding them; they greedily climbed over each other with gaping open mouths. The parrots also flew to your hand, expecting you to have a shot glass of smoothie. They were kinder than the koi, taking turns sharing the offered beverage. Indulging on breathtaking colors, we tried to capture the sights of this amazing venue. Bizarre trees, pink flamingos, banana plants, and ginger flowers were just a tiny portion of the vast selection of offerings.
A four dollar bus ride into Point a Pitre the following day was a huge culture shift. The big city was dirty, crowded, and bustling. You could find whatever you wanted here, if you had the patience to practice your French, climb through stinky muddy streets, and make a lot of wrong turns. With no purchasing needs, we meandered through the city, taking in the vibe. A simple lunch and the slave museum were our only diversions. I highly recommend the slave museum; I learned about the history of these beautiful caribbean islands and the people who have been coming here throughout the past few centuries.
After a 24 hour sail, we arrived at the south end of Martinique, another French island. We dropped our anchor right behind dear friends Shelley and John on Planet Waves. Who needs sleep? As quick as we could drop the dinghy in the water, we scooted over to their boat for a scrumptious meal of BBQ chicken (ok, so, distracted, he cooked it a bit too long…) and baked beets with plenty of other treats as well. Our entertainment aboard Planet Waves was watching a pair of rickety boats, rafted together, drag down onto a round-the-world cruiser from South Africa who was anchored right next to Planet Waves. Much swearing and finagling ensued and finally one of the old battered boats managed to rev up enough horsepower to limp away and drop anchor out of reach of us. We invited the South African man to join us on Planet Waves and he shared many stories of his travels. Then it was off to town to enjoy live music from liveaboard cruisers as well as dancers who are part of a traveling circus. Never a dull moment!
A few more quick anchorage stops in St Anne and St Pierre before we headed back north again were noteworthy. In St Anne, we met Alastair on Cranstackie who would later join us in Dominica for hurricane relief work, and the Giffords on Totem who has sailed around the world with their three children. Behan and Jamie Gifford have an online business answering questions about how to make cruising work for families. I was honored to answer some of her questions online a few months ago regarding cruising in the Western Caribbean.
St Pierre was a rolly anchorage beside an ancient city. Arriving on a Sunday meant we missed all of the weekday activities of retail and restaurant bustle. Instead, we enjoyed a quiet walk through a sleepy village, trying to imagine the stories created here. Leaving at dawn the next morning, we never saw this town wake up.
Time to head to Dominica. Bill Balme, on Toodle-oo! had arranged for the Salty Dawgs to arrive in this hurricane stricken island and begin helping them. Off we went to join this group!