We took a deep breath after having anchored in what must be the windiest anchorage in the Caribbean (when it isn’t completely becalmed with all boats lying differently around their anchors). Our trip from Antigua to Guadeloupe had been one of the wettest and windiest we have ever made together on a day of squalls bringing over 45 knots of wind over our bow. Luckily the seas hadn’t been very high, or it would have been extremely rough. In these circumstances we always thank our lucky stars to be on a boat as solid and heavily built as the Princess. However, in sustained storm force winds I am always slightly alarmed for our rigging, even with the sails rolled up. As we neared Guadeloupe we had a decision to make. We could have persevered for another two hours in terrible visibility to the calmer anchorage further south at Malendure, knowing as we did that there were lots of fishing nets and pots along the coast, or duck into Deshaies on the north coast. We had been in Deshaies in high winds before, and seen 40 knots on our wind instruments there during night. The wind funnels down between the mountains and intensifies the gusts rather than providing shelter from them. However, we had held fast in these conditions and reasoned that if we had done so before, our trusty Rocna anchor would serve us well again. So in we went. Anchor down (second time lucky) sopping wet anoraks off, kettle on.
I made a discovery on this trip. As we had screeched through storm force winds heeling as we sailed to windward with a mere hint of stay sail, I could sit in the comfortable armchair down below and see the horizon through our porthole in the saloon and not feel queasy. Simon has always been able to sit for hours in the saloon staring at a laptop screen (for navigation purposes, you understand, not checking his Facebook page) without the mere hint of seasickness, whereas I have always risked feeling green about the gills if I spend too long in the cabin without being able to see the horizon. As I am short and cannot see through the forward facing hatches without standing on tip toe (something that is not sensible to do when beating to windward) in practice, that means that I am in the cockpit with the wind in my hair while the skipper can ponder our course sitting comfortably at the navigation table for hours. In the Caribbean this is not a hardship! However, on the occasional wet and windy sails that we have had recently, I have been envious of him for being able to tuck out of the wind in the saloon. Coming down into the saloon is like suddenly switching the gale off! The contrast to being down below and being in the screeching gale force winds in the cockpit can be really striking. It’s a moment when I have definitely appreciated the tranquility that the Princess offers.
And occasionally at anchor this can be a boon as well. Deshaies is a case in hand. One fellow sailor told us that he had crossed the Atlantic on the French rally which is the equivalent to the ARC only to experience the worst conditions once he was at anchor in Deshaies. It is a beautiful place and one of my favourite bays in the Caribbean, but it can certainly get bloody windy! We had just hunkered down to watch a film when somebody knocked on the hull of the boat. It was a brave lady in a dinghy who was warning all the boats in the vicinity that another boat was dragging its anchor. In the dark and the howling wind, we watched as a yacht, completely dark with no crew on board, slowly but surely drifted towards us. Luckily for us, she missed the Princess by a few metres to drag onto the boat which was anchored up next to us . We heard the coast guard on channel 16, calling for the crew of the boat that was drifting out to sea, as it took the smaller vessel with it. This kind of incident has a nightmarish quality as it happens at such slow speed but with such strong forces behind it.
The catamaran in front of us suddenly seemed to be a lot closer than it had been before. We monitored our anchor track on our Navionics app which shows a handy yellow trace of our boat’s exact position, and set our anchor alarm which kept going off for false alarms, probably as we pulled back on our 50 metres of chain. Once more we said a little thank you to the anchor Gods and Simon congratulated himself for having chosen a 55 kilo Rocna anchor, slightly over specified for our boat’s weight. Having said that, we have now filled our boat with so many goodies from French supermarkets to last us for a year in the rest of the Caribbean, that we might be significantly heavier than the weight on our boat registration document.
The story has a happy ending. The catamaran moved to the other side of the bay and although four boats dragged their anchor that night, we weren’t one of them. Nobody dragged into our path, and the next morning we saw the errant boat safe and sound in the anchorage (although there was no sign of the smaller vessel). It is lucky that there is a Coast Guard in Deshaies. We would have loved to go ashore and hear the gossip about exactly what happened (and how the crew of Camelot felt when they emerged from the bar to find their boat gone) but the wind machine was switched on again at about 10am, and we decided to sail to Malendure. Squalls, floods, dragging boats and Maydays… we wondered had we chosen a more adventurous chapter in staying in the tropics for summer than we had bargained for? We were expecting challenges eventually, notably on getting to Trinidad and on the sail to Columbia but hadn’t expected the excitement to come so quickly!
One of the advantages of our plan to revisit some of the islands we had grown to love is that we knew what to expect. Old hands at managing the gusts which barrel unexpectedly down the hillside on the sail between Deshaies and Malendure, we reefed down and enjoyed the katabatic winds which had wrecked our outboard the last time we had been along this part of coastline. This time, we were ready for them and missed them when they died out!
Our experience of summer in Guadeloupe was one of contrasts. From squalls and high drama we found ourselves in the gentlest of conditions in Malendure. Blue skies returned and we tucked up in much the same spot that we had anchored in before. The remainder of our week in this idyllic spot and at Les Saintes, the islands south of Basse Terre, we had the gentlest of breezes at anchor. Having spent weeks in the flatter islands better known for beaches than mountains, it made my heart sing to see the rainforest again. Antigua had looked surprisingly lush and green after the early rains of the rainy season, but Guadeloupe was in lush, green overdrive. Bionically green, I would call it (technical term).
Again, I couldn’t believe the contrast between two neighbouring islands. Antigua (certainly Falmouth harbor) had
been deserted. Guadeloupe in June however, is still buzzing. There were plenty of other boats about at anchor and the dive shops, bars and restaurants were still open for business, still playing live music on a Sunday and although there was a low season feel with slightly fewer people, there still wasn’t a table free on Sunday night on the beach at Malendure around sunset. First world problems!
A couple of boxes needed to be ticked. First, we absolutely had to do a dive in the Cousteau marine park. There was a dive operator which literally drove past our boat and when we called them over, agreed to fill our bottles. Guadeloupe is one of the places where you can dive by yourself without a dive operator holding your hand. In fact, the dive school was happy to tell us where to go (in a nice way), which buoys to moor up to and what was the best time of day to do different dives. However, I am happy that we went out with them to do a dive. We had a dive instructor just for the two of us, Eric, who was able to take us around the pigeon island site for an hour (54 minutes to be precise) and to point out all the stuff we would have missed, the small stuff such as sand eels, aquatic snails and fire worms. This site is great as the fish are so used to divers and swim right up to you. We saw a great variety of fish including a beautiful, big Queen Trigger fish right at the end. We both came out beaming! At 45 Euros including hire of the gear and post dive rum punches, we can definitely recommend ……….
Another box I wanted to tick was to take my bike and get up the hill into the rainforest. This box I ticked alone while Simon did important research (aka, spend the morning looking at weather apps). We had seen many serious looking men in lycra cycling along the long flat road which runs along the sea front at Malendure, and consulting Google maps I saw that the zoo was a mere hour away by bike. I reckoned that this was a good way to test my fitness level to see if the swimming and looking at pretty fishes is keeping me fit (despite being a little heavier than I was at the beginning of this trip). The result? Let’s just say that I made it to the zoo with a huge feeling of achievement. I blame the humidity. The best thing I did was to take a big bottle of water, and I really needed it, even though most of the way I pushed the bike up the hill. And even then I needed to take regular breaks. I looked at the men in lycra with increased respect after that trip! The ride back down the hill again was amazing, though, and even on the way up, the other worldliness of being back in the rainforest really helped.
A quick recommendation for the Zoo in Guadeloupe. A rather arbitrary destination for my brave bike ride up the mountain, it turned out to be a jewel of a destination. Seeing animals that you would find in the tropics in a tropical environment is really lovely. This little park has been laid out with great love and attention to detail and would be worth the entrance fee as a botanical garden alone with its wonderful tree top canopy walk (not for those suffering even slightly from vertigo!).
Our sail down south along the lee of the island to Les Saintes could not have been more different than our sail over. We dawdled in a light downwind breeze that made us dream of our cruising chute and eventually have recourse to our engine. We overtook a smaller Benetteau and waved at the skipper who was lying down on the job and waved lazily in a way that said ‘might as well enjoy it, what’s the hurry’. Funny how a wave can say all that! No tropical waves are expected in the next 5 days, to quote the NOAH website. Let’s keep it that way!