Tuesday 8th to Tuesday 15th March
We left volcanic Montserrat at 3am, a dark moonless night, managing to just avoid a small, unlit yacht as we raised the anchor. The sky was stunning, a mass of stars, and we could see both the Southern Cross and Polaris, the North Star, as well as Vega high in the night sky. As we motored silently past Montserrat in the still night, the south of the island was a dark presence without all the street and house lights indicating human habitation that were visible on the north, with a sulphurous smell from the lurking volcano. I stood at the bow of the boat with a flashlight for the first hour, watching out for fishing buoys, but only saw bright fish eyes, like illuminated marbles, as they dashed away from us at speed.
In the early hours before dawn it rained heavily but after the sun rose it was a beautiful morning and we were finally able to shake out the sails in 8 to 10 knots of wind.
As we arrived in Guadeloupe after the 40 nautical mile journey, the bay was full of yachts and catamarans at anchor and we dropped the mainsail in by now strong winds. We motored around for a while looking for a suitable spot to anchor, one sheltered from the worst of the wind and with a big enough gap between the other boats to allow us to swing without bumping into them, or visa versa. The anchor is dropped, the helmsman reverses gently to pull on the anchor to encourage it to imbed firmly into the sandy bottom, whilst the crew puts a hand on the anchor chain to ensure that it doesn’t feel like the anchor is bouncing over the bottom. After you’ve sat around for a while and had a nice cup of tea, and given it time to make sure that you’re not drifting, a final check is to snorkel down and check the anchor is well dug into the sand and is unlikely to drag. This always seems to be my job, but with even stronger winds forecast it made sense and in warm water is not unpleasant, although in 10 meters of cloudy water I had to keep diving down to be able to see the chain and anchor.
Our arrival point in Guadeloupe was the village of Deshaies and is where the BBC TV series Death in Paradise is filmed although we hadn’t realised this until we got there. We have been addicted to this series so looked forward to spotting familiar places, if not faces.
Guadeloupe is a large and mountainous island which is part of France ie. it is a French Region, and as such has a very different feel to it than the other islands we have so far visited which have all been former British colonies. It feels much more affluent and egalitarian, the Euro is currency, the shops and supermarkets are full of French food, wine and cheeses, boules is played by the locals. One added advantage was that instead of traipsing from customs to immigration and then to the port authority to complete the formalities of entering a new island, we just filled in an online form in a tourist shop, paid €4, et voila!!
As predicted it became very windy over the next few days, probably more so as the wind funnelled down into the bay through the hills, with gusts of up to 30 knots. The first night it rained heavily and neither of us slept well as we frequently checked the anchor hadn’t dragged. On the second day it was even windier and when we set off to motor across the bay in the dinghy we were quickly drenched by heavy spray thrown up by the waves, so turned back. Other boats were coming in to seek refuge in the bay and we watched with alarm as another yacht dropped anchor in front of us. Not only were we worried they might drift into us but if their anchor chain became entangled with ours then it could pull our anchor up. Etiquette demands that if you anchor first and are unhappy with where the newly arriving boat anchors you can ask them to move, but since they were adamantly ignoring our shouts there was little that we could do in the howling wind. In the meantime our dinghy, tied on to the stern, had been flipped right over by the wind and was upside down in the water with the outboard still attached. We managed to get it upright, shortened the lines holding it on to the back of Vega and decided to sort it in the morning and not in the dark.
The next morning was spent stripping down the outboard yet again, emptying the fuel tank and carburettor of salty water, drying the spark plug and putting it all back together. Amazingly the outboard started first time and we were able to get into town to get to the shops and have another look around the rather touristy village of Deshaies, with a pretty church and shops and restaurants lining the seafront. Disappointingly we weren’t able to recognise anywhere familiar from Death in Paradise and there was no filming going on.
One of the entertainments whilst spending time at anchor in a busy bay is watching other boats, and there were almost 50 boats and catamarans at anchor in the bay. On a nearby yacht a man with his grey hair in a man bun, and nothing else, greeted the sun each morning with outstretched arms. We had shooed off a trimaran earlier which had tried to anchor too close to us and later watched as it came off its mooring and was being blown along the bay, the four crew on board having gone into the village. As other yachts tried to get out of the way or to fender it off, a young couple in a dinghy heroically got aboard, managed to get the engine started and motored it back to its mooring. In between the sunshine there were frequent tropical downpours and we wished we had an effective way of collecting the rainwater as our water tanks were by now empty. We spent four days at anchor in the bay at Deshaies, but were unable to go ashore for two days due to the wind and rain. After this we headed south along the west coast of Guadeloupe aiming for the marina at Basse-Terre, the capital city of Guadeloupe.
Halfway along the coast we passed Pigeon Island where there is the Cousteau National Park, a marine reserve, and decided to spent the night at anchor in the bay here and arrange to go scuba diving the next morning. Meanwhile we went snorkelling in the bay and found turtles feeding under the boat. They were clearly quite used to people coming to watch them and ignored us unless we came within a couple of feet at which they nonchalantly swam away . The dive the next day was spectacular and beautiful, well deserving of its description by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. There were hard and soft corals in orange, mustard, maroon, and we were swimming amongst fish of all sizes and colours, multicoloured parrot fish, large yellowtailed snappers, a shoal of huge, languid angelfish, a queen trigger fish with well-defined markings on its tail. There is an ongoing invasion of lionfish in the Caribbean which are not a native species and have no predators here. They are rather attractive, elegant striped creatures with feathery fins but are causing massive disruption to the ecosystem in the reefs by eating other species voraciously. Our divemaster speared seven lion fish and fed one to a very happy moray eel which tried to swallow it whole. He cut the venomous spines off the rest and they would apparently appear later on the menu at a local restaurant.
After two nights at the marina at Basse-Terre, refilling our water tanks and visiting the laundrette, we continued south to the Iles des Saintes…