Well, here we were in another French island, Guadeloupe, and we didn’t stay much longer than we had done in Martinique. Guadeloupe is a large island. Actually, it is two islands - Basse Terre and Grande Terre, separated by the short Rivière Salée. The island looks like a lopsided butterfly with it’s biggest city, Pointe à Pitre situated right between the two wings.
We arrived on Tuesday 30th March and anchored in the Carenage, just outside the Marina Bas du Fort, a pleasant large marina with many amenities. We visited the chandlers for some spare parts and stocked up with French food again. It wasn’t until the Thursday evening that we realised that it was now Easter and that the shops would all be shut over the long weekend and we still needed some spares! The anchorage was very sheltered and although we had a reasonable breeze some days, most of the time there was none. It rained for most of the weekend too so we didn’t get much chance to do much exploring. We did take the dinghy into downtown Pointe à Pitre but everything was closed. Pat was wearing a ‘Trinidad and Tobago cap and as we passed under the balcony of some apartments we heard a voice comment on it. Looking up, we saw a couple who asked if we had been to T & T and we told them we had and that we liked it. The man then asked if we had been to Dominica as that was where he was from. We told him we had not long left there and that we liked it very much too, a sort of minor version of Trinidad. He said he was from Portsmouth and we told him we had anchored there and that we sold one of our bikes to one of the boat boys there, Andrew. He said, ‘Andrew, the Rastafarian. He is my friend’. It’s a small world isn’t it?
When the chandler reopened on the Tuesday we bought our spares and decided that we would like to go to Antigua, the next island north, in time for the Classic Yacht Regatta which is held every year around this time. The quickest way to get there would be through the Rivière Salée. The Rivière Salée is not strictly a river, but a saltwater mangrove channel. The pilot books reckon that yachts with a draught of up to 6.9 feet can traverse the channel, with care. El Lobo is just about this deep so we decided it wasn’t worth the risk. We had to decide which ‘wing’ we would go round to get to Antigua. We at first thought we’d sail east then north along the Atlantic side of Guadeloupe so motored just a few miles along the coast to a small anchorage at Ilet du Gosier. This is a lovely anchorage, nice and breezy to keep our power levels up, yet nicely protected from the Atlantic breakers by the island. It had finally stopped raining but it was still dull as we went ashore and walked round the island then crossed over to the town of Gosier itself. This is a small holiday resort and has a good beach with facilities. Mike was ecstatic to see a vendor on the promenade cooking crepes! In Martinique, Les Saintes and Pointe à Pitre we had not been able to find crepes at all. Many places advertised them but every time we asked we were told ‘no crepes, only sandwiches or burgers’. We sat and ate them on the sea front and really enjoyed them. There were also some locals playing boules nearby. Why hadn’t we moved along here over Easter instead of sitting in the rain waiting for shops to reopen? Never mind, we did see it eventually. The town itself looked very French and clean and seemed to be quite prosperous. We were tempted to stay for another day but it was a long sail up to Antigua and the wind was in our favour for only the next couple of days.
We finally decided that we wouldn’t sail up the east coast overnight, (partly because of all the fish trap buoys along the coast which are hard to see, especially at night), but to make the trip in two stages, sailing around the western side of Basse Terre, anchoring overnight in the north, then crossing over to Antigua the following day. This is what we did, anchoring off Deshaies, a small picturesque fishing village that we hope to explore on the way back down, then sailing on to Antigua the next morning.
Antigua is one of the foremost yachting centres in the Caribbean and there are many good anchorages dotted about the island. We cleared in at Jolly Harbour then sailed round to Deep Bay where the first boat we saw was Narwal! We could hear Siri excitedly calling before we reached them. We anchored in the bay where there was again a good wind and caught up with Narwal’s travels since we left them. We snorkelled together on the wreck of the Andes, lying in 20 ft of water in the middle of the bay. We then returned to the bay outside Jolly Harbour.
Antigua is only 14 miles long by 11 miles wide and covers 108 square miles. It has a mostly flat and dry landscape with its highest point at Boggy Peak in the south-west being only 1,319 ft.
The population of Antigua is around 84,500. Another 1,500 people live on the other main island in the group, Barbuda, while a tiny islet, Redonda, is uninhabited (Redonda, incidentally, is the subject of unfounded claims to being a ‘kingdom’ and various ‘kings’ have claimed to be the rightful rulers since the middle of the 19th century - the island is completely uninhabitable with steep cliffs, hardly any grassland on the top and no water).
The majority of people living in Antigua and Barbuda are of African descent. The main town on Antigua is St Johns, situated in a sheltered bay on the west coast, with a population of around 31,000.
As we said, Antigua is the main yachting centre of the Lesser Antilles, the main activity being around the twin bays of Falmouth and English Harbours on the south coast. Both bays are well sheltered and have been used as ‘hurricane holes’ in the past. Many cruisers stay here during hurricane season. We travelled down by bus to English Harbour with a couple, David and Elaine from Guiding Light, who we had last seen in La Gomera in the Canary Islands. It’s a small world isn’t it? It was a very wet day, (we do get them!) and we visited the interesting Nelson’s Dockyard. The British began to use English Harbour as a dockyard in 1725 and it gradually developed into the largest naval base in the Caribbean. It is named Nelson’s Dockyard because Captain Nelson (as he was then) was made temporary Commander of the Leeward Islands Station between 1784 and 1787. The dockyard remained active until 1889 when it was completely closed down. The falling interest in the area as a trade centre and the more peaceful state of Britain’s relationship with former enemies (the French) and the clearing up of the many pirates rendered the yard redundant. It lay untouched until 1951 when ‘the Friends of English Harbour’ was formed. Reconstruction of all of the former buildings took place and the Dockyard reopened in 1961. Many of the buildings have been extensively restored from the original plans. The whole area is almost a living monument.
The annual Antigua Classic Yacht regatta was due to start so we sailed down to Falmouth Bay and again met up with old friends, including Susie on Spirited Lady, a modern classic yacht, who we knew from Trinidad. Spirited Lady was entered into the four races over the next four days, and we wished Susie and her crew good luck. We did intend to take El Lobo out to get a good view of the start of the race the first day but fate decreed we would spend the morning stuck on a sand bank in the middle of the harbour! Mike will fill you in on that adventure. We liked the remark of an American cruiser - ‘if you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around’!
We attended the weekly barbecue at Shirley Heights, the site of a ruined battery above English Harbour. This is a very popular venue for tourists and locals alike. The pan band performing, Halcyon, was one of the best we have seen since leaving Trinidad. We met up with Pepe and Steve (Bear) from Beez Neez again there. They had been two of the ‘Angels’ when we visited Angel Falls last year. It was good to meet up again. They were with Bear’s daughter, Kate, with her husband Mark and their little boy, Jack.
We stayed in Falmouth until the last day of racing and left mid morning to return to Jolly Harbour. We didn’t realise until we left the harbour that the final race was being held on a course which brought the fleet back into the bay and close to the coast and we had to pick our way through the swiftly moving racers! We got some decent photos of them but Pat’s camera had set itself to an interval shot mode and we couldn’t get any film of the exciting spectacle. Talking of spectacle, when Pat put on her spectacles she realised the settings were wrong and she finally sorted it out but too late, alas. We were well past the fleet before she sorted it out - just another senior moment!
When we got back to Jolly we visited Pepe and Bear in their rented villa and enjoyed a meal and a game of Mexican Train dominoes with them, Kate and Mark. After the young’uns flew home later in the week we spent a day with Beez in their rented car and we visited a couple of the local attractions. Betty’s Hope is a former sugar plantation which has been partially restored. According to the guide book the impressively restored windmill is used a couple of times a week but when we visited it looked as if the sails had not been attached for quite some time. Still, it was an interesting visit with details of daily life on a plantation being depicted in the small museum.
We carried on to the coast where we saw and walked over the famous ‘Devil’s Bridge’, an impressive natural blowhole in the coral cliff. After a picnic lunch we drove on to what was going to be the highlight of the day, an adventure in the rain forest using ‘zip’ lines and precarious walkways amongst the trees. Alas, it was not to be. The centre advertises ‘open from 9 am to 6 pm’ but when we got there just before three, they were just closing up for the day! We were told that the complete visit takes over two hours and that we should come back another day in the morning. We weren’t intending to stay in Antigua much longer and Pepe and Bear were expecting their next set of children to arrive the following day so we weren’t able to go back. Never mind, maybe the next time we go to Antigua.
A few days later Bear’s sons Alex and Adam, with Adams girlfriend, Jenny, arrived and we again visited the villa for another game of dominoes. When we left at about 11 pm we had a major scare.
TRAUMA!!!! That night El Lobo went walkabout! See Mike’s Page for details.
We finally left Antigua on the 26th April on the short hop westwards to Montserrat, the island we had been looking forward to visiting all season.
Montserrat is special for two reasons. Firstly, it is not an independent island nation. It is a British Overseas Territory and our Queen is the Head of State. Secondly, the Soufriere volcano in the south of the island erupted in 1995 and again in 1997, killing 19 people and destroying villages and eventually the lava flow completely covered the capital, Plymouth. Further collapses of the volcanic lava dome took place in 1998 and 1999. After a quieter period, when many hotels and businesses tried to reopen, the dome again began collapsing in 2000, then again in 2003 and 2006. Volcanic activity is still ongoing and over half of the island is now an Exclusion Zone. The previous population was around 11,000 but there is now only about 4,800 people living here, around a third of them from other Caribbean states working in the rebuilding industry. The rest have mainly gone to Britain (they are British subjects), to start new lives or to wait until it is safe to return. A new capital is being built at Little Bay, the only safe anchorage left in the north west.
We chose a day to leave Antigua with a favourable weather forecast. A south east wind to sail to Montserrat, with a forecast of continuing south easterlies for a few days, enabling us to anchor in Little Bay then when the wind turned round more east or north east, we could hop down to Guadeloupe. Easy peasy.
Not to be!
For details of our aborted trip see Mike’s Page. We were bitterly disappointed as we were looking forward to a tour of the island with safe views of the devastated areas, and visiting the Montserrat Volcanic Observatory to learn more about the volcano and to view a special film showing the various eruptions.
We had to return to Antigua that night and we eventually anchored in Jolly Harbour again after 11 pm, very tired but glad to be able to sleep in comfort. We may not have if we had stayed in Montserrat. Never mind. We may be able to go back next year.
So we had to wait a few days for a decent wind but we eventually got away on the 30th and we have now reached Guadeloupe again. We are anchored in the bay at Deshaies and we are going to do a bit of exploring this time. There are just a few pictures this month, with some movies. The weather in Pointe à Pitre and English Harbour was so miserable that we didn’t take as many photos as usual.