8 March - Marie Galante, Guadeloupe and English Harbour
The anchorage at Marie Galante
By Saturday morning the wind had gone around to the south west and dropped. We set off east to the island of Marie Galante, also part of the French West Indies. It’s only 15 miles east of ‘The Saintes’ and Guadeloupe, but it looks and feels very different. Geologically I believe it has volcanic origins, but it’s as flat as a pancake. Well… a French burger bun actually, as the middle is a couple of hundred metres above sea level and there are some quite impressive cliffs on the north west side. The soil is very fertile and the island is focused on the production of sugar cane and the rum they distil from it. We anchored on the western side off the small town of Saint-Louis and after a relatively bumpy night as the winds veered into the west and settled at around 12 knots, we went ashore to explore.
Oooh: men in lycra…
They were having a leg of the Guadeloupe equivalent of the Tour de France – dozens of lycra-clad French West Indian men on quite expensive-looking road bikes hobbling about on those funny shoes. Not a European to be seen – apart from a scattering of bemused yachties trying to avoid being run over. We hired a scooter – what a blast! I have not ridden one for over forty years and was not quite prepared for the weight of what seemed like quite a chunky Honda, covered in battle scars but reasonably serviceable apart from a useless mirror. Julie, rather bravely, opted to ride pillion behind me rather than drive her own. I felt like Peter Fonda in ‘Easy Rider’, bumbling along at about 30 kph with the wind cooling all the important bits (no hair, after all), wearing a big grin with my woman holding my six pack firmly in place. The map wasn’t much use, but that hardly mattered. We kept the turquoise water on the port side and stayed as close to it as the mix of tarmac and dirt tracks allowed.
Beach, bike and bird
The beaches on Marie Galante are among the best we have seen in the Caribbean. A decent stretch of sand between the palm trees and the water, wonderful colours, virtually NO PEOPLE. Nobody at all on the roads (probably just as well). Just what we came all this way for…
Typical landscape on Marie Galante – sugar cane, bulls to pull the carts, good grazing and a flat horizon
We stopped at the small seaside town of Capesterre for lunch. The beach here is quite exceptional even by Marie Galante standards: protected by a reef, the sand is pristine, the palm trees arranged at photogenic angles, turtles swimming in a turquoise soup and looking curiously at the two-legged inhabitants trying to photograph them, well fed dogs sleeping in the shade, breakers crashing onto the reef a couple of hundred yards offshore. We found a classic-looking, upmarket beach bar where we ate a superb lunch – probably the best we’ve had since arriving in the Caribbean: a subtle blend of French and Creole traditions at affordable Breton prices. On the way back to the boat we stopped to fill the petrol tank – we had used less than two litres of fuel all day!
The Dantana Beach Café at Capesterre – the perfect lunch spot?
Having handed back the wheels, we found a small bar near the pier at Saint-Louis where we celebrated not falling off or hitting anything with a beer and took advantage of the wifi to clear some admin. The house DJ played some rather odd Franco-electronic muzack which seemed equally apt and out of place in this most unusual island – definitely NOT France, but clearly French!
No evidence of hurricane damage here
The following morning, we sailed for the south eastern tip of Guadeloupe and the town of Saint Francois. The harbour is protected by a reef not dissimilar to Clifton on Union Island. It is well marked though and easy enough to enter, particularly in what was now a light north westerly. The first anchorage was pretty full; then there was a small reef and a second anchorage, but the water was not really deep enough here and we would have had to anchor in the main channel. Our friends Ralf and Kirsten in LOTHLORIEN were anchored in the only viable spot. The marina beyond was protected by a fine sea wall which was wearing three wrecked yachts like trophies. We turned gently, stirring up the sand in the process and crept back into the last ‘slot’ in the outer anchorage, dropping the pick in just over 3m of absolutely clear water.
On the other hand, these yachts were thrown ashore at Saint Francois
We took the rubber boat into the marina, where the water was a rather grotty reddish-brown colour, in order to complete our ‘exit’ formalities. The marina manager explained that the whole place was built over a mangrove swamp and when the wind was in the west the water always went brown; it would clear when normality returned and the Trade winds blew in from Africa. We walked ashore through an extensive marina development that seemed more like Port Solent or Lagos in Portugal than the Caribbean. The supermarket was pretty good and we were able to reprovision ready for the visit of our eldest daughter Anna and her boyfriend Matt in Antigua later in the week. We found a fine ‘Laverie’ where you could use your own powder and do the washing yourself – everywhere else in the Caribbean laundry is something done by the locals (which I don’t object to) but you never quite know if they use any dhoby dust or hot water at all! Whilst we sorted ourselves out, we had a drink in a waterfront bar - €5 for a beer seemed more like the price you’d pay in Paris rather than the West Indies. Sainte-Francois reminded us of Sanxenxo in Galicia; not a place we’ll be rushing back to.
That said, whilst I did some overdue maintenance the following day, Julie went off snorkelling from the boat and came back enthused by what we could find really close by. The lagoon where we were anchored was pretty perfect as a marine environment: live coral, plenty of small reef fish and excellent visibility.
So, after enjoying some splendid German hospitality onboard LOTHLORIEN and catching up on mutual friends made since we first met them in Leixoes in June last year, we sailed for Antigua first thing on Thursday morning.
It’s a seventy mile passage up to English Harbour, so we got underway at first light and were delighted to find that the wind had settled into the east at around 15 knots. We motored five miles to the easternmost tip of Guadeloupe, Pointe Des Chateaux, before turning up to the north west, showing the wind a full set of sails and storming off at 8 knots. We both felt that we had not done Guadeloupe justice and would aim to return there later in the deployment.
For now, though, our focus was on Antigua and the rendezvous with Anna and Matt. The sea state was pretty rough initially, but by the time we were level with the north coast of Guadeloupe and well offshore, the swell moderated a bit and we had a very enjoyable sail. We arrived off English Harbour mid-afternoon and felt our way into a crowded anchorage in Freeman Bay, underneath Fort Berkeley and the gaze of a number of fine private residences stretching round to Shirley Heights and Charlotte Point. It’s a beautiful spot, but there was not much room. We saw a promising slot between an English flagged floating greenhouse and a German cruiser racer, but as I felt my way in the German started lecturing me about where his two anchors were and how much debris there was on the seabed. We shuffled off elsewhere, not without noticing the flimsy attire of his well- built wife. We had three goes at setting the anchor before I was satisfied that we were an acceptable distance from our nearest neighbour, a gentle, elderly American couple flying the Ocean Cruising Club burgee.
The entrance to English Harbour, Antigua with Fort Berkeley to the left of the picture
They were unperturbed by our proximity and observed that the German seemed to shout at everyone who went near him. We all turned to look at the German boat, just in time to see them both reappear from below decks stark naked and start cavorting noisily. This brought the two English occupants, who were also naked, out of their greenhouse. They shouted across the harbour (and our bow) at the Germans about joining each other for sundowners and then jumped into a twin hammock. I felt rather prudish. But also more than a bit indignant; West Indians, according to much of what I have read, are quite conservative and old-fashioned and take a dim view of too much naked flesh. Who did these ghastly people think they were? This wasn’t some deserted Martinique beach miles from anywhere, they were ten yards from their neighbours and fifty yards from some of the most exclusive real estate on earth. Cover it up, laddie!