Back in France
Thu 21 Mar 2013 15:28
Well, actually, we're in Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, but it's basically just an upmarket version of France, only it's a better temperature, rains less and has clear warm sea with great snorkelling. I'm finding it hard to shift back into speaking French, all the little niceties, the hellos, thank yous, good days, excuse mes, all come out in Spanish if I don't concentrate hard, but it's starting to come back. The other difference between here and 'real' France is the folk in the shops are much much nicer! They are attentive and appreciative of our attempts to strangle their language, they welcome you and make you feel that they value your custom. The harbour officials are the exception to this rule, however. New rules about where you can (in water far too deep) and cannot (where there is good holding and its not too deep) anchor have come in in the last year or so, following the installation of lots of mooring buoys and they are very brusque when ensuring all follow these rules.
We cut straight up North as the prevailing winds are from the North East so it's quite hard sailing following the curve of the Islands one by one Northwards, you have to go straight into the wind until Martinique. This way we could come up on a reach, with the wind to one side, then we'll take our time meandering back down along the Islands to Trinidad before the hurricane season. Our theory sort of worked, however it was quite a busy sail as the wind varied greatly as we came in and out of the lee of the Islands. We'd be bombing along with a scrap of jib out and mizzen, then we'd be behind an Island and the wind would drop completely, so we'd get all the jib out and lift the main, until we came out past the top of the Island when we'd be overpowered and have to cut back again.... but it was a fine sail all the same and we enjoyed the busy overnight passage. Here's a windless moment in the lee of Dominica.
As we arrived we were hailed on the VHF by Amorosa who had seen us approach from their anchorage (they snuck in, went snorkelling when the French harbour officials called and stayed off the boat 'till they'd gone, then got woken up before 8am the next morning by shouts threatening to bring the police if they didn't move away immediately!). When we'd anchored, got chased off, then moored and checked in, we dinghied over to see them and were welcomed with a glass of wine and a meal, which was very kind as we'd had about an hour's sleep each since the previous morning so were dead on our feet.
Next day we met up again for some snorkelling followed by a barbecue. Although not as breathtaking as Tobago Cays, it was wonderful fun snorkelling. Just under the boat were shoals of sergeant major fish, silver bellied but with bright yellow top halves, banded with thick black stripes. These were joined by swirling schools of smaller silver fish with very distinct v shapes to their black tails, as they darted in unison, swirling and reforming like starlings in evening flight, they seemed to be flicking V-signs at us! There are sandy eel grass plains here, where we saw alien lion fish again, and where flat flounder type fish sit on the bottom, perfectly camouflaged, with ruffled edges that fliffled as they moved, like mobile doilies. Speaking of being camouflaged, Stuart spotted an octopus sitting on the sand. He had curled each of his legs under him in an arc, a bit like cat's front paws, and was sitting very still. He just looked like a bumpy bit of the bottom, however if we took a deep breath a swam down towards him he flashed all different colours across himself, making each curve of his legs stand out against the light sand, and he projected his eyes up towards us. It worked for me, I had visions of him launching himself at my goggles and clinging on to my face so I backed off fast, but then I couldn't resist revisiting to see him flash his colour display at us again.
Towards the shore were tumbled boulders where coral was growing, stag horns and the beautiful ripples of brain coral. But even more impressive were the sponges, forming huge barrels and collections of vases, in pinks and blues and reds. Some of them were home to tiny tiny tiny bright bright bright yellow fish, venturing out and then darting back in again at the slightest sign of danger. The sponges also spread over the rocks in golden brown patterns like persian carpets with bright blue green parrot fish, over a foot long, nibbling as they went. The black damsel fish were great, so territorial, darting out at anything that came near, whatever the size. They didn't seem to have time to eat even, they were so busy chasing everybody off. Dotted all over, flapping gently in the current, were sea fans, ranging from a few inches tall to over a meter. These were beautiful colours, purples with pinky grey, soft browns with golds, looking like someone fastened festival fairy wings all over, only singly, not in pairs.
Trumpetfish (Phil says clarinet fish would be a better name, they look more woodwind than brass - what do you think Ollie?) hang in the (I was going to say air!) water, then make quick darts to get their prey. They are blue, yellow, silver, striped brown.. often different coloured ones hanging out together. Trunkfish always make me giggle, sorry, we've no pictures but do google images of these fish because they are amazing! They have big forward looking eyes, small mouths and pout at you! They get about by fliffing their fins, like they are rowing very fast with oars that are too short, a bit like heavy underwater humming birds! They have black and white patterns on their skin, spots on top, hexagons on their sides, and are poisonous to touch, I understand. We were watching some big ones, about a foot or so long, then we spotted one about an inch long, a perfect tiny replica of the big ones - sooo cute!
There are lots of pelicans here too, I can't get used to looking up to see a pelican flying over, or surfacing to see one on a rock above me, his beak curved down and resting on his neck. There are huge frigate birds riding the thermals above the hills and cliffs and soaring across the bay too. On land we've spotted humming birds, iridescent green this time, and a bird that looks like a small dark kookaburra. I've not been able to snap any birds here yet, but I did finally get a good shot of those black headed laughing gulls and the royal terns, with monkish hair styles, before we came North.
One great thing about being in France again is excellent bread and great coffee - the best we've found since crossing the Atlantic. The boutiques here are good too: lovely clothes and even the beach wear shops are chic, some only selling beige and white clothes, others bright colours but always biased cut or with petticoat tails... something to make it different and original. The town is filled with tourists from Guadeloupe, mostly on hired scooters or in little electric hired cars to explore this hilly terrain. There are no pavements so they have to dodge the pedestrians, and frequently stop in the middle of the road to chat to someone. They also have to dodge the chickens that, Caribbean style, wonder across the road (why did the suicidal chicken cross the road? To get to the other s-i-i-ide!).
We are going across to the mainland, Guadeloupe, tomorrow, in search of some replacement engine start batteries (ours are getting grumpy and we don't want to have to jump start from the 'house' batteries whenever we want to turn on the engines) and to continue enjoying French delights such as baguettes, paté de canard, pain au chocolat, orangina, and good coffee!