Bas du Fort - Guadaloupe
Position: 16:13.288N 61:31.781W
Date: 22nd April 2013
We left Les Saintes at around 10:30 in the morning and headed northwards towards the island of Guadaloupe. This is another French island, that on the map has the shape of a butterfly. In fact, on closer inspection, it is two separate islands, with a narrow saltwater channel running between them, called Riviere Salée. The western island is mountainous and rather inappropriately called Basse Terre whereas the eastern island is low lying and called Grand Terre. Our destination was the marina of Bas du Fort which is located, keeping in mind the butterfly likeness, where in anatomical terms you could say that the sun never shines.
So far, all sailing between the other islands that we had been to had been splendid. Unfortunately this was not the case with this trip. As we left Les Saintes we were met with steep head seas and a stiff wind was blowing directly from our desired destination, meaning that we were sailing hard on the wind and getting very wet. There was also a current running against us, so it was hard work making any sort of progress. So in order to travel 19 miles ‘as the crow flies’ we had to sail around 35 miles through the water, which took us about 6 hours.
The marina is located just outside Point a Pitre, the largest town on Guadaloupe, and lies in a very protected lagoon about 1 mile up the southern entrance of the Riviere Salée. Everything about it reminded me of French marinas, right down to the architecture of the buildings around the marina, all so very different to the islands further south.
Located in the lagoon, close to the marina was a well-stocked aquarium showing a large number of marine creatures that can be found in the Eastern Caribbean. This included a voluminous tank containing numerous large sharks. Another of the tanks contained about a dozen large tarpon, together with a similar number of big barracuda. Whilst we had been in Mayreau (see the diary entry for March 4th) we had seen some large fish feeding around the boat at night, and unable to identify them we had concluded that they were barracuda. After seeing both fish together in the same tank at the aquarium left us in no doubt that the fish we had seen were, in fact, Tarpon.
The aquarium also ran snorkelling trips up to the barrier reef on the north side of the island. It was somewhere that we did not wish to venture into in our own boat, so we booked a trip with them for a couple of days ahead. The trip started at 9:00am so we had an unaccustomed early start to the day, walking to the aquarium carrying all of our snorkelling gear. When we arrived it started to rain. As we motored northwards through the Riviere Salée, the rain intensified. We got a good view of the mangroves alongside the river, but saw no wildlife which, if it existed, had wisely taken shelter from the rain. As we left the northern end of the river and entered the lagoon the rain got stronger still. The snorkelling area was about 4 miles offshore just south of where the barrier reef descended into deeper water. As we prepared to leave the dive boat and get into the water we had the distinct impression that is was wetter on the boat than in the sea.
We started to swim to the reef, only about 50 metres away from the boat, and it really was the strangest sensation snorkelling in such heavy rain. The view under the water of the coral and marine life was as rich as ever, but there was a noise like repeated rifle fire as the rain hit the water around us, and our backs were continuously being peppered by high density, high velocity drops. But above the water there were no other boats around us and the horizon disappeared as sky and sea took on a uniform grey colour. As we continued along the line of the reef there were times during the stronger downpours when we couldn’t see the dive boat as it was obscured by the rain.
After a while we made our way back to the boat to find that it was awash with rainwater. I had left a rucksack behind with our change of clothing and other things, but it was now floating around the bottom of the boat. Fortunately I had put my camera equipment into a dry sack, so no serious damage was done. But we were tired and as wet as it is possible to be and the wind caused by the moving boat made us desperately cold (yes even in the tropics!).
I understand that Guadalupe has a population of about half a million people. A few days before, when we had been in Les Saintes we had met a couple of them. Emile and Linda were eating at a table next to us in a restaurant in Terre du Haut and they had invited us to their house for drinks. They explained that they have two houses, one in Les Saintes and the other in Guadaloupe. We enjoyed their company very much. Whilst we were in Guadaloupe we took a taxi to a large out of town hardware store to buy various items for the boat, and we were both surprised and delighted to bump in to Emile in the store. He was with his daughter and granddaughter, and the chance of meeting him again under such circumstances has odds too low to calculate. We were invited to their Guadaloupe house, which was situated not far from the marina and again had an extremely enjoyable evening meeting quite a few of their immediate family.
One lazy afternoon, I looked over the side of the boat and saw a dead lionfish floating past. They are native to the Indian and Pacific Ocean and are not naturally found in the Caribbean. But about 10 years ago a few were seen around Florida, they had probably been released from someone’s private aquarium, and since then they have rapidly spread to most of the Caribbean.
The problem is that they are aggressive predators with no natural enemies so they have had a disastrous impact on other reef fish. They also have venomous spines that will give you a nasty sting if you get too close.