A relaxed day on Ilet a Cabrit

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Mon 28 Feb 2011 00:54
Bay Sous Le Vent, Iles Des Saintes, Sunday night

I didn't wake up until 9am this morning so that was most unusual. After a couple of cups of tea, Andrea persuaded me to go snorkelling with her so we jumped off the stern of Saxon Blue and swam over to the rocks. Before we got there, we saw a weird fish beneath us. It was about a foot long and square in section with a camouflaged skin. By its sides, it had what looked like folded wings as if it were a flying fish but it wasn't like the ones we've seen above the waves. The strangest thing, though, was its forward fins which were on each side of its head and it was using them to look through the weed as if they were arms. It was pulling the strands apart with them and then having a look inside. We watched it for ages as it was such an incongruous movement for a fish - much more like a rodent or even a monkey. I'll have to try to find out what it was.

After that, we saw an amazing variety of other fish, much more than I saw when I was diving. There was a multi-coloured underwater centipede, about 6 inches long, and all the really delicate creatures with their fan-like tentacles straining the water. We headed back to Saxon Blue once we started to get cold and, on the way, I looked down to see an anchor being dragged over the bottom. It was holding a small motorboat off the beach and was one of those folding aluminium Fortress jobs. They're OK if they set first time but they're no good if there's any debris around and this one was full of eel-grass stalks so it couldn't articulate properly. I dived down and turned it right way up and stuck it back in the seabed. That was my good deed for the day done.

We had some pasta salad onboard for lunch while Kali went over to the rocks for a snorkel as she'd been so inspired by our tales of wonder. When she returned, she dropped us off onto the island and then went off to town with Robin to do a bit of shopping. Andrea and I had all the Janeway gear with us but, before we could go off and find a good set, we had to watch some entertaining boating antics. A new boat had arrived, always the occasion for anxiety amongst those already safely anchored. This one looked like a proper ocean-going boat, not a charter yacht so we expected them to know what they were about. They dropped their anchor near another couple of yachts and then started looking around for a line long enough to tie themselves to a tree.

As thy sorted their line out, they started to drift towards one of the parked yachts and, as far as we could see, they hit it. Big commotion. A guy from another yacht roared over in his tender and started using it like a tugboat to push the new yacht away. They had finally got their line ashore secured but it was far too long so it got wrapped around yet another yacht so that, when they pulled on it, they were getting winched towards him. He was going appoplectic on his foredeck and then he jumped in his tender so there were now three of them pushing the wayward yacht around. In the end, they picked their anchor up and plopped it back in again with no attempt to properly set it. Luckily, it seemed to hold and then they were able to get themselves sorted out. I don't think they had any idea how to do a stern-to mooring or any plan as it was a pretty straightforward maneuver with loads of room. Luckily, I think it was only pride that got dented.

We went off up the hill with all our gear in the baking heat. We turned off the main concrete track and onto a small footpath lined with small rocks and paved with crushed coral. After a while, we saw ruins on both sides. They were the foundations of buildings, each about 8 feet wide and 40 to 50 feet long. A very strange shape. They looked like the bases for barracks but, judging from the island's history, I think it was the remains of a prison used when the French were shipping their felons over to Guyana as slave labour - remember Papillon? I wondered about the wisdom of wooden-walled prisons but, as the island has no water whatever and no food, escape would have been suicidal.

We walked back to the main track and then onto another side track onto the third of the hills making up the island. This time, we came across much more recent ruins. These were pre-stressed concrete chalets with suspended ceilings so they looked like they were built in the 1960s. They'd been abandoned more or less immediately as they had trees growing through them. There is another bit of history about the island being used as an isolation place for immigrants so perhaps these were used for that.

All the history that I've been able to glean comes from a set of leaflets that we bought yesterday in Fort Napoleon. They're hilarious. They portray the glory of France with its domination of the waves and its glorious military winning a succession of victories over everyone else. There's the bit where the French agree to let the Brits have Canada (half a continent) but they keep what they really wanted, a couple of desert islands in the Caribbean. They suffer what even they admit is a naval defeat at the famous Battle of The Saintes but the Brits have 22 ships damaged whereas the French only have 7. Oh, but that's sunk and all the others were captured. Still, 7 is less than 22 so, in reality, it's another glorious victory. There's a whole pamphlet about World War Two which manages not to mention Germany atall and tries its best to confuse the issue that they locked up the Gaullists along with a bunch of Italian women and children "for their own protection". I know all history is biased but this stuff is priceless.

One leaflet tells the most famous local legend of a French Naval officer who meets a local woman. He goes off and she pines away at his absence before throwing herself into the sea at the point where she last saw him. That's pretty poetic but it's only three months after he left. Blimey, that's not tragic, that's just impatient. It gets better. He then spends much of the rest of his life dressed in her clothes and writes a series of scientific papers such as "Essay on the physical and moral effects of women's clothes". It turns out that it was models of these two that we saw in the Fort although he was portrayed in his Naval gear rather than his frock.

Anyway, we got back to the beach at the same time as Kali returned from town so I got a lift back onboard with all the filming gear while Andrea swam back out. I didn't say anything but I was amazed. Andrea didn't even like swimming out of her depth when we got to the Caribbean and now she's demanding snorkelling trips and then swimming back to the boat in preference to a tender ride. It's great to see that she's really conquered her fear of the water.

We spent a pleasant hour watching the Pelicans catch their dinner and then it was time for ours. We're now getting ready to watch a bit of Battlestar and then it's time for bed. We've got lots planned for tomorrow so we'll need to make an early start.


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