Summer 2022
John Andrews
Sun 13 Jan 2013 15:07

On the Friday after Christmas we left rain-sodden England and a little over 24 hours later found ourselves stepping off the plane into the 30 degree heat of Cayenne, French Guiana. Officially a ‘departement’ of France, this is part of Europe, so having picked up our bags from the carousel we walked straight through to arrivals, no passport checks, no customs, and were met by a very brown but very thin Tim. He had picked up a debilitating virus while sailing from Brazil and despite the luxury of French food for the past two weeks and being treated to Gourmand food by friends over Christmas was still a sylph like 11 stone.


We did not go into Cayenne as Tim wanted to get to the boat before dark.  We drove the 80 kilometres on an excellent road cut through the jungle, straight to Kourou on the river of the same name where Mina2 was moored. During the previous 6 weeks we had read with increasing concern about the trials and tribulations that tim had had on his passage up to Rio – a never ending list of breakdowns and failures were reported in his increasingly doom laden blogs. One of the ‘gremlins’ was difficulties with the dinghy outboard engine. The result of this is that the engine had to be run at full revs for a few minutes before pointing the bows in the direction of travel before easing the engine into gear, at which point the dinghy would shoot off at full blast in a forward direction, unless of course the engine stalled in which case if you had already let go, you would find yourself floating helplessly down river on the tide. Our introduction to this process was accordingly exciting and with all our bags and us crammed into the dinghy we lurched forward, spray leaping over the bow before we were able to make our way more sedately towards Mina 2. As darkness fell, we stepped aboard what was to be our home for the next 5 weeks.


An enchanting example of French colonial architecture, Kourou is not. Built specifically to house the workers at the nearby space station, it is a straggling collection of mouldering flats and bungalows. Each flat and bungalow has its own satellite dish, pointing slightly oddly straight up into the sky to pick up the satellites that sit over the equator. It does however have good supermarkets offering a full range of French products, so Maria and I had a pleasant hour wandering the aisles and filling the trolley with goodies for our trip ahead. Meanwhile Tim and John were ferrying jerry cans of diesel to the filling station and back to the boat to fill up the diesel tank – tiring work in the unrelenting heat of the midday sun.


That night, we met Beth and John and their daughter Juliette who Tim and Maria had met on the cruise over to Salvador a couple of years earlier. They had lived in Kourou for 10 years, putting their sailing on hold while their daughter got a proper school education. John was an engineer and worked at the space centre, just outside Kourou while Beth, an American, taught English to the French. Juliette’s schooling had obviously been a success as she is currently studying for a Ph D in France. We were treated to our first experience of Creole food  - delicious chicken Colombo, a mild spicy curry, and various exotic examples of ‘game’ including agouti, tatou(armadillo), paca and wild pig.


One of the issues on this cruise that we will have to learn to cope with is water management. The rivers in the Guianas are huge and bring tons of silt down with them making the waters an opaque brown colour. The currents and tides are correspondingly huge as well, sweeping out on the ebb at about 4 knots and back in on the flood at around 3 knots. The water is far too muddy to use the water maker and water is not available from the shore, apart from bottled drinking water. Tim has therefore acquired an awning that doubles as a rain catcher, with gutters to which a hose can be attached and fed into the water tank. So far so good. The only problem is that when the rain storms come, so does the wind and the awning flaps around throwing all the rain off. It therefore requires someone to stand out in the rain holding the awning down so that the water can be collected. So far this has been Tim’s job but we are slightly worried about the future. We are safe so far, because an unexpectedly large rainfall on our first night did actually fill the tanks. It has not rained since however, even we are supposedly in the ‘small’ rainy season, so coping with miniscule amounts of water for washing has become de riguer.


Monday afternoon, fully provisioned, fuelled and watered we caught the ebb tide to do the 20  miles over to  the Iles du Salut, or Devil’s Island where Tim had been told there was to be a good New Years Eve party.


The wind was against us all the way, so we had to motor, but the channel through the shallow seas was well marked and we anchored up in Baie des Cocotiers, Isle Royale, before sunset.