March 7, 2020

Island Hopping Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe is an archipelago of five inhabited islands. Like Martinique, the island is an overseas region of France; Guadeloupe’s official language is French and it's population is around 400,000. The two largest islands, Basse Terre and Grande Terre are butterfly shaped and form mainland Guadeloupe..


We departed Portsmouth, Dominica on December 28 and had a wonderful and fast sail in 12-17 knots of wind on the beam and calm seas (averaging 6.5 knots boat speed!) toward Marie-Galante, the third largest island of Guadeloupe. We anchored just off the sleepy little seaside town of Saint Louis and the following morning went ashore to clear into the country at a small artisan store, Chez Leles, where the customs computer doubled as the store cash register, so our check in was delayed every few minutes by customers purchasing items. :)

After checking in, we headed off on a hike along the south coast of the island and up into the pastoral hills for some nice views and quiet time. The hiking trail wasn't well marked and a few times we had to wander around to find our way, and so it wasn't surprising that some 6 hours and 9 miles later we finally emerged hot and tired onto the road by the dock and made our way back to the boat.

The following day we set off for a beach picnic and ended up walking another few miles in every direction to find the poorly mapped grocery store for picnic supplies  (the address pointed to an old location on the map).

After finally asking for help in broken French, we found our beach snacks and made our way to Anse Canot, a delightful white sand beach along the cliffs, where we relaxed and played in the water for several hours.

That night, as the sun set on Borealis, we saw our first ever green flash sunset (an optical phenomenon where for a few seconds the setting sun appears green in color)!

Petite Terre

On December 31, we weighed anchor and motorsailed in very light winds east towards Petite Terre, two uninhabited islands protected by a reef. As we sailed, we hooked a very large mahi fish on our trolling rod, but after many minutes of reeling in the line, we sadly lost the fish only feet from the stern of the boat when the line snapped. That's the second time we've lost a mahi, so all of our fingers are crossed that the third time is the charm!

Petite-Terre is a national park, with stunningly clear water filled with coral and marine life. One of the islands, Terre-de-Haut, is a protected nesting area, so you may not go ashore. The other island, Terre-de-Bas has a white sandy beach, picnic tables and grills, hiking trails, and a small lighthouse with information about the history of the park. No anchoring is allowed in the park (there are moorings for cruising boats and the many small day charter boats that arrived full of guests from the mainland each morning and departed by early afternoon.

We didn't know until we arrived, but we had zero cell reception at the island, so we rang in the new year quietly, and without the distraction of our phones or the internet, we enjoyed several relaxing days snorkeling the bay and reef for turtles, sting rays and tarpon fish, and hiking ashore.

Les Saintes

After Petite-Terre, we headed to mainland Guadeloupe for a week of sailing the southern coast before we headed to the the Saintes for a strong blow headed our way. The Saintes may be the most charming French island imaginable, with plenty to see and do, and is likely among our top 10 favorite places in the Caribbean.

We sailed close hauled from Pointe-a-Pitre on January 7 in 17-21kt winds and 3-4 ft seas and made great 6-6.5 knots of speed as several wind-only squalls passed us by. The Saintes are a group of small islands, but only the largest - Terre d'en Haut - is inhabited. The town has dozens of moorings, and we were able to find one close behind the island for good wind protection and away from the busy ferry traffic going in and out of the main seaside town, Bourg des Saintes.

One of the small, uninhibited island in the Saintes, called Cabrit, has several trails that lead to the ruins of Fort Josephine and nice snorkeling off its southwest corner, which we did the day after we arrived and before the wind picked up making it too difficult for us to dinghy across the bay.

For the next week the winds blew steady 20-30 knots, but we kept ourselves busy each day. During our visit, we hiked to Le Chameau, the highest point on the island with an old Napoleonic tower, for the most spectacular views of the bay below.

There is also a sunken ferry in the bay, Lynn D, which Nick enjoyed exploring, and we found some nice snorkeling around the corner of the bay at Pain a Sucre.

Ashore we found plenty of shops, boutiques and cafes to visit.

We also spent a full day touring Fort Napoleon, which was built in 1867 and has been well restored and is home to a museum; while nearly all of the information was in French, we still very much enjoyed taking in the many historical artifacts.

As we were sitting alone in the small theater room watching a short film about the island's history, a small pigeon flew into the room and smacked right into the glass window, giving all of us quite the fright! Thankfully the bird eventually found its way out.

After 10 days, we’d explored nearly every corner of the island, and the heavy winds were finally subsiding enough for us to leave the Saintes. 

On January 16 we sailed north to mainland Guadeloupe and the town of Basse Terre along the west coast to catch up with friends sailing in from several directions. After two nights in Basse Terre, we learned that several other boats of friends were headed to the Saintes, including Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson of 59 North Sailing on their 59-ft Swan, Ice Bear.

Andy and Mia provide offshore passage training, and we sailed with them in 2017 aboard their 48 ft Swan, Isbjorn, to gain some blue water sailing experience. While we usually prefer to sail linearly and don't often backtrack, we couldn't pass up an opportunity to say hello in person to so many of our sailing friends, so on January 18 we turned Borealis around and headed south again to the Saintes.

We had so much fun back in the Saintes with friends old and new at a beach barbecue ashore, exploring new places in town, and once again hiking to the highest point, Le Chameau, to show off the amazing views.

After several busy days and too many goodbyes, on January 22, we said farewell again to the Saintes and pointed Borealis' bow back north toward Guadeloupe’s west coast.

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