March 9, 2020

Overstaying our Welcome in Guadeloupe

After we island hopped around Guadeloupe, we set our sights on the mainland, which is composed of two islands in the shape of a lopsided butterfly - Basse Terre on the west and Grande Terre to the east.

A Guadeloupean potato that looks an awful lot like the mainland :) 
Guadeloupe is an archipelago of five inhabited islands and is known as the Island of Pretty Waters. It is an overseas region of France and the official language is French; it's population is around 400,000. While Guadeloupe isn't an island we heard a lot about before cruising, we were delighted by this lovely French Caribbean country, and it's now amongst our favorites...if only we spoke French to make communicating and our time there easier!

Sainte Anne

The smaller and flatter of the two islands is (perhaps humorously) called Grande Terre. Our first port along the southeast coast of Grande Terre was Sainte Anne; the harbor lies in a shallow reef protected bay with white, sandy beaches. We arrived on January 2 and motored in very light winds from Petite-Terre island; we were lucky to spot several dolphins while crossing the banks, which we haven't seen since we left the British Virgin Islands in May 2019!

Sainte Anne is a small beach town with colorful cafes and vendors selling sarongs, fruits and vegetables, flavored rums, and small trinkets to the many tourists.

We stopped at a small market to grab a few provisions, and had a misunderstanding in French with the cashier and ended up with $4 in dimes :) (We assume she was asking us for smaller bills or exact change but it was lost in translation - oops)!

Ilet du Gosier

On January 4, we motored in very light winds and cloudy, wet skies 8 nm towards Ilet du Gosier, a small wooded island with beaches and an old lighthouse.

We were well protected from swell in the anchorage by the surrounding reef, and despite being a popular day spot for tourists to swim, snorkel, laze on the beach and visit a small snack bar, it was a very quiet spot.

We took a short hike around the island, and other than the lighthouse, we found only some strange fuzzy ducks and a few chickens.


With little more to explore, the following day, January 5, we pulled up the anchor and motored 3 nm around the point into Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe’s largest city. The harbor is well protected, but the port was filled with abandoned and poorly maintained boats, and anchoring is along a busy commercial channel.

We anchored just off the channel and had a good view of the big cruise and cargo ships as they came in and out of the port.

Access to land in commercial ports is often challenging, but thankfully the Marina Bas-du-Fort allowed non-guest dinghies at their dock, which we used as hub to explore the town and cruise ship port by foot. Its amazing how the arrival of a cruise ship can bring a town to life; in the morning we walked along a very quiet street and almost didn't recognize it bustling with colorful umbrellas, street vendors and tourists when we strolled through again in the afternoon.

After a full day of sightseeing we spent the next day provisioning and tackling laundry (laundromats are surprisingly rare in the Caribbean, so we mostly bucket wash our clothing and linens). We'd hoped to stay in Pointe-a-Pitre a bit longer, but we had a week or more of heavy winds headed our way and hoped to spend that time in the charming Les Saintes islands south of the mainland. [Read about our time in Les Saintes and Guadeloupe’s other islands here].

Basse Terre 

After the heavy winds cleared in the Saintes, on January 16 we sailed north to Guadeloupe’s mountainous western coast toward the town of Basse Terre, the capital of Guadeloupe and the second largest city. We sailed on a broad reach in 15-23k wind and 3-5 ft seas.

In Basse Terre, we met up with cruising friends Jessica and Brent on S/V SeaDuction, whom we met on our very first day in the Bahamas in December 2018. We hadn't seen them since last May in the Virgin Islands, so we were so happy to be reunited!

Soufriere Volcano Hike 

The following day, we joined other friends on S/Vs Sava and Ragnarok for a wet and cold hike up the still-active Soufriere volcano. After hiking Mount Pelee in Martinique, we were much better prepared for the wet and windy conditions you find at 4,800 feet, including pummeling rain on our ascent. 

Thankfully, we were rewarded with panoramic views and warm sunshine on our descent and in the lee of the volcano.


After a quick sail back to the Saintes to meet up with several sailing friends, on January 22 we sailed on a broad reach 22nm north to Bouillante on an overcast, rainy day. It was the first time in 16 months of sailing that we had to use the companionway doors while underway to keep the boat's interior dry. 

Thankfully, Bouillante is home to the Caribbean's only geothermal power plant, where tourists flock to soak in the excess super-heated water flowing out into the bay, which was just what we needed after a soggy sail.

Ashore the following day we found a nice grocery and a few restaurants and snackettes, but little else.

Pigeon Islands

On January 24, we weighed anchor and sailed just a few miles north to the Pigeon Islands, home to the Cousteau Underwater Park and well-known for diving and snorkeling.

We anchored just off of the mainland shore and early the next morning before all the dayboats arrived with tourists, we dinghied across the bay to snorkel the perimeter.

 Nick was even able to free dive and find the bust of Coustea hidden on the sea floor.

Ashore is a small, colorful beachside town filled with dive shops, cafes and a small stretch of sandy beach popular with tourists. That night, a northerly swell arrived from a large front coming off the U.S., which made sleeping difficult, and we awoke the next morning to see it was no longer safely possible to land the dinghy ashore.

To make matters worse, we awoke to emails saying that our cell phone provider, Google Fi, was canceling our service because we'd been out of the country for too long.


With modern day problems on our minds, we motor sailed in very light winds 12nm miles north to Deshaies at the northern end of Guadeloupe, where we were able to grab one of the free moorings available near shore in the deep, well-protected bay.

After settling in to Deshaies, our first order of business was an unplanned bus trip to the nearby, bigger town of Sainte Rose, where we secured two SIM cards and new phone plans, which we'll have to do at each island we visit north of the British Virgin Islands, which is as far north as our new plan extends (our Google Fi plan contracted with each island's major cell phone provider, so there was no hassle with cell providers and SIM cards, and it worked so well for us the past year!). Ah, cruiser problems.

Buses in most of the Caribbean islands are licensed, but private, vans that follow no schedule and can be very unreliable
Doing our best to secure SIM cards and new phone French!
Deshaies is an excellent place to spend a few days. We enjoyed browsing through the souvenir and artisan shops in town, and on another day hiked the 4-mile Le Littoral trail.

Jardin Botanique de Deshaies 

We also spent a full day at the botanical gardens, which several cruising friends said we couldn't miss visiting. With over a thousand species of plants and flowers, a waterfall, aviary and koi pond, we wandered the 12-acre gardens in awe of the bright colors and serene setting.

Despite a free shuttle from town, we opted for a very hot, several mile hike straight up a hill to get there and thankfully, it was well worth it for the gardens and views.

It’s time to go, Guadeloupe

After a full month of exploring lovely Guadeloupe  — we'd only planned to stay two weeks! — it was time for us to make tracks north, and after a lovely dinner ashore with friends on S/Vs Sarabi and LeefNu, the following morning, January 30, we lifted our anchor and happened upon a small fleet of 5-6 boats sailing north to Antigua!

No comments:

Post a Comment