Saturday, 31 January 2015

New kids on the block

The dinghy dock at the Antigua Yacht Club

You'll forgive us if we sound a little disoriented. We sailed away from Antigua five days ago. Falmouth Harbour, where we finally got to sleep at anchor again (the last time was at Castellamarre in Sicily - a lifetime ago, as Claudia will agree), is two countries and three islands groups back. Who pushed the fast forward button?

Elena at English Harbour

A common sight in Falmouth Harbour (and below)

Pelicans are smaller here

Nelson's Dockyard bakery - still cookin'

To some extent, the geography of the Caribbean is setting our pace. We are heading south, with a loose goal of being in Grenada by the end of February. We have no idea of what we're looking for here. We're avidly reading between the lines of the three different Caribbean cruising guides we're carrying on board (plus the Lonely Planet). Mostly, we're trying to give ourselves some time to think. Our hearts are pulling us towards the Panama Canal and the Pacific ocean, but it's possible we are missing something.

Pigeon Beach, Antigua, with Montserrat on the horizon

Sea flora

The prevailing winds in this part of the Caribbean chain appear to be from the south-east, but they swing about a bit, and they can be fresh. That makes for great sailing, or not, depending on which direction you're heading. We covered the 40 miles between Falmouth harbour and Deshaies on the northwest coast of Guadeloupe sailing close-hauled(this was the moment to unfurl the jib, a nicely-cut sail we're particularly fond of but rarely had to use in the Mediterranean.)

Deshaies had the feel of a place where people might stick around a fair while. It's a pretty fishing town with clear blue water, and (free) mooring buoys close in to the beach where it's possible to pick up strong (free) wifi signal from a cafe called L'Amer. Latecomers who park at the back of the class miss out on the signal. That's us. A long way yet from catching up on what the cool kids know.

Deshaies, Guadeloupe (and below)

Menu board at L'Amer

Old Salt, English Harbour
We don't know enough yet about the ocean currents around here either, which is more serious than ignorance about internet etiquette. The hop from Deshaies across to the island group called Les Saintes looked very doable in a short day, we thought. With a light breeze on our beam, we slid down the lee coast of Guadeloupe, feeling very pleased with ourselves. We were close enough to shore to admire the scenery. That doesn't often happen. Later than we should have, we pulled out the brand new fishing reel, bought in Arrecife, threaded the line through the rod and....threw it in the water! Gaff and bucket and alcohol (for killing the fish) were at the ready. It was just a matter of time, wasn't it? We didn't have time though. Just past the nondescript island capital of Basse-Terre, the wind comes funneling down from the volcano above, whips up the sea, and makes a full-on frontal assault. No time now to debate whether feathers or sequins are the better lure. You are hauling everything aboard, reducing sail, gybing, and the speed dial is going nuts. Too fast (again) for fishing. The Saints is very close. Only five miles from the bottom of Guadeloupe. We check the time. A brisk run should get us in by 3 pm.

Guadeloupe looks THIS close from Les Saintes

Main street, Le Bourg (Les Saintes)

Even with those three cruising guides on board, we missed the crucial information that there's a strong west-setting current in this channel. Actually, I don't think this information was spelled out, and indeed it may have been somewhat fudged. Or been plain misleading. But it's poor form to blame the messenger. In many instances there's no substitute for local knowledge, and if there's one thing we are short of everywhere we go it's local knowledge. I remind Alex as we find ourselves tacking in vain and being swept further west to nowhere that we have barely arrived in the Caribbean. Still, he's cross when it becomes obvious that we'll have to motor into 20 knots of breeze to get to where we intend to go. "It's embarrassing," he says later. Who knew except me? I put his sensitivity about such matters down to too many years spent racing yachts. Then everyone was looking.

Old fella on the road to the Baie de Marigot

A palm tree draws attention to itself

The church in Le Bourg

The Saints is another place which could keep you for weeks. The living is easy. The water is warm and clear. The bread is French. The last point is perhaps the most important.

At anchor, Le Bourg 

We still don't have internet on the boat. Perhaps in our next country we'll get lucky.

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  1. I'm with the skipper - the honor of the ship must always be maintained, even if no one you know is looking!

  2. Yes, I'm sure you're right. Won't happen again!