CARIB-GUADELOUPE250You wouldn't exactly say that the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean is “off the beaten path”. With a population of 406,000 and an area of 1,780 sq. km., it's among the largest of the islands in the Leeward Islands. There is a major international airport there where thousands of tourists from around the world flood in daily to enjoy the sun and sea and French ambience.

Several charter boat operators have bases here and long-term cruisers usually plan a stop when travelling up- or down-island to relax in one of the marinas, take advantage of the array of marine services available, and to stock up the ship's larders with French goodies, namely fine French wines.

So why would a couple of cruising sailors looking for quiet rarely-visited places come here? It was by accident really. We were looking for a part for a boat improvement project and there are good chandleries to be found in Guadeloupe. You can also get duty-free diesel there when you clear out which is always good for the cruising budget. And okay, any opportunity to add a few good bottles of French wine to 'the cellar' on SV Distant Shores is always a draw for this crew.

Since Guadeloupe was more or less on our planned route south we thought we'd just make a quick stop there after exploring the islands of Saba and Montserrat (see the June 2009 issue of CY for more on that), do the chandleries, provision, top up the fuel, and go. But then we started doing a bit of research and talking to fellow cruisers, in particular French Canadian sailors who know the French islands well and feel at home there. French, of course, is the main language spoken in Guadeloupe.

So, as a result Paul and I discovered some of the most delightful and rarely visited cruising grounds in this popular Caribbean destination starting with the string of magical islets that lie off Guadeloupe's north coast. We followed this with a unique “jungle cruise” down the Rivière Salée, a natural saltwater mangrove channel that divides Guadeloupe into two halves and is rich in exotic bird and plant life. And as if it wasn't surprising enough to discover these gems amidst the touristic and industrial chaos present in Guadeloupe, we found yet another rarely visited cruising area here – Îles des Saintes (known to English-speaking sailors as The Saintes), the small islands that lie just off the southwest coast of Guadeloupe where we concluded our “off the beaten path” cruise. The Saintes are so utterly charming we could barely tear ourselves away. More about them in an upcoming next issue.

We arrived in Guadeloupe from Montserrat on April 18. Our destination was the small port of Deshaies (pronounced day-ay) on the northwest corner of Guadeloupe, one of three official ports-of-call. The other two are the capital city of Basse Terre and Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe's main city where a large commercial port is located.

As I mentioned earlier, Guadeloupe is divided in two by the Rivière Salée so in reality Guadeloupe is two separate islands. On the chart, it looks like a lopsided butterfly. The “butterfly wing” or island on the west is called Basse Terre which means Low Land and is actually tall and mountainous. Grande Terre, which means Big Land, is the eastern wing of the butterly. It has low rolling hills, flat planes and is the smaller of the two. Just who was in charge of naming these islands anyway?

We sailed into the harbour at Deshaies in the late afternoon. Deshaies is a little fishing village that is slowly evolving into a popular waterfront destination with numerous wonderful yet casual French restaurants just a dinghy-ride away from where you drop the hook in the anchorage. We felt we had been transported back to Europe. The village was centred around the church with its tall steeple. The church bells tolled out 5 bells for 5 o'clock. French flags fluttered in the breeze. Guadeloupe is an overseas department of France so the same rules apply to yachts as if you are visiting Europe. If you are a non-EU flagged vessel and stay longer than 18 months you will be charged VAT for importing your boat. The currency here is Euros. There are no charges for clearing in.

After a delicious dinner ashore, a good night's sleep, and fresh croissants for breakfast the next morning, we set sail for the north end of the island. As we left, a group of local sailors launched their traditional sailing sloops for the weekly Sunday race. Their colourful sails lent a festive air to our departure.

We sailed along the west coast of Basse Terre for the morning and arrived at Ilet à Fajou, one of the little uninhabited islands with quiet anchorages and isolated beaches lying off the north end of Guadeloupe. These islands are often overlooked by visiting sailors since you have to back-track here after clearing in, the navigation can be a bit tricky since there are shallows to avoid (our swing-keel Southerly 42 only draws 2' 10” with the keel raised so not such a problem for us) but they are well marked and most sailors coming to Guadeloupe are ready for a break and want to enjoy the benefits of restaurants and comfortable marinas in the more populated areas. Fair enough. We look forward to that too.

Since it was the weekend, there were several groups of local power boaters rafted up together at Ilet à Fajou visiting with family and friends. It reminded us of summer weekends at home in Ontario on Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe – just a bit more tropical! We had a lazy lunch at anchor and spent the afternoon swimming and reading. We could have spent a week here.

One by one the local boats departed for home and eventually we raised the hook too to begin our journey down the Rivière Salée. The entrance to this well-marked mangrove channel is only a short distance from Ilet à Fajou and as we wound our way along the curving waterway we saw flocks of egrets and other exotic birds. We felt miles from civilization but when we dropped the hook in the little anchorage we had marked for the night, we were just north of the Bridge l'Alliance and discovered we were also at the end of the runway of the international airport which gave us a shock a few times when planes landed!

To travel the Rivière Salée you must time your transit for two bridge openings. So not to disturb the busy traffic on the roads during the day, the bridges only open for boats Monday through Saturday at 0430 and 0520, the dark hours of the morning. This is another reason few sailors explore this area; but if you approach this as a fun navigational exercise, it is worth the effort to do the trip.

Our first bridge going south would be the nearby Bridge l'Alliance which was scheduled to open at 0430. We had been warned that if you are not standing by with lights on and engines running by 0420 the bridge attendant turns his car around and goes home! We and one other sailboat were there on time the next morning! To add to our enjoyment it was raining. I started to wonder if this was such a great idea.

But it really was fun to wind through the mangroves from light to light testing our abilities and getting familiar with this area that is also a good haven in hurricanes. Who knew? We might have to run here one day and deal with terrible conditions. This could just be a warm up.

Pont de Gabarre was the next bridge. It's actually two bridges since there's a pedestrian bridge as well, but since they open together, they are considered one bridge for timing purposes. We and our buddy southbound boat made the 0500 opening. Three sailboats were waiting on the other side ready to head north. They had cleared out and would continue on to the island of Antigua. We all shouted and waved. I think we were all happy to know we weren't the only crazy ones out here having an adventure!

With the bridges behind us we were home free. Soon we began to see a glow on the eastern horizon. The rain stopped. We started to relax and enjoy the early morning sounds of life in the mangroves. The channel started to widen and soon we began to see city lights ahead. We were headed for Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe's most important city and commercial port. By daylight we were passing large cranes and even larger on-coming ships and ferries. Was it the same day? The contrast was fantastic!

But that's part of the fun. That's why we love travelling by boat.

Related Articles

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
Sea-Doo’s all-new Switch marries the performance of a personal watercraft with the versatility of a ...
Designed in a modern Carolina Downeast style, the MJM 3z is a luxury performance, all-weather, dual ...
             

Video Gallery

 

 

2022 Sea-Doo SwitchSea-Doo’s all-new Switch marries the performance of a personal watercraft with the versatility of a pontoon boat to create what might just be the perfect entry-level watercraft for young families.

If there’s one thing that’s been a constant throughout BRP’s colourful history, it’s a penchant for stepping outside the box and coming up with what turn out to be ground-breaking innovations. The company that was created around the invention of the snowmobile – and furthered by the invention of the jet-propelled personal watercraft – has never been afraid to adopt revolutionary approaches to what it sees as new opportunities. 

Read More

Horizon GregSt Vincent and the Grenadines is open to tourists and Horizon Yacht Charters are looking forward to welcoming our Canadian friends, old and new! You can fly from various locations in Canada via Barbados and then to St Vincent on InterCaribbean Airways or FlyOne and there are direct flights from Toronto with Air Canada on Mondays. With no quarantine for vaccinated visitors, it is easy to come and sail in the stunning Grenadines Island chain.

Horizon reports “We have new yachts joining our fleet in St Vincent this season including the stunning Fountaine Pajot Elba 45 Batamaran and a handsome Jeanneau 591 Molly Too”...

Read More

Lifestyle

  • Prev
We have had Christmas tree photos in years past, but this topper says it all. Like the traditional ...
The Royal Canadian Yacht Club announces the appointment of two new directors to the senior team – ...
Photograph taken on Sept 15 while drifting home after the last Wednesday evening race at Collins ...
On the afternoon of Sunday, October 3, fourteen exceptional sailors were inducted into the Canadian ...
My husband and I purchased this beauty in Gananoque two weeks ago and boated it from there across ...
Last issue we featured a story about the engagement proposal aboard Via-Mara, a 1969 Trojan 42 Aft ...
With thanks to Sail Canada, here’s a collection of photos that are Olympic quality. Clearly our ...
Wow. That was a lot of fun reading the collection of boat names that came in from all over the ...
No individual had a greater impact on the modern sport of sailing than Bruce Kirby. Known and ...
Just off The Ocean Race European Tour, Daniel is setting his sights on competing in The Ocean Race ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Storms have hammered the country big time this winter so many recreational boats are sleeping away ...
Nothing ruins a warm summer afternoon faster than turning the key and hearing the clicking noises ...
In Part 1, last issue, you reviewed the fundamentals. Now that you understand some of the basic ...
This series deals with basic DC boat wiring concepts. From various articles and posts I see, and ...
Rarely have I seen a boat that is bought brand new and continues to look like it rolled off the ...
Most of us are familiar with the tried-and-true 12V lead-acid batteries that have been found in ...
It can easily be argued that an engine is the heart of the boat: it is the single most important ...
Once our boat comes out of the water, I take the annual fall tour of the hull so I can determine ...
Fibreglass boats take a lot of maintenance. Their appeal, half a century ago was their ‘maintenance ...
Last issue, The Boat Nerd, Mike Wheatstone, introduced us to lithium batteries and explained why ...

Volvo Penta 130 and 150 SaildrivesOnce our boat comes out of the water, I take the annual fall tour of the hull so I can determine what to worry about all winter. The first thing I note is that the sacrificial anode I had intended to replace prior to launch last spring remains un-replaced.


I recall, as I look blankly at it, that my plan was to attach a brand new anode that I got from the previous owner many years ago, but when I removed it from its packaging, it was clear it wasn’t the correct match for my drive. Perhaps that’s why he hadn’t installed it. And why I went no further.

Read More

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
This selection reflects love at sea: either finding it there, or spending your life at sea with ...
Furlers make all the difference in headsail control by allowing cruisers to furl and reef from the ...
As more and more boat owners are looking to customize their boats to express their individual ...
Wrapped in hand-stitched marine-grade synthetic leather, Torcello Elite from Schmitt & Ongaro ...
Another innovative alternative boatbuilder is in the news. A venture capital arm is taking a stake ...
There was lots of time for gathering nautical reads, but perhaps you missed a few. The bookworms at ...
Invented in Argentina, CAPRIA has introduced a PWC Launcher to its range of drystack facility ...
Scheduled for Winter 2022-2023, Canadian Yachting Media is pleased to announce the upcoming release ...
The new Navigator Binoculars take Steiner's marine series to the next level with innovative product ...
The annual Canadian Yachting December issue is back and bursting with exciting stories, boat ...

Burrard Yacht ClubNorth Vancouver’s Burrard Yacht Club and West Vancouver’s Hollyburn Sailing Club are the newest certified members of Clean Marine BC, Georgia Strait Alliance’s eco-certification program that supports recreational boating facilities to reduce the impact of their operations on Burrard Inlet, the Salish Sea and beyond.


Clean Marine BC works with boating facilities to implement and improve environmental best practices for marinas, boat yards, yacht and sailing clubs, fuel docks and harbour authorities, and recognizes them for these efforts. 

Read More