By Sheryl and Paul Shard

Spring is a beautiful time in the Caribbean. The trade winds become more gentle and the persistent northerly swells found in the winter boating season, formed by storms “up north”, subside. This general calming of conditions opens up a plethora of anchorages throughout the islands just when most cruising sailors are beginning to leave the Caribbean for home. Even the more popular anchorages become less crowded as a result. So why is everyone leaving?

Most cruisers begin their departure in March to get an early start on the long trip north so that they arrive in home waters in time for summer festivities. Others start leaving the Caribbean in the early spring to get out of the hurricane belt in a leisurely fashion, preferring day sails to a big offshore jump out of the belt just before hurricane season officially begins in June. But what it means is that from April to June, the cruising is good in the Caribbean.

Our Spring 2009 cruise has been a delight. In early Apri,l we had discovered the less-visited islands islands of Saba and Montserrat. (See the June 2009 issue of CY.) As the end of April approached, we were finishing a wonderful cruise in Guadeloupe exploring the quiet corners of this French island, namely the string of magical islets that lie off Guadeloupe's north coast and a trip down the Rivière Salée, a natural saltwater mangrove channel that deposited us in Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe's main city where its large commercial port is located. (See the July 2009 issue of CY.) We spent a few days here in the Marina Bas-du-Fort stocking up the boat with needed spare parts from the excellent chandleries and topping up our ship's stores with imported goodies from France.

Guadeloupe is one of four territories presently under French sovereignty in the Caribbean – the two overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique, plus the two overseas collectivities of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy (St. Bart's). The territories are known as the French West Indies or Antilles Français. The word Antilles originated in the period before the European conquest of the New World –Antilia being one of those mysterious lands that appeared on medieval charts, sometimes as an archipelago, sometimes as continuous land drawn in various locations in mid-ocean between the Canary Islands and India. After Christopher Columbus's first expedition in 1492, the Caribbean islands were called the West Indies, but since the islands comprised an extensive archipelago like the mystical Antilia, many European countries used the term Antilles instead.

The Guadeloupe department also includes the delightful little island group of Iles des Saintes that we mentioned in the July issue of CY and promised to tell you more about. After a few days in a busy port like Pointe à Pitre, we could hardly wait to escape to these quiet slow-paced islands. We were, after all, on a quest to visit the quiet places of the Caribbean. And since we were generally loving the ambience and “joie de vivre” spirit of the French islands, we decided that after visiting “The Saintes,” we would conclude our exploration of the Antilles Français with a visit to another little jewel – St. Bart's.

We set sail from Pointe à Pitre on April 23rd heading south along the mountainous east coast of Basse Terre. Guadeloupe is comprised of two islands joined in the middle to form the shape of a butterfly and Basse Terre is the western island or butterfly wing. Iles des Saintes lie just off the southern tip of Basse Terre. The trip is just over 20 nm and with the funneling effect that the majestic La Soufriere volcano has on the winds along this coast, you can always expect a brisk sail. We had very light winds when we first set out; by the time we got out into the channel, the winds were a constant 20-25 knots. We weren't in any hurry – feeling happy to be out on the sparkling seas again after being in port for a few days – so we sailed under jib alone enjoying the sweeping views of luxurious volcanic green hillsides dotted with picturesque red-roofed villages.

We arrived at Terre de Haut (high-land) the main island of the Iles des Saintes archipelago in early afternoon. When Columbus came upon these charming islands on All Saints Day on his second voyage to the New World in 1493, he named them “Los Santos”. At the time, Carib Indians inhabited the islands; since then “Les Saintes” have been owned by several nations, but the French regained control again in 1815 with the Treaty of Paris and have been there ever since.

As we guided “Distant Shores” through the Passe de la Baleine, the eastern entrance to the town anchorage between the small Ilet à Cabrit and Terre de Haut, we saw a sight that took our breath away. There anchored in front of Le Bourg, the main village, like a view from the past was a tall ship that we instantly recognized as the Barque Picton Castle, a 180-foot long, classic, square-rigged sailing ship designed and refitted in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. We waved to the crew as we went past to anchor nearby off the fishing harbour and were later invited aboard for a tour.

Despite the light winds there was a surprising roll in the anchorage off Le Bourg, in part due to a current that runs through here but mostly due to the constant flow of passing ferries throughout the day carrying day-trippers to and from Guadeloupe. Passengers would off-load at the main dock in the centre of the harbour then quickly disappear by taxi or rented scooter to one of the many delightful beaches on the far side of the 5.22 km2 island. Others, of course, would wander the little village streets to explore the interesting boutiques (many artists and craftspeople live here) and sample the offerings of local bakeries, cafes and excellent restaurants. But most of the daytime tourists were seeking sun and sand elsewhere on the island so the village was usually fairly quiet and the villagers friendly.

At this time of year (with the lighter winds) it is possible to cruise around the little archipelago and enjoy several anchorages (which in the winter would be too exposed), such as the cove south of Pain de Sucre, a 200-foot mini-piton on Terre de Haut or Anse Fielding on the very quiet neighbouring island of Terre d'en Basse. We eventually moved “Distant Shores” from the anchorage off the fishing harbour to the other side of the bay to anchor just below Fort Napoleon where we snorkelled on the shallow wreck of the MV Lindy and later found lots of colourful fish diving on the reefs near the anchorage off Ilet à Cabrit.

Although you can see Guadeloupe from Iles des Saintes, there is a different atmosphere here – it’s definitely laid-back French. The islands are such a quiet paradise yet just a short sail or ferry ride away are all the conveniences of a big city. The best of both worlds is in reach. It would be easy to get washed ashore here.

The small French island of Saint-Barthélemy (area 21 km² and population about 8,500) has a similar appeal. Located further north, about 250 km east of Puerto Rico, St. Bart's lies within sight of the island of Saint Martin, a major Caribbean tourist destination with a large international airport and all important services and supplies at duty-free prices. Yet St. Bart's retains its small island charm with a fabulous twist. St. Bart's has long been considered a playground of the rich and famous attracting the mega-yacht crowd (forget finding a berth at New Year's) due to its beautiful pristine beaches,, glamourous villas, gourmet dining in chic bistros and high-end designers. Where Iles des Saintes is rustic, St. Bart's is up-market – but so much fun!

We finally tore ourselves away from The Saintes on May 1st and sailed about 20 nm north to anchor for the night at Pigeon on the west coast of Guadeloupe, a favourite diving location of Jacques Cousteau. From there we did a 75 nm day sail to the island of Nevis where we picked up a mooring off Charlestown for the night. On May 3rd we did a 45 nm day, sailing on smooth seas, beam reaching under main and genoa, to arrive at the French island of St. Bart's in the afternoon. We dropped the hook off Fort Oscar at the entrance to St. Bart's main port of Gustavia and we dinghied in to the harbour to clear-in at the port office. To our amazement, there were spaces available in the harbour and we were assigned a double mooring (tie bow and stern) dead-center in the harbour with the best view of all the goings-on and access to phenomenal shops (sandals decorated with real jewels, you get the picture) and divine restaurants.

Needless to say, St. Bart's is not a bargain-hunters' paradise but it's just so over-the-top you have to see it. (Our mooring however was a good deal at only 10 euros per night or about $15 CAD.) And in the spring it's not crowded so you can anchor or pick up a mooring off fabulous beaches like Anse Colombier that can be untenable in the winter with the big northerly swells and strong winds.

There's lots to be said for spring cruising in the Caribbean, so if you do get the opportunity to sail there or extend your stay, you won’t want to rush home too soon.


Photo Captions:
Photo 1 - Distant Shores approached the mooring field off Charlestown, Nevis, where the Shards make an overnight stop when travelling from  Îles des Saintes to St. Bart’s.
Photo 2 - In the winter it is almost impossible to get a slip or mooring in the harbour at Gustavia a popular destination but in the spring the Shards had a choice of two moorings or many places they could go stern to the quay.
Photo 3 - Paul and Sheryl enjoy touring the island of Terre de Haut on a rented scooter, the best way to get to the beach. There are few cars on the island which adds to the slow-paced atmosphere and vehicles are not allowed on the main streets of the village which are pedestrian only.
Photo 4 - The wreck of the ferry, MV Lindy, lies in the main anchorage at Terre de Haut, Îles des Saintes. It makes an excellent site for snorkelling or a kayaking outing since it is in clear shallow water, is still intact, and is easily seen from the surface.

Related Articles

Wednesday, 27 April 2016 14:00

We had been out on the ocean for 17 days, just the two of us, keeping watch around the clock. One of us was always asleep while the other kept a sharp...

Friday, 08 March 2013 13:33

Completing the Tour of the Six Celtic Nations. Sheryl and Paul Shard continue their sailing adventures with an autumn cruise of the Brittany coast of France aboard their Southerly 49 sailboat,...

Friday, 22 September 2017 07:25

Do you ever dream about traveling by boat on sparkling tropical seas as winter sets in at home and the weather turns colder and grayer?

Thursday, 19 November 2015 14:03

Despite the ongoing lure of the deep blue Caribbean seas, a day pass at La Marina at the Casa de Campo resort is worth squeezing into your itinerary. You’re already in the Caribbean…your next...

Thursday, 09 May 2013 09:34

I use this recipe a lot aboard Distant Shores since it is attractive, flavourful and easy to prepare at a moment's notice from mostly canned and bottled goods that can be stored on board...

Friday, 27 September 2013 14:47

We hope our readers liked the cover photo of Distant Shores on the cover of the October issue of Canadian Yachting magazine, but we wanted to apologize for errors in the "On The Cover" information...

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
Once again, Cruisers Yachts is leading the market for day boats with their new 42 GLS model that ...
Optimized sailing performance and comfortable living – a sweet ride. The expression that came to ...
This is such an exciting time in boating! While we feel very sorry for people whose health and ...
For many, the 2020 sailing year will be one to go down into the books as “different”. With delayed ...
What perfect timing! Beneteau is has just announced their new Antares 11 model for North America ...
Commodore’s Boats is a full-service shipyard with over 50 years of generational history and ...
The Oceanis Yacht 54, younger sister of the Oceanis 62, embodies the innovation that has always ...
Beneteau announces the launch of the latest addition to the Antares range! With a length overall of ...
I had been looking forward to a sea trial aboard the Greenline 33 because I was hoping it would ...
New at the end of 2019, the 58 Salon Express design features large windows to flood the living ...

CY Virtual Video Boat Tours

Virtual Boat ToursWe all love boats and nothing can break us up! So, what better way to spend our time than looking at interesting boats and going aboard in a virtual ride or tour. We have asked our friends at various dealers and manufacturers to help us assemble a one-stop online resource to experience some of the most interesting boats on the market today. Where the CY Team has done a review, we connect you to that expert viewpoint. If you can’t go boating, you can almost experience the thrill via your screen. Not quite the same, but we hope you enjoy our fine tour collection.

 

Read more about the CY Virtual Boat Tours....................

 

Cruisers Yachts 42 GLSBy Andy Adams

Once again, Cruisers Yachts is leading the market for day boats with their new 42 GLS model that premiered at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show at the end of October. The concept of a large day boat is now a very well-established trend made possible by the amazing new power and efficiency of the latest four stroke outboards.

Buyers are looking for a different boating experience and we think that the 42 GLS nails it. Fast, handsome and versatile, the 42 GLS is designed for fun and adventure.

Read More

 

Bahamas - There and Back Again IIIn Part I, Sheryl Shard ended the story at June and the start of Hurricane Season when they were once again joined by friends.

This time it was Noel and Tracey Dinan, whose new shallow-draft Allures 49.5 was in build at the time, we headed north from the Exumas across the expanse of the Great Bahama Bank, dodging coral patches as we sailed to Eleuthera then Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco. Another commercial centre in the islands, we cleared out of the Bahamas here after provisioning for our offshore passage up to the Chesapeake Bay on the US mainland and out of the Hurricane Zone until mid-November...

Read More

Lifestyle

  • Prev
Oak Bay Marina achieves eco-certification in Clean Marine BC, which helps boating facilities to ...
OK, stop the presses. This photo just came in from Beacon Bay. Clearly those folks know how to get ...
Back in the day, the publisher of a magazine would receive a bound copy of the year’s monthly ...
Boaters on BC’s West Coast have heard the story of the garbage pickers of the Marine debris removal ...
Skipper John “Drew” Plominski is hoping that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Plominski, whose boat ...
The Association provides a forum for exchanging information, tips and access an advocate on behalf ...
Kristin Cummings, Operations Manager at Beacon Bay Marina took this shot after the skies broke ...
Our Photo of the Week (two, in fact) comes from New Zealand where the second America’s Cup AC 75 ...
The Marine Debris Recovery Initiative (MDRI), a collaboration with the Clean Coast, Clean Waters ...
The International Joint Commission (IJC) is reviewing Plan 2014 and could use your help. The plan ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected changes in our lives, impacting everything from ...
Boating boomed in 2020, with scads of first-time boat buyers chasing respite from the pandemic. Now ...
For anyone cruising on a boat that will be away from the dock for any appreciable time keeping the ...
Styles, shapes, pitch and diameter of props are widely discussed on online boating forums, YouTube ...
There’s nothing worse than wondering how much fuel you have on board. You’re left wondering how ...
As the cold approaches, shrink-wrapping is a hot topic, and I’ve heard more than a few debates at ...
“They don’t make ‘em like they used to”, is a phrase that many of us are familiar with. Most of the ...
I’m on many different types of boats, with many configurations. Some have a single ...
I often get asked if regular care and maintenance is necessary for inflatable PFDs. Here is a ...
Labour Day weekend tends to be the ‘last hurrah’ on many fronts: the last long weekend of the ...

So You Want to be a Better BoaterBy Amy Hogue

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected changes in our lives, impacting everything from boating to vacations and these trends look to continue into the future.

In summer 2020, those trends were seen in the unprecedented numbers of boaters flocking to marinas and boat launches seeking a COVID-friendly vacation on the water. While the waterways were more crowded than ever before, the boaters you were likely to encounter weren’t necessarily in the know for boating etiquette, or marine know-how.

 

Read More

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
The JBL Click Bluetooth® wireless controller from Prospec Electronics adds fingertip control of ...
On February 11, 2021, Mercury Marine, a division of Brunswick Corporation (NYSE: BC), ...
“A Sailing Adventure Across 40,000 Nautical Miles” over a 17-year span, chronicles the adventures ...
A water-based insecticide that’s safe to use on Boats & RV’s. Long lasting and effective ...
With a 120 Degree Emitting Angle, 9 to 32 Volt DC Fused Input, constructed in a rugged 316 marine ...
Who could have imagined it would get this easy? With Epifanes Poly-urethane yacht coatings, ...
When Zhik’s design team created their award winning, Hydrovision® Adaptive Hood and detachable ...
When Linda McErlain and Erica Robertson purchased Anchor’s Away Custom Boat Bedding and re-branded ...
On Monday, Volvo Penta announced the availability of their fully integrated assisted docking system ...
Perhaps the ultimate audio solution for boat owners, the JBL by Harman BassPro Go from Prospec ...