Iles des Saintes

Forgive the delay in posting, we’ve been off grid for the past few weeks……

With unfavorable weather predicted for heading north, we’d decided to make our way south instead. Our next destination was Ile des Saintes, a small group of islands off of mainland Guadeloupe, encircled by shallow reefs. We’d heard endless raves about “the Saints,” from every cruiser who’d visited, so it was a must-stop on our list.

Instead of making an overnight run, we opted to break up the journey and make a return stop at Deshaise, Guadeloupe for the night. Even in the “more favorable” direction from Antigua, our seven hour run was unnervingly lumpy (paravanes are the best invention ever), making us glad we’d decided not to travel north, and into the wind.

Despite the sea state, we enjoyed traveling along the scenic coast of Guadeloupe. I caught sight of a large, above-ground cemetery, crammed with graves of all shapes and sizes. There can’t be many more vacancies available.

As we approached Deshaise, Howard perused the coast. However, having no more patience for lumpy travel, and ready to just drop the anchor already, he soon tired of the view.

We dropped anchor in the harbor, went to shore for the easy-peasy clear in at a gift shop in town, stocked up on Scott’s French staples…baguettes and Orangina, and then made our way back to the boat.

The next morning we continued on, and caught sight of our friends Rob and Lindy (s/v Sea Shak) further down the coast, traveling off of our starboard side. We’d met them during our last days in Jolly Harbour, and were both headed in the same direction. We had a quick radio chat, before they tacked away from us and continued on. After a much less lumpy ride, we arrived at Ile des Saintes. The forecast for the coming week predicted strong northeast winds, so we planned to settle in.

The islands have been French since shortly after they were colonized, with a small community that used to rely almost entirely on fishing. Unlike most Caribbean islands, the Saints were never agricultural, and therefore no slaves were ever imported. As a result, residents of African descent arrived and live on the islands by choice.

There are many mooring balls available at affordable rates. However, demand far exceeds the supply, and you have to be quick and crafty to get one. A cruiser referred to the challenge as mooring ball “Hunger Games,” and he’s not far off.

On our approach, we perused the mooring field off of town with binoculars. Seeing nothing available, we slowly snaked our way through, hoping to catch sight of someone up on a bow, ready to slip their lines and leave. While scanning the mooring field, we also had to keep an eye out for other boats coming in, looking for available balls as well. It was a race of eyesight, as boats tried to beat each other to the punch. Boats already on moorings will call friends on the radio, to let them know a ball is coming open. They then speed over to the ball by dinghy, essentially claiming the spot until the boat arrives to tie on.

With all this rigmarole going on, there was no chance of getting a mooring closer to shore, and town. We moved over to the outer edge, and managed to find an open ball..hurray! Not long after Scott grabbed it and secured us, we realized why the ball had been available. It was on the outer edge of the harbor, with an almost entirely open exposure to the ever increasing winds.

We rolled like crazy, even with the flopper-stoppers in place. Winds were predicted to blow like mad over the next week, and there was no way we could stand seven days of bobbing and rolling, so the next morning, we did another pass through the balls closer to shore, and after no luck, headed over to nearby Ile Cabrit. It had just a few mooring balls, but as we approached almost half were open; but,at least two sailboats were making their way over as well. Not having to slow and bring in sails gave us the jump, and we quickly chose a ball and tied on. Mission accomplished!

Later that afternoon, we happened to notice Lindy tied to a ball near us…sitting on  her stand up paddle board.

Apparently Rob had seen the open ball through binoculars, and quickly ferried her over in the dinghy to claim it. She floated there for almost an hour, while Rob made his way back to their boat, raised anchor and brought it over….amusing! We were happy to have them so close by.

The smaller, unpopulated Ile Cabrit was a popular weekend spot for boats of all sizes. Locals would anchor or take a ball, and then head to shore for picnics and fun. A small pavilion and several picnic tables with grills were scattered in the trees, and people lounged on the beach, enjoying the water. The water surrounding the Saintes was deep, but the clarity was terrific. Snorkeling in the area was very good, and Scott even heard whale songs while underwater!

We made the short hike up to the remains of Fort Josephine, which sits atop Ile Cabrit. The woods that line the shore are home to a huge flock of roosters and chickens. They share space with several cats, who are regularly chased by the bossy birds (I’d run if something with a pointy beak was chasing me too!), and an occasional goat. As we walked along the lower path, Scott was like the Pied Piper, with roosters, chickens and cats in tow.

A cement path made for an easy hike up to the hill, and we were met at the ruins of the fort by resident goats, who didn’t really seem to care that we had arrived.

 

From here, we had a great view of the anchorage below, and of some poor boats making their way out in the white capped water.

The view over to the main island of Terre d’en Haut was gorgeous, with the town of Bourg des Saintes nestled in the hills, and Fort Napolean on the island’s north side.

 

We wandered what was left of the fort, and then headed back, noticing nearby Guadeloupe on the horizon as we made our way down.

 

The winds were sustained in the upper 20 knots, and the water between Isle Cabrit and town was a washing machine, riddled with white caps. We were protected from the brunt of the wind, but insanely strong gusts would come down the hill at us often, lurching the boat sideways and sending anything not held down inside the boat sailing through the air.

After several days, Scott felt comfortable running the gauntlet over to town, and managed to convince me that we wouldn’t flip over and drown on the way. We donned our raincoats, which were useless. The waves slapped at us from all sides, sending water into my hood and down inside my coat. Scott was too stubborn to use his hood, and water drenched his head and face. Sunglasses kept water out of our eyes for about a minute…of the ten minute ride, so Scott steered blind most of the way.

Once at the town dock, it was work to drag our soggy selves up onto the rolling, pitching pier and brace against the strong wind gusts. We were so wet, and it looked more like we’d swam over, rather than taken a dinghy.

First things first…we needed to clear in. As I’ve mentioned before, the French islands make this so easy: enter your info. into a computer, usually found in a gift shop or cafe, have your form printed out, pay four or five Euros and go on your way! In the Saints, there was a marine office of sorts, with air conditioning, wifi, laundry service and cold beer…we were becoming big fans of the French! We both enjoyed a beer, while Scott filled out the online clearance forms and I caught up on emails. With jobs complete, it was off to walk through town and find some groceries.

Bourg des Saintes was picturesque and quaint. Buildings were bright, clean and colorful, and the streets spotlessly clean. Neighbors chatted with each other, and people sped by us on scooters, their baskets full of baguettes. We felt like we were in coastal France, instead of the Caribbean.

 

We couldn’t completely understand the menu boards posted out front of the many cafes and restaurants, but delicious smells invited us to come sit and eat. Souvenir and gift shops were awash in color, with items displayed outside, hoping to lure passing customers inside.

Several ferries arrived from Guadeloupe each day, making mornings in town very busy. By noon, they had departed back to the mainland, or nearby islands, and most businesses closed several hours for lunch. The grocery stores closed during the day as well, but each at different times. During most of our travels, we often need to visit two or three stores to find essential items on our list, so it was a bit challenging to get our shopping done. As we wandered past a specialty food shop, (closed for lunch), we noticed that humans weren’t the only ones in Bourg des Saintes who took a lunch break.

As we walked the streets, passing people and scooters loaded down with baguettes, Scott became nervous about the town’s supply. I assured him that of course there would be plenty of baguettes in the stores when we got there..it was a French island after all. We arrived at the first store to find the many baguette baskets empty….oops. Scott went into a panic.

I assured him that we were fine, there were two more grocery stores in town. The second store was closed when we arrived, and wouldn’t be reopening again for three hours…..double oops. I could now feel Scott’s panic (not to mention, he was venting loudly at me). We continued on to the discount store, and arrived to find their baskets full of baguettes….thank God. I could feel Scott’s blood pressure drop, as he grabbed an armful of long, crusty loaves.

I purchased some trash bags at one of the stores, to wrap our bags in and keep our food dry. Back at the pier, we stopped at a spot out of the wind, and covered our bags, backpacks and most importantly, the baguettes. We were going with the wind on our return ride, making it a bit less soggy. Nevertheless, I was glad for the trash bags, soggy baguettes would have put Scott over the edge!

We returned to the main island for a walk up to Fort Napoleon, which stands on a hill north of town. This time, I was ready for the soggy slog. In addition to cinching my hood so tight against my face that it left a mark, I cut holes in some large, black trash bags, and wore them as rain pants (think MC Hammer). I made Scott do the same, and we headed to town. The winds had died, and our ride wasn’t as brutal, but I was still glad for my homemade pants; Scott vowed never to wear his again.

We followed the main road out of town, and up to the fort, admiring the town below. At the last turn, we stopped to take in the postcard view.

 

 

The fort had been well restored, and the grounds were one, big botanical garden, dedicated to local succulent planes and iguanas.

In the trees along the north side of the fort, we spotted several iguanas. We’ve since learned that there are both indigenous and invasive iguanas in the Lesser Antilles Islands. The Lesser Antillean Iguana is pictured below, bright green, and more solid in color. They are considered endangered, and are rarely seen on  many islands.

The invasive Green iguana is larger, and out competes the Lesser Antillean for food. They have also interbred, causing a hybrid species. We saw both the Green Iguana, and a hybrid type as well, in the trees at the fort.

Here is an invasive, Green Iguana.

 

 

And here is they hybrid iguana, keeping the bright green of the Lesser Antillean.

Notice how long his tail is! Look closely, it goes all the way up the branch behind him!

 

We walked the perimeter of the wall, for more  views of town and the bays below us.

 

We strolled past the forts massive, thick walls, and headed back to town. On the way, we noticed many colorful fishing boats moored in the harbor below, and passed a small hotel with an inviting bar!

 

Having our friends Rob and Lindy just a few mooring balls away was great. Knowing Scott’s cravings for baguettes, they often returned from town with one in tow for him, and were also nice enough to deliver wine!

We introduced them to Mexican Train dominoes, and spent several nights playing on board Sea Life. One evening during a game, I felt Howard’s wet tail on my leg. I assumed, as usual, he’d dipped his tail in the water while watching fish from the swim platform. I turned to find a completely soaked cat, who’d obviously gotten too excited while watching Tarpon chase Needlefish. I went for a towel, and some wipes, to help dry him and get most of the salt from his fur. If you’re keeping track, this brings Howard’s “swim” count to seven, in five countries (thank goodness we’ve taken to securing a towel off of the swim platform, to help Howard “Phelps” get back on board)!!

The four of us decided to take advantage of the picnic areas on Ile Cabrit, and headed to shore with food and drink in tow. We grilled some food over the fire pit, and the chickens helped themselves to the scraps.

 

 

 

When they dispersed for the evening, Lindy and I fed the cats (impossible to do while the chickens were still around). If I thought Howard would share his boat….or more importantly, his food, I’d have quickly scooped up this little guy.

We had loads of fun, and hung out well after sunset, snapping fun, silly selfies.

One morning, Scott noticed our friends on s/v Chill coming in to take a nearby mooring. Dan and Jackie are fellow Marylanders we met while in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua. We dinghied over to say hello, and invite them for drinks and a catch-up. They came aboard, with friends in tow, and we enjoyed a great evening. Dan and Jackie purchased one of the Chesapeake Bay lighthouses, years back,when they were up for auction. They’ve did an incredible renovation, and enjoy it as a summer get-away. Check it out here.

The winds were dying, which meant we would all be continuing on, in different directions. Lindy and Rob left early one morning, bound for St. Lucia. We spent one more evening ashore for drinks, while Scott burned some of our trash, and the next morning, they passed alongside for a final goodbye, then headed for the horizon.

Dan slipped his mooring a few hours later. He was taking Chill to Martinique solo, where Jackie and some of their children would join him. Dan gave us a wave as he made is way out of the mooring field, and headed south.

Scott and I lingered one more day, giving the seas a chance to calm a bit more. We enjoyed an early dinner in town, and prepared for the next day’s journey, while Howard eyed some young pelicans swimming near the boat.

 

Our next stop….Dominica. Here are many more photos of our time in the Saints.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

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