Landfalls in Paradise

Weekly Updates

Landfalls in Paradise

Tarka and I have continued our march south. From the volcanic island of Montserrat, we have made landfall on the French island of Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, and now lie on anchor off Dominica’s north coast.

Tarka’s journey from Montserrat to Guadeloupe to Dominica, totaling over 100 miles.
The passage from Montserrat to Guadeloupe was a rough 45 miles beating into the wind and waves. It was wet, loud, and slow. I let the windvane steer the boat, and spent the majority of the passage below deck reading books or watching episodes of Friends. The will-they/won’t-they of Ross and Rachel really takes a bite out of the sometimes violent and alien world of ocean sailing.

I get a little help from my Friends — my feet are positioned such that I don’t fall onto that side of the boat.

That said, the beating took its toll and our progress on course was slow. I arrived at the Deshaies anchorage on the northern end of Guadeloupe after sunset, and had to navigate a crowded anchorage in the dark. This is no fun task for someone without liability insurance. Luckily a neighboring catamaran saw my arrival, and pointed out boats to me with a powerful light. Thank you, kind (or fearful) stranger. King of Bongo arrived a bit later, and I did the same for them, except I used my green laser.

Guadeloupe is a French island, and is the largest island in the Antilles chain. Like a lot of the islands in this chain, its host to dramatic rainforest-draped mountains, which are topped with pillowy cloud-sombreros. We spent a day hiking up a river out of the anchorage, and getting lost in the process. It was a stone-hopping sort of hike under a canopy of tall tropical trees, hanging vines, and through dense undergrowth. I did it with flip-flops, but quickly traded them in for bare feet. Hot, tired, and hungry, we eventually detoured at the sight of a few buildings up the bank of the river. We hacked our way up the embankment and stumbled out onto the grounds of what was some kind of Christian institution. We ushered ourselves quietly out of their camp and onto a main road that took us back down into town.

Anneta climbing out of the strange religious sanctuary we stumbled upon during our hike.

One nice thing about the tropics is that fruit is plentiful. On our walk down the hill and back to town, there were places where the sides of the road were littered with mangos. I grabbed a few and ate them as we walked. Anneta grabbed five, and ate them as we walked.

We were not planning trips to the interior of the island, as we knew we’d be seeing plenty of rainforests and waterfalls later in Dominica. Instead, we decided to keep our stay in Guadeloupe short, and sail to the southern side of the island to provision before heading further south to the city of Basse-Terre. Sailing in the lee of Guadeloupe was frustrating. Protected from the easterly trade winds, the seas were calm, and the wind was variable. At one point I was sailing wing-and-wing (one sail on each side, dead downwind), and the next moment there was no wind at all and I had to use the motor. About halfway through the 20-mile passage, we picked up a current and, oddly, a consistent westerly wind, which made it a one-tack sail to our destination. I picked up a mooring, and quickly got invited over for cold drinks aboard a catamaran. Sometimes it’s nice to be a small boat surrounded by large catamarans.

Overtaking King of Bongo while sailing in the lee of Guadeloupe

We spent several days at this anchorage getting supplies and doing chores. Though there’s a beautiful volcano and cloudforests a short drive away, we decided not to rent a car or hitchhike, and instead took care of business. In justification, I think we were saving our adventurous spirit for Dominica.

It was time to go, and our next stop was a mere 10 miles south in Iles des Saintes. The Saintes are a collection of beautiful, clean, picturesque French islands. The snorkeling right off the bow of Tarka was exceptional, with good examples of important coral species. Tarka also made friends, as usual, because her hull provides prime protection for fish. Admittedly, I did try to catch a few of Tarka’s new friends – but don’t worry, I wasn’t successful.

Tarka on a mooring in Les Saintes

The streets of Les Saints are clean and quiet, and the buildings are colorful. The main economy is tourism, so it’s in their interest to keep things this way. We spent our first day on the island walking from bay to bay. We settled upon a palm-lined beach and found a coconut to eat for “lunch”. Opening the coconut was a tour-de-force. We also shared our feast with the locals – which I think was a mistake…

An example of Les Saintes’ beautiful streets.

Indeed, I spent the next day napping aboard Tarka, as I felt a bit ill. Eventually I felt good enough to join our friends Tom and Pat on their boat “Lone Star” for a sundowner, but only after giving Tarka’s plumbing system its… annual inspection. The next day I set sail for Dominica, with King of Bongo trailing a bit behind. Tarka averaged an amazing 6 knots, despite having only a fraction of her sails deployed. After a squall that left me very wet (but at least salt-free!), Dominica appeared majestically, welcoming Tarka and I to the land of rainforests and waterfalls.

Keeping an eye on the sails during a squall. Notice how small the main sail is — this is because I had the sail “reefed” in to reduce forces on the boat.

Tarka has a delicate history with this island, as she once beached here years ago after she came off her anchor. I’m hoping the island is not cursed, and so far, it’s been nothing short of breathtaking. But, we’ll see what happens next week…

An unsanitary goat interaction