20th March 2012 : Anse à la Barque – Saint-Louis (48 M)
From our present location (Anse à la Barque) to our destination (main anchorage of Marie-Galante), the chart indicates 30 miles. Good! Yes, but... the route is east – and the wind, of course, comes right from there. OK, we know that much and we prepare ourselves for a long day of tacking. And set the alarm clock on 5 am.
We leave the anchorage at dawn. Our friend the westerly breeze is not up yet (not everyone is as crazy as we are) and we have to motorsail all the way down to the southern point. Only passed Vieux Fort point can we set up the sails and start tacking in the nice little 13-15kts breeze. Main sail up, the genoa almost full, Saltimbanque flies on a flat sea. So the dream weather conditions as described in the advertising magazines do exist!
The Soufrière putting on her cumulus-coat for the day
The anchorage in the morning: no need to get wet to check on the chain!
As we get closer to the Saintes, we need to tack. Well well well, what’s that route now? More than 130° from the other tack (meaning that we don’t gain much ground against the wind actually). It must be the stream! A stronger current than expected... that will be a looong day indeed. Then the wind drops, the swell increases, there’s not much left of the Caribbean dream. Less than 10kts and a boat stopped by every other wave, that’s too much: we turn the engine on and help the sails. Yes we know it’s not elegant, but otherwise we’d still be there!
4 hours in the diesel fumes later, the night is falling and we approach the Saint-Louis Bay in pitch dark. We have a strong spotlight onboard for this kind of occasions: it’s great to avoid buoys and fishing-pots – and other anchored boats! Our sailing guide warns us against the many fishing-pots in the area (and he’s right). What’s more, our navigation lights (the bright new – expensive – mast light bulb we found in Grenada) do not work, again. How frustrating. Alright, only 30 min more to go, tomorrow it’ll be light. The water is shallow all through the wide bay and we find a nice spot, 3.5m on a sandy ground. The sea is flat as a mirror, we’ll have a good sounds sleep tonight!
21st – 22nd March: Marie-Galante (2M)
[Memories memories, sweet music, a blurred shade of grey, slow zoom in... ] Remember: 9 months ago, in June 2011, in Port-Coton on the Britton island of Belle-Ile... the sky was grey and the breeze was cold, and we saw a sign facing the infinite ocean, standing next to the glorious needles of schist. The sign said: Marie-Galante, 6363 km.
(Note: this makes less sense if you don’t know the famous French song “Belle-Ile en Mer, Marie-Galante”, which initiated this strong link between the two islands).
[Back to the present, a sound of waves gently rolling on a white sand beach, blurred mix of bright colors, zoom in on the turquoise sea]
Here we are! The water is turquoise and the beaches are white, and we are walking on the so-called “great biscuit” (for its round and flat shape). We’d like to bike around the island just like we did in Belle-Ile, but there’s only one bike to be rented in the whole town... Really disappointed, we start on a small walk to the north instead. The beauty of the beach slowly brings our smile back. The water is transparent, of this intense blue color we’ve seen only in the Grenadines so far. The path leaves the shore and we walk through the forest, up the hill across cultures and fields. We try chewing on some sugarcane for dessert: you just have to chew to let the sweet syrup out... funny but a bit thick in the end – it’s better distillated and in bottles!
June 2011, Belle-Ile, we could see some of our destinations on this sign...
Marie-Galante, its paradisiac beaches...
... and its sugarcane fields
Back to the boat, we still have some spared energy (remember we had planned a day-long bike ride...). We fill the dinghy with snorkeling gears and go... some place not far away (don’t expect us to give out any information regarding lobsters’ hideaways!). The first glance underwater is deceiving: blurred water, no coral, no fish... then we have a second look and cannot believe it: one pair of antennas, two pairs, ten, twenty...! The water is so shallow that we can stand on this lobsters’ field! Is that a trap? Is there a hidden camera somewhere? Anyways we know what we have for dinner tonight! The lobsters are not so big and we take the time to carefully select the 3 biggest animals. And not get bitten by the murenas and the stonefish that seem to share their rocks.
Good diner, good night sleep (flatter water we’ve never seen!): we sail off to the next bay to the north, just two milles away, off a beautiful pristine beach. In the Anse Canot we drop the anchor in 3.5m water on the sand. There are some rocks, but the water is so clear that they are easily spotted.
Anse Canot, it looks like the Grenadines - only less crowded!
First things first: go fishing! On the dinghy we load our gears again and anchor it off the rocks on the northern side of the bay. The water is still incredibly blue and there are some lobsters again, but too small. We’ll have fish for diner then. Big parrot-fishes are too quick for us, big jack-fishes are better avoided for fear of ciguatera (this toxin comes in the small fishes eating decaying coral and concentrates in bigger fishes eating small fishes... and is really poisonous to whoever tries to eat them at their turn). Between the rocks, we see three cannons, looking like fossils from the French-British wars of the 18th century. In the end we’ll get two small parrots for lunch, and two soldier-fishes to make “accras” (creole fishb doughnuts) to go with our rum tonight!
Anse Canot seen from up in the mast
That’s a tough life in Anse Canot... tough decisions are to be made: shall we go back to swim, or shall we go to the beach and try out Laure’s new kite, or maybe rather read a bit in the sun on the deck? We find a voicemail on our mobile saying that we have to be in Pointe-à-Pitre tomorrow at 2pm to lift the boat out of the water. After several days of checking and calling back and asking many people we thought that was postponed. On the same morning they even told us not before 4 days... and now we hear, tomorrow. We are 20 miles away and the wind forecast is not optimistic... ok ok, we know what that means: alarm clock on 5am again.
23rd March: Anse Canot – Pointe à Pitre (20M)
We leave as the first rays of light are shining. Better so, the area is mined with lobster-pots (and now we understand why...). Too little wind to hope to sail, Nestor has to work for the first two hours. Then we start to feel a tiny breeze in our hair, coming from the beam or quarter back... we don’t want to believe it, that would be too much... will It stay up? Is there enough wind to blow the Big Balloon? Shall we try? Under everything, deep down the sails compartments, we finally grab the bag: our Mighty Spinnaker! Long time no see! (Last time was in Cabo Verde...) How does it work again? After some hesitation to install the sheets and the pole correctly, we hoist it up, we pull up the sleeve...It works! Yes! So nice to be pulled by our colorful balloon on the Caribbean Sea under a bright sun... Camille will spend the rest of the ride playing with the helm and the sheets because “the wind is too variable, I HAVE TO stay there you know”.
To portside lies Basse Terre and its eternal cloudy hat
We enter in the so-called “Small sailors’ Deadend”. The shallower water is turquoise, we can see the harbor approaching – sorry but every game has to stop one day. So, down with the spi. We drop the anchor in front of the marina, to wait for the time of our appointment with the crane driver. 8m water on muddy ground, this anchorage is not comfortable because of the waves from the many boats passing by.
At 2pm, we enter the marina and look for the crane. It is still busy and after some talking and walking around to the office we are out of the water at 4pm, ready to start our maintenance work on Saltimbanque. Cleaning the hull with the karcher we realize that, after 8000 miles in exotic waters, there’s very little left from the antifouling applied in the Netherlands one year ago already. That’s our mission for the next days: make Saltimbanque ready for the end of the Antilles, and the crossing back!
24th to the 27th ... or 28th March: in a dockyard in Pointe à Pitre (5M)
Having a boat is fun, but there’s a price to pay – it has to be maintained. Painted, checked, repaired... While the boat stands out of the water the priority is to work on the hull. First, we sand, then we apply two layers of so-called “primary” paint on the most fragile spots (where there’s really no paint left). Then another two layers of antifouling – and even a third layer on the most exposed parts. Sounds easy: but that’s a matter of several hours of work in a boiling sun. Incredible how quickly the paint dries here! We have to dilute every batch to be able to spread it a bit. Two days later, the hull is shining, smooth and beautiful: we’ll go quicker even in the little wind that we’re having these days.
BEFORE: your hull was dull, dirty, dry...
... AFTER: thanks to our exclusive formula "You ha'd wo'king you", it's looking like new !
Between the layers we keep ourselves busy with smaller work: painting some spots on the deck and inside, varnishing the wooden door, changing the waterproof joints of the windows etc etc. (Apropos the joints, here’s a tip: anyone wants to apply sika or silicon with a temperature higher than 35 should dip a round tool in white spirit to spread the joint. Alright, that may not be very useful to our Dutch readers...). We also make the flag for our next country, apply some linseed oil to protect the wooden pieces outside (like the helm), we prepare some spare textile shackles just in case...
Everything runs smoothly for two days on the dockyard. Except when a fire starts in the building next door :-S It took 10 minutes for the firefighters to come, the 10 longest minutes of the trip, staring at our boat from outside the forbidden zone and wondering when it would all explode...
On the Monday morning we are proud to walk to the marina office and ask to put lifted back to the water. The cradle places on the shipyard are scarce and they’re happy to free up one, we won’t have to ask twice this time. While he’s passing by the rigging expert comes up and checks the tension in all the cables: our forestay (that we feared was a little loose) is declared good to go.
Back in the water we go and moor at the visitors’ pontoon. Camille beats her record to change the oil and do a check-up on the engine, less than one hour! Repairing the navigation lights proves more tedious as we have to slide one cable up in the mast, and the cable keeps blocking, and we remove big pieces of dry moss and herb (these plants from our harbor in Holland – where we last took down the mast - have gone a long way!). Laure spends the afternoon up in the mast, lifting and pulling and plugging everything back in place. In the end, the light is! Tomorrow we can leave!
Marina of Pointe-à-Pitre, where is Saltimbanque ??
There's a hole in the middle...
On the next day we start towards the end of the Pointe-a-Pitre harbor, towards the channel that crosses the Guadeloupe in its middle and makes the access quicker to the north. The bridge at the entrance of the channel opens only once a day in the early morning and we anchor to wait. We note that diesel is leaking from the purge screw. Trying to screw it tighter... we break the screw! Damned, now the diesel is flowing out freely, and the air coming in the engine! No choice, we have to go back and repair... For 2 miles Camille, one hand on the helm and the other on the throttle lever, keeps Saltimbanque running to the marina, while Laure keeps her finger pressed on the whole to prevent the leaks... (you know the story of this little boy in the North of Holland who saved his village by plugging a leaking dyke with his finger for the whole night?). The engine stops in a jerk, then starts again and we reach our place at the pontoon just as night is falling.
On the next morning we bring the faulty screw and the piece where it belongs to the repair shop (expert in Yanmar engines, lucky coincidence). He needs no more than 30 seconds to chase the broken screw out and tells us to replace it with a normal screw. Normal screw bought for 35 cents, cut to the right dimension, screwed back in place. Is thaht over already? As we have time on our hands we check again everything and decide to ask the repair shop guy what he thinks of the small water leak at the bottom of the water pump (that’s one failure that we know, we had it already last summer and changed the joints). Our friend tells us that yes, it’s normal for a joint to be worn out after 8 months only, and yes he has the joints in stock. All we have to do is to remove the water pump, unscrew the cover and the clamp, check the ball bearing, remove the axis, clean everything, force the old joints out and the new joints in then put everything back in place – in the same order. Gloops and we’re supposed to be able to do that ourselves? Yes he says, that’s easy. Usually techy guys tend to deny us weak females the capacity to use a screwdriver. So we have to believe him... back onboard, we take everything out, clean everything (tip number two: if you want to clean the sediments from an engine, just drop all the pieces in acid – in 10 seconds they’re shining as new). Putting every part back in place is surprisingly easy. Done before lunch!
Puzzle « Very Easy » in 15 pieces
We walk down the pontoon and have a last chat with the friends (Penn Gwen and Phileas we met in Dominique, then 3 Gouttes, Bel Ami from Mindelo, and the Qebeckers on their nice green boat Umialtak). Towards the end of the afternoon, we cast off the sheets (again).
28th-29th March 2012 : Pointe à Pitre – English Harbour (Antigua) (97M)
Our confidence in an engine recently put down to pieces is limited: we decide not to take the channel (where the currents are strong and a good engine critical). That means 50 miles more. Sailing by night again (cool, that’s a long time we have spent more than the day at sea!).
The sun is low already as we exit the “Small Sailors’ Deadend”. Suddenly Camille cries out: “Whale! Whale!”. Indeed some hundred meters further there’s a water jet, then some huge body leaps out of the water to splash back in. Another water jet, another leap, we’re having a whale of a time (couldn’t resist the punt. Pitiful. Sorry). It’s the first time we’re seeing those huge animals. From the distance we can’t be positive about the kind: sperm whale or something else; there seemed to be two individuals, and all we saw were jumps and a big back slowly emerging from the water until the back fin.
Frigates waving us goodbye on the way out of Pointe à Pitre
The spirits lifted by this sight (it can only mean good news!), we get ready for the night. We keep the sails up until the southwest point, the Vieux Fort, where we start on the leeside of the island and receive no wind any more. We knew what to expect anyways, having sailed in this area a couple of times now, and we turn the engine on. It runs smoothly for two hours. At one point the famous westerly breeze peculiar to this coast helps us on a few miles (much to our surprise: we thought that it blew only during the day, as any thermic breeze). Then the wind picks back up and veers to the east as we pass the northern point. 4-5bft, we take two reefs and a couple of turns in the genoa.
Saltimbanque runs well despite the swell on a shiny sea under the glorious sun of that early morning.
Suddenly big grey clouds show up and the wind veers 30 degrees against us. Another pack of clouds, helping the wind back to its original direction... then come the squalls. They come in a series, we manage to avoid the two first but get trapped in the third. The rain pours down, clapping so hard that we cannot keep the eyes open and look in front of us. Luckily the sky clears out after a while just as we approach the island of Antigua and allow us to study the coast where we want to land. Our destination is English Harbor, Nelson’s “secrete headquarters”, from which the entrance is supposed to be impossible to make out from the sea. So much for secrecy: the place is now a home to tens of mega-yachts, whose masts are so tall that they outgrow the hills around and clearly show the way, day and night. Actually the channel is now marked with lit buoys, no way to get lost.
Once in the bay we look for a space between the boats that are already anchored off the beach in Freeman’s Bay (just at the entrance of English Harbor). Thanks to our small draught we can go close to the beach, and find the perfect spot with 3m water on sand. They even send a turtle to swim around Saltimbanque: welcome to Antigua!
The entrance to English Harbour: on the right the famous « Hercules' pillars », conspicuous rocks guarding the passage, on the left masts from megayachts - not less consipicuous - guiding to the entrance; and straight ahead, the anchorage.
Nadia - 02/04/2012 20:17:24 la couleur de l'eau est ... merveilleusement bleue ... lol ... c'est magnifique ! et les baleines.... ça doit être émouvant de voir de si grosses "bêtes" sous l'eau ...
Bon rétablissement à Saltimbanque ... et bonne continuation :-))) continuez de nous enchanter la mamou - 02/04/2012 09:09:28 J'avais lu que "trois gouttes" avait vu des baleines . C'est génial que vous les ayez rencontrées aussi !!! C'était donc bien leur chant que nous entendions en nous baignant du bateau !!