Sailing in Guadeloupe

So I’m finally back from my long anticipated sailing trip in Guadeloupe, which is located in the Caribbean. To say the trip was fun would be an understatement because it really was the trip of a lifetime.

Intermediate certification

The trip was an intermediate sailing course taken through the Queen’s Quay Sailing and Powerboating club in Toronto. We chattered two 47 foot Beneteau Oceanis 473 boats. This boat has four cabins and three heads and is quite spacious in the galley. It was my first time living on a boat, and my first time being on ocean waters. Everything up until this point had been day sailing on Lake Ontario just outside of the Toronto Harbour, usually on J24s. This was really a test for me to see if I was really interested in pursuing sailing in any serious fashion, and the answer to this question is a resounding yes.

47 foot Beneteau Oceanis 473

Day 1

It didn’t go so smooth at first, flights were late and we got off to a slow start. Part of the course was learning how to shop and stockpile a boat for a long cruise. The first night we stayed in home port and ate at a less than great restaurant, but that’s okay the crew we had aboard our boat were fantastic cooks, and our on board meals blew away anything we bought at restaurants. Throw in French cheeses and wines along with Caribbean beer in the evenings and you have a recipe for delicious.

The first full day was spent shopping in the morning for food, prepping the boat and knowing where everything was and where problems might arise. Things like where are your thru-hull fittings (holes through the boat) so you know where water may be coming through when an emergency arises. Checking where life jackets are, the engine and spare parts, water pump, water tanks, fuel, first aid and things like marking off the anchor rode at 30 feet intervals.

I should also mention that the crew consisted of two types of people at this point, which we referred to as patch people and non-patch people. There is an anti seasickness drug called scopolamine. This is a patch that you stick on your neck just behind the ear. It eliminates seasickness for three days. Three of us took the patch and three of us did not. I was one of the people who had stuck a patch on the side of my neck the night before. In the morning two of us actually felt sick and we hadn’t even left shore yet. This was a short-lived side affect of the drug. In short these patches were fantastic. Patch people would be laughing and staggering around the galley well under way, while non-patch people would try to keep their below deck time to a minimum.

About half way through the day we finally pushed off from shore and were headed to our first anchorage for the night.

Îlet du Gosier

The first day of sailing was the shortest of the entire week since we were running low on time. We arrived at Îlet du Gosier that evening before sunset. This is a tiny island very close to the Guadeloupe mainland. It consists of a small beach, a lighthouse and a bar. We set up anchor for the first time and then jumped off the boat and swam to shore, which actually looked a lot closer than it was. When we reached shore the bar had just run out of beer, but that was okay, we were stocked up back on the boat anyway.

We spent some time exploring the island and walking around. Clive, our instructor motored in on the dingy and had our cameras so we took some pictures.

Our crew from left to right: Ian, Pamela, Clive, Birgit, Leigh and John.

Soon we swam back to the boat to prepare dinner. Our crew got along very well and the first night set the pattern for all nights to come. Everything was a team effort, regardless of who’s turn it was to do something. Throughout the trip in the mornings and evenings it always seemed that someone was doing something to prep the boat for the day ahead or the evening.

That evening we sat back and looked up at the stars and pointed out constellations like Orion, chatted and slowly got sleepy. One by one someone would go below deck to sleep for the night. The first night sleeping at sea to a slight rock back and forth was wonderful and sleep never seemed to be a problem for most of the trip. Although it was very hot, I found if you aimed a fan at you and just relaxed without moving much, your body temperature would slowly cool down and you would be asleep in no time.

Day 2

This was my day to cook, and to be honest out of all the duties we had to perform on the boat this was the one I was dreading the most, but things turned out okay with the help of everyone on board. The crew seemed to like what I made, but then again everything tastes great when you are on a boat in the Caribbean.

Marie Galante

Before heading to our new destination of Marie Galante, we actually had to sail back to Pointe-a-Pitre to clear customs, but this wasn’t much of a detour and soon we were off. This was our first time feeling like we were really going somewhere. On the first day we were always very close to land, but today we got to see Guadeloupe slowly fade away while Marie Galante grew bigger in the distance.

Each day I felt myself becoming more and more in tune with the boat and the water. I could really feel that this is something I want to continue to do. The water rushing by, the land morphing into different shapes, the flap of the sails, it’s really hard to describe how wonderful sailing is without actually being there.

That evening we anchored just outside of a small town and watched a massive ocean ferry dock. Most of us went in and explored the town and stocked up on more food and drink. The harbour where we stayed was quite small and busy, so we tied up to our sister boat and after dinner ended up chatting the night away with some of the other crew.

Day 3 – Dominica

The third day was our best sailing day of the week. The wind picked up to 20 knots and we hit 8 to 9 knots at times. For a while the waves were swelling up close to 10 feet which was really a thrill sitting on the side of the boat, feet dangling off the edge. Every day was memorable, but this one really sticks with me. As we sailed closer to Dominica the mountains towered over us. These were by far the most spectacular views we would see of land.

Another boat passing by with some heeling.

The day was not without incident though. About half way through the sail a distraught woman in tears came on the VHF radio yelling “mayday, mayday, mayday”. This was a sobering moment and it really tugged at the heartstrings. She further went on to say they were sinking. There was a bit of commotion on the radio, but soon the coast guard came on asking more questions. It turned out she had a daughter on board too and soon a man came on the radio much more calm than the woman. The coast guard said to get the woman and girl on their dingy and go to shore. Apparently they had run aground. After the initial shock the situation seemed less dire and the man seemed more down about losing his boat, but at least they were near shore. They switched off channel 16 to another channel. The one thing that stood out was that the woman never gave her coordinates. If that was the last message she could have given no one would have been able to help her.

In the afternoon we anchored in a small bay and were instantly surrounded by locals trying to sell us country flags, coconuts and tours of the island. Dominica is not a French island, so the culture was much different than what we had experienced on previous days, the people were extremely friendly, even if it was usually to try and sell you something.

We had time to go ashore, clear customs and explore the island and go for a swim. Near the end of the day some of us actually swam back to the boat, which was an even longer swim than the first night, but less tiring by now. It’s amazing how quickly your body can adapt from a life of sitting in a chair in front of a computer to that of swimming, pulling sheets (ropes) and hiking.

Nature is always truly in control, Dominica ship wrecks from a past Hurricane

That evening consisted of another fantastic meal, more stars, and good company and conversation. This was also the day my patch came off. The others using patches applied another one, but I wanted to try going without one for the rest of the trip.

Typical breakfast aboard our boat.

Day 4 – 5 Iles-des-Saintes

On the fourth day we arrived at Iles-des-Saints and unanimously fell in love with the island. This prompted us to stay for two days.

Iles-des-Saints is a tiny island that you could probably walk around in several hours. It is the remains of a caldera or collapsed volcano. This makes the drop off in the harbour very dramatic so we ended up using almost all our anchor rode.

The main town or village was full of quaint little shops, restaurants and scooter rentals. For such a small town it was really bustling with scooters constantly zipping by. We all decided that we would eat out for the first time since we set sail. We chose this really warm looking restaurant, which was actually pretty good, but the restaurants atmosphere is really what sold it.

Another perfect sunset.

The next day we decided to hike around the island and check out an old French fort on the hill. It turned out to be a pretty good hike, but nothing compared to the challenges the following week would offer to me in St. Lucia. The fort was full of iguanas that really didn’t want their pictures taken, but we managed to catch a few off guard.

Iles-des-Saintes anchorage on the way up the hill

A stunning bay on the Atlantic side of the island.

After the fort we headed to the other side of the island with our snorkeling gear. This was a small extremely sheltered bay with no boats in it. It had small coral reefs on both sides and was fairly shallow. We had a great time and there were many colourful fish to see along with anemones and even a spiny lobster, which is a lobster with no claws, but huge antenna.

In the last evening on the way back to the boat we saw a huge storm on the horizon, or at least what we thought was a storm. The sun set before the so-called storm hit. We sat on the boat chatting away like usual when our eyes started to sting. The stars were also disappearing from the sky. Eventually the VHF radio squawked out something about extremely reduced visibility in the areas around Montserrat. Apparently there had been an eruption with a partial dome collapse on February 11th which even included pyroclastic flow activity.

Day 6 – Back to Pointe-a-Pitre

The next morning was spent lowering buckets on a rope into the water and lifting them up to the deck and splashing our boat clean, which was literally grey by now. The horizon was hazy and even the brightly coloured roofs of the town were covered in grey.

Iles-des-Saintes after Montserrat eruption.

Our boat after the Montserrat eruption.

Before long our boat is looking spotless again and we raise anchor and head back to Pointe-a-Pitre. For most of us the trip ends soon, but Clive the instructor still has another week of training a new crew, and I have a second week of vacation booked in St. Lucia. Even though I was excited about St. Lucia, I knew that nothing was going to compare to this trip.

Day 7

We end up getting our vacation extended in Guadeloupe as the volcanic ash cover has closed all Airports in the area. This is not great news for me, as I cannot get a hold of my flight Air Caraibes. By the end of the day everyone has figured out their flight arrangements for the next day except for me. I’m also the only one in the bunch that cannot speak French at all. We spent our last night on another boat that the Sunsail chatter was kind enough to lend us. Our last dinner was the best restaurant dinner we had. Different kinds of meat on swords.

The next day is almost a 12-hour nightmare in the Guadeloupe airport. It starts at 9 in the morning and ends around the same time in the evening with my bags flying to St. Lucia without me. The rest of the crew spent the day on the beach and met up with me around 4 p.m. They all ended up flying out later that night. My lesson in all of this is never to use Air Caraibes again, not because of the delay, but because of their utter lack of organization or care for their customers.

In the evening I take a taxi back to the docks and spend the night with Clive’s new crew and a feeling of Déjà vu as the crew does all the checks we did a week earlier. The new crew is friendly and keeps telling me that at least I’m in a tropical place. After a few beers everything seems better, and at least the next day I have a flight time and do not have to spend the entire day in the airport.

Day 8

My flight was set to leave in the afternoon, so the day is spent watching the new crew prepare for their sail, which sadly is already into its 3rd day due to flight delays for them also. I walked around a small town and met up with the new crew to say goodbye as they prepared to cast off. My last hour was spent in an Aquarium looking at puffer fish, and sharks.

On the way out of the Aquarium I checked out the docks one last time and see that boat has left and it’s time for me to get my cab back into the city. The airport was much less crazy than the previous day and at the end of the day I am treated to a fantastic view of Rodney Bay in St. Lucia. The view of the harbour and anchorage seen right off of my balcony is a constant reminder of my wonderful sailing trip the previous week. I can’t wait to do it again next year in the Grenadines.

My view the next morning in St. Lucia.

John, one of the crew members on this trip also wrote a fantastic blog entry on our trip.

Want to see more pictures of Sailing in Guadeloupe?

Below is the route we took in Google Maps

View Guadeloupe Sailing Trip February 2010 in a larger map