As the Ty Dewi team head south in the Windward Islands, the skipper has a plan to sail through the middle of Guadeloupe….
There are times when it seems that I spend a couple of weeks building up brownie points with Gesa then go sailing and blow them all on one trip. It’s usually big seas (like Nonsuch Bay) or excessively long trips (Montserrat-Guadeloupe) or some other miscalculation or misrepresentation on my part.
Today had it all, although thankfully a good first couple of hours and a very interesting final destination, but it has not gone to plan. We were attracted by the pilot guide’s description of the ‘north-middle’ of the island (Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly, we are now at the head, between the two wings). This area has beautiful reefs, excellent areas to explore by dinghy and then, after a couple of days, a fascinating journey between the two ‘wings of the butterfly’ to Point à Pitre.
So the first bits are good, we get out of Deshaies, into sheltered water and make ten miles fairly comfortably before we have to break into open water and motor into the wind and sea. We expected this, but even so, Gesa has to give up and lie down. We originally plan to go to Port Louis, a little fishing village, but this is another four miles of hard travelling so we bottle out and head for a little anchorage shown on the chart as beside an island and behind a reef. The entrance to the channel is a bit scary, big breakers on either side of a hundred metre gap, but the buoys are big and look reliable, and we are soon inside the reef in calmer water.
Sadly, the anchorage is far from sheltered – it might be OK in a gentle breeze but it’s blowing 20 knots out here and choppy. We might be safe, but we won’t be comfortable. We realise that this whole bay, the promised area of splendid exploring, is going to be a no-no in the current weather conditions, and it’s forecast to blow harder over the next few days. The only choice is to go on to the Rivière Salée, the narrow gap between the two islands.
But now, the buoys that have been guiding us are suddenly missing. Looking for the next one in the chain, supposedly green, all we can see is a small yellow buoy. We know the channel is narrow, but deep and we carefully head towards the buoy with 16 metres of water beneath us. Suddenly, very suddenly at the marker it goes to 2 metres and as we spin round to get out of there, we touch the reef. Thankfully, applying a lot of throttle and a little help from the bounce of the waves and we break back over the reef into deep water leaving a trail of sandy churned up water. It’s a heartstopping moment.
We were being careful before, but now we are creeping onwards, carefully looking for changes in the water colour which are fairly easy in bright sunshine, but much harder with cloud cover. Fortunately it’s one of those days when you get some cloud, as we had when we hit the reef, then clear sky, then more cloud. By using the bright periods to spot the water colours together with the pilot book and the electronic charts, we manage to feel our way into the relative safety of the Rivière Salée. This is still nerve-wracking, as it is only deep enough in most places to give us a couple of feet beneath the boat, but it’s enough and we know it’s mud that we can get out of easily.
The river is blocked by two bridges, joining the two halves of the island. The good news is that they open to let yachts through. The less good news is that they do so at 1630h. We’d expected to have a couple of days gentle exploring before being here, but now we have to follow a hard and tense day of sailing with a very early start.
Which is how we happen to be sat in the middle of a mangrove swamp, with all the mosquito screens in place, and alarms set for 3:55am. Ah, another day in paradise.
The passage through the Rivière Salée was a surprising delight. Getting up at 1630h to follow a shallow, twisting swamp creek beneath two lifting road bridges and past the city rubbish dump was actually a really fun morning. Issie slept, of course, but Max was up as soon as the engine went on and joined us on deck in the darkness, enjoying the fact that the road lifted up to let us past, and we went past the airport and other bright lights. We anchored in the dawn light in a very calm pool upriver of the city and caught a couple more hours of sleep. We’ll explore Point à Pitre later….
(things the kids say when cruising)
Being in a little bit of Caribbean France, we get salami sausage – the whole sausage about a foot long and an inch across. We’re cutting some when Issie asks what animal it comes from. We explain that it comes from a pig.
“Did it pooh it out?” says Max.