For cruisers in the Caribbean, March is a time for decisions, the hurricane season starts in June and you need time to get out of the way. Some head south to Grenada, some head east for Europe and some, like us will be heading north back to Canada and the US.
When we decided to try cruising we came up with the idea of a “one year plan”, a way we could have an adventure and see if this is something we want to do for the long term. This March we face the crossroads, do we switch to a long term plan or head home?
We have decided to head home. We have enjoyed this adventure, but we are not going to be cruising full-time. We have found we need a land base and, at moment, we need to be able to deal with life’s curve-balls without the complication of living on the boat.
There are a lot of factors that contributed to this decision; living 7/24 with one person in a small space is not ideal. Seasickness takes the enjoyment out of the passages. A close friend with a life limiting diagnosis. A list, for sure, but more than this, we need space and more variety in our lives than we can get on the boat.
Our plan is to sail back to the Chesapeake by early May and cruise there while we look for a buyer for Kinship. In the meantime, Kathleen is flying home for a couple of weeks to be with our sick friend and I will be sailing the boat solo back to St Martin from Guadeloupe.
It is sad to be giving up a dream, but we are happy that we had the dream for a year and that we took the chance. We will treasure the memories with have made.
Guadeloupe seems to have sucked down our anchor, and we are firmly ensconced in Pointe-a-Pitre harbour. After dropping off our boat guests, we moved the boat to Marina Bas-du-Fort to make it easier to get some boat jobs done. Our guests had kindly delivered parts for fixing the holding tank, and we sure didn’t want to risk having no head, living at anchor. Once that job was done a few more cropped up, including the broken roll pin (see blog post “all that for an 85 cent part?!”). By the time that was done bad weather rolled in, with the waves outside the harbour in the 9 foot range. While hanging around waiting for the weather to clear, one of the marina staff created another boat job to be taken care of…while backing a boat into the slip next to us he drove it hard into our bow, leaving a six-foot streak of blue paint off the incoming boat onto ours. So now we are waiting for the marina to come fix and polish the gelcoat. You know what they say, cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic locations.
As far as exotic locations go, this is a pretty nice one to be stuck in. In addition to taking in the local Carnaval, and spending time updating our blog (finally), we have explored quite a bit of the island, both from P-a-P, and prior to that while sailing along the coastline. Of course, our favourite way to explore is to hike, preferably to the highest point we can find for the views. Here are some of our favourite places on land:
Le Parc Nationale de la Guadeloupe
View of Grande-Terre from the top of Morne Louis
Suspension bridge over pretty river
Walking trail named after my favourite Son
Tropical rain forest full of fun Tarzan vines
La Riviere Rouge
Giant ferns on the trail to Le saut d’eau du Matouba
walking through a banana plantation. Did you know it takes from 9 to 18 months to grow a banana plant? The plastic bag is to protect the fruit from disease.
Check out the flower on a banana plant!
What looks to me like a Rapunzel Tower, but is actually a defense post for the island of Terre-de-Haut
Volcanic islands provide lots of interesting Geological formations – check out the well-defined layers here
and some pretty spectacular sunsets
Boulder-hopping up the Deshaies River with fellow cruisers Al & Tess
boulder-hopping up the Deshaies river with fellow cruisers Al & Tess
Guadeloupe is a lush, green island, not to be missed!
On February 15th we picked up our second set of boat guests, Bob and Mary K, in Point-à-Pitre Guadeloupe. Over an ice-cream, we discussed plans for the week, and it was clear our guests wanted to spend as much time as possible on and in the water. So the first stop on our water-filled adventure was Ilêt du Gosier, a short motor from P-à-P, for an afternoon of snorkeling with the little fishies. Bob and Mary K showed us a trick, putting bread in an empty pop bottle to attract fish, and we had a lot of fun playing in the warm shallow waters off the beach. We ended the afternoon with a beer at the beach bar, and I knew Mary K approved when she announced “now I feel like I am on holidays”.
Feeding the fishies
Friday morning we set off bright and early for Les Saintes, a lovely pair of little islands just off the coast of Guadeloupe that we enjoyed so much before. Both Bob and K were a little worse for wear after a bit of a sleepless night and the rolly sea swells, but were quickly refreshed by a dip in the warm clear waters off the back of the boat in the anchorage. We anchored right by the diving wreck, and near the shoals and reefs on shore, so there were lots of fishies and fun things to see in the water.
Lots to see on the bottom at Les Saintes
We went into town for the obligatory French baguette and to find Bob a proper sun hat with a brim. In the process we accidentally bought Mary K two lovely summer dresses to wear here and around the pool at home, of the kind I have adopted as the only comfortable thing to wear in this heat. She looked really lovely in her new floral print dress last night when we went to a beach party/ BBQ organized by our Canadian sailing friends on Caffé Latté and Ambition, who we had the pleasant surprise of running into here. They anchored just off the island at the entrance to this bay, and discovered it was a park, with picnic tables and fire pits, so they invited everyone to bring their dinner over for a picnic on the beach. Of course Bob was in his element, chopping wood, helping the two young boys from one of the boats build the fire, and then cooking up some chicken breasts for himself and Mary K. I had made up a new veggie-burger recipe for Matthew and I, and they tasted quite delicious in the fresh bread too. It was a pleasant evening ashore, then back to Kinship for cruiser’s bedtime (9:00pm)
The next morning was pleasant and fun, with lots more snorkeling on the wreck and another run into town for some shopping. Mary K got a lovely panama hat, and really pretty fresh-water pearl jewelry for her daughters-in-law and granddaughter. Then in the late afternoon we set out for Pigeon Island and the Jacques Cousteau Marine Park, where Bob hoped to get in a bit of scuba diving. We had really great sailing conditions, a beam reach at 10-15 knots, so we had the mainsail and the genoa full out, maintaining a speed of 6 to 8 knots and a nice smooth ride. Mary K was really hoping to see a whale, but instead she managed to call up a group of small dolphins! After calling “here fishy fishy fishy…” she spotted what she thought was a big fish jumping, then once we are all looking, up came a dolphin! Then another! Bob grabbed the camera, and he and I went forward onto the bow for a good look. Dolphins love to play in the bow wake of sailboats, and these ones were no exception. We counted 5 in all as they swam and jumped around us for a good 5 minutes. The quality of our video sucks, but you can tell what a thrill it was for us to see live by the sound of our voices!
This was followed by a lovely sunset, which was very colourful as it played hide-and-seek with the clouds, making a final appearance as a big orange ball below the cloud bank. We timed it, from the minute it touched the water on the horizon line until it disappeared below the horizon took only 3 minutes. It gets dark quite suddenly in the tropics.
Sunset off Basse-Terre
Along with the sun, the wind disappeared, so we had to motor the last hour and a half. As we approached the anchorage at Pigeon, the Captain sent Bob and I forward with a flashlight to watch for unlit boats. No sooner had we arrived to start our lookout, when we ran over some fishing gear that we saw at the very last minute, too late to do anything but tell the Captain what we had hit. It consisted of a line of javex bottles floating a rope, which was then attached to something submerged, we assume a crab or lobster pot. Sure enough, we snagged the rope in the propeller, and came to a quick stop. Damn, that’s a new problem we have heard all about but have never experienced before. At least this time the Captain knew exactly why his engine stopped working. The first thing you do when you lose your engine is put up a sail. Now we were glad for the low winds, because we were able to keep the boat stationary by going hove-to with the small jib. Then everyone got busy: Bob and Matthew assessing the problem, Mary K clearing the cockpit and holding lights, and me getting the emergency tools and equipment before taking over the helm. The fellows were able to cut us free of the lobster pot by grabbing that part of the line with the boat hook, but it soon became obvious that someone would have to swim under the boat to get the line untangled from the propeller. Bob was the hero of the hour, was I ever glad he was aboard! He is so much more experienced at diving and snorkeling than either of us, even though, as he pointed out, this would be his first ever night dive. After discussions and preparations, we felt pretty confident that the risks were manageable, so he donned his fins and mask, and down he went. After only three or so trips back up for air, he gave us the thumbs up! He had succeeded in liberating the mangled javex bottles and line from our propulsion system. He came back aboard, we tried the engine and it worked! Potential “emergency at sea” incident avoided! So we sent Bob down to have a warm shower, with Mary K to tend to a few bleeding barnacle scrapes, then we resumed our entry into the anchorage. That took longer than usual too, due to darkness and our slightly frazzled nerves, but with the help of another boater who hailed us on the radio to say there was a good spot near him, we were settled on anchor by 9pm, only a couple of hours later than planned. Those post-cruise beers never tasted quite so good! After getting a bowl of warm pasta into our bellies, we crashed into bed for the night.
As expected, Jacques Cousteau Marine Park was a huge hit. For a mere 45 euros Bob got what he described as “my best dive ever”! He was down for over 45 minutes, and saw the most amazing corals and marine life: a family of turtles one to two feet in diameter, one of which accompanied them on their swim for a bit, a four foot long moray eel, lobsters in their hidey-holes, and tropical fish of every colour and size imaginable. Mary K and I snorkeled off the little beach area on Pigeon Island, and we had a blast too. The previous night we were so tired by dinner time that we couldn’t even eat all the pasta I had quickly thrown together after our adventurous sail, so we chopped the leftovers up and put them in empty pop bottles to feed to the fish. That worked really well (who knew fish loved pasta!), so well in fact that we attracted a lot of people too! A gang who came over with an excursion boat saw that we had the most fish and came to watch. Mary K later said that she had this mental vision of the sharks below thinking “oh look, a whole school of humans….lunchtime!).
Fortunately there weren’t actually any sharks, just lots and lots of colourful fishies of all varieties swimming all around us. They are so colourful they look like Disney drew them – from the bright blue Dory fish (saw a whole school of those) to the greedy silver ones with the sunshine yellow stripe and tails -I later learned they are called Schoolmaster fish,
the butterfly fish that looks like it has four eyes, the yellow and black stripey guys, the all-black with one thin silver stripe on their backs,
to my favourite, the ones with all the colours of the rainbow on them.
We snorkeled until we got chilly, then went back to the beach and sat in the sand enjoying the natural spa treatment of salt water and sand on our feet while Matthew took a turn. He had been having so much trouble with getting a seal on his mask that he hadn’t enjoyed it nearly as much as the rest of us. This time he seemed to get it to work and enjoyed a short snorkel using some of my equipment. Then Mary K and I went back for a second round. By the time we got back to Kinship Bob was done his dive and we set out to sail to Basse-Terre before dark. The wind immediately realized what we were up to and dropped right off, so we motored for an hour and a half, anchored without event, and had a nice relaxing dinner and evening aboard, reviewing holiday pictures.Of course most of the underwater photos did not do justice to what we could see with our own eyes, but there were a few shots that look like they could be commercial screen savers or ads for a Disney flick.
The morning’s trip back towards Pointe-à-Pitre was uneventful, if a bit rolly. We motored out of the anchorage at 8:00am with Mary K still asleep, and were pleased when she managed to have a nice sleep-in lying there atop the engine. She is not a big fan of the moving about on the boat part, is far happier when we are at anchor and exploring things, so for her to be able to catch up on her zzzz’s while we moved the boat was a good thing. Bob, on the other hand, is clearly related to Angela. He loves to be up on the bow “on the look-out for boat traps”, and the bouncier the better. And he got to see lots of those fictitious flying fish along the way. As we had plenty of time, we decided to try a different beach for the afternoon, so we motor-sailed our way to Petit Havre, a lovely bay only a few miles farther up the coast. We saw an interesting-looking obelisk on shore, so took the dinghy over to see what that was about, and discovered it was a monument to the 200th anniversary of the first abolition of slavery on Guadeloupe in 1794. Napoleon re-established slavery in 1802 and it was 1848 before slaves were free again.
Obelisk commemorating the first abolition of slavery on Guadeloupe
Then we wandered down the tree-lined beach, found it to be quite to our liking, and decided to take a dinghy ride back to Kinship to load up a cooler, get some beach towels and books, and spend the afternoon there. I crashed on the sand in the shade and started a new book Mary K gave me. The others went exploring for a bit, but I didn’t move all afternoon. We were treated to a show of a gentleman mastering kite surfing on a foil board, and Bob even helped re-launch the parachute after one fall. So all in all, a great relaxing afternoon at the beach.
Later, our fine guests took us out for a delicious dinner in town. We decided to try local beer (Gwada beer brewed on the island) and local créole cuisine. Bob ordered grilled fish and got the whole fish, head, tail and all. I ordered a crayfish stew, and the crayfish in it were whole, with the shells intact. Impossible to eat without using your hands, so I had to dig right in, get messy, and then go wash up after the meal. It was an interesting experiment, that’s for sure – tasty, but not easy to eat! Mary K fared better with her chicken Colombo, which she enjoyed with her knife and fork. Matthew had his vegetarian pizza without making any kind of mess. The only sour note of the evening was that on returning to our dinghy we discovered someone had raided the safety supplies aboard. They tossed everything about, but only stole a few lights and the long rope off the anchor, so my theory is either kids, or another boater who was in need of those particular tools. Fortunately they left the big white light on the pole that goes on the back of the dinghy, so we did not have to ride back to the boat without lights. But we will have to replace several water-proof flashlights.
The next day was shopping day, so naturally we got our first rainy day in months. That is not really a complaint, since unlike a typical February rain at home, there was no need to take out the ice-scrapers, but it did mean that we spent the first part of the morning lazing around drinking tea and reading books instead. Then when it cleared up for a bit, we went into town for second breakfast and some shopping. P-à-P is a big city, with a bit too much hustle and bustle for my liking, but the town dock was really interesting, with its daily fresh food market, complete with fishermen selling their daily catch right off the backs of their boats. We quite enjoyed the fruit and veg market, and the colourful stores and vendor stalls, full of clothes, jewelry and crafts. Mary K got her usual holiday pair of earrings, Bob bought local jams made from tropical fruits like guava, pineapple and mango (which I gather airport security is now enjoying), then we bought gifts for kids and grandkids. I got Sammy a little black dolly in a dress and headscarf of the local créole gingham, and a gourd rattle for Nathan.
Produce market in Pointe-a-Pitre
Colourful market stalls full of specialty foods and spices, arts & crafts, toys, etc
I would say that the holiday was a success. We spent all but the last day in and on the water, Bob got his “best dive ever”, Mary K got lots of fish, dolphins, birds and other animal sightings. We thoroughly enjoyed having them aboard. They were fun company and great boat guests. They were awesome galley-slave assistants, doing all the dishes, and today, as a parting gift, Bob made me one of his legendary pancake breakfasts!
Assistant Galley Slave Extraordinaire!
Great boat guests. We were sorry to see them leave.