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Cruising to Guadeloupe

We depart Les Saintes for Basse Terre in Guadeloupe, racing our friends Gary and David on Pakele.  Average 7-8 knots, we arrive in time for lunch at the south end of Guadeloupe’s west coast.

Guadeloupe (gwa-da-LOOP), part of the French Antilles, is known by the Caribs as “Karukera” (Island of Beautiful Waters). This island is usually described as two islands in the shape of a lopsided butterfly with its wings separated by the Riviere Salee. 

The western ‘wing’, Basse Terre, is lush with rainforests, hardwood forests, bamboo, bananas, hibiscus and other exotic flora, rugged mountains with volcanic peaks and the fuming crater rim of Soufriere (1,467 m.).  This is great hiking territory.  A ‘ring road’ along the coast joins the villages on this half of the island. 

In contrast, the eastern ‘wing’, Grande Terre, has rolling hills, sugar plantations, sandy beaches, century-old windmills, the spectacular 350 foot Carbet Waterfalls, resort towns and the bustling city of Pointe-a-Pitre.

Although Christopher Columbus discovered Guadeloupe in 1493, Spain was not able to establish any colonies on the island due to the fierceness of the Carib Indians.  In 1635, both Guadeloupe and Martinique were finally settled by indentured French settlers who set up sugar production for ‘rhum’, highly valued in France (and, after tasting it, highly valued on Sea Whisper as well.)  During the four year occupation by the British (1759-1763) the sugar plantations and production of rum became thriving industries.

Back at the marina, we find a yacht chandlery and a laundry as well as other useful stores and lovely cafes; for provisioning, there is a big store, Cora, nearby.  We discover that Custom offices can be found in Deshaies (Day-hay), Basse Terre, Marie Galant and Pointe a Pitre.  

After decorating the lines on our boats with colourful, clean clothing, we head out for Anse a la Barque, a beautiful little hideout with calm waters six miles north of Basse Terre.  A white lighthouse is near the ruins of an old steamer dock where one can tie a dinghy, and a yellow lighthouse stands on the northern headland where we take some beautiful sunset shots.

With no bus stop nearby, we manage to hail the bus to Basse Terre where the bus depot is right beside the huge market.  There is no place like a Saturday market to test rum punches and explore the eating habits of the locals.  We roam the streets, buy some beautiful crystal beads at a great price and stop at a local diner for a traditional Creole lunch of hot, spicy beef.  After the hustle, bustle and heat in town, we stop at the local Leader Price for groceries and return to Sea Whisper.

We sail north towards Deshaies alongside the steeper, mountainous coastline and arrive at this pretty village to find the boys aboard Pakele awaiting our arrival to share Gary’s famous meatloaf dinner.  Tomorrow, we will take a scenic, 2 ½ hour bus trip across Guadeloupe to Pointe á Pitre. 

The harbour at Pointe-a-Pitre is large and offers good protection from hurricanes at both Riviere Salee and Port de Plaisance.  Port de Plaisance, in particular, is well known as one of the best service centres for yachts as well as for its shopping and restaurant district.

We enjoy La Darse, the older part of Pointe-a-Pitre on the waterfront.  This neighbourhood is relaxing and fun with friendly street vendors selling fresh produce, souvenirs, and local food products at their colourful stalls.  It has older Caribbean-style buildings with gingerbread trim and flower-laden balconies, plus ferries coming and going and lots of action.  Nearby Place de la Victoire provides more of a colonial atmosphere with stately homes, plenty of green space, and sidewalk cafes; a place to take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the view.  Downtown is a mix of modern buildings, dark narrow streets, heavy traffic, designer stores, and crowds that may appeal to those who enjoy a more urban atmosphere.

One of the boating adventures in this area is to navigate the Riviere Salee, a somewhat swampy river that divides the two islands.  This entails timing for the openings of the two bridges and maneuvering in the river current. The overhead clearance is 80 feet while the draft is up to seven feet.  Due to Sea Whisper’s over nine foot-draft, we missed this experience but hear that it is a somewhat interesting and different activity.

Overall, we find that Guadeloupe is an island for those who enjoy relaxing sand beaches, land exploration, scenic photo opportunities, excellent marinas, romantic, private anchorages, a cheerful Creole atmosphere, delicious food, great shopping, and friendly islanders.

Before leaving on a three year journey by sea aboard Sea Whisper, as a health practitioner, Laurie McDonald wrote a column for a western Canada health-related magazine. Her travel adventures are published in Canadian magazines and newspapers.

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