The anchor is up at 6:30 AM on Monday in Deshaies. Our destination today is the archipelago of Iles des Saintes, a journey of thirty miles. Our course takes us south along the west coast of the butterfly island to the city of Basse Terre, then ESE to “the Saints”.
In light easterlies, the first 18 miles of today’s journey takes place in the lee of Guadeloupe’s mainland. We bypass Pigeon Island, a dive and snorkel destination that is part of the Jacques Cousteau National Park. Pigeon Island is definitely on the to do list for a future visit to Guadeloupe. Approaching Basse Terre, the wind increases slightly and shifts suddenly to the west, which is a highly unusual occurrence here in the Caribbean. Little did we know at the time that this phenomenon portends changing wind and sea conditions as we sail out from the lee of Guadeloupe.
The so-called venturi effect occurs when easterly trade winds collide with the eastern shore of a mountainous island and become diverted north and south along its coast. The wind intensifies as it rushes towards the openings between the islands, then wraps around the northern and southern tips of the island to fill the void in pressure. Clearing the southern tip of Guadeloupe, the easterlies build instantly to 25 knots in the Saintes Channel (Canal de Saintes). Here, the wind from the east is blowing against 1.5 knots of opposing current flowing from west to east. Wind against current…always a deterrant. The result is six foot steep-sided waves with foamy crests. Cutter Loose is behaving like a bucking bronco in this melee. Now on course to Les Saintes, the wind is directly on the bow. Ultimately, the final few miles of our journey is a motorsail. So much for the wishful thought of minimal reliance on the engine here in the Leeward Islands!
These very waters of the Canal des Saintes was the site of a decisive naval battle in April, 1782. This battle involved 47 French and Spanish ships of the line versus 36 English ships of the line under the command of Admiral Sir George Rodney. The battle lasted four days and resulted in an English victory. During this battle, the British were credited with perfecting a technique known as “breaking the line” of battle. As the French line passed down the British line, a shift in wind direction permitted several British ships to break through the line of French warships. The French were caught by surprise. Several of their most powerful ships suffered severe damage and others retreated in chaos. A general chase followed, the result of which was that the French commander, Comte de Grasse, was forced to surrender. This defeat caused the French and Spanish to abandon their plan to capture the British island of Jamaica. Witnessing the wind and waves this morning, it is easy to understand how a superior knowledge of prevailing wind and current in the Canal des Saintes would create an advantage in naval warfare. Today, we are sailing through history aboard Cutter Loose.
At noon, Cutter Loose enters the inner harbor at Bourg des Saintes. Fortunately, there are several moorings still available. Moorings are at a premium here since Iles des Saintes is a popular stop on the Leeward Islands cruising circuit, roughly midway between Deshaies and Portsmouth, Dominica. From this front row seat, we observe all of the comings and goings in the harbor.
On final approach, there are swimmers, snorkelers and kayakers hovering around our targeted mooring ball. It seems rather strange that these folks are not moving out of our path as we approach the mooring. But by now, we have grown accustomed to odd behavior. After settling in, it becomes apparent that people are attracted to our little corner of the mooring field in order to swim with the local family of dolphins. Tour boats discharge snorkelers while rapping on the hull to attract the attention of the dolphins. As if on cue, the dolphins make regular appearances alongside Cutter Loose to please the appreciative crowd.
Ashore, Bourg des Saintes is a quaint, compact village with tourist shops, motor scooter rental shops and restaurants. French tourists arrive en masse on the morning ferries from Pointe-a-Pitre and Basse Terre, returning to the mainland of Guadeloupe on the afternoon ferry. From noon until 3 PM, the hustle and bustle of the street dissipates as shops close and tourists relax over a leisurely lunch in the local cafés.
Australians Richard and his lady friend Jules from Australia are moored nearby Cutter Loose. Together with Dragon’s Toy, they have become companions for morning visits to the patisserie and evening conversations in the cockpit. The name of their vessel is Ooroo, which is an Australian expression for “see you later”. One of the most delightful aspects of cruising is the opportunity to make new friends from far-away places. Like us, they are headed down-island, so our paths are sure to cross again soon. Many of our Caribbean 1500 companions are now scattered throughout the islands, while others have already returned to the States. We are attempting to remain in contact with Scott and Jennifer aboard Caribbean 1500 boat Pendragon with the hope of intersecting with them in Martinique.
Despite the heavy emphasis on tourism, les Saintes is an interesting place to be. The obligatory hike to Fort Napoleon provides a commanding view of the harbor. Several scale models within the Fort depict the maneuvering of the British and French ships during the Battle of les Saintes. Nearby, there are several beaches worth exploring, including Grand Anse which is directly exposed to the fury of the easterly trade winds. Local patisseries, boulangeries and grocery stores help to provision the galley with cheese, baguettes and other essentials. With the exception of a few shopkeepers, no English is spoken here. With a smile, a few words of French and a handful of Euros in one’s pocket, it is entirely possible to survive quite nicely in the French West Indies.
Thursday’s forecast calls for light winds from the east. We will take this opportunity to call at the remote French island of Marie Galante.