Our Air Canada flight landed in Guadeloupe Pointe-a-Pitre airport, French soil, on February 6, 2010. Flying in from Toronto, via Montreal, we were to meet our fellow sailing course crew mates, not quite for the first time, but close. Having had a couple of trip planning meetings in Toronto, we discussed as a group very little, and essentially had done nothing to prepare as a team for the voyage ahead, other than a quick lesson on Caribbean mooring, a brief review of the charts, and discussion regarding the need for food like sandwiches for lunch, beer and wine. Thus was our introduction to Birgit Woods, Ian Hoar, Pamela Borges and master (captain) Clive Smith. "We" are John Wilson (me) and my wife Leigh Geraghty, recent graduates of the Queens Quay sailing clubs Basic Cruising course this past summer. The plan, to sail for a week around the islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica in order to accomplish our intermediate level cruising designation...and perhaps much more. The question, as we set off on this adventure becomes, good idea or disaster waiting to happen?Sunsail (sailboat charter company) dock yard. Our group, organized by Clive for the sailing club has chartered two 47 foot Beneteau sail boats. A Sunsail representative meets us at the gate, speaking only French, and then leads us to our floating home for the week. We've shared the taxi bus to the marina with with Brian, Sarah, Birgit, and Ian (Brian and Sarah will crew the sister boat on the same course). A love affair is already blossoming as our French hosts introduce us to Vriend, our beautiful sailboat for the next week. Vriend is the biggest sail boat I've ever been on, only about seven years old, she appears clean, well equipped, well organized, and reasonably spacious. Quickly we each claim our accomodations, Leigh and I sharing a double birth at the stern, Ian on the other side in the stern, Birgit in the bow birth (to be shared with Pamela), leaving the double bunk for Clive.
Food (restaurant is just behind Leigh as she sits on our boat in the photo to the left). Just a two minute walk along the dock and we have a waterfront view from a laid back bar/restaurant where we can enjoy dinner as people arrive. We've learned that Pamela and the captain of the other boat have been diverted through Antigua and will be a day late arriving. My father, Ian Wilson, crew on the other boat, has already scoped out the area having arrived a few days early and we find him strolling down to the dock upon our arrival. Ian Wilson has already started to get settled in on his boat Marilyn... twin sister to our beauty Vriend.
Day 1 - Getting ready to set sail
next three photos below by Ian Hoar
Apparently wine and beer can be included in our plans for sufficient water...and coffee...so, we head into town, near the Marina, about a five minute walk. We find a quiet, nearly empty coffee shop on the water front and have a delicious cafe ("e" on the end of "cafe" with accent aigu... aaaay ... cafaaay) ... wonderful, and chocolate croissant. Our large groups overwhelm the quiet cafe and soon all the croissants, french bread, and jam is sold out.
photo below by Pamela Borges
Our sister sailboat it turns out was grounded at the dock and so we circled once waiting for them to follow. Heading out we reminded ourselves of the rule "red right return" which means that you keep the red buoys on your right when you are returning to port. So since we are leaving port, I was to keep the red buoys on my left and green on my right. Okay, got it...important, don't want to run aground as my first experience at helm...no pressure. We've also reviewed the charts to make sure we know what to expect. As we reach the outer harbor and get beyond the last entrance buoys we prepare to raise the sails. Up goes the main...we are sailing...up goes the jib...whoa...the sheet (rope allowing us to pull in the jib sail on the right side), starts flailing around...Clive was a little pissed, bring down the sails, we'll have to motor over to Le Gossier and deal with the sheet issue at anchor. Perhaps we should have more thoroughly checked our sheets and lines before setting out...perhaps the figure eight knot was missing which might have prevented this problem. This is exactly the kind of experience I've been hoping for.
Day 2 - Marie Galante
Day 3 - Dominica
This is the day we sail to a new country, from France (Guadeloupe), to Dominica, for which we had already made plans and preparations through the capitainerie in Guadeloupe. Wind is up to 20 knots for todays sail. Waves are reaching ten feet or so. Leigh is at the helm for what will be our fastest and most exciting sailing on a broad reach heading to Dominica. For a good portion of the sail we are able to reach 8 knots - even reached 10 knots a few times. Very nice. What a beautiful day of sailing. Felt great to fly across the water reaching Dominica relatively early in the day. Check out the video of us sailing...me at the helm for just a bit as we go by the southern tip of Dominica.
Dinner was our first attempt at using the charcoal barbecue which is mounted off of the pushpit at the stern of the boat. Worked like a dream for some delicious hamburgers and chicken burgers, along with a fresh salad (actually we had bbq'd the night before without any difficulty, no wind, but learned here at Dominica that you can use a shield made of tin foil around the edges to get the thing lit under high winds). Our sister boat's crew had a lovely, home cooked, local meal at the two storey restaurant/bar in the photo to the right above.
Day 4-5 Iles-des-Saintes
We stock up on provisions and explore the town, agreeing to meet up at the beautiful little church in the centre.
Elegant shops line the mainly pedestrian streets, along which are quite a number of scooters, and to my pleasant surprise, some cute electric cars. This is my kind of place. Our first night we decide to splurge for the first time and eat out. We've picked the right spot and find a very French restaurant to enjoy some great wine, French food, and a laid back pace. We decide to spend two heavenly days in this beautiful cruising sailors paradise.
On our first full day we make the hike up to Fort Napoleon. The views are spectacular (see the photo above of all the boats in the bay taken from the Fort). Hiking up takes only about thirty minutes. Having never been in any battles, the fort is in very good condition complete with a moat in which I can imagine alligators swimming around, although there is now no water in it.
Speaking of alligator, another interesting inhabitant of the island is a large iguana which makes the fort his home. They are crafty old lizards that hide very well in the rocky hills. Only while making our way back down to the boat do we see one up close.
photo below by Ian Hoar
Day 6 - Back to Pointe-a-Pitre
two photos below by Ian Hoar
And so the journey begins. This is the continuing story of a quest to be the first father/son family team to circumnavigate the world in a renewable energy powered catamaran sailboat. I am calling this adventure Sun Challenge (see the web site at www.sunchallenge.com). Stay tuned to this blog and the web site for the next step towards this dream.