We had a raucous sail from Dominica to Les Saintes and arrived back in the “French Islands” with great expectations of culture, charm and the gastronomical treats that are only available in the French Antilles.
Our preferred sailing rhythm is 30-40 nautical mile runs which allow us to depart at a reasonable hour and drop anchor in the late afternoon. We often encounter 70 nm runs and, with approximately 12 hours of daylight, they necessitate pulling anchor at 6 am if we hope to make our destination before dark. Arriving in a strange anchorage after dark is not ideal and we avoid it whenever possible. Anything longer than 70 nm requires a night passage and timing our arrival for the following morning.
Les Saintes, located just South of Guadeloupe, are a handful of small, quaint islands, catering to tourists and cruisers alike.
We climbed up and toured the refurbished 18th century fort, which chronicled the military significance of the area, and later climbed up to the other fortifications, perched on the highest point of the islands, providing a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view. Hiking has become a common theme of our trip (it’s free) and, while you both come along willingly and don’t complain, it is not your favorite activity.
Besides the hikes we strolled around the village, ate pain au chocolat, drank good French wine and just generally enjoyed the ambiance of this quaint island.
Visible across the strait was Guadeloupe, and the guidebook indicated that there was a national park with great hiking, leading to a series of 350 ft waterfalls that we wanted to explore. We sailed the short hop over to St. Francois and dropped anchor in front of this bustling little tourist town, which was eagerly anticipating the start of their tourist season.
We rented a car and set off with the Dubois family from La Jeannoise to the Chutes de Carbet, which was a four-hour climb through a well-maintained and marked national park. At the base of the chutes we were treated to a brisk swim in a deep pool with the falls crashing down on top of us; reviving us after the long and muggy hike.
The following day we drove around the island and stumbled onto the Chemin des Chateaux and although there weren’t any Chateaux, we did find some spectacular scenery at the end of the island which really called for yet another….hike.
Because the French islands are Prefectures of France, they are entitled to all the social services and infrastructure that would be found in the “Metropol”. The roads, signage, parks and general productivity of these Caribbean outposts are far superior to their British cousins who gained their independence in the 70’s. While not exactly “France”, they do retain the culture, charm, and general attitude of their European parent, which has been a real treat for us.
Guadeloupe would also be our last chance to provision before St. Martin and we intended to lower the waterline with as much pate, cheese and good wine as we could stuff in the bilges. After making plans to meet up with several other boats in Antigua for Christmas, we departed at the crack of dawn into a blustery Atlantic sea for the 65 nm run to Falmouth Harbour in Antigua.