Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guadeloupe, Part I

We're alive. No, seriously. I'm sure you've had your doubts, what with three weeks of radio silence and all. But, no, we're alive and kicking in Guadeloupe. Or should I say France? This is, technically, France and it shows - from the sporadic and vaguely schizophrenic working hours to the lovely (and stinky) cheese and cheap wine.

Rodeo Clown

We had a great passage from Saint Maarten down to Guadeloupe. It was a broad reach with twenty-five knots of wind, and with just the genoa out we averaged over 7 knots. We had left on a one day weather window; the conditions were forecast to deteriorate significantly from about the time we arrived with a very large northerly groundswell rolling in with 30+ knots of wind. We arrived in Deshais, took a quick lap through the anchorage, and turned around without even slowing down. The anchorage, as we feared despite our guidebook claiming the contrary, was not well protected from a northerly swell, the boats were rolling rail to rail, and it would only get worse. Our options were to head another 40 miles south and then back north to Point-a-Pitre, or we could go 5 miles back north and then 5 miles east, wait inside a large area of reefs, and then head another 2 miles to Point-a-Pitre through the river that divides Guadeloupe. We went with Option B. Bad idea. Conditions had already begun to deteriorate, and seas that hadn't seemed so bad when were running with them now seemed ridiculous. Cielo bucked up and down like a big, beige rodeo bull as we attempted to power directly into wind and sea. On about every third wave we would hear and feel an awkward and ominous rumbling vibration as our propeller, normally buried deep beneath the water, ventilated and came out of the water. The best we could manage was about 2.5-3 knots of speed. At one point, after pounding into three exceedingly steep and large waves, Cielo literally came to a standstill and we had to bear off 90 degrees to start moving again. Just to make sure things didn't get boring, Guadeloupe's friendly local fisherman had sprinkled the waters with lobster and fish traps, about one every ten feet or so, for us to dodge.

Heston's Heroes

Six hours later we'd finally pounded our way north, then east, then picked our way south through a poorly charted 2 miles of reef and gotten the anchor down near Baie Mahault, Guadeloupe. We were the only cruising boat in sight. We had a snack, settled down for a long nap, and just as we were about asleep....BANG! BANG, BANG!! Gunshots?!? Yikes. Then more, then dozens more. I was literally afraid to stick my head out of the hatch and look around. Turns out we had anchored a couple hundred yards from a firing range, there just hadn't been anybody shooting in the middle of the day when we arrived.

3, 2, 1....Contact??

The river that divides Guadeloupe is spanned by two bridges that only open once a day. For south bound traffic the north bridge opens at 4:30AM. If you're not floating in front of the bridge with lights on and engine running by 4:20AM the bridge tender leaves for coffee. To avoid having to pick your way through the shallow, narrow river and surrounding reef in the dark, the French have thoughtfully placed three moorings near the bridge. Unfortunately, someone removed them. Of course, we didn't know this, so we spent an interesting 30 minutes going up and down the river looking for these mysterious moorings, culminating in a race with another boat for what turned out not to be a mooring at all. So we anchored in a little cove surrounded by mangroves and settled down to sleep until 4AM, figuring 20 minutes should be plenty to get the anchor up and get over to the bridge. Four o'clock rolls around, we're up, turn the key in the ignition and...nothing. No click, no sputter, just dead silence. Of course by now it's 4:15, and I'm remembering that I thought the ignition switch had gotten doused with too much salt water spray the day before. A mad rush below and back and Lizz and I are sitting with a spotlight, a can of Boeshield (like WD-40), and a hairdryer trying to get the moisture out of the switch. Still nothing. Turns out it was a loose wire on the starter motor, a little wiggle and we were back in business and heading toward the bridge with at least 30 seconds to spare. By 6AM we were anchor down in Point-a-Pitre, and ready to get back to sleep.

To be continued...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

More adventures, more experience for the sea wolves that you are. Looking forward to the continuation of the story. Somebody in Russia who loves you is reading your blog:-)!

February 19, 2008 at 8:41 AM  

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