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 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

Montserrat, Guadeloupe & Les Saintes
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.
Wednesday, March 17, 2004: Isle des Saintes
    Montserrat real estate values took a dramatic plunge in 1995 when the top of the volcano blew off ala Mt. St. Helens.  2/3 of the island has been evacuated, verdant hills and ancient ruins have been buried in ash and the population has dropped by 3/4.  Their local radio station gives regular activity reports on the belchings of the mountain. Under some conditions, you can visit; others require giving the island a wide berth. Conditions were good and we thought it would be interesting to see what a volcano can do, close up. We sailed on down from Nevis in winds of 20 kts,  averaging 6.2 kts to windward in 6' seas. Hansruedi took a short movie of the crashing and banging boat using the movie feature of his camera which we will try to post. 34.5 miles latter we pulled into the only surviving harbor  at the northern, undamaged end of the island. Little Bay. Montserrat's remaining harbor  is quite  rolly, at the northern end is a commercial dock and the western side is covered with fishing boats.   S/V Geronimo, which  came  in directly after us,  initiated  radio contact with the port authority about where we were to anchor. The somewhat cryptically delivered  instructions were to stay south of the dock. We listened in and decide to move south a bit and Geronimo anchored to the south of us. Conditions did not seem stable and we elected to stay on board while things settled and check in the morning.Baton Rouge and the Gravel  Barge A large, badly overloaded gravel barge on a very long tow  was standing off shore. We thought he couldn't be coming in to the tiny little dock next to us but he started  maneuvers to tie up next to his rolling, pitching barge. The Coast Guard would be dismayed to know he showed  none of the usual towing signals. He clearly had his hands full with  the  precarious operation in seas and wind such as we were having. It was a little like sitting in your living room watching a T-Rex and Brontasaurus doing the polka on ice in your  front yard. Fascinating but scary.
     S/V Geronimo, manned by sterner sailors than ourselves, dinghied by and nonchalantly went ashore for a night on the town. We saw them being escorted from the dock by a uniformed person and resumed watching the show. The barge,  its aft starboard quarter awash, was definitely going to try to come into the dock. We got on the  radio and got ready to run if the thing got away from him. Our main source of information was the communication in heavy island patois  between the poor fellow on the bow of the barge and the captain of the barge. Between the whistling of the wind in his mike, the crashing and roaring of the general confusion and his heavy accent, it was not always clear that things were going well. The general mood seemed to vary between hysterical shouts to stop or turn and gentle pleadings to go slowly. The captain would garble, repeat or question the bow's instructions and the tug would belch much smoke. As they approached the dock, the exposed bow man cried "Take her in slow, please. None of that beautiful stuff now!". Our Bowman has taken this as the ship's watchword.
     Unnerved by the action, by the unloading that went on under lights until midnight and by the general wind and roll, the ship's company did not spend the most restful of nights. In the morning, the barge was visible tied to a ball behind us, having been unloaded only enough gravel in 6 hours  that it was actually floating on its water line.  In addition, there was a freighter standing off shore asking the port authority for permission to come in. Discretion being the better part of valor, we elected to take off without ever setting foot on land. As we left, we heard the freighter captain complaining to the port that it was unsafe to go into the harbor with that sailing vessel ( Geronimo ) in the way:  "Too dahngeruus!" The port authority promising to get them moved. The port authority appeared wholly without means to carry out the promise. We got out of Dodge.
    We passed Montserrat on the windward side to avoid a possible rain of ash and got some pictures of the smoke and clouds around its peak on the way to Guadaloupe. Another fast passage under good winds and rollicking seas brought us into Deshais, Guadeloupe 8 1/2 hours
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later. The entire ship's company was very happy to see a Click for a journal entry listwell protected harbor and a welcoming, quaint beach town of the French West Indies. The only commercial traffic is the morning fisherman, customs is easy and welcoming, the markets and restaurants are French and the island is beautiful. Hansruedi took us to dinner and we enjoyed spectacular sunsets and meals in the restaurants and on the boat. We walked up to the botanical garden at the top of the hill. We snorkeled the reef along side the boat. We watched the pelicans dive from the heights of the cliff sheltering us from the wind and could not find any reason to move. Eventually Hansruedi's stay came to an end and he made plans for flying back to Saint Martin and going skiing in the Alps during the end of his vacation. Guadeloupe is big enough that it gave us some shelter from the easterly winds and so we felt we could sail down the western side of the island. We made our way down the island to Pigeon Island where the Costeau underwater reserve is and had a good snorkel in bouncing seas. It seemed too exciting to sleep there so we nosed up quite close to the beach on Guadeloupe and settled in for the night, thinking that things would be quieter in the morning and we could go back out to the little offshore island to better enjoy the spectacular snorkeling. In the morning, we weighed anchor in high, gusty winds from the east and took off downwind for the island directly to the west of us. We flew past the island at high speed and decided that snorkeling wouldn't be that relaxing and set sail for the south end of Guadeloupe under reefed sails. No sooner had we settled in for the longer trip than the wind died. We noodled about in glassy waters for an hour or so and motored slowly southwards after shaking out the reef. Getting the sails out was the all the wind needed to pipe back up and we were flying again. Blocked by the island, the seas were not high and we were having a great time buzzing along under sunny skies. The gendarmerie came along side and enquired where we had been and where we were going but they were in a reasonable size boat, not armed to the teeth and generally quite pleasant. It seemed a much more effective way to check boats than the ponderous overkill of the usual armed Coast Guard boardings and inspections.
     Sailing was so much fun, we zipped on past Basseterre and made for the Saintes, a small group of islands just south of Guadeloupe. No sooner were we clear of the island and open to the east and the waves were piling up in the shoal between the islands when a series of squalls blew through. We doused the jib entirely and dodged the worst of them and went rocketing through the pass with the islands appearing and disappearing in the rain. Big fun. We went to an anchorage recommended to us around the corner from the main town and harbor. Under its shelter, we have enjoyed snorkeling, hiking up to the ruins of Fort Josephine (Napolean's Josephine hails from these parts), and playing with the computer, with the underwater camera, with our neighbors, with the goats and with the fish. Its so pretty and calm here, that we probably wouldn't move at all except that we are nearly out of water, nearly full of garbage and would like to visit a market for some vegetables and fruits. We would have gone around the corner yesterday but a couple of cruise ships seemed to fill it altogether. We'll see about today.
     Voila! We are transported to a bustling holiday/fishing town with the distinct flavor of Brittany with whom it seems to have a connection. Too small and too steep for cane and rhum, Terre-de-Haut never imported slaves and hence has a lighter caste than most of the islands. It is well provided with restaurants, souvenier shops, forts (and ruins of forts), fisherman and motorscooters. The latter made the streets unsuitable for sightseeing and so we have taken a dinghy tour (the town is only two streets deep at its widest) and are sleeping off the delicious lunch eaten a foot or two from the lapping waves in view of our boat. Fish Kabobs in a tangy lime sauce (whose main ingrediant came in the morning from the boats moored out front), bananas flambe, and untranslated appetizers cunningly displayed and prepared. The French may be "old Europe" but they sure know how to live.
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