compass rose

 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

Red, Right, Returning
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.

Falmouth Harbour, Antigua 11.22.07

Red bouy with pelicans
Keep the red to right when returning to harbor

One adventure a day is all we ask

Most of us cruisers are like the hermit crabs on the beach, wandering around aimlessly with our snug little house and all our possessions on our backs. Some of us only move to change the view. Others like to sail for the fun of it. We fix things, we break things, we get water and fuel and we drop off garbage. Its really the opposite of the purpose driven life but it suits us. In this quiet life, little triumphs and little tribulations loom large. Since I am strictly forbidden by SheWhoMustBeObeyed to write no further of fixing & breaking things, I will tell you of our little adventures on the trip up here to Antigua from the Saintes.

The Iles des Saintes are a small group of little islands off the southern coast of Guadeloupe. Settled by fishermen from Brittany, they never suffered the scourge of slavery. Despite the hordes of tourists and day trippers, they seem to retain a sturdy, fisherman's independance. At this time of year, they are delightfully empty and we were able to hang out at each of our favorite anchorages and snorkel in their amazingly clear waters. However, weather forecasts and the need to make it to Puerto Rico by Christmas prompted us to move on north. Since the weather was expected to turn more northerly and be light, we abandoned the plan of going up the lee (western, protected from the wind) side of Guadeloupe and instead go right up the middle. This would give us a better angle on the wind for sailing up to Antigua and avoid the probability of having to motor in the wind shadow of Guadeloupe. It is not that far to Pointe 'a Pitre, the capital city, so felt we had plenty of time to snorkel along Pain de Sucre before leisurely leaving the Saintes. Guadeloupe is shaped like a butterfly with the western wing a little larger and extending south with high mountains. The eastern half is dead flat. The waist of the butterfly is the location of the capital, the airport and a mangrove swamp. It is possible to pass through this mangrove swamp in boats who can float in less than 6' of water. There is a narrow channel winding through the swamp blocked at either end by a draw bridge which opens at 4:30 AM (southbound) and 5:00 AM (northbound) always assuming that the bridge keepers are on task and not on strike. Zees eez France!

Northern birdge at sunrise

Northern Bridge at sunrise

Our current guest had already announced that she doesn't like fish for the usual reason: it is fishy and smells bad. I take this as a challenge, as I believe people who don't like fish basically haven't had fresh fish. As we left the little channel amongst the Saintes we caught a nice breeze and very quickly, a nice little tuna. I immediately bled and gutted him and put him in the refrigerator. The breeze lightened and turned more to the north and we slowed and started moving more westerly toward the main island of Guadeloupe. As we tacked back out, to get out of the shoals there we were pushed well back towards the Saintes but a strong current washing down that shore. I am only telling you all this to explain why we were so late and tired when we arrived at the anchorage outside the city. Since there would presumably be very little time to get to the customs office before closing, we decided to take a mooring ball just outside the marina. In this way, we could get cleared out of France and leave dark and early to head north with all our papers in order. I am only telling you all this to explain why we threw the boat hook overboard and steamed around it in circles towing Susie in the dinghy trying to get it back before it sank.


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There are liers and there are skippers who have run aground.

Susie enjoys new logo
Riviere Salee at sunrise

We went ashore, got clearance out, availed ourselves of our last chance at good, French bread until St. Martin, bought a new boat hook and went back to the the boat. Tuna awaits. Won't be fresh tomorrow. All hands set to chopping onions, peppers, squeezing limes and a little orange and stirring in chunks of very fresh tuna. Voila! Cerviche. Pronounced very good. Even the non-fish eaters among us found it "very mild".

I am only telling you this to explain why we were so bleary eyed when our alarms went off at 4:15 AM. Usually this would represent 8 solid hours of sleep. As our friends say "8:30PM is the cruiser's midnight." But between boat hook, customs and cerviche, we had had considerably less. It was pitch dark and overcast as we headed up the harbor for the first bridge. Passing from blinking light to light, we kept the red lights on the right and the green ones on the left. This is the standard arrangement: keep red lights on the right as you return from the sea. Some excitement while a stick with a white light appeared in the channel between the red and green lights. It resolved itself into a fishing boat coming towards us, all the fishermen on deck waving there arms. One eye on the depth, one eye on the chart and the mind's eye thinking how very fragile our keel and rudder are. Susie on the bow and occasionally consulting as to which way to go in the absolute gloom prevailing. We hung out up near the bridge in the gentle current until we saw the road barriers come down, the bridge deck rise and the green lights come on.

boatyard dogs recovered from arsenic poisoning
Egrets in the Riviere Salee

The narrow entrance between the bridge abutments was extremely well lit. It jogs sharply to the left and the bridge keeper came down to wave as we passed through. As we exited the blindingly light of the bridge passage, the tropical dark was broken only by a green light directly in front of us. Not wanting to be late for the bridge at the other end of the mangrove swamp, we sped up and confidently steamed off into the blackness to the right of the channel marker. Keep red on the right, green on the left as you return from the sea.

Susie managed to keep her feet under her as we came to a very abrupt halt in the mud. The first bridge apparently marks the transition between coming in from the sea and going out seaward on the other side. Caught in the mud between the two bridges at either end of the swamp, we amused the bridge keeper with the sound of our roaring engine. Knowing that the bridges only open once a day, and guessing that the mosquitos would come out with the sun, we were highly motivated to get off the mud bank. Should you ever find yourself in this situation, I recommend using prop wash against the rudder thrown hard over to one side, then the other. Despite the paradox of seeming to drive forward, it causes the stern to wiggle back and forth and eventually breaks the seal with the mud.
We broke loose and proceeded, moving blindly from light to light. Red on the left, green on the right. I watched the depth gauge crawl at times within inches of our bottom only to fall again reassuringly. Somewhat shaken, we took a mooring just on the far side of the other drawbridge and tried to calm down while waiting for the sun to rise. The sun rose and so did the mosquitos, who followed us all the way out to sea until the winds came up. It is 50 miles to Antigua from Pointe A Pitre so we were very happy to have the calm seas, and gentle winds to get us across quickly. A great sail and a great adventure. All in one day. We slept well.


Susie and Lance


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