A few weeks ago we arrived at Iles des Saintes, a small group of islands south of the main island(s) of Guadaloupe. We’d visited the Iles de Saintes when we first arrived in the Caribbean in 2015 so we knew where to check in and where the anchorages/mooring fields were. Unfortunately so did about 200 other vessels.
With no moorings available nearer the township we anchored behind Pain de Sucre in 20m behind a small mooring field. This was pretty good really, as we were mostly out of the easterly swell, which seemed to invade the moorings and anchoring closer to the town of Terre de Haut. From here the trip to town and check-in was only a five minute dinghy ride.
The brightly painted town is filled with tourists and has the usual restaurants, souvenir stores, etc. From the main dinghy dock in town we turned right and headed down the lane for about 100m stopping at the sign of Les Saintes Multiservices (L.S.M). Up the stairway to the first floor you’ll find the place to check-in to the island. Completing the online form (with a French keyboard testing my typing skills once again), we then paid the token sum of two Euros, and we were cleared in. Afterwards a walk through the familiar town to grab a baguette then back to the boat for a swim.
For some exercise and great views of the islands, we decided to walk up the hill high above our anchorage. Perched at the top of 350m are the ruins of the fort Le Chameau. The walk along a tarmac track is easy enough but it is hot work and takes around one hour. From the top are spectacular views of Les Saintes plus to the north the main Guadaloupe islands of Basse Terre and Grande Terre; to the east the flat island Marie-Galante; and to the south obscured by low cloud are the high rainforest peaks of Dominica.
With the wind forecast to increase over the coming week we decided to sail to Pointe-a-Pitre – the largest town in Guadaloupe. This town is located in the centre of the two main island. It was Wayne’s birthday so after sailing 22nm, tacking a couple of times, we arrived at the dodgy anchorage outside the marina in time for some home-made birthday cake.
The anchorage at Point-a-Pitre isn’t pretty. To the east of the shipping lane and outside the marina it looks like a junkyard for decaying vessels. Reviews on ActiveCaptain comment on how poor the holding is in soft mud, and although we didn’t drag, on one occasion, we saw a catamaran drag right into the shipping channel minutes before a huge container ship came in. The ship had to deviate off its course while some Good Samaritan maneuvered the cat away from the ship.
The nearby marina has 1000 berths and it looked full. The courtesy dinghy dock is tiny and located at the entrance near the Capitanerie. Rubbish bins or poubelles are conveniently next to the dock. But toilets and showers, etc., are only available for paying customers. Walking up the road, a few boat supply stores, restaurants, and around the back is the Champion Supermarket (Carrefour products), a boulangerie, plus many waterfront restaurants and a laverie where you can have your washing done for you. A handy fuel dock is on the right hand side from the marina entrance. The marina complex is run down and tired, and like any marina trapped without water flow, there’s an odour of effluent wafting throughout the area.
More windy days and a dodgy anchorage kept us on the boat for a couple of days before the wind eased and we ventured out into the town. It was now my birthday and Wayne took me out for lunch. We shared a pizza and fries at the Bella Vita restaurant which overlooks the park in the centre of town. Dinghies can be tied up on the concrete dock in town, although it appears this area is used as a urinal for fishermen. I found this out after sitting down on the wharf to get in the boat!
Overlooking the anchorage, and a little out of place is the architecturally modern Mémorial ACTe dedicated to the history and memory of the slave trade, which was abolished over 150 years ago. This cultural centre was only opened a couple of years ago and built on the site of the Darboussier sugar factory.
A short dinghy ride to the north of this memorial is a small fishing boat harbour. On the nearby road is a boulangerie and across the road is a good-value self-service laundromat.
The port town of Pointe-a-Pitre was a little disappointing (they can’t all be fantastic now can they?). Besides the tired and distressed creole buildings, the shops are filled with plastic products and polyester clothes from China. There is a good veggie market at the waterfront though, plus a McDonalds if you feel like an ice-cream cone. So after a week and with the wind easing to the east we had a great sail back to Terre de Haut at Les Saintes.
One of the attractions at Les Saintes is the impressive Fort Napoleon. Typically, many forts on Caribbean islands are just a pile of rock walls, but Fort Napoleon is well maintained, particularly the grounds which are covered in varieties of spiky cacti, yukka and aloe plants. Fort Napoleon houses a museum with displays and tales of the sea battles around Les Saints between the French, English and Spanish back in the 1700s.
Displays of local sea life, examples of period furniture, equipment, charts and all sorts of stuff will keep your interest up for a while too. The walk up the hill takes around 20 minutes from town, or you can easily hire a golf cart or a scooter and be there in minutes.
The forecast for the next day was light breeze from the south east so we thought we’d take advantage of the nice weather and sail to the west coast of Guadaloupe to the Jacques Cousteau Marine Park at the Ilets a Goyaves, aka Pigeon Island. Maybe we can get in some scuba diving.