On Tuesday the 8th of May we had secured to a mooring just off the public wharf and dinghy dock in front of the town of Terre-de-Haut, Iles des Saintes, Guadeloupe. Among the many shops ashore we had found three small supermarkets, two artisanal bakeries, and a fresh produce market, all with a French flair. Onboard we had a strong wifi signal from the internet service; their rate was US$10 per day or $30 per week. The mooring was €11 per night or €60 per week, so we had decided to stay a week.
There was a rather steady turnover of boats in the mooring field, with early morning departures and mid-to-late afternoon arrivals, and as the week progressed, the number of boats steadily decreased. It was nearing the end of the season; the rainy season had already begun. Some of our neighbours were end-of-season charters, but many appeared to be cruisers beginning to head out of the hurricane zone.
On one of the mornings that it wasn't raining, we took a walk up to Fort Napoleon on the summit of a 120 metre knob. The fort was constructed between 1844 and 1867 on the ruins of Fort Louis, which had been destroyed by the English in 1809. Iles des Saints had been discovered by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. There are nine islands in the group totalling about 12.8 square kilometres, and they became a French colony in 1648. They were captured by the English in 1759, restored to France in 1763, captured again by the English in 1782 and restored a second time to France in 1816. The islands became a dependancy of Guadeloupe in 1946 as a French Overseas Department.
We reached the gates of the fort shortly after noon to read a fresh-looking notice taped to the wall by the admission desk indicating that the fort will close at 1230. We weighed the merits of, on the one hand, considering as exercise our climbing the hill in the 35º midday temperature, with on the other hand, spending €9 for admission for about 20 minutes of frantic dashing about. We saved the €9 and settled for the exercise. We took a circuitous route back through town, stopping on the way for hot-from-the-oven croissants and baguettes at the little bakery by the church.
Back aboard Sequitur, we relaxed over a lunch of fresh croissants, chevre, brie and Stella Artois.
The quartered chicken pieces we had bought in Barbados had proved to be hen. We had greatly strengthened our jaw muscles with the forequarters, so I decided to do the hindquarters as coq-au-vin. While the flavor was delicious, and even if the meat did fall off the bones, the hour and a half in the Dutch oven did little to tenderize the old bird.
We spent much of a rainy day baking biscotti. Since the weather looked unsuitable for anything outside, we decided to dedicate most of the day to the project and to do six loaves. While the first three were in the oven for their first baking, Edi prepared a second trio using further combinations of chocolate, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, raisins and dried apricots.
After baking the loaves, slicing them and then double baking the slices, over the course of about six hours we had made about twenty dozen biscotti.
After having seen no sea birds along the entire coast of Brazil, we were finally again being entertained by them here. We have pelicans, frigate birds and boobies diving for fish around the boat. Our good omen bird, a yellow-footed brown booby came and perched on the mooring buoy next to us, balancing itself with its tail feathers as the buoy bobbed and swayed in the chop. It reminded us of the ones we have had ride our Rocna on several long passages.
Our week passed very pleasantly. We did a whole lot of very little, using the time to relax and catch-up on sleep. We also added some fresh stock to Sequitur's fridges and freezers, and Edi reorganized the food lockers. During this, she found the two huge jars of artichoke hearts that had been missing for over two years. It was time to move on, so on Tuesday morning, the 15th of May we slipped from the buoy and continued northeast. We crossed from Iles des Saintes toward the coast of Guadeloupe motor-sailing in fickle winds, hoping once we cleared the influence of the islands the winds would fill and stabilize.
As we rounded the southwest cape of Guadeloupe, we thought we were back in Peru; the slopes looked the Inca terraces of Pisac, Ollantaytambo or Machu Picchu. On closer examination, we saw them as a mining operation.
We cut across the sea directly toward Saint Croix on a 200 mile crossing, rather than following the chain of the Antilles. The weather continued very unsettled, with frequent squalls and some longer deluges. Sunrise on Wednesday was red and angry looking and we experienced the reality of the old saw "Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning" with continuing storm cells.
On Thursday morning we entered the narrow zig-zagging buoyed channel through the reefs into Christiansted, Saint Croix just as a squall hit with near-zero-visibility rain and 35-knot winds. Fortunately I had had a good look at the route before the storm hit, and the Navionics chart on the chart-plotter was spot-on. The rain was down to a drizzle as we secured at 1008 on the commercial wharf in Gallows Bay to clear with US Homeland Security. The processing was straightforward and professional, and it included Customs, Immigration and an agricultural inspection. Everything was quickly done in an office on the wharf side and onboard; there were no fees, there was no hassle.
Once we had cleared and hauled-down our quarantine flag, we went ashore to find a supermarket. The first people we saw to ask directions was an elderly couple, former Canadians who had moved to Saint Croix some thirty years previously. The man was just getting into their car, and said hop in; we're going there now. We found a wonderful selection in the supermarket, and among other things, bought fresh asparagus, crimini mushrooms, huge scallops and well-trimmed beef tenderloin.
We walked back and dropped our purchases off onboard, then headed into downtown to find an ATM and some US cash. We walked past crumbling infrastructure and derelict buildings reminiscent of what we had seen the past two years in South America.
Some noble old houses looked recently abandoned.
Other estates appeared to have been in decline for many years. This evidence of decay continued along both sides of the street, all the way into the edge of downtown.
There we came to the old Danish Customs House, built in 1844 and Fort Christiansvaern, dating from 1738 next to it, which have been preserved with three other nearby buildings as a US National Historic Site. These are the first well-maintained buildings that we saw on our kilometre-or-so walk from the wharf.
Up King Street we passed Government House, a handsome, neoclassic structure built in 1747. Originally built as a private home, it was later acquired by the Danish to serve as one of the most elaborate Governor's Residences in the Lesser Antilles.
We found our bank machine and got our dollars, then we walked through nearly abandoned streets, past empty shops, bars, restaurants and other businesses, along a vacant waterfront boardwalk and then back through the decay lined streets to Sequitur on the Gallows Bay wharf. We flashed-up and slipped from the wharf and motored out to a mooring in the bay. Moorage on the wharf was quoted to us at $27 per day; rather inexpensive we thought, until we were told we had to pay for overnight security at $14 per hour. When we asked about anchoring or mooring, the wharfinger said the mooring buoys were a relatively recent addition, and they hadn't yet worked-out a price for them, so they were free. We came to a mooring in 3.8 metres of water in one of the calmest anchorages we have had in weeks.
For dinner I dry seared the beef tenderloin rare and served it with gnocchi in a shallot, garlic and crimini cream sauce, a side of asparagus spears with mayonnaise and a garnish of sliced tomatoes with shaved sea salt. From Sequitur's cellar we enjoyed a superb bottle of 2006 Anakena Ona Syrah.
We were moored just inside the reef, less than half a cable from the last of the fourteen buoys and beacons that mark the route through it. Even though the wind blew strongly in the passing squalls, there was very little wave action, and we were able to relax. We decided to spend another day.
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the cockpit: fresh toasted bagels from Saint Croix, delicious sharp cream cheese from Niteroi, Brazil, capers from Martinique, smoked salmon from Puerto Montt, Chile and coffee from Mexico (we had finally run out of Starbucks beans). We than spent the remainder of the day relaxing and reading in the cockpit or hunkered-down below during the frequent squalls. The weather clearly showed us why the tourist season was over.
In the evening I seared the scallops in the pan still hot from a butter sauté of criminis, shallots and garlic and served them with asparagus with mayonnaise and sliced tomatoes. A bottle of the 2010 Montes Leyda Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Sequitur's cellar accompanied superbly.
We were up with the sun on Saturday morning. As we were preparing to slip from the buoy, a small wooden runabout motored by with three men and a large crayfish trap heading out for a morning set. At 0626 we slipped and motored out through the buoyed channel in 6 to 7 knot easterly winds. The winds remained under 10 knots from near dead astern through the morning and into the afternoon, barely giving shape to the sails as we motor-sailed northeastward.
Mid-afternoon, as we were approaching Puerto Rico, a few storm cells came through from astern, but we were hit by only one squall, which dumped heavy rain for a quarter hour before scudding off.
At 1718 we secured stern-to in a slip less than a metre wider than Sequitur's beam in Sun Bay Marina, Fajardo, Puerto Rico. In the slip next to us was Ian in the Australian sloop, Misty Blue, and he took our lines and assisted us in. Once we had secured I headed up to the office to register and to have the manager contact US Homeland Security to initiate our clearing-in process.
Within half an hour, three security agents arrived onboard and went through a routine inspection and began filling-out forms. Among these was an application for a one-year US Cruising Permit at $37. I had nothing but $20s, and they scrambled for change, and I accompanied them back up the finger to their vehicle, where they issued me a cash receipt, before they drove off to their office. Shortly after 2000 one of the officers returned to Sequitur with the completed Cruising Permit and told us we could haul-down the quarantine flag. It is such a delight to again experience the ease and sanity of First-World bureaucracy.
It was very hot and humid, and we needed to keep some hatches open for ventilation. However, with the frequent rain showers and squalls, this meant rigging awnings. As a shortcut, I poked umbrellas through the hatches and held them against the wind gusts with weights and bungie cords. Dewar's White Label and Moet et Chandon served well in the fore cabin.
One of the shortcomings of the First-World is the lack of public transit. There is none here and we learned that taxis are very expensive. We dug-out the folding bicycles, pumped-up their tires, tuned them and after test rides, locked them on deck.
On Monday afternoon we pedaled up the steep hill from the marina and over a lower ridge then down to Skippers' Marine Supply, a rather large and well-stocked marine chandlery. We asked about the availability of Lewmar windlass parts. The agent quickly found what we were looking 'on the mainland', the price was right, but shipping was expensive for anything quicker than a week or two. We figured we could make it to 'the mainland' before any inexpensive package could arrive in Fajardo, so we passed.
We hopped back on our bikes and continued through a residential area filled with bland concrete bunkers, which are grotesquely ornamented in a manner that to us suggested the owners were trying to surpass their neighbours' bad taste.
After about three kilometres we came to Ralph's, a mega supermarket. Inside we found a good selection of fresh produce, including portobello mushrooms, fresh basil, green beans, roma and beefsteak tomatoes, and a full range of colours of bell peppers. We also bought turkey breast strips, boneless and skinless chicken breasts and mahi-mahi filets. Our purchases just made it into the bicycle baskets, and we slowly pedaled back, pausing for breathers on a couple of hill crests. It was early evening and the temperature was down to the low 30s, but the humidity still in the mid-90s.
We lazed and puttered onboard on Tuesday, and when it began to cool in the evening, we fired-up the oven and baked a quiche and three pizzas. One pizza we had for dinner, the other two were sliced and stowed in Lock-and-Locks in the fridge along with the quiche. They will do well for underway lunches and dinners on our three or four day passage to the Bahamas.