Guadeloupe….rolly and wonderful

Fully back into our cruising life Kelly and I awoke at 4:30 on Nevis to fire up the engine turn the brightness down on all instruments and creep out of the anchorage in pitch black headed south 80 miles to Guadalupe. We had cleared the south tip of the island before the children stirred. Quinn was on deck first then Gherty and Che popping their heads up and snuggling. We were blessed to enjoy another spectacular sunrise at sea together as a family. We managed a good boat speed of an average 8 knots across the channel to Montserrat and found ourselves in the lee of the island with a perfect view of a venting volcano so close we could even smell it! Through the binoculars and with the naked eye we observed the large swaths of the island still frozen with rivers of lava. it was quite a spectacle for the children to see. We carried on from Monserrat choosing not to stop so that we could get to Guadalupe with several days free to meet up with one of Kelly’s friends from college and his wife and daughter who surprisingly were vacationing on Guadalupe at the exact same time we would be able to be there. I’ve met Ted before in Boston but Kelly and I and the kids got to meet his wife Donna and their daughter Alex who is the same age as Gherty, perfect!We spent a lovely night in Deshaies, in northwest Guadalupe anchored in a jam packed cove full of sailboats from around the world. All was well after 10 hours offshore. I buzzed into town to clear customs with our ships papers and passports in hand only to find a small souvenir shop, Le Pelican, with a computer in the corner as an official clearing in station for the island. Olivier, a sailor from somewhere in France, stood over my shoulder waiting to clear in and helped me with all of their French translation issues I was wrestling with. Clearly several drinks into his anchorage he was hilarious – ogling Kelly’s passport photo and slapping me on the back with laughter. a stark difference from many of the uptight government clearing in protocols.

Another dawn at sea

We spent that first night at anchor watching turtles and boats spin in circles on the windless night with beautiful surroundings. It was quite ideal. The next morning we were scheduled to meet up with Ted and family as they had a car so we dodged the rain in the dinghy into town, tied up, and met them on the main street in the tiny fishing town that we surprisingly shared with their hotel! We took their subcompact rental car in two loads to an absolutely beautiful crescent beach and spend the day sitting under trees and catching up watching our children get along and play in the surf as if they’ve been friends their whole lives. The wind was up from the west only at about 10 to 15 kn for the afternoon making the beach quite comfortable. Anyone familiar with the tradewinds knows that a western breeze in the Caribbean is very unusual especially in the dead of winter without a storm attached to it so I was on guard knowing that the sheltered bay we were anchored in was a funnel for the waves that would be coming with the breeze from the west. The depth outside of Deshaies bay quickly jumps from 3000 feet to 250 to 30 feet deep meaning waves Jack up in a hurry on the rare occasions that they actually make their way into the bay.
While the children and our friends were enjoying swimming and commented on the fact that the waves were becoming much more fun to play in I was getting more and more uneasy knowing that we were anchored in 45 feet of water on an uphill slope outside of a jam packed Anchorage with a short scope due to the congestion of the harbor. Donna, Ted, and Alex said they were interested in seeing our floating home so we made a plan to take two loads of people down to the town dock and dinghy out for sunset drinks and swimming. When I arrived in the first load I was shocked at what I saw.

There’s rolly and bumpy and then there was this. 5 to 7 foot waves with square faces slamming through the harbor. Masts swinging wildly 45° side to side and boats rails touching the water. Sailors were standing in their cockpits all throughout the anchorage monitoring the situation. The last section of dinghy dock closest to shore was actually blown off of the frame by the waves crashing underneath hitting the cement seawall and shooting high into the air. The wind was still only at 10 to 15 kn but with the sound off it looked like tropical storm conditions in the Anchorage. It was amazing.

Ted and Donna offered to take our children with them to their hotel for a swim so that Kelly and I could dinghy out to the boat and address any issues, check on the anchor and make sure everything would be OK. Just getting into the dinghy with 5 foot swells rolling down the dock trying to unlock our tether and start the engine was sheer madness to begin with but we did it smartly and correctly and off we went disappearing into the troughs and flying over the crests at speed out to our boat nearly one of the farthest offshore in the melee. I saw boats as big and larger than ours exposing their keels in the waves, well anchored, and was truly impressed to see Madame riding as all the others exactly where we left her not looking any the worse for wear. Kelly did an acrobatic leap onto the transom timing the waves to jump from the bow of the dinghy as it rolled up above our freeboard and into the cockpit with the dinghy painter in her hand . Once securely tied I did the same magnificent acrobatics landing flatly on my gut looking like a turtle dropped from a helicopter…. that’s gonna leave a mark.

All was well aboard except of course small items like books and glasses and things that weren’t secure and had found their way to the sole. We were fortunate to have a long strong snubber line that had more left in it so we eased our anchor out another 10 feet which may or may not of helped but certainly helped us to feel better. All around were sailors in their cockpits or on deck looking around with concern and unable to really do much about it other than wait. 

Since the anchor was firm and the boat directly upwind of us had weighed anchor and headed out we felt good that no one was in danger of crashing into us and we certainly would stay put so Kelly and I carefully got back in the dinghy and surfed magnificent waves through the anchorage towards the dinghy dock timing our landing for a break in the sets and hurrying like mad to get on the dock and past the breaking seawall before the next big waves hit.

Anchor set, check. Boat secure, check. Children safe and happy, check. Now all we had to do was find out how to get to Ted and Donna’s hotel somewhere down the coast speaking very little French and having no vehicle. 

What are two old hippies to do to get around without children in a foreign country? Hitchhike!

It was hilarious. Kelly with her thumb out and her hair down, me standing by trying to look interesting while cars buzzed by and pointed their fingers in a Guadalupian gesture of “hey good luck but can’t help you.”

A car not much larger than a golf cart, rickety to say the least,with a big smile in the driver seat pulled up and we hopped in. Our new friend had no English and our French was so unhelpful that we decided we would both speak terrible Spanish and after a while with grins all around we, all in our own native tongues, said “uncle” and decided we had very little chance of communicating. Kelly handed our driver 20 euro and was bashfully turned down- non negotiable- kindness island style. We were dropped off at the hotel and met by our friends and our children at an infinity pool with cold drinks and a view of a thousand miles. We enjoyed a great French dinner with Ted showing us how it’s done speaking to the servers efficiently if not with eloquence. It was a great night so far.

Kids in tow we taxied back to the dinghy dock knowing the wind had subsided for hours and of course that the sea should have laid down substantially. The sea had not laid down at all. In fact, a light breeze had started blowing offshore turning all of the boats beam-to the towering waves making us role even worse dipping rails in the water. It was like sleeping offshore adrift ….truly, it was madness.

The kids were fantastic and tired from a long day and went to bed nicely with no complaints. They have grown to become impressive salty kids whom we are immensely proud of.

We have been in rough conditions before but never like this at anchor. I chose to sit in the cockpit for anchor watch with a PFD on tethered into our cockpit jack lines, a spotlight and airhorn on hand, VHF monitoring 16 it was going to be a very long night. The lack of a sustained breeze made all of the boats in the Anchorage spin at different speeds in different directions all of them getting absolutely hammered by the waves and rolling wildly with no rhythm to speak of. A 50 footer directly next to us was forced to fire up engines and maneuver many times throughout the night so as not to spin into his neighbors, madam Geneva included. I spoke with the captain briefly yelling from cockpit to cockpit to ensure he was OK. he was convinced his anger was fouled but it was 3 o’clock in the morning pitch black and even walking up on the foredeck was dangerous if not a bit pointless. A huge rock wall on the north side was lit up by Q beam every few minutes by the boat anchored the most closely to it. I could only imagine the stress that captain was under waiting, hoping not to come loose in this mess and be tossed up onto the boulders!

 I dozed off and on throughout the night in the cockpit and was awakened at one point to Kelly snuggling Gherty up next to me and then later to Che offering an incredibly sweet gesture of bringing his blanket up to make sure daddy wasn’t cold while keeping us all safe through the night. Kelly kept popping up to check on me and offering to take over but I wanted to do it myself feeling like it was my job, at least for that night. We didn’t set out on this adventure for nights like that but I feel a bit taller if not a bit older having done it with them with such grace and smarts.

The next day we scheduled a meet up at a new beach down the coast so after clearing our anchor from another anchor chain shortly after dawn, mud all over everything on the bow, waves still up, we decided to head out and down the coast to Pigeon Island and the Jacques Cousteau national Marine Park. A wonderful spot with a black volcanic sand beach and a barely perceptible role in the Anchorage. We are happy here. The children met up with their new best friend Alex for a fine day of swimming and the adults swam some, lounged in the shade some on the beach, and enjoyed being somewhere where almost no one spoke English. This was an immersive day and more reassurance of why we are doing this. Already this morning we have finished homeschooling, Kelly has sent me up the mast to get some work done to free a fouled spinnaker halyard and now we will snorkel and look for the submerged statue of Jacques Cousteau before heading back up the coast for a night and then on to Antigua.

Kelly informed me this morning that we have been truly off the grid for two weeks now with no marina stops -all anchoring- making our own water, making our own solar electricity and living the exact way we had envisioned and talked about some years ago. It’s been fun to see friends and hear them talk about how unusual our adventure is and comment on our courage to do something like this. It reminds me that it’s not normal – nor do we feel courageous. I am so glad to take a step back and look at it all only to understand that it has become normal. 
Much love. Stay tuned!

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