Ahhh Oui! Guadeloupe
American Sailing Captain and CEO of Sea Dog Sailing, Stacey Brooks, sails Guadeloupe and wants to share her experience with fellow sailors. Listen to her describe the Guadeloupe sailing experience and you will change your tune about planning your next charter.
As the plane wheels kissed the tarmac in Guadeloupe, I could feel a rush of happiness knowing that I was returning to these French islands. It’s been a solid 7 or 8 years since I have had the pleasure of sailing here. Since my last sail here, two hurricanes have ravaged the area and Covid virtually destroyed all tourism to the island.
When people asked me where I was off to sail next, I would say with a happy grin….” Well, I am headed back south to the French island of Guadeloupe, and I can’t wait to get there” …. Most of the time people would stare with wonder trying to figure out exactly where this special place was located. And then the rest of the time, well they did about the same! For you see it’s so easy to get stuck in what I call the “BVI RUT”. Most people learn to sail or continue to sail for adventure and the delight of discovering new places. So…. It’s time to break free of the rut and explore down island to all the nooks and crannies and wild anchorages calling to us. And well… there is no better place to start than Guadeloupe.
The “butterfly island” of Guadeloupe sits just about in the middle of the Caribbean chain in the Leeward Islands. The Leewards are located at the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Basically, it’s because of their location away from the wind – and by that we mean the East Trade Winds. If you were to fly over the two main islands of Guadeloupe – Basse Terre and Haute Terre- it would be like gazing down upon a crooked yet beautiful butterfly. The two islands are connected by a very narrow and dangerous waterway river that runs north to south through both of them. There are two bridges that connect the two islands.
Why am I drawn here? Well, let me count the ways…. First, it’s French. By that I mean it’s ALL THINGS FRENCH. The food is delicious and varied and drawn from both the sea and French Creole Culinary history. Second, well, it’s French! The architecture, the history, the culture and “je ne sais quoi” of the French lifestyle oozes out of every corner of daily life here. There is a touch of elegance and class even in the most rural of areas.
Like many of its neighboring islands, Guadeloupe has a rich, varied and yet very complicated history. The French and British fought for years over these Caribbean islands striving to be the strongest and most developed sugar cane, rum, and spice islands. In the end, the French won out over the British in about a third of the entire Caribbean chain. And selfishly I think to myself…. Thank goodness!
French Guadeloupe as a whole is not just the “butterfly island” of Basse Terre and Haute Terre. Along with mainland Guadeloupe, there is Iles des Saintes and Marie Galante, two outlying islands, that also are part of this French Territory. It’s a perfect sailing week to leave from your base marina in Haute Terre and sail clockwise to Marie Galante and onto Iles des Saintes. The two islands could not be more different.
Sailing to Marie Galante is generally a beam or broad reach and a lovely day sail of about 6-8 hours depending on the winds. Sailing here is stepping back in time to a slow, almost forgotten land. While the anchorage is quite large the dock and town are very slow and small. Don’t expect to hear English much but do expect to smell the aroma of fresh warm baguette and pastries drifting out to your boat. If you are lucky enough to dinghy in about 7 am you will be delighted to see a “boulangerie” not far from the dock serving up hot “pain au chocolat” and a fresh baguette for your lunch!
Iles des Saintes
Switching gears once you head out to Iles des Saintes you may not want to return home. This special tiny group of French islands will lure you in, grab your heart and keep you nestled into quiet yet elegant island life. Amazingly, Iles des Saintes has built back better. Surviving hurricanes and a downturn in the economy due to Covid somehow has driven this island to do better. The red terracotta roofs in the tiny village glisten in the sun and call to you to visit. If you are very lucky you can snag a mooring ball right outside town. There are about 12 balls waiting for you – or head over to Pain au Sucre to anchor. In any case, once you arrive at the dinghy dock, well you know you have really arrived! Wine glasses clink, seafood arrives on the fishing boats and the feel of French elegance draws you into a bistro seat for the afternoon. Sitting along the ocean you can watch the day trippers come in and out then disappear about 5 pm leaving you with a plethora of delicious choices for your evening dinner. As always, the French delight in giving the best service and delivering the best food. It’s amazing that in a tiny village like this that there could be so many delicious choices for both lunch and dinner! Have fun strolling along the historic waterfront, taking in the sights and smells. The shopping is unique and ideal for both yourself and your friends and family left at home.
Once you pull yourself away from Iles des Saintes, don’t miss the opportunity to sail over to the west side i.e., the leeward side of Guadeloupe mainland. It’s a delightful sail, usually a beam reach, over to the west side and takes about four hours. Once there you will be ducked in beneath the towering volcanos and hills of Guadeloupe and protected somewhat from the easterlies. The coast is a beautiful motor sail north to the choice of numerous anchorages. These are such a delight as they are open, protected and linked to very small villages or nothing at all along the coast. One of our most special memories was swimming in the sea near the Jacques Cousteau Marine Park. We actually anchored off a rushing wall of water streaming down from the hot volcano base. We watched as 115-degree water rushed into the cool ocean and splashed delighted swimmers. There aren’t many places on the planet where you can dive off your boat and swim to hot springs.
As you sail back to your yacht base you will be both happy and sad. So happy you made the choice to break out of the “rut” and sail to a wild, beautiful, and unique place but also sad that you now have to leave it. It will change your view on sailing and adventures because you will find that this is truly one of them. This gorgeous place will open your eyes to the delights, surprises and “true” adventures that await you.
Stacey Brooks, CEO Sea Dog Sailing, Inc.
Seadog Sailing is an American Association School proud to announce that it just celebrated its 22nd anniversary. Captain Stacey and First Mate Allison sail around the world in unique sailing venues both teaching and exploring. Over the years Seadog Sailing has sailed the entire Caribbean chain to Grenada, New Zealand, Tahiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Turks & Caicos, most of the Mediterranean including Greek islands, Balearics, Italy, French Riviera, Croatia, Malta, Turkey, Corsica, Sardinia and more. Reach out to her for more information or advice on sailing to different venues around the world.
Stacey Brooks, www.seadogsailing.com, 404 374 4754