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Sunday 23rd January 2011

Sailing from Antigua to Deshaies, Guadeloupe

Being given the gift of an eight-day sailing charter in Antigua for a wedding present was a dream come true.  After a couple of nights in a quaint inn in English Harbour, we were picked up by our yacht charter host who suggested we do a bit of island exploring prior to boarding the yacht in Jolly Harbour.  So we started the day looking about the island, which included an opportunity to get the feel of St. John's while two huge cruise ships towered over the town, pouring out what seemed like thousands of day-trippers for a quick haggle in the market before jumping into taxis for an island tour.  A few stops later on our own island tour, having taken in Wallings Dam in the mountains, a Seventh Day Adventist church, a cold beer and an exploration of the rain forest, we arrived at what would be our home for the eight days, Sunny Side - a homely vessel on the tranquil waters of the Caribbean.

We'd agreed beforehand to sail south from Jolly Harbour to Guadeloupe and on to Iles des Saintes, weather permitting, before heading back to the east coast of Antigua.  As it was late when we boarded the boat, we spent our first night outside Jolly Harbour.  The second day was fairly leisurely as we sailed upwind to Carlisle Bay where we snorkeled and spotted our first octopus along with several Hawksbill turtles.  After sun down drinks, a delicious evening meal and a fresh and hearty breakfast we were ready to start our adventure south.  The six-hour trip from Carlisle Bay to Deshaies, Guadeloupe was relatively uneventful, although we did manage to catch dinner’s first course, a small barracuda.  Despite feeling a little sea sick, we arrived in time for a Ti Punch, the famous French aperitif that is like no other cocktail, in a local bar ashore and, happily indulged by our hosts, we swam back to the boat in time for sundown rum punches.

Sunset in Deshaies, Guadeloupe

The following day, after some delightful French pastries and fresh baguettes to fill our tummies, we continued our trip south towards Les Saintes.  We stopped for snorkeling at Pigeon Island in Jacques Cousteau National Park about a third of the way down the coast of Guadeloupe.  This was Stu's first real snorkeling adventure and the spot couldn't have been better for it.  With a dramatic drop off, shallow points and yet another octopus in his garden eating lunch, it was utterly beautiful and amazing, and were it not necessary to continue our journey before stopping for the night, we could have stayed all day!

The week continued idyllically on with our hosts opening up more and more beautiful experiences, including a visit to Fort Napoleon above Bourg des Saintes where the Iguanas were the size of small dinosaurs, a day of exploring Terre d’en Haut, and a delicious French lunch and dinner ashore.  We were really beginning to appreciate the French culture and were amazed at how different it could be from that of Antigua only 40 miles to the north.

Each day we saw something new, from pelicans sunning themselves or diving just outside our portal to flocks of flying fish, and our first experience with the magic of phosphorescence as we sailed at dawn through the bridges connecting the two islands that make up Guadeloupe, and then on up the Riviere Salee as we headed out to the open ocean to begin our journey back to Antigua.  Every day we tried something new - snorkeling, racing hermit crabs (which we’d never seen before!), catching dinner, trying the intriguing French boudin creole, conch fritters and accras.  Day in and day out we lived like royalty with breakfast cooked to order, refreshing light lunches with chilled wines, beautiful fresh produce handled with love and care to make delicious food, beer on the hoof, rum punches at sundown and a selection of wines.  How we managed not to pile on the pounds I'm not sure.  I guess the swimming and snorkeling balanced it all out!!

Tenpound Bay, Green Island, Antigua

Everything we had experienced so far was wonderful and we didn’t think it could get any better.  But after a rough and windy sail back to Antigua during which we felt as good as could be thanks to our host’s magic little pills, we arrived at Green Island on the east coast of Antigua.  Were we wrong!!  Our captain perfectly timed his route through the huge rolling waves breaking over the reefs, allowing us to work our way around the reefs into the secluded anchorage of Tenpound Bay.  While the other anchorages were all pretty busy, we had this little bit of paradise all to ourselves, with the exception of the pelicans, tropic birds and the blue heron on the beach.  From this anchorage we were able to walk up the gentle slope of Green Island, where we found ourselves with a spectacular view of the turquoise waters of Nonsuch Bay on one side and the angry waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing ashore on the other side.

Snorkelling at Green Island, Antigua

On our final afternoon before heading back to English Harbour where our dream would end, we went ashore to the beautiful ‘Garden of Eden’ where we lounged in the water with Bloody Mary’s watching the waves breaking over the reefs while the setting sun sparkled on the water and we were treated to some spectacular photographs.  We really didn’t want our Caribbean adventure to end.

Now back in the cold reality of blighty with recession looming and redundancies on the horizon, the holiday seems even more of a dream and one we'll both keep returning to to bring a little Sunny Side to our lives.  Needless to say we'll be going again, not just because it was beautiful, luxurious and joyful, but also because our hosts became our friends, ones that we'll be keeping in touch with for years to come.

Article and photos by Elle and Stuart McNeil.

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