The sail from Jolly Harbour, Antigua to Guadeloupe is about 40 nautical miles, or 7-8 hours of sailing time in our boat. We calculate an average speed of about 5.5 knots/hour when planning our journeys – when the winds are up we will sail faster than that, but you can quickly end up getting slowed down by unexpected adverse currents, time taken to dodge squalls, and the inevitable slow motor around the arrival anchorage as you look for the perfect place to drop your hook! We had a bit of a late start on our departure day – you will recall that our electric dinghy motor had died on us, so we waited in Jolly Harbour until we could call the local outboard shops and try to find ourselves a gas motor. Unfortunately, the size and model we wanted had a 2+ week waiting list, so we decided to head to Guadeloupe without it, and pick one up when we got there.

The sail to Guadeloupe was beautiful – 17kts of  wind on the port beam, gusting to 20kts as a few squalls blew through. Most of Caribbean is ‘line of sight’ sailing, which means that you can see your destination on the horizon as you’re setting out. By mid-day, the mountains of Guadeloupe were looming in front of us, showing us which way to go. As you get closer, you quickly notice how lush and green Guadeloupe is.  Whereas Antigua is all greeny-brown hills covered cacti and yucca plants, Guadeloupe is a plush green carpet of trees and flowers and fruits of all descriptions – so much so that it’s hard to believe that only 40 miles separate the two islands! 

The Approach to Deshaies, Guadeloupe

We arrived in Deshaies around 4pm. If you’re a fan of British mystery shows, you will recognize Deshaies as the setting of the fictional island of St. Marie in Death in Paradise (we started watching the show only after visiting the town, and we’re now only 1.5 seasons in – so no spoilers!). Deshaies (locally pronounced ‘day-ay’) is a cute little beach town, with a well protected harbour, a number of restaurants and gift shops, and a very yummy bakery. Our first visit here was a brief one – we went ashore just to check in at Customs (done via a customs computer in le Pelican gift shop) and then pick up a few vegetables in the shop to take home for dinner.

Funny story regarding those vegetables… Food in Antigua is expensive – its just something you get used to. Buy the wrong thing, and you can easily spend $18 CAD on a head of iceberg lettuce, or $25 on a box of cereal (ask me how I know).  The French islands are considered departments of the Government of France, so their food is subsidized to keep it the same as it would be in mainland France. I think I knew this beforehand, but hadn’t really considered what that meant. After very conservatively picking out the few veggies we needed for dinner (a couple of tomatoes, a cucumber, a pepper, and a pineapple), I just about fell over backwards when the cashier asked for only 4 Euros / $6 CAD! The equivalent in Antigua would likely have set us back more than $25 CAD! Turns out that well-priced food is just one of the many things to love about the French Islands!

Map of Guadeloupe

After a beautiful night at anchor, we set out from Deshaies early the following morning. With a broken dinghy motor, we were limited to rowing our dinghy whenever we needed to get to shore. Think of it like your car being broken, so every time you need to run an errand, you have to do it on foot. Our plan was to sail to Pointe-à-Pitre (the ‘big city’) as fast as possible to buy ourselves a new gas outboard, and then play tourist once we were able to be more mobile. The downside to the plan was the distance, since we’d have to sail down the West coast of Guadeloupe, around the bottom (straight into the current), and then back north into Pointe-à-Pitre – more than 80 nautical miles for the whole trip. Do-able, but probably only possible in very favourable conditions. We set sail with the goal of sailing as far south as we could that day, and working things out from there.

We made it to the south end of Guadeloupe’s main island by mid-day. We were learning that sailing on the leeward side of any island is challenging – the winds fall to almost nothing behind the mountains, but then come gusting through any valleys or low spots. The high mountains also cause frequent rainstorms, gathering the clouds as they blow in from the Atlantic, and making them pour rain down on the hillsides. If you’re close enough to shore, you can often feel the rain as it passes over, and then watch as the storm blows off towards the Western Caribbean Sea.

As we reached Vieux-Fort, at the southern tip of Guadeloupe, a big squall blew through the pass between the main island and Les Saintes, the little group of islands just a few miles south. As we ducked into shore to avoid the worst of the rain, we decided to head across to Les Saintes for the night. The winds were picking up, and there was a steady 18-20kt wind blowing through the pass (even after the squall had passed). Going upwind into that was not going to be fun – never mind the 2m swell which had built up over the course of the day. So we diverted south, and dodged a few more squalls before motoring into the anchorage at Terre-de-Haut, the main town in Les Saintes. 

Approaching Terre-de-Haut Anchorage

Les Saintes are a group of nine islands that sit about 14km south of the main island of Guadeloupe. Terre-de-Haut is the main town on the islands – it’s a beautiful little beach town full of red-roofed buildings that give it a very Mediterranean feel. It is a very popular destination for French tourists, so the streets are lined with cafes and bars, featuring a great mix of French and Caribbean food options. After getting settled on a mooring ball with the help of some sailing friends who were already there, we went ashore to explore the town and introduce ourselves to a Ti’ Punch, a popular Guadeloupian rum drink.

In the morning we were once again on our way bright and early. The sail to Pointe-à-Pitre would be upwind, so we wanted to get out on the water before the winds could build the up sea state too much. We left before 8am and arrived in time for lunch. We rowed ashore in the dinghy, and then started exploring the many chandleries and boat stores that surround the main marina in Pointe-à-Pitre.

A few quick stops, and we had a new 6 HP motor to call our own. We mounted it on the dinghy, and we were off and running (well, motoring)! By evening, we had stocked up on more food (read: cheese, wine, and pâté!) at the local Carrefour, and settled in for a comfortable night before going to explore the city.