L O G B O O K - by John Philp

IT’S A SMALL WORLD, Guadelope & Antigua

MON 27th MARCH - We sail for St Pierre, a short distance up the coast. It’s an easy trip and the coastline is beautiful : black volcanic sand and lush green fields. Looking at the slopes of Mount Pelee I try to imagine the 1902 eruption that destroyed the once thriving town, the ‘Paris’ of the Caribbean. Lava of 3600 degree celcius temperature flowing down the steep ramparts at 250 miles per hour, causing everything it touched to spontaneously combust. St Pierre at the time had 30,000 inhabitants, and all of them perished except one - a drunk in the town lockup. The mountain still dominates the town today and many turn-of-the-century buildings lie in ruin. These days tourism is a growing business and you can view the cell where the sole survivor of the 1902 eruption spent the night. The town feels odd, as if one foot is planted in the 19th century and one in the 21st.

TUE 28th - We’d spent the previous afternoon ashore in the quaint little town of St Pierre on the north coast of Martinique. At 5am with the lights of the town winking at us over the gentle lapping waves on the black volcanic sand beach we haul up the anchor and ease out to sea, bound for another French territory a short sail to the north - Guadelope. Bottle Nose dolphins play on our bow wave as the dormant volcano Pelee lurks ominously behind grey clouds above the town. The NE trades are strong again today and it’s an extremely fast trip - we’ve averaging ten knots without too much trouble.

At lunchtime we arrive at the island of Terred’en Haut in the Iles des Saintes chain, just off the SW coast of Guadelope. Terred’en Haut is a dry hilly island with small settlements dotted around it’s coastline. Nineteenth century fortifications remain on the hills, a legacy of the struggle between the English and the French. One of the huge ‘Club Med’ type tourist ships is anchored off the main wharf, and there is the usual crowd of yachts packed into the anchorage. For a small town there is an awful lot of tourist activity, mostly centered on the narrow cafe and shop lined streets, scooters buzzing by at a million miles an hour.

They are extremely well set up here for yachting tourists. This morning a small launch came by selling baguettes. They were expensive, but gosh, we’ve never bought bread sitting on the deck of a yacht before!

WED 29th - At 5.30am we sail for Guadelope itself. We head for a sheltered bay on the NW coast - Deshaies, and drop anchor amongst twenty other yachts sheltering from the blustery NE trades. We make two brief shopping trips ashore - once to buy baguettes and again later for icecream after dinner!

THUR 30th - It’s a cool, crisp, clear morning as we up anchor and motor out of the bay heading NW for Antigua. The trades are still brisk so we hoist the sails as soon as we are clear of the land, heeling over on a square reach, blasting away the miles. A French Navy patrol boat is steaming by into the wind, great sheets of spray releasing from under her bows as she ploughs through the wind swell and crosses our stern. She then doubles back to check us out, probably taking down the name of the yacht to cross check with customs and immigration.

The high island of Montserrat hoves into view on our port side and all eyes are strained to catch evidence of the recent volcanic activity on her that has virtually closed down tourism and forced the islanders to move their capital to the northern part of the island. It’s a little hazy though, there’s not much to see today.

We arrive at English Harbour, Antigua at lunchtime, a pretty little bay ringed by a golden sandy beach and packed with yachts. This was the main base for the Royal Navy in the Caribbean two hundred years ago, and her fortifications are in remarkably pristine condition. The French would send their frigates home for the cyclone season to shelter and refit. The English instead held their ships back in English Harbour saving them the long trip across the Atlantic.

As soon as we step ashore - surprise, surprise we bump into a sailing friend - David Murphy and his partner Michelle! It’s a small world.

There are so many large beautiful mega yachts here it’s making us feel like the poor cousin. We had to laugh, as when Tony inquired with the port captain about the possibility of coming alongside the wharf to take on fuel and water with this question, “Oh will we make it in? We’re quite large you know?”. The Port Captain said, “How big?”. Tony replies, “27 meters”. The Port Captain retorts, “Dat not big around here, dat be a small boat!”

FRI 31st - Cleanup day on Tau. Afterwards the crew disperses, some of us swimming ashore to the beach, the others wandering around the marina shops and old fortifications. We catch up with Lai Spurling, a Fiji girl married to Mark Spurling ex Courts Fiji employee and now running Courts in Antigua.

SAT 1st APR - It’s grey and wet today. The crew are all ashore doing their own thing. The Spurlings have been very gracious, putting the girls and myself up in their flat so we could take a break from the yacht and do our laundry, watch TV, and have long hot showers - the small luxuries you crave for when you’re on a yacht!

SUN 2nd - The crew have lunch with David and Michelle at a beach restaurant on the west coast called Creole Beach. It’s a super spot with a view of the smoldering volcano on Montserrat. The beach is stunning and the water such a vivid sapphire gin colour that I could have sworn it was artificially coloured for the tourists.

In the late afternoon we drive up to Shirley Heights, just above English Harbour, where every tourist and his dog comes on a Sunday to watch the sunset, drink rum punch and listen to the steel band. The rum they use in the punch is 151 over proof, so strong that Monifa has one drink and she’s pretty much done for the evening. She was carrying Lai’s baby boy around and we thought she was going to drop the child!

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