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Friday, February 13, 2009, Terre De Haut, Les Saintes

     There is something special about the Saintes.  A cluster of eight little islands, they are a dependency of Guadeloupe, lying six miles to their north, which is in turn an Overseas Department of France.   Too small and mountainous for the ubiquitous sugar plantations and the slavery that went with them in the rest of the Caribbean, these islands are populated by fishermen and their descendants.  Settled by the French in the mid-17th Century, it is the site of many skirmishes between the French and British navies.  Ownership of many of the Caribbean islands changed hands between the two colonial powers up to six or seven times over a three hundred year period.  A famous battle occurred here in 1782 between Admiral Rodney and Admiral de Grasse resulting in three decades of British rule.  The islands were returned to France through the 1815 Treaty of Paris. 

     We arrived here after a short downwind sail from Marie-Galante last Friday.  The sail was uneventful except for the loss of two of my fishing lures.  You can just imagine my frustration.  Dragging a line off both the rod and the rail-mounted reel, we got two hits, the bigger one on the reel.  The tell-tale zing of the line paying out abruptly stopped and I discovered upon reeling it in that the snap swivel which connects the line to the lure broke in half.  I guess I need to change those every so often.  Good-bye to my beautiful, newly made orange, yellow and pink squid.  I tied on a new snap swivel and decided to try a spoon lure which I have never used before.  Robert on Following Tides had lots of success with a spoon on the Atlantic crossing so I thought I'd give it a go.  Sure enough, we got a nice solid hit within a half hour, only to loose it again.  This time it was my knot that failed.  We did reel in a small tuna, but let it go.  So far, we have only caught one fish in the Caribbean, as we were coming in to anchor in St. Pierre, Martinique. I'm starting to get worried!

     Upon arriving at the anchorage in Bourg, we quickly discovered another American boat with a nine-year old girl onboard.  Jim, Norie and Nikki have been living aboard their boat "Metani" for a year and a half, although they have spent most of this time refitting the boat in Antigua and getting her ready for cruising.  She is a beautiful 64 foot wooden schooner.  Although their boat is about as polar opposite from Zia as you can get, our cruising lifestyle and attitudes are analogous and we quickly hit it off.  We hiked up to the nearby fort and museum, shared dinners on each other's boats and ice creams in town. 

One day we hiked over to the beach on the windward side of the island where the girls quickly went to work erecting a palm frond and driftwood fort.

     We also had the pleasure of meeting a couple other boats with kids here.  We all got together on the beach one afternoon, and the next morning geared up for a hike to the top of Le Chameau.  Unfortunately, Juliana got a speck of dirt that blew into her eye as we were walking through town at the start of the hike so she and I had to return to the boat to deal with that and missed the exercise and the stunning views from the top of the peak (see first photo). 

     We also went scootering around the island one day, exploring the many bays and inlets, beaches and rocky shorelines. 

Wind-whipped and pounded by relentless waves, the windward side of the island is rugged and beautiful.  We were warned, however, not to go swimming in Grand Anse because of the fierce undertow.  That didn't stop the kite boarder we watched skimming back and forth through the surf.

The north facing Baie du Marigot looked inviting the other day from the top of Fort Napoleon, but was clearly untenable with a strong northerly breeze.

Pompierre beach is also on the windward side of the island but is well protected by a series of large islands that shield it from the direct onslaught of the wind and waves.  It is popular amongst locals and tourists alike, and just a short walk from town. 

     To get a feel for why this place holds so much allure for us, imagine, mixed in with all this poignant natural beauty, the ambiance of France.  The restaurants, wine, baguette, pastries, language, people, and attitude all exude that "je ne sais quoi" which gives France a special place in our hearts.  The common complaint about the country is that the people are rude.  It is true, at times, that they can be opinionated and abrupt in dealing with tourists.  They don't make it easy to break through the initial negative attitude they have towards us.  But, a humble "je ne pas parle francais" and a smile goes a long way to smoothing the waters and the rewards are well worth it.

     So worth it, in fact, that we have stayed here for over a week despite the sorry state of supplies on the island.  A three week long strike on Guadeloupe has paralyzed transportation, emptying the shelves of most fresh produce and supplies.  Gas stations are closed and restaurants are shutting down one by one as they run out of propane fuel for their ovens and grills.  Luckily, Zia's stores are up to the task. We have been able to find some long lasting vegetables such as cabbages and tomatoes and with a plentiful supply of fresh baguette, we've been happy campers.  We are looking forward, however, to a big re-provisioning on our next stop north.  Antigua here we come!

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