Every evening after the sun has set and darkness silently, slowly slides its curtain down over mountains and sea, I have the pleasure of waiting for her to appear, usually between the last clouds in the western sky. I sit on the back porch of my floating home, waiting, knowing that she always reveals herself—dimly at first then brightly claiming her name of “Evening Star”: Venus.
The ancients had it right: it’s quite a show, always there and always appearing wearing a veil—whether parting clouds or the wispy tantalizing drapery of Renaissance painters. They had it right, if you went with their mythology, religions, and imaginations. For me, it’s a nice ending of a day to reflect upon and a transition to night, rest, and on to the next morning and whatever it holds…
So now, darkness rules. Venus has retired, Saturn and Mars—and the rest of the fold, which I never bother to distinguish—are out in force. The moon is doing its illuminating performance as well, almost fully finished. And my little mosquito-eating bat friends from the close-by small island are flitting about the boat, doing their thing too. Good for them. I’ll leave them to it and retreat to safety inside. No sense in sacrificing my blood as payment for the show.
And this is Guadeloupe, the next island south of Antigua, a newer high volcanic island in contrast to the lower, worn-down island we just left. The trip over took about seven hours sailing to get around the north end and south a bit to the small town of Deshaies where there is more protection from the 21-knot tradewinds that brought us here—a rather bouncy ride.
Even that small town perched on the steep mountainside, but having a small welcoming bay, is typical of the more ordered traffic and building infrastructure which we have found in this Caribbean outpost of France, in contrast to the more unconstrained development of Antigua. It’s a full-fledged part of France with all the accompanying services and basic standard of living, whereas Antigua is an independent former colony of England and suffers from those usual problems of survival and growth. Each has its positives and negatives, like every nation—just different and opportunities to experience. I expect this to be a recurring theme as we work our way down the West Indies chain of islands. (Remember? The misnomer comes from Columbus and others thinking they had found a quick way to the “Indies” on the other side of the world which they were expecting to find.)
So, it’s nice to have some enhanced conveniences, such as well-stocked grocery stores and moderately priced restaurants. Yet, there is a problem with more recently emerged volcanic islands (Guadeloupe’s highest mountain is 4,813 ft and still active, like most in the WI chain): they are primarily steep-sided and that means few bays and harbors for protection and anchoring. Consequently, towns and cities are nearly all located on the western, leeward side which means you have to sail from one city anchorage to another, except for a few off-shore islands where there has been more erosion of the volcanic surface and a chance for more little bays for anchoring—and little towns to historically develop and visit, such as Iles des Saintes.
Other than those opportunities—again, common in the island chain from Martinique on—there are often geologically older parts of some islands that have weathered significantly over the millennia and afford more opportunities for residents to build homes and farm (and hence the past rise of slavery)—and places for boaters, and fishermen, to anchor and harbor their boats.
Guadeloupe is an interesting example of that. It is essentially two islands, one younger and steep (where Deshaies is located) and the other older and eroded (with more population and farming): two wings joined like a butterfly with the body where the largest cities are located and make the island’s urban center. Pointe-à-Pitre is the central city, best known, and where I am now moored on the boat—just off the barley above water Ilet Cochons (Pig Islet in English), but no pigs and a pretty little spot with impenetrable vegetation.
Incidentally, this anchorage has good wind protection, some distance from the up-channel industrial center noise but just across from a large marina with relevant services, grocery, and other stores. The marina also has a dinghy dock to tie up to and go ashore to the stores—as well as gives me daily access to a multitude of routes to do my daily fast walk and pick up any needed or desired items from the shops.
Speaking of urban noise, there’s a lot of boat traffic through the channel, not only of container ships loading and unloading but also fast passenger ferries going elsewhere in Guadeloupe and to other island nations further south. There are also cruise ships every day plying their passengers from tourist attractions here and to those on other islands. And of course, there are many yachts—primarily sailing—constantly moving about the marina and its services and to the various anchorages available. So, it’s a busy place but not overwhelmingly for a spot to park for a while and watch this particular world swirl around me.
Before I go, did I forget to mention the little squeaky mice floating about me on white with colored-tail ducks? Well, they’re out in force every day learning how to sail their tiny dinghies with bright sails. Most are early school age but some are definitely in their teens—those would be the ones zooming around in slightly larger sailboats, those working their sailboards to catch every bit of wind and speed they can, or those in single and double kayaks paddling furiously. Then there are the instructors in their outboard skiffs shouting out a constant chatter of instructions and encouragement for each group in the boating school classes. It makes quite a chirpy contribution to the general rumbling background of all the other maritime activity filling the sound and waterscape of this place I’m presently living in for a few months.