I finished that last post all loved up and overjoyed, a tree hugger with a tree to hug and white sails blowing steadily from it. The next day, after a gybe to take us down towards the island of Marie-Galante, I could have bashed my head against that bloody tree. The wind disappeared, returning in gusts just hopeful enough to get us running around letting out sail and getting the runners on the correct side, just short enough to get us nowhere. Clouds clung to the sky above us, with rain offering its own regular middle finger salute so sporadically that it was easier to stay naked than keep putting on and taking off wet weather gear. We moped and swore as we tried to steer and control the sails, and we gave up a few times and just kept them tight in for a break from the bashing.
By nightfall we were moving again under a Cheshire Cat smile of a moon, and by morning there was land in sight. After 17 days, 2160 miles and the completion of an enthusiastically narrated Treasure Island we were preparing to re-enter the human world. We saw the bright verdant mountain of La Desirade, and then the pale cliffs and long green stripe of our destination. We sailed swiftly down Marie-Galante’s east coast, hoofed around the south and dropped anchor just outside the clearance port of Grand Bourg, where cows grazed on a lawn beside the anchorage.
“We’re in France! There’s going to be cheese!”
“We’re in the Caribbean! There’s going to be rum!”
Overjoyed, we leapt in for a celebratory swim, tidied away the sails and headed into the town. For the first time I felt that dizziness that comes with walking on solid land after a long time at sea. Surely only a beer would cure it. Market stalls were packing up, little bars and cafes had just stopped serving lunch and the Douane border police were not at home to sign us in, so we found a scrap to eat in a bakery and went to the first bar with Wifi we could find to steady our wobbly legs and let our families know we’d made it.
We intended to stay in Marie-Galante for three or four days before sailing to Antigua, a treat before the upheaval of selling Gwen and sorting out flights and shipping for us and our stuff. But everything was impossibly nice and we couldn’t haul ourselves away. After some time in the town we sailed down the coast and anchored off a long white palm-lined beach for a couple of nights, picnicking ashore, exploring a nearby village through a long forest walk, swimming and snorkelling whenever we felt like it, eating coconuts we found on the beach once Rich had sawed them open back on Gwen. The amount of vegetation everywhere we looked was stunning, so starkly different to the barren Canaries and dusty Cape Verdes. We sailed back up to Grand Bourg for their carnival that weekend and danced to drum music and ate all the street food we could find.
When we left we only got as far as the south of Guadeloupe. We had to sign out of France somewhere so why not have a night on another island? That turned in to two nights when we found a gorgeous anchorage half way up the coast, replete with pelicans who dove into the water like the gannets back home before popping up to float as the water drained from their huge beak sacs. Two more nights got added when we arrived here in Deshaines on the north westerly tip of the island, from which we signed out this morning. The wind wasn’t right to leave today. Honest.
Our sailing in the Caribbean has been thrilling. We are pushing Gwen, and there have been frequent squeals of excitement both in the huge winds and waves of the ocean between the islands and the gusts that have screamed in from one direction and then another between calm patches on the way up here. Ashore there are lots of smiles, loads of delicious fresh vegetables and bread and lots of expense – we’re back to European prices for eating and drinking out, so we’re back to eating on board most of the time. I do all of our talking as Rich doesn’t speak any French, and am still surprised when people understand what I’m saying and respond to me in the same language. People used to reply to my crappy Spanish in English with a look of pity or annoyance.
Deshaies is particularly charming, and we’ve even broken our usual antisocial tendancies to go drinking on a neighbouring Cornishman’s yacht. There are quite a few boats anchored around us, between which it’s quite common to see a swimming turtle, a harbour jack or garfish jumping out of the water or a whole shoal of fry leaping out of the way of some unseen predator. The town is like a hot, rickety, colourful version of a French tourist trap, all waterside bars and boulangeries. We’d stay longer, but we’re really cutting it fine now. Rich booked his flight for Japan this morning and we have only three weeks to sell the boat and get all our stuff somewhere in the UK.
So we’ll leave early tomorrow morning, sail 45 miles upwind to Antigua, find a broker and a shipping company, meet a couple of interested parties, look into what we’ll do with her if she doesn’t sell now and start the hard stuff. There’s a lot to clean up on Gwen, but hopefully there will still be time for the odd snorkel and wander. There’s a lot to be excited about, probably, but there’s a lot to wade through to get there.
Yesterday when we were sailing here Rich wanted to single hand for a while, so I sat on the foredeck and finished painting my For Sale sign. I thought about what this adventure has meant for me, and done to me. I’ve always been a passenger. I don’t drive a car, and the closest I usually have to autonomy in my travel is when on my bike. In the past I’ve been treated like I’m not to be trusted with things, by others and myself. On Gwen there has been no choice. Rich not only allows me to take my life into my own hands, he and the journey demand it, and I do it all the time. Now I’m wondering about maybe getting my own little boat back home. I’m wondering about a lot though, with my future about to become a big blank canvas, so who knows.
Here are some pictures from beneath