Lockdown has lifted in the French Antilles, and we must bid farewell to dear Les Saintes as we set sail for the more southerly Grenada. However it is not without sadness that we leave our lockdown paradise and the small cruising community that became our friends. Les Saintes comprises a small group of islands just south of Guadeloupe and has been our haven in a world gone mad, and our home for the past two and a half months. As we grew close to our fellow locked down boaters through radio chats, quizzes, practical help and advice, spare part sharing, and finally meeting in person to share food and conversation; we realised that we had certainly gained much more than we lost during this unexpected pause in our journey.
We truly appreciated the camaraderie, advocacy, and practical support navigating through the complicated French and local government regulations, revised regulations, mayoral edicts etc etc ….ad infinitum, and learning the (not so) subtle French art of making regular “reclamations” and maybe, just maybe…. we are a little bit more French for the experience!!
Some new experiences included:
- Staying in one place long enough to really feel as if we knew it like the back of our hand, and learn a little of island life; make real friends, in this case assisted by the experience of sharing the adverse conditions of confinement.
- Feeling distinctly unwelcome, even feared, as foreigners. This was an unpleasant but useful experience, that occurred at the beginning of the lockdown imposed all over France including French territories. This experience gave us cause to reflect on many communities who feel this kind of xenophobia daily, for their entire life. The small island community saw us foreigners as potential virus carriers, and were fearful and resentful of our presence I think. We were strongly instructed to leave our mooring at the beginning of the lockdown, and return to our home port, but for us and many others this was impossible. As we frantically debated our options, some French boaters told us that they had simply refused to go, and so were accepted and supported to stay. Our first French move was also to dig our heels in, and maritime services supported our safe harbouring, and so we stayed.
- Definitely the development of a close, responsive and supportive community during the lockdown. As is often the case, a crisis can expose the best or worst in people, and I believe we absolutely saw the best in everybody around us. A common purpose, shared experience, and genuine concern for each others’ welfare was certainly heartwarming and worthwhile, particularly in the thick climate of uncertainty.
- When lockdown permitted, sharing adventures such as a trip to Guadeloupe, walks and fika, beach barbeques etc with a varied cohort, all of whom were interesting and fun company.
- Whilst at Guadeloupe, visiting a small seaside town called Deshaies, which is the setting for the TV series “Death in Paradise.” (thanks for the tip Mum!)
- Initially feeling very uncertain about the best course of action, and feeling far from home at the beginning of our confinement when tensions ran high.
- Dreading the impending hurricane season, when it seemed impossible to leave the area.
- Repairing our dinghy SEVERAL times, after a barracuda tooth sliced a little gash in the side, and some smaller holes in the floor, apparently as we dropped it into the the dinghy after catching it. The damage was not detected at the time, but when we arrived at our destination, our dinghy was mysteriously deflated, and only gradually did we discover the holes and determine their cause, while also recalling the strange “whooshing” sound we heard as the barracuda landed in the dinghy….. Those barracudas have blooming big teeth! Dinghy sound again BTW.
- MANY conversations with France vs the rest of the world in a spirit of infinite goodwill and kindness, accompanied by endless obligatory cultural ribbing.
- Some of our evening radio quizzes, in particular ones created by Niord, based on Finnish cover music! Songs covered by Finnish bands become something else entirely! Don’t knock it till you try it!
- Another of our biggest belly laughs was also generously provided by Niord. We were privy to the lux premier screening of their onboard workout video, which included winch spinning, fender boxing, and spinnaker pole dancing, all filmed in paradise with incredible clarity, impeccable timing, moody slow mo, windswept hair – the whole shebang! Their YouTube channel “An idiot aboard” is a must see.
- Having a socially distanced sundowner, in our dinghies tied to the back of American boat Bebe. This was fun, and hilarious as we 3 Swedish dinghies (plus me) bobbed about, jostling for position, talking to our remote hosts, trying unsuccessfully to keep hold of our wine and caps in the wind and waves!
- Finding a squid lying laconically on our sofa one morning. Yes, I know!! How does that happen? Well the laconic pose was easy, he/she was dead by this time. We surmise that the athletic beast must have leapt through a slightly open TOP cabin hatch, which is about 2 meters above water level!! What are the chances!? We had to cook it then, as the poor thing had died at our hands, so we shared coffee and fresh pan seared squid with garlic with Amiga Mia, at morning tea time, as you do.
FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:
- Fresh squid, as above.
- Pizza delivered by dinghy – an after confinement treat!
- Fresh baguettes, regularly delivered by friends directly to the boat.
- Patisserie delicacies, hand delivered as surprise gifts!
- A Swiss boat baked bread, similar to brioche but not sweet. Really moreish!
- A couple of incarnations of Key Lime pie, from a recipe book loaned to us by Amiga Mia.
- Cheese, fullstop. Brie, Camembert, Bleu d’Auvergne, Roquefort, among MANY others. One night we were treated to an impromptu radio lesson on French and Swiss cheese; a Swiss lady had heard some relatively uninformed discussion about cheese and was forced to educate us a little. Bravo!
- Several varieties of rum punch, as recommended and often provided by others, including Ti punch, Planter’s, and home made caramel rum. Guadeloupe produces many sought after rums, and our fellow boaters were educated connoisseurs.
- Some more tentative experimentation with previously unfamiliar vegetables. By my own trial and error, discussions with others, and patchy internet research, I think I am getting the hang of using most local veggies now. We have had navet, plantain, and christophene this week, and a fail with breadfruit last week.
- Replaced bow propeller switch TWICE.
- Freed up a clunking steering drive chain.
- Removed barnacles and surrounding gardens from the hull TWICE.
- Washed hull sides.
- Polished some transom fibreglass.
- Polished some stainless steel.
- Freed up some rusted solid side gate latches.
- Fixed compass light.
- Cleaned and lubricated jammers.
- Patched dinghy.
- Several small sprayhood repairs.
ALERT: I feel the need for a little rambling on…. to describe the convoluted process via which we finally decided to stay here in the first place, the care we received whilst at Les Saintes., and a little about how we passed our days. Feel free to back slowly away…..
Our decision to stay was encouraged in three ways;
Firstly our own common sense took hold eventually. We were safe, within the EU, had food and water and fuel, so decided to stay put and see how things unfolded, rather than try to dash off to somewhere that may have proved worse. Secondly, we were becoming a little more French, and followed the example of our French neighbors, who just refused to leave. And thirdly, we gained confidence from another Swede; Lasse on Amiga Mia, who assured us that “they would have to bring guns” before he would move. But the very next day, we watched with dread as Amiga Mia left her mooring bouy. The guns must have arrived, we thought, and thus we would also be chased away. But later we laughed heartily with Lasse as it was revealed that he was only going to a more calm mooring bouy, not leaving town! No guns apparently!
I guess all of us around the world have slightly different experiences of a similar situation. Our two month confinement was spent almost entirely ON the boat…… still alive; tick, and still friends; BIG tick! We pottered around with small jobs, tried to do some sort of movement daily, including swimming around the boat. (which is not as fun as it sounds actually, but our swimming improved, and we learned to appreciate the movement) We also experimented with cooking, we read, laundered, I practiced Swedish, and Magnus practiced the uke. We also found small incidental distractions (I was dead set on retrieving an abandoned lobster cage I found on the sea floor nearby, and developed some rudimentary knowledge of the fish species we saw most days, while Magnus dug deeply into discovering which of the three town bakeries made the best baguettes and ciabatta, to ensure our infrequent trips to town were not wasted!) We were permitted to go ashore for an hour for necessary shopping or the doctor, or for exercise. Each trip had to be supported by an “attestation” form stating our justification for being away from our abode, and was frequently checked by the gendarmerie, at least at the beginning. Grocery shopping and the trek to the rubbish disposal area became major events! And if we had to take the boat to the jetty to fill our water tanks, that was definitely a big day out! Our days were book ended by the morning radio net, where we checked in with projects for the day, technical questions etc, and then the evening sundowner chat and quiz. And so it was that eight weeks passed pleasantly and soon enough the restrictions were eased a little, and we spent the next two weeks a little more freely, while awaiting permission to move on, in anticipation of hurricane season. We walked on the hot dry islands, met the many goats as well as our new friends, swam, snorkeled, BBQed, and went into the shops in the dinghy.
And I must also mention the care and consideration we received from the French Navy, who checked on the welfare of all boaters with weekly visits in an enormous frigate that dispatched personnel in a rib boat to us, and was capable of carrying many helicopters and delivered both these and respirators to the islands. In addition to this moral support, a local yacht services company (LSM) and in particular the gentleman whom we most often dealt with provided excellent services during the lockdown. (After the initial awkward period of attempted enforced evacuation of course!)
Of our confinement companions, special mention must go to Henri on Escales, our official French hero, for all his support, advocacy , efforts to make us feel included in the French community, and friendship; Bebe for hosting our morning and afternoon radio chats; we all appreciated Dan’s cheerful voice uniting us and inspiring us with his and Lori’s recipes and boat projects, and occasionally “treating” us to a Dad joke or two. To Amiga Mia for supportive and fun friendship, baguette delivery, advice, and tool loans; and to Niord for their company in our uncertainty, their boundless energy and enthusiasm, friendship and mirth. To our neighbor Yves for evening check ins, and local information. To Clarity, for their friendship, warmth and positivity. Clarity were the first of our fellow lockdowners we met! (Atop the highest peak on the island, as it turns out, which I guess is no surprise now we know them better!) We thank Isail 2.0 for their enduring contributions of music, and food and wine knowledge, and especially enjoyed getting to know them after lockdown. And Tibor, for pizza delivery, and their fun company, to Sherbro, for their company, and generosity of spirit with sharing their extensive experience in the Caribbean. To Piotr and Agnes for including us in the sundowner hour, and parties ashore. To Escapade, who we only just met before they left, but would like to meet again, and to Amaran, who we just met in the last couple of days, and hope to meet again soon.
Land view Amiga Mia Sunset from the Bourg