Les Saintes (Guadeloupe)

We’ve been to Les Saintes more than once before, and one day I’ll write up our previous visits here both of which we did on El Mundo (our sailboat which we sold in New Zealand back at the start of 2018).

I love it here.  It has an almost magical feel to it.  Obviously that will be an entirely personal response to a melting pot of reasons, but I hope that I can convey at least some of that sense of calm I get here over to you.

Pointe Boisjoli – a frigate bird flies past the cross

Our anchorage this time has been fabulous.  There was masses of room here in the bay between Pointe Boisjoli and Pain de Sucre.  We had to anchor outside the yellow buoys which delineate the mooring field protecting the underwater environment from being chewed up too much by repeated anchoring close in to shore.  That was a benefit to us because everyone here has been on the mooring balls but we have been in our own huge space with the cliffs of Pointe Boisjoli rising above us close enough to hear the waves crashing gently but far enough away to be able to see them properly.

Pain de Sucre

As the boat swings back and forth on the anchor chain we have near-panoramic views from the saloon including over to the island of Terre d’en Bas with its pretty village nestled into the hill, Pointe Boisjoli and the land between it and Pain de Sucre, a clear view of the whole southern side of Ilet a Cabrit and a very clear view over to Guadeloupe.

Terre d’en Bas – the village under a rainbow

With everything so open here we can see quite clearly the weather patterns as they come through.  The easterly trade winds bring through either long periods of blue sky and relatively calm winds here in Les Saintes but at the same time we watch big rain clouds develop on their way towards Guadeloupe as the air approaches the volcano of Soufriere.  We rarely see the summit as it is almost always blanketed in cloud and as the rain clouds pass across the main island it too becomes obscured from view.

Food has been a focus here for us, as you might expect from French islands!  Robbe Steak (a butcher / deli on Terre de Haut) was closing the next day as the season is coming to an end.  We managed to get plenty of wonderful Parmesan cheese at a knock-down price and a delicious rotisserie chicken.  I wished she had stayed open a little longer.  We made a bee-line for Ti Kaz La (probably the best restaurant here) and enjoyed more mango soufflés with raspberry coulis than we should over the course of our stay!  The chef there has worked as a pastry chef in top restaurants and that soufflé is worth travelling for… 

Declicious mango soufflés at Ti Kaz La

We also remembered having enjoyed some good crepes at L’Ilet Douceur and returned there several times too.  They have Wi-Fi, their savoury crepes are good and their beurre sucre crepes are heavenly. One can even get a half-decent baguette at the sandwich shop a little further along the road after Carrefour.

L’Ilet Douceur for yummy crépes

With all that eating, exercise was needed!  We replaced school with P.E. / history classes.  A trip up to Fort Napoleon was worth the hot walk up 325ft / 99m as it has a fabulous approach for imagining being an enemy as one approaches the moat and tall walls of the fort, the stones in the walls tell a story of how the fort changed over time, one can immerse oneself in their somewhat eclectic museum and its enjoyable walking around the lovely grounds with all sorts of cacti, aloes, yucca etc. with more spectacular views.

The walk up to Fort Napoleon – lovely view of Les Saintes
The grounds of Fort Napoleon
An interesting choice of picture for the museum to choose to display!

We also walked up a much longer and steeper hill to Le Chameau, an old lookout tower that sits right on the top of the tallest hill in Les Saintes at 1036 feet / 316m high.  It was quite a challenge, particularly for Tom as he is still working on regaining his muscular strength after such a long time being bed-bound with his herniated lumbar disc.  It was well worth it all though, even for James who struggled at times but learnt a lot about the strength of the mind, how it affects how our bodies feel and how achieving our goals can be enormously satisfying, however difficult.  The views on the way up were lovely and those from the top even more so, including a peek at the other side of the island looking south which we will see again from the boat when we finally head south.

Proud of ourselves after climbing up Le Chameau!

While we’ve been here, some friends of ours that we’d met a few times before in Antigua joined James and me on the beach.  All three boys had enormous fun playing on our SUP (stand-up paddleboard) and, as usual, the sand had them occupied for hours.  The mothers had a chance to share ideas, stories and a general chinwag (there was even talk of future cocktails…) and we joined them aboard their boat for sundowners the evening before they left to head south.

James has been having regular swims off the boat.  His favourite activities seem to be jumping from the highest boarding doors (it’s a long way dooooown!) and playing “woobliere totalis”, his SUP game he plays wobbling as much as he can back and forth before falling off with a flourish.

We haven’t been neglecting the boat though.  Now that the outside of the boat is looking lovely (more on that in “Antigua”), we’ve turned our attention inwards again.  Both the main engines and one of the generators were due oil changes, we’ve been tracing cables to work on improving the wifi and cellular reception, checking the hull for growth, and we had our first heads (toilets) problem…

Changing the oil on Alchemy’s engines (the main engines that drive the boat as well as the two generators that power all the electrical things and charge the batteries that allow us to turn off the generators for most of the day and night) is much more straightforward than it was on El Mundo.  There is a oil change system with various valves here and there that, so long as you pay attention, pumps the oil out of whichever engine you’re servicing into a Used Oil tank.  Then, the oil filter is changed and clean oil is pumped from another tank full of new oil.  We’ll do a video about oil changes one of these days! I find it quite satisfying, like I’m saying thank you to the engines for serving us so well.

We’re becoming pretty adept at cable tracing and this time it required Tom to climb up on the roof of the flybridge.  I don’t like it when he’s up there but he’s very sensible and is in the process of specifying all sorts of new kit to improve the boat’s comms.

When Tom dived the hull to check for growth, he was a little stunned by what he found.  We had the hull cleaned by someone when we were in Antigua (I’ll include some details of that in “Antigua”) but the amount of growth on the hull suggested that either he didn’t do nearly as much work as he said he did or our antifoul paint is becoming ineffective.  So, Tom looked into where we could have some applied and found a dry dock on the mainland in Guadeloupe.  We will head there next and I’ll report back on that little adventure once it has happened.

Unfortunately, we also had to attend to a blockage in our VacuFlush toilet system.  Yuck.  This is the first time we’ve had any problems at all with the heads which is an enormous improvement on El Mundo’s record.  I have vivid memories of Matthew struggling to remove a blocked hose from our spare heads and trying to dislodge the contents over the side while we were in the middle of the Atlantic in December 2015, not long after we bought her.  It was not pretty, it was not a pleasant smell and my poor brother was rather fed up by the end of it!  Our problem here was also a blockage but thankfully not caused by previous owners using sea water to flush their heads (a choice we never resorted to on El Mundo for exactly that reason).  Sorting it out has helped us move forward with our understanding of the system, has helped us appreciate all that work we did cataloguing the spares so that we could put our hands on a duckbill valve within minutes and it has made me clean out the area under the floor of our bathroom which I’ve been avoiding for ages.  Lots of positives!  It has also meant that we can make a couple of simple adjustments to the toilets which may well have led to the problem in the first place.  We had them installed new last year and the settings the installers used were not what we think are the optimum to avoid this happening.  Lots of moving forward!

So, am I going to end writing about Les Saintes with a commentary on toilets?!  No!  I have to mention the wildlife here.  While I am not keen on swimming in open water / off the boat, I absolutely love seeing the wildlife in the water, in the sky and ashore.

Today, our last day here before we leave to prepare for the dry dock, I saw yet another sign of how full of life the water around us is.  We often see fish jumping clear out of the water, presumably try to escape from predators lurking beneath the surface.  Sometimes it’s one big fish, other times it’s a big group of them.  Today was no different except that this time I managed to capture the last of several episodes of a school of fish jumping in unison very close to the boat.  The frantic nature of their behaviour is evident but their movements are beautiful despite this and the circle of life must continue. I can’t publish it here though, frustratingly, as our website doesn’t currently support videos.

We’ve enjoyed seeing such a huge range of plants and animals, some of them familiar and others a variation on what we know already.  How I wish I were a better photographer and able to share them with you.

And we must move on.  I’ll really miss it here but I have a feeling we will be back next year…

Passage: Antigua to Les Saintes (Guadeloupe)

Our friends waving us off as we leave Antigua for Guadeloupe

We were rolling far too much at the Jolly Harbour anchorage in Antigua and after yet another bad night’s sleep, Tom and I were ready to get going.  Anywhere but there! I had no idea that Jolly was likely to be rolly in a northerly swell, and I wouldn’t have guessed it from the charts.  That’s where reading up on a place can be handy…

So, on Friday 10th May we headed in by dinghy to say some goodbyes (I still find them so very difficult), get final provisions at Epicurean, check out and sort out our “warrant” which cost USD65 (yup!) to enable us to buy duty-free fuel from the dock at Jolly Harbour Marina.  We headed back in with Alchemy after getting ourselves sorted out with some lunch, lines, fenders, the dinghy up and securing a fitting on the boat deck.  We hadn’t realised how late it had become and arrived just before they were due to shut!  I’d thought we had more time than that but luckily I think the quantity of fuel we were due to take on motivated the attendant to stay and help us.  Then, the boring part set in.  Getting fuelled up can take a while…

Luckily, some friends of ours whom we had missed saying goodbye to screeched to a halt in their car next to the fuel dock and kept us entertained.  These are friends we made in Antigua (also cruisers) whom we met back in 2016.  More about them in “Antigua” but it was lovely to have them over and for the kids to play.  It was an emotional farewell as we waved goodbye heading out as it may be some time before we see them again.

The log says we left the dock at 18:10.  We had light for long enough to get into deeper water and head down the west coast of Antigua while the sun set and we settled into our usual night passage routine.  I prepared James’ dinner and he would have gone to bed in his usual cabin but he was feeling a little queasy.  It was a bit bumpy out there and as there would be only one of us asleep in our cabin at any time during the night I let him sleep there instead.  It’s more central within the boat and so when we are headed into the wind it is more comfortable.  I think he sees it as a treat to be able to sleep in our bed so it’s possible he wasn’t as queasy as he said…!

I went to bed before too long too and left Tom on watch.  He left me as long as he felt comfortable doing so, then woke me at 1am to take over.  We always do the shifts this way around and it suits us well.  Besides keeping wary of FADs (Fish Aggregation Devices) which, luckily, are well charted in French waters and avoiding what the chart said was a firing range (yikes! though not likely to be in use in the middle of the night!) all I needed to do was keep a good lookout with my beady eyes, ably assisted by our excellent radar and AIS targets on the chart.  I also do periodic engine room checks for any problems and to ensure the day tank has sufficient fuel.  More on all this in a different post at some point.

Arriving in Les Saintes

As I rounded the South West point of Guadeloupe and headed across to Les Saintes, the wind picked up as it often does around the edges of the main island, and it was bumpy again for a while but our destination was so close it didn’t seem to matter so much.  I actually slowed down to allow Tom to get some extra sleep as single overnight passages can be rather brutal exhaustion-wise.  By around 7.30am we were anchored in a wonderful spot in the bay between Pointe Boisjoli and Pain de Sucre.  For more, see the next post: “Les Saintes”.

What have we been up to so far?

Since we completed our refit in the Summer of 2018, so much has been going on that we have rather neglected to write anything about our adventures. We have now resolved to do better and so this post is to bring things up to date before we start posting properly.
Our trips so far have included:

  • Norfolk (Virginia) to Charleston (South Carolina)
  • Charleston to The Abacos (Bahamas)
  • The Abacos to the Exumas (further south in the Bahamas)
  • Exumas to Punta Cana (Dominican Republic)
  • Punta Cana to the British Virgin Islands (BVI)
  • BVI to Antigua

The main event that rather interrupted our lives in the midst of all this fun was Tom suffering from a sudden burst disc in his cervical spine a few days after our arrival in the BVI. He was completely incapacitated and unable to leave his bed for 5 weeks, leaving Alex to learn a lot about the boats systems rather more quickly than planned…

Tom being offloaded in Antigua…

We decided to hire a very experienced Nordhavn training captain (Bernie Francis) who flew into the BVI from Florida to help Alex get the boat over to Antigua where better medical care was available. Over the few days he was with us, he trained Alex so well that she was able to dock the boat in Jolly Harbour Marina in Antigua by herself – quite an achievement given that this was the first time she had docked anything, let alone a 72ft, 100 ton monster!

Alex in full control!

As of the start of May 2019, we were in Jolly Harbour, Antigua and ready to begin the next phase of our travels…

The big refit!

When we bought Alchemy in January 2018, she was in truly exceptional condition. The previous owners Kathy and Bradley were meticulous in their maintenance, frequently replacing expensive but critical systems well before there was any sign of a problem. Certainly she was by far the best maintained Nordhavn we saw on our search that included South East Asia, New Zealand, the UK and both the East and West coasts of the US.

Alchemy as it was back in 2010

Despite this, we wanted to update a few more things before going too far away from the US, where parts and expertise are plentiful (although certainly not cheap!). We therefore decided to carry out a significant refit to make the boat as close to “as new” as possible and to adapt a few things to suit our tastes.
The refit included:

  • Replacing or refurbishing all the furniture and most of the fittings in the saloon. This included a brand new dining table that we shipped from Italy, six new custom made dining chairs, new upholstery for the sofa and new light fittings.
  • Re-upholstering the sofa in the pilothouse and the headboard in the master bedroom.
  • Replacing the carpets and ceiling headlining throughout the boat.
  • New custom-made blinds throughout the boat.
  • New stone worktop in the pilothouse heads.
  • New bathroom sink taps throughout the boat.
  • Replacing three of the Vacuflush toilets with brand new units.
  • Replacing the coolant circulation pump for the air conditioning system (not because it was broken – it was just getting a little old!).
  • Re-painting the two Awlgrip stripes around the pilothouse.
  • Re-caulking many of the seams around the outside of the boat.
  • New HD CCTV system throughout the boat.
  • Two new navigation computers, two new autopilot systems, backup satellite compass.
  • A new 4K TV for the saloon TV lift, a NAS based media server system and a boat-wide Sonos audio system.
  • Removing almost all the unused wiring throughout the boat – we filled at least 10 large black rubbish bags!
  • Running new CAT6 network and two NMEA2000 backbones throughout the boat.
  • Installing the beginnings of a full Maretron monitoring system that will allow us to monitor many systems automatically and detect potential issues before they develop into anything serious.
  • Replacing all lighting with energy efficient LED versions.
  • Replacing the 4x Lifeline 4D engine start batteries.
  • A new offshore liferaft to replace one of the two already on board.
  • And much more, including a full wash, polish and wax, new zincs, new bedding, new windscreen wipers etc.

Here are a few photos:

James unbolting the saloon coffee table so that the old carpet can be removed
Alex hard at work refinishing the cockpit BBQ cover
The glamour of boat ownership – Alex helping to run new CAT6 and NMEA2000 cabling
Just in case you thought Alex was doing all the work – this is Tom re-wiring the boat
External stripes being newly Awlgripped (we went from red to grey)
New worktop for the pilothouse heads being prepared (it was previously bright blue!)
New carpet in Master Bedroom (it was previously dark blue with gold bits – original to the boat)
New dining table and chairs – the table is made of steel with a ceramic top and we bolted it to the floor
New saloon sofa – it needs some scatter cushions but they will have to wait until we have another burst of energy!
New lamps, table, chairs, sofa, carpet, blinds and headlining
Newly upholstered sofa in the pilothouse – this is where we eat when underway
James looking pleased with the results! (the photo frame hadn’t yet been fixed to the wall)

Our story

The Reed family in New Zealand, October 2017

We are Tom and Alex Reed, wandering around the world by boat with our son James who is 7 and home-schooled. Boat ownership for us started in July 2015 when we bought the Oyster 56 sailboat “El Mundo” in Lymington, England. After a comprehensive refit (new standing rigging, spars resprayed, Lithium batteries, new electronics etc.), we set off across the Atlantic (Canaries to St Lucia) with the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) in November 2015, enjoying near perfect conditions for the 17 day passage.

Our Oyster 56 “El Mundo”

After a season exploring the Caribbean from Grenada up to the BVIs, we then took the opportunity to join the second Oyster World Rally, starting with 28 other Oysters from Antigua in January 2017 and taking in Panama, the Galapagos, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus archipelago, the Society Islands, Palmerston Atoll, Tonga and Fiji on our way to New Zealand where we arrived in October 2017.

El Mundo in the remote “Lau Group” in Fiji

Having made it from the UK to New Zealand, Alex (who is very prone to seasickness and not keen on big mid-ocean squalls) put her foot down. If she was going to continue with the boating life, it would have to be on something bigger, more comfortable, that did not heel but that could still cruise the world’s oceans in safety. After much research, we found the perfect solution – a Nordhavn trawler.

Fortuitously, we managed to get in touch with Kathy Clark who, with her husband Bradley, had spent the last 7 years cruising the US East Coast and the Bahamas in their Nordhavn 72 “Shear Madness”. By strange coincidence, they had previously spent time cruising the Pacific on their Oyster 56! After a brief visit to see them in Washington DC and a bit of negotiation, Kathy and Bradley agreed to sell their boat to us and we became the proud owners of Nordhavn 72-02 in January 2018.

Nordhavn 7202 – then known as “Shear Madness”

After a brief trip back to New Zealand (by plane this time!) to sell El Mundo, we returned to Morehead City, North Carolina to start learning about our new floating home, now renamed “Alchemy” (chosen primarily because of our son’s obsession with chemistry and Harry Potter).

James loving his new home!