For a relaxing week of sailing in the Caribbean, consider Guadaloupe in the Leeward Islands. This is a charter destination comprising the main island and several smaller ones nearby that combine to make a wonderful out-of-the-way yachting holiday destination.
The compact island group under French administration is inhabited by a friendly people primarily descended from slaves, their colorful traditions a blend of the African and native Indian influences that reflect the island's history. Unspoiled by overt development yet with all the comforts and facilities the visitor expects, Guadaloupe is a Caribbean treasure and a place to be seriously considered for your next bareboat or catamaran charter.
Arrive on the main island of Grande Terre, which with its neighbor Basse-Terre form the distinctive butterfly shape that is recognizable to all who know Guadaloupe. These islands are separated by a channel (seek local advice as to navigability) and offer quite a contrast.
Grande Terre is the more developed and most popular part of the group for visitors, where you will find your charter base in the main town Pointe-à-Pitre. Enjoy the local culture by visiting the markets, but don't assume the locals speak English. French is the main language, and you will also hear the local Creole used.
Basse-Terre is mountainous and largely covered in spectacular rain forest presided over by the active volcano of La Grande Soufrère, the eastern Caribbean's tallest peak. Around the fringes are large plantings of sugar cane, the main crop of the islands, and a number of distilleries that the locals contend make the best rum in the Caribbean. Off the western coast of Basse-Terre is Pigeon Island. For an unparalleled snorkeling experience dive into the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve, which is absolutely packed with marine life.
When chartering a bareboat or catamaran in Guadaloupe, there are a number of suitable anchorages around the main islands. Once under way however, most charterers head for the outlying Marie-Galante and Isle des Saintes. It's just a short half-day sail to either from home base, Marie-Galante popular as a first stop with crews wanting to get the more upwind journey out of the way. Christopher Columbus came upon this island on his travels to the Caribbean, but only stopping briefly. Spain's objectives for conquest were larger land-masses, which they found further west.
Marie-Galante's main anchorage is at St Louis on the island's northwest, little more than a fishing village but with basic supplies available (be aware of shop closure for the long lunch typical of French tradition). Fine beaches and great snorkeling conditions line the coast, and this is also a place of sugar cane and strong rum. There are some interesting ruins that attest to the island's industrial history and the slave labor that supported it.
With a good breeze abaft, a crossing from Marie-Galante will have you in the Les Saintes island group in a couple of hours. Terre de-Haut is the main island, one of only two that are continually inhabited. Quaint villages, romantic settings and fresh cuisine are the hallmarks of this quiet getaway.
A convenient final-night anchorage is the uninhabited Islet Gosier, just a short distance from base.
For the crew seeking a slightly longer passage and a taste of the British Caribbean, there may be time on your itinerary to visit Dominica. The best and closest anchorage is at Prince Rupert Bay in the north, off the town of Portsmouth. Dominica is a mountainous island that's a hiker's paradise, a place with its own distinct and authentic feel.
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