Two year charter delay to Guadeloupe worth the wait

We didn’t get the boat we had planned for and we were all two years older than we thought we would be but, in the end, a week in Guadeloupe in April 2022 was worth the wait.
My wife and two sons, ages 9 and 11, were joined by our buddy Sylvain, a friend since we did the Advanced Cruising course four years ago, his partner Marie Soleil and our long-time friend Joanna who once sailed for 9 months on a tall ship.
We flew into Pointe-à-Pitre. A short drive to the airport and we were at the marina. Sylvain and Marie Soleil had arrived the day before and fully stocked the boat with food and booze. This was the result of American Airlines last minute cancelling our flights but, in hindsight, I highly recommend this approach if you can figure out how to swing it. Two hours after we had landed we were off to our first destination, a two hour sail to a reasonably protected anchorage at Ilet du Gosier, just around the coastline of the main island.
The first full day we sailed to Marie Galant and anchored off the beach, Anse Cabou. The trip was four hours beating up wind. In the end we all agreed that this was the least nice out of all of our destinations: a mediocre beach and not especially scenic. We didn’t head into town from this spot.
The second day we sailed to Isle Des Saintes, about 4 hours downwind. Les Saintes is the crown jewel of Guadeloupe sailing. The main bay is very protected and hosts almost 100 sailboats on moorings. The scenery is absolutely stunning. The town is small but pretty and clean. One of our nights we ate dinner at a restaurant called La Fringale. That is a meal that my wife and kids and I still talk about as being fantastic. There is an old fort (Fort Napoleon) which you can walk up to and explore. There is a small but decent museum inside. The best part of the museum is a room that has an in-depth description, with dioramas of a naval battle, the Battle of the Saintes, between the French and the English in 1782. We stayed at Les Saintes for two nights and a third later on in the trip. On the second day we day tripped and anchored off an uninhabited island where we were the only boat, so we had a very scenic little bay all to ourselves, 10 feet of clear to the bottom light blue calm water with the tip of a beach showing on the land.
On the fourth day we sailed to a beach just off of Reserve Cousteau, which is a protected marine park. This is a fairly touristy spot with lots of tour boats taking people out to the protected island for some really nice snorkelling. The advantage of having your own boat is that you can just motor your dinghy out to a designated mooring ball for dinghies and do your own snorkelling. The little butterfly shaped island has really nice shallow, warm water with plenty of reef and coral fish to look at. Closer to our boat we found sea turtles. My son even managed to swim down and touch the back of one of them. Pretty magical.
The fifth day we were back to Les Saintes but this time moored off another uninhabited island, Ilet a Cabrit, for the night. This island has some nice snorkelling itself. We swam with a school of thousands of silver fish and I came face to face with a Barracuda, each of us wondering who was more scared of the other. The island also has a large wild goat population and also Fort Josephine which is abandoned and thus free to visit. It was a fort and then a prison and then a disco-tech and was then abandoned.
The sixth day we beat our way upwind back to the first anchorage and the last day it was fuelling up, returning the boat and flying home. We did see dolphins as we motored into the marina though, which was a bucket list item for us.
The weather on our trip was very consistent. We had a few brief patches of rain but for the vast majority of the time it was 28 degrees Celsius and sunny. The week before we arrived it had been that same temperature the entire week and hadn’t rained once. We choose to go in April as the crowds are a little less, the boats are a little cheaper and the weather and wind is very reliable: warm, sunny and 12 to 25 knots of wind from the same direction every day.
THE BOAT – A Bali 4.3 Catamaran
None of us had ever sailed a cat before so we were all excited to see how that would be. The Bali 4.3 is 43 feet LOA and 23 feet of beam. She has a huge front cockpit with couches and tables where you can do yoga while underway or have cocktails for ten. The galley is closer to what you would expect from a condo kitchen than any boat I have ever seen. There is a French door fridge with an ice and water dispenser. The saloon table easily sat all of us for some nice dinners. The garage style door, when open, makes the whole galley and saloon become a huge shaded rear cockpit, a really nice feature both while sailing and at anchor. The four double bed berths with en-suite heads were perfectly nice and had decent ventilation. There were also two little single berths but nobody used those. The boys preferred to share a double rather than have one of them stay in one of those.
After the first night on the boat I think we were all pretty sold on the catamaran lifestyle. The boat is just gorgeous. When you are: anchored or moored; cooking and having dinner; having drinks on the front; swimming off the back; or sun tanning on the fly bridge, you are absolutely loving this boat. After a week of sailing, though, we were much more mixed in our reviews. On the plus side, we had one day with 20 to 25 knots of wind on the beam where we did 9 knots of boat speed with no heeling for a few hours. When the wind dropped down in the lee of the island though, we slowed down to a crawl and had to motor. Upwind sailing was a chore and pretty slow. Even on a run, we were only hitting 5 or 6 knots because the charter company only gives you a small jib and no spinnaker. Overall, our average speeds and ease of sailing would have been better on my C&C30, but, well, you can’t do yoga while sailing on a C&C30.
Dream Yacht Charters accepted my sailing resume (Advanced Cruising Certificate, 5 years of keelboat ownership, Lake Ontario trips across and down the lake) as sufficient to qualify as the skipper. I had never skippered a charter boat before. The only ocean experience I had prior to this trip was on a 50 foot Beneteau Oceanis as part of the Advanced Cruising course. I am sure it helped that I had a fairly seasoned crew along with me. The company was reasonable to deal with through the challenges of Covid. They gave us credit for what we had spent for our anticipated April 2020 trip and then allowed us to use that credit for a bigger boat in April 2022 (prices were cheaper at the tail end of the pandemic so our money went further). My takeaways from this trip as far as chartering go would be: 1) bring life jackets for any kids. The charter company only has adult life jackets; and 2) you definitely need the dinghy motor upgrade ($427CDN). Without a motor on your dinghy, you aren’t getting anywhere. We also got a little inflatable kayak ($188 CDN) which was a nice, but not essential, add on. I wouldn’t recommend the other options such as pre-paid gas as we spent far less in gas than what the company would have charged for that.
Will Hutcheson sails a 1974 C&C30 out of the Toronto Sailing and Canoe Club. He and his family are working up to taking a year off and buying a bigger boat in the Mediterranean and sailing it through the Med, across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and then back up to Toronto.

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