Well, the bruises from our Atlantic trip are finally fading and are just a slight yellow, so we are off again. This time, a short one! It is only 270 miles up the coast to British Guyana.
Dang it is hot here! Hotter than Hades hot! The thermometer only says about 85 today, but if there was any more humidity we would be swimming. From the moment we wake up we are hot and sweaty. Fortunately we have an endless supply of water and we can cool off and shower often. While the river water is clean, it isn't quite as enticing as ocean water. It is brown from Amazonian Basin runoff and you don't always know what is lurking below the surface, so I never go in and the kids go in less frequently than they would if we were sailing in crystal blue water.
We are currently sailing wing and wing west as we close the coast to Guyana. The conditions have been great and we even flew the spinnaker for most of the day yesterday. We are making great time with the help of a 2 knot current and we expect about an 8 knot average over the trip. We are arriving just before the change of tides and just before sunset, so we will anchor near the mouth of the Essequibo River for the night and then get up early to ride the tide up to Bartica, Guyana. We aren't sure how long the tide will help us, but navigating upriver, we will take any assistance we can for as long as we can.
We just heard English on the radio for the first time in months and I have to say it is a welcome sound. It is a little stressful traveling in French speaking countries and I'm happy to hear a familiar language. We get by, but there is so much you miss when you can't get into conversation with the locals.
In Bartica we are looking forward to some more jungle experiences. There are only about a dozen boats that go up the river each year, so there isn't much written about it from a sailors perspective, although it is a busy river and some big commericial boats navigate up it.
The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.
Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.
Our favorite sailing quote:
"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron
Thursday, May 26, 2016
French Guiana is an overseas territory of France and the only French speaking country in South America. Since it is not independent it is technically part of the EU and the Euro is the currency. It is a great country to explore, but expensive. It is equivalent to paying mainland France prices, for South American services. Even the fruit grown locally is expensive and while it is a treat to be able to buy French items in the grocery store, we definitely paid for it.
We visited French Guiana during the wettest time during the year, and believe me it was wet. They call it spagetti rain since the drops are so big and elongated. Every day we had several downpours and it was hard to keep things dry. On the flip side, we had all the water we wanted. At night we would leave the deck tank intake open and collecting water from just the starboard forward section of the deck resulted in about 50 gallons of water in our tanks every night. It saved some wear and tear on our water maker and even though the water maker can make river water into clean sweet water, there was always a little of an earthy odor that didn’t really appeal to us, so rain water was fantastic and we could use as much of it as we wanted.
The reason people come to French Guiana is to visit the space center in Kourou and the Penal colonies that are found throughout the country, the most notable being the islands around Devil’s Island. I’ve already written about the infamous Devil’s Island penal colony, but the country was littered with prisons and work camp sites. All prisoners came by boat from France to St. Laurent du Maroni and were processed and sent to different sites from there. The worst offenders and prisoners that tried to escape were sent to Devil’s. There were slim changes of escape from the French prisons. If a prisoner did escape there were bounty hunters throughout the region that would return them, the jungle was almost impassable and all the neighboring countries and tribes would also return an escapee for a bounty. Some prisoners even returned voluntarily after spending time on their own in the jungle. Everywhere you drive in French Guiana there are signs, off the road, in the jungle that point to another work camp for another group of prisoners. France separated their offenders and prisoners from their oversees colonies would be grouped together, so there might be a camp just for Vietnamese prisoners patrolled by guards from Senegal, or vice versa.
We visited the another major attraction in FG, the space center, before we left. Instead of taking the boat back 100 miles to Kourou, we decided it would be easier to rent a car and drive back. We watched the Russian Soyus rocket launch out of the Guiana Space Center. The rocket sent two European GPS equivalent satellites into space. 2/3 of the world’s communication launches are sent up from French Guiana because of the proximity to the equator. With the earth’s extra rotational speed at the equator a rocket launched here can use 17% less fuel to get a payload into orbit. The rocket we saw was impressive as the second largest rocket to be sent into space, and they issue gas masks for all observers within an 8 mile radius. Unfortunately for us, although we had reserved invitational seating, we couldn’t get that close because they didn’t allow children under 16 in to the closer viewing decks. Instead we were about 12 miles away and luck was not on our side at the actual moment of the launch. The clouds were so thick we couldn’t even see lift off, but we did hear the countdown and we could certainly hear lift off. We were all a bit disappointed, but about 10 degrees off the horizon the rocket cleared the clouds and we had a fantastic view of it from there on. It looked like a huge comet streaking across the sky. The launch was at 5:45am, so we still had some darkness to contrast with the rocket’s engines. We were even able to see the 4 primary booster rockets get jettisoned and fall back to earth. We were a tad disappointed at first at not seeing the liftoff, we had stayed in French Guiana specifically to watch the launch, we had to rent a hotel room, rent a car and get up at a God awful hour to see it, and although it wasn’t all it could have been, it was still a pretty awesome display of man’s ingenuity and we were happy we made the effort.
Finally our last expedition into the wilderness of French Guiana and on our last day in the country we drove an hour away at sunset, out to a beach at the mouth of the Maroni, in hopes of seeing Leatherback Sea Turtles lay their eggs. May and June are prime sea turtle egg laying times and with the fuller moon we thought this would be a great opportunity to try and see a sea turtle come ashore. There were a handful of other people out there as well as some rangers and we were lucky enough to see a huge 6 foot Leatherback Sea Turtle come ashore, dig her nest, deposit all her eggs and then cover them up. The whole process took about 2 hours and she was so tired you could hear her heavy breathing the whole time. We had been lucky enough to see an Olive Ridley turtle come ashore to lay in Mexico, but the Leatherback is about twice the size and it was fascinating to watch her. Statistically only one of the 50 or so eggs she lays will make it back as an adult to start the process all over. The villagers in the nearby town are encouraged to lock their dogs up during laying season and discouraged from harvesting the turtle eggs as they have traditionally always done, but between the stray dogs, pollution, fishing nets and normal predation, the sea turtles survival teeters on a very fragile slope. All over the world people try to help, and we actually saw rangers release a nest of turtles that had hatched elsewhere, but the turtle’s precious beaches are getting more polluted, the light pollution disorients them and development on the beaches are making their existence a precarious thing.
So, between Devil’s Island, the colonial city of St. Laurent, a turtle laying expedition and seeing a rocket launch we did almost everything you could do in French Guiana. Zander is still hoping to see a Harpie Eagle, a sloth, a jaguar and some poison dart frogs so we will see how we fare before we leave the Guyanas. One of the frustrating things, for me, about traveling by boat and covering so much vastly different ground is we can’t possibly carry guides for all the flora and fauna we see. It is pretty frustrating to see a new parrot, a new monkey, strange plant or reptile and not be able to ID it. I would love to have an app for all the different regions with plants, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish accounted for. We have a whole bookcase of guides, but it just doesn't scratch the surface of what we need. We did see Capuchin and squirrel monkeys, Agouti’s, toucans, macaws, the Blue Morpho butterfly, tarantulas and huge millipedes, as well as various unidentified parrots, bats and other birds.
We are now getting ready to sail the boat back down the Maroni and north 225 miles to British Guyana.
|That is the plan|
|checking out the canopy|
|we couldn't figure out why this island wasn't on the chart. It is a wreck|
Sunday, May 22, 2016
|Finally his brother exactly where he wants him!|
Does any body know we’re Devils Island is? It is an island in the waters off of French Guiana. Devils Island and the two islands around it are old prisons. The prison ships would bring the prisoners to the main land town on St. Laurent from France and if the prisoners were just bad they would go to the main land prison and work hard, but if they were really bad the would go to Devils Island. On the island it was really hot, they locked you in a small stone hut, you had to find your own food, and there were lots of deadly mosquitos. There was no way to escape because there was no place to launch a boat, there were lots of sharks and the currents were strong. There was this one man named Dreyfus and he was sent there for passing information to the Germans but they found out five years later that he really didn’t do it. Bummer! There is a book about him and how he survived on the island with only a couple of guards. There was another book called “Papillon” about a prisoner that kept trying to escape.
We swam where there used to be sharks and the water was really murky and you couldn’t even see your hand right in front of you. The prisoners there made pools in the ocean with rock walls around it so the sharks couldn’t get them.
The two other islands were interesting too. One had this small little beach, it was a perfect place to swim and we opened coconuts and it was all fun until my mom (said) “I see a fin” but none of us ever saw one, so we took a break from swimming. The other island had monkeys, red Macaws, peacocks, agoutis and lizards. It was a real jungle!
I liked my visit to Devils Island, but I most certainly did not want to go to Devils Island 100 years ago!
My mom found more pictures of the prison on Royale and Devil's Island:
My mom found more pictures of the prison on Royale and Devil's Island:
|Pic from Mike and Z's swim to Devil's Island. Probably not many people swim to Devil's Island!|
|Enjoying some well deserved time off the boat.|
|Photos from the partially restored prison on Royale (adjacent to Devil's)|
|Kena couldn't understand why these cells would be so hard to escape from. Just jump over the stone wall!|
Thursday, May 19, 2016
|Leaving Cape Verde, French Guiana or bust!|
|First Dorado in over a year|
|obligatory message in a bottle|
|morning search for flying fish on the deck|
|mid Atlantic wash down|
|Happiness is finding a bag of chocolate in the bottom of the freezer from Xmas|
|hanging off the swim platform on a calmer sea day|
|more cooling down on the swim platform|
|We made it! French Guiana.|
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
The following pictures are from St. Joseph in the Devil's Island group
Devil's Island and the two other nearby islands of Lle Royale and Lle St. Joseph, make up the Les Iles du Salut and under French rule were used as a place of transportation and deportation for convicts starting in 1851. At first it was just a distant place for political opponents to be exiled, but ultimately it was a penal colony for the worst of French Society.
I wondered if a landfall of Devil's Island would be a good idea after 13 days at sea. Would the kids be interested, would it be enough of a break for us? As it turns out, it was perfect and all 5 Pelagic crew loved their time in the islands, and believe me, getting all 5 of us to agree on anything is an achievement. Mike, being Mike, has read numerous books about the infamous French penal colony, so of course he was fascinated by the history. We toured the main island and along with some relic buildings, several of the buildings have been refurbished as a small hotel and restaurant. While there aren't many people that feel like a stay on Devil's Island is a vacation, there are several catamaran's that bring a few dozen tourists over for the day, or to stay the night.
We arrived late at night, in the dark, so waking to the sound of squawking parrots and chattering monkeys was a treat. We went ashore, enjoyed stretching our legs and hiked through the jail ruins. Amongst the ruins were Capuchian monkeys, Scarlet Macaws, other parrots, agouti's (tapir like mammals) and iguanas. The kids followed monkeys, swung on vines and really, really enjoyed being on terra firma again. We had dinner overlooking Devil's Island, where we hoped to explore the following day.
Devil's Island is a very hard island to get to. There is not a landing and no one goes there. Even during the time when it held exiled prisoners they used a cable strung between the two islands to transport prisoners, guards, food and building supplies. There is not a protective harbor or a beach for landing. No one goes there because there simply isn't an easy way to get ashore and it is a rocky beach with a surge crashing in. We dinghied over and Mike thought we could anchor the dingy and swim in. I wasn't super comfortable swimming in with Ana. Hard pass on letting my six year old surf in on crashing waves into a boulder strewn beach and a nasty rip current. If you timed the waves well you could make it in, hold on to a rock, wait for the wave to go out and then scramble up the beach. But, if your timing was off, there were a few big waves breaking and it could be nasty. So, long story short, Mike and Zander swam in, survived the island, and explored the island and Porter, Ana and I stayed in the dinghy and the kids swam off the boat. Mike was fascinated by the island, so I'm glad he went and he said it didn't look like anyone had been there in ages. There were only a few vestiges remaining on the island, not completely reclaimed by the jungle. The most famous prisoner to be held on this island was Alfred Dreyfus, falsely condemned for treason.
The last island, St. Joseph's, also had some fantastic ruins. We felt like Indiana Jones exploring the jungle and finding an ancient city. Instead of city it was a huge lunatic asylum, and even through it had only been closed for 60 years or so, it was amazing how the jungle had taken over. Whole corridors were blocked by huge trees that had grown up. The spiders were huge and Ana spent much of the walk with her eyes closed, but it was pretty cool. Later that day we walked around the island and found the only small beach on any of the islands. The surf was pretty big, but we found a small place were the rocks had encircled a perfect little swim spot (shallow 3-4 feet), but it was perfect for Ana and we spent a few hours there. The world is getting so busy that you have to go to an old penal colony to find a deserted beach! There were coconuts everywhere and the boys had fun opening them up, they are getting quite good at it, without any tools or knives. Enjoying these islands is a little like admitting to enjoying a visit to Auschwitz. It is such a beautiful place now, but the horrors that occurred on the island were not lost on us. Our paradise was coined "Green Hell" by the inhabitants of the penal colony until 1950 when it closed. It rains every day and nothing ever dries, mosquito born illnesses were rampant while it was operating as a penal colony and other conditions were unsavory to say the least. Many prisoners did not survive their sentence. Those that died on the island were unceremoniously taken by boat and the macabre cargo was dumped into the ocean on the north side of the main island. This resulted in the "feeding" of the local sharks. Between the guards, the currents and the sharks it was thought to be virtually impossible to escape and any attempt was madness. But, of course, the human spirit, being what it is, tries to defy all odds and there were several dramatic escapes. Several of those were documented in books and movies.
Following an interesting 3 day stop in the Devil's Island group, we motored the 8 miles to Kourou. The town of Kourou makes Cuba look prosperous. It was a pretty sleepy town to say the least, but we did find some wifi (just happened to be in an air-conditioned ice cream shop), and we spent a few hours re-connecting with the outside world. We caught up on chores, responded to some emails, did some banking, we lamented on the fact that Trump still seems to be leading the GOP and we updated pictures and our blog. After a short visit to Kourou we readied the boat for an overnight up the coast.