|Local bus to Suriname|
So this is dated (I've already written about our experiences in French Guiana) and geared for anyone wanting to cruise French Guiana and specifically St. Laurent and not able to find a lot of info out there on the region. I usually write blogs for my own record or our trip, for my family to keep tabs on us, for any friends that occasionally want to pop on and see what we are up to. I don't usually write them with fellow cruisers in mind, but I'm writing this blog for anyone that is searching for information on cruising in French Guiana. Sometimes, when you are trying to find information about off the beaten path cruising grounds the best source of information is on other sailboat's blogs. So the following information may not interest anyone that is not seeking info on the region.
We spent two weeks in French Guiana, not enough time to become experts on the region, but enough time to give someone with zero information on the area a little background. We made landfall at Devil's Island, off of Kourou and just north of the Capital city of Cayenne. Devil's Island is fantastic and you can see some of my earlier blogs for more details. But even if you aren't interested in France's penal history, the islands are beautiful; there are animals to see, one lovely beach to lounge on and an accessible jungle to explore. No one asked us for money, no one asked us for paperwork, it was a very easy stop. We anchored off of Royale, but there are some counter currents close in near the dock and you will find it a little rolly as your boat will not point well into the wind. Boats that have been out there several times anchor a little further off the pier, just past the last mooring ball.
Kourou was less interesting and if fact we hoisted our yellow quarantine flag and brought our paperwork in, but found no place to check in near the river. If you anchor in the river, there are two docks you can dinghy in to and leave your boat, presumedbly safely (we haven't heard of any problems). We opted for the marina and not the commercial dock, but we saw several other catamaran's tying their dinghy up to the commercial dock. The space center is worth a visit. There aren't many English speaking guides, but it is free and even if you don't get everything out of the tour, it is worth checking out the complex. You will need a cab since it is out of town. Do check out the launch schedule because viewing a launch is definitely worth it and they have one about once a month. Space Center You can email the space center directly to view the launch from a designated observation deck, but note that if you have kids younger than 16 you will be limited by how close you can firstname.lastname@example.org It is a little further away, but one of the official observation sites, Carapa Observation Site, is only about a mile from town (about two miles from the river) and although it is about 12 miles away, it is still a good site. If you get an official invitational spot they will give you all the info you need. If you watch from Carapa, the site opens two hours before launch and is limited to 1400 people. Alternatively, you can watch from the many beaches with the locals. I only write all this because I had a hard time finding information in English. Other than the Space Agency, Kourou is pretty sleepy. There is a Super U on the far end of town, so provisioning is good, but like all things in French Guiana it is pretty expensive.
From Kourou we sailed north to the Maroni River. There is a two knot current heading north, so account for faster speed if trying to time getting into the channel with a rising tide. If the tide is not favorable, you can anchor off of Plage des Hattes, out of the channel to wait out the tide. We found the bouys to be well marked and lit, although once you enter the river they no longer have lights. Bugs are worse at the mouth than they were in St. Laurent, so screens would be a good investment. We didn't need them in the islands, but there were a few bugs in Kourou.
As you approach St. Laurent you will wonder why the very prominent palm tree lined island that is just outside of town is not charted. Take a closer look and you will notice that the island has the distinct outline of a ship and is actually noted as a wreck on the charts. There is a great, new marina (mooring field, pontoon, cafe with many marina services), in St. Laurent. http://marinaslm.com/rally/ David, the owner is taking a page out of "the Field of Dreams" play book and hoping if he builds it, they will come. He currently has 20 very sturdy moorings, a nice pontoon to tie up your dinghy and more services than some full marina's offer. David is fantastic, he is a native English speaker, which is great for those of us that are not Frankofiles and speak very little French. He has a laundry service, a small cafe, a dive compressor and he is a wealth of information. The marina also helps you with your check in process by driving you to the immigration office, which by the way is the easiest immigration process we have ever seen, and free. Mooring balls are $10 a night with some perks for longer stays. Like the Caribbean you do have to lock your dinghy's or at least your motors at night and while we were there a dinghy was stolen. That said, the marina has an infrared security camera on the pontoon and the police did catch the thief, so hopefully word will get around town and it will be even safer. The marina had only been opened for about 8 months when we were there, but they have big plans to open a clubhouse with additional services including small day sailing dinghy's for rent, a place to hangout and food, among other things. There was one account of petty theft reported on Noonsite a few months before we arrived and since then the police have stepped up their patrols and we probably saw a police boat in the mooring field at least once a day. In fact one night they tied up off of our swim platform for the night and kept an eye on the beach and pontoon. There is also a tourist office adjacent to the marina and the staff do speak a little English. They can give you info on the rocket launches (public transport is limited in the country, but when there is a rocket launch there is a free bus from St. Laurent). In May and June the sea turtles come ashore off of the mouth of river and you can arrange a visit to see them on both the French and Suriname sides of the river.
|check out the island, it is actually a wreck|
|visiting a village off a tributary of the Maroni|
St. Laurent is an interesting place with more penal history and a lovely colonial town to wander around. On Wednesday and Saturday they have their local market and that is a must see. Besides fresh produce (which is still not as cheap as you would expect it to be) you can get some great Laos food. Provisioning is easy in St. Laurent and fuel is available, but it is expensive. In Albina, right across the river, gas is almost 1/3 cheaper, but the gas is dirty and the first time we put it in our outboard it clogged the fuel filters (we saved the rest of that tank for the rental car). We didn't spend much time in Suriname, so we can't write much about it, but our first impression wasn't very positive and in fact both the noonsite report and the dinghy theft we were made aware of during our stay was perpetrated by residents of Suriname. With the European Union backing, French Guiana has a lot of perks that other South American stops may not, and Suriname is currently having a hard time, so it isn't outrageous that desperate people do desperate things. St. Laurent is not without its problems, but we felt very safe there.
If you are looking for a hurricane hole, off the beaten path, St. Laurent would be a lovely choice. We wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but if you find you are always looking for the secluded bays, away from hordes of other cruisers, or you want a little more adventure, French Guiana may be a logical excursion for part of the hurricane season. You could also safely leave your boat in St. Laurent on a mooring ball while you flew home.