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Charm - To Grenada 7: Devil’s Island

After an enjoyable 34 hours in the Devil’s Island group, we are back at sea. The wind is on the beam at about 15 knots and we have been zipping along between 10 and 12 knots for the past 24 hours. We obviously have a strong current with us because, although Charm is fast, this speed is exceptional for the conditions. That, and our instruments show that we have a 1-2 knot current with us. The seas are ideal – we have waves but they are farther apart and have settled into a consistent pattern so we aren’t getting those surprise waves into the hatches. Charm really does sail beautifully – we are enjoying our last few months on her and really appreciating what a great boat she is.

Although I’ve been calling our stop Devil’s Island for some time, I have now learned that there are three islands in the group.

Devil’s Island is one, and has the coolest name, but is also the one that doesn’t allow visitors. People have gone ashore in the past but the official word, from the official man I spoke to, is that it’s not allowed because the island isn’t maintained, has dangerous waves, currents, and terrain, and would require a helicopter to lift someone off if they were injured. Ile Royale is the main island, with mostly administrative buildings from the days of the French penal colony and the one where we anchored.

St. Joseph’s has decaying cell blocks as well as an outpost of the French Foreign Legion, housed in former prison buildings, now painted in lovely shades of pink and yellow.

St. Joseph and Ile Royale are beautifully maintained, at least as far as the paths around the islands and the grounds are concerned. One poor soul was painstakingly removing a 200-meter long line of paint drips from the cobblestone road that led up to the main area. He explained a lot of the story to me in French but I only got the main idea which was pretty obvious – someone else had spilled paint out of a traveling vehicle and he got stuck cleaning it up.

The buildings themselves have either been converted to other uses, like housing for the cobblestone cleaners and landscape workers or are falling apart. There was a church and a museum but the hours weren’t posted anywhere and didn’t seem to coincide with when we were in tour mode. We stuck the phone through the window slats at the church and got to see the inside that way but the museum was shut tight. Some of the artwork in the church was completed by a forger and painter (perhaps a forger of paintings?) that was a former prisoner. You can’t really see much of his work in the photo I got but I did the best I could through the closed windows.

This lovely two story building was the museum that wasn’t open when we were around.

The building next to the still-functioning lighthouse was the military hospital. It was gated off to prevent entry but through the gates we could see some artwork on one of the walls. It was unclear if it was from prison days or from graffiti artists.

There was a strange lack of energy around the island. During the day, about 30 tourists would mill about, having been brought from the mainland of French Guiana to tour the islands, swim in the “swimming pool” in a protected bay, and play with the monkeys. There was an inn with an overpriced (but delicious) buffet dinner where we ate. The restaurant had room for over 100 people but there were only five others apart from us scattered about the space.

The staff seemed like they would rather be anywhere else but went through with their duties. One young woman with decent English told me she lived on the island for five days and then went back to the mainland for two. I still have no idea how many people other than tourists are on the island. There were a large number of buildings that could have housed people but very few people in evidence.

Earlier, I had asked a man what there was to see on St. Joseph’s. I was fairly certain he told me that the Foreign Legion had a base there and that we should be careful taking our own boat because they were strict about visitors. I tried to confirm this with the hotel staff and one girl told me there was nothing there but old buildings and the other had no idea what was there. The first girl asked her, “You’ve never been?” and she said no. So not a lot of enthusiasm or knowledge about anything apart from their jobs. There is a tour guide but he only comes on the weekends so we were out of luck. One groundswoman tidying up brush by the church told me that the church closed early and opened late, based on whenever the man with the key felt like showing up. I met some other tourists frustrated by the lack of information available as well.

Someone thought that there was a boat that would take us to St. Joseph’s but the “official” I met told me that the boat service had been discontinued due to a death on the island. A 9-year-old had been swept away by a wave and his father went after him. The child was rescued but the father had a heart attack after being brought to shore and didn’t make it. The boat captain who had taken them there was doing so illegally and lost his license. We rowed over in our dinghy and Calle, a young Dane sailing with Steve on the Spirit of Catherine, rowed over in their dinghy. We rowed because, when we aren’t using the dinghy for long periods of time, we remove the motor and stow it away. It’s a pain to put it on and off so we decided to row.

As soon as we arrived on St. Joseph, we encountered extremely fit men in various stages of camouflage attire and short, military haircuts. One was swimming as we tied up our dinghy and he gave us advice on where to put it. Another was painting the bottom of the palm trees white, a small group was repairing some kind of structure, and another cluster was cutting things with a chainsaw. From something I read, I think new Foreign Legion recruits get sent to St. Joseph to help with the island’s maintenance for a few weeks. There’s nothing on the island except the outpost and disintegrating buildings so I’m not sure if it’s a sought-after assignment.

St. Joseph had a lovely, immaculately maintained cemetery. None of the headstones really seemed to be intact but someone had obviously put in quite a bit of effort to give each grave an assortment of bricks and pieces of stone that may or may not have gone together, as well as bricking off a neat rectangle for each grave.

From the graveyard, we climbed up to the middle of the island where we found all the old prison buildings, slowly being swallowed up by the jungle. On Ile Royale, most of the buildings have small signs telling what their purpose was in the prison days. Here on St. Joseph, there was nothing. A French woman let me take a photo of her map but it was impossible to determined which crumbling building was the library vs the shower block. So, we just wandered around, absorbing the strangeness of the place.
We all rowed back to the anchorage and Calle, Marin and I went back to Ile Royale once more to try to see inside the church but it was closed. On our way, we stopped to play with the monkeys. There’s a surprising diversity of life on these islands – we saw iguanas, little rodent-like creatures called agoutis, two species of monkey and a collection of peahens and peacocks that live around the hotel.

The larger monkeys were quite aggressive and one actually pulled the entire apple out of Marin’s hand. I started hissing at them so that we could feed the smaller ones who were much cuter. They were very gentle but insistent in trying to pry our hands open to get the bits of apple we were withholding until we got our photos. We usually follow the rules about not feeding the animals but there weren’t any rules posted here and the little monkeys were irresistibly cute. Marin kept feeling sorry for the bigger one that I was hissing at – she told me he had a sad face so she fed him too

That night, Spirit of Catherine (SoC) invited us over for dinner. Steve did an amazing job, serving the meal in several courses, including fresh-caught mackerel, pork with green apples, and kebabs. We had a lengthy discussion about the WARC’s racing rules and policies and the reason for SoC’s highly favorable rating in the race. He explained to me that the larger catamaran manufacturers, like Lagoon and Fontaine-Pajot, have had an ongoing dialogue with the ARC over the years that has resulted in the ratings as they now stand.

These catamarans are not built for racing – they are built for comfort. But if Lagoon and Fontaine-Pajot can claim victories in races as well as selling the comfort factor, they appeal to more sailors – “Our boats are comfortable and they win races!” So, the Lagoons may be the last across the line, but they win on handicaps.

I asked him to confirm my thinking that it is almost impossible for Charm to win against a Lagoon like his that is actually racing (many of the boats just cruise the racing legs without putting in much effort). He agreed, saying we would need ideal conditions for our boat and a crew that was willing to race and trim sails 24/7. Based on our handicap, we have to beat SoC by 26%. Calle, a Danish national sailing champion and crew on Steve’s boat, said Steve had done the math and we would have to sail the 700+ remaining miles to Grenada in 1.5 days in order to beat him. Our best day ever was 270 miles. Sailboats just don’t go that fast.

This is frustrating not so much because I care that much about winning but who wants to be in a race that is impossible for them to win? As with most things, it seems like the politics behind the scenes are to blame.

As Steve pointed out, he has little control over his rating because if the ARC changes the rating on his boat, they will have to change the rating on all the Lagoons of the same type and they have no incentive to do that. Our rating could change but we don’t have the backing of a large boat manufacturer.

I will pass along my comments to the ARC organizers but I doubt they will go far. The World ARC tries to appeal to everyone by including racing legs and cruising legs but I’m not sure they should. Who wants to be in a race that they can’t win or that is so distorted by motoring and island stops that it doesn’t make sense? The WARC staff seems to recognize this at some level because the awards dinners tend to find ways to recognize all kinds of accomplishments rather than just the boats that cross the finish line first or have the best adjusted time.

All this being said, Spirit of Catherine is sailing extremely well and it’s nice to have a competitive-minded boat in the last race of the World ARC. As much as I have seemed fixated on the unfairness lately, it’s also not fun to race against boats who aren’t actually racing. SoC is definitely racing and Steve and Calle are both excellent sailors and upstanding human beings. We also admire that they, like us, were willing to stop at the Devil’s Island group despite all kinds of rumors flying around about Grenada and who will and won’t be quarantined upon arrival (those stopping at Devil’s Island were thought to be at higher risk for quarantining).

Battle updates:
Moths – No sign of anything for several weeks. I am declaring a hard-earned victory.

Little ants – No sign of these either. Another victory!

Weevils – The Cheerios appear to have been an isolated incident. No more sightings. Victory!

Big ants – Marin was clever enough to discover their base when she dropped something near the stove. We emptied and cleaned out the whole storage space where she spotted them. This space links to the outside via the propane hoses so we sprayed it and the propane tank so I plan to declare victory in this area soon as well.

Sweaty girls – They are happy in Cobin’s room and have been actually going to sleep more or less when they’re supposed to. Since leaving Brazil, the temperature has been quite pleasant so they aren’t really sweaty any more. I realized that as much as I obsess about opening and closing hatches and ports, no one else seems to notice any issues with air flow. In fact, Cobin always tells me to quit messing with his windows because he isn’t uncomfortable and gets tired of having to close them when the seas pick up. I am declaring victory in this area as well.

As much as I would like to forget about it, the corona virus is impacting our lives even here at sea. Several of our guests that were planning to come are either changing their plans or warning us that they might as travel restrictions continue to change. Grenada has announced plans to quarantine visitors from certain countries and reserves the right to quarantine others. They currently have no corona virus in the country and want to keep it that way.

Calle told us that his next sailing job was cancelled and that his home country of Denmark is shutting down schools and there are fights in the supermarkets for certain coveted items. Babsea’s crew will be unable to join them in Grenada since Austria is restricting flights of its citizens.

All that being said, I think we are in the best possible place to wait out this health-related storm. We have complete control over the borders on our boat as well as the level of panic within it. So far, the borders are secure and the panic level is low to non-existent. We are fully stocked with toilet paper and vinegar, our cleanser of choice. Our kids are quite jealous that the kids in Colorado are getting two weeks of Spring Break but I’m willing to deal with their jealousy if I don’t have to deal with all of the hysteria that seems to be characterizing live in the US at the moment. Good luck to all those of you that are in the middle of it!


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