Picture of stone steps up a hill surrounded by palm trees and jungle

The Salut Islands French Guiana

Dear Squeak

After a bit of a trying trip, we have arrived in the Island paradise of the Salut Islands just off the Coast of French Guiana.  There was a big nasty swell again as we left the coast of Brazil. We also had lots of torrential rain squalls with quite a lot of wind in them.  Sails up, sails down, canopy open, canopy closed, it was a busy trip for us both.  We are so pleased to arrive in this little paradise to relax for a bit.

The islands were first called the Salut/Salvation islands by the missionaries who came there from mainland French Guyana to escape the plague.  Later during the time when the islands like much of mainland,  were used as a penal colony, the Islands were referred to as the Devil’s islands. In those days the place may not have seemed like the paradise they are to us today.

Famous Place

The Salut Islands gained notoriety because of the Dreyfus affair.  Lieutenant Dreyfus was sent there in 1894, convicted of treason for leaking weapons information to the Germans.  He was of Jewish origin. Due to a fair bit of anti-antisemitism among the ranks at the time the finger was pointed at him.  He continually maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration and wrote hundreds of letters to protest this during his time thee. These letters are the essence of the memoir his son Pierre wrote about him in 1937. The book was called “Souvenirs Et Correspondance”  and has been translated into several languages.  The true spy was eventually convicted, but  the army was reluctant to admit its mistake, so Dreyfus was pardoned rather than acquitted.

Joseph Conrad also wrote about the Salut islands in his story “An Anarchist” but the islands became truly famous due to Henri Charriere’s book “Papillon” and later the film that was made of that book starring famous names Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.

close up of butterfly with turquoise blue flashes, orange triangles and a black background

 In the book it is claimed he was called “Papillon” because of a big butterfly tattoo he had on his chest.  Others say he was not much liked during his time in Iles du Salut and papillon in French as mariposa in Spanish refers rather to the fact that he was gay. Perhaps both are true.

The French authorities are very upset about Charriere’s portrayal of the place and the treatment the book says he received there.  They claim that many of the incidents that he describes are untrue or did not happen to him, but happened far earlier.  They say that conditions had been much improved on the Iles du Salut by the time he was brought there in 1933.

 Reading  the potted history of all the high profile prisoners that served time there, it seems that Henri Charrier cherry picked all the juicy bits from all of the stories and goings on that he could. He wanted to make his novel into a “best seller” so he may have embellished a few details here and there.  What he did was write a good story that would keep him in royalties for the remainder of his life. 

I don’t think so

The part that we, as sailors, find most difficult to believe, is that he escaped from the Islands on a raft made of Coconuts. Apparently he managed to drift to the shores of Guyana.  We have sailed those choppy waters and the tides and the currents take you nowhere near the coast of mainland South America.  He would have been lucky to pitch up in Barbados with only the current and the wind to help him. Without food or water he would have been dead on arrival.  We think he must have been picked up by a boat somewhere, but that doesn’t make for such a good story.

OOPS!

The waters around the Salut islands have very strong currents and are full of sharks so not ideal for swimming or trying to escape.  I did swim just a little, to clean off the bottom of the boat and didn’t have any encounters with any sharks.  I got in trouble from the Gendarme for being in the water though.  He came all the way out in a little rowing boat  to chastise me  but let me off as long as no-one else could see me. steve also got in trouble from the Gendarme for flying the drone. That was two bad strikes against us in one day. 

It seems the big hungry fish only come out to play in the evenings. The first night, just as we were settling down to dinner, there was a loud bang against the hull and then another one.  When we went up on deck with a torch to take a look what was making the  noise. We looked into the water and there were big fish chasing each other and slapping against the side of the hull.  I don’t think that has ever happened to us before. Obviously something even bigger that we couldn’t see was chasing them.

big green lizard sitting on a stone wall

So much Wildlife

Ashore there is still lots of evidence of the island’s history as a prison camp. The old buildings and the isolation cells are still there. Some have been sensitively restored to leave you the impression of what it must have been like in former times; others are being rapidly reclaimed by nature and the voracious jungle.  We saw photos of the early days when people first started to settle on the island and it was pretty bare, with only a few trees.  In that part of the world though, you only need to spit the seed from a fruit you are eating and in a few short weeks a tree will start to grow. 

It was a truly beautiful place unspoiled and I’d like to say peacefull but the jungle there is chock full of wild life. There are  many kinds of birds singing away. There are crickets and other insects singing at full volume too, and howler monkeys shouting to be heard above all the other cacophony of nature sounds.  It was actually really noisy and difficult to sleep at night.  Fortunately no mosquitoes, What a blessing!

As we wondered ashore within the first half hour we saw a ton of wild life.  Lizards, interesting spiders, agoutis like the small cousins of Capybara  from the Guinea pig family, tiny  blue swallow tailed humming birds , ring tail monkeys, and lots of beautiful butterflies.  Over the week we spent there we saw so many different species of animals. Critters just kept popping out from behind every bush.  The amazing thing was that many of them didn’t seem to be afraid of humans and you could get right up close to them.   For us it was interesting to visit a place with so much history. I’d have loved to bring my nieces and nephews here. Not for the history though, but to see all the wildlife up close and personal. All those animals  in their natural habitat not in cages or behind glass. 

Out of Food

We’d have loved to stay a lot longer, but after a week in that paradise plus the 9 and a bit days it took us to get there, our supplies of fresh fruit and veggies were almost completely gone.  We were even down to our last onion.  A change in the wind direction and a bit of lumpy and exciting night with anchors dragging made us decide to brave the shallow channel and head into Kourou.  We were also looking forward to a tour of the space station that launches our GPS satellites into the sky.   We had to dredge most of the channel for them on the way in but we managed to bump our way over the sand bar without any incident.   It wasn’t very far but we needed the tide to help us in so we had to wait for a while.

Once Loved Boats

We anchored again in a spot just above the pontoons which have no space for visitors, barely even for your dinghy. Sadly the pontoons are chock full of French relic sailboats that are mostly half sunk or sadly neglected and barely afloat.  It looks like a boat grave yard. Such a shame!

We managed to find a place to squeeze in and headed into town on a quest for ice-cream.  As my new year’s resolution was to give up booze for the year, it’s the first ice-cream parlour we are always in search of when we go ashore, not the first bar. 

Well dear Squeak I hope you are enjoying the Campo in spring.  We have to go now as the place wants to shut. We have to take our internet where we can get it these days.  I’ll write to you soon and tell you all about our trip to the space station.

Lots of love Ally and Steve

Miss you lots! x

Quay and palm trees drone shot looking out to sea on Ile Royal Salut islands

To see a little of the place and the wildlife we saw in the Salut Islands why not check out our Youtube Video”Devil Monkeys Jail Break”

Picture of Rock of Gibraltar at sunrise as seen from La Linea

Waiting in Gibraltar for the wind to play nice so that we can leave, we thought we would only have a few small tasks to complete and we’d be off. Having just spent 10 weeks in the boatyard giving almost every inch of this girl an overhaul and a load of long awaited TLC, we thought we would only have a few tweaks to make to our new rigging and maybe a few little glitches to iron out before heading south. Wrong again!

Murphy, Sod whoever it is in charge of these things, has been getting in the mix again.  The only things we didn’t touch while in the yard, because we thought they were fine, decided to ’shit the bed’  If you  think you want the cruising life, you better be someone that likes DIY because most of your trip you’ll be fixing your boat in exotic places. We thought there’d be time now to sit back and enjoy the ride. Boy were we wrong!

On the way here, we had a little baptism of fire. We had everything from no wind at all to 30 Knots on the nose with a decent swell running. Not what the weather man had predicted.  Just when we really needed the “iron horse” to help us out a bit, the engine stops and we find we have a serious fuel blockage.  We staggered into the bay at Barbate to get a little shelter, though it was still pretty lumpy. We stayed  just long enough to change the filters and see if we could get some joy out of the engine.  Success, progress again in the right direction until we reached the headland at Tarifa,“the windy city”. Here we always expect the wind and the waves to be at their liveliest and this trip was no exception.  Once you reach Tarifa it’s not that far  up the Straits to Gibraltar and we thought we’d be there in time for breakfast, or brunch at the latest.  No such luck filters clog again and we arrived at La Linea at tea time having spent the entire day tacking up the Strait against 30knots of  wind and the current.  We thought by 5pm it must surely be “Beer O’clock” only to find the fridge that has been keeping our drinks delightfully cold in the boatyard all summer  long, has also decided not to play nice.  I can drink most things, but not warm beer!  And when I said go south till the butter melts, that’s not quite what I had in mind!!

We Spent what should have been our down time in Gibraltar, chasing round after a sheet of Aluminium so we could make a big inspection hatch in the fuel tank and give it a really good clean and for some fridge gas so we can get the beers chillin’.  Before we knew it our sleeping cabin was filled with the pungent odour of diesel and metal shavings everywhere.   Don’t you just love boat living?

Then came all the jobs we had actually planned, tuning up the rigging, that had now had its first good stretch; making a few repairs to our Bimini; realigning the frame of our solar panels, which seemed to have suffered a bit of abuse and was looking a bit Squiffy; filling up with provisions and catching up on a bit of blogging and editing. 

Now It’s all up to Hurricane Ophelia to stop messing with the wind  and then we can make tracks.  Next stop Arrecife Lanzarote and I’m sure there will be more jobs on the list by then.

 

How to go about provisioning for a boat trip   (with difficulty!) 

For a few weeks of cruising for the holidays provisioning for the trip is no big deal. The easiest way is to plan the menu for each meal on each day plus a few snacks and shop for that, job done. You don’t have to actually cook the things in the order on the plan but you will have the ingredients for all of those meals.  

When you are off on your travels for a couple of years or more the simple truth is you can never take enough stuff.  For me as an all-out foodie neither do I really want to.  For me going to markets, supermarkets and small shops in foreign places and seeing what different things are available there, things I may never have seen or heard of before and learning how to prepare them is an adventure all of its own. I can’t wait to get stuck into all the tropical fruits and vegetables Brazil has to offer, to learn their names and delight in their flavours.  I’m sure plenty of them I already know from the time I spent living in Malaysia, though they may come by different names in  Brazil,  I’m sure I’ll manage to find a plethora of things I’ve never eaten  before and I’ll enjoy the chance to try new recipes with them.

The adventure of newness aside, I’m still going to provision our boat with of all the things we like and as many of the things that I know will be difficult to find as we travel Including ingredients for my gluten free diet.

Tea, coffee, sugar, bread, some form of milk and chicken these things you can find everywhere.  Flour and Rice are also readily available though I know from experience that in most countries outside Western Europe they come complete with their resident beasties and that’s just a fact of life you have to learn to deal with. You can sift them out or float them off in most cases, or just get used to a little extra protein in your diet.  I remember reading Annie Hill’s account of life aboard where they toasted their Ryvita’s to re-crisp them and then flicked off the weevils that came crawling out of the holes with the heat before they ate them.  I remember thinking right then that if anything on my boat ever got infested with beasties like that it would be straight over the side!  But having spent some time in the tropics where much of the food available for sale is contaminated you just have to learn to get on with it and add the extra rinse or sift into your cooking routine. 

Other things even things we consider staples like eggs are not so plentiful in some of the places we have been.  I’ve been experimenting with some recipes that use Aquafaba, usually a waste product on lots of boats to see what recipes are possible with it as a substitute for eggs.  If you don’t know what Aquafaba is, it’s the gloopy liquid that comes in cans of beans and peas such as chickpeas that most people throw away when they open a can of beans.  I have tried it as a binding agent in baking, for pancakes and to make mayonnaise so far and the recipes have come out perfect.  As fridges are generally small on boats, if they have them at all, and tins are a large part of any boats long term supplies  I’ll be planning my cooking to include the gloop from the tins as well as the normal contents. 

I’ll also be squeezing in some of the things that I know are expensive over-seas like good wine which is ubiquitous and cheap here in Portugal, good olive oil and  good honey a must have in my cupboard as I come from a beekeeping  family. Good honey is the cure for so many things I don’t know how to live without it.  (An in-depth topic for another blog maybe?)  Olive oil in Portugal and Spain is often eaten as a substitute for butter which is difficult to store on boats unless you can find it in tins as it takes up valuable fridge space.

The other thing going in our bilges are a few special ingredients that make the holidays without old friends and family feel festive.  For me Christmas is not quite Christmas without mince pies and for Steve its Christmas Cake and sausage rolls so to make the party happen I’ll be stashing some dark brown sugar, treacle, suet, dried fruit, mixed spice and some decent port and brandy.  I think it’s important to think ahead to things like festival times and bring the ingredients to make it a moment to remember. The devil is in the details. Without those small reminders of Christmases gone by, our next one could just be another bbq at the beach with a load of boat-bums. What will make that one any more festive than any other beach  bbq  we are likely to enjoy?   A few dodgy carols playing on a beat box in the background?  No way! Let’s feast and be merry!!