Îles des Saintes

Feb 24, 2020 - Sea Cloud

We began our sail to Îles des Saintes early, catching the sunrise over the small island of Terre de Haut in the seven-island Ïles des Saintes Archipelago. We arrived in the picturesque harbor of the main city in Terre de Haut: Bourg, meaning city. Inventive!

The small wooden buildings along the main street were the colors of the rainbow. The town’s two most imposing buildings are a lovely Catholic church, Stella Maris, and a town hall, proclaiming the “Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité” ideals of the French Revolution.

Of the seven volcanic islands, only two have year-round residents. These seven islands along with the much larger island of Guadeloupe comprise the French Départment d’ Outré Mer, or the French Overseas Department. They are a part of France with much the same relationship to France as Hawaii has to the continental United States. The inhabitants are French citizens, vote in all elections, and use the Euro.

The original 18th-century French settlers were indentured servants chiefly from Brittany. After having secured their freedom they became fishermen and boat builders. Today the primary industry is tourism from the larger island of Guadalupe.

We disembarked after breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and taxied with Tom Heffernan for our visit to Fort Napoleon, built between 1841 and 1867 by Napoleon III. After I negotiated our visit in French with the fort authorities, we were able to begin. These days, the fort is chiefly a botanical garden with many species of flowering trees and cacti of the Lesser Antilles. We also found nesting areas of the large land iguanas and spotted about four of these wonderful beasties, the largest of which must have been almost four feet tall.

Fort Napoleon contains an ethnographic museum detailing the pre-Columbian history of the islands and a number of rooms devoted to the local craft of shipbuilding. Of particular interest is the illustrated diorama of the important 1782 Battle of the Saints, which took place in the waters just north of Dominica and was a rout for the Franco-Spanish fleet that was seeking to capture the British island of Jamaica. Another room held a display of a cutaway of a typical slave ship.

After our fort visit, we returned to the city and spent the rest of the morning freely wandering in and out of the colorful shops. Some of our group went snorkeling and from what I heard, the fish were colorful and abundant.

After lunch on board, the sails went up at approximately 1:45 p.m. and we were sailing along at almost 6.3 knots with a nice fresh wind. Alex, our certified photo instructor, gave a fine illustrated lecture on the ecology of the coral reef and Tom O’Brien gave a very informative and lively talk on the pre-history and history of Sea Cloud.

Tonight was a special night as it was our opportunity to visit the original cabins of the Post-Hutton era accompanied by champagne and caviar. It really is a misnomer to refer to them as “cabins” since there is nothing rustic about them–they have functioning fireplaces as well as massive marble bathtubs and gold fixtures. We topped our day off with a splendid meal in the dining room.

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About the Author

Tom Heffernan


Tom, a native of New York City, who has had a life-long passion for travel and exploration, is the Kenneth Curry Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee and the founding Director of the university’s Humanities Center. His areas of interest are anthropology of religions and historical linguistics.

About the Photographer

Alex Krowiak

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

A childhood surrounded by the woods and streams of Pennsylvania initially sparked Alex’s curiosity about nature. That curiosity eventually led him to pursue degrees in biology and environmental studies at Boston College. During his time there he conducted research on carnivorous plants in Iceland and kelp forests in South Africa. Together these diverse experiences provided him with the background and passion to become a teacher. 

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