Îles des Saintes

Mar 02, 2020 - Sea Cloud

We sailed from Cabritz point in Dominica to the Îles des Saintes and anchored at about 7:15 a.m. in the picturesque harbor of Terre de Haut in the Îles des Saintes, or “Isles of The Saints,” named by Columbus on his second voyage in November 1493.

Cloud cover marked the late morning over Terre de Haut and a misty rain fell intermittently. The capital is simply called Bourg, or the “City.” The town’s two most imposing buildings are a lovely Catholic Church and a town hall, proclaiming the ideals of the French Revolution: “Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.”

The archipelago consists of seven volcanic islands, but only two have all year residents. These seven islands along with the much larger island of Guadeloupe comprise the French “Départment d’Outré Mer,” or the French Overseas Department. These islands’ relationship with France mirrors that of Hawaii’s with the continental United States. The inhabitants are French citizens, vote in all elections, and use the Euro.

The original 18th-century French sellers were indentured servants, largely of Breton stock. After having secured their freedom from debt they did what they did in Brittany and became fishermen and boat builders. Today the primary industry is tourism from the larger island of Guadalupe. Most goods are brought in by air and ship.

After breakfast we took Zodiacs ashore and went with Tom Heffernan up to Fort Napoleon, built by Napoleon III to honor his uncle Napoleon I. Some of the hardy in the group chose to walk up to the fort and while it is not far—it takes about 20 minutes—it is mostly uphill, while the rest of us took the available taxis. Once I negotiated the visit in French with the fort, we were able to begin. Today, the fort is chiefly a botanical garden with many species of flowering trees and cacti of the Lesser Antilles. In addition to the trees there were wonderful cacti, euphorbia, and aloes. We also visited the nesting areas of the large marine iguanas, spotting about four of these wonderful beasties, the largest of which was about three feet tall.

The fort also has an ethnographic museum—of particular interest is the illustrated “diorama” of the very important Battle of the Saints (April 12, 1782), a rout for the Franco-Hispanic fleet that was seeking to capture the British island of Jamaica. It was the largest naval battle to date in the Americas.

After our visit we took taxis down 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 at an adjoining island. After lunch on board, the sails went up and by 1:45 p.m. we were sailing along with a nice fresh wind until 5 p.m. Alex gave a fine illustrated lecture on the ecology of the coral reef and soon after dusk, Tom O’Brien gave a very informative and lively talk on the pre-history and history of Sea Cloud.

After Tom’s talk we were invited to visit the original cabins accompanied by delectable canapés and champagne. All of this abundance was followed by what can only be described as a most scrumptious dinner. Tomorrow we sail to the magical island of Bequia in the St. Vincent Grenadines.

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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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