Posted by: catamarantwooceans | March 26, 2014

Sailing French Guyana–part 2

19.3.14 – Wednesday – A rolly night was experienced by the crew of Two Oceans. Swell running between Ile Royal and Ile St. Joseph resulted in some steep waves disturbing our slumber. In the morning we went ashore to say goodbye to the monkeys and visit the museum. There was just one monkey in attendance and the museum remained closed.

Our plan was to leave at 1800, reach the Maroni river, 96 miles away, in the morning and then go upstream another 19 miles to St. Laurent. The moment we went out we realized that we miscalculated. The wind blew at 25 – 30 knots, driving us at high speed; the waves came from the starboard forward sector and there was a lot of violent slamming. That did not go well with Gili, who had the feeling the boat was going to disintegrate at any moment. Later we turned to port about 25 degrees and that ameliorated the ride. We reefed both sails deeply but still went too fast for daylight arrival.

20.3.14 – Thursday – Seeing that we would get to the Maroni river mouth before first light, we decided to try and find the buoys marking the entrance and if they would be easy to follow – go in despite the dark. The  C-map chart for the area was lacking detail and as we came closer the lights were a bit confusing; the moment the depth meter showed 3.6 meters I had enough. Wheel hard to port, I dropped the main (the jib was furled some time before to try and reduce speed further) and anchored on that spot to wait for morning light.

Gili was fast asleep, Dany and I sat in our separate corners for our morning meditation and when the skies brightened we started the engines and with some help from a local fishing boat whose occupants pointed the way, got the approach picture right. We raised our sails and followed the meandering river, slicing through the brown water at high speed.

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We reached St. Laurent and anchored near "Haven" and another French yacht just behind a shipwreck which attracted some trees and became an island.

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We went ashore, going straight to the tourist information bureau, where we hoped to arrange a nature guided tour of the rain forest and river but the lady sitting there was not much of a help; she gave us some brochures and we left. The town displayed its past as a penal colony by buildings that were used for incarcerating and processing prisoners. A sign over an entrance to a compound said:"Camp de la Transportation", bringing up ugly associations.

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We walked a long distance in search of PAF – Police Aux Frontiers – effectively immigrations here in order to stamp our passports; somebody said we would have trouble going into Surinam without it. PAF and customs are located near the jetty where the car-ferries leave for the short trip across the river to Albina in Surinam. It would have been much easier taking the dinghy there. We next went looking for the big supermarket we heard about. After getting a lot of conflicting directions we found the "SUPER U" at the edge of town, and it was really good. The only problem was we had to walk back with a heavy load as no taxi came by.

First impressions – not so nice; it is a sleepy town, closed between 1230 – 1600. Many shops were closed due to a strike of the Power Company and the cutout of electricity. At the time of writing it somehow seems nicer; this is what happens when you get to know the place and its people better.

Kerry and Bruce of yacht "Haven" came for happy hour, having left what they described as their small farm, 25 acres, in Australia, they are circumnavigating the world now and have all the beautiful experiences ahead of them.

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21.3.14 – Friday – We finally found a good Cyber Café and I could publish posts that the blog waited for too long. On the land tour front we found "Amazonie Accueil" which appeared on one of the brochures as a tour organizer. We went to the address and met Gilbert, who arranged a half day tour for us on Sunday morning.

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We later found out a lot more about him. Gilbert, now 67 years of age, used to be a helicopter pilot in the French navy, serving in a flight test squadron. He came to French Guyana 24 years ago, married a local woman with whom he fathered two children. He has strong views on the situation in the country and the treatment of the place by the French government. He maintains that there is no tourism infrastructure at all. "It’s only on paper" he said.

In the evening we dined out at the Mai & Emma restaurant; Gili thought nit was uninviting and badly decorated while she admitted that the food was good. I thought it was nice although the leg of lamb was overcooked, Dany left most of it uneaten but on the whole it’s nice not to have to cook and wash dishes from time to time.

22.3.14 – Saturday – Today was Market day in town and it was one of the most colorful and vibrant markets I’ve ever been to. We bought a lot of fruit and vegetables, wandering between the different stalls; the abundance of fresh produce was astounding.

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In the evening Kerry and Bruce came for dinner and we had fabulous food cooked by Gili and some good French wine.

23.3.14 – Sunday – Gilbert brought two cars to take us plus Kerry and Bruce 15 km up the river to Saint Jean de Maroni where, with a few more tourists, we boarded a big pirogue on the bow of which a black monkey was tethered. The boat driver, John Dimpai ( brought along three of his daughters, the youngest a real beauty in our opinion.

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John gunned the Yamaha 115 HP outboard and we flew up river at high speed, jungle all around us. We first visited a village on the Surinam side of the river, where Bushe Nange people, descendants of African slaves, lived. The village was a place where they built pirogues. We saw how they hollowed tree trunks by fire, then flattened them by heat and transverse beams to achieve the required shape. Topsides, front and stern sections were then added. Building a big pirogue took 6 month by 15 workers and cost 150 euro per meter.

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Inside a large shed three women were busy making flat breads out of Cassava root flour. They were something to look at and refused having their picture taken; they did agree that I take a picture of the product.

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We bought (1.5 euro) and ate one and it was quite tasteful.

On to another village, this time an Amerindians one. The people looked different, their boats had a pointed bow, intended for sea, not river use. Our boat driver was happy to have his picture taken with the village elder.

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Gilbert showed us a lot of plants and trees that had special medicinal properties. The tour took about four hours and was all we hoped for. To go back to Saint Laurent, Gilbert, now with a single car, did two rides. I gave Gili the boat keys and she went on the first ride with Kerry and Bruce who would take her with their dinghy to Two Oceans. Only after they’ve driven away I understood that I would not be able to open the lock that held the dinghy chained to the dock.

The solution was hitching a ride on a jet ski whose owner was happy to help, to our boat, get the keys and go back ashore.

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So now is the first time I can say something good about those abominable contraptions and their operators.

24.3.14 – Monday – In the morning we took the dinghy to the dock near the police and customs, went over to the supermarket, bought some stuff and surfed the web in their Wi Fi equipped café. We met the Haven guys who decided to adopt our plan, which was to do the departure procedure today and then go to the Crique aux Boeufs Lamentin (whatever that means). That is a creek going in to the right off the Maroni, deep into the jungle into an area reputed to be wild and beautiful.

Both of us visited the relevant authorities and just after lunch "Haven" raised their anchor and we followed suit – or tried to do it but ran into some difficulties. Both our anchors got entangled with a lot of chain and it took about 40 minutes to lift that mass on board and disentangle the mess.

We followed "Haven" to the creek and it was funny seeing them turn right and disappear into the foliage.

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We opted to anchor not far from the entrance, although one could go a few more miles inside; I was thinking about the way out in the morning and the times of the tide. As the creek was not more than 50 meters wide, we dropped anchor and with the dinghy took a rope and tied it to a tree ashore.

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With our two "rubber ducks", as they call them in South Africa, we motored along the river enjoying the wild scenery. This is a place we could have stayed in more than a day, but Surinam and beyond were calling; time to go on.



  1. Beautiful pictures !!

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