Leaving French Guyana

9 April 2018   St. Laurent de Maroni, French Guyana
We’ve decided that there’s not a huge amount to hold us here, so we’re planning to leave on the 11th and head directly to St Lucia, which is 680 miles away.  Hence, we spent all day running about stocking up on Fuel, Food and Water.  It’s amazing how long it takes – we started at 09:00 and poured in the last jerry can of water at 16:30 – almost Miller Time...

10 April 2018   St. Laurent de Maroni, French Guyana
After some heavy showers last night, the rain held off in the morning, allowing us to visit the Prisoners’ Transport Camp.  

Isolation Cells

The prison at Saint-Laurent was a temporary stop for most prisoners. Only a small number of men stayed in Saint-Laurent for long, and they were nearly all employed in the penitentiary administration or were considered harmless and unlikely to try to escape.

When a ship arrived from France, the first order of the day was to separate the ex-escapee and the political prisoners from the rest, to send them to the Îles du Salut, from whose shores escape was considered impossible. 

The remaining prisoners stayed for a month or two in Saint-Laurent, where they were put to work building the town while they were sorted into different camps or prisons. The ones considered to be shifty and eager to escape were sent to the islands.  The least dangerous men, condemned to prison for petty offences, were offered jobs in the penitentiary administration. 

The majority were sent to labour camps along the river, where they were forced to work 12 hours a day in mosquito infested jungle, with no clothes and given very poor rations.  Many died and those that did return would have lost 20-30 kg of weight.

Those who were lucky enough to stay in Saint-Laurent were generally better treated than prisoners in other camps. Their work was simple, they were free to go wherever they wanted inside the prison, and were given better rations.

Glenys in Shackles

It’s compulsory to join a guided tour, which cost 6 euros, but it was very informative and well worth the money.  The tour focused on the prison within the Transport Camp, which had separate sections for political prisoners; unruly or disobedient prisoners; and prisoners who had been freed, but who had broken laws.

Our guide showed us one of the Block Haus, which is where 50 men would be shackled together on concrete platforms as beds. More persistent offenders would be locked into tiny cells, similar to the ones that we saw in Iles Du Salut.  They were shackled to the wooden bed and deprived of light for weeks on end.

He then demonstrated the heavy foot shackles by shackling Glenys to one of the beds.  The shackle weighs 2 kilograms and depending on the severity of the punishment, the shackle would be placed over or under the leg.   When over the leg, the heavy shackle would press on the shin causing severe abrasions and bruising. 

We were shown a cell, where Papillon had allegedly scratched his name into the concrete floor during his stay.  Our guide also told us about the guillotine and the strange practice of preserving the heads in brine at the local hospital.  Apparently, there were 30 heads still there in the 1950s when the prison was finally shut down.

After our tour, Roman took us to Immigration and completed our exit clearance papers, so that we can leave tomorrow.  We went and had a nice lunch at the Chez Felix restaurant, where we met up with “Amuse”.  They serve a range of “jungle” meat including wild boar and Agouti.

Early morning fishing

In the afternoon, we did some jobs and prepared the boat for sea.  The tides are not ideal because high tide is either at 03:00 or 15:00, so we’re planning to get up and go at dawn.

11 April 2018   French Guyana to St Lucia (Day 1)
The alarm went off before sunrise and we left the mooring just after 06:30, when we could see where we were going.  The trip down the river was uneventful, with only the occasional fishermen pulling in their nets. We had the tide with us all the way to the river entrance.  During the last ten miles along the approach channel, the tide slowly turned and, by the time that we reached the outer fairway buoy, we had 1½ knots against us.  We left St Laurent de Maroni 3.5 hours after high tide, so I guess that the ideal time to leave would have been 2 hours after high tide.

The weather forecast for the next week is for ENE to E winds at 15-20 knots, so with 660 miles on a course of 320°T to St Lucia, we were looking forward to 4-5 days on a beam reach.  We started out as expected with the wind 80 degrees off our starboard bow, but as the day progressed, we ended up very hard on the wind - the wind was coming from the North rather than the forecast ENE.  

To make matters worse, there were squalls around, which backed the wind by 30-40°, forcing us 30° further west than our desired course.  By sunset, we were very frustrated and praying that the north winds were a local, coastal anomaly and that there’ll be better winds as we leave the land behind.

Too hard on the wind

I’m a lazy navigator.  Normally, we just point the boat in the direction that will get the boat sailing along the required course over the ground.  If we’re sailing downwind, things like magnetic variation, leeway and cross-current effects don’t bother us. 

However, while trying to figure out why we were beating upwind, I noticed that our autopilot was set to 345° Magnetic, to achieve our course of 320° True.  A bit of calculation figured out the 25° difference.  In this part of the world, Magnetic North is 17° west of True North.  So our course of 345° Magnetic was 328° True.  Add 8 degrees for leeway because we were beating upwind and the mystery was solved.

Overnight, the wind veered about 20 degrees, coming from the NNE, so we weren’t as hard on the wind, but the wind speed increased by 5 knots giving us a bouncy ride with 3 reefs in the main and just the staysail. To make matters worse, there was no moon, so it was pitch black and we had a steady stream of squalls increasing the wind to 28 knots and producing heavy rain.  It was a long, tough night.