The ultimate stopover for sailors in French Guiana!

Ahoy there! Arrrr

Ahoy there fellow and would be adventurers!

I might have a tale or two to tell about Saint Laurent if you can spare me a moment or two…

Not so deep in the amazon jungle… err in fact not that close either… lies a small town forgotten by all..(except those seeking French welfare payments)… It’s “the place”, the ultimate stopover for hardy sailors seeking refuge from the torturous (flat) seas and tempests (10kts today) of South Americas Northeastern coast! Paradoxically, it’s the penal colony of Saint Laurent on the Maroni river in La Guyane.

No prisoners left these days, but curiously enough the place doesn’t even warrant a mention in any of my guide books.

Despite this, St. Laurent boasts:

  • the safest, most sheltered anchorage in French Guiana;
  • wild leopards!
  • easy access at high tide along a buoyed, lit channel;
  • wild leapoards!
  • great provisioning at Super U (and free WiFi);
  • wild leopards!
  • and plenty to see and do (more on wild leopards later).

I’d expected the town to be packed with tourists of all nationalities, but for some unknown reason St Laurent sees only a trickle of French visitors. Why the secrecy?

Hidden wonders!

For yachtsmen it is well positioned, (the Maroni defines the border between Suriname and La Guyane) so one can visit both countries from the one anchorage. However, from what I’ve seen of Suriname, I’d strongly suggest sticking to the French side of the river!

Here is what I’ve been up to over the past 3 weeks:

Spot Eileen!

I’ve hung out at the anchorage for yachtsmen, where I’ve made new friends…. Beware of the ferocious guard dog on their catamaran! I’m the almost invisible yacht in the photo…The pontoon is currently under repair but should be fixed by the time you read this… (in hardback at a bookstore near you…)

Buildings in the administrative quarter, Saint Laurent, French Guiana

The first thing I do when I arrive at a new destination is to take a few photos of buildings. It gets me in touch with the place and makes me feel suitably touristy (I’m just a touchy feely sort of guy) . No buildings in particular mind you…though a church often makes the cut (for karma points?)

For some reason, they wouldn't let me in....

Then it’s a matter of photographing whatever happens to take my fancy (architecturally) on the day:

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more

Focusing on some of the more extreme examples that draw the eye.. or nose… (no not many live like this nowadays!).

A country cottage in French Guiana?

It would appear that the French government is happily handing out nice new commission houses for all takers… I was tempted to take three! But join the queue, there is a rush on them from clients on the other side of the river…

Nevertheless, St. Laurent isn’t just about burgeoning housing estates! Transport and communication have obviously had significant growth over the last few years…

Ground control to Major Tom.....

Can your television dish grow any bigger that this?

Runs like a dream... honest...

Perhaps a little more manure is needed here for adequate growth…

But I’m sure none of this superficial sophomoric photography is what truly interests readers… What if I venture to tell you of the more sinister aspects of St. Laurent?

Just take a look at this!!!!

Insidious hair extensions... what next?

OK, it looks like a local girl with a pretty smile. But what you may have failed to notice is the platted creature attached to her head! Fake hair extensions!!! Indeed, just the tip of the hirsute iceberg, as I was to discover during my three week investigation.

Upon closer inspection, a good 60% of the female population has succumbed to the diminutive form (i.e. the extension) or full grown variety (the complete wig or peruke). Twilight Zone music queued here….

I’m told they are all the rage in parts of Africa, but I’d never seen them…. ’till now that is… and I’m strangely fascinated…

Double trouble.... New found friends from Martinique

No, these girls are not wearing wigs… I checked… There are secret ways….

It’s Regina and Anne, from Martinique stepping out of cell number 47.



Ever read the Henri Charrière book Papillon?

Apparently he was holed up here while waiting transport to the Salvation Islands off Kourou where political troublemakers were kept.

Now that could be a wig…

What to do to kill time in the Amazon....

It’s Pamela Anderson on the Maroni river… Or perhaps it’s Pamela superimposed on a photo of the Maroni river. It was proudly displayed to me by an Amerindian in the jungle and has pride of place in his hut next to the chain saw…

Yes, in the few hours of leisure time afforded by my hectic schedule, I managed to wander about in the amazon jungle seeking calendar girls and wildlife…. and here is proof..

I can't figure out why I'm wearing shades...

Not that I managed to see much wildlife. In fact there was more on display in town.

I have a lizard this big...... lol

Oh, and did I mention the wild night leopards of Saint Laurent?

Too dangerous to approach for a close up...

Apparently they come in all sizes (both with and without wigs…)

To be expected when I hang around rather dubiously named establishments such as this:

Just hanging out at a "titi" bar....

Don’t worry… I didn’t spend all my time there…

The three wise men...

We three wise men (see photo) have considerably more cultural pursuits in mind with regards to entertainment…

Apparently this means "courting women"...

Like admiring the local tribal art…

View of the Maroni River

Enjoying nature

Local dragster... or smugglers delight...

Checking out what passes as a hot-rod streetcar in these parts…

Listening to a little Bach before tea...

And other high brow cultural pursuits… 😉

No mosquito is going to feast on me!

Not taking my anti-malaria medication (Malerone), because thankfully there aren’t too many mosquitoes, has probably been my most daring accomplishment do date!

Thrilling, isn’t it?

Go get them Buffy....

Though I was kind of tempted to wait for this bus on a dare,

Thierry taking his lunch break

In a borrowed canoe we explored some of the Maroni’s tributaries…

The treasure hunters of Saint Laurent

hunting for lost treasures…

Unearthing the lost treasures of Maroni

I found a spoon!

It could have at least been a silver spoon 🙁

Sneaking across the border...

Sneaking across the border to buy 10 liters of dingy fuel at half price was also rather adventurous…

The photo that almost cost me my life... lol

I could have done without almost getting myself mugged (by the fellow in the black and white striped shirt) for taking the above photo. Apparently smugglers are camera shy.

Public transport Saint Laurent de Maroni style

Lucky for me it isn’t very difficult to play the stupid tourist that doesn’t understand what all the aggravated fuss is about…. Frankly, it isn’t worth the bother crossing to Suriname and the Gendarme have enough to worry about as it is without having to look for lost visitors.

Gendarme on patrol

So, most of my time has been spent keeping out of trouble and watching what the locals do to pass the time.

Endless entertainment with a wheelbarrow...

I’m not that fascinated by wheelbarrows (though I did borrow one to see if I could extract a fraction of the enjoyment this girl managed with hers… I failed…)

Your bird goes with you everywhere...

Nor did I find lugging a bird cage around with me everywhere (in order to train its contents to win singing contests) my thing… but then again I’m always difficult to please…

The restaurant I didn't get invited to...

But always keen to eat at a good restaurant.

Hanging out with the gang.... It's Champagne and foie gras

Unfortunately nobody invited me to eat in this one (violin music starts here), so I’ve resorted to plan B. Good food and company to be found on Thierry’s boat Ti’nga. Even if his boat has cockroaches!

Next stop is Tobago…

I’m so keen… I’m already on my way…

Who needs a boat when you can do this!

A sailors guide to Fortaleza

A skyhook for sailors ?

Don’t rely on skyhooks when visiting Fortaleza. Read this and save yourself time and money.

While I would like to take all the credit for gathering the following information, it was in fact a joint effort, with contributions from the many yachtsmen moored at Marina Park in May/June 2011.

Planeta Agua. Drinking water delivered to your yacht

I’ll start with the basics:
The water from the taps at the marina is of dubious quality (some days it flows yellow). Fill your tanks with it only if you have amazing filters or only use tank water for washing and showering.
Drinking water can be delivered to your yacht in 20 liter bottles (5 Real a Bottle). You can either catch up with the truck that delivers for the hotel 3 times a week (it parks just opposite the pontoon entrance in the morning) or you can give Ligou Chegou a call on 32121402 (the office), 30877972, 30941849, or 86861006.

Why they have so many phone numbers is a mystery to me but take note that they will also fill your cooking gas bottles for a fair price (3 Real per Liter).

The BR service station located near Marina Park Hotel

If you have trouble calling, their shop can be found as follows:
Walk across the freeway opposite the hotel (near the BR petrol station because the condemned buildings opposite are a hive for drug addicts, stay well clear day and night. Don’t take the stairs. Don’t take the bridge).

This is the road to take once you cross the freeway...

The road you follow to town is called Sem. Pompeu.

It takes you past a large mustard colored building (more on that later).

The bus station is behind the flea market.

Take a right (onto Rua Dr. Joao Moreira) and you will come across a bus station / flea market.
At the diagonally opposite end of this bus station square you will see fishing tackle shops (look for nets hanging outside).

You are getting close!

Follow the road (Rua Castro e Silva) and you will see the water bottles outside the Planeta Agua shop.

This way for the supermarket...

Retracing your steps to the square with the buses and flea market, take an immediate right and follow the road (Rua 24 de Maio for 2 blocks) to a small supermarket (on the left called Mercadinho Lene).

The small supermarket within walking distance of Marina Park

This is the closest to the marina. A couple of shops further up is a butcher.

The nicest (but somewhat overpriced) supermarket is Pao de Acucar, one street up from the night markets at Beira Mar.

Expensive, but you can find everything

It boasts free WiFi at the cafe inside (but no power outlets). Free Internet is a issue in Fortaleza. It’s 20 Real for an hour from the Hotel! Try the Internet cafe next to McDonalds for a better rate or buy a long range WiFi antennae for your boat.

You will find an automatic cash dispenser inside and to the right

The previously mentioned mustard building (with arched doorways) is a tourist center and contains many small shops. You will find a Bank of Brazil Automatic Cash dispenser here. Cover the keypad with your hand when using the cash machines in Brazil, two crews have already had their bank accounts emptied by thieves employing hidden cameras and card duplicators.

The first pedestrian walk crossing Sem. Pompeu.

If you follow the Pompeu road rather then taking a right to the bus station, you will reach several pedestrian only crossroads. Taking a left at the first or second will take you to the main square.

The only place to stock up on medicines...

If you need to stock up on pharmaceuticals the place to do so is here (on the side of the square with the taxi rank).

Hammocks galore opposite the cathedral

Head toward the obvious landmark of the cathedral if you want to buy a hammock (Fortaleza has the cheapest), and stock up on pet food or souvenirs. There is a post office here.

Varejao das Redes (the hammock shop where this lady works) is getting a free plug, so insist on a fair deal...

Diesel is purchased at the BR station just to the left of the hotel as you exit the foyer. You will have to carry your Jerry cans unless you are willing to part with 30 Real to entice a taxi driver to help.
A word on Taxi drivers. Make sure the meter is running when you catch a ride. Complain if it is not. It should be on setting 1 during the day and setting 2 at night. Otherwise agree on a price beforehand.

We all live in a gray? submarine...

Share a taxi to get your paperwork done as only the skipper needs to attend (must take crew passports).
For Fortaleza you visit 4 offices starting with the Federal Police, followed by customs, Health and the Port Captain. Wear long pants!! The same (less Health) on the way out. The officials are efficient and polite.
You can take the 52 bus to the Passenger Terminal where these offices are located (Look for a submarine conning tower as a landmark). Take the number 11 on the way back (2 Real per person per trip). Don’t walk!

Everyone hangs out here after sunset!

Going out you can book a free ride on the Hotel Bus which takes guests to Beira Mar (and it’s night markets). You need to reserve your place with reception. You can also catch this bus back (check times with the driver).

Note: There is an aquatic center opposite the night markets where divers can get their air tanks refilled.

Beira Mar is where everyone goes for their evening promenade. It also has the best beach (Praia do Futuro is a tourist trap, even though there is a free bus from the hotel, give it a miss).

Anchor opposite this new landmark

There is a new building going up (called landscape), and just opposite this development is a sweet day anchorage (03’43,404S 038’29.881W). If you get organized, 3 to 4 boats could anchor here indefinitely (in 3 to 4 meters) by keeping a rotating watch (to discourage night swimmers).

The beautiful people hang out at Boteco (on the western end of Beira Mar) opposite the pier, or at the Centro Dragao (great pizza there at Buoni Amici’s Sport Bar!).
Go to Pirata on a Monday night (Half price for guests… see reception), or take in a concert at Mucuripe (wild!). Too lazy? Don’t go anywhere… Some of the best concerts are held in the Marina Park grounds,in which case your entertainment is free.

I’ll leave you to discover the rest yourselves… Enjoy!

Collecting more travel companions along the way!

The crew of Yayou

Meet André and Jean-Noel in “Yayo”, on their way to the south of France in a brand new Bi-Loup 36.

Frederic and I met them in Ribadeo while waiting on yet another monster low pressure cell to pass and now our southbound flotilla has acquired new members. Give us a few more weeks of bad weather and we’ll build an armada!

I imagine we’re holding back our new found friends, especially when considering that their vessel motors along comfortably at 7 knots (compared with my sluggish 4.5 and Frederic’s 4), but I guess it’s always reassuring to be at sea with other yachts.

Monster low pressure system approches Biscay

I like to think they have joined the party because we’re exceptional company, but I’d better not get too carried away into the realms of fantasy. It probably has more to do with their not having a laptop on board. Anyone who relies solely on dated notices posted at the marina office for weather forecasts is a braver man than I am…..

Mind you, there are certain advantages to remaining blissfully ignorant of what’s brewing out in the Atlantic of late (see picture). If you don’t see it, you certainly don’t worry about it. Maybe there is a market out there for anti-panic blindfolds. Seems to work well enough with a firing squad. 😉

Vivero, Spain

But enough of this weather obsession, I’m probably boring my audience of 3 to death by now. Sailors can be worse than farmers once they warm to the topic. Let me tell you about Vivero instead.

Apart from the breaking 4 meter swell threatening to swamp us leaving Ribadeo, the 30 mile trip motoring to Vivero was a trifle dull. However, we’ve now caught up with a whole gaggle of stranded southbound yachtsmen and it couldn’t be more social. Music and celebration continues well into the night much to the distress of the only German flagged vessel (not that I have anything against Germans). Funny how there always has to be at least one party pooper in the group. 🙂

Locals in Ribadeo have advised against rounding Cabo Ortegal when a 6 meter swell is running, and it seems the fleet of transients sheltering here have been similarly advised. Never mind, we’re certinly making the most of our extended stay.

Staff at Fragata Cafe

It’s not such a bad place to be stranded. Facilities at the marina aren’t the greatest but at least there is a little more life in town.

Word is the best place to hang out is a cafe called Fragata, and with free WiFi and tapas with your drinks, what more could an avid blogger want?

Besides, just look at the friendly staff!

Sheltering in La Coruna

Leche Frita at Noray cafe, La Coruna

I’ve had a walk around town, found the Gadis supermarket for stocking up on provisions, and visited the only two premises opposite the marina offering Wi-Fi (one a gelato bar where the owner only grudgingly let me have the password, and the other, a cafeteria called Noray.

The later is the friendlier by far.

Oh, and if you happen to be in the neighborhood, be sure to try their ‘leche frita’ with your coffee!

The market above Gadis turned out to be an especially fortunate find, because I was finally able to identify my latest haul of free seafood with an expert, i.e. the local fishmonger.


Market, La Coruna

The literal translation of ‘pretty’ or ‘nice’ wasn’t much help, but after a little investigation, I was able to arrive at ‘striped tunny’ which, not surprisingly, is just a small type of tuna.

After handing out more fresh fish pate to the other cruisers at port and gorging myself on new provisions of fruit and vegetables (ah, things that go crunch when you eat them, such a luxury), I wandered off again to explore my new stomping ground.

What follows are a few photos taken while rambling in La Coruna  (click on them for a larger version):

La Voz de Galicia

The quaint little news stand pictured here briefly caught my attention. I wonder why? 😉

Galician fisherwoman

I had a brief conversation (mostly about the weather, though boat engines also featured prominently), with a female fisherman (fisherwoman?), as she mended the nets of her family’s thirty year old wooden boat.

Fishermans pots, La Coruna

Here is a boatload of trouble, and why I can’t easily do night passages.

Roman Lighthouse, La Coruna

The compulsory snapshot of the Roman lighthouse minus the throngs of tourists which normally congregate about its base.

HMS Kent leaving La Coruna

Approximately every second day a new cruise ship would berth against the outer wall of the marina and disgorge a swarm of German tourists. This morning I woke to find a war ship instead. The HMS Kent to be precise. For those wanting to know more about this vessel, I’ve dug up the following link:

Later that evening I bumped into some of her crew at a local “watering hole” (synonym for Irish Pub), and was able to establish that the ships last port of call was Gibraltar and that (with a cruising speed of 30kts) it had taken just two days to reach La Coruna. Apparently it was quite a rough ride, deck hatches were closed and my informant confessed to having been violently seasick on route. At least my month of indolent travel to cover the same distance was vomitus free. 😛

Lupin stealing my corona in La Coruna

This demonic fur-less feline belongs to the English crew (or perhaps it is the other way around?) of Riviera Magic A.K.A “the fat yellow boat”. They spent the week berthed opposite Eileen wallowing in counterpoint as wash and surge rolled our vessels.

On occasion I had the opportunity to borrow their fridge (and heater for that matter, but that’s another story…) to cool my beer, so that our frequent commiserating over weather had suitable alcoholic accompaniment.

The "Fat Yellow Boat" leaves port

Nine days after arriving we took advantage of a small improvement in the weather to go our separate ways.

I wish them good winds, flat seas and lots of Bonito!

Muros and Portosin

Taking on fuel at Portosin

I was running low on fuel and my wallet had a measly 10 Euro left in it, so I persuaded myself (after much discussion), to investigate the possibility of diesel and an automatic bank teller at Muros.

As I tied off to the outer pontoon I was met by the port police and immediately told that there was no fuel to be found here for the likes of me. Funny, I hadn’t noticed the “Solitary yachtsman, please abuse” sign pinned to my back this morning…

I suppose that the mention in Imray’s Atlantic Spain and Portugal guide, of subsidized diesel being sold to pleasure craft here, had led to a rush the authorities are still fighting to dissuade.

Fortunately, I was permitted to stop for the few minutes it would take to visit a bank, and not wanting to antagonize any additional officials by my mere presence, I made my tour of Muros notably brief.

Tiller in hand, (for no apparent reason, my ST-2000 tiller-pilot died this morning), I motored the 4 miles to Portosin in search of regular diesel. A shame really, because the weather would have been perfect for rounding Finisterre and now I am stuck in port waiting for the next weather window. I almost made a run for it this morning, but conflicting weather forecasts and the prospect of rain quickly dissuaded me.

I guess I’ll be visiting more of Portosin, and who knows, perhaps one of my north bound 3-day friends will catch up with me.

With free Wi-Fi, comfortable marina cafeteria at hand, and a fee structure based on boat size, I am in no rush to move on.

I sailed to Barbate

Church in main square, Barbate

My Atlantic Spain and Portugal pilot refers to Barbate as a practical stopover in a somewhat soulless town. The marina certainly isn’t packed with nightclubs and restaurants. It has two of the later and none of the former. More distressing, for any slothful sailor like myself, is the 2km hike into town to buy provisions. Despite this, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Barbate soulless. I’d settle for a tad dull.

I wandered aimlessly about the town for days, took the obligatory snapshot of the white sandy beach, church and town hall (all very nice if you frame the photo well), and loitered suspiciously for hours at venues offering Internet access (both restaurants at the marina have WiFi, and in town there are two “cyber-cafes”. The coin operated one near the beach is probably your best bet).

Despite enthusiastically delving into the myriad of touristic offerings (attempt at dry humor here), I couldn’t quite get accustomed to Barbate and eagerly awaited an opportunity to depart.

The regular jogger set, dog and power walkers, passed by frequently as they made their daily pilgrimages between downtown and the marina. I lived in fear that they’d move beyond our now customary brief nod of recognition, and stop to converse.

For someone as poorly versed in Spanish as myself, (my conversational repertoire is currently limited to boat talk and the weather), the mere thought of engaging in serious small talk is traumatic! Mind you, I did plan to take it in small steps… starting perhaps with a few words to the dogs and slowly working up from that. 😉

Barbate beach in March

I needn’t have worried. No one ventured to go beyond the briefest “Ola”. Perhaps I’d already outstayed my welcome. This paranoiac notion grew as staff at El Espigon, (where I visited daily for a morning espresso and tostada), suddenly appeared reluctant to provide me with Wi-Fi access (it’s mysteriously switched off when customers linger for more than the briefest of sessions).

Even the restaurant at the other end of the marina has started using the “silently switch it off” strategy to ration Internet usage. It’s a Barbate conspiracy. True, I’m no big spender, (I can only drink so much coffee), but I’m also very unlikely to seriously impact their bandwidth quotas by writing my blog.

To add insult to injury, they’ve only given me one packet of jam with my toast today! Simply outrageous! It’s clearly time for me to move on, but where is that weather window when you need it?

The perfect weather window

Matt's idea of diving

Matt's idea of diving

Sunday the 13th of September.

Checking the weather (my new found obsession) on my laptop from the boat (one hour passwords for Internet Wi-Fi access were available at the marina cafe at no charge), I was pleased to see that several calm days were forecast for the Cyclades. Good weather appears to have been a rarity this summer, so we made haste to depart and make the most of it.

Our destination? Ios via Thira (approximately 100NM distant).

With a few hours to kill (so as to arrive at Thira / Santorini by daybreak), we motored to the small island off Iraklion called Nissos Dhia. It has a splendid little anchorage ideal for swimming, or if you are so inclined, doing back-flips off the boat (BTW that’s Matt in the photo). At dusk we continued north at 4.5kts on a gentle sea.