Monday, July 8, 2013

Iles du Salut, French Guiana

We had a pretty calm passage from Fortaleza and only used the stabilizer for about half of the 3-day trip.  We had an amazing 3 to 4 knot favorable current pushing us along.  We hooked two marlins along the way.  The one in the photo was released since we did not have room for such a large fish.  Unfortunately, while bringing it close enough to snip the wire leader, the brutes weight snapped the fishing pole.  After losing both my lure and a pole I had second thoughts about the release.  The next day, another marlin took a hundred yards of line before I could even get to the line reel.  The only reason I knew it to be a marlin was because he did about 5 or 6 tail walks right behind the boat trying to shake the lure loose!  They are truly magnificent fish.

A significant moment for our six year circumnavigation on this passage was our fourth and final crossing of the Equator into the northern hemisphere as we crossed to mouth of the mighty Amazon. From here, we will be traveling northwards and home.

We nuzzled in behind Ile Royale and anchored at about 1AM in the morning blackness and enjoyed a few hours of sleep.  We were pretty comfortable (anchored) but decided to move closer to shore to reduce the roll even more.  We lowered the dingy and landed ashore on the Iles du Salut archipelago of French Guiana.

This group is the location of "Devil's Island", the notorious French penal colony of "Papillon" fame. Known in English as the Salvation Islands, these were anything but that for prisoners sent here from the French mainland by Emperor Napoleon III and subsequent French governments. The three tiny islands, 15km north of Kourou, were considered escape-proof and particularly appropriate for political prison­ers,. From 1852 to 1947, some 80,000 prisoners died from disease, unpleasant conditions and the guillotine on these sad islands.


The prison was closed down in in 1947 and the islands are now a tourist attraction - a place to escape to rather than from. Every day, several large catamarans bring hoards of visitors out for day trips to the palm tree covered islands to admire the ruins of the old prison and administration buildings. Some even stay for a few nights in the old staff quarters now tidied up into visitors' lodges. Île Royale, once the administrative head­ quarters of the penal settlement, has several restored prison buildings, one of which is now a restaurant, while the smaller Île St Joseph, with its eerie solitary-confinement cells and guards' cemetery, has overgrown with coconut palms. The old prison director's house is now a museum detailing the history of the islets initially from a colonial immigrant reception center through to the penal colony era.

They had a nice dock at Ile Royale, the largest island and home to the majority of the prisoners, as well as the prison hospital, church, and administrative buildings. We wandered along the well maintained trails in search of squirrel monkeys.  We soon spotted a squirrel monkey, as well as several larger capuchins. 



The monkeys are not hunted or disturbed on the Iles du Salut, and are very tame, delighting everyone. 


We explored the prison complex on our own but there were one or two guides available to answer questions.  We also visited the prison museum and found it sobering.

We had a more leisurely walk around a different path the next day and enjoyed more monkey feedings and the scenery.   

The 3rd day the wind increased and the anchorage became rolly.  After an uncomfortable night, the crew voted to escape to Kourou and the calm provided by its river.


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