John Carter and 2016 PWA slalom Champion, Matteo Iachino, head out to explore the windsurfing paradise of Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean. Hosted by fellow Severne and Starboard world tour racer, Tristan Algret, and avid local sailor Bruno Kancel, the planned itinerary was to windsurf as many of the island’s best locations in a mere six days. John Carter reports!
Words & Photos John Cater
I jetted out with Air France via Paris, leaving Heathrow bright and breezy at 6:20 a.m., which meant leaving my home on the Isle of Wight the night before. Coincidently the evening I left home was the same night the annual Isle of Wight music festival was finishing, so it turned out to be a hectic scramble to squeeze on the ferry along with the thousands of muddy and tired festival goers that were on their way home; I certainly saw some sights! Half asleep, I arrived at Heathrow two hours before check in opened at 4:00 a.m., so that meant trying to get some kip on the floor next to my bags. By the time I woke up there was a huge line at Air France, but I eventually managed to check in and was ready for my first flight to Paris! So far I would not call this luxury travel, but I was sure it would be worth it by the time I reached the Caribbean!
My connection in Paris meant a change of airport from Charles De Gaulle over to Orly, which was about a one hour transfer via free buses, before boarding for the final leg of the journey, destination Pointe-a-Pitre in the heart of Guadeloupe. If you ever travel this route, make sure you leave plenty of time for the transfer as it was Monday morning traffic when I crossed Paris and I only just made my connection by the skin of my teeth. Finally after the 8 hour flight from Paris to Guadeloupe, I touched down into the balmy Caribbean heat, ready for a six day whirlwind tour of the island. Everything for Matteo and I had all been organized by Tristan Algret and his friend Bruno Kancel, who both share the dream one day to host a PWA event on the island. With the travel side of the equation completed, now it was time to explore this windsurfing paradise and let the fun begin!
Guadeloupe is an archipelago of over a dozen islands that offer a wide variety of coastline, consistent winds and a perfect playground for all types of windsurfing from freeriding to down-the-line wave riding. The two main islands Basse-Terre and Grand-Terre resemble the wings of a butterfly and are separated by the Salée River. The left wing of the ‘butterfly’, Basse-Terre, boasts more mountainous terrain with stunning rainforests and a majestic volcano. The right wing of the butterfly, Grand-Terre, is the eastern island and is known for its reef protected waters, pristine beaches and the infamous Pointe des Châteaux rocks at the very end of the island. As well as PWA slalom sailor Tristan Algret, the likes of Camille Juban and Antoine Martin also reside here in Grand-Terre while not on tour. The island’s official currency is the Euro, being a French overseas region and as such there is no immigration for European citizens to pass once you land at Pointe-à-Pitre, the island’s historic capital.
DAY 1 – SETTLING IN AND THE TI’ PUNCH KNOCKOUT!
After stepping out into a beautiful warm breezy afternoon, Tristan and Matteo, who had arrived the day before, were at the airport to meet me and once Tristan’s Volkswagen was loaded we drove about 30 minutes straight to the BWA Chik Hotel in St François on Grand-Terre, our headquarters for the next three days. Located right next to a stunning 18 hole international golf course, the accommodation was awesome and we were given a bit of time to relax before a dinner which had been arranged at the nearby Colombo restaurant. As I scrutinized the packed itinerary Tristan had planned for us, any temptation of playing this luxury golf course appeared pretty slim, but on the bright side it looked like we had all sorts of fun and interesting activities planned both on and off the water. Tristan was keen to show us the best sailing and foiling spots on the island, but also some of the most scenic locations the island had to offer.
Before dinner Matteo was keen to have a quick drive around to help shake off the jet lag, so we headed up to the stunning Pointe des Châteaux, also known as ‘Castle Point’, at the easternmost tip off the island. As soon as I set eyes on this stunning bay and dramatic rock formations in the sea, I knew we had to try and windsurf here, even though it was not part of Tristan’s hectic schedule.
Back at the hotel Tristan was in the reception, waiting to take us to dinner. It seemed rude not to accept a welcome drink, so instead of my normal ice cold beer, Matteo and I agreed to try a “Ti’ Punch”, a local rum drink made up of white rum, lime and sugar cane syrup. Upon the first sip I almost choked after this 50% alcoholic concoction definitely lived up to its name! We mentioned the idea of sailing Pointe des Châteaux to Tristan, but he was adamant it had never been attempted before and it was too wild. After a few more Ti’ Punches, Tristan mysteriously started warming to the idea and agreed to give it a try; I was determined to hold him to his promise at the earliest possible convenience! The day was capped off with a gorgeous meal at the local Colombo restaurant where we were treated to a feast of fresh lobster and a few more icy beers. Not a bad way to kick things off, I was already liking this place and the flow of the trip!
Consistent winds and a perfect playground for all types of windsurfing from freeriding to down-the-line wave riding.
DAY 2 – LAGOON SESSION AND POINTE DES CHÂTEAUX ADVENTURE
After breakfast we headed to Saint Francis lagoon close to the hotel where it was already blowing around 15 knots. This is one of Tristan’s local windsurfing spots, boasting perfect turquoise, flat water before several reef passes lead out to the choppier more challenging sailing in the deep blue open ocean. Matteo and Tristan spent a few hours well powered on slalom gear, blasting around with a crew of locals who were all excited at the prospect of sailing with their PWA heroes. Out in the lagoon were some pretty cool house boats which we shot from, and can be rented for around €300 a night if you ever fancy a bit of luxury.
After a delicious local style lunch of Caribbean fish and chicken on the beach, Tristan had organized a trip over to the islands know as Petite Terre. We were picked up in an exclusive luxury power boat and blasted through the choppy 6 mile crossing in about 30 minutes before hitting these two uninhabited islands. The islands are a protected area with the lagoon brimming with turtles, stingrays and small sharks. Climbing on the shore you feel like an explorer, on the pristine white sand beach with swaying palm trees and wild iguanas running around. We spent a few hours exploring and swimming before heading back to St Francois ready for the last mission of the day, sailing at Pointe des Châteaux, which Tristan had reckoned was too wild and impossible. Nothing like a challenge!
By the time we had packed and driven up to the easternmost point of the island, we had about two hours of daylight left to complete our quest. Matteo and Tristan tentatively rigged, while myself and Bruno prepared cameras and checked the location. Bruno is the best drone pilot on the island and runs a business called ‘Aeroworx’, so was going to capture the mission from the air while I covered the bases on land. Although the sea is rough at Pointe des Châteaux, after a few tacks and a bit of scrambling through the dumping shore break it does mellow out. Matteo was first to make his way out into open water and was soon cruising on his 8.6m slalom setup. Tristan was not far behind on this ground-breaking mission and despite tricky conditions we managed to score an hour of beautiful light as the two sails blasted in front of this amazing backdrop. After the boys were back on dry land I headed to the car and somehow managed to knock the keys from their hiding place on the front suspension into a cavity beneath the engine and the skid plate. The next hour or so was quite entertaining as we battled to retrieve the keys with Matteo and Tristan having to take over the hard work after my failings. Needless to say I was not so popular after this mission to recover the keys, but after a lot of sweat and crawling around underneath the front of the car, Tristan triumphantly managed to retrieve the key from its awkward location!
Matteo and Tristan spent a few hours well powered on slalom gear.
“I loved sailing Pointe des Châteaux. It’s a wild place and you feel in the middle of the Atlantic. This is the first point of the island you would encounter if you sailed from Europe or Africa. It wasn’t too bad in the end launching, which is what Tristan was worried about, and once through the shore dump we were fine. Bruno was flying his drone so close to the water I was sure he would crash it on a wave, but he certainly knew what he was doing as he didn’t make any mistakes. JC was very happy to shoot us here as he fell in love with the spot the moment he saw it! We had some great speed runs, jumps and gybes close to the rocks before heading back just before sunset. We didn’t know we had another challenge ahead after Carter lost the keys, which was almost a disaster!”
Back at the hotel Matteo and I polished off a few ice cold “Carib” beers before heading to the local market to sample some delicious local food. It had been a long but very satisfying day and in my books an ice cold beer was a necessity. When we hit the market, delicious spicy Caribbean chicken from a local vendor was the order of the day. One thing I was already learning about Matteo is that he likes to eat…a lot! So when it comes to meal times, he can easily chow down twice as much as most of us mere mortals. So after I was content at a decent portion of chicken and rice, I was not surprised to see him going back for a second portion! I guess that is what it takes to fuel a world champion!
DAY 3 – PICTURE POSTCARD ISLAND AND CULTURAL VISIT
Looking at the itinerary for day three, I had a feeling we were going to be busy again, and I was not wrong! Our first port of call was the Gosier Mariana where Bruno had rented a boat as a shooting platform so we could head to “Îlet du Gosier”, which put into simple terms was a picture postcard tropical island, with white sand beaches, crystal clear water, palm trees and an old lighthouse. It was windier today, around 18 knots and perfect for slalom blasting. The boys reached the island before our boat had arrived and by the time we were close Matteo and Tristan had already discovered some small waves on the reef and were launching some huge jumps on their slalom gear. We managed to park the boat pretty close by and caught them flying over the lighthouse a few times, with Tristan almost sailing into Matteo on one occasion. Back in the bay the boys were blasting from the mainland towards the island and throwing gybes in front of the palm trees. This was how you imagine windsurfing in paradise, azure flat water, a tropical island fringed with palm trees and perfect 18 knot trades. Bruno had packed a cool box on the boat laden with beers and water. I was starting to feel I could get used to this lifestyle rather than working 15 hours a day at PWA events!
Back on dry land we de-rigged and then moved onto the next part of the plan and cruised with the boat up the coast to Pointe-à-Pitre, the island’s capital. After meeting at the tourism office we headed for a delicious local lunch in a boat building yard where of course we had to sample some more Ti’ Punches!
Next on the agenda was a stop at the Memorial Acte museum of slavery, opened in 2015 to preserve the memory of those that suffered during slavery. The building alone is stunning, the structure is around 240 metres long and is covered in a silvery mesh containing a black box. The museum gives a full history about the perils and heart-breaking story of the slave trade which was finally abolished in the French colonies in 1848.
After a very informative interactive guided tour we headed back to our boat and pressed on up the river through the mangroves to the end of the runway at the airport where we watched an Air France flight land right over our heads. After dropping the boats off, our final port of call was for an evening meal at the stunning La Toubana Hotel, situated on the cliffs overlooking Sainte Anne Bay. The breath-taking views from this hotel are amazing and to the right we were looking down at a perfect point break setup which is one of the spots regularly sailed by local wave sailing legend Antoine Martin. Both Antoine and fellow wave sailor Camille Juban live in Guadeloupe and Tristan told us that there are plenty of sick wave sailing and surfing spots scattered around the islands at the right time of the year. We finally arrived home around 11:30 p.m. after a long but very successful day sailing and touring around the island. Tomorrow we had new plans which meant we would finally leave the BWA Chik Hotel and head over to Basse-Tere for some new discoveries.
This was how you imagine windsurfing in paradise.
DAY 4 – RUM TASTING AND ISLAND HOPPING
We opened the day with a tour of the Reimonenq rum distillery and museum where we learned all about the process of cutting the freshly cut sugar cane and eventually fermenting the juice into rum. I was handed a glass in the factory and took a sip which was apparently 60-80 % alcohol, that was strong! Some of the juice is eventually put into barrels and aged for at least three years for a rum to earn the title ‘old’. Upon leaving we were all presented with two bottles of rum each as gifts from the distillery, which was a very generous touch! After lunch at Clara’s in the bay of Sainte Rose we moved onto the windsurfing schedule for the afternoon. Located on the north coast of Basse-Terre we were about to explore the Grand Cul-de-Sac Marin nature reserve and venture out to îlet à Fajou, the island inside the huge lagoon. Today the boys decided to use their foil boards as their tool to explore this vast flat water lagoon.
Myself and Bruno packed the cameras and of course a couple of icy colds into a small boat and headed out into the mangroves to meet Matteo and Tristan and a few friends who had come along to sail with the boys. Inside the lagoon there are many tiny mangrove islands. These plants manage to adapt to this highly saline environment and are able to grow because of their waterproof roots which filter as much as 97% of the salt away. Starboard of course have their important mangrove planting operation in process in Myanmar as part of their aim to improve their environmental impact. Out on the water we spent the afternoon exploring this amazing flat water paradise and Matteo and Tristan both clocked up over 60 km on the foil boards in a few hours. A few miles offshore there were some tiny mangrove islands rising out of the sea and it was cool to watch the guys foiling around these surreal islets. Our final port of call was îlet à Fajou surrounded by what they call the blue lagoon, an incredible strip of turquoise water. Unfortunately today was slightly overcast, weirdly due to Sahara dust blowing right across the Atlantic, also known as the Calima in the Canary Islands, so we did not see the blueness of the lagoon to its full effect. Even so, it was still a fantastic afternoon and the boys were flying high after exploring this vast lagoon by foil.
“The 4th day started with a real punch for me as heading into the rum factory we got two shots of rum back to back at 10:30 a.m. in the morning. The temperature was quite high around 32° and sunny and the rum went straight to my head, making the tour of the Reimonenq distillery quite a blur! Just when I thought the rum shots were done, we then had the strongest one of the trip, almost raw alcohol! As we were watching the incredible column through which they distil and clean up the rum, creating one of the best flavours in the world, the engineer on this operation offered me a shot of the rum straight out of the column, nearly 80% alcohol, which was quite an interesting experience!
After lunch we went sailing in the lagoon and it was an amazing foil session. This turquoise part of the ocean inside the reef is a natural playground to blast around in with the foil, discovering endless islands and mangrove bushes. I loved it and I enjoyed the adrenaline rushes when Tristan was telling me to stay high as we were flying over some shallows on the reef with the sun in our eyes and only 30 cm of water below our foils!”
After this incredible session was over we moved into the awesome Langley Resort Fort Royal Hotel for the final two nights of my stay. This part of the island has a stunning stretch of coastline and is home for the TV series, “Death in Paradise”, which is filmed in the next bay up from the Fort Royal. I made it up to my room quite tired from a packed day and was greeted by a welcome pack from the hotel containing two more huge bottles of rum. Blimey, I was now up to four gifted bottles of rum in one day, at least my wife would be happy with all this contraband to bring home!
The sun in our eyes and only 30 cm of water below our foils!
DAY 5 – PLEASURE AND PAIN! WINDSURFING AND WATERFALLS
We stored the windsurfing equipment at the hotels watersports centre, “Surf and Sail” and were rigged up early as it was already blowing 15-20 knots straight after breakfast. This part of the island is not protected by the any outside reef, but the water today was relatively flat, although there are said to be some quality waves here at the right times of year. With the wind funnelling through the channel between the hotel and l’îlet Kawan, the water out in the middle was pretty choppy. I could tell Matteo was enjoying the more challenging sailing and Tristan was also having a blast on freeride gear, throwing huge jumps off of every available ramp. The boys sailed full power back and forth across the channel for about an hour and a half and returned back to the beach pretty exhausted from the hardcore session.
After a very pleasant lunch at the hotel beach bar, the plan was to head inland to hike to a waterfall in the rainforest. Not sure which camera gear to take, I decided to take a backpack with a spare lens and my lighter camera body for the hike, all in all about 5 kg worth. We parked the car and headed to the trail which turned out to be a 3 km descent down a steep winding path through the rainforest. By the time I was at the bottom I was definitely feeling it and Matteo and Tristan had to wait for me several times while I caught them up puffing and panting. After a quick swim below the waterfalls for some shots, we headed back up, but this time I was determined not to be outdone by the youngsters. I headed up the hill full speed with my extra 5 kg, no matter the consequences and must have been close to a heart attack by the time I reached the top. I had also made the big mistake not to take any water on the hike, so spent much of the rest of the afternoon in a state of recovery from dehydration, but at least I had held my own up the hill!
We finished the day at the Karacoli Bar on Grand Anse Beach where I had just about recovered enough to manage an ice cold “Carib” beer, as well as plenty of water. My final evening dinner of the trip was back at the excellent restaurant in the Fort Royal Hotel, which could possibly be the venue to host the PWA if a racing event goes ahead.
DAY SIX – HOMEWARD BOUND
On my final day the dust from the Sahara had lifted and we were left with amazing blue skies and puffy white clouds, the typical day you dream about in the Caribbean. The weather was so lush we decided to abandon a plan to visit the Les Saintes Islands and stay put to shoot one last session of windsurfing outside the hotel. The boys were having a blast once again, especially Tristan who was jumping as close to our boat as possible and finished the session by almost going straight over us and landing just a few feet clear. After my final lunch at the beach bar it was time for me to pack and head to the airport for a 5:15 p.m. Air France flight back to Paris and then onto London.
There was never a dull moment on my whirlwind trip to Guadeloupe thanks to the excellent organization from Tristan and Bruno. Not only had we seen many of the best windsurfing spots on the island, but we had also immersed ourselves in the culture, tasted the local cuisine and of course sampled the local rum and icy cold beers! Now that is my kind of trip, thanks Tristan and Bruno!
“This trip was totally amazing! Myself and Bruno are pushing to promote Guadeloupe around the world. We had this idea to invite John Carter and another rider for three years and finally the chance to be supported by the Tourism Office of Guadeloupe and plenty of local sponsors came to us.
After many trips with Matteo, he was naturally the man I felt was best for this Guadeloupe trip. Plus I had the chance to come to his home place a few days before the Asian PWA World Cup events, so it was clearly my turn to show him my playground. Matteo has become a good friend over the past years and having him on the island was a great honour. During the trip I also discovered new places on my own island, sailing a new spot (Pointe des Châteaux) and met lots of new people, an opportunity not possible without the generous support of all our partners.”
There was never a dull moment on my whirlwind trip to Guadeloupe.
TOURISM OFFICE OF GUADELOUPE ISLANDS
FLIGHTS TO GUADELOUPE
Air France fly to Guadeloupe daily from Orly airport in Paris.
Air Caraïbes (Orly) / XL Airways (Charles de Gaulle) / Corsair (Orly) / Level (Orly) all also fly!
Air Canada fly several times a week from Montreal.
American Airlines fly from Miami every Saturday.
Air France / Air Caraïbes and Corsair are easy with board bags, but for excess baggage charges you need some luck! Best advice is to book and pay for the board bags when booking your ticket, rather than at the airport.
HOTELS WE STAYED AT:
BWA CHIK HOTEL – bwachik.com/hotel-guadeloupe
LANGLEY RESORT FORT ROYAL – www.langleyhotels.eu/en/our-hotels/resort-fort-royal
Colombo – St François.
La Toubana Hotel – St Anne.
Clara – St Rose.
Ti Bo Doudou – Les Saintes Islands.
Chez Forbin – Pointe a Pitre.
The best season for wind & waves in Guadeloupe is during the winter in Europe, between December to March. June and July are really good as well for wind but with less waves. For wind forecasts, Tristan Algret uses windguru.com and www.windy.com
Typical conditions are wind 10 to 25 knots and waves in winter time are 1 to 3 metres, and in summer 0.8 to 1.5 metres.
No wetsuits needed, board shorts all year round.
Typical gear used is:
Slalom – 8.6 / 7.8 / 7.0 + big and medium board.
Freeride – 7.5 to 6.5 + 120 litre board.
Wave – 5.7 to 4.5 + big wave board.
There is a few local windsurf schools where you can rent beginner’s equipment, but for freeride and slalom equipment rental contact firstname.lastname@example.org by email.
The main windsurfing spots are:
Flat water & waves – The Lagoon of St François is a popular spot and works in east / southeast and south winds.
Open sea – Lighthouse of Vieux Fort, works in almost all wind directions.
Open sea – Langley Resort Fort Royal, works in north / northeast winds.
Flat water / open sea – Îlet du Gosier, works in east / southeast / south winds.