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French Guiana – A short stay Feb 2013

By Bob Carlisle — last modified Mar 05, 2013 05:27 PM
Having made good use of several reports on Noonsite, it's probably time we contributed, so having just spent a couple of weeks in French Guiana, I attach a few notes and observations. (Bob Carlisle, Yacht 'Moon Rebel')

Published: 2013-03-05 00:00:00
Countries: French Guiana

Be warned, by mid-February the ‘wet’ season has arrived and it doesn’t mess about. On the up-side, it’s warm rain and there will be more than enough of it in the dinghy each morning for you to have a bath before you bail it out to go ashore! If you lift the dinghy onto the side-deck with a halyard, do remember to take the drain-plug out; we saw one dinghy in Kourou that had ripped a lifting-eye out due to the weight of rainwater collecting in it overnight! Bring a bicycle – it’s pretty flat and public transport/taxis/car hire were in our experience non-existent.

Degrad de Cannes:

Approach: The Guiana’s Current during the last 80M of the approach (we came from the Cap Verdes) ran very strongly to the NW so keep the bows pointing well to the south. On our subsequent passage up to Suriname, we ‘averaged’ over 2 knots of favourable current and at times it was running at close to 3 knots!

Anchoring: We initially anchored beside Buoy #5 in 4m + tide to wait for daylight/high-tide without any problems – where does the Atlantic swell disappear to? If it is lumpy when you arrive, there’s probably enough water behind the small island just north of the entrance channel to shelter there. The buoyed channel was excellent, being well-marked and with plenty of depth the whole way – the minimum we found was 2m + height of tide and whilst it was close to spring tides, we encountered only a maximum 3 knot current @ 2.5 hours before HW Cayenne; I’d have no qualms now about entering at night or much earlier than the HW-2 advised in previous reports – keep up toward the green (port-hand entering) buoys though, as the cross current will set you strongly to the NW.

We anchored about 300m beyond the ‘marina’ & 150m off the north shore, where we found excellent holding in stiff mud, in 4.5m + tide. There were also three scabby-looking unused buoys about 200m beyond the marina (the inshore one could perhaps get shallow at spring-tides?) and whilst we weren’t prepared to risk them, a 40’ yacht did pick-up the centre/white one for a few nights without problem whilst we were there. Whilst those in the marina and anchored further inshore complained about the mosquitoes, we never had any out at the boat. Do keep your eyes open for the Black Vultures and Red Ibis – Wow!

The pontoons were full of long term French boats as noted by others, we were offered the opportunity to raft up on one, but thought it looked to be more comfortable and mossie-free out on anchor.

Formalities: As noted by others, to check-in you walk on the paved road turning right at every opportunity. You will arrive at the dock gates after 2 km, turn right again and after 200 metres there is a blue and white building on your right; the office of the Douane is on the first floor. Just the one office to visit and very friendly/easy/straightforward. No promises (we only noticed it on the way back) but as you’re walking from the marina to the harbour, after about 750m you will pass some big methanol tanks on your right-hand side, immediately beyond these is a footpath/track going off to the right which I strongly suspect will also take you to the Customs Office and save as much as 1km walking. The office is closed at weekends and most afternoons, so visit Mon – Fri before 12:00; but no need to rush, they seem very relaxed about when, or even if you bother to check-in.

Marine Supplies: The Chandlery has a few useful bits and pieces, but is really geared to fishing, small motor-boats and jet-skiers. Water – good for drinking – is free from the marina pontoons and if you do raft-up on there, the mooring and electric too are also apparently free of charge.

Shore Services: No shopping at Degrad and only one small, mosquito-ridden bar/café near the commercial dock gates – closed in the evenings?. No Taxis or buses and Car-Hire is a catch-22 situation: Available at about €30/day from ‘Budget Car Hire’ in Cayenne, but you’ll need to get there in the first place to collect one and back again once you’ve dropped it off again. We hitch-hiked the 6km to Remire fairly easily; where we found a recently opened and well stocked Carrefour Supermarket on the edge of town (you can’t miss it, it’s right beside the main Degrad/Cayenne road). Prices weren’t ‘cheap’, but certainly not “France +40%” as previously reported – France is blooming expensive nowadays! We felt it was more expensive than provisioning in the Canaries, but certainly no more/worse than the Cape Verdes.

Isles De Salut:

Anchoring: We anchored in the Baie de Cocotieres off Isle de Royale and as noted by others, would suggest that the further inshore you can get, the less swell you’ll suffer from – it’s not too bad, we slept fine. We found good holding (it blew 20+ knots overnight) in about 2.5m+ tide. The buoys are for the tour/working boats, but not a problem to use an empty one overnight (the tripper-boats left at about 16:30 and arrived back around 09:30) we didn’t bother ourselves as we thought they may be short on depth (it was spring tides) but would probably have used one if we’d been there at neaps. On a return visit nearer neaps, we used the yellow one in the middle of the bay; we still got some swell, but it was much flatter than when we’d anchored a further 100m to seaward. We ‘nudged’ it  a few times during the night (It’s OK, they’re plastic) as even when it was blowing F5, we were lying/moving to the tide & currents which eddy around the bay rather than to the breeze; at neap tides the lowest depth we saw hanging onto the buoy was 3.7m. I’ve read the reports about anchoring off St Joseph’s or Isla Diablo, but both of our visits to the islands, they looked as rough as boots!

Kourou:

We thought Degrad was a wet place until we arrived here!

Approaches: In similar weather conditions, we felt that the approaches and entrance were bumpier here than on our arrival in Degrad, probably in part because Degrad has the offlying islands to offer some shelter but more likely because the depths are less – we thought a minimum 1.6 – 1.7m plus tide in the channel – and whilst it was generally well marked/lit, the buoys right at the river mouth weren’t too obvious and looked as if they’re probably unlit at night – I wouldn’t try entering here after dark, nor before half-tide & rising. When we left it was blowing F4/5 and it was a very slow & uncomfortable motor out to reach deep (10m+) water beyond the Isles de Salut, pushing wind, seas and tide/current the whole way. The deepest water is clearly close to the east (green buoys) side of the channel as there was a freighter coming in as we were leaving and the Pilot Boat made us move to the port-side of the channel to give the ship deeper water.

Anchoring: We anchored 150m off the N bank of the river, 400m beyond the pontoons at buoy #21 (about in-line with the small stream that enters the river on the N bank) in 2.5m + tide and found good holding to a single anchor (35m chain) despite regular 20-25 knot squalls. Hardly surprising as the bottom proved to be very heavy/sticky mud and it took ages to clean off the chain/anchor when we came to leave. I‘ve read the previous comments suggesting poor/patchy holding, but we had no trouble, nor did we see any of the other 6 or 8 yachts anchored there drag/have problems (all were using just one anchor) either. Do make sure you give all other yachts plenty of room though as some boats were swinging and turning in all directions during the squalls. Away from spring-tides, we were invariably sitting with our bows pointing up-river, the river’s flow (the most we saw was about 3 knots) seeming to overpower both the rising tide’s flow and the heavy squalls coming in from the NE.

Shore Services: Free/sweet water in cans (but no mooring spaces) was available on the pontoons; moor your dinghy there too – local advice was to moor the dinghy on the up-river side of the seaward pontoon and to lock it on (better security and more protection from the rubbish flowing down/up the river).

Ashore we found Kourou disappointing – not much of interest to see and once again we couldn’t find either public transport or car-hire (maybe more luck if you’re a fluent French speaker?) though even an internet search for car-hire invariably returned a ‘no cars available’ result. We did find a good internet-café at least: From the pontoon area car park, turn left and then right – this is Rue Charles De-Gaulle, the main road into Kourou, there are assorted mini-markets and a good vegetable market as you walk the 1km to the roundabout at the end of it. Close (100m) left at this roundabout are the nearest fuel station and a reasonably sized supermarket. Going straight over this roundabout there’s no road, but there is a paved footpath, follow this to its conclusion a further 5-600m where it intersects another major road. Cross the road, turn left and then immediately (>50m) right and follow this road, it bears left, right and then left again (perhaps 3-400m in total) if you look to your right at this second left-hand curve (the road’s dead-straight thereafter and if you follow it for a further 1km there’s a bigger ‘Super-U’ supermarket to the left at the roundabout) you’ll see a pharmacy and virtually adjacent to that is the internet café (€3/hr and open 08:00-20:00, 7-days a week) where you can use your own laptop or one of their computers; outside of these hours there’s a ‘Sports Bar’ a further 100m north with wifi, but the connection’s slow and despite having some very expensive beer, they also charged a further €2.50/hour to use the wifi too!

Formalities: Checking-out with the Douane was every bit as friendly/easy here as it was at Degrad de Cannes, again it’s best to go there before 12:00 Mon. – Fri. However, we thought the Douane/Customs office was difficult to find:-

  • Go upriver in your dinghy to the Customs, Coastguard, etc. quay which is on the north bank of the river, just after the Commercial Port and before you reach the road bridge; about 1.5M from the buoy #21 anchorage. Tie-up your dinghy to the pontoon, walk ashore and keep on going up the road ahead of you, with the commercial port on your right hand side. After about 3-400m take the first turning to your right and continue walking for another 4-500m past the entrance to the commercial port – which is still on your right-hand side – until you reach the next turning right; it’s a narrow, dilapidated track, immediately before ‘Kinder-Nautic’ Jetskis and opposite a building with a sign reading ‘Thalassa’ on the facade. The road/track looks like it leads to nowhere, but have faith, turn down it at you’ll find the Douane/Customs building on the right-hand side, after about 250m – you’ll be just about able to see your dinghy tied to the pontoon you set off from!
  • Take your dinghy down to the yacht pontoons and walk from there; having done it, I’d recommend option 1 every time, it’s got to be 5 or 6km! Walk onto and along Avenue General de Gaulle and after 5-600m, turn left opposite the veggie market, this is Rue Seraphin, which you follow west, over a couple of roundabouts for a good 3km (the road name changes to Avenue Pariacabo at some point) having reached and passed beyond the point of sweat-soaked exhaustion, you will see a Renault Car garage on the right-hand side of the road. Here you turn left onto Rue De Papin; walk along it for 200m and take the first turn to the right, after a further 200m you will pass ‘Kinder-Nautic’ on your left side. Immediately after, turn left onto the dilapidated track and you’ll find the Douane/Customs building on the right-hand side, after about 250m.

Bob Carlisle, Yacht 'Moon Rebel' - British.

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