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French Guiana

French Guiana! At last!  I have dreamed to sail here for a long time.  I can’t believe that we are finally there!

Our track from Brazil to French Guiana

It took us 7 days and 7 hours to sail from Fortaleza to Kourou. Our best 24 hour run was 182 nautical miles, helped by 2 knots of current in our favor. This is why this route is called “the magic carpet”.  You basically get 48 nautical miles a day for free.  Where else in the world you can get these conditions?  Nowhere else that I know of!

We started with 20/26 knots of TWS and big seas with significant waves up to 2.5 meters (which means that 30% of them were double this size). The first few days were definitely not easy, but then the winds and the sea veered on our stern and eased a bit, so we had a very pleasant sail into Kourou.

The sailing was great, so was the tuna we caught. A delicious Skipjack, or Katsuo in Japanese.  Perfect size for your fridge!

Catch of the day: Skipjack!

Kourou is located in a river mouth. The entrance in the river is very shallow, but well marked with buoys.  We entered at low tide, and I was constantly watching the depth sounding.  Sometimes we had just a few centimeter below our keels!  At one point, we crossed a big dredger, so we tried to stay in its wake to find some more depth.

Dredger along the shipping channel in Kourou

Of the nice things about French Guiana is that there are no formalities.  Immigration? They don’t care.  Customs? Same.  We didn’t have to visit any office.  Zero bureaucracy. Very strange for a country that invented the word bureaucracy (it combines the French word bureau (desk or office) with the Greek word κράτος (kratos) – rule or political power.  We loved that!

It may be because usually people tried to escape from this country, not get in!

Iles du Salut

Also known as Salvation Islands, these three islands were part of the infamous French Penal colony where Alfred Dreyfus was incarcerated.  There is also a famous French movie from the 70s titled Papillon, starring Steve McQueen as Henri Charriere, one of the few prisoners that managed to escape from the island.  This pic is from Dominique Darbois, Regard sur le bagne.

Dominique Darbois, Regard sur le bagne.

The three islands are surreal.  You can only visit two of them, Île Royale and Île Saint-Joseph.  Alcatraz is a Grand Hotel, compared to these prisons.


Kourou itself it’s not much.  But you have a couple of decent restaurants where you can try the local delicatessen:


I tried the Pak and it was pretty good.  I think Yuka didn’t touch much food…

Guiana Space Center

We would have loved to see the launch of a Soyuz or Ariane, but unfortunately it was schedule for November…  Anyways, the Space Center is awesome.  I come prepared, because during the passage I read a book from the first Italian woman astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti (Diario di un’apprendista astronauta).   I learned a lot about space missions and about the Soyuz rocket.  Astronauts are amazing!

The visit to the base and the museum was totally worth it!

All in all we had a great time in French Guiana.  Now the last leg of the trip, to Trinidad!

I was a bit preoccupied because to get there we have to sail along the coast of Venezuela, a beautiful but very dangerous country.  We’ll make sure to stay well off-shore, were pirates can’t reach us with their powerboats!

Piracy in Venezuela is a big problem.  There are many reports of pirates attacking yachts, and the corrupted authorities don’t do anything.  What a pity, it’s such a beautiful country otherwise.  The Italian explorer and navigator Amerigo Vespucci named this country after Venice, Italy.  When he landed on the coast along the area of Lake Maracaibo, the stilt houses reminded him of the city of Venice.

I hope one day, if the political situation changes, I will be able to visit.  For now, it’s a no man’s land, and we’ll have to be extra careful when navigating along its coast.

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