John Dawson - Deathless in Paradise

David submitted the following article for the 2021 Peter Batterley Award. 

You can download the PDF by clicking here.


Deathless in Paradise So there we were, doing our binge watching on TV and the BBC series Death in Paradise came up. We spent a year in the Caribbean on our boat Burnadebt in 2007/8 and love looking to see we can see where the locations are (“spot that bay”). In Series 1 Episode 1 07:15 …. Commissioner Selwyn Patterson gives the history of Saint Marie Island: “Saint Marie was colonised by the French who lost it to the British who lost it to the Dutch. The Dutch lost it back to the French. The French then handed it back to the British in the mid 70s so 30% of the population is still French.” This really struck a chord with us because he left out the last conquest of “St Marie”. That was by a crack team of Burnadebteers. This is roughly how it happened. To understand this you really need to view the series and have a glass of rum in your hand. Also you can click on the links for extra photos. Of course a little scratching below the surface reveals that history, being bunkum, happened on the wrong island. Off the bottom of Guadeloupe there are a number of islands, MARIE Galante, which is sizeable and very boring, and the Isles de SAINTES which are magical and sell French patisseries. The BBC script writers shifted the names, islands and buildings to Deshaies on the Guadeloupe main island. See map. We are indebted to our research assistants for uncovering this vital information. Basic Training was carried out during a number of reconnoitres to the British Virgin Islands, some as far back as several years ago. We never did find the spotless lady in the name, but there was a lot of running the ships boats up onto the beaches, raids on local hostelries and arguments about which way the sails should go up. Spinnaker courtesy of Kemp Sails, raised as per labels in the corners Hardly any press-ganging was involved, but pirate hats were important and there was compulsory rum running. Willy T provided great opportunities for leaping overboard. A jump off the upper deck could win a valuable drinkable prize such as a free glass of rum punch. Our photos seem to have got lost at sea, but clicking on these links will give you some idea. Willy T jumping Willy T dinghies, many more at happy hour Running over the dinghies required a lot of rumpreparation - even the doddery skipper managed eight dinghies one evening. Soon it was time to sail South to establish a base camp. Where else but Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour Antigua. Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour The second photo shows the renovations which led to the discovery of a lot of seaman’s graves. Examination of the bones showed that most of then died of lead poisoning rather than the fever which had been presumed to be the cause. This place has lots of advantages for us, even ignoring the Galley Bar and the Admiral’s Inn. For example there’s Shirley Heights. Our crew actually ran up the whole cliff to the fort at the top. Sadly the refreshing drinks they took at the bar led to increased hazards on the way back down. And it’s a long way, up or down. The view from the top is amazing . This place was never taken by the French because you could see them coming from 40 miles away, and anyway, there were big guns at the entrance to the harbor. Shirley Heights looking down on English Harbour Unfortunately, during a previous campaign the good ship Burnadebt was become how you say ... horse de combat, zo for the new adventure we had to take as a prize the fast French sloop “Black Pearl’’. Well, we ordered the Black Pearl from Sunsail, but ended up with the Dufour 50 Corail. Corail anchored in Deshaies – with the green bimini. This ship had a sting in its tail, because the manufacturers had left a booby trap on board in the form of a mini guillotine made out of a sliding hatch. Here’s how it worked with a carrot : it also worked well for finger tips. Of course the weather in the Caribbean is always warm and sunny apart from the times it’s a Howling Gale, even if the sea spray is comfortingly warmer than the rain. Also these squalls come up very quickly, so when you are doing junior pirate training you should reduce sail in good time. That way, when you ask the crew to wind the jib in and they say they can’t manage it because they’re not strong enough to wind the winch, you can ask the adult member of the crew to do it. Unless she’s already lost a finger. Main Campaign Tip. Don’t go to Shirley Heights the evening before sailing to Guadeloupe. Particularly not with a crowd of junior pirates on board who will not take your malade de l’ocean seriously. Next tip Fix the propeller shaft to the gearbox before trying use the motor. Then you won’t have to tack through the catabatic winds coming off the cliffs when you come in to anchor in our stopover port of Deshaies. But on the plus side we did notice it had fallen off before the whole prop shaft fell out into the sea. That can lead to what is called a major ingress of water. In fact the whole process was quite complex. The fingerless one was steering, having wimped out from anchor chain management but ignored the skipper’s repeated polite requests from the foredeck to engage the motor. On return to the cockpit we did realize there was a problem, and on this occasion it wasn’t even the steerer. Picking a spot to drop in a crowded anchorage is always tricky even without short tacking. And always check the service arrangements before chartering/pirating a ship. We had a lot of trouble phoning the prop-fixer-person. This kind of problem happens often in the Caribbean because people have other important things to do. Like getting up. Or not. To digress, we were refuelling in St Martin one day and arrived on time. Radio control says “OK mon just wait a little”. After an hour or two quite a queue had formed, jilling about in the bay. American Captain of one large motor boat kept calling and getting more and more angry at the delay. Eventually the fuel man snapped and said “Chill mon, dis de Caribbean” Silence No more to be said. Anyway, there we were on the phone. Or not. Finally we got through to the Sunsail base manager, who started by using expletives in French, and then asked if we knew it was Bastille Day? And did we know that he was in Paris? “zut **********” So we had a few days in Deshaies waiting for prop-man and got to know the little police station by the church with the white tower and the red roof. Until the prop-man came carrying the missing castle nut. You mean you don’t always carry a spare castle nut? What?? We had to go for a quiet swim in the Cousteau Marine Park to recover. This is a truly amazing place to visit and shows what protection can do for the marine environment the number of fish and species of coral are breath-taking. Cousteau Park Bouillante And on to the final assault. Crew members, boats and geography may become a little confused along here. Sailing between the Islands is not usually relaxing because there is always a big swell, and often a Force 5 or 6 in the wrong direction. Once you come out from the lee behind the South West corner of Guadeloupe you are met by the full force of the trade wind which has had some 3000 miles to kick up the waves. Which makes dropping anchor in sparkling blue bays with golden sands, lush vegetation and charming little towns very special. Off to town. Tally ho. You have to know that Commissioner Patterson was wrong. The French still owned these islands so it was up to us to recover national honour. However, before we took up that challenge we needed to observe the situation ashore and make sure that the French Brie and baguettes were all in order. And a glass or two of good French wine or an icecream to make a change from the rum cocktails. Our target is Fort Napoleon, on top of the hill to the left of the harbour. Stolen from the British. You should also know that one of our crew is in the habit of flying St George’s cross on his day, and we had listened to the Land of Hope and Glory CD quite a lot on the voyage. So we were ready for a scrap and were hardly at all deterred by the fiercest looking iguanas you’ve ever seen on the road up the hill. for more photos please see the google maps site: Fort Napoléon des Saintes +590 590 99 58 60 360 of Fort Napoleon Courtyard Luckily we had StormTrooper Chris with us for the final assault. He ran up the hill, and only damaged his leg a little bit when he misjudged his step leaping from rock to rock. We crossed the bridge over the moat into the Fort (museum) where they were displaying all sorts of spoils of war. Luckily the French garrison was much reduced that day, the guard/janitor being somewhat or morewhat the worse for wear after clearly losing his war with the evil alcohol. But why fight when you can just raise the flag and have your photo taken?