French Guiana, on the northern coast of South America, must be one of the few places on Earth where sailing plans can be disrupted for a satellite launch. Christmas was approaching; for my partner, Peter Maxwell, and me aboard Mithril, our 50-foot Van de Stadt steel ketch, this would be our first in the tropics. Along with two other English boats, Relax, a 42-foot steel ketch, and Still Waters, a Hallberg-Rassy 38, we were anchored off the abandoned penal colony at Île du Diable, the infamous Devil's Island, about 10 miles off the coast. The boys went spearfishing while we girls slung hammocks between coconut palms ashore. Mouse, the little Yorkshire terrier from Relax, snapped at butterflies and ran in terror from the small, chattering monkeys that sprang at him from the banana palms. We gathered mangoes and had barbecued-fish suppers on the beach.