Martinique

(Posted from Rodney Bay, St. Lucia)

St. Pierre

May 10. Compared to the sail from The Saints to Dominica, the sail from Dominica to Martinique was uneventful. We got an early start and arrived in St. Pierre, Martinique, a little before 3 PM.  It took a little under 7 hours to do the 35 nautical mile trip.

The town lies along a small bay and has a relatively narrow band of shallow water off the beach.  We managed to find a spot in close that was pretty shallow.  The more shallow the water, the less chain we need to let out to keep the anchor set well.  We’ve found that some boats like to anchor close, so less chain means we swing in a smaller circle when the wind shifts.

Some boats like to anchor close

St Pierre is listed as a port of entry, but we heard that the you could no longer check in there.  Once we got settled we looked for a US flagged vessel flying a French courtesy flag signifying that they had already checked in.  We found one and dinghyied over.  It turns out they were northbound and had checked in farther south.  The were here to check out before they left for Dominica.  Clearing in and out here is done with a Customs computer like in Guadeloupe.  They gave us directions to the place with the customs computer.  They weren’t open and a sign said that due to technical difficulties they could no longer do customs clearances.  We walked around town a little and then returned to the boat. 

St. Pierre rooftop view

The town is a typical seaside town, except that it is fairly young.  In 1902 it has a population of 30,000 and was known as the Paris of the Caribbean.  In that year the volcano erupted killing all but two people and destroying most of the town.  Few current structures pre-date the volcano.

Typical seaside settlement

Fort de France

The next day we motorsailed to Fort de France, the capitol of Martinique.  We anchored next to Fort St. Louis and dinghyied in to the nice dinghy dock in their refurbished waterfront.  Then started the quest for the Customs office.  Our guide book showed it to be in the commercial seaport area, so we started walking trying to follow the sketchy map in our book.  At one point we wandered into the ferry terminal, but no one appeard to be around.  Then as we were leaving a young woman called to us and asked if we left a calendar.  We went back and looked at it, but it wasn’t ours.  There was a second young woman with her and we got to talking.  They had arrived from Kiel, Germany, via many other ports aboard a sailing cruise on which they were crew.  They decided not to continue with the boat to the Great Lakes.  They liked Martinique, but wanted to go to St. Lucia or Dominica because they were less expensive.  We traded email addresses, but our plans were pretty sketchy at the time.  We seem to have misplaced their address and we have not heard from them, so we hope they made it somewhere.

Sunset over Fort de France

We kept walking looking for Customs.  We finally found it, but they directed us to a place nearby in a marine trades complex that had the computer.  After asking a lot of questions, we finally found that it was the local fuel dock.  The computer was sitting outside the office on a table.  All we had to do was fill in the blanks and tell it to print.  Moments later the guy in the office handed our copy out the window and we were free to go.

I should take a moment to note that this is a French Island and few people seem to speak English.  Jackie doesn’t speak any French and I remember about three phrases from my high school French classes.  Our interaction with the people we met tends to go something like this:

Eric: Bonjour (Good day)

French Person: Bonjour (Good day)

Eric: J’n parles pas Francais (I don’t speak French)

French Person: (They tend to look at me funny because is just told them I don’t speak French in pretty good French)

Eric: Parlez vous Anglais? (Do you speak English)

French Person: En peu (a little)

Eric: Do you know where Customs is?

French Person:  (A few sentences in French, spoken slowly and clearly so I will undoubtedly understand them)

Eric: (with a look that conveys that I haven’t a clue what they are saying, but that I appreciate the effort.) We just came here in our boat and we need to clear in a Customs.

French Person:  (A few more sentences in French, spoken slowly and clearly so I will undoubtedly understand them)

Eric: (I pull out the guidebook and point at Customs)

French Person:  (Either hasn’t the first clue where Customs is, or gives very detailed directions – in French)

Eric: Merci. Merci.(No, I’m not asking for mercy, Merci means Thankyou)

French Person:  Bonjour.

This type of witty repartee happened many times, and was often accompanied by strange pantomimes and gestures.  In most cases the people tried hard to be helpful.

Back to the story.  We made the long trek back to the downtown area.  On the way we spotted the library.  It is a magnificent building that was built in France about the same time as the Eiffel Tower.  Then it was dismantled and moved to Martinique.  We had heard they had original copies of Audobon’s books with his hand painted illustrations.  They did have a couple nice books of his, but they are much more recent reproductions.

We continued back through town towards the boat looking for a marine store.  We found the store, but they didn’t have nearly as large a stock as the guidebook seemed to indicate.  But what they did have was a Customs computer.  We could have saved a couple miles of walking if we had only known.

Trois Ilets (Twaz e LAY)

We spent the night there, but the anchorage was a bit rolly and we really didn’t have much more to see in town, so we looked for another anchorage.  The Fort de France Bay is very large and there are many anchorages.  We found one that looked very protected right next to the town of Trois Ilets (Three Islands).  We motored across the bay, around the point and up the channel between two of the islands.  We looked around for a place to anchor and spotted our friends on Moonlight.  It’s always nice to see a familiar boat in an anchorage.

As we were putting around checking the depth we passed a boat with two women aboard.  They called to us and asked if they were dragging.  Sure enough, their boat was moving backwards pulling the anchor along.  They asked for help and we told them we would be back once we got our boat anchored.  We found a spot, got the anchor down and set, and I took the dinghy over to their boat.  They had started the engine, raised the anchor, moved back to where they had started, and put the anchor back down.  They seemed to be OK and only needed to stay for about another hour until the captain came back.

The harbor at Trois Ilets

We stayed in Trois Ilets for a few days.  They have a nice bakery and we stumbled over a little out of the way “snack” restaurant that had wonderful food (and a couple large guard frogs).  We also discovered crepes.  It was a filling stay.

Trois Ilets

Grande Anse d’Arlet

We moved from there to Grande Anse d’Arlet, a bay just south of the Fort d’ France bay.  The “town” is a row of restaurants separated from the beach by an old road that is closed to traffic.  The main road now runs on the other side of the restaurants.  It took us a couple tries to find a spot we liked, but We anchored close in with reasonable room around us.  Once settled we went to shore to look around.  There is a large town dock where you can tie your dinghy and scramble up a ladder.  We tied up next to a couple other dinghies and went looking for lunch. 

We walked around a little and during that time a large power catamaran party boat came in and attempted to dock.  They seemed to be having trouble getting settled and they managed to pin a few dinks under the dock – including ours.  I walked down the dock to get the dinghy and they moved back enough for me to get it and move it in to a new spot out of their way.

We found a nice little restaurant with tables with little thatched roofs on the beach under some trees and ordered lunch.  While we were eating a three masted day charter boat came in and anchored right next to us.  From our perspective it looked like we might need to go back and put out fenders.  It turned out they weren’t quite that close, but they weren’t very far away, either.   We were most of the way done with lunch when the rain started.  The little roof over the table seemed to have a lot of holes in it, but it kept most of the rain out.

A BIG boat anchors close

How it looked from Little Rosie

Our friends on Moonlight had already moved to this bay and anchored off to one side.  The water on that edge of the bay was filled with boulders that had fallen down the mountain long ago.  Now they were home to a lot of coral and fish.  We could tie the dink up to Moonlight and swim over to the edge of the bay.  There were a lot of interesting fish, including some eels and squid, but nothing big enough to take home for dinner.  There was also a lot of pretty coral.

Grande Anse d’Arlet is separated from Petite Anse d’Arlet by a small peninsula. We walked to Petit Anse and found it to be much more like a town, although it did have a nice little beach with some little restaurants along it.  We got a beachside table at one and after the usual French-English back and forth, we ordered lunch.  While we were waiting we realized that this beach was used by women who were liberated in their choice of clothing – and how much of it to wear.  This anchorage doesn’t seem to be very popular with cruisers, but I think it’s more because of the limited protection from waves than the scenery.

Next: St. Lucia

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One Response to “Martinique”

  1. Mom Says:

    Magnificent sunset! Hope you got your ‘birthday e-mail”.

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