One of the great things about sailing in the Caribbean is that after St Martin, all the islands are within a day’s sail of each other. We left Dominica at 7.30 am on 18th December and by 3.30 pm we were in our next country, Martinique!
Each island provides a lee against the prevailing easterly trade winds, so we had to motor with very little wind until we cleared the southern end of Dominica, but then we had one of our best sails so far, a nice beam reach doing 7-8 kts. We were making such good progress that we decided not to stop in the northern part of Martinique but make our way directly to the capital, Fort de France where we would wait for the arrival of our first “Toucaneers”, Graeme and Wendy, Aussie sailing buddies who were joining us for Christmas.
Martinique is French and has always been so since it was first colonized. It was also the birthplace of the Empress Josephine, so I suppose I was expecting a rather classy, ritzy island akin to St Barts. But Martinique is not quite so magnifique (at least the bits we saw). Fort de France itself is a strange mixture of shabby shopfronts and narrow streets, but with the occasional expensive retail shops in amongst dozens and dozens of $2 bargain shops and more ‘bling’ clothes shops than I’ve ever seen before.
We were anchored off the waterfront, near La Savanne park and every evening there would be some kind of music coming from the park, sometimes it was African drumming, other times it was reggae, or latino pop. They love their music! The watefront was also the prime spot for weddings on Saturdays, so we were treated to some wonderful sights of wedding parties ranging from the classic modern, to the kitsch, to the gloriously colourful.
We’d arranged to meet Graeme and Wendy at the dinghy dock near La Savanne, hoping the taxi driver would understand the instructions. And as easy as pie, there they were!
There was much excitement at our reunion, and it was so lovely to have some Aussie company again. We’d put a call out to all our boat guests asking if they could bring several items that we couldn’t get here, so as Wendy and Graeme unpacked their bags they divested themselves of the eclectic mix of goodies, including Vegemite (of course!), hot English mustard, Bushman’s mozzie repellant, Voltaren anti-inflammatory tablets (only available on prescription in USA) and several tubes of Hydro-slip silicone lubricant (for keeping the toilets aka ’heads’ greased). I’m sure the customs officers must have had some raised eyebrows!
We decided to spend Christmas somewhere a little quieter than Fort de France so we sailed around the corner to a pretty little bay called Anse Noir that was very protected and so small that it could only fit a few boats at a time.
We jumped in for a snorkel and the first thing we saw was a turtle having a snooze on the sea-grass. Here’s a little clip of some of the footage Bruce took on our cheapy imitation Go-Pro:
After a relaxing and peaceful night we headed around to the next bay, Grande Anse D’Arlet, for Christmas Day. Another very pretty place with a laid-back holiday feel, with many families enjoying the water and the beachfront restaurants and bars.
Before leaving Fort de France we’d done some provisioning for the week. It’s always a challenge in a foreign country trying to find specific food items, partly because of the language difficulties but often because of the availability (or lack of) various things that we take for granted back in Australia. So I was very pleased to find a large array of “Jambon de Noel” to choose from, and enough ingredients to make some salads and cold chicken cuts to accompany the ham. Everything was ready for lunch and I asked Bruce to carve the ham. A few minutes later I heard a plaintive cry from the galley “Hon, I don’t think the ham is cooked”. “Don’t be silly, of course it’s cooked” I replied, only to discover that the leg of ham was indeed raw! Those damned Frenchies had fooled me! But nothing was going to deter us, so Bruce carved some thick slices off the leg and fried them in the skillet! The rest of the leg went in the oven to cook slowly for a few hours. It was still a wonderful lunch, and we had a great day with great friends.
Sadly, before we knew it, our week with Graeme and Wendy was up, and they were heading on to more adventures in Cartagena and Mexico. We had a last morning enjoying the Saturday markets with all the colour and noise
and then off they went to the airport, crossing over with our new batch of Toucaneers Rob & Penny and Jackie & Ron, who came in on the flight that Graeme and Wendy would be taking back to Miami! Talk about co-ordination!
Again, it was lovely to see the familiar faces of our Sydney friends (albeit a little jet-lagged), bags bulging with more goodies for us. Bless them! We stayed in Fort de France only long enough to do more provisioning and then headed back to Grand Anse D’Arlet for a night before working our way down to the southern end of Martinique to Cul De Sac De Marin. The trade winds were starting to pick up after a couple of weeks of mild weather, so we had a brisk sail down the coast with 2 reefs in the main, but Toucan handled it all with ease and comfort.
We needed to stop in Marin to pick up a part for our dive compressor. It’s the major yachting centre for Martinique, with many charter companies and services. As we were threading our way in to the marina past reefs and shoals we saw a sad and sobering sight, a yacht aground and sinking after hitting one of the reefs. There were rescue boats on site and the occupants were safe, but it rammed home how careful you need to be navigating in these waters.
In Marin, we had our first experience of tying up stern to, with trot-lines anchoring the bows, a common practice in the Med we’re told. The pick-up lines for the heavy trot lines are on the wharf, and you walk them forward and then attach them to your bow cleats. With many hands on board it was a relatively simple procedure, except one of our pick-up lines broke, meaning we could only use one trot-line on the bow. There was much adjusting of stern lines and springers to make sure we didn’t swing into our neighbours but finally the skipper and crew were happy.
We found Dominic, the local Fountaine-Pajot dealer, who had our part waiting for us (finally we might be able to get the dive compressor working!) and he also remembered our boat, which had been in charter here in 2007. We thought he might be doing some smooth French PR, until he sent through some photos of the boat in its chartering days. It was rather nice to have some confirmation of her history!
New Year’s Eve was spent on chores that always seem to come with being on a marina – laundry, provisioning, washing the boat, and filling up with fuel and water. Again, spreading the load amongst 6 people makes it all a little easier and we rewarded ourselves by going out for dinner to Indigo, a floating restaurant just across from our dock where we enjoyed a three course meal and champagne. It also just happened to be our 19th wedding anniversary!