Bonjour To You All Again
Au revoir from The Admiral and The Commander
We have a lovely sail across to Martinique with a reef in the main and jib, as winds were gusting up to 30kts. We also had two heavy showers of rain, so SHAMAL got a wash. As we were approaching the entrance to the huge harbour at Marin, we we buzzed by a helicopter a couple of times with him flying very low over us. He seemed to be checking out all yachts coming in. I waved out and took photos. We have just read in the papers that a yacht falsely flying an American flag, with two Spanish and one Venezuelan on board, were stopped and boarded by the authorities in Martinique waters, who found a hundred million US dollars of cocaine on board !!!!!! A couple of tons of the stuff. That is the second boat which has been caught in these waters in the last six months.
We have now arrived at our first French Island, but the last of the Windward Islands. The Caribs who lived here at the time Christopher Columbus sailed into these waters, called their Island Madinina, which means Island of flowers. The French colonists were the first to settle the Island in the early 1600’s, clearing the forests to make room for the sugar plantations. The native Caribs retaliated, but by 1660 the majority of them were driven off their Island. Those that survived lived in the Mt. Pelee area, but were later wiped out by the Europeans, but, not before calling on the mountain to take its revenge !! Once again the British got in on the act, but only occupied it for a short period, between 1794 to 1815. With the French back in control they faced a down turn in the sugarcane market due to the introduction of sugar beets on mainland France.
So, we down our sails and motor up the channel winding past reefs and sand bars, carefully following the buoys. We are now getting use to the American buoy system. In our waters at home, European waters, and in fact most of the world, the red buoy is always on your port side (left), and the green buoy on your starboard side (right) – the same as ones navigation lights. But here in the Caribbean they use the American system, with the red buoy on your starboard side, hence they have a saying “Red Right Returning” for when you enter a harbour. The other thing we found amusing is that these marker buoys remind us of the “Tin Man” from The Wizard of Oz – see photos above.
We drop anchor just behind MOONDANCER, and together take the tender across the bay to the Marina to check in. This is nice and simple as it is done online in a few minutes. We are back to using the euro again so are glad we still have some left over from the Mediterranean. Marin is not a big town, but the bay is one of the Caribbean’s largest yacht centres with around a dozen charter company's based here. We have never seen so many catamarans. The marina is bursting with yachts, and there must be over 150-200 yachts out on mooring buoys or at anchor. We were surprised how many have been left at anchor or on moorings over the summer – the hurricane season. People have just closed them up ( some have all the sails removed and everything tied down) and gone home for a few months. At night it is a bit like a ghost town – no anchor lights on. We estimated that under half the boats are still occupied. Some people will still stay aboard, and are tucked up and tied into the mangroves for the summer. Mind out for those no-see-ums !!
Alec had emailed ahead and organized for our wind generator to be serviced here as we need new bearings, so we head out in search of our shop among all the chandleries. Again the guys here are on “Island Time”. We had to show the guy his email to jog his memory, and then were told we would have to wait till the following week. OK one can’t get stressed over these things, so we use the time to have a look around and do other jobs.
We take a local bus for the 31k ride into the Islands capital, Port De France. It was interesting, but a little grubby. The downtown waterfront area is getting a much needed makeover. It seemed to lack the chic little cafes we were hoping to find along the waterfront. Fort St Louis sits out on a headland and is still an active military base, so we could not go in for a look, even though Alec and Steven did try !! The central market is a lovely colourful place selling fruit and vegetables along with home made punches, spices and lots of local crafts. The streets are narrow and many stilled cobbled. Many of the buildings are crumbling or in need of a coat of paint, and we found too many ‘bargain-basement’ shops. BUT, we did come across a wonderful old and colourful building – the Bibliotheque Schoelcher – the library. It was like walking onto an old movie set. The front upstairs portion holds many antique books. It has quite an ornate interior with a Byzantine dome. The building was originally built in Paris and on display at the 1889 World Exposition. It was dismantled and shipped to Fort De France and rebuilt.
We spent other days in the marina area at the different cafes and bars at the internet, having drinks and ice creams, and checking out the different shops. We did find New Zealand lamb to our surprise in the local supermarkets, and at a very reasonable price – 7 Euros per kg or $NZ 10.00 .Beer and wine are also inxpensive. We have already cooked up one leg of lamb and have one more in the freezer. So yummy. Alec’s fresh fruit salads have taken on a bigger variety of tropical fruits including passion fruit. Just look at the size of them in the picture above. Also the avocado are huge, and with the most delicious buttery creamy flavour.
Finally we move SHAMAL into the marina and Steven and Alec remove the wind generator and take it in for servicing. We get it back two days later and the guys refit it. Now it is like new, humming along very quietly which is wonderful. We move SHAMAL back out to the anchorage and spend our last night in Marin having farewell drinks on MOONDANCER. We are heading north, and they will be heading down to the A,B,C’s (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) – the Dutch Islands off the coast of Venezuela.
The following morning we head out along the coast as far as Anse Mitan, a lovely bay which looks out across to Fort De France. On the way we pass Diamond Rock which stands 167 metres vertically out of the sea. In 1804, 120 British marines somehow managed to haul a cannon and equipment up the rock face calling it HMS “ Diamond Rock”. For the next 17 months they caused havoc for the French ships who tried to navigate the inside passage between the Rock and the mainland. The French eventually came up with a brilliant plan, where they loaded a skiff with rum and set it adrift. The British sailors could not resist such a haul and captured the rum and got totally wasted that night which allowed the French to retake the rock.
The village of Anse Mitan is full of chic little boutiques set in the Creole Village. Creole means – any person of European or Negro decent, who are born in the West Indies. You will see in the photos the lovely architecture of the buildings. Parts of the area are a little run down outside the village. A big hotel stands empty on the waterfront where it once had wonderful views and a lovely beach out front.
We decide to walk to the Pagerie Estate, the birthplace of Empress Josephine – BIG mistake, not only was it a VERY long walk, it was a hot hot hot walk. We took a wrong turn and climbed a hill road unnecessarily so had to back track, then once we arrive we found the place is closed on a Monday !!!! We walk back as far as a golf club where we have one of the most expensive juices we have ever had. Then as we can’t find a bus or taxi, walk back to the village. Round Two – yes I really want to see this place, but first we visit the Information Centre, which I should have done yesterday. Yes a bus does run there. We set off again paying only euro 1.20 for the bus ride. There is a small renovated cottage left and the ruins of the sugar factory. The cottage was once the kitchen and has been turned into a museum. The rest of the house was destroyed in a huge hurricane in August 1766. The family then moved into the upstairs part of the sugar factory where they lived for the next 20 years in bad conditions – noise, heat, bad smells and bugs. The house was never rebuilt as Josephine’s father was a gambler and womanizer, he could never afford to. All that is left are the stone foundations. Josephine was sent to France in 1790 for an arranged marriage at the age of 16 years. Her first husband was killed in the French Revolution. She later married Napoleon.
After eventually visiting the La Pagerie Estate I am happy to move on. We have one last anchorage on the Island of Martinique we wish to visit. St Pierre, which is situated on the north western end of the Island and sitting at the foot of Mt Pelee. At the beginning of the 20th century St Pierre was considered the most cosmopolitan city in the Caribbean. As I said at the beginning of this post, the Carib people cursed the early Europeans, calling on this mountain to take its revenge. Well it surely did. It may have taken nearly 300 years, but on the 8th May 1902 after some earlier rumblings and smaller eruptions which had killed many people, and still the majority did not heed these warning but chose to stay put, the mountain side facing the town exploded realising a giant fireball and superheated gas that flattened the town killing around 29,000 people. All but two people were killed – a prisoner in a stone cell, and a cobbler. We visited the small museum which gives a very good history of the eruption, then set off to see the ruins of the 18th century theatre and the thick-walled jail cell. Many other ruins remain with newer buildings using an old stone wall or garden wall from pre-eruption times.
A couple of comments from the commander – he feels that the British may have claimed more Islands than the French, but when it comes to yacht construction and the number of yachties out on the Caribbean waters to date, that the French rule the waves.
Secondly we are surprised at the lack of American flagged yachts to date – in the Windward Islands that is. We though it would be their playground, but we have just been informed we will see more as we move up through the Leeward Islands and across to the Virgin Islands. Also to date we have only see about half a dozen yachts at most from New Zealand and Australia.
We are seeing some Super Yachts. Alec picked up one of the Super Yachts tender the other day as it had its own A.I.S. A little over the top he thought !!So from St Pierre we will move into the first or the Leeward Islands. Dominica here we come.
Au revoir from The Admiral and The Commander