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Martinique - February 17, 2003 - February 27, 2003


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We were glad to be leaving Dominica and headed to a more modern country. Martinique is actually one of the most populated islands and is quite modern. It is French West Indies, and we understand you can fly direct to Paris pretty inexpensively from here.

We departed Roseau, Dominica at about 8:00 AM. The winds were light while we were in the lee of Dominica, but it wasn't long before we got to Scotts Head Point and the winds quickly climbed to 25-30 knots. We double reefed and the winds were soon in the 30-35 knots (apparent) range due to our speed. As the winds clocked when we got further away from the island, we were on a beam reach and PatiCat was reaching 10-11 knots through the water! The seas were about 5-7 feet average. It was about 34 miles total distance into St. Pierre, Martinique and we arrived at about noon.

St. Pierre

St. Pierre is the famous site of one of the modern world's most terrible disasters. In 1902, the entire town of 30,000 people was obliterated by the volcano behind the town called Mont Pelee'. Only two people survived - a prisoner in a stone cell, and a cobbler in his cellar. More on this later.

St. Pierre today has been rebuilt into a pretty little European-looking tourist town built on the ruins of the disaster and right next to the beach. We pulled into the bay - making sure there was no smoke coming from the volcano - and dropped anchor.

Here are some pictures:

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Frank tried going into town to clear customs (or Duoannes - pronounced 'dwan' in French). But, no one answered their door. So, he walked through town and found the museums and tourist office. Back at the boat, Karen was too tired to go ashore, so we stayed on the boat. The girls were too cooped up today, and were fighting a lot. But, eventually we got settled down.

On Tuesday, we did some home schooling first. Karen and Frank went ashore and went to the market and little grocery store. Then after lunch we went to do the museums. Frank tried a couple more times to clear customs, but they didn't seem to be open. The small museum about the St. Pierre volcano was nonetheless quite interesting. It had lots of photographs from before and after the disaster. It was interesting to see the people from the turn of the century, and the amazing number of ships in the bay as this was a big merchant harbour at the time. It was also numbing to see the obliteration of the city and to think of the terrible deaths - especially after you hear why so many died.

The amazing thing about the St. Pierre disaster is many of the people could have been saved. The volcano gave plenty of warning, in fact a couple of weeks before a plantation was overrun by volcanic mud and poison gases (this being a pyroclastic flow - not lava). A week later another plantation was overrun. And the volcano was spewing ash this whole time. But, believe it or not, there was an election to be held, and the politicians didn't want their voters to evacuate - so they assured the people the volcano was safe. Only about 1200 people ignored the politicians and left anyway. 30,000 people stayed and they all died but the prisoner and the cobbler. The prisoner was made famous - mostly because he was hired by Barnum and Bailey circus and he showed off his burn scars and told his story. Here is a picture of his prison cell.


We also walked around town, then had some ice cream and walked back to the bay We decided to leave St. Pierre and go to the big city in Fort de France that afternoon. So, we weighed anchor with two hours of sunlight left and motor sailed our way down the coast.

Anse Mitan/Fort de France

Upon arriving in the large bay where Fort de France is located, we didn't want to park next to the cruise ships, so we motored across the bay (wind on the nose) to Anse Mitan where a lot of other boats were anchored. Plenty of room though - and they have ferries over to the main city. Shortly after we arrived at sunset, a boat we recognized called Decourcy Spirit arrived. Frank had met the couple who sail her while at the dinghy dock at the Anchorage Hotel in Roseau, Dominica. Jan and Murray are from Canada, and Murray works for the electric company at Dominica (and at several other countries in the Caribbean). They were down in Martinique on business combined with pleasure. We invited them to dinner with us, and we went ashore and found a pizza place. To get there, we walked through a nice modern shopping center - we were so glad to see modern conveniences again!

The next day, we eventually got ready to go to Fort de France. Jan and Murray joined us ashore and showed us where to catch the ferry. We went to the cruise ship dock to clear customs, but again it was closed! We were told the main office near the other cruise ship dock would be open. We went to a chandlery where Frank tried to find the impellor needed for the oil changing pump - no luck. Then stopped for lunch. After lunch, Frank tried walking to the other customs office, but realizing it was too far, and he wouldn't make it before they closed for lunch, he walked back to the family.

We stopped in the park, and then finally found the bus we could catch to Le Galleria - a real modern mall. At the mall, Frank found a bookstore (all books in French) that had an Internet cafe. He had to wait, but eventually got on the Internet. By the time he was done, the damage was done - the girls had bought some clothes. Big French prices - ouch! We decided to take a taxi, and actually got a Mercedes Benz taxi! And, it didn't even cost that much. He drove us direct to the customs office. We cleared in and then made our way back to the ferry and back to PatiCat.

The next day we did a full day of home schooling and Frank did some boat maintenance. In the evening, we went to a restaurant which claimed to be "Tex Mex". Well, the decour was there, and the food was good and spicy enough. But, as veterans from Texas we can definitively say it wasn't Texmex. Oh well. Frank also worked on web site updates that night.

The next day, we planned a big day of provisioning. We took the ferry back to Fort de France. Frank stayed in town while Karen and the girls went near the mall to shop in a big grocery store. Frank went to another chandlery, but still no impellor. Then, he found a nice little Internet cafe called Le Web. It is a combination bar and Internet cafe. Although it was a bit smoky, the atmosphere was really nice. The woman who runs it is from Scotland and her name is Shirley. She is quite a character and switches between French, German and English no problem. She made Frank quite comfortable and even watched the laptop for him so he could go out and get some food when it got to be lunch time - without charging for the time. Definitely highly recommended for cruisers, and a lot of cruisers came there to use the service.

Frank waited in the park after having some lunch for a couple of hours. Fortunately he brought a book. The girls showed up two hours later in the same taxi we used the day before. We unloaded at the ferry dock and waited a few minutes for the right ferry. Then headed back to our boat. Unfortunately, the fuel dock wasn't open so late in the afternoon, as we needed to refuel PatiCat.

In the morning, we waited for the fuel dock to open. When it finally did, Frank went to check by dinghy, and found out the diesel fuel pump was broken. We waited a couple of hours, but it wasn't getting fixed. Soon they were closing for lunch. So, we decided to use our backup jerry jugs of fuel, and departed. We sailed out of the bay, and it being a beautiful day, decided to sail up and down the coast a while so we could make water. It was beautiful sailing and we hit 10 knots several times on mostly flat waters and with wind on the beam.

Here is a picture of Anse Mitan, and Fort de France:

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Grand Anse D'artlet

We then sailed down to Grand Anse D'artlet. A beautiful wide bay with LOTS of other sailboats. But, we found a fairly good spot amongst the pack and eventually set our anchor. Frank dove down to check the anchor, and although it looked only half buried, it looked well planted. Although the surface was loose broken coral - we had plenty of anchor line out though. The beach was beautiful here and the water fairly clean. While Frank was in the water, he cleaned the hulls off a bit.

The anchor held fine during the night - even with some fairly gusty winds. After a liesurely morning, the girls and Frank went ashore for the beach. Karen stayed to take a nap. Frank and the girls had a nice time playing frisbee and swimming. Frank took a walk down the beach and noticed our boat looked fine. Then about 12:30 we headed back to the boat. As we approached, we noticed Karen in the cockpit. Frank asked her what woke her up - she said "Well, when we banged into the boat over there." Frank said "What?!" and then noticed our now bent up stanchion (used for holding up the lifelines, our now smashed stern light, our life buoy, and the fishing rod holder which we use to hold our flag). Oh no!

Our anchor dragged shortly after we headed for the beach. "Fortunately" the boat was stopped from going to sea (with Karen blissfully sleeping away) by the catamaran right behind us. It truly was fortunate as our port stanchion hit between their bow on their crossbeam. So, there was no fiberglass damage. The French captain quickly jumped on our boat and started our engines (since we had left the engine keys in) and moved us from causing more damage to his boat. As a result, all we did to his boat was scratch a little paint on his boat's crossbeam. Karen woke up to find the stranger driving our boat, but quickly realized what happened. Pierre (the frenchman) helped Karen re-anchor in close to the same spot. Frank later re-dove the anchor and made sure it was better planted this time, and checked for any other damage - there wasn't. Frank went over and spoke to Pierre, and he was very nice - and fortunately spoke good English. He didn't want any compensation for his small damage. We guess all of our earlier rescues paid off and was returned by another good cruiser. Guess what? We never took a picture of the damaged stanchion, or even of Grand Anse D'arlet!

Marin/St. Anne

The next day, Monday, February 24th, we got up and sailed our way around the southern side of the island on our way to Marin. The charter capital of Martinique and home to lots of boat services. On the way, we passed the famous Diamond Rock. This island is a tall rock with steep craggy cliffs on all sides. At the turn of the 19th century, several british sailors invaded this little island and managed to put several cannon on the island. They dubbed the island H.M.S. Diamond Rock, and she was a big surprise to the French ships who sailed by her on their way to the French port in Marin! A hilarious tale of naval inventiveness. Here's a picture of H.M.S. Diamond Rock:


We managed to sail all the way to the mouth of the bay of Marin. And then motored our way through the narrow channel to the fuel dock in Marin. We were fortunate as they were open and we got fully fueled. At $0.782 Euros per liter, it cost us about $250 US. Ouch. The good news, the other fuel dock in Anse Mitan was over $1.00 Euro per liter.

As we went to anchor, the down button on the anchor windlass broke. We had to pull up the anchor and go and find a mooring ball. Between rain showers, Frank managed to fix the button (the metal disc inside the rubber button for electric contact came unglued - an easy fix). We then dinghied ashore and found chandleries, grocery stores and the boat yard. After two more stores, Frank finally found the impellor he needed - the bad news: $57! Almost half the price of the whole oil change kit. Oh well. Frank found a metal shop, and they told him the stanchion would be repairable (based on a drawing Frank made of the damage). But, we decided to wait until St. Lucia where we would have more time and the people spoke English.

After shopping, we motored out of Marin over to St. Anne. A little town at the mouth of the bay, with lots of anchored sailboats. We were surprised to find lots of US flagged boats. Later we discovered they have a little semi-permanent US community there that is well known. They do lots of activities together apparently. The water was nice and clear here, and the holding good.

The next day, Tuesday, Feburary 25th, we did some home schooling. Frank installed the new impellor, and it fixed the pump problem. So, Frank spent the morning changing the oil, oil filters and fuel filters. He also put some fuel additive in to discourage the notorious diesel fuel growth (microorganisms that grow in diesel).

We decided to stay an extra day in Martinique. We went ashore and did some shopping in town. Frank got on an Internet kiosk and checked mail. We had lunch on the beach with sandwhiches we bought at a bakery/deli. Didn't cost much either. We then had some pastries. The girls had some ice cream from the grocery store later.

After getting back to PatiCat, the girls and Frank took the kayak to the beach. However, Frank had a problem with his contact lens and the salt water and bright sun exacerbated things. We found a public shower and he tried washing it out, but it was really irritating. So, we went back to PatiCat where he treated it with some eye solution and stayed inside away from the bright sun. It got better soon.

We played a bunch of card games that night, and then headed to bed. The next morning, Frank quickly got dressed and ready and took the dinghy back to Marin. He cleared out of customs and then quickly back to the boat. We managed to leave St. Anne just before 9:00 AM for St. Lucia.

(NOTE: we didn't take enough pictures in Martinique - we wish there were more)

© Copyright 2002-2008 by Frank Taylor. All rights reserved.
Last modified: Tue Jul 08 17:55:27 2008