April 15th, 1997
St. Anne, Martinique
Most nights in the Caribbean are quiet, peaceful and reflective times, this is not one of those nights. Tonight the steady cool breeze carries with it the loud, rhythmic sounds of the Club Med disco. Pirate Jenny is anchored about a hundred meters off the beach of the club "Les Boucannier's". The two main anchorages in the area, in Cul de Sac du Marin and off the town of St. Anne are packed with boats but here we sit well anchored, in still water, with a pleasant breeze, all alone. For me this is a special place. On my very first trip to the Caribbean 16 years ago I came to this Club Med with my friend Eric. It was a magical experience, my first time in the tropics, my first time scuba diving and it was on that trip that I first saw a cruising sailboat in it's natural habitat, anchored exactly where we are now. Swimming around that boat and sailing the small daysailers rekindled my teenage love of sailing and ignited the spark of the dream to return here in a boat of my own.
Much has changed in those 16 years. I remember sailing to the village of Marin in a little race they called "The Rum Run". I tacked through the small fleet of 10 to 15 foreign flagged boats anchored off the village. Today Marin is a large, bustling town complete with neon lights and all manner of tourist traps. Now the area home of four charter companies there are several hundred boats anchored, moored and docked in the bay. Off the town of St Anne which then was hardly more than a beach town with a couple of resturants and a souvenier stand there are now anchored another hundred boats. The whole area, once secluded, is now covered with condos and time shares no longer accessed by the winding, scenic road I remember but now fed by a modern, busy highway. What has not changed is the beautiful clear water, the small colourful coral reef that guards the entrance to the bay and the daily routines of the Club Med.
This last month has been a busy one so, let me bring you up to date. After a very early morning dinghy ride to take Bernie and Lynn to shore for their taxi and early morning flight back to Ottawa we quickly stowed the dinghy, lifted anchor and headed through the Boca, north, to Grenada. We passed the entrance light at 5:45 am. This year the weather in the Caribbean has been somewhat unusual. Since our arrival in Trinidad at the end of January the weather had continued to be squally with northeast winds in the 20 to 30 knot range and seas in the 3 to 4 meter range. Not the kind of conditions we would choose to do the 200 mile passage to St. Lucia. However, it was 7th of March and my Brother Lane and his family were due in St. Lucia in 2 weeks so we had to get moving. Our first hour out of Trinidad was somewhat bumpy and uncomfortable but after that the winds steadied to a close but acceptable angle to our course and the seas averaged two meters with the odd three and a half meter swell. Under reefed main and genoa we sailed our course averaging over 6.5 knots. As the day progressed the clouds disappeared and we enjoyed a lively, beautiful day's sail arriving in St. George's harbour in good light just after sunset. Another drop of rum for Neptune!
In the next three days we sailed to the Tobago Keys, Bequia and then decided to chance an overnight stop on the west coast of St. Vincent rather than arrive in St. Lucia at night. We choose a small bay called Wallilabou about half way up the island and arrived mid afternoon. We were met by a boat boy about a mile out and agreed on the price of $10. EC for him to take our stern line ashore and retrieve it for us the next morning. When we arrived there were five other boats in the bay by nightfall there were seventeen. The bay is like many in this part of the Caribbean; very deep with a steep drop off from shore. We dropped our anchor in 60 feet of water and had a stern line taken ashore and tied to a palm tree. We had not even adjusted our lines when we were surrounded by other boat boys selling everything from jewelry to bananas. I had the best possible defense I had come directly from Trinidad and had no more EC money. The word soon got around and we were then left alone. I must say though, that they were still all very pleasant even after they realized that they would make no sales to us. We had a quiet and uneventful night. As promised our boat boy arrived on time to retrieve our line the next morning.
Petite Piton from the water
Anchorage on the north side of Petite Piton
Our sail the remaining 40 or so miles to Marigot Bay, St. Lucia was delightful. Finally we were heading north instead of 30degrees east of north and that gave us a nice reach with a good wind of 15 to 20 knots and a surprisingly flat sea. The day was hazy and we could not see St. Lucia but we enjoyed the sunshine and excellent sailing conditions. By about 1:00 in the afternoon the Pitons began to emerge from the haze. It was a very impressive sight. These two peaks rise from the sea on the east coast of St. Lucia and climb almost straight up to a dramatic 2600 feet. As we sailed the remaining 10 miles the rest of the island slowly appeared and I remember thinking 'What a glorious way to spend a Wednesday afternoon!' We arrived in Marigot Bay, had the anchor set in the lagoon and the dinghy in the water in ample time to clear customs and relax with a cool rum punch before dinner.
Marigot Bay, St. Lucia
Marigot bay is another Moorings location and the charter company keeps a fleet of 20 or so boats on the dock along one side of the inner lagoon. The bay is bisected by a small spit of palm covered sand that leaves only a narrow entrance to the inner lagoon. This, combined with high surrounding hills makes for a very well protected anchorage. As always, the trade off is that the lagoon is very hot with little air movement and the water is not very clean and incredibly crowded. After the first night we chose to re-anchor in the outer bay and found it much more comfortable. All in all though Marigot bay is a very nice spot to spend a few relaxing days.
We continued north to Rodney Bay to check Email and purchase a few boat parts at the marine store. As we dinghied into the inner harbour and the very modern marina we were thrilled to see the Britannia Yacht Club burgee flying high atop the main mast of 'Fair Jeanne'. We spent the next few days cleaning the boat, doing some minor repairs and researching the 'things to do' on St. Lucia.
With the boat prepared for our next set of guests sailed to the southern end of the island to Vieux Fort. This town is not a popular destination. For one, it is a miserable, wet, 15 mile beat into the wind, sea and current. Secondly, it is a commercial harbour with no facilities for anything smaller than a container ship. There is no town dock, no place to land the dinghy and the anchorage is quite rolly. So, why go there? Well, it is only a couple of miles from the international airport (otherwise a $50.00 US taxi ride) and it is not a tourist town. There is only one rather run down hotel. The town has many century old wooden buildings and a large fishing fleet. It has tremendous charm as a vignette of what St. Lucia may have been before plane loads and boat loads of tourists arrived. Another hidden treasure is the nearby Anse de Sable, a beautiful white sand beach several miles long and usually near deserted, on the windward side of the island about a mile from town.
We were the only cruising boat in Vieux
Fort for the few days we spent waiting for my brother and his
family. The local fishermen were very friendly, the manager of
the commercial port allowed us to tie the dinghy along side a
lower section of the pier where his pilot boat was moored, and
the town's people were helpful and pleasant. We were also pleased
to find a large modern grocery store where we found most of the
items we needed at prices close to those in Trinidad and
substantially less than at the grocery store in Marigot bay. We
paid $1.00 EC each for the bus ride to the airport. My brother
Lane and his wife Avery exited the Canada 3000 plane with my two
nephews Evan, 7 and Brant, 6. The boy's eyes were as big as sauce
pans. This was their first time on a plane, first time on a
winter vacation, first time in the tropics and first time on a
boat! This was going to be an adventure for all of us.
We spent the next week in the Soufriere area. This is now a marine park that covers the area around and between the Pitons. The area is very popular with most of the island's attractions very close by. Anchoring in the area is restricted to protect the coral and the park has placed a good number of moorings for the use of which they charge a small fee. As we rounded Gros Piton and headed in towards the moorings we were greeted by one of the local boat boys "Welcome to paradise". He followed us in and handed us the pennant from the mooring ball. I was feeling generous and offered him $5.00 EC for his assistance. I was informed that the charge for this service was $10.00 EC . for handing us a line. After a brief discussion he left with the $5.00 EC. No sooner had we turned off the engine and we were approached by the 'Fruit Man' wanting us to buy his wares. I thanked him and said we did not need anything today but perhaps in the next few days he remained at the side of the boat pouting and saying that we would probably be gone and would not buy anything from him . When he next came by after dark one evening and I told him to see us in the morning he rang off a string of four letter words that started with "You f ing people" and got worse from there.
And so it continued, The next day we were offered the services of a guide to take us to the hot waterfall. He would give us a really good deal only $30.00 EC per person. I declined and we guided ourselves the half mile on a well marked path to the falls. We did find a taxi driver to take us on a half day tour for $80.00 EC ($40.00 cdn) and very much enjoyed our tour of the 'Drive-in Volcano', Diamond falls and the Botanical Gardens. I think the kids were most impressed by the volcano. The road runs into what is left of the cauldera where bubbling pools of mud and sulphur springs spew forth steam and gasses in an impressive display of mother nature's darker side. The sulphur springs are also the source of heat for the small steam that cascades down to the sea and provides one of the few hot water showers a cruiser is likely to find in the Caribbean (the hot waterfall).
Brant and Evan ..I don't know where I'm a goin go when the volcano blows
The Pitons, St. Lucia
The Soufriere area is a source of much natural beauty. The towering pitons and thick, lush tropical vegetation are very impressive by day and anchoring beneath these towering spires with the night sky ablaze in stars is one of the most spectacular sights in the Caribbean. At home beautiful natural panoramas are often beset with nasty biting insects, in St. Lucia its the boat boys. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this area don't miss it; if you wish to avoid unpleasant experiences just don't put your wallet away.
We spent the second week of our visit in Rodney Bay. This bay, at the north end of the island, is surrounded by a large crescent shaped beach and several large hotels. The area is very tourist oriented with no boat boys. Most of the week was spent on the beach where the boys played in the sand, snorkeled and one day when we had some large waves, they tried their hand at body surfing. We also managed a day trip by bus into nearby Castries, the capital city and a trek of several miles, on a well marked trail, through the rain forest. During the two weeks the boys became very familiar with the boat, Evan knew where I kept every tool and Brant supervised the cooking of every meal. For Evelyn it was a challenge cooking for eight, four adults, Evan and Brant. For me it was wonderful to see the boys' excitement, interest and enthusiasm for things that, after a while, we take for granted. Their eyes helped me to re-discover some of the beauty that surrounds us.
A walk in the rain forest
The coconut man
The two weeks passed quickly, too quickly. As Lane, Avery and the boys headed for the taxi to the airport we prepared for our passage north to Martinique. We had spoken with our friends Luca and Patrica on the single side band radio. They had been heading back towards Venezuela and we had planned to spend some time with them along the way. However, due to an illness in the family Luca decided to advance his trip home to Switzerland and was leaving from Martinique five days later. In order to see them before their flight we sailed directly to Fort de France, the capital city of Martinique. After rounding Pigeon Island at the northern end of Rodney Bay a beautiful, warm, easterly trade wind filled our sails and we skitted across the inter island channel in excellent time. I had told the kids to watch for us as they left St. Lucia expecting that we would be easy to spot mid channel but as the Canada 3000 flight soared overhead we were passing Diamond rock at the south end of Martinique.
Postcard - Sailing in Fort de France Bay
We arrived at the marina in Pointe du bout and were tied alongside 'RORO IV' about 5:00pm. It was a very happy reunion that stretched well into the night. We had intended to spend a day or two in the marina to give the batteries a good charge, fill water tanks and do some laundry. However, this island really is a little piece of Europe; The electricity is 220 V with strange plugs and no adaptors or transformers and even the water hose fittings are different. We borrowed Luca's hose to fill our tanks and do some laundry and left the next afternoon for the nearby anchorage.
We spent the next few days visiting with Luca and Patrica, sightseeing in Fort de France and exploring the Anse Mitan area, where we had anchored, which is across the very large bay from Fort de France. The day that our friends were to leave we rented a car to spend the morning sightseeing with them and then drive them to the airport in the afternoon. We left Pointe du Bout early in the morning and drove along the south west coast of the island. The roads in Martinique are beautiful, not only for the scenic coastlines they follow but the condition of the roads themselves. We passed two small fishing villages of Grande and Petite Anse d'Arlet on a narrow winding road then followed a very modern highway along the southernmost part of the coast past Diamond Rock to Marin and St. Anne. We stopped in St. Anne and had a very nice lunch in a beachside restaurant before heading back to the airport.
Lamentin Airport at Fort de France
Postcard - Anse Mitan anchorage with Fort de France in Background
Our second day with the car we again left early and headed to see the northern part of the island. Martinique impressed us with how modern, clean and cosmopolitan the island is. We found it to have everything .including traffic jams! We spent the first hour of our island tour creeping along the highway towards Fort de France. Finally, we made it far enough to find an exit that would reverse our planned tour but get us out of the traffic. We traveled east towards the Atlantic coast through rolling hills of neatly planted banana and sugar cane fields. From the town of Robert we continued north, along the coast, past numerous secluded bays and palm lined beaches. Martinique's east coast is unique in the windward islands; it's many bays and inlets are protected by a long line of reefs to the east and the Caravelle peninsula to the north. The intrepid (and cautious) sailor can enjoy some solitude in these anchorages off the beaten path.
Looking north along the east coast of Martinique from Caravelle
At the town of Lorraine we headed inland and began the slow climb up toward the Mount Pelee volcano, the highest point on the island. Along the winding road our view of the gentle slopes covered with banana trees and sugar cane and the picturesque sand edged coast line beyond became more impressive with each turn. We stopped for a picnic lunch of baguette, pate, French cheese and wine at the Gorges de la Falaise. After lunch we donned bathing suits and the plastic shoes provided and made our way along the footpath through the lush rain forest vegetation some 200 feet down to the stream. Once at water level we walked and waded through the clear fresh water a short distance to the opening of the gorge. Here the stream flows from a narrow slit in an otherwise solid stone wall. From this point we waded through, at times waist deep water, climbing over rocks and small water chutes through the winding gorge. 200 feet above a narrow ribbon of blue sky provided the only light. In most places the gorge is only 6 to 10 feet wide. Our trek ended in a water carved bowl of sparkling water at the bottom of a 40 foot water fall. The midday sun found it's way through the narrow gap above and through the mist to splash the cavern with an almost theatrical illumination. Spectacular!
Waterfall in the Gorge de la Falaise
After this refreshing swim we were ready to tackle the hike up Mt. Pelee. We drove the remaining distance to the beginning of the south trail. The road winds up the mountain through hairpin turns covered at times by a canopy of ferns and tropical vegetation. Gradually the forest thinned as we approached the first of three shelters. This shelter at 2,690 feet is as far as you can go by car. We parked, bought some bottled water and looked up toward the cloud covered summit over 2,000 feet above. The trail from the parking lot climbs quickly at first following deep cut ravines then winds it's way up to the first plateau at 3,635 feet. Though steep in places, it is still more of a hike than actual mountain climbing though at times we did have to clamber over large boulders and rocky slopes. From the plateau the trail follows a narrow ridge in a gentle dip towards the next climb up to the rim of the caldera. Aching a little from the first leg but beckoned by the mysteries above we decided to go 'just a little further'. Fourty-five minutes later at 4,003 feet, we stood on the rim of the caldera peering over the shear drop of several hundred feet into what was once a crater lake. When Mt. Pelee last erupted in 1902 it blew out the western wall of the crater and spewed lava and super-heated gases over the town of St. Pierre where over 30,000 people lost their lives. Where we stood was at that time the top of the volcano but the 1902 eruption pushed the peak to it's current height of almost 4,600 feet. We followed the path along the rim to another small plateau where we had a break-taking view of the 1902 crater, the towering new peak rising from within, the re-built town of St. Pierre and the blue waters of the Caribbean beyond. It was a long arduous climb but well worth effort. We rested a while to soak up the panoramas in all directions before our decent along the same trail back to the car.
By then it was late afternoon and we followed one of the most scenic roads I have ever traveled back to Fort de France. We stopped in town at one of the larger stores, 'Euromarche' to wait out the homebound traffic. The store is much like a 'Price Club' back home but requires no membership. It was interesting to see the great array of products, most of European origin, that were available. Prices are higher than Trinidad but the selection is much greater. Martinique is a rather expensive island. (that is why I have only included a few postcard photos with this letter to develop a 36 exposure roll of film costs about $65.00 cdn. We'll all have to wait until our return to Trinidad to see my photos.) We had been warned about prices here and had done a major re-provisioning before leaving Trinidad. As a result we have really spent very little here, fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken and fish. The basics are reasonable and not surprisingly breads, French cheeses and table wines are quite inexpensive.
Postcard - Anchorage at Cul de Sac du Marin
We have spent this last week anchored here in front of the Club Med. I have very much enjoyed the time to relax, swim and snorkel. Tomorrow, after saying goodbye to several new friends: the barracuda under the club dock, the brown spotted moray eel in his home at the edge of the reef, the three langostine brothers in their small hole in a coral clump a couple of hundred meters from the stern of the boat .and 'au revoir' to the lady with the pleasant smile in the St. Anne bakery where we buy our fresh baguette each morning, we will lift anchor and return to Fort de France.
It's getting close to the time when we will have to head south again for the hurricane season. We will spend a day or two in Fort de France to check mail, send this letter and do a little shopping, then sail to St. Pierre to see the ruins from the 1902 eruption and check out for Dominica. Depending on what we find there we may continue up to Guadaloupe but either way, by the end of May we will head quickly south to Trinidad then on to Cumana in Venezuela to haul out the boat for her annual bottom painting. It was one year ago April 22 that we launched 'Pirate Jenny' in Annapolis; One year and almost 4,000 miles later, the bottom paint is about worn off, the wind generator needs repair, the knotmeter has packed it in, the water maker is broken again, my Yanmar diesel engine still purrs like a kitten and Evelyn is still dancing around the deck to "Follow the leader, leader, leader, follow the leader".
Best wishes to all.