29 December 2019

Martinique and Joyeux Noël

We planned on staying in Martinique just a few days. Two weeks and five harbors later, we reluctantly wrapped up our exploration of this fantastic French island to continue our voyage northward.

Captain Linda Perry Riera


After a 12 hour challenging sail from St. Vincent, Argon nestled in to the extensive bay at St. Anne on the southern coast of Martinique. This vast area of good holding in 15 foot depths abutting a precious town made for a welcoming introduction.

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Later, a brief but jaunty down-wind sail to the southwest harbor of Anse DÁrlet (definitely on our all time top 10 list), we enjoyed the pristine water, jovial beach and attractive hillside town.

For a change of pace we also anchored in the urban harbor of the capital city of Fort de France before setting off on an easy short early morning hop to Anse A L'Ane for a couple of nights.

The last few days on the island were perhaps the highlight of our Martinique experience anchored close to shore on an skinny swath of sand in Saint-Pierre at the base of Mt. Pelée along the northwest coast. Saint-Pierre overflows with tragic history from the infamous Mount Pelée eruption in 1902 killing nearly 30,000 people and destroying the city.

St. Anne Harbor was a welcome respite after a long difficult sail from St. Vincent.

Large sea turtles are very common in these waters. We saw the most at St. Anne and Anse DÁrlet.

The rolly down-wind sail along the southern coast through Passe Des Fous. Rocher Du Diamant is prominent in the background.

The spectacular harbor of Anse DÁrlet on the southwest coast (one of our all time favorite harbors).

Anchored near a huge cruise ship in the big city of Fort de France.
Morning sail from Anse A L'Ane to Saint-Pierre.

Harbor of Saint-Pierre with the impressive 4000+ ft Mt. Pelée volcano in the background.

Anchored in Saint-Pierre with Mt. Pelée in the background.

Exploring Land

We were able to get to land quite a bit while in Martinique. Sometimes it was to work, but mostly it was for exploration. Martinique, like all the French islands, is great for provisioning with well stocked markets, good quality produce, excellent wine and cheeses, and reasonable prices. Investigating shops, visiting chandleries, and embarking on rural and urban hikes were a great way to get lots of exercise and experience the island intimately.

Embarrassingly, we still know no French aside from a handful of standard phrases and pleasantries. It is a surprising barrier considering the focus on tourism in the country. However, the vast majority of people were either friendly or neutral about our lack of local language skills. (This is in contrast to the unwelcome vibe in much of Guadeloupe.) Google Translate is of great help in the French islands.

Fantastic, extensive trail along the southeastern coast from St. Anne to Saline Beach.

Vigorous hike along the southwest coast.

Great grilled food along the beach in Anse D'Arlet.

Interesting cascading lights pouring out of the Hotel De Ville in Anse D'Arlet. These are made of thousands of used plastic water bottles.

Close up of the plastic water bottle cascade.

Beautiful glowing plastic garbage mirage at night. Also a reminder of the immense permanent trash we create.

Exploring the big city of Fort de France.

Long hike from Anse A L'Ane to Anse Mitan lead us to a defunct hotel at the tip of Pointe du Bout with interesting street art.
Eclectic downtown Saint-Pierre. Many buildings retain a wall or two from original structures prior to the destruction by the volcano in 1902.

Waterfront produce marker in Saint-Pierre.

Hiking Mt. Pelée. The starting point was at about 2400 feet then we hiked up to about 4000 feet. (and there was still more to go)

Breathtaking views down the carved trench of Mt. Pelee. We were pretty tired by about now.

Zoomed in shot of Argon's anchorage along the city of Saint-Pierre from atop Mt. Pelee volcano. Argon is just above the ferry dock.

Are we there yet?! Nope, still more ridges beyond.

Enjoying post hike adult beverages in a funky downtown bar, Saint-Pierre.

We are getting better at deciphering menus.

The Negatives: Thefts, Connectivity and Transportation

Martinique proved to be a wonderful island for cruising. However, there are a few challenges.

Dingy thefts are common in Martinique (similar to many Windward islands). Even gasoline cans getting swiped out the dinghy as well as gasoline siphoned out of the can is problematic. (We anchored next to and hung out with two other American boats in Saint-Pierre - both had their gas tanks stolen recently while in Martinique.) The logistics and expense associated with replacing any of these items is substantial. Currently there are transportation related strikes on the island further increasing gasoline thefts due to the constricted supply. Stainless steel chain ($$$) locks our outboard and gas can to the dinghy. And another stainless steel chain locks the dinghy to the dock when going ashore. It is also necessary to lock the dinghy to your boat at night as thefts occur even when at anchor with owners on their boat. Argh!!

Heavy chains and locks add a layer of inconvenience when going ashore, but it is necessary.

Martinique is the most first-world place we have been in months. Roads are in excellent condition, products and services are plentiful. But this country is by far the most difficult and expensive for data connectivity. Thank goodness we had Google-Fi going in one of our phones, because for much of the time here, it has been the only option but it was slower than normal (not fast enough for voice calls / telecons). We always try to have redundant connectivity options if possible since we are so dependent on it for work. We still had an Orange SIM card from last year on the way south but could not get it to work. And even if we could, the cost of data on Orange is 15EUR/GB... more than quadruple the Digicel price of about $3USD/GB. When we got to Fort de France, we eventually found an Orange Store and brought one of our phones with our old Orange SIM. No one in the store spoke any English and we struggled through using Google Translate. For some reason (in french) we needed a new SIM card (19EUR). But even then, that didn't work so we needed to be escorted to a strangely secure upstairs section of the store to see "The Technician" (9EUR more) who got us working. After all that hassle, data is still 15EUR/GB so we continue to limit the use of the Orange SIM for when we need really fast LTE (like for work teleconferences). We will certainly go way over our allowed 15GB from Google FI this month and have to buy additional data at $10/GB (but this is still cheaper than Orange). We continue to muddle through the data challenges while island hopping.

More hours spent in search of and waiting at an Orange store for help securing SIM card data. No English was spoken here; there was lots of usage of Google Translate.

Google Translate is immensely helpful not only for deciphering menus but for more complicated transactions like renting a car or trying to rectify data issues.

Martinique has a lot to learn from the non-french West Indies when it comes to transportation. In many of the non-french islands, there is a system of private buses and taxis. In Grenada and Antigua for example, a driver can buy a van, and buy a permit to run a particular bus route. His incentive then is to pack as many people into his van and get them to where they want to go as fast as possible so he can cram more people into his van. We have never seen a bus refuse to pick up someone because of such a silly reason as  being "too full".  We have taken several rides on each other's (or strangers') laps.  For the sailor trying to get places, this is extremely efficient. You will never wait more than a few minutes on any road without several buses slowing down, honking and asking you if you want a lift. Often, the buses make stops at businesses and restaurants to deliver supplies from vendors. It's incredibly efficient Island UPS. And costs only about $1USD/trip. The downside of this system, is that because of the incentives, they drive... insane. (Just close your eyes and hang on and enjoy the thumping music.)

Martinique is the extreme opposite. There are very few taxis, and there is no private bus system. There are over-sized, overly comfortable, air conditioned municipal buses that arrive at specific stops very infrequently. (And do not dare try to pay fare with anything larger than a 10EU note.) To effectively get around Martinique, you need to rent a car. But securing a rental without an advance reservation is very difficult as the supply is strangely restricted. The roads are clogged with rental car traffic and parking can be difficult. Message to Martinique: be more like Grenada and the other islands with transportation (only maybe drive a little less frighteningly).

Bob working while we wait (for a long time) for a bus to take us to the chandleries in Le Marin.

Boat Projects in Paradise

Martinique is the Caribbean shopping mecca for mariners (second only to perhaps St. Martin). We took an (inefficient) bus trip from St. Anne to nearby Le Marin. The trip proved fruitful as we scored zinc anodes for the sail drive and bow thruster, an additional piece of stainless steel chain for added dinghy security, a headlamp, and sail tape.

There is always a list of things to fix, tweak, maintain, and inspect. We checked off several small projects recently including whipping on the reefing line and main halyard (to assist line setting for reefing), scrubbing the bottom of the dinghy, rigging the boom brake, checking and adjusting the rig tune, replacing lots of rigging tape. We also made a trip to a fuel dock and, after hovering for nearly an hour awaiting our turn, topped off diesel and gasoline and filled our water tanks. 

There are several projects on the to do list including polishing the bow roller, addressing the vented loop on the sump discharge to stop it siphoning, cleaning the sump, inspecting and cleaning the bilge pump, checking the lazy-jack lines for chafe, getting the broken backing plate out of the boom (probably requires removing the boom) and having a new padeye welded, inspecting all steering mechanics and autopilot...  The more I type, the more I think of...

Oh, and we are way behind on laundry. There is a growing, stinky pile craving attention.

Tweaking the rig tuning, replacing some codder pins, and fresh sail tape.

Whipping mark on the reefing line and main halyard to assist with reefing. (It will be re-done when we can get some reflective sail thread for better visibility at night.)

Replacing the shackle with dynema lashing on the main tack for a more clean attachment to the gooseneck bolt.

Rigged boom brake - particularly useful since we are now happily often sailing off the wind. (A recent padeye breakage is cause for improvising the attachment point temporarily.)

Where to Next?

The next island north is Dominica. Despite being big fans of this beautiful and rugged island, we will keep our stay in Dominica brief so that we can move on to Les Saints / Terre de Haut (part of another French country, Guadeloupe, thus with the same data limitations and language barrier).

Au revoir, Martinique!!

21 December 2019

Saint Vincent - Fascinating!

Like many cruisers, we by-passed St. Vincent last spring on our southward journey to Grenada. Reports of security issues keep many away, especially charter boats. However as with many things in life, St. Vincent is complex; not all good or all bad of course. I am so happy we decided to park there for a bit and experience a little slice.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

Sailing from Bequia, Grenadines to St. Vincent

It was not straightforward to figure out when or where to go as the winds were up and with a northerly component making the sail from Bequia to St. Vincent more difficult than usual. And the popular Atlantic Rally to the Caribbean (ARC) was just arriving in the main harbor, Blue Lagoon, leaving no room. After investigating the handful of western harbor options, all with inconsistent reviews at best, we settled on Cumberland Bay. And oh what a find!

St. Vincent is similar in size and population to Grenada: about 130 square miles (almost 20 miles long) with a population of about 100,000. But its topography is more akin to Dominica with jagged, dramatic mountains (including the 4000 ft La Soufiere volcano), lush rain forests, rocky cliff-lined coasts, and scant sandy beaches.

Cumberland Bay is only about 20nm away from Bequia. But with 20+ kt E/NE winds forcasted, we weighed anchor at 0600 from Admiralty Bay, Bequia to get an early start before the winds and seas peaked. It was a short 6nm of exposed ocean and then the lee of St. Vincent quickly offered protection.

Approaching the dramatic coast of St. Vincent.

Morning sail with squalls in the open water north of Bequia, a bit south of St. Vincent.

Cumberland Bay, St. Vincent

A deep bay with shallow rocks reaching out from both the north and south sides of the entrance, a rapidly shallowing shelf, and a lush steep forest enclosure, Cumberland Bay is a unique oasis.

Cas, proprietor of the simple but welcoming beach restaurant Mojitos, greeted us as we approached to help with the tricky med moor style anchoring. We were instructed exactly where to drop the hook as the depths swiftly jumped from more than 100 to less than 10 feet. We then handed Cas about 100 feet of our line which he brought to shore and tied to a coconut tree to keep us from swinging in to the rocks.

Cas talked to us several times about his plan to organize and sponsor a Sailing Regatta around St Vincent in April 2020.  He seems very keen to do it and after sailing these waters, I can attest that it would be a pretty zesty ride! His facebook page may have more info as it approaches.

Argon remained comfortably nestled in Cumberland Bay during our two night stay despite the winds kicking up a party outside the bay. Our time in here felt like visiting someone's modest neighborhood where all their cousins gathered to hang out; completely non-touristy, everyone going about whatever they do normally leaving us to ourselves, but also making us feel welcome inviting us to join in if we wanted to.

Cas, proprietor of Mojitos, shows us exactly where and how to anchor as the deep bay quickly shallows along shore.

Enveloped in a very peaceful and beautiful anchorage. The winds were up a bit outside but one would not know it from in here.

There was usually only one or two other visiting sailboats in the entire bay.

Argon anchored in Cumberland Bay along side a couple of local fishing boats.

View from the bus ride to Chateaubelair.

Cas took us on a challenging hike through the land of his family - along a ridge with dramatic views and down a steep, muddy hillside.
Sweaty and muddy, we came upon Cas' dad, Evan, and one of his many brothers, Pie and stopped to chat for a bit. While there, we picked some sour sop from out back.

Along the hike, we gathered grapefruit, passion fruit, tangerines, lemons, sour sop, mango apples and basel.

Colorful, sturdy houses built in to the steep mountainsides.

View of Cumberland Bay from the roadside up the hill.

The fishing hut of Captain Guidi's (a colorful ex-pat from Italy). Captain Guidi is very passionate about his homemade lures. We bought a customized lure for trolling off Argon. Look forward to trying it out and bringing in a big one (or just any one).

Beach view and Mojitos restaurant.

Time to Move On

We enjoyed our final evening and prepared to depart before daybreak for a long sail to Martinique.

Impressive coconut tree climbing. We all stood back as the heavy coconuts came crashing down. What was best about this is that it is not for us, the lone tourists. It's just a few guys hanging out  wanting coconuts. And happy to share with visitors.

Venita, Rasta Joe and others all waiting for their serving of fresh coconut.

Kenny cuts open several coconuts for all of us.

First we drink the milk, then the entire coconut gets split open and we scoop out the soft layer of fresh coconut with a piece of the shell. Yum!

Nestled in Cumberland Bay for our final night. Prepare to depart at 0500 in the morning for the 12 hour sail to Martinique.

Passion fruit mojitos made by Venita at Mojitos beach restaurant. So happy we were able to experience this place briefly.