Martinique

January 22, 2009

We were all readied to sail at 0800 hours this morning and the final step was to pay the marina bill for utilities used. The meters had been read and I waited patiently for the marina office to open. At 0820 hours the girl finally showed up for work, some 20 minutes late and then discovered that she had forgotten her office key. She disappeared again. Island time. We dropped our lines at 0845 hours and set sail for Martinique, close hauled in 15 to 18 knots of wind and seas of 10 foot or so when the wind generated waves combined with the Atlantic swells. The day was sunny and with reefed Genoa and reefed main, we made good progress across the twenty mile wide channel separating St. Lucia from its northern neighbor. At 1240 hours we dropped anchor at Port Marin, Martinique; position N 14 27.9' W 060 52.5'.

Annette and I dinghied ashore to find the Customs office, which we discovered had closed for the day, an hour before we arrived. Tomorrow then. An ATM machine dispensed us some euros and our reconnaissance further confirmed that the local beer is called "Lorraine" and is quite good.

By now it was afternoon in Texas and we called daughter Helen on the satellite phone to receive the eagerly anticipated news that her baby is to be a boy! This information was almost exciting as when we heard that she was pregnant. Lincoln James Hendrix is to scheduled to make his debut in early June.

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During our trip to the Custom's office we had passed a vessel "SV Daq Attack" that we recognized from previous anchorages, in both the Canaries and the Grenadines. We stopped by to say "Hi" and made plans to meet ashore for dinner. We were almost late for this appointment when a large inflatable with three gun-toting Customs officers stopped by to inspect us. As we are just about the sole American flag flying and with a name like "DoodleBug" that would not show up on their list of "cleared" boats, I suppose that we stuck out a little. They were very pleasant and after scrupulously examining our documents, performed a very cursory onboard inspection that would have missed finding the 82nd. Airborne Division if such had been in hiding. Annette asked for permission to take their picture and their supervisor said, "OK. But don't put my picture up on the internet". This will have to wait a few months until we get to a faster internet connection where we can upload photographs.

 

January 23, 2009

A slow day. We checked in with the customs office and are now legally here. Renting a car was more problematic as all were fully booked but on our third attempt we rented wheels for the weekend. There are 11 rum distilleries on this island that we can visit. We are set!

Our cell phone showed that we are in their system and an enquiry request produced a text message stating how many Caribbean Dollars we had left for usage. I dialed the "100" that the phone documentation indicates would have me speaking to a service representative and instead found myself speaking to the emergency services. They wanted to know if I needed a doctor or if I was on fire or anything exciting like that. After a trip to a Digicell office we determined that there is a French island network and an English speaking island network. We now have another "SIM" card and another phone number.

In the evening we dinghied ashore to find a restaurant that would feed us dinner. We tried three or four but all required

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reservations, or a wait of up to two hours. Not! We wandered the street and came across a place where the locals had set up plastic tables and chairs, a barbeque and the like, next to a public toilet. Instant restaurant! Thus we placed our orders and moved a table and chairs under a tarpaulin to avoid a brief but determined rain shower and supported the local brewery until our food was ready.

 

January 24, 2009

We began the day by picking up a rental car. It was raining quite heavily and the windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the deluge, as we headed up the steep mountain road towards our first destination, the Rhum distillery of la Mauny. The roads were in considerably better shape than those on St. Lucia and the island has an air of prosperity. Martinique is a "Department" of France, with all of the benefits appertaining thereto. The homes, cars, storefronts and the like are very Gallic and it is only the dense stands of sugar cane, interspersed with banana trees, that provide the clue that we are not in Europe. The distillery had a tour that was to begin within a few minutes of our arrival and we were directed to drive some quarter mile from the visitor's center to the distillery proper, to begin. Our tour guide gave us printed sheets and a map in English and after explaining that the tour was to be entirely in French, directed us towards the hulking mass of crushers, distillation columns, ovens, fermentation tanks and steam engines and suggested we help ourselves. This was fun. We constantly expected to be confronted by irate security guards as we scrambled under "access interdite" (keep out) warnings, up ladders and between massive machines. The working plant was an eclectic mixture of old and new. Mechanical grabs would take giant bites of sugar cane to feed the crushers. The waste product after the sugar had been extracted, was dried and used to feed huge boilers that provided steam for the crushers. A Dickensian time warp of steam power with electric controls. The sugar cane is cut by hand for this operation, as the hillsides are supposedly too steep for mechanical harvesters. Indeed the whole infrastructure of miniature "cane" railways that we had witnessed in both Fiji and Australia was conspicuously absent.

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We had a great romp through the distillery before heading back to the visitor's center, in order to taste the product. There were six choices of rum, all based upon the time left aging in oak barrels. We tried the V.O. the VSOP, the XO and a couple of single year vintages. It all tasted the same. Maybe Long John Silver could tell the difference but then he would not have added Coco Cola to his grog.

Next target was the airport to see if we could garner some information on commuter flights from Martinique to St. Lucia. The airline office had closed some 40 minutes before our arrival. We had struck out a finding a travel agent at the marina in Port Marin and the internet Wi-Fi would not give us a connection. Never mind. We would try the port of Fort de France for a ferry boat. By now it was lunchtime and we needed sustenance to offset the effects of the rum tasting. Annette raved about her "avocado vinaigrette" and "melon in port" appetizers, while I struggled through a mediocre steak. The fries and beer were OK, though. Of course the ferry boat office had closed for Saturday afternoon but we did get a brochure with the internet web-site on it.

We headed north again, bound for the town of St. Pierre, the former capital of Martinique. The town was destroyed in 1902 and its 30,000 inhabitants killed in a matter of three minutes. The nearby volcano of Pelee had erupted, sending a 300 mph cloud of pyroclastic ashes, boulders and gases at the town. The disaster struck on a Sunday morning, just after the 0800 hour church services had begun. There were two survivors but history remembers only one, "Cyparis". He was saved because he was locked away in a thick walled dungeon at the time. I had read in several journals that he was a convicted murderer, awaiting execution but this fable was invented by his subsequent employer, Barnum and Bailey Circus in the United States. The idea of the convicted murderer surviving, whilst the godly, churchgoing citizens were wiped out, was just too delicious to pass up. The truth was that he was serving a one week sentence at the time and although we do not know his crime, 1902 France did not pass out one week sentences for murder. We next visited the museum that is dedicated to the disaster, on the north side of the town. Upon arrival, we were told that the futuristic looking museum building had been designed to withstand an 8.5 Richter earthquake but with Pelee looming over us, we took the stairs rather than the elevator. The museum was very well done and our tour was followed by a one hour documentary film of the disaster, helpfully furnished with English sub-titles.

A long drive back south along twisting roads and when we returned after dark, we found DoodleBug riding quietly at anchor. A great day.

 

January 25, 2009

First task of the day, at the crack of 1000 hours, was to dinghy ashore to find some Wi-Fi internet. The bar where we settled did have a network but the frustration on the faces of the score or so people sitting there in front of empty coffee cups, while playing Solitaire on their laptops, did not bode well for connection speeds. Eventually I did connect and determined that the ferry to St. Lucia did not operate on Thursday but that the inter-island airline did. Change of plans. By now lunchtime was approaching and we loaded ourselves into our rental car for the ride to St.Anne's where there were reputed to be both restaurants and a long, pretty beach.

The restaurant we selected surpassed all records for slow service to the point where even the French customers were complaining. In addition, the inordinate preparation time was not reflected in the quality of the food. This place badly needs a Burger King.

The long, pretty beach did not disappoint and Marian and Michael enjoyed a fine swim.

 

January 26, 2009

Position N 14 32.8' W 061 02.4'

We raised anchor at 0920 hours and set sail for Trois Islets, a small town on the southwest coast of Martinique. The 

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cloud cover was seven eights but occasionally we would get a glimpse of blue skies and sunshine, between the frequent rain cells. When we began our trip, we were able to make good progress under Genoa and goosewinged main but a rain squall soon had us reefed down, with rain slashing horizontally at us from behind and with the companionway door closed up to keep DB's interior dry. At least this rain was warm! We passed close between the islet of "H.M.S. Diamond Rock" and the mainland. The narrow pass between the rock and Diamond Point on Martinique is labeled on my chart as "Passe Des Fous" which in my recollection means, "Pass of the Mad". The name plus the rough water in the pass made me wonder if perhaps we should have taken the seaward side. In 1804, the rock was occupied by a British force who somehow managed to haul cannon up the near vertical slopes and deposit a crew of men and supplies to serve and defend the guns. It took Napoleon's fleet some 18 months to dislodge them.

By noon we had turned to the east to enter the Bay of Fort de France and were now motoring into headwinds that were gusting up to 30 knots in the squalls. For the next hour we were to navigate very carefully between the many shoals and reefs in this bay and at 1320 hours, dropped anchor in a narrow inlet off the golf course of the town of Trois Islets. The wind still blew from the east and there was a two mile fetch to where we lay at anchor. We had short waves hissing by but little pitching aboard. A careful examination of the chart showed no better shelter than where we already lay and the guide book indicates that one could ride out a hurricane in this spot. Okay then. We broke out and rigged the barbeque and Annette cooked four wonderful steaks. Like Bill Gates, I never travel anywhere without my personal chef.

 

January 27, 2009

Our anchorage at Trois Islets was a wonderfully quiet and beautiful place. This morning a few local fisherman were puttering around and we assumed that they might be checking crab pots along the mangroves at the water's edge but otherwise we had remained alone. The protection for DoodleBug was fine and the anchor holding good; the problem lay with the dinghy. The foot high waves that raced along DB's side would look like tsunamis from the dinghy and the wind was forecast to increase for the next couple of days. Getting ashore was going to be problematic. After a hearty breakfast of sugar coated shredded mini-wheats and Heineken, we made the decision to move some five miles across the bay and anchor off the citadel of Fort de France. We raised anchor at 0900 hours and an hour later re-anchored at position: N 14 36.0' W 061 04.1'

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Fort de France has a population of 100,000 and is a clean, modern and bustling metropolis. We are anchored behind a promontory upon which stands the ancient fortress of St. Louis, in an area set aside for visiting yachts. Nearby is a long dinghy dock and a pedestrian area with park benches and roller-skating trails. A really cool spot to make a landing. After boat chores, we headed ashore in search of lunch, beer and groceries. The last time we had visited by rental car, we had spotted a McDonalds on the waterfront and this was to be our destination. Annette was almost embarrassing with her groans of pleasure as she ate her "Sandwich De Luxe". It was pretty much identical to a Big Mac except made with Dijon mustard instead of the American version. Mike and I experimented dangerously with "Le M". This sandwich has been formulated for the French taste and its superior construction was immediately apparent from its use of a rectangular bun.

Thus sated we set out to visit Fort Louis and soak up a little historical culture. Unfortunately the edifice is not open to visitors and still contains a military installation. So much for culture. The local library was an impressive building and we toured it's interior where there was an exposition of photographs. The title of the display translated roughly to, "The faces of the Martinique Military Forces". Amazing that an island this size even has a military.

 

January 28, 2009

Marian and Mike return to their homes in Las Vegas tomorrow morning and we will surely miss their company. Today was spent in last minute shopping for souvenirs and gifts.

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On the boat front, I discovered that there is neither diesel nor propane available here at Martinique's capital. Their fuel dock was damaged by the last hurricane and is in the process of reconstruction. We don't actually need diesel, in fact we could motor in a dead calm about 650 miles with what we have on board but I like the comfort of a "full" tank. When I asked about refilling a propane tank with an "American" fitting, I was haughtily informed that, "This is France". Euro fittings only. I noted that the English speaking islands could fill both "Euro" style tanks and "American" style tanks. Despite their xenophobic tendencies, the marine chandlery here in Fort de France is the only one we have visited anywhere that has on display the type of Italian water pumps that the Amel is equipped with. I felt an almost overwhelming urge to buy a couple because they looked so new and pretty there on the shelf. A pity we don't need any at the moment.

 

January 29, 2009

The sad moment arrived and we bade farewell to Marian and Mike this morning, as their taxi whisked them away towards

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what we hoped was the airport. They fly to St. Lucia for their connecting flight to the USA.

Back on board, we began to prepare DoodleBug for departure. I had snorkeled the hull a few days ago and the propeller sported significant growth. Today I used scuba equipment so that I could stay under water longer in order to clean the propeller. We have been plagued with lowish maximum engine RPM's and we can now test to see if a clean prop makes the difference. I don't know if the use of scuba gear is permitted where we are anchored. I mention this because about fifteen minutes after I exited the water, a helicopter came and hovered overhead for ten minutes or so, while we acted innocent. We are anchored some feet from the walls of a military installation - Fort St. Louis - so you never can tell.

We will pick up a few groceries tomorrow and check out of the country for an early morning Saturday departure, bound for Portsmouth, Dominica.

 

January 30, 2009

We checked out of Martinique this morning, made a run to the supermarket for groceries, stowed the dinghy, checked the engine and prepared DoodleBug for sea. Now what? We had thought about going out to a restaurant for the evening but local intelligence indicated that this would not be particularly viable for a Friday night. The French custom is to quit work at two in the afternoon, go home for a nap (French for "siesta") and then emerge at eight or nine in the evening for dinner. This means that reservations are "obligatoire". It also means that we don't get to eat before 2100 hours - aka "Cruiser Midnight" - and we plan an 0400 hours DoodleBug departure. The Martinique Friday evening then continues with a visit to bar / disco / night club at around 2300 hours and the party continues until dawn Saturday. We know this to be true because Friday night was the first night we were tortured with hammering "Carib rap music", played at about 48 decibels above the pain threshold and emanating from somewhere beyond the seawall. When we raised anchor at 0330 hours, they were still going strong.