Marvellous Martinique- Again!
Martinique marks the northern-most island that makes up the windwards, and Nick and I can now breathe a sigh of relief that our days of sailing close hauled are- hopefully- over for the present. Our course now turns vaguely north-west and we’re hoping for more favourable passage making conditions.
We crossed to Martinique, once again battling with the inter-island Atlantic swell, and arrived back in Grande Anse d’Arlet, one of our favourite anchorages from our week in Martinique with Kate. However, there was a major difference on this occassion. As we approached, the bay opened up and we were shocked- shocked I tell you- at the number of yachts in the anchorage. It was positively rammed.
There are, essentially, three possibilities when anchoring in Grande Anse. The southern corner, the northern corner, or somewhere in the middle. That might seem bleeding obvious, but allow me to explain. The swell was coming from the south, so the southern corner was nicely protected thanks to the headland. The northern corner was, as a result, less crowded but was open to the swell. The middle was also well protected, but very deep- too deep for us to anchor. We spotted a buoy- the last one- in the northern corner, so we decided to just tie up to it and then go ashore for a sundowner. However, as we sat on the beach watching the sun set, the ambiance was somewhat marred by the view of our mast swaying wildly back and forth. I sulked for a bit, anticipating a sleepless night, before Nick relented and agreed to move.
We had an hour or so of light left, so dropped the lines and, after a bit of deliberation (read: heated discussion) chose a spot close to the beach with the other catamarans and smaller yachts. Sometimes having a lift keel is really, very cool. We were closer to one of the catamarans than is strictly polite, so like the good boat neighbours we are, we re-anchored and finally settled down for a meal. We were back in France and boy, we were happy about it.
At Least Clearing In Is Easy
The following morning we walked to Les Anses d’Arlet to clear in, and spent a good 20 minutes wandering around in the heat following several different sets of directions before coming across the poorly marked customs office (for reference: if you’re in front of the church, with your back to the dinghy dock, turn right and it’s about 100m on your left. If you’ve reached the market, you’ve gone too far). At least the office was air-conditioned.
Once we were officially cleared into Martinique, we wandered down to Chez Fab et Claude, where we had a meal last time. Once again, the Claude was great entertainment, running around and chatting the entire time. We mused that things weren’t quite the same without Kate with us ordering one pina colada after another and so sent her several pictures of us holding our drinks on the palm-backed beach. I’m sure she really appreciated it.
That afternoon we went for a snorkel to find turtles. We’d spotted quite a few swimming around the boat, popping their heads above water for a quick look around before diving into the depths once again, so we knew they were there. We did indeed spot a couple and swam with them for a while before they buggered off.
When It Rains, It Pours
The next couple of days were rainy with no wind. We really don’t like these days at all, not only because they’re unpleasant in general, but more specifically because we cannot produce any energy at all if we don’t have sun or wind. So we put out buckets and collected water, and put the basil plant out for a good drink (I think we’ve only prolonged its agony- it’s looking pretty limp and sad to me and has done for some time…). At least the rain washed all the salt off the boat. We saw quite a few of our neighbours braving the elements with a mop, but Nick was reticent to get his hair wet and I obviously wasn’t going to do it, so we just let nature do its thing.
Eupraxia were once again at anchor nearby and they have friends visiting, so we all went out for dinner and had a lovely evening drinking rosé and eating fresh mahi mahi at L’Escale.
St Pierre’s Tragic Past
The sun finally came out so we motor-sailed up to St Pierre, the northernmost anchorage in Martinique. The scenery was magnificent. The town of St Pierre sits under a huge volcano, the summit of which is obscured by cloud. It was very impressive, even more so when we read in our trusty cruising guidebook (the Chris Doyle one- highly recommended) that in early 1902 the volcano started rumbling in a pretty ominous way. The population of St Pierre was 30,000 and it was the capital of Martinique. For reasons that seem rather unsatisfactory in retrospect (mainly to do with politics and money- but, of course!), the people in charge decided against evacuation and stayed put, despite recent minor eruptions that had covered several surrounding villages in ash and had swept away a couple of nearby estates. In their defense, very little was known about volcanoes at the time, although the island of Martinique was about to get one hell of an education. I think you know where I’m going with this.
At 8am on the 8th May the side of the volcano facing St Pierre burst open and a ‘fireball of superheated gas flowed over the city, releasing more energy than an atomic bomb’, according to Chris Doyle. Depending on which source you consult the surviving population numbered either one or two. Either way, it’s not many, is it? Fort de France is now the capital.
We had planned to stay an extra day in St Pierre, but the holding was a little poor- we dragged and had to reset our anchor that evening- and the weather was good. Not one to miss a weather window, and with the delights of Dominica only a day-sail away, we decided to set off with the dozens of other yachts heading north the following morning.