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Date: 25 May 2007 22:10:14
Title: Martinique? Fantastique!

Position 14:44.5N 61:10.6W

 

Actually, not all of Martinique was fantastique. We spent our last night there anchored off of Fort De France, the capital, and weren’t too impressed. Our first sight of the locals just after dropping anchor involved a punch up between a group of youths, and when we went ashore to do some final French shopping we discovered that the waterfront area of town was none too welcoming either. No trouble for us, just had that feel about it.

 

But the fantastique bit was St Pierre, on the north west coast. After a horrible trip from Roseau in Dominica (gusting 35kts, two reefs in the main and genoa, the worst seas we’ve experienced in the Caribbean) it was a pleasure to anchor off the town. You might recall from earlier diary entries (look, I told you there’d be a test, and if you haven’t revised that’s your own lookout!) that St Pierre was the capital of Martinique up until 1902 when it was completely destroyed by the volcano just behind the town. Although the town wasn’t covered by a lava flow or even buried in ash, it was utterly destroyed by a burning cloud of toxic gas that came barrelling out of the side of the volcano. All bar one or two of the 30,000 inhabitants were toast. It’s now a very pleasant small town of 5,000 inhabitants, and there’s a great little museum which shows the place before and after, along with various molten artefacts. A short-ish walk away, at least short by our recent standards, lies the Depaz rum distillery which is open to the public in a very non-HSE style in that you’re pretty free to wander about and poke your fingers in the machinery etc, and provides a very interesting few hours finding out all about rum, including the post-explore tasting, naturellement.

 

 

When the volcano went pop there were 18 ships at anchor in the bay, all of which burnt and sank. Six disappeared completely, probably drifting out and sinking in very deep water just ½ mile or so from shore, the other twelve sank most conveniently in diveable depths a stone’s throw from town. Of these twelve, ten were built of wood so have mostly broken up on the bottom, but two were steel and remain relatively intact. One, the Tamaya, is in 83 metres and so too deep for sport diving (requiring mixed-gas technical stuff) but the other, the Roraima, is in 55 metres making it just about diveable on air. A great bunch of our froggy friends at Papa D’Lo dive club took me out for this dive which was by far the best I’d done in a long time. Visibility was great, the wreck was pretty intact and very colourful and all in all thoroughly enjoyable. It was deeper than I usually dive and involved decompression stops and was all the more interesting for that. Most Caribbean diving is relatively shallow and sedate so it was nice to something a bit more challenging, more along the lines of what you might do in the UK but without the cold and darkness! The only slightly unnerving part was when the bloke who took me declared "Hah! We are ze crazy frogs!"

 

Here’s the culprit (the volcano that is, not the crazy frog), which is now constantly monitored for further trouble, viewed from the rum distillery. The original Monsieur Depaz was away when the volcano did it’s stuff, but it wiped out his entire family. In a rare display of faith / stupidity, depending on your point of view, he rebuilt the distillery and a very nice house as soon as the dust had settled.

 


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