22 Feb - Marinading in Martinique
The sail up to Martinique was pretty straightforward, close hauled on starboard tack with a couple of reefs all the way into the bay to the south west of Marin. This is a fine harbour, though as it opened up from seaward, we were surprised by the forests of masts that awaited us. This part of the world makes Brittany look empty. The entrance to the ‘Cul-de-sac de Marin’ is marked by a series of smart navigation buoys, reminding the mariner that this is not just any Caribbean island, but part of France. The do conform to the local IALA system of buoyage though, so I have to repeat the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang song (‘port out, starboard home’) each time I look at a red one and think about leaving it to port!
Marin – wall to wall with yachts
Inside the harbour, the options for mooring are extensive. If your draft allows, there are wonderful secluded spots amongst the mangroves on the eastern side. We wanted to be close to the town so headed up to the main anchorage on the north west side. It was packed and though technically there was room, the wind was gusting over 25 knots and we didn’t think there was enough space to swing around much, or drag the anchor if things went awry. So we crossed the main channel and picked up one of the marina buoys just to the north of the main reef and about a quarter of a mile from the shore.
In the morning we went in to clear customs. We saw our friends Andrew and Kate in the marina – they were ‘marinated’ after three weeks there waiting for warranty work to be completed on their brand new floating greenhouse and keen to get away. Clearing customs was dead easy – you sit at a computer and fill out an electronic form – the only challenge being the use of a French keyboqrd (sic). The waterfront is very different to anywhere else we have seen in the Windward Islands: it reminded us of any smart Breton yachting centre from Saint Servan to Les Sables de L’Olonne. The architecture right along this part of the coast is more reminiscent of the Mediterranean than the Caribbean – hardly a wooden ‘chalet’ to be seen. Indeed, we saw our first apartment blocks since leaving Tenerife! Odd to be served by Europeans in the local bars though; Afro-Caribbeans appear to be in the minority in this part of the island.
These local craft were a noisy, fast and entertaining alternative to the Average White Boats. Who needs a trapeze if you have several greasy poles? Crew of 12… lots of shouting!
We found the Raymarine chap, Jacques, in his den at Diginav. It looked promising as he was surrounded by bits of kit, old and new. I explained our problem and my diagnosis, which he agreed with and handed me the bits I needed without hesitation. It was Saturday morning – ‘fit everything today, leave it working and bring back the cable on Monday to discuss what happens next’. We liked his dry sense of humour and refreshingly constructive approach.
We ended up staying in Marin and Sainte Anne for a few days. Jacques was also able to fix our ridiculously complex VHF radio loudspeaker arrangement (probably designed by someone who went to work for Apple – incompatible with everything except a ten-year old Raymarine radio and you can’t get the parts any more so please buy a new one – no chance, lofty) and we spent the time wisely. We hired an electric Mini-Moke to explore the southern end of the island. The rental company was only a couple of months old; the owners had sailed from France a few years before, fallen in love with Martinique, opened a restaurant and sold it to establish a really modern business, where all the modes of transport are electric. I guess it’s the future and somebody has to be in at the start? But it’s risky and the weather was not helping their trade, so they were pleased to see us. The Mini-Moke was built in China and a faithful replica of the 1960s icon; we really enjoyed blasting around in it – even though we got quite wet in the frequent showers. We went over to the east side of the peninsula, where Pointe de Chevalier protects the Baie des Anglais, some coral lagoons and some really stunning beaches. You can sit in pristine sand under giant palm trees, shaded by mangroves with the turquoise water lapping at your feet and watch turtles and kite surfers sharing the shallows and nothing between you and Africa.
The inspiration for ‘Day of the Triffids’? The oldest tree in the Caribbean, apparently.
Anse Michel on the east coast of Martinique. As good as it gets?
One evening, I was sitting in the cockpit of Escapade watching the world go by when a charter yacht passed between us and the reef a hundred yards downwind. They were obviously looking for an empty buoy or somewhere to anchor. A few minutes later I noticed them turning around and making their way back towards the main channel. It was clear that they were too close to the reef and sure enough, they hit it three times in as many minutes. After the first impact, they never made enough ground upwind away from danger and it wasn’t clear that they knew where the deeper water was. At the fourth impact, they stuck fast. We watched with interest. A crew member got into their inflatable and set off – we assumed to sound around the boat and find the deeper water. He only had one oar and the 25 knots of wind took firm charge of him. The Escapaders leapt into action. We took our 150m sea anchor warp from the lazarette and set off to help the stricken yacht. They were a group of elderly Americans, all male. I could only assume that the skipper was in the dinghy, now a quarter of a mile downwind. They were as good as gold though, acting promptly on my suggestions. We gave them the drum of warp which they paid out as we took the end to a nearby (upwind) mooring buoy. Once attached, whilst one chap heaved the warp in on a genoa winch, the other put the engine astern from time to time. Suddenly the yacht broke free from the reef and it was then simply a question of moving the warp to his bow and securing him to the buoy for the night. I was about to go and collect the other crewman in his inflatable when a French catamaran downwind ‘snared’ him and brought him safely back to his friends. They were a little bewildered, quite sheepish and very grateful. Julie and I recovered our warp and went off to dinner with our friends Andrew and Kate onboard WILDSIDE. They told us of their futile attempts to get any warranty work done and we were grateful that we had not bought a new boat!
A slick of Sargasso weed invades the coral reef at Pointe Chevalier