26 Feb - Breaking out of Marin
Whilst we waited for Jacques to do his wizardry and the nice chaps at North Sails to make a more professional repair of our genoa head, we relocated from the Cul-de-sac de Marin to anchor off Sainte Anne. We had been there for lunch with the WILDSIDE team in their fine little RIB – it’s a picturesque seaside village blending Brittany with the Caribbean. Quite touristy, but not exclusive or pretentious – we even saw some non-Europeans. I think there were about two hundred yachts anchored off the long beach there. Nonetheless it was not too crowded and we found a spot with good holding not far from our German friends Ralf and Kirsten in LOTHLORIEN (we first met them in Leixoes harbour in a gale). They had tracked us on AIS and invited us for drinks, but due to some administration that got lost in translation, when we turned up their boat was empty! Later, Ralf rowed over in his tiny coracle/folding boat (he’s a passionate environmentalist who wishes he’d bought a RIB with a big engine) and we agreed to meet up somewhere further north.
Part of the beautiful Anse de Sainte Anne
We went on quite the best walk of the deployment whilst anchored at Sainte Anne. You tie up at the fine pier built by the French government (using EU funds?) turn right and hug the shore. The road soon gives way to a footpath through the ancient forest that lines the low cliffs and wonderful sandy beaches which run along the coast from here right around to Cap Chevalier and beyond. It reminded us a little of the walk along the banks of the Beaulieu River from Bucklers Hard – but with a spectacular coral sea instead of the masses rhododendrons of Exbury, and a warm wind instead of a couple of layers of fleece. Interestingly, if you turned to face inland from time to time, you could see great fields of decent pasture and cattle grazing. Clearly earlier generations had cleared the rainforest to recreate Normandy in Paradise, no doubt with some imported labour!
Fazza’s photos out of order? This is Martinique, not Normandy!
The first few beaches were almost deserted and towards the south eastern tip of the island we realised that the few punters were naturists. The path, heavily patrolled by land crabs of varying sizes, ran straight through their little ‘patches’ but nobody seemed bothered. We eventually dared each other to skinny-dip in broad daylight. It was fantastic, I have to admit, though we rushed to cover up the only white bottoms on the beach as soon as we got out of the water
Anse Caritan, Martinique. A stunning, almost empty beach.
Eventually we reached Baie des Salines, where there were more (conventionally clad) tourists. The path was lined with parked cars, there were several beach bars in the mangroves and the place was justifiably popular. But there was no litter, no loud music, no overcrowding in the ‘Costa del Sol’ sense. The clientele was almost exclusively French European and it seemed like ‘home from home’ for many of them. I think you can rent an inexpensive holiday apartment on Martinique and have an idyllic beach holiday at a budget that suits you. Having said that, lunch at one of the beach bars was dismal: we ordered a ‘Creole plate’ between us and the tiny portion of crabmeat came in a little plastic model of a crab that might have graced a toddler’s playpen. The walk back to the boat was as glorious and enjoyable as the way we had come.
Dispelling the myth that the French have the best cuisine…
A small land crab, in season for eating. Apparently they are not as sweet as their deep water cousins. We saw several different types and sizes. The biggest so far was about 12” across. Not to be messed with on a dark night without suitable clothing!
As we returned to Escapade, we saw a 22 foot speedboat drifting out towards the anchored yachts. It had broken loose from its moorings, but nobody seemed bothered shoreside. Another couple in a very small dinghy had also seen it and they asked if we had a handheld VHF to call the coastguard. We didn’t, but we had a big enough rubber boat and engine to have a go at towing it to safety. So whilst the Frenchman went off to find a radio, we attached a tow and set off back to the beach. Upwind progress was painfully slow, but eventually we got to the fishing boat moorings where Julie clambered aboard the ‘prize’ and found a suitable rope to attach it to a buoy. We spoke to some local fishermen on the pier who told us where the police station was, we tied the speedboat up and went in search of the authorities to bask in their thanks and praise.
The police station was shut. The town hall was open, but the ladies at reception were not familiar with small boats. Eventually they rang the Gendarmerie and told us that someone would come. We returned to Escapade and enjoyed a well-earned beer. I then rang the Gendarmerie direct. Apparently they do not keep a record of local boats (this one was registered in the capital, Fort de France) and told me to contact the marina staff in Marin.
When we returned to Marin the following morning to collect the various bits of electronics and the sail, we picked up the same buoy off the marina. It was difficult to break into the continuous chatter on VHF to ask permission, but we saw a marina patrol boat close by and beckoned him over.
‘You cannot use that buoy. Another boat is coming now. You must leave. We are full’.
‘Is there a buoy we can use for a couple of hours so we can pick up some things?’
‘No. this is not St Lucia, you know. You are in Martinique now. You cannot just pick up any buoy.’
No ‘Welcome to Paradise’ as we got in every other Windward Island. No advice on where to go instead. We anchored close by – for free. We went and got the bits we needed, did the laundry, bought some wine and left. The buoy was still free…
Whilst ashore I told the marina office staff about our heroic rescue of a £15000 boat which would otherwise be half way to Venezuela by now. They were Gallicly underwhelmed (new term) and could not quite manage the phrase ‘thank you for letting us know’ but they did commit to contacting the owner. So I withdrew and focused on patisseries instead.
We went back to Sainte Anne for the night and in the morning we sailed west to Les Anses d’Arlet. The wind was too strong to try to bend on our newly repaired genoa, so we sailed under mainsail alone. The boat didn’t like this much, but we enjoyed looking at the historic Diamond Rock, where some brave Royal Navy sailors manned a gun and caused havoc amongst the French fleet in days gone by – HMS DIAMOND ROCK is still saluted by RN ships today.
HMS Diamond Rock, just half a mile from France! I believe the British sailors lived in the caves…
We arrived off Les Anses d’Arlet for lunch. It’s another photogenic small town with a fine church in the middle of the waterfront just behind the fine pier (identical to the one at Saint Anne). There was some good snorkelling to be had there and we cleaned some more barnacles off the hull (it’s now about 40% clear). It was a relaxing place to spend time and we could have stayed longer, but the following day we sailed north to the town of Sainte Pierre, near the north west corner of Martinique.
Church and town pier at Anse d’Arlet