Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Mon 23 May 2016 00:29
Roseau was much quieter than during our previous visit: no cruise ships to fill the streets with souvenir-hunting passengers, most of the dive boats sat idle on their moorings, visiting yachts came and went after just one night. The weather was often hot and humid, with not much wind and frequent rain showers.
From there to the northwest coast of Martinique is about 30 miles so we set off early, after saying fond farewells to Sea Cat (but not Beans who was away helping deliver a yacht to Trinidad). The wind was steady so we reached St Pierre, a small seaside town, by late afternoon. The bay is steep-to and much of it is littered by shipwrecks but we managed to find a good spot to anchor not far from the town quay.
St Pierre has a sad history. In the 19th century it was a prosperous commercial city with a population of 30,000. In 1902 the nearby volcano, Mont Pelee, erupted showering rock, hot ash and cinders over the city, creating an inferno and destroying all the buildings and ships at anchor. Only one inhabitant survived - a prisoner whose well-insulated cell protected him. Eventually St Pierre was rebuilt and is now a small town of just 5,000 people, dependent on fishing and agriculture. The surrounding hills are lush green and cultivated making it difficult to imagine what it must have been like 100 years ago.
The ruins of St Pierre
It was the Whitsun holiday weekend and the seafront was buzzing with a "Rasta Market". There were many colourful stalls selling local produce including land crabs, spices, fresh juices, herbal medicines, clothing and artwork (though apparently some of it is made in Haiti!). Local music and dancing were being performed on a stage. The blend of French and West Indian culture is delightful. People are very friendly and not at all pushy - perhaps because the standard of living is relatively high.
The Rasta Market
Land crabs for sale
On the Sunday we visited the local museum with photos of the town before and after the 1902 disaster, and some of the charred remains collected from the ruins. It's a poignant reminder of how precarious life can be in these beautiful islands of the eastern Caribbean.
St Pierre - Mont Pelee in the distance, shrouded in cloud
The north of Martinique is supposed to be the more beautiful (and less developed) part of the island and we had planned to stay a few more days. However, after a peaceful first night at anchor the next two were uncomfortable. The wind was light and we were being rocked and rolled too much so, reluctantly, we moved down the coast to Anse Mitan, a bay south of the capital, Fort de France.
Like Guadeloupe, Martinique is a departement of France and thus part of the EU. In contrast to Dominica it has a large population and a lot of development, including intensive agriculture, smart tourist resorts, industrial estates and big shopping malls. From Anse Mitan we hired a car to explore the island. In the south the roads are often thick with traffic - and roundabouts are very common here - but generally it's easy to drive around. There are mountains covered in rainforest and also many fertile valleys with large banana and sugar cane plantations, especially in the east. The coastline has numerous attractive bays and inlets, particularly in the south and east.
La Caravelle peninsula, midway along the east (Atlantic ocean) coast of Martinique
Tree ferns abound on a short trail in the rain forest
Rural France (in the French West Indies)
Anse Mitan is an upmarket resort and the anchorage is popular but not so busy at this time of year. We took the ferry across to Fort de France on Saturday morning, expecting to find it buzzing with activity, but it was really very quiet. There were supposed to be events celebrating the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Martinique but cloud and rain put a dampener on it.
One of Monsieur Eiffel's less well known works - the Schoelcher Library in Fort de France
We happened upon the 110th anniversary of the Surena Patisserie