Nigel North
Sun 3 Feb 2013 12:58

30 Jan 2013 St LUCIA to MARTINIQUE

Position: N 14:35.93 W 61:04.12 FORT DE FRANCE, MARTINIQUE

We had left the marina on the saturday, two days after K arrived, and gone to anchor out in the bay. It was good to be back outside again in this beautiful bay, swimming around the boat, and not paying tuppence for it. K settled in quickly, choosing the port quarter berth as her own space. Being a surfer she went off on her board to look at the waves on the other side of Pigeon Island a mile or so away, but returned crestfallen. Not suitable.

The winds were continuing fairly strong but the following wednesday 30th saw a reduction according to the grib files. Grib files are binary data collected by the Americans giving windspeeds and swell for just about anywhere on the planet, and by downloading their free software anyone can access this fantastic data. It gives a forecast up to 7 days. Its only about 35 nm to Fort de France, but it takes a day, so I wanted to be off sharp at dawn. On the other hand, I didn't want to go without taking advantage of the duty free fuel allowed when leaving the island. So we were tied up on the fuel pontoon waiting for them to open at 0800.

Quite a few superyachts use Rodney Bay, which probably accounts for the massive great fuel pipe and gun I was handed to refuel with. The pipe alone was about five inches in diameter. Would the nozzle fit? Yes just, but pull that trigger and fuel would gush out around the nozzle with the air trapped inside forcing it back up past the nozzle. So a funnel was needed, and the refuelling took an age as a result. But by 0900 we were toppers and set off.

Once past the northern tip of St Lucia the winds and current increase usually, and today was no exception. K was doing a good job steering but it was hard going as we were hard on the wind all the way across to counter the current pushing us to the west, the seastate was moderate to rough and swell up to 3 metres. But by halfway the winds moderated to around 25kts and seas calmed down a bit. The passage between these two islands is renown for its strong current and is rarely a doddle. We could see Martinique all the way, and Diamond Rock too - onto which the British had once somehow dragged canons to the top and had enormous fun trying to sink all the French ships which had to sail past. I dont think they've ever forgiven us.

My dismally pessimistic ETA to K of 5pm actually proved pretty close, as we dropped anchor just 20 minutes before that. Things take longer at sea..

K had done well, hadn't taken a pill but didn't suffer mal de mare. Maybe it was the wristbands?


The capitol of Martinique, its a busy cosmopolitan french town named after the solid hunk of fort that juts out into the very large bay a third of the way up the west coast. The anchorage is beneath the fifty foot walls of the fort, the other side of which lies the main port area. There were plenty of boats already there as usual, but we found a spot amongst them that gave a reasonable amount of swinging room, if not a lot.

Clearing in with Customs in the French islands is easy - you just have to find one of their computers and do it yourself. So we set off in the dinghy round to the main port area looking for the gas station that has one of those computers as well.. I'd been there before and was confident I'd recognise the way. I was wrong. We stopped and asked a guy on a local yacht. He summoned his mate with the starey eyes. They dropped into English in the slow lane and eventually we had the info. And it was open when we got there! But the computer wasn't. That closes at 4.30pm.

So next day we walked down into town to the chandlers where there is also a computer, and did it there. Even better, they had what i needed more than anything - cruising guide books for the Leeward and Virgin Islands. In English too. These books are worth their weight and cost, and will save you a lot of pain. Next day I bought courteousy flags for Sint Maarten, and Anguilla. These miniature national flags are flown from the rigging whenever you are in foreign waters, and it is regarded as an insult if you don't.

Friday night I went in to have a look around at their social scene, and there wasn't one. Saturday we spent in a burger place in the smart shopping mall in town using their wifi to sort out K's flight to Barbados at the end of the month, amongst other things. A hoped for cheaper option of a ferry was non existent, so flight it was. Afterwards we joined a full on RC church ceremony as onlookers in a cathedral sized church absolutely packed with worshippers - a sight unlikely to be seen in any C of E church in UK nowadays. Hundreds of candles were lit as people brought out

their own, and the choir singing was impressive and more musical than expected. Meanwhile, all day tents and marquees had been setting up on the promenade area, food was on sale everywhere and fabulous bands of drummers began a thundering african beat that went on until the early hours, with up to twenty drummers doing their stuff. Fantastic!

NEXT: MARTINIQUE to GUADELOUPE - K's first overnight passage!