We left Les Saintes, a small island group just south of Guadeloupe and headed for Martinique. We passed Dominica knowing we would spend much time there in the near future and were in a hurry to meet up with our friends John and Ellie of SV Serenity who were waiting on the southern end of Martinique for our arrival. The plan was to meet up with them and cruise together like we did in Mexico and the South Pacific.
After a squally, shifty day of sailing and motor sailing we arrived Saint Pierre, Martinique well after dark which we normally avoid doing. We dropped our sails and slowly entered the anchorage. We found what we thought would be a good spot and dropped the anchor. Morning light showed us that it was indeed a great spot under Mt Pelee. The customs computer is in a French restaurant so after clearing into the country we had the most wonderful lunch. The French really do good meals!
Mt. Pelee looms over the town of Saint Pierre with the top usually in the clouds. The verdant green of the slopes and tranquil, tropical atmosphere make it hard to envision the scene the day Pele exploded. The eruption was much like the one at Mt St Helens and a cloud of glowing embers and poisonous gas roared down the slopes and over the town. It was March 8, 1902 when St Pierre had a population around 30,000 and was called the Paris of the Caribbean. We wandered around the town, explored the remains of a church, a grand theater and a prison and read the reports of what the volcano eruption had done. We read that the volcanic explosion released more energy than an atomic bomb. There were only two survivors: a cobbler and an imprisoned, convicted murderer. Twelve ships in the bay were destroyed at anchor. We couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like on that fateful day!
From St Pierre we motor sailed down the lee of the island to St Anne a large, well protected bay on the southern end of Martinique. Along the way we passed Diamond Rock which was fortified by the Royal Navy and commissioned as the HMS Diamond Rock during the Napoleonic wars. Diamond rock is impressive and imagining the sailors hauling cannons up the side makes one marvel at the ingenuity and toughness of the sailors of that era.
We were amazed by the number of masts we saw as we entered the St Anne Anchorage and even more shocked to see even more in nearby Le Marin, but no worries as the anchorage was huge with plenty of room to anchor. We found a deep enough spot for Mermaid in the sand and dropped the hook. The beaches were beautiful white sand lined with palm trees just like a post card! Even better, there were big french grocery stores stocked with French wines, cheeses and yogurt and boulangeries with baguettes to die for and pain chocolate that melt in your mouth.
One of the great things about cruising is the awesome people you meet. We first met John and Ellie of the Seattle based SV Serenety way back in 2003 when they were on Adios and we were both getting ready to head to the South Pacific. We crossed paths again in Mexico in 2013, again last year in Antigua and had another reunion in St Anne. We spent many an hour with them taking hikes, touring the island or sipping a sundowner.
We had a cool tour of the island in a rental car with John at the wheel and Mike navigating. We toured the Habitation Clement, a historic but still working Rum distillery with excellent information on how the distilled rum back in the day and a nice tasting room where we sampled the product. Had a nice lunch at a local place named Kai Nono in Le Francois where we enjoyed the accras, a fried and fluffy fritter made from salted fish and flour that is everywhere on Martinique. Kai Nono served theirs with a vinegary, mouth watering sauce that the waiter said was simply called creole sauce. The French West Indies way is to take your time over lunch and not wanting to upset local customs we savored our fish entree and wine and finished the meal with ice cream.
We joined the Ocean Cruising Club in 2017 and we’re so glad we did because we’ve met so many great people through the club. With the hundreds of cruising boats in St Anne / Le Marin there were many OCC members including a pair of English boats that arrived after sailing single handed from the Canary Islands while we were there. Dan of Escaton knew all the local spots and had us quaffing a beer and munching on accras in a small cafe set up in an ally before heading over to a local barbeque spot with outdoor seating.
With so many cruisers in the area there were many events that we joined in on. The weekly pot luck on the beach that was called a brai by the South African who organized it and a dingy raft up where we shared appetizers and watched the sunset were great and Robin even made it in for the ladies lunch one week.
During much of our time there the trades were howling. It blew 25 knots with higher gusts most of our time in St Anne. This led to a few boats dragging and since we were in the back of the anchorage the wind waves made it a wet ride to get to shore in the dingy. We spent a lot of time reading and doing boat chores. One day
were were entertained by a Yole regatta. Yoles are traditional open water sailboats that were used for fishing back in the day. Around 35 feet long they have a canoe shaped hull with poles sticking out sides that the crew climbs out on to balance the boat under sail. Another day we shared a cup of tea with Frank and Mandy of Infinity B while Frank helped Mike clean out the carburetor of the outboard. Mike took advantage of the opportunity to perfect his Ti Punch recipe, well maybe not perfect because Robin says more practice is needed. Ti Punch is the local drink in the French West Indies. It’s a shot of Rhum Agricole, a raw rum produced in the area, some simple syrup and lime juice. It was very fiery when we tried it in the restaurants but we tried using a vanilla flavored simple syrup and pouring it over ice and viola! It was transformed into a cool, refreshing drink that was perfect for sipping while watching the sun go down.