On Monday 5th March, R motored the rubber dinghy into Rodney Bay to check out at customs, immigration and the port authority, then the dinghy was loaded on deck and we set off through a huge mat of weed, past Pigeon Island and north towards Martinique. We had good weather and a light ESE wind to help us along. Weed choked the engine filter so this had to be cleaned not long after we cleared St Lucia. Our planned destination was the beach anchorage at St Anne, but with stronger winds forecast we sailed on into the huge protected estuary of Le Marin, and anchored between some islets and a shallow bank (le Banc Major) on the west side. Le Marin is a big sailing centre, and it was nice to see this included the Gommier, local traditional boats originally carved from the trunk of the Gommier tree.
Gommier hauled out on the beach. Note the long sprit, steering oar and poles for leaning out.
The same boat setting out downwind
From here in the dinghy we could make our way across the shoals, past an egret colony and many wrecks in the mangroves, then through hundreds of moorings to the town of Le Marin (a distance of just under a mile). We made several such sorties into town. First, we had to check in to Martinique, which was the easiest yet – a customs terminal in the marina office. Then we set out to discover the comparatively excellent supermarkets (Leader Price has its own dinghy dock, and Carrefour is nearby). Our stock of wine, beer and rum were replenished. We also bought canned and preserved goods for the months ahead, including the voyage back to the UK. We also made use of the laundry at the dockside bar at the Caren Antilles boatyard, which also had wifi so we could download our daily paper and emails.
The popular dinghy dock at Leader Price supermarket
Our purchase of a data SIM card from Orange France ended in failure, because the guy in the shop lacked the expertise to configure it properly. We won’t be using Orange France again!
Grazing cattle near the beach, complete with egret
We wanted to check out the beach at St Anne, so after several enquiries and false starts (there seem to be no formal bus stops or timetables) managed to catch a bus going there, and walked along the shore. It’s a huge long beach with a lot of boats anchored off, but clearly the best spot would be off the Pirate Bar at Anse Caritan, which has its own dinghy dock. At one end of the beach lay a big ketch that had clearly been swept ashore and abandoned. This was to be a common sight, and there were many derelict or sunk yachts in the harbour and mangroves near Le Marin, some no doubt victims of Hurricane Maria the previous year.
Abandoned and sunk yachts after last year’s hurricanes
Another day we landed the dinghy at a fishing jetty near the anchorage, and found our way up and up winding roads dotted with houses and livestock, including cows, chickens and bees to the top of Morne Gommier, where there are great views over Le Marin and St Anne, as well as to the SW coast and some of the interior.
Le Marin from Morne Gommier (spot Ambition 2)
View towards Diamond Rock to the SW
Beehives in lush forest on the hillside.
Back on the boat there were rust-spots to clean and paint. The warm weather accelerates the rusting process, so it pays to catch every spot before it spreads! While working on this (or just idling in the cockpit) we were entertained by a succession of ships which anchored nearby to load yachts for transport to the Med or other places. The first was a conventional cargo ship which craned the boats on deck. The next was a purpose-built floating dock, which sank down until its deck was underwater, and the yachts were floated in over the stern. After they were all aboard, the ship rose up from the depths as props were placed round the yachts and welded into place. There are some film clips on the net : search for the ship’s name “Super servant 4”.
One of the yacht transporters in Le Marin
One afternoon as we were sitting watching the ship loading, R noticed something float by, quickly stripped off and dived in. It was a Tilley hat! It had been floating around for a while, but J scrubbed it and after the sun had bleached the stains it was fine for sailing, and a good fit. J’s best Tilley hat was lost to the Atlantic, so it was good to get one back.
After a week at anchor in Le Marin, we motored Ambition II round to the marina on Tuesday 13th March to fill our water tanks. Then, with lighter winds in prospect, we moved out past St Anne, to Anse Caritan, and anchored just off the Pirate Bar. Here we had ice creams and rum punch while watching the local birds which frequent the bar, and nest in branches overhanging the sea.
Next morning we set off for a long walk around the Southern peninsular of Martinique, not sure how far we would get but planning to get a bus or taxi back to St Anne. The trail leads through dry forest along the shore, past beaches of white sand and rocky headlands. There are great saline ponds and marshes at the southernmost part, rich with wildlife. What we mostly saw were land crabs, which live in burrows everywhere. Many of the larger burrows were covered with wooden traps – clearly there is a market for land-crab meat. Some beaches were deserted, on one the attire was informal (or completely lacking), whilst others were popular family beaches.
Beach at Anse Caretan, with bird nests overhanging the sea
As we reached the east coast, the scenery became even more dramatic, with rocky islands and sweeping reddish cliffs, interspersed with deep bays. After wading through the stream which links the marshes to the sea (there’s a bridge but it only covers the middle, with precarious stepping stones each side) we crossed a great bare hillside, then walked through more woodland by the sea, often finding hermit crabs in our path, in colourful shells of all sizes. Eventually we reached the Bay Des Anglais, accessible to boats but only through a narrow channel through the reefs. We now discovered how isolated is this part of the coast, with few visitors making it by car along several miles of rough track. Certainly no busses or taxis! Wearily we started walking, and 10 minutes later waved a couple of thumbs at the first car to pass. They stopped, and took us all the way to St Anne! We did our best with our poor French to keep up a conversation and thank them for rescuing us.
View of St Anne (centre) and the peninsular round to Baie des Anglais ( top left)
On March 15th we weighed anchor and sailed with a following wind West from St Anne, outside the Diamond Rock, and on to Grande Anse d’Arlet. Diamond Rock was apparently once occupied by the British who filled the rock with caves to defend it whilst blockading Martinique. The rock is hardly bigger than the ships of the day. On reaching the Grande Anse, we found the anchorage quite packed and the only available space in 10m of water and quite steep-to. Nevertheless we held our spot overnight, and it was only in the morning during breakfast that we noticed the anchorage slipping past us! Quickly hauling in the chain, we set sail as if nothing had happened, and headed north round Cap Solomon and across the Bay de Fort de France.
We reached St Pierre in the afternoon, and anchored (twice just in case) south of the town. Rowing the rubber dinghy in to the beach, we visited the restaurant where they have a customs terminal, and declared our intention of checking out of Martinique the next day, destination Dominica. There was still time to walk up the hill to see the ruins of the theatre and prison, maintained as a reminder of the volcanic eruption that destroyed the town in 1905.