13 December, 2017
Ah Martinique. Great food, wonderful grocery stores, cheap French wines, great food, good roads, lots of hiking trails, great food, many sights to see.
Soo….. Our plan was to anchor out in Martinique. Then, we thought we’d get a mooring ball so that we could be close to the marina. Then, maybe we should rent a car (John and Paulette had one). Well, let’s see if they have a berth at the dock so we could have easy access to the car. Long story short, we rented a car for 2 weeks, and Le Marin found a spot on the dock for us, on the condition that we left in a week. The marina holds around a thousand boats, but was jammed full. We figured that things would work themselves out as long as we just hung loose. Okeey Dokey. Time to Med-moor between our neighbors who were about 19 feet apart (our beam is 17.5). I’m backing the Girl in from the pilothouse, totally blind. The monkey working the controls while the Admiral is in the stern whispering commands into my headset. (We prefer this routine to my driving from up top, as I can step out of the pilothouse to the bow easily). The dock guy is in his tender, holding the bow mooring ball sorta out of the way, as I’m backing between the our neighbor’s stern and the ball. All’s going well until we’re sideways without a lot of room to maneuver. “Oops, I meant stern to starboard, not port”. It was gettin’ on towards dusk, and cloudy, but I could see the dock guy’s eyes, as big as pies as the Girl slid past his tender before he disappeared below my line of sight. No crunch, no foul. We got ‘er straightened out without a go-around, Suz got stern lines on with the help of the young lady next door, and our Dude, now visibly more relaxed, got the bow attached to the ball. We jammed some fenders between the boats, and we were home. Our neighbor lady, Elodie, had just single-handed from France in the Mini Transat, a race which had ended for her the day previously. (The Mini Transat is a race for 6.5 meter-that’s 21 feet, folks- boats that starts in France, and ends in Martinique around 17 days later.) We didn’t see much of her for the first few days as she was laying in the cockpit of her Uncle’s boat next to us, catching up on her sleep. Our neighbors on the other side? Let’s just say that we locked up tight whenever we left, even for a minute. Not judgin’-just sayin’. The always colorful life on a boat! We solved the European shore power problem (partially) by wiring up an adapter to allow us to bring 220V, 50Hz into the Girl. We charged our batteries with one of our chargers which would accept 50Hz, while running the boats’ AC appliances off of a different inverter. The only appliances that we lacked were air conditioning and the washing machine, as our inverter doesn’t put out enough voltage to run these guys, and they don’t like 50Hz frequencies. (Okay, tech geeks, I tried to keep the explanation simple)
The hikes on Martinique are plentiful. There are kilometers and kilometers of reasonably marked trails covering much of the island. Suz and I knocked off the south end of the windward coast in several day-sized pieces, as well as a few in the interior. There’re still plenty for our next visit.
There are plenty of other attractions to visit:
The banana plantation, Habitation Balfort, where we toured the fields aboard a little train. We were taught us everything that we needed to know about the cultivation of bananas. All of the fruit exported from Martinique goes directly to France.
The Habitation Clement, a restored sugar plantation, gave us a taste of what life was like on a 19th century sugar plantation. (It was also the location where George H.W. Bush and Frances’ Francoise Mitterrand met following the First Gulf War). Several buildings and an old rum distillery were available for a walk-thru. At the end of our tour, we had a real bonus! Rum tasting-with samples of all of Clement’s current products. The pourers weren’t in any rush to chase us out. I had the feeling that we could have tasted all afternoon, but we had to drive home in the now torrential rain. It was raining so hard that there was a guard at the bridge over the raging creek to show us the way to drive over the now-submerged, railingless(?) plank bridge.
We were a bit disappointed after driving all the way north to the sugar refinery, only to find that they were closed until a few months into the dry season when cane would again be harvested.
The ruins of the Chateau Dubuc on the Caravelle peninsula were extensive, and the setting was stunning, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the windward side. Another rainy day, but as we walked along on our self-guided tour, we stopped to seek shelter for our brown bag lunch (baguette, French cheese and meats, of course!). We had planned on hiking another segment of the shore trail after our tour, but were foiled by the pouring rain.
Another day took us to Jardin Balata (Balata Gardens). Even though exotic species of plants from all over the world were displayed, Balata wasn’t your typical botanical garden. Instead of groupings by species, the garden was designed to be a work of art, blending different colors and textures of plants to create scenes pleasing to the eye. Every time that you rounded a turn in the serpentine path coursing through the property, you were confronted with another Kodak moment. Very cool.
The Anse Cafard memorial was very moving. Erected on a prominence overlooking a bay where a slave ship grounded on a stormy night in 1830, killing most on board, it features fifteen modern art stone sculptures. Depicting slaves, the figures are oriented so that they face the African’s homeland of Ghana, thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.
The childhood homesite of Josephine (Napolean’s wife) is worth a stop, if for no other reason than to say that you were there…Nowadays, only the foundation of the main house and the ruins of the sugar mill are visible. A small museum is also on the grounds. (You may know that both Martinique and St. Lucia claim to be her birthplace)
La Savanes des Esclaves is a reproduction of a typical slave “village” that would be found on plantations during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although the guided tours are in French, a self-guide brochure, printed in English, allows you to fill in the blanks if your French is “iffy”. Very easy to spend a couple of hours there.
Martinique is a country where daily life revolves around lunch, much like France. Businesses close between Noon and Two P.M., and there are no two ways about it. We fell easily into the habit of taking our main meal at lunch time, and our days of exploration were punctuated by lunch at some great little restaurant that someone had recommended. I could name names, but the places will probably be different by the time you get here. Don’t be long!..........tick,tick,tick.
Do the French like their wine? As my pal Dick would say “Does a chicken have lips?” I’ve never quite figured the simile, but it rolls off the tongue well. Yeah, French wine is inexpensive here, but mores so when you shop at Pomal wholesale distributor (Thank you, John and Paulette). This is where the retailers shop, and we felt fortunate to escape with only 6 cases of red and white pop.
All in all, the two weeks flew by. Yes, on day 7 we were awarded a reprieve of 3 more days. On day 10, the Dockmaster appeared at our stern and informed us that we “must leave right now”, as a boat was coming in to this, their reserved slip. No worries. He moved us to the “Big Boy” dock for the remainder of our stay. John and Paulette’s 58-footer looked like a dinghy compared to the other yachts berthed there, so you can imagine how lost Alizann looked.
It would be really easy to get sucked in to life here at Le Marin. The dockage is inexpensive, and there are modern conveniences here on Martinique (In absolute contrast to Dominica and St. Lucia, around 30 miles or so to the north and south, respectively). Fresh baguettes every morning, loads of great little restaurants, good roads, nice beaches, a real shopping mall………….
We may be back.