It took us a couple of days to recover from the Atlantic crossing – a day just for ourselves, and a day for Spellbinder. The latter included trips to a sailmaker, rigger and metal workshop to get various repairs in train, and a couple of inevitable trips to the chandlers to stock up on bits and pieces. Thank you to my crew, Alan and Neil, for their help and forbearance in turning Spellbinder around. By Tuesday 12th Dec we were on our way, aiming to explore Martinique’s west coast.
It didn’t disappoint. The mix of French first world investment and Caribbean culture is an enticing one: you feel as if you are in the Tropics, but enveloped in a comfort blanket of western European standards. I was even able to pick up a prescription from a French doctor in Besançon by producing my carte vitale (French social security card) – in seconds, the computer systems linking instantaneously to the homeland…
First stop was to Saint Pierre at the top of the island, passing by Ile de Diamant, once captured and commissioned by the British as ‘HMS Diamond Rock’ as it occupies a strategic position in the St Lucia strait. The French and British contested the Caribbean for a long time, and while the French eventually won out in Martinique there were periods of British occupation.
HMS Diamond Rock, that was
Saint Pierre was known as the Paris of the West Indies until the local volcano destroyed all around (28,000 souls) in 1902, despite giving everyone plenty of notice of its intent. Thousands died, and among the single digit survivors was a prisoner in his cell, who had a rather better day. Today it is a small beach-side town which is more Caribbean than French in character, and we enjoyed the long beach and snorkeling over some sunken statues. It was an ideal first stop, and Alan and I walked up to a statue of the Virgin Mary which dominated the bay to take some exercise and fly the drone.
View of Saint Pierre beach with the volcano sleeping peacefully
The same view as seen by the drone…
…which we also flew round us.
Nice anchorage too, and scene of the first ‘planteur’, my rum-based sun-downer of choice
We enjoyed Saint Pierre but the next day we had an appointment to keep with the commander of the French naval base, who had very kindly offered to show us around Fort Louis (formerly Fort Edward – see comment about shared history above). Damien and his colleague Yvan (who had single handed across the Atlantic to arrive in his posting – chapeau mon ami) very kindly met us as we moored up in the base and we had a very informative and enjoyable tour of the fort, which like so many French forts had taken inspiration in their design from Vauban. We enjoyed the wild iguanas which roamed the fort, had a coffee in Damien’s office and – of course – shared champagne on Spellbinder by way of remerciement. Thank you my friends for your company and hospitality.
All three of us in uniform?
The view from Fort
A random iguana, now obviously French
We anchored back in front of the fort and the next day visited Fort de France, the island’s capital. Not much to report – a bit of shopping, and a nice enough city, but we were keen to move on and find some beaches off which to anchor.
We expected this type of market…
…but had forgotten that it was nearly Christmas. The juxtaposition of Christmas trees and tropical plants in 30 degrees takes a little getting used to.
There then followed a succession of anchorages off beaches – Trois Ilets, Anse Mitan, Anse Noire, Grande Anse and Les Anses D’Arlet for any that know Martinique. All delightful in their own way – lovely sand, coconut trees, great swimming and snorkeling and the inevitable fabulous views at sunset. My favourite was Anse Noire, a little bay where we were one of only two yachts overnight, the other yacht being Daaal II, from which Joss and Aurélie came over and had a drink. It was good to meet such a fine example of British-French co-operation!
Spellbinder in Anse Noire – ‘noire’ beacuse the sand was volcanic black, unlike the beach next door, by way of a strange geological quirk
Turtle’s head, filmed by my Go Pro…
…(s)he, and the symbiotic accompanying sucking fish, made agreeable swimming companions
We had a tranquil time in Anse Noire
Ok, I can hear you – that’s enough, give me more winter storms and Brexit!
We had a great trip, a just reward for the planning and effort of the Atlantic crossing. We finished our time in Saint Anne, just outside Le Marin where we had a gastronomic last lunch before heading back to our berth, cleaning up Spellbinder, having a drink with neighbours Sorin and Ana from Romania (who were very British, having an Oyster for a yacht and having berthed her in Limehouse for three years). We then put Spellbinder to bed to await the return in January of her skipper and new crew, for further adventures.
Lizards and a washed-up ketch in Saint Anne