Circumnavigating Martinique

Exploring Martinique with Michael

Michael’s dinner contribution – a batwing coral crab
Michael flew into Hewanorra airport in St. Lucia and would be with us for 8 days (excluding travel days).  Staying in St Lucia was not an option as Duhkxy’s application to visit the island was denied.  Martinique is less than a day’s sail away from St. Lucia so we planned to spend our time with Michael there.  Hewanorra airport is on the southern end of St. Lucia and Ice Floe was moored in Marigot Bay, near the north end of the island.  To conserve Michael’s vacation days I took a cab to meet him.
Most islands in the Caribbean have few, if any, protected anchorages on their eastern (Atlantic) side and the swell and winds on the Atlantic can make for very rough sailing.  Martinique’s Atlantic coastline, in contrast, is protected by an extensive, shallow, reef and we were armed with information contributed by on “Active Captain” of several anchorages.  “Active Captain”, an invaluable, crowd-sourced descriptions from boaters of anchorages, marinas, and hazards.  We were eager to snorkel the reefs and the ability to circumnavigate Martinique was ideal.

We decided to sail the eastern shore from south to north (new territory for us) and the western shore back (second time for us) and across to St. Lucia in time for Michael to fly home.  We concluded this was the best plan for all.  An approximation of our sailing route is shown below.
Sailing path and anchorages
Michael arrived in St. Lucia on April 26th and we were off to Martinique early the next morning.  Michael typically gets up around 4:30 am for work.  Just as I was making headway getting George to sleep in, the two of them began starting the day around 6:00 am.  I slept in as a silent protest.

We arrived in Martinique around 1:30 pm and anchored in St. Anne.

St. Anne Anchorage (Martinique)

After checking in we headed straight to a small beach.  The moment Duhkxy’s feet hit the sand, Michael got his first look at what a maniac Duhkxy becomes on a beach.

Michael grabbed a picture of Duhkxy on the beach – faster than a speeding bullet
Wet and sandy – just the way he likes it
The next day we began our circumnavigation of Martinique.  The wind was down and we had a strong tide against us so we were motor sailing around the southern tip of Martinique when I caught a mahi mahi.  We fish with unattended hand lines so we don’t often see a fish hit the line.  Much to my delight, the fish struck the very instant my line was out and the mahi flew straight out of the water.  When I announced I caught a mahi, George thought I was joking.

Michael only looks tipsy – honest!!

Eastern Coast of Martinique

After landing the mahi we continued, now sailing, up the east coast en route to Port Vauclin, the first of the east coast anchorages described by sailingbreeze on Active Captain.

This anchorage is a wide open, increasingly shallow bay leading to a grassy sandbar.  These shallow waters were a playground for wind surfers and people bathing in the warm waters.  At a point where the water is only inches deep, we found sandy depressions with deeper water.  We followed the lead of others and immersed ourselves in these very warm pools while Duhkxy raced and jumped in the shallows.

In the photo below, you can see a barrier below the kite on the right.  This appeared to have been constructed to keep sargassum off the beach.  We understand that the sargassum on the Atlantic coasts had been especially problematic.  So much so that in some places, unhealthy hydrogen sulfide fumes were emanating from its decomposition.  The beach near this anchorage had enormous mounds of the seaweed that was being loaded into trucks and taken away.

Port Vauclin anchorage
Port Vauclin
From our anchorage in Port Vauclin
That evening, Michael did his best to reproduce his awesome blackening seasoning with spices we have on board (quite nice).  We had fish tacos and smoked the balance to savor it over the next couple of days.

Islands and rafts of sargassum are a recent problem in the Caribbean.
They make fishing very challenging and are fouling beaches
We spent the next couple of days sailing and snorkeling inside the reef and anchoring in Baie du Francois, and Baie du Tresor along the way.  The reef appeared to to be in a recovery phase with lots of new small coral heads getting started.  A fair amount of coral skeleton was covered with healthy plant and sponges which was a distinct improvement over the remnants of bleached coral.  There was certainly enough living coral, fish and invertebrates to encourage us and we hope to do more snorkeling there when we have enough time.  Michael spotted a batwing crab tucked in under a sandy shelf in ~ 6 feet of water and George was able to capture it with his lobster lasso and gloves.  The batwing crab in commonly found in this kind of shallow water

With our keel up we draw a little more than 3 feet but suggest a boat with a more typical draft would find enough water through this stretch, as well.

Michael demonstrating his romantic prowess
Baie du Francois
Small marina in Baie du Francois
Baie du Francois
Farmland bordering Baie du Francois
Baie du Francois
Baie du Francois
Loup-Garou, a beautiful, uninhabited, protected island just outside of Baie du Francois
Our sail beyond Baie du Tresor, now outside of the protective reef, was boisterous with winds up to 20 knots and swells of 10+ feet.  We can attest to the fact that Michael is a salty sailor.  He had no difficulty reading or going below despite the rollicking conditions.

Michael snaps a photo off the stern to capture the heeling of Ice Floe as we sailed around the northern tip of Martinique

As we sailed around the northern tip of Martinique, we paused to snorkel a reef in Anse Couleuvre, described as a top snorkeling spot in the “Snorkeling report”

According to the description, snorkeling this reef was not advisable on a rough day.  It was blustery but there were no significant waves near two large rocks projecting out of the water that we believed marked the edge of the reef.  Michael and I headed out right off the sailboat as George was uncertain where he could anchor.  The current was strong against us and made just getting to the rocks exhausting.  In addition, Michael had very small flippers, great for fitting in a carry-on bag;  not so great for propelling oneself forward.

All in all, it was an ill-fated snorkel.  When we re-examined the maps of the bay we realized we had snorkeled off a small beach just south of the one recommended.  The reef was much closer to shore and was not contiguous with the large rocks we snorkeled on.  None-the-less, I offer a couple of photos of our very brief snorkel by the big rocks.  I am quite proud of my turtle photo.

Beyond the challenging sailing conditions and our strenuous snorkel, the day continued to challenge us.  Our gennaker sheet got caught in our propeller when George started the engine to avoid some poorly-marked fishing traps.  As noted previously, most were identified by no more than a soda bottle.  All’s well that ends well – we avoided the traps and George shut the engine down before the sheet was impossibly tangled around the prop and/or damage was done.

The West Coast of Martinique

We continued on around the north end of Martinique and down the western shore and anchored in the harbor of St. Pierre.  St. Pierre is a village of approximately 15 square miles and a population of 4000.  Since the establishment of the town, it has suffered two catastrophic natural disasters:  a hurricane in 1780 with an 8 meter storm surge killing 9000, and the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902 that killed everyone in the village (~28,000) save for two individuals.

Approaching St. Pierre
St. Pierre, Martinique, with Mount Pelée in background (reproduced from, ib:user:Zenneke)

It had been an exhausting, 12 hour day (so far) and Michael was of a mind to treat us to dinner.  We took the dinghy in to find a nice restaurant for dinner and chill.  The selection of open restaurants was quite slim.  We chose one we had eaten in previously, but Duhkxy was turned away.  We remembered afterward that previously we snuck him into the restaurant in his airplane carrier..

It was a pleasant, relaxing, dinner off a short menu.  Michael was decidedly unimpressed, but we have grown accustomed to the local offerings, and every dinner out is a wonderful treat.

Immediately, as you step off St. Pierre’s dingy dock, is a lovely public square lined with trees. When we visited, these trees were inhabited by a large flock of bright yellow and black orioles who were building nests.  Many dozens of nests were completed or under construction.

As this beautiful oriole begins constructing a new nest, note the proximity of nests to right and left.
These birds characteristically nest in communities like these with nests almost close enough to touch.
Farmland just beyond the town of St. Pierre
We set off the following morning heading for Anse D’Arlet, one of the loveliest towns we have encountered in our travels, thus far, in the Caribbean.  We snorkeled the north shore of the harbor;  one of the best snorkeling we did with Michael.

We visited the town and looked for a restaurant for dinner.  None, we encountered, looked particularly promising from their exterior.  Michael approached one, L’oasis, and took a peak inside and was pleasantly surprised.  He suggested we check out the menu board which offered a wide selection of entrees et al.  From the least inviting exterior, he had found an absolutely charming restaurant with outstanding food.

L’oasis, a 4.4 star restaurant in Anse D’Arlet (Trip Advisor) – don’t judge it by its exterior!!!
Magret du Canard (Duck Breast) – Michael and George both had duck
I had St. Jacques (scallop) risotto
 Ah… Desert
Happy and full, if a bit fuzzy
Approaching Anse D’Arlet

Michael’s last two days with us were spent sailing from Anse D’Arlet to Le Marin, and then back to Marigo Bay in St. Lucia.  We hope he enjoyed his visit with us as much as we enjoyed having him share our new “Way of Life” (Michael’s description).

A portion of artwork on building in Le Marin

Martinique to Marigo Bay Marina, St. Lucia

Michael joins us in St. Lucia

We sailed from St. Anne, Martinique to St. Lucia on April 23rd to meet Michael.  George left at the crazy early time of 6:30 am, always mindful of the need to arrive in time to check in.  We had a beautiful sail in 14 knot winds on a beam reach.
As we made the crossing to St Lucia, a pilot whale came right alongside the boat.  What a thrill to see such a massive creature feet from the cockpit on the starboard side of Ice Floe.  We learned that pilot whales, actually a type of dolphin, swim alongside boats just as we have had other dolphins play in the boat’s bow wave.  The pilot whale is distinguished from the more typical bottlenose dolphins both in its size and the shape of its head.
The best shot I could get of the pilot whale that visited us
750 pound short fin pilot whale – photo borrowed from
Common Caribbean bottlenose dolphins – photo borrowed from
We arrived to Marigot Bay in St. Lucia early in the afternoon.  As you enter the bay, the hilltops are festooned with colorful villas/homes/rentals.
Looking down on the bay in this photo borrowed from the Marigot Bay Marina and Resort, it is easy to see why this bay is popular as a hurricane hole.  The beautiful sand beach peninsula leaves only a small opening to the outer harbor.  An interesting fact is that French ships are known to have hidden from English ships behind the sand beach having tied palm fronds to their masts as camouflage.
Aerial view of Marigot Bay Marina and Resort reproduced from the resort’s website
Further out, beyond the sand beach on the left the Marigot Beach Club is situated.  The beach club offers day passes and longer rental accommodations, sets up outings such as kayaking, snorkeling, diving, et al.  A beach-bar restaurant named DOOlittles offers local fare and a boat shuttles between the Marigot Beach Club and the Marigot Bay Marina and Resort, as well as many additional restaurants.  A wedding was held at the Marigot Beach Club while we were visiting.
Marigot Beach Club
Marigot Beach Club
As you begin to enter Marigot Bay Marina, this duo of pale blue and white buildings house the administrative offices, marina showers, the Hurricane Hole restaurant, a bank, and some living quarters.  The two buildings are separated by a large courtyard with seating for the restaurant.  On our first evening in the marina, George and I had dinner at the Hurricane Hole that was offering a buffet of traditional Caribbean dishes and a show featuring a very talented tenor saxophone player alternating with performances of a traditional dance troupe featuring fire, fire swallowing, and fire breathing.
Marigot Bay Marina and Resort administrative offices, the Hurricane Hole Restaurant, et al.
We spent most of the two days before Michael’s arrival on boat chores.  However, we did allow ourselves occasions to take in the beauty and features of the Marigot Bay Marina and Resort.
Unfortunately, our application for Duhkxy to visit St. Lucia had not yet been approved so he could not leave the boat.  We took this opportunity to further our efforts to make Duhkxy at ease when we had to leave him alone.  Duhkxy made great strides in adjusting to our absence, remaining mostly calm, and assuming a lookout for us on the cockpit combing until our return.
Duhkxy escaped no ones attention as he stood vigil waiting for our return.
I took a 45 minute cab ride to the Hewanorra Airport to meet Michael – another great opportunity to see more of the island during this ride from the northwest side of St. Lucia to the southeast.  We passed through banana plantations, across mountains and through the island’s rainforest.  Our driver Moses was kind enough to stop at an overlook of a beautiful fishing village and at one of the many fruit and vegetable stands so I could replenish our stores.  The homes and villages we saw were colorful and well maintained.  We will certainly visit again for a longer time once Duhkxy’s permit is approved (spoiler alert:  it was ultimately not approved this year as Duhkxy was not old enough to have some of the required tests done).
After an interminable wait at the airport, Michael finally showed up with a customs agent beside him.  He quickly said “OK, they won’t let me in because of the incident in Grenada”.  Before I could respond, he countered with “Nah, they just need to know where I am staying.”  This is an odd question when you are staying on a boat and that is not a sufficient answer.  They must have a non-moving place.  The answer of the Marigot Bay Resort and Marina was sufficient to get us on our way, understanding we would be moving on from there.
Michael and Duhkxy quickly became the best of friends.
Although neither Michael nor George and I were able to enjoy the Marigot Bay Resort fully, save a couple of dips in the pool and a fabulous Indian dinner at Masala, the following pictures will give you a sense of why we aim to return next year.
In my next post, I will tell you all about Michael’s visit and our circumnavigation of Martinique. 
The Marigot Bay Marina and Resort is renowned for its beauty and accoutrements.  Accommodations include 915 square foot Junior suites starting at $390 per night in the off season and go up from there. HOWEVER, a slip on the dock ran us ~$40 per night and came with full access to the resort facilities, pools, spa, gardens and restaurants.  What a deal!  It reminded us of our great fortune staying in a marina in the heart of Paris for only 40 euro a night.  We wish all marinas were so reasonable.
The resort has two large swimming pools, one with a swim up bar – by far the most popular.

Additional water features are integrated into the grounds of the resort.

Koi pond
I luxuriated in the sitting area above this gorgeous dinghy doc writing my last post.
The winding paths through the resort are bordered by beautifully designed and maintained gardens and buildings.
Check out this pineapple.  Marilla and Mitch – how is yours doing?
Mangos – George and I have consumed a hundred each.

Deshaies Botanical Garden, Guadeloupe

Jardin Botanique Deshaies

The Deshaies Botanical Garden sits high up on a hillside overlooking Deshaies.  We read that a free ride can be arranged to and from the garden, however when I phoned ahead to inquire about a ride and whether Duhkxy would be admitted, we were told no dogs were allowed and asked if we were looking for a taxi.  Our conversation was compromised due to our mutual shortcomings in speaking each other’s language, so we decided to walk and took along Duhkxy’s airplane carrier.
It was a steep climb to the garden, but afforded a welcome opportunity to see more of Deshaies beyond its waterfront.  In one yard, two fishing traps helped answer our questions of what was tethered below the many small floats we dodged in waters 50 to 100 feet in depth.  The floats marking underwater traps are often no more than a soda bottle – despite our best efforts we have lost two planers and several lures when trolling – always a heartbreak for their value and our unintentional contribution to the many man-made hazards to sea life in our oceans.  We hope they are retrieved by the fishermen and find their way to useful use or proper disposal.
Local type of fishing trap
Lovely homes on road to Deshaies Botanical Gardens
Deshaies from overlook on road leading to the Botanical Gardens (Forefront, village homes and businesses;  On hillside, beyond the town, a cemetery)
The Deshaies Botanical Garden was opened to the public in 2001.  The extraordinary beauty of the botanical garden designed by Michel Gaillard, is complemented by an infrastructure of mature indigenous and exotic trees established much earlier by previous owners of the land, Guy Blandin (until 1979), Michael Calucci (until 1986).
Upon arrival, we were told Duhkxy could not enter the botanical garden, but could remain on leash in the reception area.  We were uncertain that this would be possible as Duhkxy had routinely responded with ear-shattering and relentless yips, and hysteria whenever either George or I moved beyond 10 feet of him.  Much to our surprise, he remained calm as we handed him over to the woman at the reception area and remained so.  We found him fast asleep when we finished our tour.
The gardens include winding paths of beautiful flower beds, water gardens, tropical birds, trees, frogs, lizards and bees….  Ending this post with pictures worth many, many, thousands of words.
Manmade waterfall above pond full of pink flamingos

Loriquet a Tête Bleue
Hummingbird of unknown species