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 sailingbreeze.com 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” http://www.snorkeling-report.com/spot/snorkeling-anse-couleuvre-martinique/.

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 Wikipedia.org, 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

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