Pete: As the sun came up at 0530 the sea was for a little while flat and glassy. I had to take the sails mostly in, and motored as Mount Pelee, Martinique, loomed above, blocking the morning sun. A hundred feet away towards land I saw a dolphin break the silvery surface. I hoped it would come closer, so i moved forward to the bow to see if I could do some Dolphin Whispering. Suddenly there was a pod of 20 or more dolphins zipping left and right under the bow, chasing each other and playing with the bow wave. Rather than wake everyone up early and pay the price later in the day, I filmed the moment. They stayed and played for 20 minutes but I only had minutes of camera time. A special moment.
Mt Pele dominated the motor down the west coast, but didn’t look like a threat. It is a 4,500 ft volcano that erupted in 1902 killing 30,000 people in a wave of hot gases and ash. Reputedly the only people to survive was a man on death row, deep in a cell, and a cobbler, but i have since found that there were several others on the fringes, that the man wasn’t on death row, and that a second explosion occurred that killed 2000 rescuers. It hasn’t been quite as active since then, but we weren’t that interested in testing it out by stopping at St Pierre (the french islands are always a lot more populated than the British islands, probably because Britain banned slavery about a hundred years before the French).
Fort de France in the south of Martinique was our anchorage that night. The Fort of Saint Louis sits right over the anchorage, and looks well cared for.
On shore there is a promenade with a childrens playground that didn’t enthuse our kids much, but in the distance: a MacDonalds ! As soon as the Golden Arches were seen we knew we were obliged to go. It was a tough queue, as it was busy in town. Despite the people there didn’t seem to be much open.
Clearing in was easy on the computer in the chandlery, which closed instantly. We tried to get the kids out for a sight see to visit the central covered vegetable market, but they dragged their heels and we arrived only in time to buy a bag of tomatoes. We diverted instead to an air-conditioned Mall to get Janine a coffee.
That evening while we waited for a reason to mix cocktails, we saw an unusual sight: an Australian flagged boat. Chris came over with a brew and introduced himself. He was living in the BVIs, running a sail training company (Sailing Virgins – what a great name!) and had brought his Beneteau First 40 down here to get some work done. Sitting on a family boat sounded not as much fun as partying in Martinique, and perhaps more tiring.
The next day, to our pleasure a huge crowd appeared and market stalls started to be set up. I was looking forward to some fried fish or jerk chicken for lunch.
The boys piled into candy floss and hotdogs, and Janine went in search of an internet cafe to get a weather update. As I walked towards the promenade I noticed it was getting more crowded and that a lot of our neighbouring boats had left. As we dinghied the boys over to the boat, we noticed a crowd of jetskis, and Max wondered if there was going to be a race. I thought he was referring to a jets race, and did not realise he was referring to the sudden obliteration of the northern horizon by a mass of sails. More boats than we had seen in months were descending on the harbour, along with three police speedboats, dozens of jetskis, and two helicopters, all screaming in French. What they were screaming I had only a vague idea, except that they were all contradicting each other, and pointing at us.
It seems that we were anchored in the middle of the finish line for a round the island race, with as many boats competing as the Sydney Hobart Yacht race start-line. I raced back across to the town to collect Janine, jumped back on the boat and ripped up the anchor, and tried to leave. Police jetskis zoomed past telling us to go, and a Press boat yelled various things at us, suggesting we stay. We circled for a while trying to find a gap and to make sense of who or what was racing, then eventually we saw a traditional island sloop sail past in the slop that resulted from thousands of boats circling, and we saw a gap and broke through the cordon.
The race crowd disintegrated soon after, and as we sailed south, rather frazzled, some yachts followed us on our way to St Anne and Diamond Rock. Diamond rock is a tall steep rock in the middle of the bay, and was officially a yacht in the British navy, created after some enterprising men hauled cannons up the cliff, and started harassing passing French ships. It never sailed anywhere but it did a lot of damage. It sits in the way of the sail from Fort de France to St Anne.
After our time in the washing machine of the Fort de France Harbour Race, we didn’t feel like getting onshore again, so I was sent to get ice and diesel at St Anne.
St Anne is a small town at the south of Martinique that felt like a seaside town in the South of France. Like Cap d’Aix or Eze sur Mer. It had one main road, with cafes and restaurants perched along the cliffs around a small beach. Very cute. A band was playing on the beach and the shops were actually open! Unfortunately the gas station was 2 km down the road, and 24 kg of diesel was pretty heavy. (I was paranoid about the tank getting too low, in case I had to prime the whole fuel line by mouth again). I would like to come back there if time permitted.