Up until this trip we had spent a grand total of four days in a marina in over 6 months. Three of those four days had been in Le Marin marina in the town of the same name in the south of Martinique. We have no benchmarks to compare Le Marin to (except the Cat Club, which we can safely report is rubbish and three times the price) but we would be willing to stick our necks out and say that Le Marin must be the best marina in the Caribbean. Our stop here saved our bacon. And there are croissants.
The Pompei of the Caribbean
We didn’t go straight there. An upside of Caribbean cruising in the low season is the opportunity to visit anchorages
such as Saint Pierre which can be crowded and difficult holding in blowy conditions. Once known as the Paris of the Antilles, in its heyday Saint Pierre used to be a thriving commercial capital. Then disaster struck in 1902 when Mount Pelée erupted and the whole town was torched killing all of its residents with a handful of exceptions, one of whom, Cyparis, was famously saved by his prison cell, the ruins of which you can visit. When we arrived at the foot of Mount Pelée, the cloud base seemed to have swung down into the town and out into the anchorage. Coupled with the tragic history of the town, the atmosphere was eerie to say the least. Visiting the museum I read about how boats in the bay had spontaneously combusted in the blast of heat that is estimated to have exceeded 450 degrees Centigrade. The most striking exhibit there is the church bell which buckled in the heat like a chocolate Easter egg left out in the sun. Today the town is a sleepy place. The most curious thing about the town is the poetry graffiti artist (artists?) who write(s) prolifically on almost every available façade in town.
On the Sunday we were treated to on board entertainment as another local regatta sailed around our anchorage. Once more, the traditional style of fishing boat appeared to have been adapted for racing with the curious top heavy mainsail. On this model, boats could put out two oversize mainsails and as in Anguilla needed a ballast of twenty plus men in a small craft. We watched as one ambitious boat capsized only a few metres from the start line. They didn’t manage to right the boat in time to participate in the rest of the race!
Our second stop in Martinique was one of those enchanted anchorages that you find by accident. We finished the day with that precious thing here in the Caribbean, a dolphin spotting! We anchored in Anse d’Arlet on the other side of the bay from the town. The pleasure of being in a secluded bay surrounded by green hillsides with superb snorkeling along the cliffs and nobody around is a rare treat and the timing was very nice. It was one year to the day that we had moved on board the Princess as our home. We rate this little corner up with Chatham bay in Union as one of our favourite, enchanted anchorages. The combination of wild nature and proximity to French culture and infrastructure is something that makes Martinique really special to us.
But no rest for the wicked (or the practical boat owner… an oxymoron if ever there was one!). Our dinghy was disintegrating and we needed to glue up its backside. We also wanted another rigger’s opinion on our mainsail furling, a job which Antigua rigging had flagged up as a 10 K (US$) job. We were hoping to lose a couple of Ks. So we went into Le Marin marina on a dinghy gluing mission for the second time this year.
Gremlins make a come back
Originally we had planned to stay for three days. The three days became ten. At first we thought that the Princess had an allergy to marinas. As soon as we arrived, things started to break down. The water pump no longer kicked in for the air conditioning in our stern cabin once we had flushed it for the first time. It only started working again mysteriously once I had chased down a refrigeration engineer and he was due to arrive. Our fridge and freezer did their usual trick of going on strike once they had got too cold. We have had this problem before and didn’t worry too much about it, although we had a fridge and freezer chock full of goodies from Guadeloupe’s lovely supermarket at Malendure. Luckily we befriended our neighbor, a friendly Texan who readily agreed to look after our frozen goodies until they both came back on line.
However, more distressing, when we had to move the boat for the riggers, our bow thruster stopped working at theworst possible time. Going stern to back onto our pontoon between two beautifully pampered boats was nerve wracking to say the least without a bow thruster. To add insult to injury, the toaster and one of our electric toothbrushes gave up the ghost and the door handle to our stern cabin came off in Simon’s hand. Gluing the dinghy was the least of our preoccupations.
The glass half full mentality had to be induced with pastries and rum punches. Looking back, we were extremely lucky to be in Le Marin marina because the problem of the bow thruster turned out to be a problem with the batteries. Christophe at Caraibe Electronique was a godsend. He is a whirling dervish of efficiency and diagnosed our problem straight away. Within 24 hours we had new batteries delivered, old ones taken away and the new charging regime set up. Had this happened out at anchor when I had been trying to lift the anchor or on passage fleeing a storm, for example, the outcome would have been a lot less than an inconvenience. No power means no windlass, no electric winches, no navigation lights, no auto pilot, no navigation electronics, no fridge, no freezer. No mobile phone charging to look up the weather websites. A less competent technician might have misdiagnosed our problem, taken our bow thruster off and spent hours taking it apart. We were really lucky to be in the right place in the Caribbean to get the batteries we needed which fit into our battery box, a really specific size. And Tristan from Wind who supplied them was brilliant. He carried them all on board for us and took our old ones away which meant carrying half a ton of batteries on to and off the boat. We were pathetically grateful as we dripped with sweat from having hauled them out of the battery box!
Our fortunes seemed to turn a corner mid way through our stay. Our fridge and freezer recovered from having got too cold and started working again, as they always do. Our air con was working a treat and smelling fragrant after a quick wash of the system. The riggers went to the top of our mast and gave us some good news. They didn’t think that we needed to replace the whole foil at all. It was not damaged but only slightly marked. What’s more the swivel (twizzly bit at the top of the mast) could be taken out at the bottom of the mast so the mast didn’t need to be taken down. That was the difference between 10K and 3K. Seven whole boat units. We bought a shiny new toaster that toasts baguette and a new electric toothbrush.
As for the dinghy? We reglued it and it still lets in copious amounts of water. We are so lucky to have a foot spa and a dinghy all in one. As I was grumbling while cleaning it, muttering things to myself along the lines of ‘what’s the point of this? Life’s too short’ I found an argument to help. We have a make do and mend dinghy. It still floats after all. It’s an ecological imperative to try and fix things to give them as long a life cycle as we can these days. So shabby is an eco warrior dinghy. I have noticed that a lot of cruisers give a name to their dinghy. I have renamed ours Bagpuss. Just an old saggy dinghy, and a bit loose at the seams. But Simon and Rachel loved him.
Having time in Le Marin marina was not so bad. If you’re going to be holed up anywhere, this marina is a lot of fun. There are great services, multiple chandleries and bars and restaurants on your doorstep. Where else does a marina come with a marina service mall? Although we were in low season and there were a lot of empty boats about, the bars and restaurants were still open. We got into the pleasant habit of going for our expresso coffee in the morning and enjoying the wifi, picking up our croissants and stretching our legs along the sea front. There was live music some nights and a great bash for the French Fete de la Musique (music day) all on hand. We got to meet some nice neighbours and were very happy to meet Sean who is sailing around the world on his Amel with his daughter.
It was also great to rent a car and visit the island some more. We enjoyed the Sunday buzz of Trois Ilêts and were in thrall of the amazing road, La Trace, which cuts through the rainforest in the middle of the island. The Balata botanical garden is in a beautiful location and I was happy to get to do a treetop canopy walk with Simon. Driving through the jungle on a lovely EU maintained road is surreal. You feel as if you have been shrunk by the gigantic ferns and colossal leaves around you. Very Jurassic park.
Ten days was a whole week longer than we’d planned to stay, but after hanging out with fellow sailors like Sean who are waiting months for boat work to be done, we thought we’d accomplished a hell of a lot pretty quickly. The joy of being in a marina for me is always when you leave, though! How great to be back out on the water and back at anchor with a breeze blowing through the hatches and to be able to swim off the boat whenever you feel like it. The Princess had a full tummy of diesel and water and whenever we rocked gently in the bay, we could hear her sloshing. With cupboards full of French compote and pancakes, we felt ready to face the world!
We were sad to leave the French Antilles but it’s time to leave the comfort zone behind. Before we sink the boat with Bonne Maman jam…