February 17th – 23rd, 2014 (-4 on UTC)

Dear F&F,

Yet another blustery 25 mile sail was at hand! A close reach with reefed main and (mostly) genoa.
Martinique would be our first French island of the season as well.

We pulled into Marin Bay at the southwest side of the island and picked up a mooring. Most notable was that the well protected bay was very much like many lagoons in the South Pacific and there were several hundred boats at mooring, on the docks or anchored out. This would be our first experience with \”e-seaclear\” check in system too. We went to the Marina office where the lovely local ladies, all very French, guided us through the computerized check in. This is an attempt by many of the islands to expedite the hundreds of boats coming and going while reducing time and costs of having customs and immigration officials having to be on site.

There are lots of marine services here and our most pressing need was to get a new battery for the dinghy motor as well as figure out why we\’re flooding the carburetor all the time? We had a nice meal at the \”Le Mayday Cafe\” and after much ado, found a reasonably priced battery. Our old one was load tested and they said it failed, but as future \”fixes\” would indicate; the battery may have been fine! The dinghy did indeed start with the new battery, but alas, that didn\’t last long…more on this later.

We did some area touring and for the most part, it was what it appeared to be. A picturesquely lovely giant boat storage and service area. There are a few nice beaches in the bay, most notably at the Club Med. There do not seem to be the hotel crowds we would expect to see, but there are lots of boats. The hotels we suspect are still in recovery from the world\’s economic woes. En-route to Fort-du-France, we stopped at Grand Anse for the night as it was getting dark. Along the way we passed Diamond Rock. Diamond Rock has a very interesting bit of history. It\’s a 250 foot high island, only 1/4 mile off shore and perhaps 100 yds wide. It is almost inaccessible by sea. Therein lies it\’s story. Apparently, when the British and the French were \”unhappy\” with each other in the late 1700\’s, a British officer figured out that the French ships had to pass close aboard Diamond Rock en route from Fort-du-France to Marin. As such, they hauled several cannons up on the rock which the French could not aim their ship\’s guns high enough to hit. The British called the rock \”HMS Diamond\” and in essence treated it as a vessel of the Royal Navy. As such, the British became a thorn in the side of the French along this short 15 mile route. Eventually, French Admiral Villeneuve took \”HMS Diamond\”, but had much difficulty in doing so. Napoleon, who never really understood the problems of fighting at sea, was most disappointed in his Admiral who took so long to overcome the British at Diamond Rock. Admiral Villeneuve, who was also tasked with chasing British Admiral Nelson (and couldn\’t find him), feeling slighted – went off to the Battle of Trafalgar to \”die in a glorious battle\”. Oddly, Lord Nelson was killed by a French sniper aboard his flag ship, \”HMS Victory\” and Admiral Villeneuve survived. The British won the day however and as such, Admiral Villeneuve, gained no fame for his actions. Napoleon as you can imagine, was not pleased.

As we entered the main bay at Fort-du-France, a most notable part of the area is the south side at \”Trois Pitons\”. This was the birthplace of Empress Josephine, Napoleon\’s wife, which of course was the reason Napoleon was so upset by \”HMS Diamond Rock\”. Napoleon was incensed that the birthplace of his wife was being bedeviled by the British and to defend her honor (and presumably his?), the rock had to be taken at any cost!

Fort-du-France, which would be our primary base of operations while here in Martinique is a lovely mix of the old and new. The anchorage is in the lee of the old Fort and there is a lovely dinghy dock provided by the town. Our first impression was a good one as there were literally a dozen English speaking tourist office personnel, scattered in town. They were very helpful in finding lots of places, shops and hire cars. We decided to hire a car and drive up the coast to see the town of St. Pierre, do the Mt. Pelee volcano and rain forest drive. While we had the car, we took advantage of shopping at Carrefours and the Hyper-U mart (which was actually much nicer). We were a bit pressed for car time as we couldn\’t return the car at the waterfront on the weekend and had to take it to the airport.

The next day we motored up the lee of the island to St. Pierre. We had visited the town on the northwest corner of the island the day before and found out lots about it\’s fascinating history. The area in the north of Martinique was covered in Sugar Plantations. In 1902, Mt. Pelee began to \”act up\”. After many months of showing that an eruption might occur, one did. It buried one plantation completely, many of the workers and owners were lost on the side of the mountain. Local officials, knowing that the harvest season was upon them, discouraged the town\’s populace and nearby plantations from evacuating. Tax revenues were at stake. On May 8th, Ascension Day, Mt. Pelee awoke in a big way at 8:02 a.m. There were 30,000 people in St. Pierre and 12 ships in the bay. Within minutes, all but two people perished and all 12 vessels lit on fire. A few managed to escape, but most of them did not. They are now wreck dives, part of the marine park off St. Pierre.

The original disaster film of the 1960\’s was \”The Devil at 4 O\’Clock\”. It starred Spencer Tracy as a French Priest and Frank Sinatra as a criminal.
The group of three criminals were told if they helped evacuate the orphanage on the side of the volcano, their sentences would be commuted. The last ship would wait for them till just before \”4 O\’Clock\” the next day. If they were late, they would be resigned to their fate by the volcano. I\’ll let you rent the DVD to see the film, but just as in the film, one of the only two survivors of the real event was a criminal locked in a stone cell.

We\’d spent time ashore there as we visited by car the previous day. We also met up with s/v \”Island Explorer\” from South Africa. Doug and Ursula were our slip mates during the off season in Trinidad. After a one night stay, we were off to Dominca, one of the lesser developed islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

Stand by for more,
Scott and Nikki (writing from St. Bart\’s and the famous \”Bucket\” Regatta…an entire blog will be devoted to this event!)