Candid Cruising: Martinique

Martinique is to St. Lucia what Neiman Marcus is to the 7/11 in the bad part of town.   As discussed elsewhere Martinique is a "Department" of France.  Like the reverse of colonization, Martinique enjoys considerable self rule latitude while receiving yearly cash injections from the motherland.

The British Navy may have known no equal, but the French knew how to cook, love and pick islands.  

While the British were knocking people on the head to keep a long string of rocks with little ariable land, the French picked the two best and biggest, fortified them and held on rain or shine taking the fight to the nearby British territories if that's what it took.  

St. Lucia changed hands 17 times.   The Brits went bankrupt fighting for their rocks, and French got rich on sugar cane and spices.  Someone won the battles, and someone else won the war, at least in the West Indies.

A graveyard with a million dollar view and modest headstones.

Those days are long gone, but Martinique and her cousin to the north, Guadaloupe, are vast, with huge areas of rich, flat ariable land blessed with plenty of rain, sunshine and now tourists.  The British finally realized that St. Lucia, St. Vincent and others didn't really have anything worth keeping and "gave" them back to their inhabitants, leaving them only slightly better for the experience and marginalized as a whole.

Martinique is big enough and diverse enough that tourism doesn't taint everything and everyone.  Many are French natives who have relocated, others are descendants of freed slaves who have grown up with an expectation of law and order.  

I didn't have a huge respect for the French political apparatus, but it works a whole lot better than it's neighboring governments and the results show everywhere you look.   The island is clean, law enforcement is discrete but professional and seemingly around every corner.  The roads are straight and fast.  Immigration is a 10 minute computer form, a rubber stamp and a smile.   Games be gone.  No one harrasses you for handouts.   Business are run efficiently and on time.   The Euro price makes life there expensive to American visitors, but that's about all that kept us moving.

To top it off, contrary to many American impressions, the French were among the most polite, friendliest of all the islanders we met.   Fellow French cruisers were serious sailors, often crossing the pond was their first offshore experience.   Whether that's confident self-reliance or stupidity depends on who you ask.  As a body they were more respectful of anchoring space, more helpful and more attuned to their environment than their English speaking brethren.

A fateful meeting.   We would become good friends with Tépacap, tagging along together for the coming month and a half

The French cruising families went out of their way to welcome us to anchorages, bring treats (usually chocolate), and offer play dates.   Many are among the best friends me have made on the entire trip.  In no time we were aboard their boats and welcomed into their stories, often as crazy and mixed up as our own.    Boat problems, visiting family with fixed dates to race towards and children who didn't want to study their English lessons, until there where three little blond girls babbling away in it, for instance.

The beaches were as nice as anywhere, the baguettes and cheeses unequaled north or south.  My favorite was a cheese called Pyrenees which has been in production since the 1,100's.   They must be doing something right.

Lessons Learned

Avoid anchoring in Le Marin.   The Cul-de-Sac Marin is a huge protected anchorage area packed with boats and teaming with charter's coming and going.  The holding varies, and we witness multiple draggings and two groundings just in the week we were there.   It is conveniant for checking in with Immigration, but the better option is to anchor at St. Anne's, just to the south and suffer a long dingy ride to Le Marin.   If you can find an open area to anchor in the small bays to the south east of the main anchorage, those offer much better holding and superior protection at the cost of a longer dingy ride to town.   Town itself is pretty small, but does offer good provisioning and a decent selection of boat parts.  Leader Price a large grocery store chain offers a dedicated dingy dock just steps from the their front door.

In 2013, we found that the boat support infrastructure had matured and grown over the last couple of years.   Boat parts, including estoteric French rudder bearings, ProFurler parts and fast, professional, reasonably priced riggers were to be had for the asking in Le Marin.

Anchorages

St. Anne - Good holding in 3-5 meters off an expansive beach.   Town if fairly sleepy, but there is wifi and small grocery store along with several bakeries.

Le Marin - Variable holding, best to the sides, poor in the deeper center channel.    Outstanding boat parts and services, quick and easy access to Leader Price grocery.   Otherwise, little redeeming value scenic or otherwise.

Anse D'Arlet - A expansive bay on the west coast now filled with professionally installed mooring balls.   As of May 2013, there is no fee enforcement so many boats are clearly camped out there for the season.   Nice beach, but little provisioning options.

Anse Mitan - One of our favorites.   Fast free wifi from the hotels, excellent swimming beaches and coves.   Good holding in 8 meters of water.   Occasional cross swell and wakes, but overall an outstanding spot.

Fort de France - A decent anchorage considering you are right in the middle of one of the Caribbean's largest cities.   There is nearly constant ferry wakes during the day, calmer at night.   Good holding and decent swell protection overall.

St. Pierre - A picteresque spot on the northern end Martinique and the natural place to spend you first night after crossing from Dominica or in preparation for heading north.   Very few good anchoring locations as the bottom shelves off steeply.   There are a few moorings scattered about.   Expect to anchor in 10-14 meters of water.   Scope and swing are a problem as currents and winds are often variable and eddies inevitably develop.

What to Buy

As in all the French Islands there really aren't any 'great deals'.   A mango that costs $0.37 in St. Lucia will set you back 2 euros in Martinique.   About the only thing worth stocking up on is liter boxes of milk, which are cheaper here than anywhere.   But does anyone really want to drink that stuff?   We use it almost exclusively for baking.