Rain!!!

Dark clouds carrying rain had warned us 3 days ahead that we were approaching land. Exodus hadn’t seen rain for months. Not a drop in Cabo Verde. Not a sprinkle in the Canaries. No downpour in the Portuguese islands. No drizzle over the Spanish coastline nor mizzle in the Baleares. When the first shower came, quickly turning into a torrent, we were all surprised, digging out our raincoats and quickly closing all the hatches and companionway. Luckily the downpour lifted as quickly as it came, making way for the radiating sun. Everything was dry in a jiff. The same scenario repeated itself a few times a day, providing a refreshing experience.

   

But with the rain, the wind picked up, leading us from one squall into the next. Our faithful weatherman had notified us via iridium messenger that wind would pick up the last two days of our trip. As always, his prediction was spot on and the Atlantic did not disappoint us. Our planned arrival of the 10th of December quickly turned into a revised estimated arrival of almost 24 hours sooner than anticipated.

Exodus was approaching Martinique rapidly during the end of the local rainy season. As early as 4am we started discerning landmass and faint lights in the distance, which revealed to be the most stunning green outcrop at daybreak. After the superdry Canaries and the Cape Verdian islands with its barren landscape laced by green ravines, after miles and miles of blue, the green landscape looked welcoming.

   

It felt very strange to be close to land again, after the solitude of the sea. And even though we started to be overtaken by the bigger and faster sailing yachts participating in the ARC during our last week at sea (like the royal clipper), apart from them we hadn’t seen any other sea traffic.

   

The arrival

Exodus made way into the Saint Anne bay and discovered to her dismay that clearly she was not the only one that crossed the Atlantic. The whole bay was packed to the brim with sailing yachts on anchor. Finding a spot was like driving around in a supermarket’s parking lot on Saturday morning. Everyone is there… Including a water taxi that will drop you off on the dinghy dock or deliver spare parts to your boat.

Exodus threw out her anchor and had a brief rest while the crew got the dinghy ready to go to land. The first steps on land felt slightly disorientating, as if your legs cannot entirely be trusted, but that was quickly sorted out by a stroll around town, a refreshing welcome beer, and a swim off the beach.

 

Back at Exodus we discovered that the hull we had polished before leaving Cabo Verde now nursed tiny shells. How they managed to grow that quickly on an ever moving object remains a mystery.

Spic & Span

Before leaving Cabo Verde, our captain had booked a berth at Le Marin marina. We hadn’t been in a marina since Mindelo and Exodus and her crew could do with a good overall clean and some repairs. If we thought Saint Anne was busy, we were in for a surprise. Approaching Le Marin, we saw nothing but masts sticking out! Exodus called the marina on VHF, one of at least 20 boats trying to get in at the same time. We were put on hold for an hour and overhearing the destressed callers deduced that anyone who had not made a reservation would simply not get in for a month to come…

Exodus was escorted to her berth in the old part of Le Marin by the marina’s motor boat. Docking happens stern first, with the bow attached to a mooring buoy. For 4 full days we cleaned Exodus inside and outside and started repairs. In the old part of the marina there are several ship chandlers, where you can buy about anything. Unfortunately they have cottoned onto the fact that they are the only properly stocked suppliers in the area and basically charge what they want! We replaced the broken gooseneck, went up the mast to mount a new windvane so that the direction on the wind meter would work again, we stripped the bicycles that had slowly rusted whilst lying strapped to the deck, bought new garden hose, … Admittedly, it is much easier to go up the full length of the mast in a marina instead of being on anchor swaying from one side to the other.

   

We washed all clothes, bed linen and ourselves. The showers were less pleasant than anticipated (cold water only), but at least there were no water limits and they were not moving!

The marina was not really our scene. Especially the new side with its big shopping mall, expensive yachting shops and restaurants all around, held little attraction.

Our newly purchased Digicel data sim card, with a contract that covers the Caribbean islands, decided not to work on the second day. The clerk informed us that they are upgrading the sending masts and there will be no internet until the 10th of January. The Digicel office was full of unhappy sailors, all feeling cheated into taking a contract that doesn’t work. This sparked a slight adjustment to the story, stating that the service will only be temporarily unavailable on certain times…

After 4 nights of good sleep, where Exodus was lying perfectly still, we moved out of the marina and onto the anchorage outside the marina. Parking in Saint Anne was nothing compared to squeezing into this sardine can! Boats all around!

Meanwhile the time had come for Peter to return to England. We had a farewell braai and dropped him off at the dinghy dock close to the marina.

After the cleaning operations we moved back to Saint Anne, to enjoy a few days of sun & beach, getting used to the frequent showers. A monkey’s wedding (soft rain and sun) or a sudden downpour instantaneously evaporated by the scorching sun, creating rainbows of various sizes. There are coconut trees on the white sand beach, pretty idyllic. The only annoying thing was the invisible sand flies that start eating you alive as soon as you stay too long in one spot.

In Saint Anne we met a very nice Turkish couple, Nadir & Selim, on their steel boat Sly Keyif, who are travelling around the world for the 4th time. They also had court problems to get their kids to sail along. They managed in the end, pressing us to trust our bond with the kids. They gave us a personally signed copy of Laura Dekker’s book, the youngest solo circumnavigator on this planet, who was dragged in front of court 6 times in the Netherlands, was retrieved by the Dutch military police and even followed by Dutch intelligence. They met this great girl in New Zealand where she has built a new life.

Les Anses d’Arlet

With Christmas getting closer, it was time to move in the direction of the capital, Fort-de-France, where Gitane and Winnie were to catch a plane to visit the boys in Belgium. Exodus took a short sail to our next stop, and enjoyed being out in the wind again. There were fishing buoys all around, which meant we had to stay alert the whole time. This did not prevent us to enjoy the beautiful coastline, with its dense green foliage, looking like a lush afro. Exodus sailed past a volcanic rock sticking out, looking like a hooded ork from a distance. A close up revealed that weather had broken a big part of the rock off displaying the once hidden stalagmites and stalactites. Nature is still the best sculptor/ artist.

   

We stayed for a few days in les Petits Anses d’Arlet, yet another beautiful bay with coconut palms on white sand beaches and lush green mountains as a backdrop. There were less yachts, but still pretty crowded to our liking.

Iggy Xmas & Bang Bang New Year

Exodus anchored in the Fort-de-France bay, overlooked by Fort Saint Louis. This fortress was built on earlier strongholds dating back to the 1600s.  Even though it is a historical site that offers daily visits, a large portion is still in use as a naval base.

Only a few other yachts were anchored in the bay, but the most prominent feature was the passenger liner dock. Thomas Cook, Tui, Norwegian, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, … cruise liners take turns mooring there, dwarfing the surrounding yachts. Fort-de-France has the capacity to receive 3 cruise liners at a time, constituting a large part of their revenue. These floating cities are fully equipped with accommodation and dining facilities for 3000 guests, swimming pools, cinema halls, casinos, climbing walls etc. They arrive in the morning, allow all 3000 passengers to disembark and explore town (hence the hive of business activity, souvenir and clothes shops, bars and restaurants in the streets surrounding the ferry terminal), to be back in time for dinner and the night’s festivities and move on to the next spot at night… While all the primly dressed cruise liners flocked the tourist markets, nearest bars and streets, we planned our trip to Decathlon for bicycle spares.

   

We took a local bus to the highway overfly close to the sport’s shop. Getting there was easy enough but getting back was a different story. As we discovered later, only part of the public transport infrastructure is being used, and there is no real logic in the proximity of bus stops for going and coming. After a long wait, we realized we were waiting in vain and hopped on a ‘taxi collective’ (local minibus) instead. Back to Pointe Simon, which is not only the cruise line terminal, but also the bus station and taxi collective station.

On anchor we discovered that Fort-de-France has even more frequent showers than elsewhere. We got used to about 10 bouts of rain a day. Exodus got cleaner and cleaner with each wash, except for her hull which reached full bloom by the time we left!

Christmas was celebrated by going to the beach and spotting at least ten iguanas in the coconut trees close to the fortress. This should come as no surprise as Martinique was once called ‘Jouanacaëra’ by the Caribs, the island of the iguanas. These impressive looking reptiles were very interesting to observe, chasing each other around, defending their territory. After beach time, we prepared a big smoked pork shoulder and ate ourselves silly. At night the locals had a whole concert in honour of Jesus’ arrival. All styles allowed, as long as you are singing about peace, our savior, being saved, … They were even rapping for the guy!

   

While Winnie & Gitane went to cold Belgium, Arthur was on boat watch. For New Year the entire bay filled up with yachts and boats. Two nights in a row there was a huge fireworks event, with flares of all colours being launched off the fortress, illuminating the bay under exploding stars, radiating fountains, a bouquet of stars, comets, confetti’s, spinners… Bangs, crackles and whistles.

Only a week later the numerous clothes shops moved all the fancy New Year dresses and floral summer dresses to the back, with the most exotic carnival clothes taking up the center stage.

Saint Pierre

From there on we moved to the previous capital, Saint Pierre. This was the first place on the island that the French settled. It was discovered in 1502 by Columbus, but the French only properly got interested 134 years later, after the English kicked 150 French settlers off Saint Kitts. They moved to Martinique and built a settlement in Saint Pierre. The native Caribs disagreed and tried to make the Frenchies leave. Unsuccessfully. The Caribs were decimated, enslaved or expelled to neighbouring islands. Martinique was occupied several times by the British. Since 1815 it remained a French possession, a part of the French Antilles. It is one of the 18 regions of ‘la République française’ and therefore part of the European Union. The currency is Euro. The official language is French and unofficial Creole.

In 1902, Mont Pelée erupted and completely wiped out Saint Pierre. 30.000 people were killed. The only survivor was saved by the thick walls of his prison cell. During the eruption several ships were shipwrecked, so we decided to have a look at them. They turned out to be deeper than charted.

   

At the anchorage, Exodus had picked a spot next to a South African owned catamaran, the Gust of wind. The owner, Capetonian Paul, took pity on the state of our owner flag, (which has done its own personification of the decline of the economy and gives an adequate representation of its current state – in tatters) and brought us his spare one. Exodus is now once more proudly South African.

Being in the water, with less constant rain fall, we could no longer ignore Exodus was in dire need of a hull clean. On the waterline she had some long algae strings and underneath a moss like growth full of baby shrimps and some soft shells to top it all off. We spread our hull clean over 3 days, a good work out to be scrubbing under water on snorkel and breathhold. The small fish underneath the boat really enjoyed our cleaning efforts, munching away at anything that dropped!

Strolling in town showed some picturesque buildings, but as soon as we tried to venture more inland (and uphill), the wind would drop away and you could feel the moist rising up from the surrounding rainforest, making it difficult to breathe, sweating like a pig, and attracting lots of mozzies.

In this peaceful manner we finished our last days on European soil. Martinique has a distinct French feel to it, yet the Caribbean background cannot be denied. For instance, all supermarkets sell baguettes (isn’t that a national heritage item?) Most goods are European priced, or more expensive. Tomatoes are sold at a shocking price of 3.5 to 5 Euro per kilo. But a big plus is that not only the wine comes in boxes. You can also purchase 50% locally brewed Rum in 2, 3, or 5 liter boxes.

 

Green Greener Greenest – Martinique

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