November 23, Saturday morning, at 7:30 am sharp, we started for our destination. While I was busy with the lines, Diane hailed us from their cock-pit, and wished us a safe passage. We promised to keep in touch, and left.
Sails went up in the bay, and off we went. The passage to St Anne, which is the southernmost bay in Martinique, is well protected from three sides - only open to the west. Somebody told us earlier that we should be aware of the possibility of a sudden storm coming from the west, which might happen every three years or so, mostly in the middle of the night. He gave us advice to create a safe escape route by making a dinghy ride, plotting the way on a hand-held GPS to the small bay at the east of Club-Med, located at the entrance to the narrow passage to Cul-de-sac de Marin, the lagoon. We took a mental note to keep his advice.
The distance between Rodney Bay and St Anne is roughly 25 miles, a five hour sail with the worst conditions. It turned out about right, worst conditions being the wind on the nose, instead of the east (our route north east, from the north-west corner of St Lucia to the south-east corner of Martinique). After two hours of quite close-haul sailing, Al refused to head up to Fort De France (to the north-west of St Anne) which every sailor would have done to use the wind power, but turned on the engines. After a while storm clouds gathered around us, the sails started flapping, the seas showed us what they were made of, hitting from the nose and the side, wind 25 knots and more. I did not watch it, nothing to be done but creep on. At times, both of the engines on full throttle, could only give 3-4 knots, with adverse currents to boot. But it was only two hours, and we made to St Anne around 12:30 pm.
The entrance to the lagoon of Le Marin was well marked, but so narrow, the first red buoy was almost on the land. I first suspected the markers designed the European way (opposite of North American of course), but I remembered a comment made on the internet (obviously by a European) about being confused by the red-right-returning design. Phew, although French soil, Martinique at least respects the fact that most of the sailors visiting are North American, thank God.
So we almost touched land before turning starboard, while passing through a maze of fishing nets. My jaws dropped when I saw the tell-tale white ball clusters right in the middle of the channel. I would think that the fishermen at least would want to protect their nets from the intruder boaters, but they don't seem to mind. Getting tangled up in the nets would harm us more, so they know that we would avoid them. The channel is as wide as a highway, and used as such, as hundreds of boats are docked, anchored or moored around the two marinas at the lagoon, which opens up to the south; a white field of masts.
We thought of anchoring, but where? Some parts have little water on top, marked by some boats left sitting on their sides. For some reason nobody bothered to salvage them. Better to take a ball. As well, Rick had advised to go ahead and take a ball, and the guy would come to collect the fee sporadically, sometimes not charge at all, if he likes the sailor.
Boat-hook at hand, my lines ready, we approached one of the few balls on our path, but penants were nowhere to be found. How am I going to reach over and tie the line to the ring at the top of the ball? Then I spotted one with a pennant, and we secured our boat to its long line. Is it really safe? Anyway, we had work to do, just stay one night, clear in and do some shopping, then get out of the lagoon; hateful places to stay, no way of swimming, usually full of bugs, hot and humid, etc, etc.
We had a hard time spotting the Customs Office shown in the sketch by Doyle, but got to the dinghy dock beside the official port to Le Marin. By the time we were able to make ourselves understood about where to go, and dinghied to the other side of the marina, filled our customs papers and back, the big chandlery was closed (why work long on a Saturday?). There was a DIA market close to the marina, but I was pooped to shop. We also had another mission to accomplish before going back to the comfort of Ruyam II. Next day was Sunday, DIGICEL would be closed!
We got directions from a clerk at a store that we should walk towards the town, and Digicel was next to Mcdonald's, a landmark for all. I made out with my French that we had to walk down to get to the office. It sounded like we would have to climb some height first to get there. She assured us that the trip would take fifteen minutes (by car maybe, but she did not specify although I mentioned "au pied").
Anyway, we started walking by the only road, passed a big hospital complex, a big sign "covered market" over a series of new white tents, completely empty. When would the vendors fill the tents? Who knows. On the other side of the road, there were tables and chairs arranged on the beach, probably getting ready to serve dinner, but nobody around. Then I saw a bakery on a side street. Might as well get some French bread, and ask for directions. She was a typical mature islander; stoic, detached and slow to react. It takes a lot of effort to make them smile a bit, and lately we lost our boundless enthusiasm. Anyway, she relented a bit at the end, and gave us good directions. We understood that we had to climb the hill to get to the town. So we followed the road up, and got there in no time. But before getting a glimpse of the end of the road, we passed by a cemetery, and some seedy neighbourhoods. It was getting dark, we had to go back to the boat in daylight, and it was not even known whether the store would be open around 4:30 pm on a Saturday. I started to get ticked off and told Al to get back before it was too late, Digicel could wait until Monday. Who am I kidding, Al can not breathe without being connected. So we pushed on, and found the Macdonald's soon afterwars. It was not that far, and only the Digicel store was open in the otherwise dead multiple-storey shopping complex.
Al started chatting with the nice young clerk, Benjamin, who was extremely helpful and efficient. We got our pay-as-you-go telephone/internet access package for 50 Euros (hopefully to last a month; 10 Euros for 500 megabites) (as opposed to 50.00 EC ($20dollars) for a month in all the English speaking islands). Europe living standards are something else, but one has to earn Euros to keep up!
Anyway, we learned that Benjamin was half Dominican (from Dominica, the next island to the north, not Dominican Republic). We had loved Dominica at the time we went by, so I asked Benjamin what he was doing in Martinique. He said it was easier here to find jobs with good pay. But then you spend more! That is absolutely true he said, in Dominica, he would spend a fraction, for living expenses. Oh well, he spent his childhood with his mother I imagine, and came to his father afterwards to make his fortune. I hope he realizes his dreams, he was the friendliest of all the people we encountered in Le Marin so far.
It was getting dark by the time we finished, but at least we had accomplished something; Al's toy, major passtime and vital guide for finding our way at sea, was operational; but quite expensive, so he will reduce his usage (maybe) and try mooching off the free wifi of the coffee shops.
The next morning church bells started at 6:00 am, God have mercy! The last time I heard bells was in Germany, while visiting my daughter, who had rented a studio apartment next to a church for three years. However the hours were more manageable.
Doyle mentions that the supermarkets on Le Marin could be open on Sundays until noon, so we decided to find out. At the moment we landed on the marina docks, I saw a delivery van bearing the signs for Carrefour and free shuttle/delivery service. I asked and they invited us to a bench inside, where two German ladies were already sitting. We squeezed in and waited a bit while the driver and his helper unloaded the crates of food and distibuted to the yachts.
The Germans were getting impatient, apparently they had been waiting longer than us, but hey, it was free, air conditioned, and quite early in the morning, nothing to complain about.
The trip turned out to be five minutes, but on the way we saw that the sign for the covered market was on top of a building, housing a real farmers market, full of green vegetables and fruits. That was the place to be! Al learned from the driver that the vendors would stay until 5:00 pm.
Carrefour was a dissapointment, but we were able to get some cold cuts and cheese. The vegetables seemed to be transported from mainland France, nothing local or fresh, prices incredible. We also found some wine (only French which I don't like, but they don't stock competitors'). As opposed to six crates of the German ladies, we had two small bags, but the driver brought us back, and helped us out. So it was good service.
By the time we took our bags to Ruyam II and got back, all the stalls at the market were closed, but there was one islander lady who told us that they would be open for business at 7:00 am the next morning. Al asked if the produce was coming from Dominica, and she confirmed. Al deduced the fact from her English. Who would deal with such menial work like farming in Martinique?
Dissapointment twice. Might as well check out the small restaurant that Doyle raves about, located next to the chandlery, that Al was dying to peruse.
There was nobody inside, but the ambiance was fine, looking into the sea and marina docks and beyond. The menu showed some unlikely prices, but they were not for week-ends, so we had a good meal that would have costed the same amount in Canada, but In Euros, so 30% higher. The only big difference; no soap in the washroom! The dispenser didn't seem to be filled for ages.
Back at Ruyam II, we rested, and was having a nice time with our sundowner scotch, watching the world go by (literally), since our mooring ball was almost on the channel. Then we heard somebody shouting something something Ruyam. When we looked up, we saw that a catamaran was next to us, a young man claiming that it was his mooring ball, that he reserved for the year. Nothing to be done, engines fired, lines released. We had to find another ball and fast, but where? When we got closer to another likely ball with a pennant, a fast dinghy approached, and shouted that we were not supposed to take the ball ourselves, should have called the marina first, and we had to pay. We did not know, sorry, of course we will pay, but are you going to help us now? He grudgingly signed us to follow him, and took us to a ball and slipped the lines through the hook at the top. He also told us to pay at the marina office next morning, reminding us that they would open at 8:00 am. No wonder, the balls had no pennants and nobody came around to collect the fee. Live and learn. I don't know what Rick meant, maybe he was thinking of another place. No harm done, we were safe. I thanked our lucky stars that we were not on land, having dinner or something. We probably would be arrested for trespassing on a Frenchman' s property!
Monday came at last, maybe we can see some people on the streets. We were at the marina office, almost right after opening. We had to wait for the attendent lady to finish up with the young man, who had endless questions. When it was our turn, while Al was trying to explain what happened, in English, peppered with some French words. All of a sudden two elderly Frenchmen came by and started an argument with the lady. From what I gathered, the guys did not want to clear in their boat, since they were French. I surmised that they came down from Guadeloupe, without bothering to clear out, although the French waters ended at the border with Dominica. They went on and on, and the lady humored them, ignoring Al. Well, we can have none of it! Al turned to the taller and very indignant man, and asked him to wait his turn. He kind of apologized, by saying "you are right", but continued hovering instead of going to the computer room next door, to fill out the damned form.
Anyway, we paid the 13.40 Euros, asked some questions of our own, and got the hell out. Just outside of the "Capitanerie", which was on the second storey of the Marina complex, was a the deck of a cafe, overlooking the sea, nice comfortable arm-chairs, and free wifi, very inviting. So we spent some time there, sent our emails etc, but had to run by dinghy to the other end of the bay, the old marina, where the chandlery is located.