Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

Apparently even beachgoers might need to make an emergency phone call, hence the public pay phone right on the beach near Gros Anse de Salines.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Star Watching

Comet starfish
Here’s a new (for us) kind of starfish we found off the beach just north of St. Anne in Martinique. It’s a comet starfish. It’s called comet because when, reduced to only a single leg, it can regenerate the rest of its, and while doing so, it looks like a comet (bunch of small legs, and one long one). Click here to see some examples of the regenerating starfish looking like a comet.
Chris returning the starfish to deeper water

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Natural Resource: Solar Power in Martinique

I know, I know, you’re probably getting tired of me posting blogs noting how ecologically friendly habits seemed to be encouraged more on the French islands than any of the others we’ve seen. But here’s another. These pics are neighboring houses near Baie du François with nice arrays of solar panels. It’s gotten so whenever I see an empty expanse of roof, particularly in sunny regions, it just looks wrong. Don’t even get me going about Florida, with huge tracts of housing under the glaring sun and nary a single solar panel. Our solar panels came with a 20-year warranty, no moving parts, and no maintenance, and have performed admirably.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Participating in the Local Races


Okay, so we didn’t actually participate, but we were involved in our own small way. Our role, or more precisely, Mr Mac’s role, was as a turning point for the local racing boats. I swear they were vying to see who could get closest without actually hitting us. It was a little nerve-wracking when we’d see them coming back around, but it did give us nice close-up views of the interesting boats and the gorgeous  sails, and the guys were nice, calling out to us as they went by.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Baie du François, Martinique

I loved the colorful boats of the local fishermen!

Fish house and fishing boats on the muddy river
Old building...
...new building
 Our next stop was Baie du François.  The channel (with real channel markers) weaves between the reefs before opening up into the bay where we anchored.  The Rivière du François flows into the bay here, so the water was pretty opaque due to the considerable rainfall we’d received the previous day; the river itself was like chocolate milk. We dinghyed ashore and walked to the village of François. Outside the village center was a little neighborhood with an ugly apartment building and cute houses, each property delineated by fences, most not so cute. The architecture in the French islands really is distinct from the non-French islands—low houses with broad roofs instead of the stilted houses more commonly seen elsewhere. The village itself was small, with a newly constructed church across from the police station in an historic building, and an interesting cemetery spread out over an entire block. We stopped at a market to pick up a couple of essentials that we were running low on: a baguette and local rum. We also picked up a little friend on the walk back, a dog who only loved me for the bread I carried.
Essential shopping in the French islands
A new friend

Monday, May 14, 2012

Baie du Simon, Martinique

Local dock
Flamboyant tree starting to bloom
Fresh French pastries and baguette

Friendly neighborhood bull
Mr Mac anchored off of Îlet Long
Our first stop on the windward side of Matinique was Baie du Simon. We anchored just off the shore of Îlet Long, a small island dotted with a few houses. The next closest boat was anchored about a mile away, and we’re not sure there was even anyone on it. That’s not to say that there were no boats. Fishing boats visited the reefs every day, and tended their buoyed pots, and some power boats jetted around on the weekend. We dinghyed in to the local dock to go for a walk. It was an agricultural/residential area, with fields of sugar cane and bananas, the Habitation Clément rum distillery, and an old plantation house on the hill, as well as some small neighborhoods. The best part was the little boulangerie (bakery) just up the hill. We could see people inside laying out the baguette dough, and they had a little counter outside, so we purchased a baguette and a couple of French pastries (when in Rome…). The pain chocolate (croissant dough with pieces of good-quality chocolate wrapped inside) we got here was probably the best I’ve had. We ate the pastries while sitting on the dock, and saved the bread until we got back to the boat. We did some snorkeling here. The shallow reefs were pretty bare, but once you got deeper, they were nice, with lots of interesting life. One reef was curious-looking from a distance, and once we got closer, we saw that it was dead coral covered as far as you could see by hundreds or thousands of sun anemones, which are golden-colored and broad with short tentacles that feel really Velcro-y when you touch them. You could barely tell where one anemone ended and the next one started unless you touched one and it retracted its tentacles. There were lots of fish traps around, which accounts for the lack of large fish on the reefs.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Back on the Windward Again

Look at all the protective inner and outer reefs you can tuck behind on the windward side of Martinique

Breakers on the reef are good indicators of the channel edge
We had heard from several people about how nice the windward side (east coast) of Martinique was, and if you’ve read our previous blogs, you know that we like windward sides for their reefs and isolation—no masses of charter boats like you find in and around the major leeward anchorages.  So around we went.  Spring seems to be a good time to go; the velocity of the tradewinds has decreased from its winter highs, so you don’t have to fight through opposing winds and high seas. In fact, we had quite a pleasant sail over, only motoring once we got behind the reefs, since we didn’t know the area and wanted the extra maneuverability. Our Doyle cruising guide doesn’t cover this area, instead recommending a Martinique-specific guide, available in either French or English. We checked several chandleries for the book, finally finding it at the Clipper Ship in Marin. Unfortunately, they only had the French version, which we were ready to go with except that the price was 57 euros, more than $70 US. That’s pretty steep for a skinny book that we couldn’t read without an English-French dictionary. We ended up using just the charts we had, which we discovered were pretty accurate. The reefs are distinct, with deep channels between them, and with careful visual piloting, we had no problem. A couple of strategic areas, like the southern entrance behind the reefs, actually had honest-to-goodness aids to navigation, which are few and far between in the islands. The interesting thing about this area was that, although it looks completely open between you and the open ocean, the overlapping ranks of reefs break the seas so well that the anchorages are quite calm. You do get a bit of wind-driven chop if the winds are up, but the fetch is minimal, so it doesn’t amount to much. All in all, quite lovely. I’ll give more details about our time here in future blogs.
Real channel markers! A rarity down here.