On Wednesday 1/22, Prudent makes an early morning visit to Cutter Loose to have one more look at the refrigeration. He discovers a loose wire on the thermostat terminal, which may be attributable to the repeated removal and replacement of this panel during the past few days. This helps to explain the sudden rise in temperature of the refrigerator. He also discovers that the temperature on the freezer was mistakenly set at 28 degrees rather than the customary 20 degrees, which explains the higher-than normal freezer temperature. As a control experiment, Prudent also installs a Merlin circuit board on the fridge side of the Danfoss controller, the purpose of which is to override the Carel Smart Speed Controller. This is the fix prescribed by the technicians at Frigoboat (the manufacturer), who now admit that the Carel SSC is at the root of our problem. If, after sea trial, this experiment works, a Merlin circuit board will also be added to the freezer side of the Danfoss controller. Hope for a trouble-free refrigeration system springs eternal.
With renewed confidence in the refrigeration system and with St. Lucia Customs clearance in hand, Cutter Loose is underway from Rodney Bay Marina at noon. Our destination today is the town of Le Marin on the island of Martinique, about 30 miles to the north. The wind is unusually south of east today. Normally at this time of year, winds are east-northeast. Fifteen to twenty knots of wind slightly abaft of the beam would normally constitute powerful and comfortable sailing conditions. But today there is a persistent northeast swell. In order to sustain sufficient speed to punch through the 7 to 8 foot waves on her starboard bow, Cutter Loose must carry more sail area than would normally be required in 15 to 20 knots of wind. The resulting motion and salt bath leaves the deck covered in crystals, which is the norm for any Caribbean passage with Atlantic exposure. In the tropics, a brief rain shower can be expected to materialize at any moment, which is exactly what is needed to wash the accumulation of salt from the deck.
The anchor is down in the outer harbor of Le Marin at 4 PM. With the highest concentration of pleasure boats in all of Martinique, Le Marin is the marine center of the island with hundreds of boats at anchor and hundreds more at the marina. We will clear Customs in the morning. For now we will relax in the cockpit, absorbing our new surroundings. Arriving in a foreign country is always a thrill, despite the fact that we visited here last spring.
On Thursday, the day begins with coffee and croissants, followed by a visit to the Captainerie to clear Customs. In comparison to the carbon paper-laden process in the former English islands, the French really have their act together when it comes to clearance. This do-it-yourself process is quick and easy. Simply enter the required information on an electronic form, print a copy and pay five Euros. No one asks to examine passports. Clearance here in Martinique is accomplished on the honor system. The only unfinished task is to raise the tri-color on the starboard spreader. Thanks to Karen’s restoration work last summer, our French flag is looking almost as good as new.
After sampling the luncheon plat du jour at the Brasserie Mayday, it is off to the chandlery to purchase a replacement block for the mainsheet tackle. Fortunately, yacht supplies are readily available in Le Marin. Groceries, however, are another story altogether. Everything at the grocery store is imported from France. The fruits and vegetables appear as though they reached the end of their useful life several days ago. In one store located in the marina complex, many of the shelves are nearly empty except that there is an adequate supply of pork groins available for those who are so inclined. Paper products are also readily available. This includes French TP, which bears a catchy brand name.
After another peaceful night at anchor in Le Marin, it is on to Sainte Anne on Thursday morning. Sainte Anne (named in honor of my sister-in-law) is located only a few miles from Le Marin as the crow flies. It is a sleepy little town with a well-protected harbor and a handful of waterfront restaurants which feature live music on weekend evenings. At the top of every hour, the reassuring toll of the church bell wafts over the harbor. In addition to being a yachtie hangout, Sainte Anne is visited by land-based visitors touring the island by rental car.
Michael and Roberta aboard Celilo (our dock neighbors from Rodney Bay Marina) are also anchored in this harbor. On Friday, we agree to meet them and their guest Jerry for happy hour at a waterfront restaurant to witness the dramatic sunset over Diamond Rock. Unfortunately, the weather does not cooperate. It has been raining intermittently all afternoon.
Although the rain disappears by late afternoon, heavy cloud cover eliminates any possibility of witnessing the green flash today. Taking the weather in stride, we settle for dinner and live music at Paille Coco for our evening entertainment. By 9 PM, there is standing room only to listen to the interesting African/Latin fusion of Kolo Barst. With flute, acoustic guitar and percussion, this band has a distinct Peruvian sound.
One of our tasks while anchored at Sainte Anne is to purge and flush the tainted St. Lucian water from the water tank on Cutter Loose and replace it with water produced by our reverse osmosis water maker. At a production capacity of 18 gallons per hour, this is a lengthy process, best accomplished in sunny, windy conditions so that the solar panels and wind generator can help to offset the energy consumed by the water maker. By Saturday afternoon and with a little help from the diesel generator, the water tank is nearly full. The supply of water in our tank can now be used for consumption and washing dishes. Thus endeth the self-imposed boil water alert aboard Cutter Loose.
On Sunday, the weather is perfect for a hike to Grande Anse de Salines, the largest and most popular beach on the island of Martinique. The waterfront trail from Sainte Anne to Pointe des Salines is about three miles in length. It provides outstanding views and access to several different beaches. This segment of the trail is part of a 34 kilometer network of beachfront hiking trails that extend from Sainte Anne to Macabou on the east coast of Martinique.
Each beach along the hiking path serves a different purpose. Sunday is a day for family picnics at Anse Caritan. The women entertain the children on the surf as the men play a game of boules while enjoying a Ti punch. The next beach is Anse Meunier, which is more secluded. It appears to function primarily as a “hangout” for naked men. Grande Anse de Salines is packed with visitors today. Sunbathing, swimming, volleyball and people watching are the favorite activities.
In the heat of the afternoon, many beachgoers escape the sun and visit the beach bars or vendor carts to enjoy accras (fritters), sandwiches and beverages. After a pause for lunch, we commence the three mile return hike to Sainte Anne. Today’s outing stretches the leg muscles and provides an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of the uninhibited Martiniquais and tourists that visit this lovely island.
A longer hike is planned for Tuesday with the crew of Celilo. This all day marathon hike takes us beyond Grande Anse des Salines to a unique natural area on the windy southeast coast of Martinique known as the Savane des Petrifications, a former petrified forest.
Access to this area is provided by means of a stepping stone bridge. On the coastline, dramatic cliffs have been carved by the relentless pounding of the Atlantic Ocean. Inland of the precipitous cliffs is an arid savannah dotted with volcanic rock, coral, sea grass and cacti.
The natural beauty of the Savane lies in its remote desolation and the fact that its appearance has changed little for thousands of years. By the time we return to Sainte Anne, the sun is falling below the horizon. Our feet and legs ache from today’s 12 mile hike, but it has been an unforgettable and rewarding experience.
On Thursday, the local bus system transports us conveniently and economically from Sainte Anne to Le Marin. The cost is 1.2 Euros (about $1.60 USD) and punctual service is provided every hour from 7 AM to 5 PM. This eliminates the need to move Cutter Loose from Sainte Anne to the congested harbor at Le Marin for the purpose of clearing Customs. One can also take the bus from Sainte Anne directly to the Carrefour grocery store on the outskirts of Le Marin.
Our nine day visit to Martinique has been most enjoyable. In particular, Sainte Anne has much to offer as a cruising destination. First and foremost, it offers large anchorage close to town that is well-protected in a blow. The community is a safe and secure place to be, even after dark. Cutter Loose is anchored in crystal clear water which is excellent for swimming and making water.
During our stay, we have become more familiar with the expansive local trail network and the public transportation system. City officials make it very easy for cruisers to recycle and dispose of trash. We now have a favorite patisserie for our morning croissants and espresso. We also know the establishments in town where Wi-Fi service is most reliable. Despite the language barrier, our communication skills are steadily improving through the use of our new French dictionary and articulated hand gestures. On our next visit, we must remember to anchor further out in the harbor for a better breeze and more swing room. We will leave the area closer to the dinghy dock for the charter boats (both captained and bareboat) that arrive after dark and anchor in close proximity to other anchored boats.
On Friday, January 31st, we will return to Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia to prepare Cutter Loose for the arrival of Pittsburgh friends, Glen and Nancy. This marks the end of the second month of our cruising season. After a lengthy reentry, it feels good to be living on the hook again. All systems on board Cutter Loose (including the refrigeration) now appear to be working efficiently. We are firmly back in cruiser mode.