January 21, 2020

Magnificent Martinique, Part 1

Martinique is an overseas region of France and the largest of the southern Caribbean windward islands. It has a reputation amongst cruisers as the holy grail of islands. There isn't anything you can't get done or buy in Martinique! For the past year we've heard stories from other sailors about the island's lovely anchorages and docks, charming waterfront French villages, well-stocked markets and chandleries, and delicious fresh baked breads and croissants - and the island did not disappoint!

After spending months visiting independent islands, arriving to Martinique with its excellent roads, large supermarkets filled with imported French goods, and a well-laid out and operating transit system felt like stepping back into civilization.


French is the official language on the island, and we found few locals spoke English and almost no signs, menus or maps were translated for non-French speakers, which makes sense since we learned most visitors to the island are French nationals and French-speaking Canadians from Quebec. Despite our inability to speak more than a few basic phrases in French, we enjoyed a lovely month on the island (minus accidentally ordering four table-size charcuterie platters instead of four beers while dining out with friends).

After weeks of squally sails, we had a near perfect sail north from Rodney Bay, St Lucia on November 24 in 12-18 knots of wind and seas under 3 feet to the seaside town of St Anne, Martinique - our favorite anchorage on the island. 

Sainte Anne

St Anne bay is well protected, huge, and shallow, with depths under 20 feet for a half mile or more. The town is quiet, with a few small shops and eateries that close for several hours during lunchtime, a church square with a stations of the cross hike up to a viewing point and a coastal walk over to popular Club Med and a nice beach.

The surrounding area is quaint, with shore walks to nearby Grand Anse des Salines beach, where we hiked one afternoon and enjoyed some swimming and a beach picnic. 

We also took the large, air conditioned buses for $2.10 EU to nearby Le Marin for the day, which is a larger town with a busy covered market; many marine, clothing and home goods stores; and several large grocery stores.

Along the way we ran into friends from five cruising boats we met in Grenada this summer, all stocking up on boat parts and provisions! 😀

A luxurious, air conditioned bus ride to La Marin; on most islands buses are small, private vans that don’t operate on a schedule or fixed route
The first McDonald’s we’ve seen in the Caribbean; Nick couldn’t say no to a Big Mac 

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

While in St Anne, we celebrated our second American Thanksgiving aboard Borealis with a small turkey breast and other traditional side dishes, with ingredients found at an American expat grocery store in St Lucia. Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday, and while cooking and prep space on a boat is limited, we still pulled together and enjoyed a really nice meal.

Shopped till we dropped

A few days later, we rented a car to drive to the large stores and supermarkets in nearby Fort de France. The last time we really stocked up on provisions was at a Walmart in Ponce, Puerto Rico, so our bilges were looking rather bare.

It was the first time since we’ve been in America driving on the right lane of the road with a left-hand drive car (on most islands driving is on the left, and many with a right-hand steering wheel)! We had a hectic and busy day stocking up on clothing, boat parts, home goods, and lots and lots of food basics, which are imported and subsidized from France and therefore far more affordable than other Caribbean islands.

After a year of shopping in local markets, Martinique’s supermarkets were overwhelming
The Captain trying to buy ALL the cheese
Our haul of shopping bags after a long day of shopping 
Full bilges of food staples, which we’ll supplement with fresh fruits and vegetables on each island

See ya, hurricane season!

On November 31, we toasted the official end of the 2019 hurricane season!

While in Grenada for the summer, we were hit by Tropical Storm Dorian (which later became a Category 5 hurricane devastating the Bahamas) and Tropical Storm Karen, but overall felt incredibly grateful to have spent the summer in the Caribbean without being hit by any more serious weather.

 2019 Atlantic hurricane season: tracks of tropical storms and hurricanes

Anse d' Arlet

With full bilges, on December 4 we left lovely St Anne for a 15 nm downwind sail north past Diamond Rock to Les Anse d' Arlet. We'd intended to anchor in the larger Grand Anse Bay next door but we were lured in by the picturesque charm of the smaller bay as we sailed past.

We spent several nice days in Les Anse d’Arlet hiking over to Grand Anse bay and swimming and snorkeling, the bay was filled with incredible coral and tropical fish - we even spotted several large green sea turtles and our first squid!

A close encounter

On our second morning in the bay, we heard a ruckus outside as we were finishing our breakfast and rushed above to see a large rental catamaran, which had anchored too closely in front of us the night before, was now dragging on its anchor into us and was only a yard away from Borealis' bow. Half the crew was in the water snorkeling while the others ran around aboard to start the engine and pull up the anchor before hitting us.

Not Borealis or the guilty catamaran, but our friends on Providence captured this boat of another anchored a little bit too close for comfort
After several hectic minutes (during which the snorkelers held on to our anchor chain and boat), they finally re-anchored the catamaran...but once again, it was too close to Borealis for our liking! So we pulled up our own anchor and moved to the other side of the bay! 😁

Faites la Lumiere

We were lucky enough to be in Anse d’ Arlet during its annual Festival of Lights celebration and enjoyed a night ashore listening to a lively band; while the lyrics were sang in French, we still very much liked the music and colorful lights highlighting the village square. 

On December 7, we weighed anchor and headed for bustling Fort de France. We sailed with a reefed main and headsail in 15-20 knots of wind. Fort de France bay is large and shallow (under 100 feet) and wind funnels into the bay, creating choppy seas and gusty winds - we saw 26 knots as we neared the anchorage!

Next up, we tour the big city of Fort de France before exploring northern Martinique. 

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