Sailing Vacation in Martinique
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The Lee family chartered a Dream Yachts Charter Catamaran for the month of June for an ultimate sailing vacation. They asked me to come with them to assist and enjoy their company for the first 2 weeks. Who can resist an offer like that? And besides – we at NauticEd needed some new chartering photos and some content material to write about. Thus for us it was a business trip.
Their loose plan was to start in Martinique and move south through the Grenadines and to just go with the flow of whatever sounded good. The only real agenda was to drop me off in St Vincent on June 14th to catch a flight back home. I’m writing this from San Juan airport in Puerto Rico in transit.
My following report on this style of chartering and what we did in my 2 weeks is going to be 5 star, 10/10. Read on!
Martinique was relatively easy to get to. There was a direct flight out of San Juan using Seaborne airlines. It arrived at 7pm and so because the base would be closed we pre-booked a taxi through Dream Yachts. This is the way to go because the taxi driver was informed of the boat slip and he took us right to the boat. The 48 foot Fountain Pugeot Catamaran was pre readied for us and we were delighted with its presentation to us by Dream Yacht Charters (DYC). We also provisioned the basics through DYC.
The next morning (Sunday) we lightly provisioned some perishables, got a chart briefing, a show through the boat, did customs and immigration paperwork (because we would be exiting the country via boat) and headed out.
Tides were not to be a problem throughout the whole trip. Here is the Navionics screen shot of the tides for Fort De France. They showed less than 1 foot if variation.
Without doing a complete day by day blow of all the events – I’ll give you the high level summary so that you can be convinced that Martinique et all is a definite must visit in your lifetime preferably sooner than later (just in case you’re run over by a car). One thing to note as you sail around is the incredible history that this whole area has had. For example, Napoleon’s Wife, Josephine, was born in Martinique and thus we visited a statue of her in the capital city of Fort De France. Fort De France itself is a wonderful city and while I’m not a big one on visiting a city on a sailing trip this is a must stop. The people there are all dressed impeccably, are extremely polite and all want to help. No one harassed us to buy things. We were left to ourselves to just enjoy. Thus, we ended up staying two nights in the bay right below the Fort Saint Louis area which was originally established in the Mid 1600’s.
The fruit and fish markets are wonderful and we stocked up, being grateful that we only lightly provisioned at the Base Marina.
We moved up the coast to St. Piere and again were delighted by a wonderfully relaxing township. The town was destroyed completely in 1902 by the towering mass of the volcano, Mount Pelee, above the town with approximately 30,000 people perishing. Ruins of the previously extravagant theater still exist and are a tourist attraction blossoming with flowering Bougainivilleas. See the interesting Wikipedia story of Mt. Pelee.
We visited the rum factory in St. Piere which is a definite must visit as well. Local rum in Martinique is awesome some of it made by locals who sell in the markets and some more professionally made. Due to the microclimates created by the terrain, Martinique grows a lot of sugar cane – forming the basis of the rum.
Each day we downloaded the weather forecast onto our iPads with the PocketGrib App. It showed about 15-20 knots easterly. This is an incredibly useful App to have on a sailing venture like this. Read more about how to use PocketGRIB in our Electronic Navigation Course.
From Saint Piere, we decided to check out the windward side of Martinique. We set of about 9 in the morning. Upon getting closer to the north end the Atlantic swells came rolling in and winds picked up to about 23 knots. Whilst not that bad of conditions, the long tack we would have to do or to beat oursleves up heading directly into the swells lead us to a decision about 4 hours into it to just turn around and go back to St. Piere. The decision was not so much a chicken decision, but more based in that we wanted the crew to enjoy. Slogging it out for the next 2 days in a big swell when the leeward side offered nice wind and flat seas with frequent snorkeling stops seemed like a wiser decision. However – we heard that the windward side is awesome and so don’t let that discourage you from getting around there.
Back in St. Piere we snorkeled a wreck in about 25 feet of water. The bay there is littered with wrecks which were swallowed by the 1902 eruption. They provide a wonderful home for sea life including massive barrel sponges. For Customs and Immigration, we did an advance check out of the county in St. Piere.
Heading south back down the coast we stopped at Petit Anse for an overnight. Ashore there we again found great markets and the local fisherman chopped off a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of tuna with his machete from a massive 60-70 kg tuna he had caught.
So that was one week – wow that went fast. Martinique people primarily speak French and they use Euros for money. Knowing some French will certainly help you get by – mine came in quite handy.
Next we moved onto St. Lucia with a stop in Rodney bay in the north. Here we checked in to Customs and Immigration, topped up with fuel and re-provisioned with Gregory the local produce man who shows up to your boat in his double decker dinghy. We asked for some cilantro to go with the ceviche we were making from the Tuna. Yes he said I have some and he promptly climbed onto the second story of his dinghy, picked some from a pot he was growing on top and gave us a little bag.
The sail from Martinique to St Lucia is a good one. Winds were out of the East and we were heading south – a nice beam reach with 20 knots of wind. Sea state varied but certainly there were some good 2 – 3 meter waves rolling through. I did make some fresh ginger tea for one of our crew who was feeling a little sickly. That worked!
We stayed briefly in St Lucia – only two nights. The second we spent at the Pitons which is a must just due to the majestic sight they provide. There are mooring buoys in the may to the south. You have to pay for permission to enter the park and also for a mooring ball. Total is about $us40. I did a little separate right up on this area due to an attitude adjusting event.
Next we crossed to St. Vincent. Here we also had some good winds – note the boat speed.
Strangely most people had told us to skip St. Vincent due to the crime. We did however decide to stop in Cumberland Bay which was about 2/3rds of the way down St Vincent just because we felt that the 50 mile trip from the Pitons on St. Lucia to Bequia Island was too far for one day. I’m so glad we stopped over because we had a fantastic experience in St. Vincent. The people are so friendly and wanting tourism. People said yes there is crime but in isolated spots just like in your country – right? And right they are. Given our experience of St Vincent and even our last night there I’d put St. Vincent back on the must visit list. I did a separate write up on St. Vincent and Cumberland Bay see that here.
Next to Bequia Island – Ahhh Bequia – that’s what all the yachties who have visited Bequia say. Why – don’t know – there is just a special relaxing feeling about Bequia. Why – still don’t know – it just is. Partly because of Admiralty Bay (the main harbor) and how stunning it is and partly because every islander living there tells you so.
Right Before Entering Bequia, Local Photographer Kenmore Henville came out to greet us with his camera.
He shot a dozen or so shots of us – this being one of the best. Mainly because I am on the bow.
We stayed two nights in Bequia just hanging out and visiting the locals ashore.
We did a scuba dive just out side the bay on the north end. I’ve done probably 100-200 dives in my life and I would have to say that was near the top. An unassuming little dive looking place with plenty of coral and tropical fish. We dove with Dive Adventures of Bequia. They had good equipment and friendly knowledgeable dive masters. Ashore there are some great restaurants, a fruit market and a few places to reprovision. We then headed back to St Vincent for my last night but went via the southern and east end of the island.
Either one of the following statements is true – we got up enough speed to ram right over the top of an island, there is a giant tunnel through this island or it doesn’t exist but is shown on the digital charts. See below!
The truth is the island does not exist and for purposes of this article and electronic navigation discussions on NauticEd, I purposefully steered the boat right through it. There was no change in depth as we went through it. It is not named nor does it have a height listed with it on the chart as all the other islands do. In our Electronic Navigation Course we descibe this type of error and point out how it occurs.
Again because of the bad wrap St. Vincent had gotten with some guide books we were slightly reluctant to head back to St. Vincent but because my flight was out of there at 6:30 am we sailed back there and into Blue Lagoon harbor. There I arranged with Sams Taxi service to Pick me up at 5am. I was assured of his reliability and true to his word he was waiting for me at 5am. Blue Lagoon is a nice stop over and people there were friendly. There is a super market close by and a little bar there for some off the boat drinky time. The entrance into Blue lagoon is the smallest entrance to a bay I’ve ever experienced. The red and green channel markers are only about 50 ft apart.
Whilst I snuck off early in the morning the Lee family spent the day visiting Kingstown and reported having a good day at the markets with again friendly people.
That was 2 weeks – wow that was fast.
Overall, I’d rate this as one of the top Charter trips to do and certainly this is aided by the time I took to do it. The Lees still have 2 more weeks to go and they will visit Canoaun, Mayreau Island, the Tabago Cays, Mopion ( ahh mopion), Union and curiacoa then back to St. Vincent, St. Lucia with a drop off back in Martinique.
I applaud the Lees for this commitment to doing this. They are not crazy sailing people, they are just regular people who committed 6 months ago to “just do it”. They wanted a vacation where there was no rushing and could do what they wanted, under no schedule. And I myself will find it hard to enjoy doing a one week long trip ever again. Last year I did New Zealand’s Bay of islands for 10 days and that was incredible. This one week business due to our rush rush rush lifestyle is not good. By day 5 when you are just beginning to really relax and enjoy, you’re already thinking about how you’re going to catch the flight.
Even with 2 weeks doing Martinique, St Lucia, St. Vincent and Bequia, that was too short of a time to properly explore.
When you call us at NauticEd to Book a charter vacation, be prepared we will talk you into a minimum of 2 weeks. It will go like this – lets just say you’re zero years old right now. How many weeks would you like to design your life now spending at work versus how many weeks would you like sailing the Caribbean, Pacific or the Mediterranen? 2000/4? 2000/10? You pick! (perhaps the other way around – right?)
The point is whatever you do – make sure you’re relaxing and having true fun on your vacation. To make a booking through NauticEd visit us on this page – we don’t charge a fee and will give you all kinds of advice. Chances are we’ve been there.
A couple of tools that we used heavily on this trip was the Marine: Carib&S.America HD – Navionics Navionics iPad Caribbean (and south American) Charting App. This is the best tool ever for navigation. You can buy it here. The App shows your projected track based on your heading, leeway and current and so to get to a desired harbor, you just start heading in the general direction and then adjust course until the projected track averages you right onto your destination. I’m not suggesting this and an alternative to learning proper navigation skills however. You need the valuable understanding in coastal and electronic navigation fundamentals else you’re going to make some big and dangerous mistakes – like assuming the electronic chart is correct for one. But the iPad App was just a delight to use. We used this exclusively almost over the onboard chart plotter.
The next App we used every day was PocketGrib App. We downloaded the weather via this App. It gives predicted wind, swell, clouds and barometric pressure. Being June there was little concern for a hurricane but using this app we were able to make sure that the pressure stayed above 1000mB. Pocket GRIB downloads an extremely small file via cellular data and reconstructs the data over the chart of the area giving you vital up to date and projected information in a easily readable format.
Prior to the trip, I arranged an international dataplan. The cost was $120 for 800Mb. I used 500 Mb over the 2 week period. I was fairly intensive because I stayed in touch with any student that needed customer service. I normal person (saying I guess that I’m not normal) would probably be fine with 100Mb per week.
I can’t say enough about this trip and what we did. I soooo much recommend it and I sooo much recommend Martinique. I’m not sure why it was left to be last on my check off list of all the island chain from Puerto Rico to Grenada. But a can say then that I must have left the best for the last.
For your first Charter trip I’d say the BVI’s is the one – hands down – must – just do it. 10 days minimum.
For your second trip or if you have not been there – go to Martinique. Don’t die with out this one. Pick up a little French before you go – stop listening to rubbishy morning radio on your commute and slap in a Pimsleur French learning audio for your morning drive. Why because once you’re confident at chartering – we’re going to send you to Corsica (ahh Corsica – done it twice) – then Tahiti and Bora Bora.
If you want true bareboat charter consulting, give us a call and we’ll lay out some plans for you, including getting you all the confidence you need to charter. Start here
A last note – it was such a pleasure chartering with Richard. He became my friend 10 years ago when he called me and said he wanted to not just learn to sail but make it part of his life. Prior to that he’d done a weekend school course followed by renting a boat for a day. When he called me he really had no idea how to make sailing part of his life and was disappointed at that point so far in that he saw no clear path to achieve what he wanted. His first introduction was my advice to join a club, then I took him to Belize on a sailing trip. He was hooked and began coming with us on trips, sailing with the club in between. He built up to skippering the charter boats on our trips and now look at this trip. He chartered a 48 foot catamaran for 1 month taking with him his 10 year old daughter. That’s a wow. I’m impressed.
Here she is at 3 yrs chartering with us in La Paz Mexico.
And here she is at 10 yrs driving the dinghy.
How well do you think this kind of stuff works for self esteem for a kid?
Here’ my closing “Plato” shot