Passage report: Bienvenue à Martinique
Now safe and sound in Martinique, with fast Wi-Fi, I can report back on our most recently completed passage from Bequia to Martinique! In a nutshell, it was a good one!
My posts from the past couple of weeks may have helped you to see that the Eastern Caribbean has been experiencing some fairly unsavory weather. Frequent rain and squalls has been the order of the day. This remains true even now, but using our best judgment and available forecasts, we opted to leave Bequia on Wednesday, to take our chances heading north towards Martinique. I wrote that we were expecting light winds and rain. As it turned out, we managed to stay dry for all but a few moments, and had wind enough for some great sailing.
Rebecca taking advantage of the calm conditions.
We set our alarm clocks for 3:00 AM on Wednesday morning, giving us enough time to prep the boat for travel, and have some coffee before weighing anchor at 4:00 AM. Our initial planned destination was Rodney Bay, at the north end of St. Lucia, approximately 70 miles away. By leaving at 4:00, we knew that if we maintained an average speed of 5 knots, we’d be able to make it to Rodney Bay in 14 hours, just before sunset.
Disconcertingly, as soon as we set off we could see large cumulus clouds in the distance, and flashes of lighting. We’re still a bit gun shy about lighting, truth be told. Whatever rain there was stayed away from us, and the sun started showing its face just as we made our way into the lee of St. Vincent.
Rebecca, being the pro that she is, had pre-cooked some breakfast for us, so as we sailed into the wind shadow of St. Vincent, I dined on bacon, deviled eggs, and golden apples. Perfect sailing food as I could eat it with my fingers!
The only negative from the passage is that our autopilot stopped working,
forcing us to hand steer the entire way.
When we first started cruising, I used to get frustrated by the inevitable wind shadow that the mountainous islands would create. Now, we plan for it. We know that there will be little to no wind on the lee side of St. Vincent, so rather than cry about it, and get all frustrated because we can’t sail, we just roll up our jib and carry on, using our diesel to help us along. Rebecca, of course, used that calm period to work out. I remained in the cockpit, tending the fishing line.
The wind returned once we entered the channel between St. Vincent and St. Lucia, and so we killed the engines and resumed sailing. As always, the wind was significantly stronger than forecast, but in this case, it was appreciated. We had a brisk sail across the channel, and the squalls we could see all kept a respectable distance away from us.
You can’t enjoy a rainbow unless you experience a bit of rain.
St. Lucia brought another period of decreased wind, and we motor sailed through it too, enjoying the majestic view of the Pitons off our starboard side. The squalls were closer by this point, rolling down off the island. Rainbows accompanied them, giving us plenty of fodder for photographs.
As is so often the case, we managed to remain dry right up until the point that we reached our destination. Just as we were entering the harbor at Rodney Bay, we got hit with a wicked squall, one that brought signifiant wind and rain, reducing visibility to almost zero. Fortunately it passed quickly, and with clean decks, we motored into the bay to find a spot to spend the night.
Mother Nature’s welcome to Rodney Bay.
Sunrise on Thursday morning saw us once again raising anchor. Our final destination was St. Anne, Martinique, only about 20 miles across the channel. We motored out of the bay with just our mizzen up, looking for wind. What we found instead was a cruise ship working its way around the island, and so our first bit of the passage was spent trying to avoid getting in its way. It’s times like this that I really wish we had AIS installed! Oh well, at least it was light out!
Once away from the ship, and in clean air, we killed the engine and did our best to sail to our destination. Unfortunately, St. Anne lies a bit east of Rodney Bay, forcing us to sail as close to the wind as we could. The waves and current seemed to conspire with the lighter wind, making our progress slow. I went forward and raised the main but even with every bit of canvas set, we were still only making 4.x knots SOG (Speed Over Ground). Oh well, we weren’t in a hurry, right?
“The First Rule For Coastal Cruising: start early; finish early.” — Anonymous
The anchorage at St. Anne is a wide open, with few obstructions. The exception being the hundreds of floats marking lobster traps, or whatever they are, that lie on the rhumb line into the anchorage. With Rebecca on the bow, helping me to spot and avoid them (some of them are even green, if you can believe it!), we made it through the mine field to reach the other boats. Surprisingly, it took us a while to find a spot with good holding, but we were ultimately successful, anchoring at the back of the pack in about 15′ of water.
Working our way through the mine field!
One of the things that is so great about Martinique, and the other French islands, is their streamlined customs clearance procedure. Clearing in is done at a self-service computer terminal, and there are several locations where this can be taken care of. After printing out the form from the computer, you pay your 5 Euros, get the paper stamped, and you’re good to go. Gotta love it!