On May 18 we motored the 36 nm down to St. Pierre, Martinique. In the past we have had some rolly experiences at St. Pierre, but this time it was nice and calm. When we arrived we learned that a heritage celebration was to begin that day, so we walked up to the ruins of the theatre and found a tent and seating erected in what had been the foyer. Unfortunately, the performance, which consisted of a long and dramatic soliloquy accompanied by a busy percussionist, was entirely in French. We were seated much too close to the front to consider leaving early, and anyway it was fun to watch the audience react to the performer. As we were heading back toward the dock we encountered a parade filled with bands and people costumed in a manner clearly intended to evoke the heritage of the island.
Next day, the Takks and the Terns walked northward out of town and visited the Earth Sciences Centre, not to be confused with the Pelée eruption museum that is up on the hill overlooking the bay and is much closer to the center of town. To get to the Science Centre, one walks along the road toward Précheur, crosses the bridge into the Fort District and passes the ruins of the Fort Church. Eventually one arrives at the Centre, instantly recognizable by its imposing modern boxy construction. We had read that hand-held audio devices were available for English translations of the extensive exhibits; alas, they were not functioning when we arrived. The pictures were interesting anyway. There was also a nearly one-hour long film about Pelée and other volcanoes, also in French, but thankfully accompanied by large legible subtitles. Very well done, unlike the lousy film we saw some years ago at the Volcano center in Montserrat.
On the way to the Centre we passed a tree that was alive with colorful and noisy birds high up in a tree. I returned later and took some of pictures of what turned out to be Village Weavers. Imports from Africa, they are said to be common and widespread in Hispaniola, but are otherwise not found in the Caribbean except on the north end of Martinique. As I photographed the birds it soon became apparent that only the males were busy weaving new nests; the females merely stood off and watched the activity. Does that seem fair?
When St. Pierre was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pelée in May 8, 1902, there were 13 vessels in the then-busy harbor. All but one sank; the remaining 12 now serve as a seductive attraction for those of us who scuba dive. Many are too deep for normal non-decompression dives, but one large vessel sits upright with its bow just at the limits: the Roraima, 400 feet long and 65 feet wide. Although it sits in 165 feet of water, the attached mooring line runs down directly to the bow, the top of which is listed at 115 feet. Barb doesn’t like to dive wrecks, and is especially disinclined to dive deep ones. Hunter, always a generous and accommodating man, had little interest in the dive, but when he learned that Barb had turned down the opportunity: “not just ‘no’, but ‘hell no’”, he volunteered to accompany me. We were submerged for only 21 minutes total, including going up and down and hanging on the line for a safety stop on the way up. When we reached the wreck I dipped down to circle the bow and my computer registered 135 feet maximum depth, a figure that suggests that my computer has begun registering depth inaccurately. With the dive so short, there wasn’t time to see much; the most salient feature was the presence of at least a dozen huge lionfish hanging at the bow. We came up with lots of air still in our tanks, but with our computers showing that we had been right at the limit of our acceptable nitrogen levels. Ah well, at least we can brag that we have dived a casualty of the famous Pelée eruption.
On May 20 we moved 15 nm down to Anse Mitan, where we went ashore and did some modest sightseeing on foot. While there, we also checked in to Martinique, the office in St. Pierre having been closed either for the weekend or a holiday during our entire stay. We stopped at a vegetable and fruit stand, where a very friendly lady sold us a number of items, all of which were so delicious that I was almost tempted to return back after we had gone further south. And a gregarious man showed me his fishing nets and the fish and fish soup he was preparing on a small fire on the beach. All of this in French of course, with a bit of broken English on their part and no French on mine. On the 22nd we moved 5 nm to Grande Anse D’Arlet, where we also did some walking. And then on the 23rd we traveled the 15 nm to the outer reaches of the bay at Cul-de-Sac du Marin, where we could continue to get cooling breezes but were protected from waves by a series of reefs, and where the waters are much cleaner than the eastern anchorage with its hundreds and hundreds of vessels.
On the 25th we hosted a “noodle party”. We provided the rum drinks and threw lines with floats out behind our boat so that the guests would not be swept away. Everyone brought his/her own noodle for floatation. Arctic Tern, Zero to Cruising, Aries Too, Oceana, Nahanni River, and a lady from Brazil on Tauà all participated.
After waiting for days for the winds to subside, we departed Marin on May 30, headed for St. Lucia.