Bon Jour, Saint Pierre, Martinique!!

** Disclaimer: Yes, I am behind on my posts.  No, this post is not real time, meaning we’re not in currently in Martinique. Keep track of our current location through the Where Are We Now page. **

After a month in Virginia, Mom was healing like a champ in rehab, and Dad had food in the freezer. It was time for me to head back to St. Thomas, where Scott and I would point Sea Life toward Grenada, where Sea Life would spend hurricane season.

Soon after I returned, the wind forecast was favorable for an almost three day leg to Martinique (a hop, skip and a jump, after the hellish 6.5 days from Cartagena to Puerto Rico…ugh!). After two over-nights, and zeroing in on hour 50, we caught sight of the beautiful, volcanic island.

We made our way down the coast, admiring the steep, deep green slopes, dotted with small villages and bright green fields.

Our destination was the small town of Saint Pierre, not far down Martinique’s west side. I found this great geographical map online, marking Saint Pierre, and also showing how  mountainous the island is.

Image result for map of martinique

We approached the quiet town, and anchored at the south end. Local children played in the sand on shore, and we had views of Mt Pele in the distance. In the evenings, the sounds of tree frogs in the hills just off shore was music to our ears. It was relaxing, peaceful and beautiful.

Howard immediately liked Saint Pierre, heading outside as soon as the motor shut off.

He and Scott spend time relaxing on the side deck, taking in the sights and “smells,”

 

Scott enjoyed a celebratory, end-of-passage/arriving-at-a-new-island cocktail, while Howard enjoyed a post-passage scratch on the dock lines hanging nearby.

Knowing that this doesn’t thrill Scott, Howard will look back, to see if there’s a reprimand coming.

Later, there was play time on Howard’s “jungle gym,” aka our inflatable dinghy. For one reason or another, and always on passages, the dinghy get’s stored on the side deck, and Howard cannot resist jumping up on it.

It is free for cruising boats to clear in and out of the French-owned islands…big plus; cheap wine, bread and pastries…even BIGGER plus! There are usually several locations on the islands (stores and shops) who have a computer on site, and cruisers just have to enter their boat information, etc. and click “print” for clearance papers. There is even an option of clearing in an out at the same time, if you enter your expected date of departure.

The morning after arriving, we went to a local restaurant  just a block from the town dinghy dock,  to use the clearance computer. With the online form in French, the obvious language barrier made filling in our information a bit challenging at times, but the owner happily helped us. He spoke English, and helped me better pronounce a few key phrases (most important: Please forgive me, I’m just learning, and my French is horrible!), and served us cold, Lorraine beer while we finished our check in form.

Now that we were official, it was time to wander through town a bit.

Scott was also thrilled to once again be able to buy Orangina (still another French island plus), which he’s come to love.

We learned that Saint Pierre used to be known as the “Paris of the Caribbean,” and was culturally and economically the most important city on the island. Unfortunately, this town has taken quite a beating over time.

A hurricane pummeled Martinique in 1780. Known as “The Great Hurricane,” it produced a storm surge of 25 feet, which inundated the city, destroying all houses and killing 9,000 people. The devastating storm is the deadliest Atlantic Hurricane on record. Between 20,000 and 22,000 people died throughout the Lesser Antilles Islands, when the storm passed through them from October 10th–16th of that year. Specifics on the hurricane’s track and strength are unknown, because the official Atlantic Hurricane database only goes back as far a 1851.

The town was destroyed again in 1902. when the volcano Mount Pelée erupted. It’s destruction dubbed the Mount Pele Eruption the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. The eruption killed approximately 30,000 people with a pyroclastic flow (a dense collection of fragments and gases, which is much more dangerous than a lava flow).

Mount Pelée sent a cloud of super-heated gas and dust racing toward the city. Within a single minute, the 1,075 degree pressure wave flattened nearly every building in the city of St. Pierre. Anyone unlucky enough to be in its way would have instantly caught fire and burned to death. Even those in shelters suffocated, as the super-heated wave burned up the oxygen and replaced it with deadly gases; lungs were incinerated from the inside, with even a single breath (gross).

 The deadly eruption completely destroyed the city of Saint-Pierre (which was, at that time, the largest city on the island), within minutes. Approximately 30,000 people were killed instantly; the entire population of the town, as well as people from neighboring villages who had taken refuge there for safety. The city burned for days afterward.

Before:

After:

Apparently, there was considerable eruptive activity in the two weeks prior to the fatal blast, but since pyroclastic flow was not yet understood, the danger was thought to be from lava flows. It was believed the lava would be stopped by two valleys between the volcano and the city.

The main eruption left only two survivors in the direct path of the flow: a prisoner in a poorly ventilated, dungeon-like jail cell, and a man living on the edge of the city, who escaped with severe burns.

Mount Pele is currently in a dormant state, but is registering seismic activity.

The city of Saint-Pierre was never fully restored to its former self. However, it is now referred to as a city of art and history.  There were many reminders of the eruption’s damage, as we walked the streets.

 

The cathedral in town was rebuilt after Mount Pele’s destruction, and the “new” cathedral looks much different.  Only its lower floor, spared by the pyroclastic flow, was preserved in the reconstruction.

The large cathedral was undergoing a current reconstruction when we visited.

We walked along an upper road, and came to the remains of the Theater of San Pierre.

Able to seat 800 people, we read that it was often booked to capacity, with plays ranging from classical to vaudeville, as well as operas. On evenings when there were productions, the stairs and entrance railings were crowded with vendors, selling oranges, pistachios and sweets. The theater also hosted political meetings, and even balls during carnival time.

Due to economic reasons, the theater was closed, just a year before the Mount Pele eruption. The staircase is still pretty well intact, offering views back out to the Caribbean, but not much remains of the great theater’s interior.

On the other side of the theater wall, and down the hill, are remains of the prison, and it’s cells.

On May 7, 1902, a day before the Mount Pele eruption, Louis Sylbaris, the town troublemaker, ended up in solitary confinement here. Since all records were destroyed, and all witnesses killed by the eruption, what Louis was being imprisoned for is a matter of speculation. He later said it was because of a fight, but the cell he was in would have been where someone accused of a more serious crime, such as murder, may have been held.

Trapped in his cell when the volcano erupted, Sylbaris felt the intense heat from the 1,000-plus degree pressure wave, as ash came flying in through the tiny slot in the door. Suffering from burns and desperate to cool down, he urinated on his clothes and stuffed them into the opening. It was just enough to save him, and four days later, rescuers freed him.

Having survived the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century, Sylbaris became a celebrity, and toured the world with the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He was billed as “The only living object that survived in the ‘Silent City of Death.'” While the eruption was doomsday for the town of St Pierre, it may have been Loius Sylbaris’ savior.

We made our way back to the high road in town, to an overlook area with views of the sea. Fisherman cast lines off the docks below, to the north, and Sea Life was contently at anchor to the south.

Immediately below us…more of Mount Pele’s devastation.

Maritime commerce increased through the eighteenth century, and by the mid-century,  seven eighths of all the island’s trade came through St. Pierre, as well as that of St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Dominica and Grenada. With such a high volume of commercial activity, there was a great need for warehouses and shops along the waterfront. As a result, Quartier du Figuier was developed.

Scott and I went down some steep, steep steps, to the road below, to get a closer look at the remains of the buildings.

Warehouses along the Quartier du Figuier held merchandise that had just been loaded off of ships, and also goods waiting to be loaded. Shops stocked items that ships traveling through may need, such as ropes, hoists, anchors, etc. Most of the buildings had upper stories, which were used for residences.

With a full day of wandering behind us, we stopped for a pizza to go, and enjoyed cold Lorraine beer while it cooked. Then it was back to Sea Life, traveling along the historic town’s shoreline, as we made our way in the dinghy.

Tomorrow’s plan…..a day of rum! Here are many more photos, of our stay in Saint Pierre.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Scott Explores St. John

While I was away, Scott had roughly three weeks to explore, and was deciding what to do with his time: Stay in St. Thomas? Wander over to St. John? Venture as far as the British Virgins? With many variables in play, out came the paper charts.

Even though we navigate using both GPS and our iPad, Scott’s still an old-school, paper chart guy. We are lucky enough to have dear friends who spent more than ten years circumnavigating the globe. Kirk and Gisela graciously gifted us a stack of their charts (fyi, paper charts are not cheap!), and Scott often goes to them as an additional source of reference.

He pulled some of Kirk and Gisela’s charts of the British Virgin Islands. Their charts are full of notes about snorkeling and hiking spots, favorable anchorages and even pay phone locations (remember them). We always enjoy reading the notes, and comparing them with current guide books, and the surrounding area.

The British Virgins were tempting, especially in May and June, when they would be much less crowded than in winter’s high season. However, traveling there and getting back to St. Thomas in time for my return, with allowances for weather, may not give Scott much time to linger. The fees for the BVIs were more of a concern. He didn’t feel it was worth paying to clear in, and for nightly mooring ball fees, if it was just himself, and not both of us. With no clearance fees for a U.S. Virgins, and cheaper mooring balls (sometimes free), Scott decided to explore St. John instead.

Here are some interesting things I discovered about the U.S Virgin Islands, and St. John, on the good-old internet:

St John is actually a volcanic island, part of a undersea mountain range which includes the larger islands of the Greater Antilles, the Virgin Islands, and the Lesser Antilles. There is a clear geologic record that stretches back some 100 million years, and earliest stages of the island’s formation began when the major continents were closer together. The first stages took place underwater, and the first volcanic flows were later uplifted and exposed. The oldest exposed rocks of St John are still recognizable as separate flows.

Image result for geological map of the virgin islands

Saint John was first settled by the Taino Indians, who migrated north from coastal areas of present-day Colombia and Venezuela, around AD 300. The Arawak inhabited the island until around the year AD 1300, when they were driven off by the more aggressive and warlike Carib (who obviously later inspired a name for the now-popular Caribbean beer)!

Image result for taino indians of the virgin islands

The first European to discover the Virgin Islands was Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the New World, in 1493. He first landed on St. Croix, which he named Santa Cruz. He then sailed further north, discovering many more islands. A Catholic, Columbus named the group of numerous islands as Once Mil Virgenes (Eleven Thousand Virgins), in honor of the feast day of Saint Ursula, and the 11,000 virgins who were martyred with her.

Although Columbus was the first to discover the islands, the first Europeans to settle the virgins were the Danish. In 1671, Denmark clearly ruled St. Thomas, establishing the first permanent settlement there. By 1718, Denmark’s settlements expanded to St. John (They are credited with naming the island, in Danish: Sankt Jan), and in 1733, Denmark purchased St. Croix from France, uniting the three Virgin Islands.

Because the island provided perfect conditions for growing sugar cane (intense heat and fertile soil), sugar plantations were soon abundant throughout St. John, with slave labor being shipped in from Africa. The local Carib and Arawak populations were also enslaved, to the point of extinction.

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In 1917, during the First World War, the United States purchased the Virgin Islands for $25 million dollars from the Danish government in order to establish a naval base. Their intent was to prevent expansion of the German Empire into the Western Hemisphere. As part of the negotiations for this deal, the U.S. agreed to recognize Denmark’s claim to Greenland, which they had previously disputed. The U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States, which means its residents are U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote in presidential elections.

More than 5,000 acres on St. John, about half of the island, is preserved and protected by the Virgin Islands National Park Service.

Laurance Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller’s son, visited the U.S. Virgin Islands by cruise ship in the 1950s. So moved by the island chain’s incredible beauty, he promptly purchased 5,000 acres on the island of St. John.

Rockefeller began construction of a resort on Caneel Bay, and in 1955, began developing an infrastructure on the island to provide the resort with power, fresh water and roads.

Photo of LSR at Caneel Bay

 

 

 

 

 

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He oversaw every detail of the development personally, and then in 1956, donated the land to the National Park Service, with the contingency that the land never be developed.

Image result for laurance rockefeller's virgin islands national park

Ok, ok….back to Scott.  He and Howard made the half day trip, around St. Thomas and over to St. John, and the anchored in Maho Bay, on the island’s northeast side. Along the way, views of massive houses; once there, a beautiful sunset.

From there, he headed around the eastern end of island, to Round Bay. While there, he visited Angel’s Rest Bar, run by Capt’n Peter.

On most days, the bar travels from it’s home in Coral bay, around to an area called Hurricane Hole Bay. Anchoring off of different beaches, it opens for business and patrons swim out to buy drinks and spend time (scary, when you consider that they have to swim back, after said time). The bar offers two things: a cup of beer, or a cup of rum with a splash of punch, each for $5.00. The bar closes when Capt’n Peter gets too drunk, or the alcohol runs out, whichever comes first.

Next, Scott headed to Little Lameshur Bay, on the south side of St. John, for some hiking.

He planned to walk  around to Reef Bay, and do the Reef Bay hiking trail (fyi, Caribbean Travel and Life Magazine lists the 2.5 mile trail on St. John as one of the 10 best hikes in the Caribbean). The path to Reef Bay took him past several ruins, and offered scenic water views.

He also passed a wall constructed of rock and brain coral. This coral was very useful as a building material, as it could be easily cut when still wet to fit into unusually-shaped areas. It was then put in the sun to dry, where it would harden.

Although very green, Scott was surprised how arid St. John was, as he passed by many large cactus plants along his way. Since leaving Mexico, in March of 2016, we’ve been surrounded by wet, tropical foliage.

Eventually, he came to Reef Bay, and the ruins of the Reef Bay Estate House.

The house was built in 1832, and reconstructed in 1844. In 1994, it was partially renovated by the National Park Service. After being cleared in 2009, the historic estate house has been left to deteriorate.

Next, Scott came upon the famous St. John  petroglyphs, They are rock carvings made by the Taino Indians, as early as 500 AD. The petroglyphs depict faces and symbols, and are situated along the edge of a spring-fed pool. The pool level never changes, so the carvings are always perfectly reflected in the water.

Scott passed many field stone walls, and wild pineapple. The plants thorny leaves made for good use as barrier hedges and living pasture fences.

Finally, Scott came to the ruins of the Reef Bay Sugar Mill.

The sugar mill industry died twice on St. John. In plantation days, slaves brought bundles of cane to the horse mill to be crushed.

Sugar mill

After Denmark abolished slavery, and St. John’s other mills began to collapse, Reef Bay’s new owners tried to revive the dying industry by installing steam power to crush the cane (the first of its kind). This one was built in Glasgow Scotland, in 1861, and is in surprisingly well intact.

By the early 1900s, a depletion in soil nutrients from sugar cane overgrowth, in addition to the introduction of the sugar beet in Europe, led to a decline in St. John’s sugar production. Reef Bay was the last operating sugar mill on the island, and most of the property was sold to Rockefeller’s conservation project in 1955.

Scott enjoyed more views of Reef Bay, before heading back to Sea Life, moored in Lameshur Bay.

Next stop, Caneel Bay, with more views of huge houses, and a sunset overlooking the British Virgin Islands.

While moored in Caneel Bay, off of the famous Caneel Bay Resort, Scott noticed the beach tightly lined with lounge chairs…not a normal sight. With a lazy day in the sun already planned, Scott set his chair in the sand, and then wandered down the beach for a look-see.

As he neared the resort, it became clear that each lounge chair had it’s own snorkel gear, towel and logo-ed tote bag. People were milling about, and as Scott chatted with one or two of the guests, he learned that there was a company function going on; a pharmaceutical company was celebrating the release of a new drug.

On his way back through the throng of lounge chairs, Scott was stopped by a server, who offer him a drink. He politely declined…until the third offer; after that, it was open season. Several cocktails later, a server came over to announce that lunch was being served in the nearby tent…excellent! Scott helped himself to a plateful of food, and then returned later, through the back of the tent, for seconds.

Wanting to preserve good karma, Scott “paid it forward,” by sharing the intel on how to gain a free lunch with a young, budget-challenged-looking couple who’d set up camp on the beach near him. Feeling that he’d kept his good karma intact, Scott headed back to Sea Life with a belly full of free food and drink, and enjoyed a post party-crashing nap. A satisfying day all around.

Over the next day or so, Scott saw many turtles moored, and hiked up the island for a stunning views of Caneel Bay, the resort below, and the Brisith Virgins off in the distance.

And of course…Sea Life moored below.

By now, Scott had circumnavigated, and conquered, the island. He enjoyed one last St. John sunset, and then made his way back to St. Thomas. I was flying back from the states, and it was time to set Sea Life on a path to Grenada.

Here are many more photos, Scott’s time in St. John.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands…Scott And I Part Ways, Just For A Bit

The trip from Culebra to St. Thomas was a bit bumpy, but uneventful. We enjoyed the passing scenery, while heading for our anchorage in Brewer’s Bay: rocky islands, huge houses under construction, green hills and blue water. Howard felt it his duty to make sure we were on course.

 

We chose to anchor in Brewer’s Bay for several reasons: it was a quick ride to the airport, for me to fly in and out, it was much less crowded than the bays closer to the town of Charlotte Amalie,  it had easy beach access for leaving the dinghy and from there it was just steps to the main road.

The anchorage was definitely close to the airport..

Really close….

However, the views on the other side of the bay more than made up for the incoming and outgoing planes:

We also came to Brewer’s Bay to meet a couple who had been following our blog. Tristin and Martina had recently began cruising, and we’d exchanged emails about  questions and concerns as they prepared to leave. They are the first blog followers that we’ve gotten to meet in person, and it was fun to spend a bit of time with them, before I headed back to the states.

We’d made some good easting from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, and I could just as easily fly home to the states from here. Before I left, our first order of business was to stock Scott up with food (and drink) while I was away, so we headed for a grocery store. Safari buses service the island, for $1.00 per person, per ride, and it was just a short walk (up a steep hill) to catch one that would take us to town.

There were doorbell-like switches that ran along the ceiling of the trucks. When you neared your stop, just ring. As we jumped out and paid the driver, Scott thanked him with a friendly “Gracias!”  He’d obviously need time to undo 15 months of Spanish language on the brain.

We found a grocery store that was ok, and a liquor store that had one of Scott’s favorite spiced rum’s he hadn’t seen since leaving Key West. There was also a gourmet food store, where we chose some hard to find goodies, but no food for everyday meals. Before heading back, we walked through the cruise ship terminal’s duty-free stores. The stuff may be duty free, but they more than make up for that in price; it ain’t cheap.

Of course, St. Thomas is a popular cruise ship port. We’re always amazed at the size of these things, and how they keep getting larger and larger; like small cities!

We passed all sorts of safari trucks, waiting to take disembarking passengers to their excursions, tours and shopping in town.

We arrived back at the dinghy at Brewer’s Bay beach, only to discover that someone had tried to steal the motor. They’d gone to great lengths to try and get it off the back of the dinghy, even though it was locked securely to the boat, and the boat was securely locked to a tree (with a stainless steel chain). They managed to break the pull-start and damage the fuel line in, along with getting tons of sand inside the dinghy while they were at it.

Needless to say, Scott  was more than miffed. We’d traveled 15  months, through Mexico, Central America, Panama and Cartagena, without any kind of attempted theft whatsoever. Not three weeks back on U.S. territory soil, and bam, an issue….welcome home.

Scott managed to get the motor started, and once we were back on board Sea Life, and had unloaded our things, he got to work fixing the damage, with the cockpit becoming his usual workshop.

Without to much trouble, Scott repaired the motor, Macgyver-stye, and rewarded himself with an Aluminum Princess excursion.

Martina told us of a new grocery store that had recently opened, in walking distance of the anchorage. Scott did a recon mission, and came back with a good report, so one morning we walked up the hill and down the other side, to the store. It wasn’t eye-catching from the road, you’d hardly notice it as a grocery store, but inside was a different story.

They had a great selection of wine, beer and liquor, as well as a decent choice of produce and meat. I loaded up on items to make meals for Scott, and he grabbed some lunch meat from the friendly deli lady.

The boat was stocked with food and drink, and I was off to Virginia. Tristin and Martina had bought a car for their stay on the island, as she was working as a nurse at the nearby hospital. She was nice enough to taxi us over to the airport, and I was off, leaving Scott and Howard to have some “bro-time” aboard Sea Life.

Here are a few more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”