Monday, April 27, 2009

Martinique in May 2006 and April 2007

We arrived in St. Pierre, Martinique on May 20, 2006 in the late afternoon, after a very pleasant sail from Iles des Saintes of Guadaloupe; and anchored at 14.44.643N 61.10.710W. You should have heard about St. Pierre in your elementary history classes. This is the location of Mt. Pellee, the volcano that erupted May 8, 1902, and killed about 30,000 people. Every resident of the town was killed except one cobbler who was in his basement and one convict who was in a prison cell. Funny, I always thought Mt. Pellee was in Hawaii and Bill thought it was in Italy. It is really in Martinique. There was a jazz festival on shore for the evening. We ate dinner in our cockpit and enjoyed the music.

The next day we wasted hours trying to find the right place to clear into Martinique. We finally gave up. But it was a good walk and I think we managed to see the entire town on foot. Every place we went to had a sign on the door telling us to go to another address (in French of course, which neither of us reads or speaks). We finally decided that we had done more than enough effort to do the proper thing and that we would just leave. That afternoon we sailed south to another anchorage at Grand Anse D/Arlet and anchored at 14.30.070N 61.05.338W. Getting the anchor to set in just the right spot was a challenge. The anchorage was very crowded and by the time we let out proper scope for the anchor rode we would be lying too close to some other boat. After the third attempt we managed to end up in a suitable position.

Then well after sunset a chartered catamaran motored up and anchored way too close to us. We were worried that they had set their anchor over the top of our anchor. And they were swinging way too close to us. But, hey, it's just a charter boat and not their boat so why should they care? They proceeded to party hearty most of the night. Massive quantities of rum were consumed; the empties were in evidence the next morning. We got up very early the next morning because we had a good distance to cover that day, and Bill immediately grabbed our air horn to give 5 quick blasts because that catamaran was floating out to sea!! It had dragged anchor and was almost out of the bay when Bill noticed it. The blasts of the air horn awakened a couple of people who had fallen asleep (passed out?) on the deck. Took them a minute to realize what was happening. Then they turned on the engine and motored back into the bay just as we were motoring out to sail to St. Lucia. They went right by us and never acknowledged us in any way. Wouldn't you think they would have at least said thanks!

Our next visit to Martinique occurred April 14, 2007, after a wonderful visit to the island of Dominica. Again we arrived at Martinique at St. Pierre. But this arrival was more eventful.

Porpoises were all over the place on the western side of Dominica this morning. We passed three pods headed north as we were headed south. One of the pods had at least fifty porpoises! But none of them showed any interest in playing with the bow of our boat. Finally we came across one pod of about twenty that were headed south. These were the large variety of porpoise. They played with our bow for a while. It is very difficult to catch these swift creatures with our camera, and they show up very distorted in the photos of them under the water. More experienced cruisers have told us that when they come to play at the bow then you should clap and whistle and make a lot of noise. The porpoises supposedly like the noise and act more playful. Kind of hard to clap your hands when you are holding a camera and I can’t whistle loudly enough, so I am not very good at getting the attention of porpoises.

We had a rollicking sail between Dominica and Martinique. Lots of wind; heeled over 30 degrees; and lots of fun. We were watching a catamaran and decided that neither of us could stand that motion. Our monohull was heeled over and that does become tiring when you do it all day; but our motion was forward to back, like a rocking horse. That catamaran sailed flat, of course; they can’t heel over because they have no ballasted keels. But that flat sailing sure had a lot of movement going on! The cat had the same forward to back motion that we did, like a rocking horse. But the cat also had a side to side movement at the same time. This caused the cat to make continuous figure-eights. That figure-eight movement is what makes both of us seasick. But, to each his own.

As soon as we got behind the northern tip of Martinique, the wind totally died. So we furled in the sails and started the engine. Within a minute the RPMs dropped from 1800 to only 800. And we had no forward motion. Bill checked the fuel filters and the engine and immediately diagnosed that we had a fouled prop. There was no wind in that area but there was a lot of motion and current, and I did not want him to dive on the prop there. Without wind for sails and without engine for forward thrust, our boat started rolling so much it was hard to stand up. Just did not seem like a good idea to get beneath a rolling boat with a sharp knife unless you had no other choice.

We put the sails back out to try to limp to the nearest anchorage, St. Pierre. But there was not enough wind to get any forward motion from the sails. The current was moving us closer to land faster than the meager wind could propel our boat! This could quickly become a dangerous situation. Looked like we were headed broadside into the rocks on the shore. That shore was getting way too close for comfort!!

The dinghy was on the stern davits and the outboard was mounted on the life rail for this passage. This is the normal routine for any passage. So we very quickly lowered the dinghy and managed to get the outboard down onto the stern of the dinghy. That mizzen boom and an electric winch make quick work of this chore. We have done it so many times now that it has become a routine that doesn’t even require discussion as to who does what; each of us knows what to do automatically.

Then Bill moved the dinghy and tied it to the beam of BeBe on the port side and I dealt with the sails. We cleated both the bow and stern of the dinghy tightly against BeBe. That 15 horsepower Mercury outboard was able to propel our 27 ton boat all the way to St. Pierre, about 5 miles away. At first we could only go 2 knots boat speed, but the speed slowly increased; and finally we were moving along at almost 4 knots. Still, it took hours to get to St. Pierre. Good thing that we had left Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica, at 5:50 a.m. today. So we had daylight to spare for this mishap.

The wind finally picked up as we entered the bay at St. Pierre. I put the mainsail back out and this time it did noticeably help increase boat speed. As we got closer to the anchorage area of the bay I furled in the mainsail and Bill reduced the power on the outboard. BeBe slowed down perfectly as we were now headed directly into 10 knots wind. We were able to maneuver BeBe to what looked like the best spot to anchor; Bill put the outboard into idle; and I waited for BeBe to come to a stop. I dropped the anchor – have to love having the anchor controls right at the helm! The 10 knots of wind was not sufficient to cause us to back down on the anchor to set it well, so Bill put the outboard into reverse and that did the trick. The guy on the sailboat anchored off our starboard stern was most interested in watching what we were doing.

Bill grabbed a snorkel mask and jumped into the water to check out the prop. It was plain as day that the prop was fouled by a big mess of fishing net. So we pulled out all Bill’s diving gear and got him kitted up. I helped do his buddy check and he had everything is the proper place, but something was wrong with the BCD; it was getting too much air and Bill could not seem to get the air to release properly. But he jumped in anyway. His dive knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut through the mess of net, so I gave him one of my Wustoff serrated kitchen knives. That one was sharp enough to cut through the tangle of net. Unfortunately, Bill lost his dive knife. He had put it back into the scabbard clipped to the leg of his dive suit, but apparently it did not click into place correctly because it was gone when he surfaced. Oh well, he needs a better one anyway.

That BCD must be replaced soon. It kept filling with air and would not release air correctly, so Bill had a very tough time getting down and staying down. He had this same problem the last time he did a dive on the boat. Now I am really glad that he didn’t try this dive repair out on that rolling point in open water. He could have been hit in the head by a 27 ton boat rolling over him – with him unable to get down below the boat and stay down. Much better than he did this dive with that malfunctioning BCD here in a totally calm anchorage.

After Bill surfaced and showered and rinsed all his gear then we started the engine and pulled the anchor. We only had out anchor chain for scope of 3:1 and we would never spend the night with scope ratio that low. We moved farther forward (practically on the beach because this harbor is very, very deep with a small “shelf” near the beach where you can set an anchor). We again set the anchor and put out 7:1 scope this time. Time to relax for the evening. Thank goodness we had leftover pork tenderloin, rice and vegetables so I didn’t have to really cook dinner tonight. We were both really tired after this day.

So we have been cruising on this boat now for almost a full year, and have now experienced our first fouled prop. I'm sure there are many more to come.

During the next couple of weeks we visited Fort du France, Trois Ilets (birthplace of Napolean's wife Josephine), St. Anne's and Marin. The most interesting place to me was H.M.S. Diamond Rock.

Here is a little history lesson, courtesy of our sailing guide: The Carib Indians called Martinique “Madinina” --- Island of Flowers. Martinique is the largest of the Windward Islands of the West Indies. Apart from a few short spells under the British, Martinique has been French since it was colonized; and it feels very much part of France. Almost no one speaks English. As mentioned earlier the Empress Josephine was born here and grew up on a 200-acre, 150-slave estate near Trois Ilets.

In 1804 Napoleon was master of Europe but the British still had naval supremacy and largely controlled Caribbean waters. However, ships were scarce and someone noticed that Diamond Rock on the southwestern tip of Martinique was just about where the British would station another ship if they had one. So they commissioned the rock as a ship. It was quite a feat to climb this steep, barren, snake-infested rock and to equip it with cannons and supplies for a full crew of men. But the British succeeded and for about 18 months the H.M.S. Diamond Rock was a highly unpleasant surprise for unsuspecting ships sailing into Martinique. Napoleon was furious. After all, this was the birthplace of his beloved Josephine. He ordered Admiral Villeneuve to free the rock and to also destroy Admiral Horatio Nelson while they were in the vicinity. Villeneuve slipped out under the British blockade in France and headed straight for Martinique. Nelson followed in hot pursuit; however, poor information led him to Trinidad. So Villeneuve was able to liberate the rock. He wisely returned to France, keeping well clear of Nelson.

Napoleon was not pleased with Villeneuve because the British fleet was left in control of the high seas, so he ordered Villeneuve to report in disgrace. Villeneuve preferred death to dishonor, so he put his ill-prepared fleet to sea to fight Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Ironically, Villeneuve survived the battle (even though he wished to die at this point), and Nelson died.

We sailed by Diamond Rock enroute to St. Anne's and Marin. Those poor British sailors have our sympathy. That must have been a horrendous job to get cannons up to the top of that rock, and to be stationed there for 18 months before getting killed or captured by the French. The British Admiralty were such sticklers for rigid rules and tradition that I would like to know who came up with this idea of commissioning a rock as a ship. And, how did he get the Admiralty to go along with this most unusual idea.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Judy,

    You forgot to add how the French (re)captured Diamond Rock from the British.

    Allegedly they (the French) floated out many barrels of rum for a few days and once they (the French) were sure that the Brits were all drunk they attacked.......... and eventually the British surrendered.

    The official version is that during the attack the British ran out of water (the cistern had cracked from the vibration of the cannons being fired) and they were rapidly running out of ammunition too - so they surrendered honourably.

    This was at four o'clock on the afternoon of the second of June 1805.

    A flag of truce was displayed by the British then a senior French officer was despatched in a schooner to offer terms.

    By five o'clock the British agreed to surrender Diamond Rock on the following conditions.

    The officers were to retain their swords and the men would remain under their orders. They were then to be taken to Fort de France and from there repatriated to a British settlement at the first opportunity. With these terms agreed - the British surrendered Diamond Rock to the French.

    The British lost two killed and two injured the French lost more than 50 killed in the battle some reports suggest more than 100.

    The rock was a most effective ship for causing mayhem for the boats heading to Martinique both French and Spanish ships The British were not averse in using subterfuge in flying a French Flag from the rock until their prey had got into gun range before they would show their true colours and open fire.

    Attacking the rock on the days before they surrendered was made even more difficult as the British spiked the guns on the lower levels and retreated to the higher levels where they could pour fire onto the attacking forces from above...the attacking forces had no means of scaling the sheer rock face having 'forgotten' to 'bring' any siege ladders.

    As to WHY....well that was because Martinique's main port Fort de France was not that far away If Diamond Rock could be occupied it would allow the British to effectively control the shipping approaching Martinique as the currents and winds around the island - made the natural approach - that the ships had to pass within sight of Diamond Rock.

    HOW.... Commodore Samuel Hood for the British reconnoitred Diamond Rock and considered it excellently defensible with the only possible landing site being on the western side. He wrote that 'thirty riflemen will keep the hill against ten thousand ... it is a perfect naval post.

    On 7 January 1804, a party of men were landed from Hood's flagship HMS Centaur, under the command of Centaur's first lieutenant James Wilkes Maurice. They promptly fortified the small cove they had landed at with their launch's 24 pounder, and established forges and artificers' workshops in a cave at the base of the rock. After fixing ladders and ropes to scale the sheer sides of the rock they were able to access the summit and began to establish messes and sleeping areas in a number of small caves. A space was cleared by blasting at the top of the rock in order to establish a gun battery. A number of guns were transferred over from Centaur Two 24 pounders being installed in a cave near sea level. Another 24 pounder halfway up the rock Two 18 pounders in the battery at the top.

    The British commander of HMS Diamond Lieutenant James Wilkes Maurice. was subsequently tried by court martial for loss of his 'ship' after repatriation, and honourably acquitted.

    Of course the British got back Diamond Rock in 1809 after the invasion of Martinique. And captured Guadalupe the very next year yet these islands are so deliciously FRENCH today YET totally no sign of The British History on these Islands How French!!!!


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