Looking west from Martinique

Drone view St Anne to Marin Martinique

When we look back on the Caribbean, Martinique will feature among the best memories—and not just because of the pâté, brie, and baguettes. A stop to provision and facilitate a trip to Puerto Rico for Jamie stretched out and filled with beaches and swimming, exploring the history and charm of this lush island, Thanksgiving celebrations – all packaged in the company of friends.

So good

ProvisioningThe pâté, brie, and baguette factor can’t be ignored! I don’t know when we’ll be in French territory again, so enjoy the treats instead of watching calories. The team favorite for pastry from the Sainte Anne boulangerie: pain au chocolat et amandes (basically: a croissant, with chocolate AND almond paste, and a dusting of powdered sugar). Oh my. Beautiful baguettes, one euro (about $1.20) each – shame they don’t keep, we’ll get our last before departing for Bonaire today.

Everyday treats aside, provisioning here is excellent: a wide selection and great prices. I don’t often provision deeply, but make do with what’s available. People everywhere have to eat, so it only makes sense for a few reasons: to save money if ports ahead are particularly costly, of if the selection will be “aged” (thinking of the flour full of weevils in Tonga), or if it will simply be very remote and few or no stores are available (an uncommon situation).

Here, it’s the breadth and value. The affordability of everything from balsamic vinegar to risotto makes me wonder if France doesn’t subsidize food in Martinique. Staples on board Totem that should last months ahead: UHT milk, canned tomatoes, olive oil, cocoa, pasta and more.

There’s planning ahead, too. If we want an affordable glass of wine, this is our last chance for a very long time (wine at our budget in Mexico was undrinkable). There’s very nice wine here for about $5 bottle.

And then, well, FRENCH. There are specialties sold here that will add enjoyment to many meals ahead. I love French puy lentils. There’s saucisson sec: the dried sausages will keep for months in the refrigerator, and are a delicious treat. GOOD butter. Marinated anchovies. Dijon and whole grain mustard. Affordable luxuries for the cruiser’s diet!

Everyday shopping at local shops, but it's great to stock up at the big supermarket.
Everyday shopping at local shops, but it’s great to stock up at the big supermarket. Also: Le Snacking. hee!

Nautical hub

Martinique is a great place to get things done on a boat. While it’s not a great place to ship things in (that’s nearby St Lucia, kinder to yachts in transit), the chandleries are well supplied and there’s expert service available. One of those experts looked at Totem’s Yanmar (our 4JH3 turbo has been overheating) and declared that not only had the heat exchanger failed, but the engine showed signs of being late in life. That’s bad news but hopefully continued care (and a new heat exchanger) will see us through until repowering is necessary. Jamie got lots of boat yoga practice in the engine compartment to replace it.

Jamie practices boat yoga in the engine compartment to replace the heat exchanger
Look at that shiny new heat exchanger!

The finish line for the Mini Transat was in view from Totem’s cockpit, a solo trans-Atlantic race in VERY small boats. The excitement of seeing boats come in over several days, tracking them on the race website, spying them from hikes around the south end, and the spectacle of the fleet after all had finished. Notice how on the transport ship, the keels are painted in fluorescent colors… a safety measure I don’t want to have to think about.

Mini TransAt Martinique
Mini Transat boat sailing into the harbor after finishing
Boats loaded on deck: trying not to think of why all the keels are fluorescent colors
Loaded up for the next destination


Exploring and fun

We rented a car to get around a few days: rentals are affordable until high season kicks in (as low as 23 euros/day!). Teaming up with the Utopia crew – more fun for everyone. In the north, the town of St Pierre has relics of Mt Pele’s eruption in 1902: all but a couple of residents were killed. One, the town troublemaker, was in the stone equivalent of a drunk tank – enough to protect him (that’s the second picture below).



And just having fun, between the boats at anchor in Sainte Anne…and pizza night!

Sainte Anne sunset: kids on the SUP and kayak
Sainte Anne sunset: kids on the SUP and kayak


These besties are making the most of our months together.

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Puerto Rico

The primary reason we spent more time in Martinique than expected was to accommodate Jamie’s trip to Puerto Rico, delayed in an online booking snafu. The dermatologist wasn’t happy with the biopsy of his excision in Puerto Rico. Time for another slice. His flights bounced through Guadeloupe and Sint Maarten, allowing a peek at hurricane damage. Birds-eye view of the Simpson Lagoon showed boats anchored outside.

St martin anchorage

In Puerto Rico, recovery in progress from the ground:

Trees starting to leaf out again: the highway from San Juan to Ponce
Trees down, but many standing and starting to leaf out again: the highway from San Juan to Ponce
Just a little off kilter
Just a little off kilter

Jamie is a plastic surgeon’s dream. Here’s how he looked right after the surgery… and once I removed his stitches six days later. The biopsy is back: basal cell, but all clear margins. A clean bill of health. We just need to stay on top of regular checkups.

derm before after

Passage prep

This is first passage of more than one night at sea since sailing from Bermuda to Connecticut last year. It’s also our first downwind passage in a long while, and the full moon only just starting to wane. Comfortable reaching and nice moonlight, away from the small-boat traffic of islands…a very nice setup. It’s a somewhat awkward length: just long enough that we can’t quite squeak it into a two-night trip. So we’ll leave this afternoon, and point for Bonaire, and should arrive on Saturday morning. Follow along on our PredictWind tracker–is displays a snapshot of our speed along with position.

Much of this will be on port tack. Our galley is uphill if we’re heeling to starboard and cooking can be harder, so I’ve done a little extra prep. These are my first effort at homemade “condensed soup,” like Campbells but DIY from the beautiful leeks and potatoes in the market here (along with a white sauce for bolognese style lasagna).

Homemade condensed soup: easy heat-n-eat for the passage
Homemade condensed soup: easy heat-n-eat for the passage

I use whiteboard in the pantry. It’s usually the progressive shopping list. That’s on the right; on the left is a list of meals prepped for the passage. If my brain is foggy (adjusting to being at sea can do that) it’s easy to look at the list for a quick reminder. At the top are leftovers to use up. Only in a French island would that include duck fat!

passage prep meals

Bidding farewell to the beautiful anchorage in Sainte Anne.

Sainte Anne

16 Responses

  1. You will love the diving in Bonaire! Just curious, what did the mechanic say were the signs of “end of life.” All of us wonder about that as our engines reach into the thousands of hours. Declining compression? Do you do oil analysis?

    1. Just over 7,000 hours (many hours charging before we got generator and many hours motoring around the vacuum of SE Asia) got the mechanics interest. There was no compression test or oil analysis. We ran the engine and when shutdown, the oil alarm sounds off instantly (until key switched off). He said that this shows engine wear; newer/less worn engine will have be a delay from engine off to oil alarm sound – meaning it holds oil pressure, but ours drops instantly. I suspect he’s right, BUT it was a subtle for us to buy a new engine from from him for 25,000 Euros – HAHAHAHAHA! Touch wood the engine runs great. Perhaps it’s aged but we’ll work with it until reliability becomes an issue.

  2. Behan, do you know about refreshing stale bread? Even works on stale baguettes!
    Heat the oven (400 if your will!) Wash the baguette (or any good bread) under cold water so the crust is just wet (don’t soak the loaf, you just want the outside wet), put in the hot oven about ten minutes, turning over half-way through. Works like a charm! We’ve kept mini-baguettes in the fridge for a week – unspoiled but dead stale – and brought them back to almost fresh with this technique. Chewy yummy goodness inside, crunchy delectability outside!

    1. This is brilliant! I confess I avoid turning on the oven in the tropics if possible. We usually turn stale loaves into croutons, for stuffing/dressing or salads, or make crostini for snacks.

  3. What was that little zig you did about 60 miles out of Martinique? Turn around for more brie? ;-))

    1. Well spotted! Broken bolt in the steering quadrant of our buddy boat – we went back to give them a hand. All’s well though. Fast trip, too!

      1. Wow, you went from your boat to theirs while at sea? Well done. Or “just” standing by for moral support?

        1. We went back to stand by. Neither boat had the exact replacement bolt needed, but I came up with a good enough solution. In Chagos, I salvaged a length of stainless steel rod from a wrecked catamaran. Cut this to length. Andrew from Utopia swam over (water was 6,000 feet deep!), got the piece, swam back, installed, and away we went!

  4. Hi Jamie & Behan
    Thanks for correcting my mistaken impression of Martinique! The French Caribbean had always been off my radar due to the notion that it was crowded and expensive.

    Looks like the Dutch end of Simpson Bay has a long way to go to get back on it’s feet economically. The marina docks where I spent a week waiting for the owner to arrive after a delivery are still deserted, and the Megayacht dock has only three occupants. A lot of fat tourist dollars not finding their way into the hands of local tradesmen. My guess is that most of the boats anchored outside of the drawbridge are survivors of the Lagoon– and it is still foul with wreckage that discourages anchoring and navigation.

    Sounds like a great plan to overdose on underwater scenery in Bonaire before crossing into the lands of brown water in Mexico & Central America!

    Fair Winds,

  5. Hi Jamie
    Nothing like a leak down tester to do engine analysis. It tells you the condition of the rings and the valves independently. It’s just a couple of gauges and hoses with an adapter that screws into the injector threaded openings. Mine was about $45 years ago. You need a portable air compressor to supply it but that should be available in Bonaire, Cartegena, or maybe at Shelter Bay. No reason you couldn’t ship a small sample of oil to a lab for analysis. I always used a lab in Seattle whenever doing a full survey, and as I recall it cost less than $100. If your oil has been well used it may indicate bearing wear and head gasket or cylinder head leakage.

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