A hike where the sea meets the sand

We’ve made it a goal to hike as many trails as possible during our long stay here in Martinique. If you follow me on Instagram @jennbsmiles, you’ll know we ticked quite a few off our list when we shared a rental car with friends on SV Aphrodite. But with our engine problems and getting sick and all, we kind of fell off the fitness wagon. So, over the past ten days or so, we built up our strength with 3-mile road walks around the marina, and with climbs up the local viewpoint of Creve Coeur, and finally this weekend with a big adventure on the Sentier Trace des Caps (Trail of the Capes). We’d hiked the southern leg of this epic hike when we were anchored in Ste Anne. In fact, we hiked the three-mile section from town to gorgeous Plages des Salinas frequently. But, as you get farther north, it gets more complicated to get to the trail without a car. We persevered though!

We packed our bags the night before, and for the first time in ages, set an alarm for 6am. We dinghied to shore, walked three quarters of a mile to the bus stop, and crossed our fingers. The #27 bus arrived and for €1.50 per person, we were off! However…. I didn’t exactly know which stop we wanted on this winding rural loop. And I don’t know enough French to have a conversation along the lines of “We want to hike the Sentier Trace des Caps. I know the bus doesn’t go all the way to the start of the trail. But could you let me know when you stop as close as possible to the coast and we’ll walk from there?” Somehow we managed. I showed the young lady checking tickets my map and she and the driver had a long back and forth in French. I think he actually went out of his way and took us a bit off the official bus route to drop us off on a road that ends at the trail head. People are so nice!

French hiking trails are amazing! They are well maintained, with water bars, steps, and sometimes even boardwalks. They are marked with signposts about every half-kilometer and with very clear paint marks on trees and rocks. This trail isn’t very technically difficult. It follows the coastline closely, sometimes along sandy beaches and sometimes through mangrove forests. At the end of each beach, you climb a headland for wonderful views of where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Much of the hike is exposed and very hot (as you can tell by the photos of happy little cacti) We wore our broad-brimmed sun hats and even a long sleeved sun shirt at times and we drank A LOT of water. About halfway through the hike, we came upon an oasis. After a couple hours of seeing almost no one in the beautiful wilderness, we stepped out onto a beach with a road and a parking lot nearby. Being a Saturday, we were suddenly surrounded by sun bathers, selfie takers, wind surfers, and …. beach bars! I ordered “beaucoup de boissons”: a coffee for each of us for that caffeine boost, a planteur for each of us with its refreshing ice cubes and fruit juice sugar for energy, and a small Didier to share – because you can never have too much water! I had to force us to start walking again before we got too comfortable and started ordering ti punches and gave up on the hike all together.

A couple more hours of hiking and we reached massive Baie d’Anglais. I’ve read that you can bring your sail boat here in settled weather but, boy! I didn’t see a gap in the reef big enough that I’d feel comfortable sailing through. This is where we ended our hike on the southern segment of the Trace des Caps. Hooray! Mission accomplished! However, choosing to end your hike in a mangrove swamp far from civilization means there’s still a long road walk ahead of you to get back home. We continued on through green farm fields and past huge white cows until we finally reached the main road between Sainte Anne and Le Marin…and learned that we had missed the bus by about 15 minutes. Darn beach bar oasis!

We used the French version of a hitchhiking signal (one hand out, index finger pointing down toward the pavement) and hoped for the best. Wonder of wonders! An English speaking French woman from St Barts stopped to pick us up and dropped us off right at the marina. And she also gave a ride to a local Martinique man who had done the Camino de Santiago across Spain the year before we did! Crazy cooincidence. All in all, we walked about 12 miles with tired feet, but no blisters. Capt. Mike definitely earned his rhum raisin and almond ice cream sundae.

Sick on a boat 😭

To add to our list of woes… Almost exactly two years after the world shut down, Covid finally caught up with the crew of Sanitas. I’m almost embarrassed to share this, but I’ve promised to keep it real in this blog!

Our guests, Micki and Nathan, flew out of Martinique on a Saturday. They tested negative before their flights, with no problems. After they left, Capt Mike and I spent the weekend doing lots of errands: groceries, laundry, cell phone shop, chandleries, buses. We religiously wear our masks indoors as required in Martinique, and we are fully vaccinated as also required, but somehow Omicron got us.

Luckily, our friends all tested negative!
My positive test had a big old red line. (Thanks for the photo Karen on SoulShine)

On the positive side, it’s easy to get tested in Martinique. So as soon as I woke up with a sore throat and runny nose I sent Capt Mike to the pharmacy to buy some tests. Antigen tests cost about €3.50 here, and they are easy to find. My test came back positive right away, while Mike tested negative. It would have been easy to have the diagnosis confirmed with a PCR test, but we decided not to bother. I had cold symptoms, plus a positive antigen test, so I was going to isolate on the boat until I tested negative regardless. We have lots of food in the bilge, plenty of drinking water, and plenty of cold medicine and nuun electrolytes. So I just hunkered down and waited it out

Since Mike tested negative, he made another run to the store for tissues and fresh fruit and veg, and more antigen tests, being very careful to wear his KN95 mask just in case. Good thing he was careful, because he tested positive a few days after I did. It’s really hard to isolate successfully on a tiny boat! So the two of us hung around moaning and blowing our noses for about a week. I binged “Inventing Anna” and Mike played a video game. I notified all of the sailing friends we had socialized with before we got sick. They all tested negative – thank goodness!

I’m certainly glad that we didn’t get terribly sick, because it’s really not much fun to be sick on a sailboat. There’s so little space and no hot showers or laundry or grocery delivery apps. I’m grateful that antigen tests are cheap and plentiful here so we were able to find out quickly that we had Covid, and our friends could confirm that they were healthy. I’m grateful that vaccinations are easy to get here in Martinique – we’ll probably get a booster before we leave because our last dose from Colorado was seven months ago. And I’m grateful to our sailing friends who checked in on us via WhatsApp, and offered to bring us things if we needed anything. Let’s hope we got that over with, and we can stay healthy again from now on!

So what’s wrong with the motor?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since poor Sanitas limped into the Sainte Anne anchorage under sail. Capt. Mike tried all the troubleshooting options. He changed the fuel filters and air filter, cleaned the prop, and checked for diesel sludge in the fuel tank. (Did you know that microorganisms – bacteria, yeast, and fungi – thrive in diesel if water is present? And when they eventually die, they sink to the bottom of the fuel tanks, creating a sludge that can clog the fuel lines and filters? Yuck!) All of our sailing friends gave advice, either in person or via WhatsApp chats. Eventually, it grew so complicated keeping track of all of the advice and all of the options, that I brushed off my old project management tool kit and drew up a fishbone diagram to keep track of it all. Mike was convinced the problem was simply hard growth on the prop. (although this sounded less and less plausible each time he explained his reasoning) I was convinced it was a problem with the throttle cable, which the Captain had coincidentally recently adjusted. Nope and nope. And through it all, Sanitas was a cloud of messy chaos – tools everywhere, the stairs pulled out, the engine compartment exposed, everything a mess.

After about a week of this, our friend Dave on Boorie came over to help out. It’s great to know a guy with a diesel mechanics background! Dave and Capt Mike put their heads together, poked and prodded the guts of our Yanmar 4JH2E, read the manual, and came up with a diagnosis. They determined that we were running on three out of four cylinders, and that the fuel injector pump was not putting fuel out to cylinder number four. That’s about all I’m going to say about that because I am NOT a diesel mechanic. It felt like progress to finally understand the problem, although I was disappointed to learn that it was not something we could repair ourselves.

We decided to slowly and carefully move Sanitas from the Sainte Anne anchorage into the Le Marin marina where we’d pick up a mooring ball until we could get the engine fixed. We’d be closer to all of the chandleries and repair shops, and if we took the motor completely apart, hopefully we’d be safer in the protected cul de sac, on a well-maintained mooring than out in the high winds. We made our move right at sunrise, when the winds were at their lightest, and picked up a ball before the marina office even opened for the day. Le Marina marina is HUGE! And very busy. The sailboat charter business has definitely recovered from the pandemic here in Martinique. The marina is surrounded by grocery stores, restaurants, chandleries, and repair shops. We figured we’d have no problem finding a technician for our engine here.

View of the mooring field from Creve Cœur

Well, we were wrong. Capt. Mike overcame the language barrier and visited each of the recommended engine shops. Every time, he was told “We can’t do that repair. We don’t have the testing equipment to guarantee the work to Yanmar’s standards. Sorry” Well now what? True, we are a sail boat, so we can travel without the motor. But “safety third!” I would not feel comfortable taking on a long passage without a working engine. I have to admit, I was feeling a touch of despair. But we took advantage of the cruisers’ network and found the phone numbers for a couple of smaller mechanic shops. Our friend Chantal who is a native French speaker helped us with the phone calls. And we FINALLY found someone who agreed to come to Sanitas…in two weeks! Wow, that really requires some patience. The bad part of a busy marina means the few qualified diesel engine mechanics are in very high demand.

Fast forward two weeks. We finally had monsieur from Mecabat come over to Sanitas and then spent 3.5 hours (and a LOT of sighing, grunting, and French swearing) to take an alarming portion of our engine apart. He kept telling us “This system – is very bizarre! Very bizarre!” I found it too stressful to even watch, but Capt. Mike helped provide him with tools and watched and learned. So now we are back in the waiting game. The fuel injector pump has been delivered to a garage for servicing. We are supposed to hear back with some news in about a week. There has been no estimate of cost yet. Gulp. But at least we finally have an expert involved and made a tiny bit of forward progress. Wish us luck!

I hope we remember where all the parts go!

Our diesel engine has “un mal de tete” (a headache)

On the last day we sailed with our guests Micki and Nathan, we had a bit more adventure than they signed up for.

We sailed down the western coast of Martinique and then east from beautiful Anse d’Arlet to Sainte Anne. For most of the day, we were heading straight into the wind, using the diesel engine as well as the sails to give us a little boost in speed while cutting through big waves. All hands were safely wearing PFDs, and our guests got a lot of practice tacking. It was a bumpy and salty day for sure.

This boat felt awfully close!
So did this kite surfer!
So did this rock!

A couple of miles out from Ste Anne, with the masts of that massive anchorage in sight, we could no longer keep the staysail full of wind, so we attempted to furl it. Nope! The furling line was snagged on something so every attempt to put the sail safely away for the day resulted in loud and violent flogging instead. Capt. Mike went forward to investigate and discovered that we had an overwrap on the furling drum. It was going to be much too difficult to resolve it in the rough seas and high winds, so he decided we were better off simply dropping the staysail to the deck and fixing the furler later when we’d arrived in the protected anchorage. I took the helm to keep us pointed into the wind. And Mike, Micki, and Nathan went forward to wrestle the sail to the deck by dropping its halyard. Good thing it was the small sail!

While I was at the helm, I discovered a new and even more disturbing problem. Even with the throttle fully open, I couldn’t get enough power from the engine to keep us moving forward. And a sailboat needs to be moving at about 2 knots in order to be able to steer. We’d dropped down to less than a knot of speed-over-ground, so I really couldn’t steer at all. I got the Captain’s attention and explained as calmly as possible what I’d observed. That convinced him to stop messing around with the staysail and come back to the cockpit pronto!

Capt. Mike did a quick bit of troubleshooting and confirmed I was telling the truth. Almost no power coming from the engine. So, after an already long and difficult day, we were looking at another hour or more of sailing upwind and tacking in slow motion through the anchorage. We probably could have dropped anchor in deeper water far back in the harbor. But with guests aboard, we prioritized calmer water closer to shore, and a shorter dinghy ride to the dock when we had to offload people and luggage in our little dinghy Bug. Capt Mike took over at the helm and did an excellent job maneuvering Sanitas through the crowded anchorage, finding a spot just barely big enough for us to drop anchor between all the other boats.

We were all pretty much exhausted. Micki and Nathan helped clean up the boat from our rough passage, and then went ashore for an hour or so, giving Capt. Mike and I time to get the rest of the place organized with fewer adult bodies in the small space. Dinner was simply cartons of french vegetable soup – surprisingly good! – and we went to bed early. We’re safe and sound, and we’ll worry about that engine tomorrow.

We’ve got visitors!

My goal for the winter of 2022 was to FINALLY sail to Martinique. It’s been very difficult for non-EU flagged boats to visit since the world shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this year things have finally normalized enough that fully-vaccinated travelers are welcome again. And I can finally put my 675-day Duolingo French lesson streak to use.

In the last week of February, Sanitas had her first guests come to visit since 2020, before COVID. Micki and Nathan are her biggest fans – they even helped do some boat projects when we first bought her in St Pete, Florida. In fact, they are pretty much the only people other than our immediate family who we would invite to stay on board our teeny tiny boat. It’s tricky to plan to meet friends in the Carribean – weather is always an issue when planning if you can get to the right island in time to meet guests there. In fact, sailors usually say “You can plan when you want to visit, or where you want to visit, but you can’t plan both!”

Having guests aboard provides an excuse to live like we’re on vacation for a week too- we eat out more, we move the boat to new anchorages more often, and we do all the touristy stuff that y’all think we always do (when in reality, we’re usually just cooking on the boat and doing boat maintenance projects) 😜 In Martinique, one of the best tourist attractions is to visit the rhum agricole distilleries. Rhum agricole is a bit different than traditional rum you may be used to. It’s made directly from the juice of sugar cane, without first processing that cane juice into molasses. This means rhum can only be produced a few months each year when the sugar cane crop is mature. Martinique rhum has earned a French Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) just like it’s more famous French wine cousins, such as Champagne and Burgundy. While of course it’s fun to taste the rhum, a visit to a distilleries is also fascinating because of the links between sugar cane farming and the island’s colonial and slave-owning history. Many distilleries have ruins of old stone plantation buildings on their property, or host memorials to the successful uprisings of enslaved workers, or feature artwork that attempts to process and understand that history. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that a visit to a distillerie isn’t just a “seen one, seen them all” activity, but that each site is unique and interesting. Of course, the tour always ends in the gift shop, and we purchased quite a few bottles of rhum, punch, and liquor to enjoy at our leisure on Sanitas with our guests at sunset. Distillerie Depaz is unique, because it boasts a small chateau modeled after Versailles on the grounds. And Distillerie Neissen is filled with vibrant and colorful art, as well as being famous for its award winning white rhum and it’s rare organically produced rhum.

We didn’t only subject our guests to rhum tours (although I doubt they’d have complained) We also toured the Memorial de la Catastrophe in St Pierre, a touching and personal museum that attempts to capture the loss of life and culture caused by the eruption of the Mount Pelée volcano in 1902. At the time, St Pierre was considered “the Paris of the Caribbean” for its cosmopolitan society. Warnings of the volcano’s threat had been observed for over a week prior to its catastrophic eruption, but the governor didn’t want to damage the economy in case of false alarms. Not only did he not evacuate the city, he actively communicated that there was no threat and citizens should not leave. Finally, on the morning of May 8th, a volcanic explossion of extreme force and heat destroyed the city, killing all but two of the 28,000 inhabitants, sinking all of the ships in the harbor, and destroying most of the buildings in the city. It’s sobering to consider this when your own boat in sitting calmly on anchor so near her shipwrecked kin. Today, the town is an atmospheric blend of old and new, and well worth a visit.

We also celebrated Carnival in St Pierre. It’s the Caribbean version of Mardi Gras and, like everything else that’s fun in this world, it had been canceled during COVID. 2022 was the first year Carnival was officially allowed to take place again, although it’s *possible* some unofficial parades and parties took place last year without government permission. Big, fancy parades take place in the Martinique capital of Fort-de-France, but we enjoyed joining in with the smaller local celebration in St Pierre. Each night of Carnival has a theme, and we marched on the night when men dress in women’s clothing and women dress in men’s clothing.

We had to burn off all that rhum and French food somehow, so we headed inland and took our guests on a hike of the Canal de Beauregard. This canal (actually more of an aqauduct) was built to carry water to the distilleries in St Pierre and it’s a gorgeous walk through the mountain rain forest. For much of the hike, you carefully balance on the narrow stone wall that creates the canal, so it’s not for those with balance and vertigo issues! It really is a nice change of pace though to get away from the coast, and up into the vibrant green mountains.

I said that we eat out a lot when folks visit (and we certainly do) but we cooked some delicious meals as well! We bought fresh tuna from the market in St Pierre and made amazing poke bowls. I tackled my first huge can of confit duck legs, and turned it into pretty darn amazing duck nachos for dinner, and duck and potato hash for breakfast the next day.

Micki and Nathan even got the chance to experience the not so glamorous side of sailing life, when we attempted to anchor four or five times at Anse d’Arlet before the hook finally caught on a tricky, rocky bottom. We earned our ti punches and fish dinners there! All in all, I hope our guests had a nice time visiting the beautiful island of Martinique. But I’m exhausted, and ready for a vacation from my vacation!