I know, I know. For hundreds of years people sailed the high seas without technology, and more recently navigated with paper charts and SSB radios. But the crew of Sanitas has become very accustomed to cell phones and the data access they provide. We use our cell data for route planning, weather forecasts, researching destinations, downloading Netflix shows, and writing this blog. Oh, and Wordle. Usually, we’ve found it easy to get cell service internationally by buying a local SIM card and signing up for a pre-paid plan. But for some reason, we’ve had an incredibly difficult time getting cell service in Martinique. It’s been a real comedy of errors.
Attempt #1 – Wizzy
Capt. Mike researched a new low cost cell phone provider named Wizzy which runs on the Digicel network and advertises 70Gb for 17€. Too good to be true? The tricky part is they have no storefronts, so you communicate with them on their website and we mailed the SIM card we ordered to the post office in Sainte Anne Martinique. At first, everything went swimmingly, and Mike reveled in his ability to download anything he wanted without rationing. But…three weeks into using Wizzy, Mike’s internet access stopped working, and he received a very cryptic message about a payment problem (in French, of course). We tried and tried to figure it out but low cost internet means no real live customer service people and eventually we gave up. SIM card #1 went in the trash. For the record, a couple of fellow cruisers had great luck with Wizzy but at least one cruiser we know never even received his paid-for SIM card. It’s a real mixed bag.
Attempt # 2 – Digicel
There are two different Digicel cell phone providers in the eastern Caribbean: one that serves the French speaking islands and one that serves everyone else. Cruisers speak of the French Digicel in reverential tones “You can get soooo much data each month!” they say. “Sign up in a French island, and it’ll work anywhere!” I’ve been told. “If you ever get a French Digicel sim card, don’t give it up!” I’ve been warned. So our next stop was the Digicel store near the huge Le Marin marina. The young man working there is fantastic- he speaks just enough English to help us get our account set up and confirmed that we were good to go before we left the shop. It’s more expensive, of course, about 45€ per month. But it felt good to be back on a reliable plan with good service.
All was well on Sanitas for the next few weeks until…. Three weeks in, there’s no internet access. Again. Back on the bus to the Digicel shop and the very nice agent who tried lots of things on the computer, spoke to customer service on our behalf, and tried every credit and debit card in our wallets to no avail. Something about our “foreign” credit cards was offending them. Digicel did not want our money. So much for the unicorn of a French digicel SIM card. We were back to square one.
Attempt 2.5 – Orange
There’s an Orange cell phone shop in the same plaza as Digicel, so Mike poked his head in and asked about SIM cards. He was told emphatically “No!” Mike put on his best “I’m-a-stupid-American-who-can’t-speak-French-but I’m sorry-about-it-and-I’m-not-a-jerk” face and tried again. He was told that they’re out of SIM cards and try again next week.
Attempt 3- SFR
So I’ve been telling you about Capt. Mike’s trials and tribulations, but my path has not been smooth either. I planned to choose a different cell phone provider than the one Mike was using, so that as we moved from anchorage to anchorage, within sight of different provider’s cell towers, we’d always have one service that works for weather files and charts. I ended up going with SFR whose billboards advertise “Coverage for 99% of the population of Martinique”. The coverage area and data speeds have been great, but my in-store customer service was the opposite of Mike’s good experience at Digicel. My customer service clerk told me the 3-month promotional rate wasn’t available and charged me twice what I really owed. Then she set up my account incorrectly so I couldn’t see or pay my bill online. And SFR Caraibe doesn’t use an app to manage your account, just a slow, outdated website. There was no way I would suggest that a cruiser buy an SFR SIM card….until that was the only option left for Capt. Mike. Back on the bus to Le Marin! Honestly, Mike had a bunch better experience at SFR than I did, with a different much more helpful agent. He left the shop with a working phone, for the correct price, AND we had the chance to eat lunch at our favorite “big meals for working men” lunch spot next door. I suspected the French culture was finally rubbing off on Mike when he told me, “You know, I’m a bit disappointed in this roasted lamb with wine and mushroom sauce. It’s a tad over cooked. And the rosé is just drinkable” Zut Alors, Captain Mike!
SFR only works in the French islands. It’s been fantastic in Martinique and in The Saints, Guadeloupe. But now that we’ve traveled to English-speaking Dominica, we found ourselves back in the Digicel shop, buying yet another SIM card for the week or two we’ll be anchored here. (Apparently, this sim will only work in Dominica and St Lucia. Insane!) Our next challenge will be figuring out how to cancel our SFR plans when we head south for hurricane season…and dare I even hope to get my deposit back? As our French diesel engine mechanic exclaimed repeatedly, “The system, c’est bizarre!”