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!