I’ve never been as excited to see land as when I first spotted the lights of Martinique. Along the horizon evening lights were just visible, a yellow haze glowing through dark, rainy skies. BMac had me take a look to confirm at about 04:00 that the glow was indeed Martinique and not an approaching ship. Detour was approximately 20 nautical miles from Martinique, attempting to slow down in order to reach land after sunrise, yet still rocketing along at 6+ knots flying only a triple reefed main sail. The final night of our transatlantic passage had been trying; shifty wind kept us hopping to and from the cockpit beneath downpours to make minor course adjustments rather than risk an accidental jibe. The previous 19 days had provided plenty of practice for this; overall the passage had been smooth sailing all the way with wing-on-wing sail configuration (triple reefed main sail, poled out genoa frequently furled or unfurled depending on gusts) and a steady 20-25 knots of east/northeast wind. The days had blurred into one long, sailing/eating/fishing/reading routine by about day10 and now I was ready for a bit of scenery and a good walk!
We anchored Detour at Le Marin, Martinique. This took some doing after a transatlantic passage because the anchor was stowed in the forward locker. Bruce drove Detour, steering into the wind, while Brian, up at the bow, fetched the anchor and BMac and I assisted by hauling the anchor up with a halyard and maneuvering it ’round the front of the bow and back into its position. We proceeded through what seemed like thousands of anchored sailboats as close to the harbour area as we could (a little trick we leanred from the Dutch to always go all the way to the front and then make a plan), and finally dropped the hook! Detour was NOT MOVING! AAAHHHHHHHH! Brian tidied the deck. Bruce did the numbers for our log book. I made a hearty breakfast. We gathered in the cockpit for a late-morning feast (our typical “second breakfast” time) and ate from glass dishes and drank real non-instant coffee from ceramic mugs and didn’t hold onto a thing except our forks. We’d sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and we felt pretty darn proud of ourselves!
The clearance process into Martinique is a breeze and within minutes Brian exited the harbour office, “Welcome to the New World!” he exclaimed. We fetched Bruce and BMac from Detour and everyone landed ashore with a huge, nearly simultaneous sigh of relief. Then, we attempted to walk. This was slow going as we seemed to stumble a bit over our own feet, then bump into one another as we weaved and wove about the dock. Our first mission, delivering trash to the dumpsters, now complete we had an entire day of exploring ahead of us! We walked ’round the harbour, took a look at the view, and determined we should probably walk back to the marina where we then sat for a 3-hour lunch. Land is rough! We did manage to meet some fellow Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) members out in the harbour and forced ourselves to stay out late (still adjusting to time and the lack of watch schedule; we remained on UTC time throughout the entire crossing) to join Tom (S/Y Arctic Smoke) and Mic for drinks at the beach bar. Such fun swapping transatlantic stories and getting acquainted! The next day was even more grueling and entailed wifi access at the local cafe, four loads of laundry at the laundromat across the street from the cafe, and another late, long lunch at the same cafe. BMac and Bruce were busily making departure plans and reconnecting with the real world. Brian and I were not even shocked, despite having just been out of touch completely for a month, to find nothing but junk mail to discard in our email and only one, pressing note from our OCC pals. All caught up, ready for more movin’ and groovin’!
Our first stop was northward along Martinique’s coastline to the harbour of Fort de France; here we had a serendipitous visit with a very good friend, and we bid farewell to BMac who caught a flight back to the states.
The story of our friend is one that we almost don’t believe ourselves! There we were, sailing along approximately 20 nautical miles off the coast of Martinique about to complete our first ever transatlantic passage, and a cruise ship popped up on the AIS screen. “Hmmm,” I’d said to BMac, “this one’s going to get close, about 3nm, but we shouldn’t have to change course.” The cruise ship, Mein Shiff-5, became brighter on the horizon and brighter as it neared Detour, and then about 5nm away I heard, “Detour, Detour. This is Mein Shif-5,” on the VHF. I thought to myself dear lord don’t let them ask me to change course… I replied on the VHF and then in response heard, “Stephanie, change to channel 13.” What!? Hello!? How does this guy know my name!? I changed the channel and a chipper reply quickly gave me the answer, “Stephanie, this is Timo, how are you!” Brian and I had met Timo in Kiel, Germany and we’d been trying to stay in touch since Timo is a fellow sailor and newly living aboard his Koopman’s 44′ when we’d met. I’d never dreamed he’d be hailing me from the bridge of a cruise ship! Timo is now the Chief Navigation Officer aboard Mein Schif-5 and he was also surprised to see Detour on his AIS screen when he came onto the bridge for his evening shift. It was serendipitous to have crossed so closely, but I must thank Timo’s mother who gave him a tip that Detour would be in the area. Timo’s mother had been following our transatlantic progress and told Timo to keep a lookout because we were headed toward Martinique where his cruise ship was scheduled to land. Wow! Aren’t mothers just fabulous! Timo and I had a lovely conversation on the VHF and made plans to get together if at all possible during the cruise ship’s Caribbean tour. And just like that, Mein Schif-5 was scheduled for Fort de France within days of our arrival and we were able to sail into the harbour and anchor just next door (crew watching our approach from the stern deck) and visit Timo aboard the ship! It was an amazing reunion, we’d felt as though we were welcoming one another to the Caribbean! Thanks to Timo (hope to see him yet again because now we’ve got the schedule!), and thanks to the crew of Mein Schif-5 for a warm welcome and lovely tour of the bridge (and delicious, pool-side ice cream!).Bruce, Brian, and I continued our excursion along Martinique with another fabulous sail and a short stop for snorkeling. We were adjusting to the heat of the Caribbean; it had not really warmed above 70F during our passage, and we were unwinding after all the diligent watch-keeping and unnerving motion of the sailboat at sea.
We visited the harbour of St. Pierre for two days of rest and relaxation before we departed Martinique. How better to kick back then with gorgeous scenery and scrumptious French food! (Ironic, isn’t it that our French Detour began the next chapter at a French island?!) Bruce, Brian and I enjoyed a historical walking-audio tour of downtown St. Pierre; which had been completely destroyed by the 1902 eruption of the overlooking volcano. We had several, lazy, long lunches our favorite of which being at an upstairs cafe of the outdoor market with a very local, creole twist to the tastiness.
We watched the local fisherman along the beachfront net their catch, and then after a quick re-check of the forecast we set sail once again for a swift overnight passage (super smooth and restful thanks to Bruce as our additional crew yet again!) to our next destination…