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Martinique, Under the Volcano

The Picton Castle gang up on the focsle head hove up the anchor at St Pierre and we rounded the northern tip of lava and ash (and jungle) covered Martinique, bound towards Antigua in lovely warm easterly trade winds. Our plan is to sail north along the windward sides of Dominica and Guadeloupe. To attempt to sail in the lee of these high islands is futile as there is nothing but wind shadow calms unless one sails very close to the shore and then is constantly at the braces. Just to starboard as we made our way north, the shore nearby was made up of steep jungle covered cliffs and precipices plunging to the sea from improbable pinnacles. We just spent 3 days in St Pierre wandering about and taking in the local scene – this involved markets, French language, cafes and interesting walks among the ruins. As it happens there is an excellent tattooist here who doubles (or triples) as an internet cafe and Customs & Immigration office (only in France…). Martine at the Café L’Escapade became a tattoo artist after the visit of this very barque in 2002 when she saw a few of the crew boasting South Pacific tattouage and thus found her inspiration. She is excellent with an elegant and light touch and a couple of the crew got so engraved – this done we now carry on towards Antigua.

We are bound for the “Classic Yacht Regatta” preceding the more hi-tech, yachty Antigua Race Week out of English Harbour. This is a series of races for classic type vessels; very big Alden and Fife schooners, gaff ketches, the odd Scottish Zulu, Norman Tunnyman, curious single-handers in old gaffers, Carriacou Sloops and the like. We are headed that way in order to disperse our crew amongst these fine sleek craft for the upcoming week. The Picton Castle will, most likely, remain happily anchored in Falmouth Harbour, right next to English Harbour, throughout these proceedings. We could go stern-to in classy English Harbour but not just now as there will be little room at that inn until Race Week is well past. English Harbour remains a charming bastion of old English nautical history, being formerly the West Indian answer to the British Naval Bases in Halifax, Bermuda and, before the American Revolution, also New York.

St Pierre, under the volcano, once a noble stone-built city of 30,000 prior to being wiped out in 1902 by the eruption of Mt Pele, now a town of about 7,000 sprouting among the ruins, was a treat for all and we like it here beaucoup – history, ruins, French lingo, baguettes, cheese, coffee, croissants, wine, ladies and gents with style promenading about– it is all good. Early in the mornings as the sun climbed over the peaks we watched fishermen in brightly painted pirogues spreading their nets and pulling them up on the beach. Along this beach we can see at frequent interval big cannons sticking up and slanting towards shore. These, along with a great number of huge old anchors spread about too, were for tying the sterns of ships up back when St Pierre was the main port of commerce. Not so since 1902. Walking along this long curved black beach you can still see sections of cobblestone roads leading into the sea. Pottery shards and pieces of brick, all well worn from tumbling in the light surf, must be from the great destruction as well.

In Grenada we got a little 14’ boat in frame as a project to finish on deck for some of our gang. We have been planking it up and learning how to plank in the process. Our boat-building team was puzzled about how to get replacement knees for it as some had rotted off. After too much discussion regarding makeshift plywood knees, planning expeditions into the forest and like nonsense, I told them to just walk along this big long black sand beach and see what they could find in the way of driftwood with shape – in short order they found five fine pieces of hard driftwood that made perfect knees which are now shaped and installed in de boat.

We are all well enough indeed and soon we will be gearing up our psychology to be excited about getting home, but in the meantime we ain’t done yet with these here fine West Indies, not yet.

Norm and Matt work on the boat
St Pierre, Martinique

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