We learned five dangerous words in St. Lucia: “Put it on our tab!” We said this way too often to the gregarious staff at the swim-up bar at the Capella Resort in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. No, we were not paying high-end prices per night to stay at this opulent place that boasts of “unparalleled luxury” on its website. But for the low price of a mooring in the bay, the resort gives sailors full use of their impeccable facilities…and you can charge all the food and drink to your boat like you would at a hotel bungalow. By the third day, the pool bartender knew our names and just asked us if we wanted the usual when we showed up for happy hour. What was supposed to be a short stop to rest on the way north to Martinique became a week of pretending we were living beyond our means and loving every minute of it.
With teary eyes and great reluctance, we departed Marigot Bay after a week of extravagance to make a brief, utilitarian stop in Rodney Bay. We did laundry, fueled up, and stocked up on boat parts. We were eager to sail north from St. Lucia because new luxuries loomed just a day sail away in the French island of Martinique; the land of inexpensive champagne, wines, cheeses, sausages, and many other earthly delights.
Our first stop in Martinique was Sainte Anne, where many of our friends were anchored or arriving soon – s/v Kailani; s/v Party of Five; s/v Sea Ya. Our social calendar was packed with beach potlucks for the holidays, dinners ashore, and almost daily sundowner parties on friends’ boats. Once again, we postponed boat chores and repairs to live it up. After all, how often do you spend the holidays in France?
When the New Year rolled around, our waist lines were larger, our wallets thinner, and our list of good friends much longer. True to form, our friends on s/v Flip Flops hosted many of the events on their spacious boat. We now know that you can fit 38 people on a 38 foot catamaran without sinking it; even after our best attempts to capsize the boat by an impromptu dance party that started in the main salon and busted out to the bow trampoline.
Before departing Sainte Anne, we had to take care of a matter of utmost importance. Using the expert advice of our friend Lauren, we visited the local grocery store and stocked up on French wines. ¡Pura Vida! was riding a bit lower in the water when we departed because every usable space was filled with French delicacies. You would think we were about to cross the Pacific Ocean by the cartloads of groceries we hauled aboard. Kimberly had to pull rank and issued a temporary injunction, banning me from buying any more cheeses. However, I can still get back at her every now and then by opening up a wrapper containing the most ripe, pungent cheese when she’s least suspecting, and watching her scramble for fresh air. Oh, revenge can be, literally, quite delicious.
After a quick jaunt west from Sainte Anne, we arrived in the picturesque village of Anse d’Arlet and dropped anchor. Not only is the village a postcard-perfect setting, but the bay has fairly decent snorkeling. Along with the kids and adults from s/v Flip Flops and our new friends aboard s/v Pierina, we jumped in to an underwater garden full of eels, fish, and even an octopus. Any day I see an octopus in the wild is a terrific day!
Our next and final stop in Martinique was the capital, Fort de France. The anchorage is not ideal because of the rolly seas caused by frequent ferry traffic, but there’s something historically majestic about anchoring in the shadow of a seventeenth-century fortress. It’s easy to imagine what it must have looked like with an entire French fleet of warships anchored there.
The city of Fort de France is alluring, at least to us. She has the faded charm of an aging port city unhurriedly adapting to modernity. The signs of her origins are everywhere you look; the massive, peeling wood shutters on handmade iron hinges, the crumbly mortar powder between ancient bricks, and the obvious adaptations to electricity that betray the true age of the buildings. Despite not speaking the language, we felt at home, and our spirits were buoyed just by walking around. Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of a mixture between the French Quarter in New Orleans and the downtown of my childhood home of San Jose, Costa Rica. Whether you find Fort de France as nostalgic as I did or not, it is worth your while to get lost in the narrow backstreets, and just duck into one of the numerous tiny eateries for a drink or a meal.
Because of the uncomfortable rolly waves, we moved ¡Pura Vida! to a small anchorage in the southern part of the Fort de France harbor called Anse Mitan. There we stayed for our last few days in Martinique. This small village is a beach vacation hotspot for locals and European French. We tried our best to speak French to all the shopkeepers and restauranteurs. Every time, we were greeted with smiles, patience, and assistance in navigating this challenging language. We somehow managed to make ourselves understood, at least enough to satisfy our thirst and hunger.
On our departure day, we hoisted anchor shortly after midnight to make the seventeen-hour passage to Guadeloupe. I must admit to feeling sad at leaving Martinique. The five weeks we spent there were filled with mirth and revelry among old friends and new ones from all over the world. I know we say this about many places, but Martinique is definitely an island that we will visit again…and again!