“Allez allez, allez allez,”

COME ON, COME ON, A VERY WET FISH­ER­MAN IN PINK SHORTS, CAMO SHIRT AND BRIGHT-YEL­LOW BALL CAP CHANTED LIKE A DRILL SERGEANT AT A PA­RADE. ALONG­SIDE, A SNAKING LINE OF A COU­PLE DOZEN EQUALLY DRENCHED SAILORS GRABBED A GREEN POLY LINE, DUG HEELS IN THE SAND A

Cruising World - - A Fever For South Georgia - Mark Pills­bury is CW’S ed­i­tor.

The rain poured down, and from time to time, the singsong chant­ing was ac­com­pa­nied by the blare of conch shells blown by fish­er­men far­ther down the beach. “Allez allez! Toot-toot!” Inch by inch, we pulled on the rough line un­til fi­nally we came to the be­gin­ning of the lengthy net that was stretched across the har­bor at Petite Anse d’ar­let, a small vil­lage on the south­west coast of Mar­tinique.

Now the real work be­gan. Our crew — French, English, Amer­i­cans, Rus­sians, you name it, all from the Foun­taine Pa­jot cata­ma­rans an­chored in the next har­bor to the north — split up, half grab­bing ahold of the top of the net, the oth­ers, the bot­tom. “Allez allez!” We pulled and pulled, fin­gers caught up in the web­bing. Soon, feet were tan­gled up too as we slowly gained on the work be­fore us and the seine net piled up on the sand.

It was early, about 0630. The hour and the tor­ren­tial rain kept the streets be­hind us empty. The beach, though, was a flurry of ac­tiv­ity as fish­er­men shouted or­ders in French and madly blew their conchs, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the men tend­ing the net from their pan­gas and the divers with masks and snorkels, who swam in­side it as we pulled it ashore.

At last, a half-hour or bet­ter from when we started, the end was in sight. At first, we’d pulled in only empty net­ting, but as it be­gan to tighten along the wa­ter’s edge and the swim­mers were now able to stand, fish roiled the wa­ter. Bins were car­ried down to where we worked, and the fish­er­men waded in to grab their catch.

The day be­fore, the 28 cata­ma­rans

tak­ing part in the Foun­taine Pa­jot Own­ers Ren­dezvous had raced north from Le Marin and stopped at Petite Anse for lunch, lo­cal color and a swim with the tur­tles be­fore head­ing off around the head­land to an­chor at Grande Anse for the night. This morn­ing, the 25 or so of us who’d risen in the dark and abided by the rain to catch a bus back here for the tra­di­tional seine fish­ing watched as those same tur­tles were grabbed by the wad­ing fish­er­men and tossed free. The sar­dines, snap­pers and

Apuffer­fish were not so lucky. With the net now on the sand, they were scooped up quickly. When the last flop­ping fish was in a tub, they were car­ried up the beach to where a set of scales had been set up on a nearby wall. By now, the town had wo­ken up. There were cars and peo­ple com­ing and go­ing, and the fish store, such as it was, was open for busi­ness.

And so was the rum tast­ing, put on by tourism au­thor­i­ties and Habi­ta­tion Clé­ment, a well-known is­land dis­tillery. A gre­gar­i­ous crowd of lo­cal of­fi­cials, fish­er­men and sailors gath­ered to sam­ple the wares. Our drill sergeant had a small glass of rum tucked neatly into the pocket of his T-shirt. The more he and his mates sipped, the more fre­quently they blew their conchs. Mer­ri­ment, rum punch and fish cakes for break­fast — what a way to start the day!

ctu­ally, each day of this lit­tle Caribbean ad­ven­ture turned out to be pretty ex­cel­lent. The rally was or­ga­nized by the French cata­ma­ran builder to bring its far-flung own­ers to­gether for four days of sail­ing and par­ties in a lo­ca­tion where fun was ab­so­lutely guar­an­teed. The fleet was a mix of pri­vately owned ves­sels and char­ter boats, such as Guiri­den, a Saona 47 we’d picked up at the Dream Yachts base in Le Marin a cou­ple of days be­fore the of­fi­cial party be­gan. Driv­ing

our bus was CW’S ad­ver­tis­ing di­rec­tor, Ted Ruegg, and his wife, Heide. Call­ing tac­tics, if we needed them, was their An­napo­lis, Mary­land, sail­ing pal Dave Robin­son. Pho­tog­ra­pher Jon Whit­tle and I were on hand and de­ter­mined to work and play, in equal mea­sure.

Since we had the boat for a week, we planned it so we ar­rived in Le Marin a cou­ple of days ahead of time. We flew in on Tues­day, and spent the rest of the day and Wed­nes­day morn­ing tak­ing care of shore­side for­mal­i­ties, such as pro­vi­sion­ing and Dream’s boat and chart brief­ings. Then it was time to get to work: Du­ti­fully, we went sail­ing.

A Dream cap­tain moved Guiri­den from its slip and then turned the wheel over to Ted. We mo­tored out to Pointe du Marin, where Club Med has a sprawl­ing re­sort, and from there, raised sails and bore off on a close reach, head­ing south­east to the tip of the is­land. Near shore was a mine­field of lob­ster-pot buoys, so we headed to deeper sound­ings be­fore tight­en­ing up the sheets and turn­ing east. Our des­ti­na­tion was Baie des Anglais, a pro­tected an­chor­age on Mar­tinique’s wind­ward coast that was well rec­om­mended at our chart brief­ing.

It was fine sail­ing, though we had a good bit of cur­rent on the nose. Even­tu­ally, our course took us closer and closer to the wind, and after a tack or two, we started the en­gine and just plowed into it un­til we reached the nar­row un­marked chan­nel lead­ing into the bay. Surf pounded on the rocky islets on ei­ther side of us. Stand­ing nearby Ted at the helm, I kept a close eye on the in­avx app on my phone so that we stayed in deep wa­ter. In­side, it was a millpond. Though we could see break­ing waves be­hind us, the wa­ter was flat calm, and we were sur­rounded by noth­ing but rolling green hills and man­groves lin­ing the shore. Bet­ter yet, we had the place all to our­selves. We swam in the brack­ish wa­ter, sipped and dined in fine style, and that night sat on

Guiri­den’s tram­po­line and spot­ted both the South­ern Cross and Po­laris in the clear, dark sky.

On Thurs­day, we had time for a lit­tle pad­dle­board­ing and swim­ming in the morn­ing. Then, around 1100, a breezy squall passed by, tak­ing ev­ery breath of wind with it. In­stead of a lovely down­wind run home, it was a mo­tor­boat ride back to Le Marin for the start of the week’s of­fi­cial fun.

Back at the ma­rina where we started, rally check-in and a skip­pers meet­ing took most of the af­ter­noon, and was fol­lowed

by an open-air rum tast­ing and cock­tail party just be­fore sun­down. That evening, we were all on our own for din­ner, but the crowd tended to mi­grate to the ca­sual seat­ing and tasty dishes at L’an­nexe. The place was packed and the evening lively, but with an 0800 de­par­ture and two races planned for the next morn­ing, Team

Guiri­den sen­si­bly re­tired (sort of) early.

The rules for the Fri­day-morn­ing short around-the-buoys race, to be fol­lowed by the Cruis­ing World Rally to les Anses d’ar­let, were sim­ple: Leave the com­mit­tee boat to star­board, the pin to port; pass be­tween Di­a­mond Rock and the main­land on the way north; and any boat over the start­ing line early would be pe­nal­ized and have to buy ev­ery other boat drinks. Thank heav­ens they didn’t say any­thing about col­li­sions.

The wind at the start of the buoy race was light and puffy. The course called for a short up­wind leg, fol­lowed by a cou­ple of reaches across the bay and back to the fin­ish. The rally had at­tracted crews with vastly dif­fer­ent sail­ing skills. There were Foun­taine Pa­jot founder Jean-françois Foun­taine and his wife, Claire, the pres­i­dent of the com­pany, both world-class sailors; then there were the folks we saw on the plane study­ing their learn-to-sail text­books. The re­sult, in the first race at least, was spir­ited com­pe­ti­tion at the front of the pack and a pa­rade of boats be­hind. It was a pretty sight to see all those sails stretched out over a mile or two of deep blue sea.

The rally proved a bit more in­ter­est­ing, when the breeze stalled just after the start and again just be­fore the fin­ish. Let’s just say new ac­quain­tances were made on each oc­ca­sion. But in be­tween the first short wind­ward mark and the fin­ish line off Petite Anse d’ar­let, we had ar­guably some of the best sail­ing of the week. The wind was well aft of the beam as we bore off to­ward iconic Di­a­mond Rock. On Guiri­den, we winged out the genoa, lead­ing the loaded-up sheet to a cleat amid­ships. For our shut­ter­bug, Whit­tle, it was one of his Ko­dak mo­ments when the cats neared the rock and sailed along the bold Mar­tinique shore, clouds and their shad­ows danc­ing across the moun­tain­ous ter­rain in­land.

In Petite Anse, we crossed the fin­ish line, an­chored and piled into the dinghy to go ashore. What a lovely lit­tle vil­lage, with its church lo­cated at the head of the pier. In a pav­il­ion just to the left, lo­cal crafts­men and artists had set up shop. There was rum to be tasted, and tra­di­tional dancers — young women dressed in full-length white dresses with col­or­ful cal­ico shawls, and men in white suits with bright-red vests — swirled to lively Caribbean tunes.

On the dock, there were fam­i­lies fish­ing, and ashore we found a sleepy lit­tle town, where the peo­ple could not have been friend­lier.

After a spell, Whit­tle and I wan­dered off to see the back­streets of town. We found well-kept houses with neat yards, many brightly painted in yel­low, blue and other cal­ico col­ors. Even­tu­ally, our wan­der­ing led us to the Coco Cafe and a table on the beach un­der a shady tree. The lo­cal spe­cialty was the Coco Punch, a con­coc­tion of co­conut wa­ter and rum that was as sooth­ing as it was de­li­cious.

Back at the boat, we squeezed in a quick swim with the tur­tles, then mo­tored the short dis­tance around the bold point to Grande Anse, an equally lovely bay and beach where there was plenty of room for the fleet to spread out and an­chor.

Ashore at Ti Sable, a beach­side res­tau­rant with booth­like ta­bles cov­ered by flow­ing white canopies, the sun had just set and cock­tails were be­ing served when all of a sud­den there was a com­mo­tion. The re­cep­tion area filled with metal­lic-colored men and women, some bear­ing torches, some dressed in ragged out­fits, oth­ers bare chested. Mov­ing slowly, they struck and held haunt­ing poses, not even blink­ing, for what seemed like min­utes at a time.

And then, like that, they were gone. Whoa, what was that?

In fact, it was les Hommes d’argile, a lo­cal dance troupe that was hon­estly quite amaz­ing. It was a tough act to fol­low, but grilled lob­sters, lo­cal veg­etable dishes and mu­sic into the evening gave it a good try.

Squalls rolled through overnight. While the rest of the crew slept in, Whit­tle and I were up at 0545. There was just one other in­flat­able on the beach when we ar­rived on shore for the fish-sein­ing ad­ven­ture, and at first, we won­dered if it had been called off. Soon enough, we heard the mo­tor of an­other dinghy start up, then an­other. In the end, it was a small but hardy group that set off to help har­vest the day’s catch.

After the morn­ing’s ad­ven­ture, we re­turned to Guiri­den for­ti­fied by a pleas­ant rum buzz and ready for the race back to Le Marin. The breeze was quite light, so we fol­lowed the lead of cats leav­ing be­fore us and mo­tored south­ward. A half-hour later, though, the VHF ra­dio crack­led to life and the race com­mit­tee an­nounced the breeze was up and the race to the an­chor­age by Club Med was in­deed on. We had five min­utes to find the start­ing line. We scram­bled to hoist sail and barely made it in time. The wind, of course, im­me­di­ately died, just about the time the heav­ens opened up anew.

As Guiri­den ap­proached Di­a­mond Rock, the skies at last cleared and a fresh breeze — on the nose — filled in. We rode a star­board tack to­ward shore, then tacked out, cer­tain we’d clear the rock.

We didn’t. In­stead, we con­tin­ued on out to sea be­fore tack­ing again to­ward shore, cer­tain we’d clear the rock this time. We didn’t. Nor did we leave it be­hind the third, fourth or fifth time. The cur­rent that once made the rock an im­por­tant Bri­tish mil­i­tary out­post re­fused to give up its grip on us. To be hon­est, we were get­ting pretty sick of the darned rock, and the wind was dy­ing to boot. Un­der the threat of mutiny, or worse, drunken mutiny, Ted re­lented, started the en­gines, and we mo­tored the re­main­der of the way. To a per­son, no one wanted to miss the re­cep­tion, din­ner and fes­tiv­i­ties that night at Club Med.

Sun­day was the fi­nal day of the rally. In the morn­ing, a power­boat towed three yoles to the beach, where they were pulled ashore by their crews. The yoles are tra­di­tional Mar­tinique sail­ing and fish­ing skiffs. Each boat was 30-some­thing feet long and rigged with a sin­gle mast made from the trunk of a tree and a square sail and gaff. Un­der­way, boards are wedged into the op­po­site gun­nel and the crew hikes out on them to wind­ward. To tack, the boards are re­set on the op­po­site side. Ev­ery sum­mer, a fleet of them races around the is­land in Le Tour de Yoles Ronde Mar­tinique, an eight-stage, 110-mile con­test.

Once rigged, each yole had a lo­cal cap­tain and car­ried a dozen or so crew from the rally. It was gusty, and the boats took off like a shot. We chased them in our in­flat­able/photo boat, but couldn’t keep up, though we did cut them off when they tacked. We even fol­lowed along as they cut through a seem­ingly im­pen­e­tra­ble grove of man­groves into an ad­ja­cent lit­tle bay filled with all man­ner of craft tied to the shore, and a pi­rate ship at an­chor, com­plete with a crew who, when they saw us com­ing, bran­dished sabers and a can­non. It was quite the lit­tle aquatic vil­lage.

Back out in fresh breeze, the yoles took off across the bay for one last spray-fly­ing ride be­fore re­turn­ing to the beach. As the crews de­rigged the boats, the rally came to its of­fi­cial close. It had been an ac­tion-packed few days, and good­byes were heart­felt. But for Guiri­den, there was still some fun to be had.

Re­turn­ing to the ma­rina for a few sup­plies, we picked up Dan Lock­yer, gen­eral man­ager of Dream Yachts in the United States, and then set off north­ward once again, this time to Anse Mi­tan, a lovely beach and bay a bit far­ther north than our trav­els had taken us pre­vi­ously. We had good wind be­hind us as we bar­reled up the coast, first on a run, then a reach and fi­nally close­hauled as we headed for the beach, where we an­chored in about 20 feet of wa­ter. After days of set sched­ules and bustling ac­tiv­i­ties, a re­laxed swim; the sun­set over Mount Pelee, Mar­tinique’s tow­er­ing vol­canic peak; and din­ner aboard were most wel­comed. It was def­i­nitely lights out by 2300 for this crew.

De­spite a rainy start to Mon­day morn­ing, we took the dinghy ashore to the nearby pub­lic beach and left it tied to a tree. From there, it was a short walk into the vil­lage at Trois-îlets, a pop­u­lar tourist spot with restau­rants, gal­leries and shops. We ex­plored the town. Then, when a par­tic­u­larly wet and pro­longed squall rolled through, we ex­plored Carol’s, a cir­cu­lar bar with wide can­vas awnings, a friendly at­mos­phere and gi­ant mo­ji­tos.

By lunch, we were back on the boat with the bows pointed south. Once again, the rain had robbed us of wind, so we gave the bat­ter­ies a good recharge. By the time we were an­chored in Ste. Anne, a small com­mu­nity just south of Le Marin, the sun was out and skies were blue. Whit­tle and I took one last walk­a­bout ashore. As at Petite Anse d’ar­let, a lovely church stood at the head of the pier. On the dock, there were fam­i­lies fish­ing, and ashore we found a sleepy lit­tle town, where the peo­ple could not have been friend­lier. When it turned out one shop didn’t sell ice, the pro­pri­etor walked us down the street to one that did.

On ev­ery char­ter trip I’ve been lucky enough to go on, there’s been some­thing re­mark­able about that last night on the boat. An­chored in Ste. Anne, it was the golden hills at sun­set, the warm night air, din­ner with friends and con­ver­sa­tions that went well into the night. It wasn’t just a happy end­ing, it was per­fect.

Pass­ing squalls made for lively sail­ing con­di­tions, but they were spec­tac­u­lar to watch as they rolled over the hills.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.