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The Voyages of s/v Silverheels III
...a virtual ship's logbook, and some thoughtful (unabashed?) reflections on our sea-going experiences.
Ken versus the Volcano
05/30/2015, Grand Anse d'Arlet, martinique

A little late in posting this... but the vagarities of internet being what it can be down here...!

Most of the islands in the Lesser Antilles are volcanic, and many still have some rumblings to remind us mere mortals of that fact. Montserrat has certainly been the most vocal of late, but Dominca gives ongoing reminders, and almost every island has a place named "Soufriere" (the French were NOT original with their place names). Martinique also has its' volcano, which last made its displeasure known in 1929 (although the 1902 eruption was far more devastating on human life), and it isn't named Soufriere. It is called Montagne Pelee.
Dominica isn't the only place that has lots of hiking trails. Guadeloupe and Martinique have a large number of hiking trails that have been well maintained. Included in these trails are a couple of different ways to get to the top of Pelee, with two of the trailheads near the peak being reasonably accessible by car, one much more so than the other. Actually, one is even accessible by "taxi commune", or "taxi-co".
Ken had stated when we first got to Fort de France that he wanted to hike up to the volcano. Of course I will never turn down that kind of an opportunity, and I sure didn't want to discourage Ken from doing it. So, we got our act together one morning, hydration packs and lunches packed with a trekking pole each, and got on the Morne Rouge taxi-co. The driver made it clear that he was going to pick us up from the parking lot of the defunct aileron at 4:00pm, the same spot he was dropping us off. By the time we were dropped off, this would give us about 5 hours to get up there and back down.
In our numerous times of seeing Mont Pelee, a three toed sloth could count on one hand the number of times we have actually seen the top of the mountain, unobscured by clouds. With an elevation of 1395 m, or almost 4600', this is a good sized chunk of rock to get up. And with the orographic influence, (ha, there's a word to look up! Or I could just tell you the geographic/elevation effect.) this is an area that sees lots of clouds, and the rain that often accompanies these clouds. Martinique has a legitimate rainforest.
While the elevation of Pelee is 1395 m, it isn't like we had to climb all of that. The old cable car parking lot is located at an altitude of 823m (2700'), so we really only had about half way to climb up, elevation-wise. So we started up. I have a GPS running watch, and it can display the grade one is didn't bother. We were climbing almost straight up. The beginning of the trail out of the parking lot goes upwards, but it is a path that is easy; no stepping up, just walking. Then it changes, quickly. It becomes darned near vertical. In the space of about 2 km, the elevation change is in the ball park of about 350-400 m. And that includes a few bits that are almost flat. No exaggeration, we started with risers that were made from wood and dirt, and quickly progressed to steps cut out of the rocks. Some of it was less step-like and more climbing-like. Honestly, for me, this was fun, but I do this kind of thing for fun all of the time, and I run every morning, with half marathons being something I do on a whim... Ken is not a runner, and not in as good as shape as I am, but he did darned well. It killed him to say he needed to rest a couple of times (I was fine with it, this wasn't meant to be an ordeal, but to be fun), and he pushed on at a very respectable pace. We made it to what we believed was the top; further consultation with the maps below showed us that we made it to one side of the caldera, but not truly to what is considered the peak of Pelee. However, the visibility was so lousy, we wouldn't have seen any more up there anyway, just a different elevation of fog. According to my running GPS, we got to a maximum of 1243 m, (about 4100'). We could have pushed it to go on, but we had agreed to not make it an ordeal. We turned around. We also knew that the descent was also going to be fatiguing, and the idea of coming down the rocky areas on somewhat slippery footing after already being gassed didn't seem smart.
Occasionally the clouds would break, and we would see some of the impressive views from the heights. But generally the higher we got, the less that happened, and by the end, we couldn't even see into the caldera except for little 10 second breaks. But when we did see something, it was worth it.
The trip down was accomplished faster than we had thought we would do it in, and we had a little time to kill before our taxi-co showed up. We enjoyed, and I do mean enjoyed, a cold beer at the little restaurant at the parking lot. We then decided to continue down the road towards the main road, to save the driver the slog all the way up just to get us. This was actually fortuitous, as we saw plants and trees that I have been thinking of doing articles on, so "my photographer" had the chance to get a multitude of good shots. I also almost stepped on a very large snail.
We had gone off to the side to look at the beginning of another trail, and to enjoy the view, when I saw I was about to step into a brown pile of dog... wait, that's a big snail! The shell was almost as large as my clenched fist, and it was doggedly trucking along. Apparently it is used to being a celebrity, as it didn't even break stride when the paparazzi were in its' face. Of course, it might just have been focussed on the snail we saw a little farther ahead (well, 3 meters might be a little to us, but it was probably a bigger deal to the snail).
We were happy with the hike. We enjoyed ourselves, which was the important part, and got some exercise, too. Ken availed himself very well, and has every right to feel like he accomplished something... everyone else going up was noticeably younger than he is. We saw some nice views, and spent a nice day together!
I guess we will have to go back and do the whole thing one day, and with any luck, there may be a few more breaks in the clouds.

Limin' in the Caribbean
06/02/2015 | Marc Dacey
Well done, you two and what doesn't kill Ken will probably cheer him up!
06/03/2015 | Bert Dorrestyn
We only drove up to the towers, so we are very impressed with your climb.
Herding Cats
05/24/2015, Grand Anse d'Arlet, Martinique

The French had it pretty good this May. Four long weekends this month, and in the French islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin, this weekend is a four day long weekend, since May 22 is the celebration of the Abolition of Slavery. Great if you work here, not so convenient if you actually want to accomplish anything.
However, Ken and I are sitting in Grand Anse d'Arlet, a decidedly touristy area (the lack of any appreciable supermarket, or even hint of farmers' market, is very telling), so our need to get anything done is non-existent. This is certainly not the place to try to be in a hurry. If you want to get amazing rotisserie chicken on the weekend, or excellent baguettes everyday, than this is the place to be. You want to hang out in a little beachside bar, here is a suitable location for that. And this weekend, if you wanted some very decidedly nautical entertainment, it would also fit the bill.
Our cruising friends on "Pinnacle", Bob and Ginette, had to shift from where they were anchored because they were notified that a catamaran race was going to be occurring on Saturday. Simon and Paul on a small (under 8 meters, small Swedish sailboat, "Risa Risa" also had to do the same. We were fine, as we are on the farthest out mooring ball on the south side of the bay, in about 30m (100') of water, with little chance of neighbours and far enough from the finish line.
I had invited Simon and his father Paul to lunch on our boat, since we had taken some nice pictures of them sailing from Fort de France to the bay. It isn't often that you get pictures of your own boat under sail, so we snapped away, figuring that the odds of us seeing them would be high. We were right. And since Simon's boat is small (Paul is visiting) and doesn't have refrigeration, I also figured a meal aboard our boat might go over well for them. Hey, I was 2-for-2! We enjoyed the freshly procured "poulet roti" and baguettes (the chicken was reserved that morning as I was running), plus a cold beverage or two, and chatting. We realised that we had an ideal spot to watch the finish of the catamaran race. This is not a small race, with possibly up to 80 large catamarans competing.
Most of the catamarans were charter vessels, which automatically made us assume that the people operating the vessels may not be as experienced at racing them as many racers normally would be. it also means that these multihulls would not necessarily be rigged for the best racing performance. This had the potential to be very interesting.
The first couple of boats were fine, as was to be expected. Then it became interesting. Up to this point of the race, it had been reaches for the racers, but now they actually had to tack into the bay to cross the finish line. These catamarans were not capable of pointing very high, and they are not as maneuverable as many monohulls in the same conditions. With our platinum seats, we had the best viewpoint to observe the mayhem.
One boat tried too hard to come tight onto the wind, and almost rammed the committee boat. They ended up having to turn the diesels on and go into a hard reverse to avoid a collision. Crisis and damage to the boats avoided, but the skipper's pride had to have been damaged by having to do that.
We saw many cats trying to point too high, or pinch, and then trying to tack after losing way. This often occurred as another competitor was coming up on them, creating confusion and some evasive maneuvers. The worst case of this had Ken cry out "they are gonna hit", and they did, hard. We heard the crunch (I think we all cringed when we heard it, we certainly exclaimed), and observed the crews looking for damage. I think if it hadn't been so far forward on the t-boned boat, which is a strong area, they might have been holed.
We became concerned enough at the poor examples of boat handling that we kept the air horn and the loud hailer close at hand.
It was generally pretty ugly all around. And the committee boat blaring the "Olay" song, oft heard during the soccer World Cup, was comical. Equally comical to us was the fact that the French committee boat slowly dragged anchor over the duration of the race.
When I went for my run this morning, I saw some of the competitors proudly wearing their t-shirts from the Martiniquais rum distillery that is one of the sponsors (Mount Gay apparently is wise enough to avoid this one). If they had seen the race from our perspective, they might not have wanted to admit to being a part of that circus.
And then they were off in the mid-morning again, to enjoy more havoc in another race. If we are lucky, they will finish here again. It's a pretty quiet afternoon.

Limin' in the Caribbean

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