20 December 2017 | St Pierre Martinique
We had a very exciting sail to Saint Pierre on Martinique. As it was 77 miles, we set off around 5am and the skipper proposed we do watches. The conditions were so changeable, however, all hands were needed on deck most of the time for lots of foredeck sail changes and reefings of the main sail. It was champagne sailing with lovely weather and Trilogy enjoyed herself by averaging over 7 knots. We also saw the little Caribbean dolphins, who came to say hello. We were anchored in the pretty bay of St Pierre in good daylight.
The bay is a lovely sweep, going from the town to the verdant cliffs behind, to cultivated green fields, and then the majestic Mount Pelee volcano shrouded in cloud. The town, established in 1635, was the capital until the 1902 Pelee eruption, which completely wiped out what was known as the Paris of the Caribbean, killing all 30,000 inhabitants bar one, a prisoner in gaol, who was freed by French sailors three days after the eruption.
We toured the northern part of the island, visiting Morne Rouge on the slope of the volcano, where 1,500 inhabitants perished in 1902. They still hold an annual commemorative event, where they pray before a beautiful statute of the Virgin Mary carved in Normandy. The highlight of the day was a visit to the Jardin de Balata (the photo is one of many taken there) which has been created by the landscape architect Jean Philippe Thoze. They are stunning, perhaps even better than the ones in Guadeloupe. The views to the coast through flowers and foliage are amazing, especially from the swinging bridges between the trees. The bromeliad collection is huge.
Next day's highlights included the Zoo, also planned by Thoze, and set in the ruins of Habitation Latouche, built in 1650 and destroyed in 1902. It was a sugar, rum, indigo and manioca plantation, with slave quarters, a hospital, dams, and an aqueduct. The zoo is a series of board walks (including swinging bridges again) past animal enclosures. The animals included a giant anteater, tortoises, a capybara, a puma, a black jaguar, monkeys, wallabies, flamingoes, galahs, lorikeets, macaws, butterflies, fish and South American caimans. A lovely and interesting experience. We also visited the Gaugin museum. Gaugin came here for only four months in 1887 but produced some of the most beautiful paintings, though we of course only saw reproductions. (He also lived in Tobago and worked on the Panama Canal. He went on to live in Tahiti and the Marquesses, where the Lehmans and Leslies have seen his grave.) Poor tortured genius.