Marin, Martinique

We got to Martinique on December 11, 2022, after a 19.5 hour motorsail from Bequia.  We absolutely fell in love and ended up staying seven weeks. 

Moving from south to north, there are four primary anchorages on the Caribbean side of Martinique:  Sainte-Anne, Le Marin, Fort-de-France, and Saint-Pierre.  Each offers something different.  Sainte-Anne is a tiny tourist town with a large bay that can have as many as 400 anchored boats in high season; Le Marin has easy access to every shop or boat service you could ever need; Fort-de-France is the capital and has the cruise ship terminal, so it has the most hustle and bustle; and Saint-Pierre is a sleepy town at the foot of Mount Pelée.

We elected to remain in Le Marin for our entire stay, and that was a great decision.  Le Marin is home to Marina du Marin, which is a huge marina with well over 100 mooring balls.  We took a mooring ball for the ridiculously low price of 110 euros a month, and man, was that money well spent; the showers were excellent, the moorings were well-maintained, and the marina office staff were incredibly helpful.

With such a large and busy bay, we saw every kind of boat and ship, from kayaks to huge carriers delivering motor yachts. Some of our favorites were the wooden tall ships like this one.

Le Marin (in French, “the sailor”) is the hub for nautical services in Martinique.  There is a boat chandlery seemingly on every corner, and it’s where the charter fleet is located.  The living in Le Marin is easy, and that was a really nice change.  Everything we needed was within a short walk from one of three dinghy docks:  grocery stores, laundromats, banks, pharmacies, doctors, restaurants, patisseries, fishing and diving supply stores, hair salons, you name it, they had it.

Le Marin is an intriguing mix of old and new architecture, and there are little cafes dotted all along the shoreline.

The best part, though, is that Le Marin is on many major bus routes and also has several car rental companies.  We ended up seeing virtually the entire island either by bus or car.  The buses were clean, on time, and modern; it was a huge change (and improvement) from Grenada’s more wild west bus system.  Over several days we took the bus to Sainte-Anne, Fort-de-France, and a huge shopping mall southeast of Fort-de-France.  

The hills rise steeply around Le Marin, so we definitely got our exercise when walking into town. Old and new rub shoulders charmingly.
At the top of a hill overlooking the bay is Église Saint-Étienne du Marin, a cheerful Catholic church. They tolled their bells every day.

We also rented a car for three days and were able to visit the Jardin de Balata botanical garden and tons of rum distilleries. 

The Jardin de Balata is an incredible botanical garden that winds around an old Creole house.
One neat feature of the Jardin de Balata is the aerial walkway. It gives a unique perspective amongst the towering trees and is just plain fun.

Martinique is known for its rum, and it is different from the rum from other islands.  Martinique rum is called “rhum agricole,” meaning that it is made from freshly pressed sugar cane juice, not molasses, which is a byproduct of sugar production.  That gives it a distinct flavor. 

We ended up taking tours from nine distilleries:  Trois Rivieres, La Favorite, Depaz, Rhum JM, Neisson, St. James, La Mauny, A1710, and Galion (which is actually a sugar factory that produces rum made from {gasp} molasses).  These distilleries were all over the island, and it gave us a great excuse to take scenic road trips.  We also got to sample a truckload of rum, so a good time was had by all.  

Visiting the rum distilleries was not just an education in the rum distilling process; usually it was also a chance to stroll through gorgeous grounds. This is a view of the windmill through the holding tanks at Trois Rivieres distillery.
My personal favorite distillery was Rhum JM, which is at the foot of Mount Pelée, an active volcano in the north of Martinique. The grounds were astounding, and the rum is made from spring water from the mountain itself.

We were lucky enough to be around for the Grand Yoles Championship; the course was inside Marin Bay.  Yoles (pronounced “yull”) are Martinican boats that are light, fast, and shallow with a rounded hull; if the boat stops, it will tip over and capsize.  They are sailed with one or two sail, and crew hoist themselves out on long, movable poles to balance the boat.  These crew are serious athletes, and they are so incredibly coordinated.   The race drew a huge, enthusiastic crowd of supporters, and we really enjoyed ourselves.  

When the yoles are still, they are incredibly tippy, so they must be braced upright. This is the starting line for the race.
We’ve done our share of physically demanding sailboat racing but nothing like this. The two crew on the bow handle the foresail, the crew in the middle hike out on the poles, and two crew on the enormous rudder scull and steer. The whole crew is in constant motion, and it is impressive to watch.
The upper body strength on these crews is unbelievable.

Most of the food in Martinique is imported from France, so we were in heaven.  We reveled in croissants, pain au chocolat, little dry sausages, gruyere and emmental cheeses, baguettes, cassoulets, creamy yogurt, and tiny (but potent!) espressos.  I stocked up on canned haricots verts (thin, delicate green beans), green olives in brine, and gratin dauphinois (scalloped potatoes), and we’re still happily munching on them.  I see now why every cruiser I meet says to provision in Martinique!   

All good things must come to an end, though, so we left Marin and headed north.  We anchored for one night off of St. Pierre, on the northern side of Martinique, and then headed to Roseau, Dominica, on February 1.