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The Voyage of Spectacle 2007 March

The Voyage

Spectacles

Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

The Position

Bali, Indonesia

The Pictures

The Voyage of Spectacle

Archive for March, 2007

Heineken Regatta

Posted by: andy

We hadn’t initially intended to visit St. Martin.  Then, after we changed our minds (swapping out St. Barts), we intended to stay in St. Martin for only four days.  Then, while still in Tortola, we looked at the calendar.  Sure enough, the Heineken Regatta was set to begin four days after our arrival.  O.K., better make it a week (at least).

The Heineken Regatta is arguably the biggest sail-racing “meet” in the Caribbean each year.  It is inarguably one of the three biggest – alongside similar events in Antigua and Tortola.

There are big boats here – boats like ABN-AMRO I.  When you’ve won the Volvo Ocean Race, this is a piece of cake (even with the handicap).  There are also small boats competing here, plenty of them smaller than Spectacle.  Indeed, most of the racing is done on rented charter boats, mostly Beneteau and Dufour bareboats rented from Sunsail and The Moorings.  This sounds comparatively tame – it isn’t.  These folks have lots of training, lots of intensity, lots of crew and lots of competition.  There are at least 15 different classes (probably more), every single one of which is hotly contested (except, funnily enough, maybe the very biggest boats – I didn’t get the sense that ABN-AMRO I had much trouble).  The most competitive classes are boats just about Spectacle’s size.

It also is a notoriously big four-night party, one that moves around the island to various locations.

Truth be told, they don’t do the best job of advertising where everything is and when, so it was only on Day 3 that we really joined in the fun.  That day, the race was scheduled to end in Marigot, where Spectacle is currently moored.

That morning, Melissa began walking up the dock to the bathrooms.  We’re moored quite some way from them, so she had plenty of time to notice that the marina had gone from 70% full to about 20% full overnight.  On the way, she passed Etienne, the Belgian-fabulous director of the Marina.

“Everyone left,” she commented cheerfully.

“You stay here zehn, today?”  He queried, in his thick Belgian accent.  “You are not afraid?”

“Afraid? Of course not,” she replied, a bit confused.

“You will see,” he deadpanned, walking off.

At that point, Melissa noticed that every single free space in the marina had a “RESERVED” sign on it.  She returned to the boat and reported, “I think we’re going to have an eventful afternoon.”

Team Papillon and Etienne (Marina Director and Fellow Hard Partying Belgian) Artistically Conduct Marina Traffic to Ear-Splitting Wagner Sure enough, around 1:30 p.m., boats began pouring into the marina – it was a borderline traffic jam.  We stood on deck, boat hook in hand, fenders at the ready, waiting to see who was going to try to moor next to us and fend them off if necessary.  The high winds greatly increased the chances of disaster.

Thankfully, we emerged unscathed.  Some did not.  We saw one Dufour that had been T-boned during the race and had four bashed-in stanchions and a giant (big enough to crawl through) hole in its deck.  Surrounding the hole was blue paint.  Not flag-blue hull paint, but light-blue BOTTOM paint.  Someone had ridden up and over them.  Ouch.  Some poor sucker (who was surely not involved in the race) owns that boat and leased it out for the Regatta.  I’m sure he won’t be very happy even after the charter company “fixes” it.  By the way, I can’t speak well for the quality of Dufour decks (which involve plywood in inappropriate spots) now that I’ve seen a cross section.

Team Papillon Preparing to Med MoorAs the day wore on and cocktail hour began, we noticed that the boat that seemed to be having the most fun at the whole marina was about four slips down from us.  They had a Belgian flag flying and were partying up a storm.

  This was Team Papillon, indeed from Belgium, aboard a Beneteau 505.  Among Team Papillon’s sponsors was Laurent-Perrier, the champagne house.  Not too shabby.  I was told that part of the sponsorship arrangement was that the team was given one magnum per crew member (there were nine of them) per day to drink.  I have absolutely no doubt that they finished it all and more.

These guys were hilarious.  We partied up a storm with them.  Champagne and good cheer were flowingTeam Papillon Parties Hard Even With First Place on the Line Making Laurent-Perrier Proud! to such an extent that, eventually, the party moved into the water, and Melissa dutifully joined them, drinking out of a shared magnum while floating around the marina.  Needless to say, they liked her better than they liked me.

Part of their good cheer might have been owing to their performance.  They had won both of their races to that point, making them odds-on favorites to win their class (“Bareboat 4”) of about 15-20 boats.

Laurent-Perrier Would Not Be DisappointedAt this point, I decided that I needed to become an honorary member of Team Papillon.  I pulled the navigator, Guido, aside and recounted how Red Auerbach used to light up a victory cigar every time he knew the Celtics had the game won.

“I have a box of Cuban Romeo y Julieta Churchills on my boat,” I said.  “I’m going to go get nine of them and, once you know you have the race won, I want all nine of you to light one up.  It’s the American way.”

“We’ll do it,” he promised.

That night went VERY late.  The next day, we spent too much time in the sun, but, worn out as we were, we still managed to show up for the final Regatta party and awards presentation down on the Dutch side.  Sure enough, Papillon had won.  Still, I wondered about the cigars, but we were so tired we ended up heading back to Marigot at 9:30 before tracking any of them down.  I joked that, “Tonight we’re going to party like we’re 99.”  When do we ever “hang it up” at 9:30?

Two days later, I awoke to the following e-mail, sent from Belgium:

Hi there,

As we promised, we did light the 9 cigars before getting up to the podium!  We did succeed in winning all 3 races in Bareboat 4.  Last race, we started from the worst possible position, the last one ! – everybody tried to push us out.  On top, another boat hit us during the race, what made us loosing at least 1 min.  However we finished 2nd – 9 seconds after the Sinner team, but they got disqualified as they crossed the starting line to early (before starting shot). 

So Andy, I kept my promise .  Thx for the support & nice smoking stuff !

Best regards from the complete team,

Guido

Navigator, Papillon Team.

Thoughts on Saint Martin

Posted by: melissa

The Obelisk at the Border Makes for a Tame Crossing between France and HollandOn the north end of the Eastern Caribbean chain, the island of Saint Martin overlooks British (and super ritzy) Anguilla with another popular French West Indies enclave, St. Barts (also super ritzy), about 13 miles to the southeast.  With both Dutch and French sides, Saint Martin is the smallest island in the world shared by two different countries (about 38 total square miles).  After multiple skirmishes involving the Spanish and British and area indigenous peoples, the island’s border between Dutch and French has remained pretty much consistent since the agreement in 1648.  That border is totally open marked by a small obelisk and a Bienvenue / Welkom sign.

As big fans of French culture and cuisine, we planned to make landfall on the French side.  Marigot, the main town on the French side, is hustling and bustling … not much late nightlife but plenty of restaurants and shops especially given the nearby ferry dock. 

Built in 1767, Fort Louis was named after the famous and ill-fated French king, Louis XVI, and was established to protect Marigot from foreign invaders, particularly the British.  At the end of Rue de la Republique and in the shadow of Fort Louis, the Fort Louis Marina is definitely a landmark in Marigot and a great central point for island travel.  We quickly adopted a local café, the Deli Spoon, befriending the jack of all trades wait person, Carole, and taking advantage of its great food and coffee, high speed internet connection, and friendly regular clientele. 

The main drag in Grand Case (about 5 miles northeast of Marigot) hosts the French side’s cuisine trophies, and we spent many a long, wine-swilling, cheese-tasting, multi-course-enjoying evening there.  We visited the infamous Orient Beach with its beautiful views and white sand beach like talcum powder, oh and, naked sun worshippers everywhere.  And of course, we hit the infamous Sunset Beach Bar in all its glory, complete with 747s skimming the roof of the bar on their final descent, best bikini body contests, and shots.  We were mightily impressed.

We ventured to the Dutch side of the island several times … the Sunset Beach Bar, an expensive trip to Budget Marine (now renamed “Break-Your-Budget” Marine), and Kim Sha beach for the marquee event closing the Heineken Regatta.  Against our better judgment, we also made a trip to Philipsburg.

Most of the travel guides describe Saint Martin as a crassly over-developed island ruthlessly pursuing the tourist dollar.  Throughout our stay, we found this synopsis to be totally silly as we experienced nothing but happy-go-lucky, as well as happy-to-help, locals.  No hustling, no pan-handling, no aggressive sales tactics, no thinly-veiled street scams, no “special” pricing, no shamelessly tacky crap stores, nothing.  Frankly, French Saint Martin has been our stand-out favorite Caribbean island thus far.

The Beach Boardwalk at Phillipsburg, Saint Martin, Dutch SideSadly, Philipsburg is a whole different ball of wax.  With terrible traffic and little parking, the entire town is quite commercial and charm-free except for the areas easily walked by cruise ship tourists in a 3-to-4-hour shore excursion.  The beach boardwalk is somewhat picturesque with a nice anchorage, millions of beach chairs, and generic bars and The Problem with Phillipsburgrestaurants.  The huge shopping street is jampacked with cruise ship patrons walking in circles and methodically muttering the words “duty free” under their breath.  The retail competition, especially among jewelry  stores, is ferocious and palpably desperate.  We bought some consumer goods, mistakenly ate at a French restaurant (on the Dutch side? Hello!), and high-tailed it back to France in soul-crushing traffic.

Grazing Pigs and Chickens in PhillipsburgIn lieu of a specific event, a mandatory trip to the island’s best chandlery, a flight, or a jaunt to the Sunset Beach Bar, there’s little reason to cross the border.  The picture to the right sums up our thoughts on Philipsburg.   

 

Martinique, French West Indies

Posted by: melissa

Volcanic in origin and surrounded by coral limestone reefs in the south, Martinique’s 416 total square miles resembles a right-handed mitten anchored in the north by the ominous 4,656 foot Mont Pele.  Martinique is centrally located in the Eastern Caribbean chain between the windward islands of Dominica and St. Lucia.  With a population of 430,000, Martinique is the second most populous island in the Lesser Antilles after Trinidad.  About one-third of the total population resides in Fort de France, Martinique’s capital city on the west coast.

Columbus discovered Martinique in 1502 but did not establish a colony, leaving the indigenous Caribs The Approach to the Very Beautiful Island of Martiniquetemporarily undisturbed.  In 1635, a group of about 100 French colonizers came from St. Kitts, settling on the western coast in the area later known as St. Pierre.  The colony built a fort, planted crops, and after many violent skirmishes, struck a truce with the Caribs to peacefully coexist on opposite sides of the island.  The 1650’s were enormously profitable for the French colony based on the shipping of agricultural goods to Europe, most notably sugar cane to France.  The roots of Martinique’s unusual, love/hate relationship with France began with this early colony … especially when a governor unsuccessfully attempted to enforce the Exclusif, an unpopular law prohibiting trade from Martinique to anywhere but France.

The Approach to the Very Beautiful Island of MartiniqueLike most of the Caribbean islands, Martinique changed hands several times.  In the 1700’s, the British gained interest in the rich and strategically placed island causing a struggle nearly two centuries long.  Even so, Martinique enjoyed relative political stability (for more than 20 years under the British flag) and avoided much of the chaos experienced in Guadeloupe and St. Domingue (which would become Haiti after North America’s only successful slave rebellion establishing a black republic).

The French reacquired Martinique for good in 1815 under the Vienna Treaty; however, the return to French rule was bittersweet for islanders due to France’s continued endorsement of slavery.  Sadly, it was Martinique’s own favorite daughter, Marie-Rose Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, better known as the Empress Bride of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was behind the reintroduction of slavery in Martinique.  After several slave riots, Victor Schoelcher mobilized the anti-slavery movement and abolition was declared in 1848.

Martinique's Black Sand Beaches Towards the NorthMartinique is a spectacularly beautiful island.  The imposing rocky cliffs in the north soften to rolling hills of lush rainforest, endless acres of banana trees, and sugar cane swaying rhythmically in the ocean breeze.  The southern beaches enjoy crystal blue water and white sand beaches while the sand becomes increasingly darker and striking towards the more volcanic north.

St. Pierre and Mont Pele

Posted by: melissa

In the late 1800’s, St. Pierre was referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles.  As the cultural and commercial center of Martinique, St. Pierre was also considered the prettiest city of all the Caribbean with its hillside red-roofed buildings, cobblestone streets, and seafront promenade overlooking a magnificent bay.  With a population of about 30,000, the modern “Little Paris” enjoyed prosperity with electricity and telephones and theaters and industry.

Mont PeleAlas, legend has it that as the European settlers murdered the last of the indigenous Caribs in 1658, they invoked the horrible curse of Mont Pele (known to them as “the mountain of fire”) to take revenge.  No one can be sure about the curse, but unbeknownst to the fancy Creole society women with their midday parasols, and multi-millionaire plantation owners of the inland plains, and the French sailors escaping the home land for Caribbean adventure and indulgence, Mont Pele was one of the most violent volcanoes in the Caribbean.

Quiet for the first 200 years of St. Pierre’s existence, Mont Pele rumbled in 1851 covering the town in ash and creating a lake in the crater.  Towards the end of April, 1902, Mont Pele demanded to be heard.  A research party investigated the peak and found that a cauldron of boiling mud had replaced the lake.  The surrounding rivers became sulphurous and poisonous, killing the fish.  Rumblings, plumes of smoke, and showers of ash continued.  On May 2, 1902, plantation owner Pierre Laveniere went to inspect his crops with a group of workers only to be swept away in an avalanche of boiling mud.  On May 5, 1902, an eruption of effluent mud and lava estimated to be one quarter mile wide and 100 feet high destroyed the Guerin Estate (one of the richest in the area).

Even with this clear warning, all but about 1000 Pierrotins opted not to evacuate.  St. Pierre’s mayor delivered reassuring proclamations despite the recent deaths.  The local newspaper, Les Colonies, publicly ridiculed evacuees as hysterical and panic-ridden.  Word came from St. Vincent that Mount Soufriere had blown which would “relieve Pele’s pressure.”  Additionally, the new Governor Louis Mouttet was thought to be overwhelmed by the idea of a mass evacuation and wished the whole situation would just go away.  Influential business owners further persuaded Mouttet against evacuation to avoid financial losses.

On May 8, 1902, Ascension Day, as Catholic residents sat in church to take Communion, the mountainside glowed red and Mont Pele split open releasing more energy than an atomic bomb.  The Mach 3 shockwave of fiery and poisonous gas was followed by pyroclastic molten flow traveling at a shocking 250 miles per hour.  In two minutes, St. Pierre was vaporized and approximately 30,000 people burned to death, carbonized where they lay.  With temperatures of 750 degrees Fahrenheit, the gas and lava proceeded into the ocean transforming the harbor into a smoldering cauldron with ships engulfed in flames and capsized by the resultant tidal waves.

Almost nothing was spared, and survival stories are sparse and freakish.  One of two survivors, Auguste Cybaris, was in the jailhouse which provided protection with thick stone walls and only a small, grilled window.  Cybaris was in jail for drunk and disorderly (or for murder — depending on the source), The Ruins of the Jailhouse Which Spared Auguste Cybaris from the Devastating Volcanoalthough the minimum security jail was typically used for short term sentences, so you can decide for yourself.  Cybaris made a career out of his ordeal by joining the Barnum Circus and appearing in a replica of his life-saving cell until his death in 1955.  Leon Leandre, a cobbler, survived the disaster by skipping Ascension Day church services and working in his cellar.  The one surviving ship, the HMS Roddam, limped into the harbor at Castries, St. Lucia, later that day with the Captain severely burned but still at the helm.  Much of the crew burned to death on deck or jumped ship to certain death before a tidal wave broke the ship’s mooring loose.

Mont Pele continued to rumble for several months, and in November of 1902, a glowing spindle of solidified lava emerged from the crater eventually reaching a height of 800 feet until it collapsed nine months later.

Needless to say, the 1902 eruption of Mont Pele was a cataclysmic disaster from which the glamorous city of St. Pierre never recovered.  Currently, only 5,000 people inhabit the city, and though the volcano has been quiet for a very long time, researchers and vulcanologists monitor the mountain carefully.

Many ruins still stand, with blackened walls, occasional modern add-ons, and climbing, flowered vines.  The skeletons of the old theater (a replica from Bordeaux which must have been spectacular) and the neighboring jailhouse (including Cybaris’ own cell in fact) are by far the best of the ruins.  Originally built in 1635 by the very first settlers, pieces of the fort still remain as well.  The small Musee Volcanique contains old pictures of the fabulous, pre-eruption St. Pierre as well as post-eruption artifacts including beautiful china cups and saucers fused together in stacks from the heat.

When avoiding cheesy things like the tram (just walk, it’s only like two miles), the Melissa and the Theater Staircasehydraulic bumping low rider cars in the significant traffic congestion, and the inevitable T-shirt shops, St. Pierre is eerie and ghostlike.  Standing alone at the top of theater’s double staircase, looking out on the sparkling blue water of the strikingly beautiful bay, imagining the parties and high life and culture of St. Pierre, it’s impossible not to be affected by this very distant, but catastrophic, tragedy.  More Pictures

Fort de France, Martinique, French West Indies

Posted by: melissa

After Mont Pele destroyed the thriving and fabulous St. Pierre, Fort de France emerged as more than just a backwater town with the title of official administrative capital.  Fort de France is strategically located (as are all pretty much all the capital cities of the Caribbean) on the island’s leeward side with a naturally protected harbor and the ominous and historically busy Fort St. Louis, established in 1639.

After parking the car, we opted against visiting Fort St. Louis as the walk to get there reminded us both of Frogger.  Across from the Fort, the Savane is Fort de France’s central park, and unfortunately, the whole area was cordoned off with chained-link fence during our tour day.  This park houses the statue of Josephine, who, as I mentioned previously, is Martinique’s famous, but not-so-favorite, Josephine's Monument in the Savane (Central Park), Fort de France, Martiniquedaughter.  Under normal circumstances, the statue would face her beloved home of Trois-Ilets, located across the Fort de France bay to the south.  However, in 1992, the statue of Josephine was beheaded, her trunk splashed in red paint, and the accompanying signage either covered in angry Creole graffiti or all-out destroyed, in an obvious political statement.  Josephine’s head has Vandals Protest Josephine's Posted Biography at the Monumentnever been recovered and, more relevant to one’s understanding of Fort de France’s vibe, the monument has never been repaired nor removed.  There she stands, Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte the Great, cousin of Aimee Dubuc de Rivery (also known as Sultana Valide and adoptive mother of Emperor Mahmoud II), headless and symbolically bleeding and desecrated for more than a decade, and nobody seems to care.  More Pictures

Near the Savane lies the Schoelcher library, which was built in Paris in 1889 for the World’s Fair.   After the exhibition, the entire building, a baroque The Schoelcher Libraryassortment of iron arches and fretwork, was dismantled, sent to Martinique, and reassembled to house Victor Schoelcher’s personal book collection.  The old part of this working library is quite beautiful with its floor-to-ceiling stacks of antique books, stained glass domed ceiling, and exhibits of local artists.  More Pictures

We then headed to the Palais de Justice, which is the Palais de Ugly, and Hotel de Ville, which is mildly interesting.  Rounding a corner to find the beginning of the famous, and supposedly haute couture, Rue Victor Hugo, we also stumbled onto a nice square with a nice statue of Schoelcher … and a port-a-potty.

The guidebook says:

Fort de France, the capital of Martinique, is the largest and liveliest city in the Windwards.  It is a great place for people-watching, and shops and restaurants abound.  The central Rue de la Republique has been turned into a delightful pedestrian street.

How much time do I get for rebuttal?

Andy and I stood in Martinique’s “center of the universe,” the intersection of Rue de la Republique and Rue Victor Hugo (just the names of the streets alone insinuate their importance), blinking and confused.  No bars anywhere.  No street musicians.  No sidewalk cafes.  No pushcarts selling baguettes and espresso shots.  Indeed no restaurants of any kind, except one … KFC.  Of the very few open shops at 3:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, not one interested us.

Fort de France's Charm-Free Urban Sprawl  What the intersection does have is loiterers … locals, by the hundreds, doing nothing … many staring in an unfriendly way.

    As such, we got in the car and left … even though we knew it meant another crappy meal at Mango’s, the marina restaurant.  Not only was there nothing to do, Fort de France felt threatening, and I didn’t want to see it at night.  More Pictures


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