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The Delights of Ste. Anne

We arrived in Ste. Anne, Martinique, in the Caribbean, over a month ago, and since we are likely to spend at least another month here, it’s time to become acquainted with our winter home.

Martinique is a French territory with significant autonomy. It is approximately 14 degrees of latitude north, 61 degrees of longitude south. Camino is anchored in Ste. Anne Bay, a wide and shallow area of water, with anchoring depths ranging from six to 25 feet throughout the bay, making it a desirable place to drop the hook. Ste. Anne itself comprises the entire southern tip of island, though the village is tight to the bay.

The water is vibrant, clear, and swimmable, and in fact there are a couple of nice beaches facing the bay, full of marine life, including octopi, varieties of fish, and turtles. Around the southern tip are three of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, which we will feature below.

We came to Martinique for many reasons. First, it was a good goal for our first season of sailing. With more time we might have ventured farther north, but Martinique held other delights for us, including provisioning and access to health care. Within dinghy distance are several large markets filled with French food and products we have been missing, including cheese, wine, rhum agricole, and chacuterie. Seeing a doctor and getting prescriptions refilled is also easy here.

Ste. Anne itself is a charming village that blends French and Creole culture in equal parts. There is no shortage of holiday-makers from France stationed here throughout the winter, and no shortage of residences to accommodate them. But the village has retained its charm, refusing to be developed into something kitschy. It remains intimate, featuring a daily market, a fish market (when fisherman bring in their catches, someone blows into a conch shell to announce fresh fish), a classic boulangerie, and several excellent restaurants.

The center of Ste. Anne is the Catholic church, which still rings its clock bells between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., but also for calls the prayer, morning, noon, and night. Attendance at mass is overwhelmingly by locals, with a smattering of visitors, and masses are full. When we first arrived here, the village came to a stop for a funeral mass at the church, bringing traffic to a halt. The church looks directly out to the town square and the public dock beyond. Behind the church is a steep, penance-inducing, switch-backed path featuring the stations of the cross. The reward is the epiphanic view at the top, encompassing the entire bay.

Ste. Anne also offers cruisers the chance to get off the boat and hike. Along the southern tip of the island are three pristine beaches, the largest being Grande Anse Salines. This beach is a gorgeous expanse of sand, with plenty of shady mangroves to hang out it. And when lunch rolls around, there are a half-dozen excellent beach restaurants featuring local cuisine and seafood.

The hiking gets better with the Traces des Capes, a long trail encompassing the beaches, and featuring a trek through the remarkable Savanes des Petrifications, a desertified area of the southern tip invoking a moonscape. If the hike is too much, there are municipal buses that run on schedule seven days a week.

Finally, there is Ste. Anne’s proximity to Le Marin Marina, without being part of that vast operation. With a half-dozen well-stocked chandleries, Le Marin is a destination for boat maintenance. We were able to find the anchor chain we needed for the best price in the Caribbean. The marina also features great restaurants, mooring slips and balls, a fuel and water dock, what seems like dozens of sailboat charter companies, and access to many other shops, like the aforementioned groceries, hardware stores, and technical shops. It’s a hive of activity. The dinghy ride over from Ste. Anne is sporty and salty and at turns terrifying as you enter the main channel and compete for space with big boats, but it affords boaters the chance to fill their dinghies with booty and return back to the peace of Ste. Anne.

Ste. Anne has enough for us to seriously consider making in a regular winter stop. That’s not to say we are done with Vermont winters forever, but places like this enchant and inspire us to think about where we want to continue our camino.

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