Martinique belongs to the French Antilles and it is a well-known pit stop for many (especially French) sailors and cruisers on the Trade Winds route who like to drop their anchors in the many bays the island offers to restock on water, food, fresh croissants and baguettes!
The economy of the island strongly depends on a few agricultural crops such as bananas (first employer of the island) and sugar cane, used to produce the famous rhum agricole the one and only in the world to hold an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). Right after comes tourism, especially dense and developed in the south of the island where Tres Hombres lands.
It highly relies on mainland France for many resources. Landing in Martinique means also entering French territory, in all meanings. The most consumed and appreciated fruit of this tropical paradise is….the apple. But be sure there is not even one single apple tree growing on the whole island. We won’t dwell here on the post-colonialism issues and consequences that many islands in the Caribbean area still suffer nowadays, but it is essential we keep this awareness well sharp in mind.
Even street markets can be very expensive, many products are imported and the average tourist consumerism is one of the greatest sources of income for the local community. Once a pineapple grower, who also owned a stall at the local market, told us that she had to sell her pineapples very expensive in Martinique because she had to give most of her production to France. She cannot really set a fair price for it. So what remains of her harvest can then be sold freely in the market, but this is the only situation where she is able to choose the price of her fruits herself and to compensate for the little she earns by dealing with the mainland, the local market prices are skyrocketing.
Marie Galante, a little island southwest of Guadalupe, is a true pearl and offers a different experience. Definitely more rural than its bigger sisters, Marie Galante still conserves some of its real wild and authentic beauty. Still pretty untouched by the invasive mass tourism and the wicked private construction which ravaged many of the other islands, the time seems to have stopped here. The local community is still very attached to its customs and tradition, animal traction is still widely preferred to mechanical labor of the soil. More oxen and less tractors!
We love this island and try to respect it as best as we can.
I was in such a daze stepping on land for the first time in three weeks when I went to the first little market in Saint Anne that I think I may have got a little ‘done’. I remember thinking that the kilo price for the bananas seemed high, but I was so scrambled and overwhelmed by being off the boat I didn’t properly clock it. Luckily it was only a quick little shop I did there with not too much money wasted.
At the next market in Le Marin, I was a bit more on it, although definitely feeling hindered by not speaking French. The ladies there were businesswomen and know how to hustle. I definitely bought some unintended pineapples as a result of this! However the food was good and I was keen to stock up the dry store after the crossing, especially as I wasn’t sure if we would be able to go ashore in Barbados because of Covid rules. I bought breadfruit at the market and once it got soft and sweet I fried up like plantain. Most of the people on board had not eaten it before. When I provision it’s important for me to find unusual local items and for the food we eat to evolve and change with our surroundings.
Such a tiny, tiny little island. Marie Galante has a population of 10,000 and only three small villages. In the village we were closest to there were two little veg stalls. With the help of Cami, our Bosun and native French speaker, we managed to organize a larger order of vegetables through one of these stalls. They were quite happy about it, so we got offered to pick up any old veggie that couldn’t be sold, for free. The average tourist cares a bit too much about the sexiness of the fruits and veggies. The first night of picking up a BIG vegetable soup was made!
So three months have already passed since we left Den Helder.
We’ve visited several ports and cities, survived the bay of Biscay, sailed past a volcano island, and crossed the Atlantic ocean.
We finally arrived in the Caribbean. To be honest, it took me a moment – and another look at the map – to realize where we were. So far from home, but still feeling at home.
The ‘pirate ship’ has reached its destination, ready to fill her belly with some of the finest rums.
Loading the barrels in the ports of La Palma and Barbados – surrounded by huge cruise ships – was impressive, but let me tell you a story about swimming barrels from boat to the beach, and back!
Approaching the beautiful island of Marie Galante really looks like it’s cut out of a movie. Crystal clear water, empty white beaches, palm trees, and turtles popping their heads out of the water every now and then. We dropped anchor in the bay next to St.Louis and took the empty barrels out of the cargo hold to prepare the unloading for the next morning.
First a little explanation. Why do we swim the barrels?
On an engineless sailing cargo ship, like Tres Hombres we like to stick to this spirit as much as we can. So whenever it is possible we use our own muscle power, instead of burning petrol. It’s also a tradition of the old days of sailing cargo we like to keep alive and celebrate on Tres Hombres. Back in the time when there were no big industrial ports, it was normal to anchor, drop the barrels overboard, and swim them to shore.
Last but not least it’s a lot of fun and a highlight for the whole crew and all the people who come to watch and sometimes also join us.
A working day on board Tres Hombres
Waking up with the sunrise, enjoying porridge and coffee for breakfast.
Dropped the first barrel overboard. I took the chance and grabbed the first barrel, followed by three other swimmers and one mermaid (yes, you read it right, a mermaid!). Enjoying a nice swim, facing a small Caribbean paradise island, and watching little fishes pass you by. What a way to start a working day.
After a 20 minutes swim we reached the abandoned beach. We rolled the barrels out of the water and carried them through a little palm tree forest to the trucks of the distillery. Together with the people from the Pere Labat, we unloaded our barrels and off they went to be filled.
Our Captain Francois joined the team at Pere Labat Distillery and filled up the barrels himself. The Pere Labat Distillery is one of the three distilleries on the island, which produces Rhum Agricole directly out of the sugar cane juice.
A few days after loading the barrels we visited the distillery and were able to get a glimpse into their production process, and of course, getting to taste some of their delicious rums.
After a few hours, the barrels were back at the beach, ready to be carried off to the ship.
For unloading the barrels from the truck we used the help of a small crane because after being filled up they weight around about 250 kg. The reason that we weighed them is for quality control, to know their weight when they leave the distillery and then how heavy they are upon arrival in Amsterdam. During the crossing evaporation of the rum occurs, making the barrel lighter. This is what we call the angel’s share.
Rolling the barrels back through the palm tree forest and down the beach, our swimming team was ready to take over again. It’s tough work because we have to roll them in a special way, to make sure that the cork doesn’t get stuck in the sand. If you get close to the cork you can already smell the rum inside. Swimming the full barrels is the easiest with at least two people, to be able to push them through the waves and towards the ship.
Back at our Black Lady, as we like to nickname her on board, the other part of the crew has already prepared the ropes and chains to hoist the barrels out of the water. Now, the sweaty part starts. The barrels have to be loaded carefully, they’re almost as heavy as a baby elephant. Good communication and teamwork are the keys to a satisfying loading so that the barrels are stowed securely and arrive safely at their destination – which could be your living room!
Now the sun is setting on another adventurous day. We end the cargo day with a more refreshing swim in the turquoise waters, raising a glass of last year’s stellar rum, all hands toasting together: Long Life to Sail Cargo!