Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Carriacou to Martinique - Assisting French Customs Along The Way

French Customs Patrol Boat

Two weeks ago we sailed out of Tyrell Bay in Carriacou, heading for Martinique, looking for our first taste of France in the Caribbean. It was a 24 hour passage, covering some 130 nautical miles, and involved a mixture of spirited sailing, and flat calms requiring the engine to keep us moving forward.  We sailed right past the Tobago Cays, Mustique, Bequia, St Vincent and St Lucia - many wonderful anchorages - however life just isn't long enough to stop at every island and we're still on a mission to reach the USA before the end of May. Equally, we're careful about personal security and were committed to bypassing St.Vincent, among others (St. Vincent is responsible for more than half of all security incidents involving cruisers in the Caribbean area).

The Vessel Of Interest- Click The Image To Enlarge
Approaching Martinique we were over-flown by a patrol aircraft, then an hour or so later a very beautifully presented patrol boat (so very French) approached us at speed and asked our intentions. They sat on our stern quarter while we worked our way through the basic identification tasks for the vessel and crew, established our intentions as tourists in Martinique and as bona-fide cruisers for the past 12 years before approving our approach to the island and wishing us a good day.

Their final question was to ask if we has seen any unusual boat activity in the past few hours - which we had. I explained that we had observed a small trimaran on a reciprocal course (it was heading south) that seemed to be badly handled, with sails not trimmed properly and steering a little wildly.  They were immediately interested and asked for all of our observations, timing, position etc. - it was clear this was a vessel they were looking for. I explained that the vessel was transmitting its position via AIS, and that as our navigation system logged all targets and data I could replay our course and establish its last known position received by AIS.

Now they were really interested and offered to stand by while we shut down the Transas navigation software and re-booted it in playback mode, scanning for that vessel and event. It took 10 minutes but we were eventually able to give them an accurate last known position, course and speed for the offending vessel, after which they thanked us profusely and steamed on their way. We're not sure what was going on, but were sure happy to help.

Arriving in Fort De France a few hours later we anchored in 4 meters of water, close to the old fort on good mud holding ground and found ourselves right in the heart of town - what a joy! The French had provided a nice dinghy dock on the bay promenade, and it was literally only 50 meters to the first coffee shop and restaurant. Oh joy, welcome to France.

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