Our journey continues, however, without David Senn who had to return to Switzerland due to his teaching commitment. On our way to Saint Pierre, we learn about the main event of local history: the volcanic eruption in 1902. The mayor of St. Pierre and many other people take the opportunity to inspect the solar catamaran.
After 29 days on the high sea, we had a tight schedule during our stop over in Martinique. The hours before departure were busy too: The usual formalities at customs and in the harbor's office, saying good-bye to the Swiss TV crew; Beat returning his rental bike; good-bye hugs and photos with old and new friends.
On 12 February, we started at 11 o'clock, without David Senn who had to return to Switzerland because of his teaching commitment. We took course towards the diamond rock; we experienced it as a mysterious fairytale island and we were reminded of Arnold Böcklin's "Funeral Island". There is a legend that the English troops carried 300 canons on top of the rock. As a historian, Beat would like to study the original documents in the archives of the Admiralty in London before he believes this story.
On our way to Saint Pierre, we were passing the big oil central power station of the island. Its three smokestacks emit big clouds of exhaust fumes. In the next bay, huge flames puffed thick, dark gray smoke clouds into the sky – a house burned. And half an hour later, we saw and heard a red fire truck crossing a bridge.
Just before sunset, we arrived at the beach of St. Pierre, a small town near the highest mountain on Martinique, the volcano "La Montagne Pelée". A boat was approaching, who steered it? Albert Falco, the former captain of the "Calypso" of Jean Cousteau – 80 years old, tanned, in good shape, diving regularly in the coral reefs. Raphaël Domjan, the initiator of the project PlanetSolar had connected us with Captain Falco, one of his mentors. Raphaël wants to circle the globe with a solar boat in 2009; he has joined us with his friend Sévérine for a few days. We were sitting with Falco and two of his friends and watched the "green ray" at sunset. Falco described us the main event of local history: the volcanic eruption in 1902 that killed all 30,000 inhabitants with only a few exceptions. One of them was Louis Cyparis, who was put to jail because of excessive drinking and who was protected by the thick walls. After that, he toured as a circus attraction in the USA.
Here, we are anchoring facing the big mountain with its green sugar-cane fields and woods and its cloud cap.
On Tuesday morning, our divers went scuba diving with Albert Falco. They visited the coral reef, shipwrecks from the catastrophe of 1902, where a big variety of animals and plants are squatting the galleys, saloons and bridges of the old three mast frigates. Falco expressed his concerns about the future of the coral reefs: Last year, the seawater was warmer than usual. About a fifth of the reefs died. Falco is trying to build up some marine reservations where there is no fishing allowed.
The other part of the crew went to town. It is a dwelling of big contrasts between partial decay and strong impulses for modernization. We were told that, before the 1902 eruption, there was a tramway pulled by mules. Today, there is so much traffic – often SUVs – that the roads are constantly blocked. Only the lower parts of the neo-baroque church remained after the volcano eruption. It was rebuild in a simpler neo-roman style. The theatre, however, was not reconstructed. What a pity! At least, there is a touching very provincial museum St. Pierre before and after. A completely deformed church bell stands in the middle of the two modest halls.
When we woke up this morning, the "Montagne Pelée" was completely covered by rain clouds; but, here in these tropical countries, this is a matter of ten minutes. It looks as if it will rain for days; and some minutes later the sky is blue again. Sometimes, a rainbow reminds us of the wet episode that has passed us. Today, we saw a "rainbow cushion" lying on the horizon sea line. Beat, our French consultant, went straight to the Mayors office and said: "Good morning, we from the solar boat are here."
After some phone calls, the Mayor came personally to invite him for a drink, together with his staff. Beat invited them onto our boat, but how to get them there since we have anchored off shore. Should we put the Mayor & Co. on our lifeboat? No, it is much better to move the "sun21" to the landing stage – an opportunity for these officials and for many other people to visit the boat and to have a short round trip on it, among them are Nathalie Berger with Marc and Olivier from Basel, who surprisingly show up after their arrival yesterday. Another invitation to the beach restaurant was the end of this "unofficial" reception.
Beat accepted an invitation to a tour offered by the Deputy Mayor to the new Center for Research on Earth and Volcanic science of Martinique and of the Antilles islands. It was overwhelming. The building is modern and generously designed. The research results are rich and very well presented. The exhibition and the film are also horrifying. The eruption of 1902 was by far not the only one; e.g. in several areas of Domenica the surfacing heat of the Earth is also causing all kinds of smoke, steam, boiling waters. After having seen these moving pictures, Beat steps out the building and sees a lovely scenery with the bay in peaceful evening light, like the lakes of Switzerland. And in the middle of this bay, this report has been typed, late at night. Good night/good morning!
Weather: Stable with quick tropical variations and short rain showers, constantly warm, no strong winds, no waves in the bay, because we are on the protected West side of La Martinique.