Thanks to the very weird weather that’s been going on we finally had a reprieve from the dominate east winds and we made it to St. Martin. As I’m writing this there is a hurricane in the Atlantic…very strange weather indeed considering that it is January! “Hurricane Alex: System Forms in Atlantic Ocean in January for 1st Time Since 1938”.
We sailed out of St. Croix around sunrise with a light east/southeast wind. Eventually the wind died and we ended up motoring the rest of the way. It was an uneventful trip and we were just fine with that! Thankfully the dreaded Kracken did not overtake us in the middle of the night!! Rachel was a big help taking her share of shifts too. I had forgot what it was like to have an extra hand at the helm. Haven’t had that since Charlie Brian’s dad was aboard. Now if we could just get Rachel to wake up earlier than us and make coffee in the morning like Charlie used to too…we would be in heaven! This was Rachel’s first “big” sail (overnight) with us and she did great! Total time at sea from St. Croix to St. Martin was about 21 hours.
Now about this crazy place. This is one island, but two different countries! It is in the eastern Caribbean, about 186 miles from Puerto Rico. The island is only 34 sq. miles. But despite its size, the presence of mountains, lagoons, and the fact that it is split between two countries make the island seem much bigger. Yup, that’s correct. The northern half belongs to France while the southern half belongs to the Netherlands! In fact, they say that it is the smallest inhabited sea island in the world to be split into two political entities.
The Dutch call it “Sint Maarten” while the French call it “Saint-Martin”. Each side has its own international airport, despite the island already being as small as it is. St. Maarten is probably the only place in the world where France and Netherlands share a border, since they certainly don’t touch each other in Europe! There is still some unity on the island though… they both have nice beaches, island culture, and trade winds.
As we were arriving to the island we had our VHF radio monitoring channel 16 as the norm and I was getting a bit worried because the only language they were speaking on the radio was French…yikes! Now we have learned a bit of Spanish through our travels but the French language is something that we are not really familiar with…I was getting worried especially when someone kept calling on the radio and was not getting a reply. I was thinking “I hope that he is not calling to us!”. We were glad to find out once we started exploring the island that thankfully English is widely spoken on both sides and since so many American tourists come to the island each year, the American dollar is widely accepted most everywhere.
We arrived in Simpson Bay (Dutch side) around 5 AM. We worked our way in the dark through the mega-yachts that were anchored in the bay and found ourselves a place to rest or the night.
Daybreak came early…as Capt. Ron would say, “it happens about the same time each day”…and we took the dinghy to shore to clear in. Customs and Immigration were easy to find, just as the guide book said, the blue building at the foot of the bridge. No fuss clearing in and were were on our way to explore the town.
First impression was that this was a very busy place! Lots of everything packed in along the roadside, a little mini city compared to what we’ve been used to. We did find an awesome grocery store that had everything you could possibly think of, even things that we had never even seen before! Not only were they well supplied but they had some of the lowest prices that we have seen in quite sometime. Some things were even priced lower than we have seen in the states…now that is something else after being in the VI and BVI’s!
The next day we took a tour of the lagoon. Mega-yachts after mega-yachts all are anchored in this protected lagoon. One day we woke up and the second largest meg-yacht in the world Eclipse was anchored almost right next to us! This place is something else!
We took our dinghy to the French side of the island and hiked to Fort St. Louis. The views were breathtaking!
The swells in Simpson Bay were getting to Rachel and I. We guessed that they were about 2 – 3ft or more so we headed out looking for a calmer anchorage. Next stop for us was the town of Philipsburg the capital of the Dutch side of St. Martin at Great Bay “aka” the cruise ship port.
If you like to shop then this town is the place for you! Store after store after stand after stand after person standing on the side of the walk offering you anything from electronics to jewelry to t-shirts to nick-nacks to anything that you can think of.
There are some very enterprising folks here. They see the opportunity and they try their best to make money while they can. I will say though that they are also very polite and can take no for an answer. They do not hound you and actually will tell you that they hope that you have a nice day and that they hope that you enjoy the island while you are here and from the people that we’ve encountered I think that they truly mean it.
Now for a different view. I’m really glad that we had the experiences that we did and met the people that we met when I wrote what you have already read here because we now have a different view of St. Martin. People always ask me if we worry about Pirates…well, now my answer is yes. On Monday morning while anchored in Marigot Bay (French side) at about 3:30 AM we were boarded while we were sleeping and robbed. Thankfully we woke up just as the thieves were returning to their skiff that was on the side of our boat. We were lucky and we were not hurt. Things could have gone much differently I can imagine if we were awake when they came aboard.
Sadly, when we reported it the next morning on the cruising net we found out that this was not something that was new to the area. Apparently you are supposed to lock yourself in your boat at night to avoid theft! Not a place that we want to be if this is how you are supposed to live. Even worse when we went in to report it to the police they were not even interested in taking a police report of the incident and directed us to take a cab to the next town to make a report. So, as you can imagine we no longer think that St. Martin is a great place to visit. Don’t get me wrong there are nice places to see and good people on the island but if you come here on a boat lock yourself in at night and hope for the best. This is a great site for our sailing friends, it seems pretty up to date with recent security issues in the different countries that you might visit. I like to think that if we had been more aware that we could have avoided what happened to us too.
From Marigot Bay we started out journey out of St. Martin, we headed to Grand Case a very touristy town where it was a much different scene.
We enjoyed it there for the night. From there we moved on again to Pinel Island a nature reserve that was beautiful. From here we cleared out of St. Martin heading to St. Barths where we are currently rocking and rolling in the anchorage. Happy to be here we hear that it is the safest place in the Caribbean if not the world.
Take care all and stay safe.
Jennifer, Brian and Rachel