Sint Maarten & French St. Martin
Copyright 2005
Dalton W. Williams
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One Island - Two Countries
Sint Maarten, Dutch West Indies
French St. Martin

One Island - Two Countries

Today I am sitting in Quietly's cockpit watching a family of four tying up their dinghy behind their catamaran with tree dolphins painted on the side in Marigot Bay on the French side of St. Martin.  It is a beautiful day with a cool breeze blowing and just picture perfect.  I've been here for two days after sailing here on Friday from Simpson Bay Lagoon where I spent over a month on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten.  Here on the French side you see predominately French and German boats painted bright yellows, greens and reds with many children laughing and swimming around their boats in the crystal clear waters. French is spoken here but many people speak a little English.

On the Dutch side , Sint Maarten, there are many American and British boats and English is the predominant language on the Dutch side of the island.  Dutch Sint Maarten is the center of the northern Caribbean yachting repair and maintenance business, the place to go when you need to get repairs or purchase equipment and have it installed.  Also a place to purchase provisions before continuing your journey south through the smaller islands.

But, I am getting ahead of my self...  Lets roll the clock back six weeks and start from when I arrived in St. Martin from St. Thomas

Sint Maarten, Dutch West Indies

We arrived in Simpson Bay outside the Lagoon Bridge at  9:30 in the morning.  It was a gorgeous day and we motored around slowly among the other boats that were waiting for the 11:30 bridge opening.  St. Martin is a small island with huge salt water lagoon occupying approximately 20% of the island.  The Simpson Bay Lagoon is  the hub of the marine industry in the northern Caribbean and is becoming a home port for many of the super yachts.  We have come here to fix our autopilot and check out the cost of replacing our radar and adding a water maker (neither of which I did).  Promptly at 11:30 the bridge opens and the protocol is for departing boats to exit the lagoon first and then arriving boats may proceed through the bridge.  As our turn comes we enter through the "Typical" Dutch bridge.  It is not a bridge you would see in America, but is the bridge you see every where in Holland across their canals.

As we enter one of the first things we see are the Mega Yachts tied to the docks at the new Isle  De Sol Marina as we turn left down the channel to find a place to anchor in the Simpson Bay Lagoon.  There are over 150 boats here in the lagoon, but finding a place to anchor is easy.  Gretchen drops the hook and as I back down  the anchor pulls the bow down as it sets well in the mud of the lagoon bottom.  We are anchored in eight and a half feet of water and we let out 60 feet of chain for a 5:1 scope.  The winds in the lagoon can pick up to 35 knots when rain showers come over the mountain so it is very important to have your anchor well set with proper scope to prevent dragging.

Just as we relax in the cockpit after shutting the engine down an American 757 roars a few hundred feet over our heads having just taken off from the St. Martin airport.  We are anchored just 300 yards off of the runway which runs along the beach that separates the ocean from the lagoon.  Sint Maarten is a major airline hub in the Caribbean.  From here flights depart hourly to most of the Caribbean islands.  It is apparent we are going to be living with the airport as our neighbor for the next few weeks.

Later that day we. went to immigration to check in.  This was very simple, much more so than entering the US.  Here we had to fill out a single form and the government official could not have been more helpful.  After clearing in we stopped by The Mail Box, a local mail room where I had arranged for mail to be sent weeks before.  After retrieving my mail we headed back to Quietly to take a nap after the night of sailing before heading out to join the St. Martin social scene at the St. Martin Yacht Club happy hour.  The St. Martin Yacht Club is not one of those Blue Blazer yacht clubs rather a laid back fun place where you make life time friends at happy hour while watching the afternoon "boat parade" and playing dominos on Sunday afternoons.

This is a wonderful place to make new friends and socialize and an unexpected charm of Sint Maarten... Also the reason we stayed for six weeks rather than two weeks as we planned!  Yes boat work took longer than we expected, but I was not counting the days.  There were day trips with friends and evenings aboard one another's boats for sundowners and dinners with wonderful people.  Then there was the Heineken Regatta, one of the major regatta's of the Caribbean with boats and people from all over the world here for two weeks of fun and sailing.

The first couple we met was John and Brenda from Willow.  I had very briefly met John when they had stopped in Bermuda during the time I was there in November.  John and Brenda have  a Mason 44 which is the newer and slightly improved version of Quietly, so of course the fist thing we talked about was our boats, but quickly John and Brenda became cherished friends.  They are from the Boston area and had run a public relations business specializing in the high tech firms before deciding it was time to take a beak and go sailing for a year..

Next we met Rhonda when she stopped by in "Rhonda's Water Maker."  There is a story there as "Rhonda's Water Maker" was her's and Kevin's new dinghy.  She named it that as their old dinghy had gone on walkabout and the new dinghy had been purchased with the money budgeted for Rhonda's water maker. They were from Colorado Springs where both were in the commercial real estate business.  Of course being from Colorado give us much to talk about.  Their boat, a Juneau 46 called Discovery, was anchored next to us in the lagoon so of course we spent many an evening on one another's boats watching the sunset and visiting.

We met two very special people in the cruising community.  John and Melody from Second Millennium.  They have been out cruising in the Caribbean for over 10 years and are best know for the Safety and Security Net at 8:15 in the morning on 8104 SSB.  We were having dinner with them the night they received the SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) Service Award for special achievement and service to the cruising community.  John and Melody are truly generous people with their time in service to the cruising community.  Over the weeks here, I became involved with them helping the St. Martin government become more aware of the needs of the cruising community in St. Martin and in lobbying for lower cruising fees.  Through their efforts, dozens of letters from the cruising community went to the island council from cruisers whom often come to St. Martin.

Many a dinner party was enjoyed by the group of friends. The picture was taken made on Gallant , David and Andrea's Amel , and includes friends Dave, Andréa, their children Tom and Alex, Mike and Deirdre from CheshireCat, John and Brenda from Willow, and Gretchen and me.

After a few days later we organized a Dinghy Raft-Up to watch the boat parade at sunset.  The boat parade is the 5:30 pm bridge opening when most of the boats enter the lagoon.  Often there will be as many as 20 boats entering through the bridge including some of the world's most luxurious and largest Mega Yachts.  The Dinghy Raft-Up was fun with many people meeting for the first time as I had taken the dinghy around the lagoon that morning putting out fliers with pictures of the Christmas raft-up in St. Johns and inviting everyone to meet up at 5:00 that afternoon in front of the bridge to watch the boat parade. We had a couple from Germany join us, a young couple from Holland, a couple from Canada and well as friends from the Caribbean 1500, Peter and Ann from La Buona Vita and Bev and Dick from Silent Passage.

Many Sunday afternoons were spent at the St. Martin Yacht Club playing Dominos with a large group of people.  The Dominos players were pretty competitive but welcome all beginners such as Brenda and Gretchen playing as a team in the picture to the right.  Gretchen nor I had ever played but after a short while we were able to hold our own even though we did not know all of the strategy tricks that the others used. After Dominos we would usually wind up at one boat or another for sundowners and visit until well after dark.

One Sunday afternoon a group of us headed out to the other end of the airport runway to Sunset Beach.  Pictured here is everyone you have already met with the addition of Aukua, Juliana and John from China Moon. That's Aukua sitting in the center, Juliana next to Gretchen and John with the full beard in the back row.  Sunday afternoons people gather for happy hour at  the Sunset Beach Bar to watch the airplanes land and to go flying when they take off.  No, not flying as passengers on the plane... Flying hanging onto the fence at the end of the runway where the airplanes apply full power to start their take off roll.  Yes it does sound nuts!  It even looks more so!  Here you see some of the local kids with superman capes hanging onto the fence actually fly with their feet off the ground in the 150 mile per hour wind behind the jet engines.  But not only are there young kids hanging on the fence, but old kids as well.  Yes, including me....  It is QUITE the experience! {laughing}  Yes, you have to be a little nuts... As for me, it was just the kid in me that made me do it!!

Well, let me see... where was I before stopping to fix myself a BLT for supper.  Lunch by the way was grilled salmon with dill sauce, English peas and a tossed salad. One thing about being out here in the islands is that the produce is fresh and often more favorable than what we get back home.  This is especially so on the French islands.

One Saturday John, Brenda, Gretchen and I rented a car and drove around the island stopping to walk along several beaches and to have lunch in Grand Case which known for its many excellent French restaurants along the ocean.  Along the way we stopped to make pictures, one of which is of the birds in the picture to the right.  Brenda is a bird watcher and says the little birds on long legs (I have forgotten their name) are fairly rare so seeing so many of them was a treat for her.  The treat for John and I was the walk along Orient Beach... for those who don't know, that is the clothing optional beach.  John summed it up pretty well when he said most of those people should have had their clothes on!  The girls sat in a beach bar and watched while John and I took our stroll down the beach.  My comment you ask... I have seen more beautiful ladies getting a good suntan in Vigland Park on a warm summers day in Oslo, Norway than I saw on the beach that day.

Just before the Heineken Regatta Gretchen and I were at the St. Martin Yacht Club when a lady saw Gretchen and ask; "Do I know you?"  It turned out that Ayn and Gretchen lived on the same floor in the college dormitory their freshman year!  Ayn had been invited to help another friend crew a boat from Guadeloupe back to St. Martin and asked Gretchen if she wanted to come along.  So before I knew it, Gretchen and Ayn were off to Guadeloupe sailing on a Benneteau 41.  Gretchen had been thinking about wanting to sail with another boat so I was happy for her, though I was not for certain if she would come back.

That left me on my own for the Heineken Regatta week.  I took the dinghy out to the start of the races the first day when PlayStation (Steve Faucets super catamaran which has set several world speed records) was racing. It crossed the starting line doing 25 knots making all the rest of the field look like they were sailing backwards!  Sorry, but I do not have any pictures of that but I took some pictures at the parties in the evenings.  The party's were great with well over 1000 people attending each night and with even more people at the final party where Santana played with a special appearance by Carlos Santana!  I met several of the crews including one from Brittan and two from Germany.  As you can see from the pictures everyone was having a good time.

As for as working on Quietly, which after all was the purpose of the stop in St. Martin, I did get the autopilot hydraulic ram repaired and I finally got the Heart Interface voltage regulator for the engine alternator that I had been trying to get since Bermuda in November!  Charles at Budget Marine really bird-dogged the regulator and got one delivered in only seven days when chandleries in Bermuda and St. Thomas could not get it in a month.  I can highly recommend Budget Marine.  There are actually two fantastic chandleries here, Budget Marine and Island Water World. 

I purchase two 120 Watt Solar Panels from Island Water World which work perfectly and have greatly reduced my dependence on running the generator for charging my batteries. The two panels together produce about 80 Amp Hours of power per day which replenishes approximately half of my daily energy budget.  I was glad that I was alone on the boat when I was wiring them in as I had the boat opened up from end to end running the wires.  While working on the electrical system, I also took the opportunity to rework the main ground terminal moving it from the Yanmar Engine to a separate ground bus.  Then I installed a bus on the +12 Volt side as well relieving a lot of stress on the cables and battery selector switch. This is a horrible picture of me working on the solar panel installation, but never shall it be said that I only include the good pictures! {laughing}

St Martin has for many years enjoyed a reputation for being a good place to get work done because of the quality of work done and that the island has been relatively inexpensive.  That is changing fast with the recent addition of facilities that cater to the Mega Yachts.  The quality of work is still excellent, but trying to get it done is becoming difficult as the Mega Yachts have the financial resources and demanding schedules that cruising boats do not.  Three of four projects I had done here were completed days to weeks late and as much as three times the original cost estimates!  From what I hear, island labor rates have almost doubled since the introduction of Mega Yachts into the lagoon and starting in April 2003 the island government has imposed new cruising fees for all yachts in Dutch St. Martin waters to recover the cost of building the new bridge to accommodate the Mega Yachts.  Somehow that just does not seem fair. Check with the local VHF net on channel 14 at 7:30 Monday through Saturday mornings for the fees.

In the FYI department,  you should be aware that  in my opinion F.K.G. Rigging charged me way too much ($850) for a simple aluminum frame to mount the solar panels to my existing arch and MainTech carpentry shop charged me three times their estimate of $450  to copy a boarding ladder from an article in Cruising World. Caveat Emptor!

French St. Martin

French St. Martin does not charge any fees for cruising yachts and has no intention to do so. The French side is beautiful with clean clear water and wonderful food!  My recommendation when heading to St. Martin is to anchor in the French side in Marigot Bay while you schedule to have work done on the Dutch side.  Then move when it is time for the work to be done.  Clearing in on the French side is a snap at the end of the Dinghy Dock.  The people are friendly, but polish up on your French!

We sailed around the west side of St. Martin to Marigot Bay in French St. Martin as a test sail after being anchored for a month in Simpson Bay.  It was a nice sail the whole way after going through the Dutch bridge until we could turn north on a beam reach continuing well north of the island and almost reaching Anguilla before tacking back south east to sail into Marigot. According to the sail track on the computer we sailed a little over 16 miles in about three and a half hours. Marigot is very different from the Dutch side!

Marigot bay is beautiful with crystal clear water which is certainly a welcome change from the murky waters of the lagoon.  The water here is about eight feet deep so I put out 60 feet of chain for a 5:1 scope to make certain we were not going to move.  As soon as everything got settled, I put on my swim suite and jumped in!  It was the first time to go swimming in almost six weeks!  I did not want to even think about swimming in the lagoon.

The town looks French with small well kept shops, sidewalk restaurants, French bakeries, French markets, and charming walks through town and up to Fort Lewis from which there are wonderful views of Marigot.  Fort Lewis was built to defend the French settlement on the island from the British and successfully defended against a British attack.  The battle was fought to defend of a large shipment of French Coffee that the British raiders wished to capture.

Saturday in preparation for heading out on Sunday we were sailing in 10 Knots of wind when the Job Halyard broke dumping the sail into the water. Gretchen was at the helm and I was just sort of day dreaming sitting in the cockpit when the boat healed over.  Thinking there had been a wind gust I looked up to check the sail trim and saw the sail sliding down the furling track and into the water.  My first though was the sail had torn, but then I saw the broken halyard.  As there was not much wind, we got the sail back onboard fairly easily by attaching the spinnaker halyard and using that to help pull the sail out of the water.

There are only three lines (ropes) that are old, that being one being one of them and Monday I purchased new lines.  We found a rigger in Marigot to splice the shackles on to the line.

Tuesday morning it was time for me to go up the mast to pull the new lines through the sieves at the top of the mast.  It was my first time up the mast, the butterflies were swarming in my stomach (picture at the left). The mast on Quietly is 61 feet so it is a long way up there hanging on a rope.  My adrenaline must have been really pumping as by the time I got down I was nauseous and weak in the knees.  It is too windy to put up the sail today so I will wait until the wind calms down this evening to raised the sail and get it furled and ready to go sailing.

The good lord willing and Quietly willing I will get out of here Wednesday morning, only five days late! {laughing}

Well, I am off to the "Islands That Brush The Clouds."   March 14, 2003

 

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