Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin

Monday, March 19 - Saturday, May 5, 2012

Yes, it's official - St. Martin is our new Luperon! Okay, that may be a bit of a stretch, but after spending six weeks on this picture-perfect island, we've certainly fallen into some Luperon-like routines.

But first...a note on the crossing. Remember when we were trying to get here in late-February to early-March to meet up with our boat guests? At that time, the "dreaded" Anegada passage was throwing up 10-13 foot waves with short intervals. Not wanting to risk our home, our furry kids, or ourselves, we postponed our crossing and welcomed our friends to a BVI vacation instead. What a difference a month makes! We finally got a good weather window (10-15 knots of wind, 3-5' seas), and had a beautiful motor-sail down to St. Martin. We made great time, and arrived outside of the Dutch drawbridge soon after sunrise. After watching a few 50-foot-wide mega-yachts squeeze through the 56-foot-wide bridge, we lined up for the 9:30am opening. We entered Simpson Bay with Storyville and Island Dream, and were soon anchored on the French side near a peak that our marine charts call"Witch's Tit". No, you really can't make this stuff up...

The island of St. Martin has a split-personality of sorts, being a combination of Dutch Sint Maarten and French Saint-Martin. Rumor has it that when deciding how to split the island between France and the Netherlands, the two countries each picked a person to walk from opposite ends of the island to the center; the point at which the two met would become the official border. The catch? The Frenchman sipped from a bottle of wine along his journey, while the Dutchman chose gin. Guess who got drunk faster? Yep, the gin apparently slowed the Dutchman down a bit more than his French counterpart, and now the island is about 60% French, 40% Dutch. Gotta love the local folklore!

St. Martin calls itself "the Friendly Island", and having spent six weeks there, we'd have to agree. There's a strong cruising community on both the French and Dutch sides of the harbor, and you can get just about any boat project done that you might need. We were having problems with our refrigeration and A/C units before we left the BVIs, and easily found someone who would come out to our boat to look at everything. The work was done well AND at a reasonable price - not exactly something we'd been told to expect in St. Martin. We also found two local chandleries, Budget Marine and Island Water World, both of which offer West Marine-like products (along with cash discounts - woo hoo!). We even decided to upgrade our dinghy engine while we were there. No more put-putting for us!

A couple of days into our stay, we discovered a few spots that would become our main hang-out places: Barnacles Greek restaurant & bar, home of the Wednesday night cruiser get-together and Friday night open mic; and the "other" Soggy Dollar Bar at La Palapa marina (not to be confused with the original Soggy Dollar in the BVIs). Barnacles was the perfect spot to meet other cruisers and get info about the area, while Soggy Dollar offered a stunning view of the mega-yachts (both power and sail) moored along the seawall. Both places were also close to our favorite dinner stops: Indian cuisine at Lal's "Curry in a Hurry", and the best shoarmas (EVER!) at Little Jerusalem. We all loved the shoarmas so much that we made three trips to Little Jerusalem that first week! Owners Abraham and Kathy became like family, giving Rene an extra helping and always asking after him if any of our buddy boats went in without us.

St. Martin gave us a chance to meet up with some old friends, as well as make some great new ones. We'd kept in touch with Runyon and Ivy on Ghost and Harry, Leanne, and their girls on Ulysses Blue, and learned that they were all staying at a marina north of Philipsburg. We hadn't seen them since January in the BVIs, and were thrilled to get to see them our first week in town. Ivy came down to Simpson Bay a few days later for some shopping and a tour of the French side, and we, Island Dream, and Storyville all headed up to their marina for a pool day, BBQ, and slumber party the following week. We also got to meet John and Jolanda on JoHo, who were Dutch cruising friends of Pat & Darnell's whom they hadn't seen in four years. We had a wonderful time getting to know them, and ended up feeling like we'd been friends for years ourselves. (We miss you guys!)

Getting around St. Martin was incredibly simple, thanks to public dinghy docks at most businesses and marinas around the harbor. On the Dutch side, both marine stores were situated on the water, and a large grocery store was a short walk from Port de Plaisance marina. From Simpson Bay Marina, you could catch a $1.50 bus to Philipsburg to play tourist, buy groceries, or visit a Home Depot-like hardware store. On the French side, you could leave your dinghy at the public dock for a short stroll to Le Gout du Vin wine shop, order baguettes and decadent pastries at Sarafina's French bakery, or even visit the upscale West Indes Mall on the waterfront. If you really wanted to get adventurous, you could take a local bus (okay, minivan) up to Grand Case on the north side to party with the locals at their weekly street carnivals. We fell in love with St. Martin (both sides!), and quickly understood how people could spend some significant time here.

St. Martin also offered a direct flight from the Netherlands, which allowed Rene's mom to come visit us. We were able to get a lovely one-bedroom apartment at the Flamingo Beach Resort, which we were able to access via a nearby dinghy dock (not to mention a loooong treck uphill). Mom arrived on Easter Sunday, and graciously managed to stay awake to meet all of our friends over a potluck dinner in the room. What a trooper! For our part, we took full advantage of all the "landlubber" amenities that the room had to offer: full kitchen with huge oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher (heaven!), free internet in the office, a gorgeous pool and beach, and...wait for it...washer/drier IN THE ROOM! Between us and our three buddy boats, that poor washer/drier must've gone through 20-30 loads of laundry in the three weeks that Mom was here. We certainly got our money's worth!

The first half of Mom's visit was fairly quiet since we didn't have a rental car. We spent a few afternoons at the pool, caught up on internet at the resort office, went out for breakfast at Zee Best, and caught a bus to the huge Dutch supermarket near Philipsburg. Pat & Darnell, Deana & Troy, and John & Jolanda all joined us for various pool days, lunches, and dinner parties, and everyone enjoyed getting to know Rene's mom. On Mom's first Friday night in town, we took her to Barnacles so she could see one of our favorite cruiser spots and, of course, listen to Troy play at open mic. What a blast!

We rented a car the last week of her visit, and managed to cram most of our sightseeing into those last days. One day we went to Maho Beach to watch planes roar right over our heads as they landed next door at Princess Juliana airport. Another day was spent visiting the French side for lunch, shopping, a visit to Fort Louis for its spectacular views of St. Martin, Saba, and Anguilla, and finally a drive up to Grand Case on the northwestern coast. We even got to spend a couple of days with Ulysses Blue, who invited us back up to their marina for some pool time and dinner, followed by a beach day at beautiful Orient Bay (fair warning for parents - parts of it are clothing optional!).

Our last big outing involved taking a fast ferry to the lovely island of Saba, part of the Dutch Antilles. Known as "the unspoiled queen", Saba is located less than 30 miles from St. Martin and rises 3,000' above sea level. Given it's elevation, Saba's streets are much too steep for mere mortals to climb...we'd highly recommend you hire a taxi to tour the island! We decided not to book the ferry's lunch and sightseeing tour, having been told you could hire a taxi at the ferry dock. Wouldn't you know, we arrived in Saba at the small dock, watched all but four other passengers get into the tour buses, and looked around for the (non-existent) taxis. The owner of a dockside bar called a driver for us, and we were told that "the Irishman" would arrive in about 45 minutes. The "Irishman" turned out to be a local whose family had been on the island for at least five generations, but who were we to argue? We had a terrific tour of the island, and our driver recommended a yummy local spot for lunch. Curry chicken pizza, anyone?

We ended Mom's visit with a fantastic dinner at Skip Jack's restaurant (thanks, Mom!), before her flight left on Friday. Unfortunately, Mom's departure also signaled that it was time for us to leave St. Martin and begin our slow trek back to the Dominican Republic. We spent another week in St. Martin taking care of boat projects, and found a good weather window over the weekend for the overnight trip back to Virgin Gorda. We, Storyville, and JoHo will buddy-boat back to the BVIs, where we hope to meet up with Island Dream after their USVI jaunt. Til next time...

Enjoy more pictures of our time in St. Martin here and here. Thanks again to Storyville, Island Dream, and JoHo for sharing their great photos.Link

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