We blew into St Martin a little over a week ago with the Christmas winds and have been enjoying getting to know the place. The two sides of the island, St Martin (French) and Sint Maarten (Dutch) share this small island and enjoy a good relationship between the two nationalities. There is a border, of sorts between the two that distinguishes them on a map but there is no actual physical divider. Each side has their own regulations and fees yet whatever side you chose to enter, once you have cleared customs you are free to travel back and forth between the French and Dutch side in your dinghy. You leave your sailboat on the side you’ve checked in and if you plan to take it elsewhere then you check out before leaving. Both sides use Euros and US$, and the Dutch side also marks prices in gilders. The French side has cheaper wine and has less regulations than the Dutch side so many cruisers tend to enter here.
We chose to enter the French side, St. Martin, and moored in Marigot Bay. It is a beautiful bay with turquoise water, sandy beaches and is a popular place for cruisers to anchor. It is also happened to be windy in Marigot Bay when we were arrive and we found that the ground can prove difficult to get a good hold for the anchor. Our second night we decided to move closer to shore in order to get away from the ferry traffic and speed boats that were creating too much wake and making our boat rather rolly. By moving in closer we hoped the rolling would ease and it did. Unfortunately our anchor did not hold in the new spot and we awoke at 1:30 to discover our boat was slowly, but clearly moving. We hustled and Al put a second anchor out, not always easy at night in high winds. Still, it did the trick and we were secure for the night.
We decided to move into the inner harbour, a place called Simpson Bay lagoon which is shared between the French and Dutch side. To enter Simpson Bay you have to go through a bridge, which we did with S/V Kinship whom we’ve been hanging with since Nancy Cay, BVI. The inner harbour is more shallow than Marigot Bay and boats that draw more than 7 feet tend to not come into the French side. Boats can however enter the Dutch side in Sint Maarten and enter the harbour through a different bridge.
The Dutch side is also home to the many Mega Yachts who spend their winter in the islands. There are some beautiful boats here and its quite entertaining to cruise around in the dinghy and check out the different styles and compare who’s bigger. The entire island caters to boating, whether its megayachts or the cruising community. There are many chandleries and services here for boaters, and the entire island is accessible via the various dinghy docks.
We’ve been meeting loads of cruisers like Katherine and Henry, another Canadian couple, whom we met through Kathleen and Matt. Katherine and Henry are a great source of information and generous to share what they’ve learned in their cruising adventures. It’s generally how it works here; either you find it out yourself or other cruisers share what they know. There are also cruisers nets that are broadcast over VHF or SSB in the morning. The one hosted by Mike otherwise known as Shrimpy is a long running and well known net. Each morning at 7:30 you can tune in to get the low down on weather, events, buy/sell/swap ops, find out who has arrived in the area or who is departing. and ask general questions. It makes for a pretty cohesive community amongst the cruisers.
Al, Filbert and I are enjoying the island however there is one drawback to being in the inner harbour. We can’t swim or snorkel. OK Filbert doesn’t really care about this but Al and I do. The water isn’t clean enough and while some locals do swim in the harbour, we chose not to, for health reasons. On the plus side, there is a lovely marina here that caters to the mega yachts however were gracious enough to extend a welcome to the cruisers and offer us access to the place. The Fat Turtle has a beautiful pool and bar, with free wifi so we can visit and spend a day just chilling and hanging out at the pool.
We have been busy with boat tasks and are still working on our sail drive issue. We have determined that its only urgent to replace the upper seal at this time. Fortunately this work can be done with Ingomar in the water. We’ll replace the lower seal when we haul the boat later in the year.
We also spent 2 days fixing our VHF and AIS. Matt from Kinship came over to offer his expertise for a couple of hours and ended up working with us for 2 days. Mike from Chasseur also came over and lent a hand. Matt determined we had moisture in our antennae cable, so we decided to replace it. Our idea was to use the old cable as a chase to pull the new cable down through the mast. In theory this sounded great. In actuality, the old cable was attached to all the existing wiring within the mast and could not be pulled through on its own. We discovered this after Al’s second trip up the mast (he made 3!). Mike came by at exactly the right time to offer us some expert advice and tools to make it all work. After drilling a new hole in the top of the mast, sending down a chaser with the new cable attached, and having Matt perform what he refers to as a gynaecological exercise on our mast foot, we now have fully functional radio and AIS. Kudos also go out to Filbert for his assistance to Matt.
We’ve been exploring little by little, eating out more than we did in the BVIs, because the food here is excellent and cheap. So are the beers. A coupe of very cool cruiser friendly bars offer happy hour beer at $1 or it gets more expensive at $2 in some bars. It also comes with free wifi. The grocery stores are excellent and I am pretty much living on bread and cheese!
The winds have been high since we arrived and apparently this is typical in the Leeward islands. Known as the Christmas winds, they blow frequently, and can get pretty gusty and can bring infrequent showers with them. We are constantly opening and closing all the hatches, but not a big deal. I come to completely understand what what ‘batten down the hatches’ means. Once we get a window and have our work completed we plan to sail around the island and check out some of the beautiful beaches this place has to offer. Wifi is very spotty so posts may be sporadic but we hope to update regularly.