ST MAARTEN, AND PINBALL'S COMPLEMENT CHANGES
POSITION 18:02.55N 063:06.44W
ST MAARTEN 19-24 APRIL 2015
One island, two owners, two languages, two currencies. The Dutch half, 40%, stayed with the flat lowlands in the South and the French took the high ground to the North so they could build Forts to keep the Brits out. Connecting the two is the huge inner lagoon of Simpson Bay via which you can visit the other side once cleared in with Customs on your arrival side, without further formalities. We took the Dutch side and anchored outside the lagoon in the unprotected bay, and rolled around with the rest of them in the SE’ly swell. Anchored on the right of the approach channel to the bridge leading to the lagoon, by next morning we had dragged and so moved across to the other, less densely occupied side of the channel before deciding to take a bridge opening opportunity and go inside and anchor, a decision encouraged by David who was not wild about sleeping in a rolling boat.
Customs had been reasonably sane, with their dinghy dock right next to the opening bridge and building within yards. Inside are two windows, Immigration and Port Authority, usually both manned by Afro-Caribbean ladies of considerable proportions, but Immigration this time was a young slip of a lad who nevertheless took exception to me attempting to grab the necessary forms from his side of the security screen.
‘Don’t put your HAND through the window!’ he apparently muttered, helpfully translated by the bearded boater ahead of me. After getting stamped, it’s the Port Authority who want your money, whether anchored inside or out, in US$ or Dutch Gilders if you have them. A week for $27.
Arguably the best joint on the island, LAGOONIES is the cruisers heaven. Arriving by dinghy it’s an open air bar with a kitchen, wifi and a great atmosphere, where cruisers meet with their families. The bar staff are welcoming and don’t pester. David and I enjoyed a meal there, and did our wifi-ing in comfort.
Next day we set off in Perky for the French side, a good mile or more to the North and via Bobby’s Megayard right next to the Airport runway in the SW corner. Ominously alongside Bobby’s dock was a semi-submerged wrecked boat, testimony to the destructive power of a hurricane. I asked a barrel of a man with arms like Popeye the way to the office.
‘I AM the office’ he responded, unsmiling. Nevertheless he took us there, and I asked about storage of Pinball. A bluff Brit, he banged out the numbers for me, I took his number and then had a look round his relatively small boatyard. More expensive than Trinidad, if not greatly so, my concern was more what would happen if a hurricane returned, and it didn’t look good. Last time, in response to my question, six boats had sunk here, including Micks – which was probably the sad wreck we had passed on the way in. And 90% of those in the lagoon had sunk I was later informed. The boatyard itself would almost certainly flood too, as it was just a couple of feet above sea level.
That’s a no then.
To get to the French side is easy, just head North and you’re in it. No markers. There is a dredged waterway which leads up to a waterside shopping area complete with restaurants and cafes, at which we left Perky to explore. Smart, sassy and very French, it was also devoid of customers so we were pounced on by a succession of frontmen hustling for custom. The Fort overlooking Marigot Bay gave some good views, but rather than provide some historical information, the Information Boards on the way up simply droned on blaming the Brits for everything bad on St Marten. Yes, really.
The French make do with one less ‘a’ in their naming of the island.
We ate at Chez Something or Other for EU10 on a wobbly table and thought ourselves lucky to be here in this perfect climate.
Next day, whilst I checked out the two big chandlers – Island Water World and Budget Marine – David took off and made his way east to Philipsburg. We had agreed to meet up – by the marina next to the bridge he told me – at 8pm, whilst I wanted to post a load of blogs at Lagoonies first. Arriving 15 minutes late, so long had it taken to complete the blogs, there was no sign of David. Neither was there a marina here. Had he meant the other new bridge across the lagoon? Surely not. I returned to Pinball and re-armed with headtorch, powerful searchlight and one of those luminous stick things to stick on my head, then set off to search the waterfront, all to no avail. We eventually met close to 10pm at the original meeting place. He was lucky, he caught the last Liberty Boat that night.
We were both a bit frazzled from the pace of the sailing recently, and the long slog to this island in particular, hence my enquiries into boat storage. But I could not risk it, and move on I must. When I told David this, he straight away said he was going to stay. He had, apparently, a friend of his girlfriend he could stay with on Anguilla, and would make his way there via the French side by ferry. David was an accomplished world traveller, so this should prove no problem for him. But on my last day at St Maarten, whilst enjoying a lunch at the super healthy Top Carot bistro place he had found previously, and after we had cleared out with Immigration and given the Port Authority some more money for use of the bridge, he gave me the news: he couldn’t go stay with this friend of his girlfriend.
After some thought, he decided he would still stay on in St Maarten, and try an uncle somewhere. I wished him luck, he walked me back to Perky and I departed to ready Pinball for the short trip to St Barts – 16nm east. David had found the night transits hard with seasickness a recurring problem which was a shame, yet he talked bravely of getting his own boat one day, and there would be plenty more night work and rolly seas to come (for me).
Friday 24 April 2015 St MAARTEN TO St BARTHELM
By the time the dinghy had been stowed and Pinball made ready for sea, it was 4pm Ships Time. I would need to make 5 knots minimum to make the 16nm before dark, and this anchorage was unknown to me. The wind was light and dead on the nose. The sensible thing to do would be to go next morning, but heh, worth a try. Being sensible comes so hard. Solo again, I set off leaving the sails furled and motored dead straight, Pinball whizzing along at 5.5kts thanks to David and I scraping the barnacles off whilst at anchor the previous day, and arrived a half hour before dark to drop anchor in the most crowded and rolly anchorage I’ve ever seen. Gustavia, St Barts.
NEXT: HOW THE OTHER HALF REALLY LIVE