Double Dench & Frutch

Phil Pascoe
Sat 4 Apr 2009 17:54

18:01.99N 63:05.7W
Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten.  25 March 2009

More time in and around St. Barts would have been good, but being all keen on sailing and with limited time, move on we must.  Sint Maarten &/or Saint Martin sounded interesting anyway, an island shared by the Dutch in the South and the French in the North, and a major yachtie centre.
Up anchor (I must record the number of times we’ve dropped anchor on this trip) and away with 10-15 knots of NE wind, full main and genoa we had a very pleasant beam reach across to St. Maarten with a brief look at Ile Fourchue, another part of St. Barts Marine Reserve, on the way.  After 2 hours we were south of Philipsburg, the capital and main port, then in another hour we were anchored just outside the lifting bridge into Simpson Bay Lagoon.  The bridge opens only 3 times a day, unless one wants a private opening for US$ 300, and I thought we had plenty of time to clear in before the next opening (about 90 minutes).  I dinghied to the Customs building, right by the bridge.  Clearing in here is slightly complicated with various fees to pay according to your size.  First you have to wait for Customs to finish with the person(s) in front of you, then they give you forms to fill out (more carbon paper).  For God’s sake why don’t you put in a pile on the table and let people help themselves, then fill them out, then come to the glass-partitioned counter?  The process seemed to be incredibly slow, particularly as I had a young lad that was obviously undergoing training – training to be slow and unsmiling I assumed!  Then when all that’s done, one has to queue up at another counter and wait until a rather large black woman had finished on the phone, then it was difficult to understand her English, then it was difficult to understand all the charges, then the bridge opened for outgoing vessels, then a convoy of gin palaces and mega yachts passed the window.  51 Dollars, how much?  The book suggests about 15, why is it so much?  After a well-practised sigh, she handed me four A4 sheets explaining all about the Simpson Bay Lagoon Authority Corporation, including its history and all the ‘up to date’ charges.
Bridge fees for boats from 9 to 12 metres, $10, fees for boats 12 to 15 metres, $30 and so on (if you’re over 36m the fee is $500), anyway we are 12.2m and I couldn’t lie because she had my Registration document in front of her.  I said we would stay outside the lagoon, paid the $21 and left somewhat disgruntled.  I learnt afterwards that you can enter the lagoon before you clear in – that would have been interesting and possibly expensive!
After exploring the possibility of anchoring near the airport, we returned to a slightly better spot back near the bridge.  Lunch, then a run ashore to explore another island.  The Yacht Club was fairly informal and welcoming, but the road and the area around were somewhat disappointing.  Plenty of restaurants, bars, shops and hotels, but all a bit scruffy – the Caribbean doesn’t do pavements!.  We checked the possibility of flights from Tortola back to Antigua; they were fully booked, so now our only option is to head back to Antigua in Whitemeadow, and we have 3 days to do it.  I managed to find a few bits I needed in a small Chandlery near the Yacht club and back on the boat I proceeded to replace some rusty retaining rings on the boat key and the spinnaker pole piston.  However, the effect the Caribbean sun and Rum has had on my brain function led me to hold the end of the pole over the side of the boat whilst doing it, to avoid getting rusty bits on the nice white deck which I know from past experience, leaves ever-returning rust spots.  You can guess what happened – rusty ring difficult to remove, gave it final tug and the piston and spring went plop into 4.5 metres of rather cloudy water.  Language Timothy!  Why can I not get further up this steep learning curve?  I guess when I reach the top, or even half way up, it’ll be time to give up sailing.  I tried snorkeling down to retrieve it.  Using Rob’s fins, it wasn’t too difficult to reach the bottom, my ears suffered from the pressure and the visibility was virtually zero.  I gave up, and swore profusely.
The next day we decided to hire a car, visit more riggers and chandleries in search of replacement pistons and a solution to the roller reefing problem which appears to be getting worse.  Not much joy with either, so off we went to tour the island in a clockwise direction with a fairly poor map.  Strange throughout the Caribbean, that there are masses of glossy tourist brochures, giving infinite detail of all the shops, restaurants and resorts, and although there is no shortage of maps, most of them are pretty dismal for drivers, cyclists or pedestrians.  It’s time the Ordnance Survey came out here.  We soon found ourselves in Basse Terre, French territory on the far west side of the island and drove around in a circle with only views of entrance gates to private houses – without even a view of the properties themselves.  It seemed that all the coast line had been bagged for private development – bummer.  Then we drove on along the North coast, again without good access to it, towards Marin, the main boaty centre on the French side and site of another bridge and passage into the Simpson Bay Lagoon.  Marin had quite a nice feel to it, a marina, a castle, a market and a ferry to Anguilla.  We lunched on goat stew and, suitably fortified, I eventually plucked up the courage to buy some T-shirts, 3 for $10.  What about Euros?, I asked  OK 10 euros.  What, a euro is worth more than a dollar!, I exclaimed.  OK, 8 euros, so I negotiated it for 7 euros, but had to pay with 6 euros, 1 US$ and some shrapnel, to avoid changing a big note.  They had better be good T-shirts, that’s over £2 each.
Onward along the North coast (fairly undeveloped) a few stops at beaches and a glimpse of Oyster Pond, a resort and marina development on the East side and on to Philipsburg.  Here we visited Bobby’s Boat Yard, for spinnaker pole fitting and prices for hauling out etc.  Then back into the town for a quick look – funny old place really, a cruise ship dock, lots of shops and bars, but a bit ‘kiss me quick’.  Some interesting hills and views coming back into Simpson Bay and by that time we were all knackered.  A run to the Supermarket, which was another quirky place – one could pay in Euros or US$ (and possibly EC$) but all the prices were marked in Dutch guilders which I think were 1.8 to the $ - very confusing – and WHY?  A beer and then back to the sanctity and sanity of the boat – another island done!

Pics:  Opening bridge to Simpson Bay Lagoon.  Big boats, loadsa money!

Piston Lost, Bugger!  An up-market picnic spot, North coast Saint Martin.

Oyster Pond, east coast.