Sunday, March 20, 2016

St. Martin/St. Maarten - My Tropical Paradise.

It is not very often that I fall in love with a place we visit, but I fell head over heals in love with this small Caribbean island. I loved the beautiful beaches, the charming towns, the delicious food and wine, and the bustling cruiser community.

Thanks to an inexpensive bus system, we could explore as much as we wanted. Here are a few of the places that we visited.

Grand Case
We rented a car with Robert and Virginia on Honeymoon Forever and set out to explore the places that we couldn't go by bus. We made a quick stop at Oyster Pond. There wasn't much to see so we just grabbed a drink at the Dinghy Dock, waited for the rain to stop, and went on to Orient Beach.

Orient Beach is the most popular beach on the island, and there are several bars/restaurants and water sports to partake in. If you want to party, this is the place to go. It is also infamous because of the nudist resort that sits at the end of the beach. I have no pictures of Orient Beach because it was started raining again, and we didn't want to take out David's Olympus camera. We definitely don't need any more broken electronics! Since it was a rainy, overcast day that wouldn't be getting any sunnier, we didn't stay long at the beach and went to the Yellow Submarine to eat some yummy French sandwiches.

After polishing off our meals, we went to Grand Case, a small beach side town on the French side. A narrow one-way street runs through the town and is lined with small restaurants, little shops, and boutique hotels that are just steps away from the beautiful beach. On Tuesdays during the season, the street is closed and vendors set up tables with all kinds of goodies. There is also a parade with music, carnival dancers, and acrobats. Unfortunately for us, it was cancelled that day because of high winds. I loved the atmosphere in Grand Case so I hope we'll be back one day soon and have the opportunity to experience this exciting, one of a kind event, just not on a boat. After a little shopping and a drink at happy hour, we headed back to Simpson Bay. A great day with great friends!

Maho Beach
Maho Beach is right next to the airport and is another popular beach where a lot of tourists go. It's great for one-time experience, and you can get awesome photos of jets coming in to land. There is a fence between the beach and the airport, and crazy (maybe a little idiotic) people stand behind the fence and hold on for dear life as the jet prepares for take off. They are hit with high velocity air that is being blown from the engines and could seriously get hurt if they can't keep a firm grip on that fence. You also don't want to be behind the jet on the beach because you will be peppered with sand and your stuff goes flying all of the place.

It is the main town and capital of St. Maarten, and it is also where the almost daily cruise ships come in. Everything on the island is duty-free so it is a shopper's paradise. There are two main streets - Front and Back Street - made up nothing but shops. You can pretty much buy anything there - from high-end watches and dazzling jewelry to the typical tourist T-shirts and keepsakes. Next to Front Street is the boardwalk with dozens of restaurants and bars. We aren't much on shopping these days besides grocery shopping, but we went for an afternoon trying to find a tank top with a St. Maarten logo for myself. No luck finding one I liked, but we had a nice time and I bought some cute, hand-made bracelets.

Marigot is about a eight minute dinghy ride from where we were anchored. We were leery leaving the dinghy locked up in Marigot for too long because we had heard about several recent dinghy thefts that were stolen in broad daylight and that had locks so we rarely visited Marigot. We walked up to the fort, checked out some booths along the waterfront, and snacked on pizza and croissants. The croissants were hot and flaky...delicious!

Mullet Beach
I saved the best for last. This is one of my all-time favorite beaches. Although it does get crowded, the sparkling, calm water and soft white sand is well worth sharing the beach with hundreds of people. I almost cried when we left the island because I wouldn't be able to go back. The first time we went, we were joined by Robert and Virginia, who are always fun to hang out with. It was THE perfect beach day! Since we still didn't have our new underwater camera, Robert was kind enough to let us copy and use his pictures.

We probably spent way too much money going out to happy hours and eating out, but we had an amazing time there. David even volunteered his Linux skills and helped out with the Heineken Regatta. For us cruisers, getting around was really convenient since there were lots of dinghy docks, and the other cruisers were very helpful and friendly. It was also fun experiencing the grocery stores there. There was a wide variety of food that you don't see in US supermarkets so we got to try some new stuff. On the French side, everything was in French so that was an adventure in itself trying to figure out you were buying. And I thought the Spanish grocery stores were difficult!

I highly recommend visiting this island!

Friday, March 18, 2016

St. Maarten: The End of the Line for Dulcinea

At the beginning of the trip, we were going to sail all the way to Grenada before hurricane season. We soon learned that we wouldn’t make it there unless we made a beeline for it and skipped exploring places we wanted to see, which we weren’t willing to do. Then we decided that the BVIs would be the farthest east that we would go to ensure that we would have enough time to relax in the Exumas. However, the more cruisers we talked to throughout this trip, the more rave reviews we heard about St. Martin/Sint Maarten. It has always been on my bucket list and was only ninety miles from Virgin Gorda in the BVIs so we said to heck with it and just went.

We left around eight or nine in the morning on February 19th and were drenched by showers that lasted a few hours. The storm brought wind out of the west, which was unexpected but in a good way. It meant that we were sailing downwind instead of going into the wind and having to tack. It also meant we were making better time than expected so during the early hours of the morning, we hoved-to to stop the boat from moving. Anchoring in the dark and an unknown anchorage isn’t a good idea.

After an hour or so, we were on our way again. We pulled in to Marigot Bay just as the sun was peeking out over the island.

There is a French side (St. Martin) and a Dutch side (Sint Maarten). Our plan was to go through the Sandy Ground Bridge and anchor in the Simpson Bay lagoon on the French side. It would be cheaper since there is no charge to use the bridge (the bridge is only like ten feet high so it has to be opened to allow boats to cross), and the fee to check in is only two euro. However, we caught the tail end of the daily cruisers net and asked about taking the boat all the way into lagoon since we were told by other cruisers that it is a little hairy trying to get there. We were told that it was shallow in a lot of places and that we would need to get the waypoints for the “safe” path. To get the waypoints, we would need to take the dinghy in to Shrimpy’s Laundry. Usually that is not a big deal, but the dinghy was up on the deck, and the wind was blowing 20-25 knots, which means we couldn’t safely get it off the deck and into the water.

David was exhausted from being on night watch and didn’t want to stay in the rolly bay so we sailed around to Simpson Bay, where we could enter the lagoon through a different bridge on the Dutch side. This bridge, like the other one, is only opened at certain times of the day, and we waited a few minutes for it to open and then made our way into the lagoon. By the time we dropped the hook and got settled in, it was too late to check in.
Leaving Marigot Bay. You can just barely see Anguilla on the right side of the picture.
Boats lined up waiting for the bridge to open

St. Martin is the mega yacht capital of the Caribbean!

Inside the lagoon
 The next day we checked in on the Dutch side since that is where we anchored and paid twenty dollars for the weekly harbor fee and seven dollars for use of the bridge. If moving the boat from one side to the other, you have to check out and then check into the other country, but that only applies to the big boat. You can freely go from the Dutch to French side and vice versa if driving, walking, or taking the dinghy.

We spent three weeks in lovely St. Maarten, exploring and getting in plenty of beach time. We only planned on staying a week but ended up staying three since David wanted to help with the regatta and we had friends there. As I am writing this, we are already back in St. Thomas. St. Maarten is far east as we will go, and we will slowly start making our way back to the States in a couple of days. It is hard to turn back now, especially since Antigua (another bucket list place) is only another hundred miles from St. Maarten, but we have to go back eventually, especially since I have a wedding to be in in June!

There will be another blog entry coming about our time there and lots of pictures.