Greetings from St. Martin
Trip Start Oct 15, 2005
10Trip End Aug 15, 2006
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We finally left the BVI at 4 AM on December 11th with a NOAA weather forecast of 4-6 foot seas and 16-18 knots of wind from the NE. Until daybreak the forecast was OK and then it became clear that the forecast was a bit off. We had 20 knot winds on our nose and 8 foot seas for hours with intermittent rain and we were forced to motor. Even when the wind moved NE and we could sail, the winds increased to 26-28 and the seas built to about 10 feet. About four in the afternoon the seas and winds began to calm a bit
For those of you who do not know, St. Martin/St. Maarten are one island shared by the French and the Dutch. People, cars and dinghies go back and forth freely, but yachts do not. We must check in and out everytime we cross the border to anchor. French St. Martin has stolen our hearts. It feels like a cross between France and pre-Katrina New Orleans with fabulous French food and the Creole architecture. Once we rested and cleaned up Free Spirit from the salty passage we began our culinary exploration of Marigot. We found markets with incredible pates, cheeses, and wines at bargain prices but expensive fruits and vegetables if they came from anywhere but France. The boulangeries (bread and pastry shops) are out of this world and very dangerous! We had lunch at a small waterfront restaurant named Tropicana that I had read about and Al wanted to photograph his meal before he could touch it. The joy of an exquisite, leisurely lunch with a good bottle of French wine reminded us of why we were on this adventure. Wandering the small streets of Marigot was intoxicating
It was time for haircuts again and we chose the darling shop of Provence transplant Jean Claude. We made our appointments for the next day and he advised me that I would have to describe what I wanted in French. Now it is one thing to order food and talk to marinas in French (which Al and I both studied for years in high school). Unfortunately our schooling, "French for Cruisers" and our travel dictionary were not adequate for that challenge and Jean Claude made me work with my hands and mouth before he laughed and let me intersperse English words. This is just one example of the wonderful experiences we have had with the people of Marigot. The weather was exquisite and we just never seemed to find the time to update our blog. Sorry!
We bumped into British friends we had made in North Sound, BVI and met a couple from Annapolis as well. After a few days we needed to sail so we circumnavigated St. Martin spending a couple of nights at Ile Pinel off Orient Beach and at Oyster Pond on the French/Dutch border. The seas were rough but Free Spirit handled them well. We took the dinghy into Orient Beach but the landing and exit were both quite wet in the breakers. Ile Pinel was lovely with a gorgeous beach, fair snorkeling and trails to spectacular Atlantic Ocean views
Just before Christmas we sailed to Anguilla for a quick visit. You can anchor free of charge in Road Bay but if you want to visit any of the snorkeling/diving sites of Anquilla they are within the Marine Preserve and the cruising fees are huge. We opted to leave that for our next visit and we rented a car and drove every road on the island. We visited the fabulous resorts of Cap Jaluca and Malliouhana, walked several magnificent beaches and had a charming lunch at Gwen's Reggae Bar on the beach at Shoal Bay East. We drove past many gorgeous villas for rent, bought a charming piece of local art for the condo, checked out a local supermarket (great stock and lots of American & British products with all those rental villas) and returned to Road Bay for a quick swim before sunset. We had discovered on our drive that the popular cruiser's bar and restaurant Roy's Place had moved from Crocus Bay to about 20 yards in front of Free Spirit on the beach in Road Bay
Pennsylvania friends Rich and Anne Segermark arrived on the 27th. Anne and I explored Marigot shops that had no interest to the guys and they went hunting some boat parts. We visited the street markets and introduced them to our favorite eating establishments. We had a great sail to Anguilla and this time we purchased a cruising permit for two days ($105 US!) As the Doyle guide notes, this is really high considering each day starts at midnight so this $105 only buys you one night outside Road Bay
We wanted to get back to Marigot for New Year's Eve (Old Year's Night here) because we remembered the fabulous fireworks from a New Year's Eve in the 90s. We dined aboard and eagerly awaited the show. We saw fireworks over in Anguilla to the north), in Phillipsburg to the south, from some of the hotels on the east coast ... everywhere BUT Marigot. The next day everyone in Marigot (locals and cruisers) was perplexed as to why the government did not shoot off fireworks. Clearly we were not the only disappointed folks. We quickly recovered and made a delightful passage to Anse Marcel. Knowing it was a swirly anchorage, we let out lots of scope and felt secure. In the morning we found ourselves wrapped around a vacant private mooring but Al did a marvelous job in the dinghy unwinding us with the help of Rich on our bow
Our sail from Orient Bay to St. Barts was an exhilarating close haul with high seas and brisk winds. We picked up a mooring and had a quick lunch at Ile Fourchue but with the high winds we chose not to snorkel. We sailed on to Anse de Columbier which was very crowded but we lucked into a mooring close to the beach and were able to snorkel the north shore. I was disappointed at the lack of coral but the small reef fish were plentiful. The next day we moved on to Gustavia and found a good spot to anchor just below Fort Oscar. It provided us with a relatively short, though sometimes wet, dinghy ride. We all loved Gustavia! We had cheeseburgers at Le Select the inspiration for Buffet's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and walked all over town. The mega yachts lined up along the quay were something to behold! They were even more impressive lit up at night when we dinghied back in for a wonderful dinner at La Route des Boucaniers on the waterfront. Al and I knew were delighted we would return the following week. We had an easy sail from St. Barts with a stop for fuel at Bobby's Marina in Phillipsburg and on to Marigot
Since John and Lisa were only with us for six days we shared Marigot briefly and headed back to St. Barts. This time we went straight to Anse de Columbier and took a mooring on the south side of the bay. The snorkeling here was far better. The next morning we took what Doyle describes as "an adventurous half-hour walk over hills "(to Anse des Flamandes). Climb might be the better word and boat shoes are NOT the best footwear but the views were spectacular. In spots we were hand over hand on rock ledges high above the sea. Yes, I guess that qualifies as "adventurous"! Anse des Flamandes was a lovely wind crescent of the whitest sand with swimable surf crashing ashore. John exhibited pretty good body surfing for someone his age (5 years my junior). We all enjoyed a romp in the Atlantic before working our way back over the rocks to Free Spirit. The next day we headed for Gustavia and another great visit. This time we an early dinner at Le Select and an evening stroll with a couple of stops (for drinks and dessert) along the waterfront. Dinner the next night was at Eddie's. Unfortunately while in the dinghy the heavens unloaded and we arrived soaked for our reservation. The lovely roofed open air courtyard gave us the opportunity to dry out as we enjoyed a delicious meal and great wine. Our sail back to Simpson Bay on St. Maarten (Dutch side) was delightful except for one half-hour period when the winds and seas whipped up suddenly. The next day we loaded John and Lisa and their luggage into the dinghy and motored under the Dutch bridge into Simpson Bay Lagoon and all the way to within 100 yards of the airport
Once again we entered Fort St. Louis Marina to fill Free Spirit with water and give her a good cleaning inside and out. Once again there was tons of laundry to do and re-provisioning to complete. We have decided that our single greatest unexpected expense is laundry. There are very few do-it-yourself laundries in the Caribbean and the cost of having it done is quite high. I never thought I would miss my washer and dryer so much!
With our guests gone, we set about completing our boat maintenance in preparation for heading south. One afternoon we returned under the French bridge from a dinghy exploration of the French side of Simpson Bay Lagoon to find huge waves breaking at the Marigot Bay side of the canal. We climbed the waves and made our way to Free Spirit. We quickly realized that the bad weather forecast had arrived early and we needed to move. There was no way we could enter the lagoon from the French side and no way Al wanted to go forward to lift the main so we motor sailed with our genoa through the huge swells from both the NE and NW to get to the Dutch side bridge by the 5:30 opening. Luckily for us there were a huge number of sail and motor yachts entering that afternoon so we made the parade. We have been securely anchored here on the Dutch side of the lagoon ever since. We have joined the crowd which gathers at the Yacht Club every afternoon for Happy Hour ($1 bottled beers) and to watch the parade of boats through the drawbridge in and out of the lagoon
We're re-provisioned and have most of our boat chores done...we're chomping at the bit to get back to St. Barts and then on to Eustasia, St. Kitts, Nevis and on to Guadeloupe. Unfortunately with the winds and seas we will give Saba a pass. I had wanted to dive there but with no anchorage and limited moorings available this uncertain weather is not the time. Right now it is still blowing like crazy and there are even whitecaps all over the lagoon. Rain comes and goes with accelerated winds in every squall just like on the Chesapeake. Dinghy rides are quite wet but at least it is still warm even when the clouds set in so we are hardly "suffering"! More when we get further south ...