We spent two productive but fun weeks in St. Martin. We arrived in Anse Marcel, on the French side, arriving almost at midnight on June 3rd. We anchored in front of the Radisson resort. It was a beautiful beach, with turtles swimming all around our boat. The channel into the marina is a very narrow one, so we decided to go in with our dinghy rather than take Salt Whistle through the very tight passage.
|A sunset in Anse Marcel|
Customs and Immigration was such a breeze, we couldn’t believe it. I first tried struggling in French to communicate with the port master, but soon realized that his English was far better than my French. He just had us sit down at a computer and fill out a form & print it out. The most challenging part of it was using a French keyboard with many of the number keys not working, and sorting through the pull down menus to find the right option in French…and many times not in alphabetical order. We then took the printed paper to the port master’s desk and he stamped it and asked for 5 Euros. We didn’t have any Euros, so he said, “Faive dolers americaine its okai, too.” He didn’t even ask to see our passports, and we were never asked about having pets aboard.
We stopped by “The Pad,” the Broadreach Caribbean headquarters, which is located in the Anse Marcel Marina. I had worked for Broadreach in the summer of 2012, a outdoor education program where the kids travel around the Caribbean living aboard a catamaran and learn how to sail & scuba dive, the value of community and team work, how to live simply, study marine biology, do volunteer projects, and experience other cultures. I saw Motts, my old boss, and a couple of other Broadreach staff. It was neat to show Skeeter my old base. Motts was super willing to help us with anything we needed, despite his million other things going on with the program. He gave us some marine store info, told us where we could find things we needed, and informed us that Digicel has SIM cards that work throughout almost all of the Caribbean. We ended up buying a SIM card in St. Martin so we would have a phone if we needed it.
|Grand Case, St. Martin|
Our next anchorage was Grand Case, the next bay over from Anse Marcel. We were very worried about leaving our dinghy at the dinghy dock in town, since there were reports of a lot of dinghy thefts there. When I worked for Broadreach, we even got our dinghy stolen from that very dock. Skeeter and I locked our dinghy and disconnected the kill switch and fuel line as a precaution. We walked around the town, which was extremely quiet. It is low season, so I guess that’s why. We had dinner at the Broadreach favorite Lolo (the name of the local Creole food joints) called "Sky’s the Limit." We both got Ribs food, which was delicious. Ribs food is barbecue ribs with a bunch of other sides including my favorite, plantains. We could smell it from our boat earlier, since we were anchored downwind from the mouthwatering barbeque smells. It did not disappoint, and we sure didn’t go hungry: great food, friendly service, and good prices. They give a 1-1 exchange rate for Euros & Dollars, which works out in our favor.
|Ribs Food at Sky's the Limit|
|We got to sit in Lover's Lane (as the owner calls it)|
We spent the majority of our time anchored out in Marigot, the capital of the French side. The anchorage there had a lot of boats, kind of like Long Bay in St. Thomas, but there was plenty of space. There were some liveaboard locals, some charter boats, and some cruisers. It was a great base for us, since we had easy access to grocery stores and the public bus. During the day there were lots of boats waking us, as well as numerous rhino tours and jet ski tours. We had read a lot of things about dinghy theft in Marigot too, so we were worried about it. For the first few days we were there, we decided to pay the $5/day fee to use the secure dinghy dock in Fort Louis Marina. But after we got a feel for the town and safety, we decided to just use the public dinghy dock by the market square. We didn’t have any problems, but of course we locked our dinghy every time.
|The Marigot Market stalls|
|Tile art at the Marigot Market|
On Wednesdays and Saturdays there is a big market in Marigot with fruits and vegetables, spices, and also souvenir type items. Since we are on a very tight budget we do not go out for meals except for on very rare occasions, but we enjoy local cuisine by finding local items at markets and grocery stores (we much preferred Super U to Simply Market) and preparing them ourselves.
|Our French fromage feast in Salt Whistle's cockpit|
|Ingredients for our boat-made French inspired meal|
We bought a juicy delicious mango, a perfect avocado, some tasty plantains, turmeric root, spices, and homemade passion fruit sorbet at the Marigot Market. A Frenchman selling timeshares for the Westin stopped us to talk. He thought we were French, and when he found out we are American he said, “I cannot believe it. But you are not wearing socks with your sandals!” Apparently, most American tourists that he sees wear socks with their sandals. It was a good laugh.
|Home made passion fruit sorbet|
|Our purchases at the Marigot Market|
|Our delicious breakfast/lunch of French chocolate filled bread from Super U|
|Enjoying French juice that looks like fabric softener|
The public buses in St. Martin are sort of like the guaguas in the Dominican Republic, a cross between a van and a bus. They are super easy to use and cheap, too. Depending on how far you go, they cost $1-2. You can jump on a bus at the bus terminal, or flag one down anywhere on its route. When you get on, you should make sure you say “Bonjour” if you are on the French side, or “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” if you are on the Dutch side. St. Martin’s main roads pretty much follow the coast of the island. When you see your stop you just shout out, “Stop, please,” pay the driver, and step off. We are all about public transportation. Not only is it a budget friendly way to get around, but you get to see the country and interact with the locals, too!
We used the bus to get to Cole Bay, the industrial area where all of the marine stores are located. We visited Budget Marine (which is HUGE compared to the one in St. Thomas…kinda felt like a very expensive Candy Land for boaters), Island WaterWorld, FKG rigging, and Marine Couture (a marine fabric & upholstery store). We picked up a couple of flags at Budget Marine (quarantine flag, French courtesy flag, and Curacao courtesy flag), some fuel hose, and “The Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands” and “The Sailor's Guide to the Windward Islands” by Chris Doyle. Those books are full of really great information, and a real life saver when you don’t have internet to look things up about different places. At Island Water World we bought some diapers (not for us to poop in, but to soak up oil), and a new fuel gauge sender.
Marine Couture was an interesting experience...it was more of a sewing factory than a store. The French ladies that worked there were very kind. One took a break from her sewing machine to let us look through four huge Sunbrella fabric sample books. We got some ideas for redoing our upholstery, but decided we couldn't afford buying the fabric yet. It was very nice to see the choices in person rather than a picture on a website, though, since it's hard to really know what the texture and colors are like.
While we were in St. Martin our boat projects that we completed were: changing the deck fitting on the starboard fuel tank (a previous owner jammed a wooden plug into it instead of repairing the fuel line), cleaning the port fuel tank and installing a fuel gauge sender, fixing the starboard fuel gauge sender, installing our watermaker, and replacing the port intermediate shroud on our mizzen mast. Skeeter got the pleasure of doing all of the fuel tank and watermaker work, and I got the pleasure of ascending the mizzen mast in the rocky anchorage twice: the first time to take down the old broken shroud, and the second time to put the new one up.
|Now we can make 1.5 gallons drinking water per hour!|
|Skeeter cleaned out all the scum & JB welded the corrosion|
One day we took the bus to Philipsburg to walk around town, and so I could show Skeeter where I used to live and work when I worked as a dive instructor at Dive Safaris on the Dutch side. That was ten years ago, so a lot had changed: lots of new docks, more boats, some new stores and restaurants, and some old places torn down.
We walked by the Airport Adventures Boat hoping to catch Whitney, my former boss at Dive Safaris. Unfortunately, we missed her, but we saw her Airport Tours boat that takes people snorkeling and watching airplanes land over their heads from the boat at Maho Beach. I'm so happy for her and her new company...what a creative and awesome idea!
We also saw the GoldenEagle catamarans, which belong to the same company I worked for in St. Thomas. They are the sister ships to the Castaway Girl boats that I crewed on. Down the beach we saw a snorkeling class for locals, which was really cool, and seemed to be quite a popular thing.
|Golden Eagle Catamarans in St. Maarten|
|Locals' snorkel lessons|
|Memories...used to hang out here with my Dive Safaris friends 10 year ago|
Skeeter suggested I get a $5 outfit that was hanging in the window at a store on Back Street. I really liked it too, and hey, you can’t beat $5. It was made in India, a blouse and “magic pants.” The pants are really light and airy, and before you put them on they don’t look like pants at all. First you tie the back side on, pass the fabric through your legs, then you tie the front side on. Ouala. Magic pants. I don’t know why, but I am drawn to things from India. I just love the style, and I love the culture. The owner of the store was from India, too. St. Martin is such a diverse place. You can hear so many languages around you at once, and the locals have heritage from all over the world. I love listening to other languages, so I really enjoyed myself in St. Martin. We heard French, Dutch, English, Spanish, and Patua, amongst others.
We were about to jump a bus back to Marigot when we spontaneously decided to jump on a bus to Maho instead. The Haitian bus driver was really nice, and helped us know exactly where we should get off to go to the famous beach where airplanes land right over your head. I had brought a sarong, so we sat down on it on the beach. We came at just the right time. It was around 3:30 pm, and planes were landing every five minutes or so. The first one appeared in the distance as a little spec. And then it got closer and closer. It looked like it was too low, and going to hit us! It whooshed right over our heads, creating a huge gust of wind. Skeeter LOVED it. He was grinning from ear to ear. He was like a little kid.
|The planes really look like they are going to land on your head|
|Amy & Skeeter at Maho Beach, St. Maarten|
|Propeller plane landing over Skeeter|
|Skeeter loves this!|
When the planes lined up on the run way to take off, he loved it too. Suddenly the engines revved up and before you knew it a massive gust of wind blasted sand in your face and you had to hold onto your hat and sunglasses so they wouldn’t get ripped off your head and fly into the sea behind you. I was a bigger fan of the landing planes than the ones taking off. I’d drape the sarong over my head and in front of my face because I was not quite as fond of the sand blasting as Skeeter was. The sand was stuck all over me, and many hours later Skeeter was still trying to help me brush it off.
|But this is a major tourist attraction anyway...|
We decided to spend our last nights in Tintamarre, an island off the north coast of St. Martin. On the way there we stopped at the beautiful Creole Rock so Skeeter could change our fuel filter. We couldn’t resist urge to jump in, so we did some snorkeling and free diving around that picturesque rock. There were tons of Rhino tour people there at first in their little modified dinghies, but then they left and we had the whole place to ourselves.
|Creole Rock, just outside of Grand Case, St. Martin|
Tintamarre was absolutely stunning. The contrast of the orange and brown rocks, the pristine beige sand, and the azure waters was unlike any vision of paradise I had ever even imagined. We were surrounded by green sea turtles, popping their heads up for a breath of air.
|Beautiful Tintamarre, just off the northeast coast of St. Martin.|
|One of our favorite places|
We snorkeled around the bay, and took our dinghy over to the tug boat wreck around the corner and went free diving on it. The water was clear, and the wreck was teaming with fish. It was just before sunset, so the creole wrasse were pairing up and getting ready to perform their nightly spawning ritual. It was the best creole wrasse spawning we’d ever seen. You could see the males chasing around their chosen mate, rising up off the bottom, swirling around one another, and finally the female releasing her eggs high up in the water column. The females were easily distinguishable because they were smaller, and blue and black. The males were larger in size, and in addition to their blue and black coloration they have splashes of purple and yellow near their tales. And while spawning the males’ mouths turn totally white. I’d never seen that before!
During the day there were lots of charter boats at Tintamarre, but at night we had the island to ourselves, save one other boat on the opposite side of the bay and a couple of goats, birds, crabs, and lizards that call the island their home.
|Momo enjoying Tintamarre|
At night, a swell invaded the bay 90 degrees to the wind. Our boat was rolling from side to side, and I could not sleep. I decided to try sleeping outside where there was a fresh breeze. Just as I got my pillow and blanket out there it started to drizzle. I didn’t have my contact lenses in, but I could swear I saw a huge fire across the way on the mountain in St. Martin. I grabbed my glasses and woke Skeeter up. Sure enough, the entire mountain side was ablaze!
|The giant fire blazing on the mountainside in St. Martin|
I was worried about the Broadreach pad and the Anse Marcel Marina, which are just on the other side of that hill, downwind. The fire blazed for more two days before they were able to get it under control, but fortunately the pad and the marina were fine. The mountain side was mostly bare, with the exception of the landfill. The smell of smoke was really strong in that whole Anse Marcel bay, though.
We had a great time in St. Martin and St. Maarten, but decided it was time to head out and continue on our way. In the morning of Thursday, June 18th we set sail for our next island, the Dutch island of Saba.
Favorites in St. Martin: Maho Beach, Tintamarre, & Marigot Market