Tag Archives: Saint Martin

Sint Maarten to Saint Barthelemy

We encountered some unexpected swells on the way across to St. Bart – a relatively short 14 NM passage that is usually a lovely morning’s sail.  We scooted by the island of Ile Fourchue while everyone gave it a raspberry. Last year, with the same crew aboard, our supposedly well-maintained and paid for Marine Park mooring broke setting us adrift at 2 am smashing on the rocks. J’s quick thinking and fast reflexes had gotten us off and we tooled around in the pitch black using every available light looking for a safe anchoring spot – with the mooring ball perched on the bow. All bilges were checked and appeared dry –  but we really had no idea if there was any damage so we stood anchor watches until 8 am when the sun was high enough for a dive over the side.

When we arrived in Gustavia, St. Bart’s main village, we contacted the Capitainerie and requested an inner harbor mooring. They were full for our yacht size, but they could offer us a side-tie along the new dock on the east side (designated on the charts as stern-to dockage). We knew that shore was where most of the action was so we thought that this would be perfect for our first landfall –  especially since the passage had not been as smooth as predicted (and no main hadn’t helped). Why this perfect spot had attracted so few boats when the outer harbor was full should have raised a question. But we were so happy to just be there, with our family, as our first landfall of our big adventure that we didn’t give it  sufficient thought….

Richard cleared us in and we looked around to see what had changed in a year. Gustavia is charming, picturesque, flower bedecked, impeccably maintained and usually loaded with megayachts – although we were a touch late in the season this year for too many of those. It’s also terribly French and terribly chic. Red-roofed buildings march up the hillsides surrounding the harbor. Boutiques and mid-range and high-end restaurants abound. One chandlery and one hardware store along with a plethora of technical marine services keep the boats happy. There’s some sightseeing to do: walk the promenade that almost circles the harbor, climb up the main road at the foot of the harbor for a spectacular view of the harbor. Or walk over to Shell Beach for a relaxing morning. Or climb to the two forts – Gustav and Karl  – for more panoramas. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of standing at the foot of the runway when a plane takes off – or better yet, lands. You can just see the pilot standing on his brakes. Apparently there is a special pilot certificate for landing on this “one of the shortest in the world” air strips.

But, first we had to get the hardware on the new main. Imagine two large mainsails sprawled across the tramp.  Given the assignment, the “kids” (all highly focused management types) set up a system –  A&T used allen wrenches to remove the cars from the old sail (8 screws with three parts) and carefully transported them one-by-one across the tramp to J&L who installed each of them on the new sail. It took a couple hours but finally it was done – just one car short.  And no “single” Antal cars in St Barts. The next project would be to feed it into the channel and install the battens as the sail went up.

The two guys couldn’t wait for another alfresco dinner at  legendary Le Select having totally romanticized the restaurant’s burgers into amazing, larger than life fat juicy succulence.  Everyone went set off their own adventures, and we agreed to meet at the eatery in the early evening. A block off the harbor, Le Select is in a pretty, open area filled with tree-shaded tables serviced by a small DIY diner-like kitchen – think lolos or food truck. In reality, those burgers are perfectly fine but it’s the French fries that are fabulous (since we eat a plant-based diet, we really have no right to judge but we DO eat those fries.) This year they even had veggie burgers, so we were all happy campers. A separate small building serves as the bar – which we also visited frequently. They are convinced that this is the inspiration for Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” given his affection for the island – but that title is also claimed by Cabbage Key on Florida’s West Coast (another of our favorite spots).

That first night we found out why there was room on the east dock. Gustavia’s inner harbor is prone to swells and the way that dock lies those swells push the boat forward then roll it back squeaking and grinding against the fenders – over and over and over again. The next morning everyone, including those bleary-eyed occupants of the bulkhead-side cabins, was up early and off in search of French goodies for breakfast and found La Petite Colombe for croissants and baguettes – even complete (whole wheat) baguettes! Later A&T toured the AMC Supermarket – right across from the boat – to stock up on anything they felt was missing from our massive SMX provisioning foray. And J&L brought back more yummy offerings from their excursion to the north end of the island. We were calorie laden.

 

Sint Maarten – Simpson Bay Lagoon

When moored or docked in Simpson Bay Lagoon, the dinghy is your car– most of the services were across the bay from our dock.  We went to dinner, made daily visits to the ATM, ran errands, dropped off laundry, provisioned lightly, had lunch at the St. Maarten Y.C.  – all in the dink. But at a certain point, we needed to head further afield, so we rented a car for a couple of days to pick up the new main in Oyster Pond, see a little more of SXM – mainly the bigger stores looking for household items, a multifunction printer, tools, and to do the major provisioning for the trip. Rentals are reasonable and they pick up and deliver (but don’t expect 2013 cars). They also seem to come with the floors covered in newspaper, we assume to keep them clean. We also discovered that the wrong main had been delivered from Tortola so, after much discussion, the right one would be sent overnight and was to be delivered to us on Saturday.

PROVISIONING

Sint Maarten is, without doubt, the place to provision in the Lesser Antilles.  A half mile walk from the dinghy dock at Yacht Club Port de Plaisance marina in Simpson Bay Lagoon, there is a big, bright wonderful Le Grande Marche near the entrance to the Princess Casino driveway. We were planning to dinghy and have them deliver, but we had the car and that seemed just easier.  I spent almost three hours and about $800 (with just a week’s worth of wine and beer). The prices are very reasonable (not necessarily stateside reasonable but certainly for the Caribbean) and the variety is not matched anywhere. It’s an unbeatable combination But be sure to go to either this Le Grande Marche or the one in Philipsburg; the others are small and disappointing. The produce was fresh and reasonable so we bought more than enough for six of us for the first week (it lasted at least another week), and the basics for most of the two-month trip – with a lot left over (the boat looked like the Island Trader with baskets of fresh fruit and unripe vegetables scattered about). Just don’t freak out at the prices on the shelves – they are in Gilders, with dollars below and Euros above (the last two in mice type). We eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet so we can’t speak to meat, fish, etc.  But we were amazed at the assortment of vegan and vegetarian products that were available. (We did stock some meat, poultry and dairy for our son and son-in-law which they declared quite good.)

For you other vegs out there, we discovered Carrot top across the lagoon with delicious, interesting plant-based wraps, salads, burgers, sandwiches, heartier entrees a swell as lots of juices and smoothies. A bit pricey but we were happy to find it.  And we had a wonderful dinner at elegant, water-side Paanland Thai restaurant that was very veg friendly – with a dinghy dock. More coverage of living plant-based in the Caribbean coming soon in my travegans.com blog.

 

Sint Maarten – Getting the Boat Ready

Jerawyn lived on a mooring on the Dutch side of Simpson Bay Lagoon from mid-February until mid- April to allow the work to get done. The Lagoon, 12 square miles of nearly land-locked water, is half in Sint Maarten and half in French Saint Martin – you get in and out through two draw bridges. This is generally considered the yachting center of SXM and, while cruising yachts are a big part of their business, there are also quite a number of marinas that have been built to cater to megayachts. Watching these behemoths squeak through the 56-foot wide draw bridge is great sport attested to by the line up along the rail at the bridge-side St. Maarten Yacht Club.

Richard had discovered a “guy” in Sint Maarten,  David Duong, who had been recommended by our surveyor.  He found us a reasonably priced mooring, visited, charged batteries and generally watched over Jerawyn while we were back in New York.  He was a terrific resource for services of all kinds (from inverters to cleaning) heading us in the right direction through his own local knowledge no matter what we needed.   Vendors and installers had been contracted with in February and a good size shipment of parts, electronics and heads had been delivered from the States through Tropical.com in Miami via their twice-weekly containership to Sint Maarten. A new genoa and a new stack pack arrived right on time from South Africa,  and the new main had been delivered from Tortola to the marina in Oyster Pond.  That it turned out was the easy part.

Of course, everything seemed to slip to the eleventh hour so there were a lot of workers crawling around the boat the week before our arrival. The Raymarine installer requested that we move the boat to a dock to make things easier so we booked a space at the marina behind Island Water World and David arranged to have her moved.  Island Water World is a big, well-supplied chandlery –  one of four in the Caribbean – that offers good discounts (often better than Budget Marine) and good service. They have a dinghy dock and also offer free bikes for touring. As an aside, we bought our 12 ft. dinghy and 15 hp motor from Island Water World in February and that put us in their “deepest discount” category so we were inclined to keep a running tab there with all manner of last-minute purchases from books to sets of snorkel gear to more serious and pricey stuff.  Manager Erwin Rutenberg was helpful as were all the staff throughout – and we stopped at their other branches along the way.

And it wasn’t just boat stuff!  For an early birthday present, I got a coveted pair of Jabsco “quiet flush” electric push-button heads that we shipped from the States and which were impeccably installed by Julian from Custom Fit Marine whom we thoroughly enjoyed meeting and highly recommend. When we arrived, that was the only project completed. The heads are simply terrific – no more pumping blisters. But “Quiet Flush” is  a bit of a misnomer!

Bert Lamerigts at Electec honchoed the installation of the new Xantrex inverter, additional 110 plugs, a 210 AH battery, and the job was ably executed by charming Nico. They, too, could not have been easier or more pleasant to deal with. Even when we ran into problems later in the voyage, one of them was at the other end of the phone, even on Sunday afternoon, solving problems that literally no one else could. That is the kind of follow-up service that is priceless.   Rob from St. Maarten Sails fabricated the new custom cushions with a comfy combination of closed and open cell foam. It was a little eleventh hour and a little pricey but, bottom-line, we love them!!

We returned to St. Maarten in mid-April, as scheduled, about a week before our family was to arrive for our week’s cruise.  Heads were done, electric work was done, but the biggest project – a new Raymarine chartplotter, radar, AIS, wifi hi gain antenna and modem, had not even been started.  Reason? Late arrival of the shipped equipment, conflicts with other projects, other workers on Jerawyn……  In short, we departed St. Maarten the following Saturday with all of the uninstalled equipment stowed under our berth.