March 31st – April 5th 2014 (-4 on UTC)
We were sad to leave St Barth\’s. Friends Richard Spindler and Donna de Mallorca told us it was the best of the Caribbean. They spend 3 months per season here (which is the entire season for them). We could see why. Being here for the St. Barth\’s Bucket Regatta and getting to see Jimmy Buffet were certainly a highlight of our Caribbean sojourn.
Nikki persuaded me to go in for a final coffee and croissant before we left the anchorage for St Maarten/St. Martin. Unfortunately, the lady at the bakery was not particularly pleasant, but I will say, just about everyone else on St. Barth\’s was.
We had to leave by noon in any event in order to catch the 3 pm bridge opening for access to Simpson\’s Lagoon less than 10 miles away. St. Maarten/St. Martin is a true condominium. The south side of the island is Dutch and the north side French and hence the two different spellings. Legend has it that a Dutchman began walking from one side of the island with a Gin in hand and a Frenchman from the opposite end with a glass of wine. Where they met became the final border!
The lagoon is a huge area with several established marinas and takes up much of the island\’s interior. The boating industry on the island is mostly geared up for the Mega Yachting fraternity. We counted over 60 AIS targets in the lagoon alone and saw a few dozen Mega Yachts ensconced. We hailed the Simpson\’s Bay Marina and thought ourselves fortunate that they had space available. That is until we found out the price! As we needed to take care of some deferred maintenance, I bit the bullet and took the slip.
Catamarans are sometimes charged a premium (in cases like this one – double) for the privilege of having two hulls. Many marina\’s include utilities, but not this one. There was the water, electric, garbage collection and security charges. It all added up to a whopping $458.00 for a two night stay. The facilities were not even near up to standard for these kind of fees. I also had the world\’s most expensive boat washer here. The boats\’ hulls were actually only 1/2 \”on the dock\”. The dock fingers were extra short, but don\’t worry (I was told)…just imagine they\’re there!… Definitely a place for the \”RO Club\” (Rich Owners) and not your average yachtie. Once we got settled we dropped the dinghy and cleared customs. No hassle on the Dutch side, but the attitudes were definitely – well – attitudes. Turns out that Ron and Kathleen off \”Lady Amelie\” had a VERY difficult time with the Customs officials on the Dutch side. Hey and Ron\’s Canadian. Everyone loves Canadian\’s, right? You are supposed to check in/out separately for the Dutch/French sides. We didn\’t, more on that in a minute.
Once back from customs, we decided to check out the marina facilities including the large Market Garden supermarket across the road. It was a delight and had everything from edible flowers,(well this is mega yacht territory!), to decent wines (hurray!). We stocked up again as we knew we would not find shopping anywhere close this selection and quality nearby.
The next afternoon, Ron and Kathleen dinghied over from the French side where their Switch 51, \”Lady Amelie\” was up on the hard awaiting transmission and rudder repairs. We decided to go and try the Mojitos at \”Jimbo’s\” the Tex Mex place in the marina. The place was owned by an American who had had the restaurant over 20 years. Once upon a time…he came here on a boat!..:-) The food was good, the atmosphere great and the service was lovely. Something about an American owner? The next day we had some minor boat jobs to get done and as time was getting away we decided to anchor for the night in the lagoon. This would get us ready to head up around to the main bay on the French side – Marigot Bay. We\’d leave first thing in the morning. This would also save us a $225.00 night at Simpson\’s Bay Marina.
The two sides of the island are actually connected through a narrow waterway with a second bridge between the two sides of the lagoon.
However, the width of the bridge opening out to Marigot Bay is barely wider than this boat and a vicious current often runs through the narrow opening. We decided to go the long way round back through the entrance bridge we came in to enter the Lagoon; out the Dutch side. This was a wise choice as we will reveal momentarily!
The lagoon has a long highway bridge which effectively separates the Dutch and French side respectively. The colorful changing bridge night lighting display reminded us of the bridge view at Rivergate Marina in Brisbane, Australia where Nikki and I began our journey together.
One of the things this island is more famous for is its airport! In fact, for \”plane spotting\”, it\’s rated the number one airport in the world!
The planes coming into land actually have to land at the very beginning of the runway as it\’s not particularly long for a jumbo jet! The daily flight from the Netherlands is a big 747 and the main attraction. It is only 75-100 feet above the beach where the sun bunnies arrive to watch the spectacle. There is a well known restaurant bar, \”The Sunset Bar and Grill\” which has a flight monitor to let the patrons know when the big aircraft are due to arrive. This is a bit of a circus and makes for an interesting way to grab a drink with 200 other people there for the same purpose.(Some great photos to be published later on this one!)
We took a taxi with Kathleen and watched in anticipation as the great metal bird emerged out of the grey rainy skies ready for touch down. It was an amazing sight as 200 odd cameras witnessed the scene from the bar and beach for posterity. The bar must make a killing with the fact its the best place to watch. Sad to say, but this really is the one part of the St. Maarten island experience we enjoyed the most. Was there something we missed in translation perhaps?
St Martin (Marigot Bay, French side) would be our last French Island to visit this season. We went to the French Customs office and played as if we were still on the St. Maarten side. The unbelievably rude \”tude\” made us just blend in with the 100 or so boats in the bay. We told him we\’d come by when we moved the boat (which of course we already had!) We had no intention of going through their ridiculous system to check in for two nights with \”Attitude R US\” stamped across their foreheads.
Despite some \”up market\” areas on the French side, we had to endure the begging. So much for the enlightened French welfare system. Don\’t get me going!
It\’s one thing to be expensive, but is there value in the cost? Are the locals friendly? Of note: The higher the density and frequency of Cruise Ships = less than delightful attitudes. Can you spell \”jaded\”? This is a tourist economy, reputation means a great deal. With few exceptions, we\’d say St. Maarten and St. Martin are \”must miss stops\”. As St. Barth\’s was one of our favorites, less than 10 miles away, St. Maarten/St. Martin was one of our LEAST favorites. Sorry to be a bit of a bummer, but we\’re relating our experiences. Maybe someone else\’s is different, but this was ours. Frankly, we wouldn\’t go back.
Sadly, this would also be our last encounter with Ron and Kathleen as they were waiting for parts to arrive from overseas and at the best guess, would be here 3-4 weeks…..at least. We decided to go and check out the small Port La Royale Marina for our farewell dinner together. After being hustled for business as the four of us browsed the menus, we decided on The Galleon restaurant with the lure of a free cosmopolitan cocktail and the best mussels in town. We obviously had our “gullible tourist” radar turned off that evening with yet another pretty ordinary meal. The company and conversation made up for the quality of the food. We had a lovely night and said our farewells to Ron and Kathleen (for the second time this season). As we dropped them off in the dinghy, we traversed the narrow channel back to Marigot Bay anchorage, glad we had made the decision to go the long way around with \”Beach House\”. We heard from Ron & Kathleen a few days later they witnessed a charter catamaran shearing off the port side chain plate as they motored through the narrow bridge channel. The guy was alone and either misjudged or got stuck in the current and lost control of the boat. He didn\’t realize the extent of the damage and a few minutes later, amid the sound of a heart rendering crack, the guys carbon fiber mast fell and hit ‘The Drink’. I\’m sure afterward he had one too!… Think VERY expensive and that lovely Catana 47 is done for the season. At least no one was hurt.
A few weeks later when we would arrive in Culebrita, Puerto Rico in the Spanish Virgin Islands, we met the US Catamarn \”Muse\”. \”Muse\” had a similar experience there last season. He had the right of way going through the bridge and a chartered mono hull didn\’t look. They collided at the same bridge. It caused \”Muse\” to shear her chain plate and lose her mast as well.
Like we said, glad we didn\’t go through that way! Boy it\’s tempting as it saves 2 hours.
The next morning, we upped anchor and headed across the 6 mile channel to our last \”Leeward Island\” – Anguilla. It\’s affiliated with the UK and as such, we knew we\’d be in for more pleasant folk \”mon\”….\” 🙂
That Blog will be a short one and then on to the BVI! (British Virgin Islands).
Scott and Nikki (posted en route to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos … yeah, we\’re still a bit behind)….:-)