St. Martin and Anguilla. After our bit of difficulty getting to St. Martin, and barely making it through the drawbridge at Simpson Bay on the last opening of the day, we were tired and ready to relax a bit. We decided to go through the second bridge (a swing bridge that allowed transit past the causeway to the airport) and drop anchor in the Lagoon on the French side. Despite comments from the guide books about the higher incidence of crime on the French side, we wanted to avoid the much more expensive fees (customs, immigration and anchoring fees) imposed by the Dutch authorities. So we passed through the swing bridge and anchored north of the bridge and just across the border. It was crowded and windy in the Lagoon, but crowded and windy is normal in Caribbean anchorages, so it was time for us to get used to it. We dropped the hook in 15′ of water, watched our swing, ate dinner and then went to bed.
We learned the next day about the major drawback to our location. We were directly under the flight path of commercial jets leaving the international airport. The noise is near deafening but thankfully, flights are not too frequent and mostly in the morning, starting after 7:00 am. We got used to it.
St. Martin is a cruising Mecca in the Caribbean islands and filled with permanent, semi-permanent, long term temporary, temporary, and transient visitors. We decided to spend a couple weeks, i.e. we were temporary. Each morning there is a VHF cruisers net that gives new arrivals a chance to introduce themselves and get into the swing of life at St. Martin. We listened every morning. Its a great resource of knowledge and information.
Our spot in the Lagoon was close to the Dutch side we could easily take advantage of the big stores and buy supplies we needed. Island Water World, Budget Marine, NAPA, and other stores are convenient to the waterfront and the free dinghy docks. BE SURE TO BRING A HEAVY CABLE OR CHAIN AND A HEAVY LOCK. Plus, there are numerous restaurants and bars. We ended up spending a fair amount of money and saving some money on purchases because all of St. Martin is duty free, with no sales tax. Plus, its possible to buy new 2-cycle outboard engines. We purchased a simple, lightweight, little 3.5 HP Mercury that I can carry with one hand. Its one of the best items we ever purchased. We can putt-putt short distances to shore, easily lift the dinghy onto the beach and lock it to a tree, and easily lift the engine off the transom and store in a lazerette. Plus, the tiny engine is far less appealing to thieves. We use the little Mercury far more often than the powerful 15hp Yamaha, which is a thief magnet.
The Dutch side is the place to shop the big stores and socialize and the French side is the place to go for the outdoor public market and excellent bakery items. Like most Caribbean destinations, the town is somewhat dirty and blemished by litter, broken sidewalks, bad drivers, and noise. Walking is the best way to get around, but you do so at your own risk. Crosswalks are ignored by drivers and the best way to cross a street is to wait for an opening and run for it.
Within a few days we found the best places to shop, where to land the dinghy, how best to lock it even when there are no cleats, and how to ignore the tour boats and PWC rentals that haul ass through the anchorage, just 20-50 feet off the beam. (“No Wake” zones are not observed.) It was not unusual for us to have a PWC or other small craft pass by at 30-40 knots, 20 feet away, in the darkness, without any lights whatsoever. Therefore, it’s important to have a bright light illuminating your anchored boat all night. This also helps deter thieves. There are other ways to do that as well. I laughed aloud one morning listening to the cruisers net and the discussion of ongoing dinghy thefts. Dinghys are sometimes stolen while locked with a cable to a dock in full view during the day. One woman spoke on the radio and said the solution was to swamp your dinghy with water and then secure it to the dock. She was not kidding.
We adjusted our behavior to fit the circumstances and enjoyed St. Martin a great deal. We were not able to visit the east side of the island due to rough seas and high winds but we anchored in the Lagoon, Marigot Bay, and Grand Case. We attempted to find a place to anchor in Anse Marcel but it was impossible. A local charter company was sponsoring a race among its fleet of 40′ Jeanneau cruisers, in the anchorage, around the mooring buoys. The fleet of inexperienced skippers insisted on their “under sail right of way”, as they worked their way around the course in 20 knot winds. We witnessed several near collisions with moored and anchored boats, and ourselves, before we turned tail and went back to Marigot.
We also visited the island of Anguilla and anchored for three nights in the bay at Sandy Ground. Anguilla is a British Island, beautiful, and relatively un-crowded. Its clean, friendly, and relaxing. Anchoring is restricted, and prohibited in most bays on the island, and expensive cruising fees are charged to anyone who desires to do so. Therefore, nearly all cruising boats stay put at Sandy Ground and explore the island by car. The beach is pretty, the anchorage reasonably protected from the trade winds and there are beach bars and restaurants for evening entertainment. We rented a vehicle for a full day and enjoyed the tour. We also visited a large, grocery super market and stocked up on many items.
We left the Lagoon anchorage in the morning. We exited the Causeway Bridge early, to leave time to buy fuel at one of the big Marinas. Then we caught the drawbridge opening out of the Lagoon to Simpson Bay and headed south. On the way south, we stopped for two nights at Phillipsburg, to see the “big city” on the Dutch side. It’s a cruise ship town, with a beautiful beach, numerous bars, lots of loud music, and a huge cruise ship dock. At night, there were 4-5 ships in port, enough to create protection from the easterly trade winds and waves. We stayed there because we were waiting to pick up some friends flying in from Washington State and as a jumping off point for our trip further south to St. Barts and then Antigua. But that was not such a great idea. We needed to check in with the Dutch, since we had left “France” in the morning. The customs and immigration process was cumbersome, expensive, and rude. Its a long walk from the marina, and not at all set up to service individual cruising boats. If you want to visit Phillipsburg its a far better plan to rent a car, or take the cheap local bus, and visit from your anchorage in the Lagoon. You can travel overland anywhere on the island without the hassle and expense of visiting customs and immigration offices. You only need to do that if you move your boat from one “country” to another.
Its not necessary to rent a car to get around, unless you want to go to one of the east island towns. The local “buses” on St. Martin cover a lot of territory and are not bad. They consist mostly of small passenger vans that seat 10-12 passengers, with an occasional larger vehicle on some routes. They can be very crowded and ramshackle, but not as much so as on some of the islands further south. The good news is that they are very cheap and it can be a fun ride if you relax and enjoy the show. We liked riding the bus, even though the staff at the Visitor Center strongly discouraged it, urged us to take an expensive taxi, and told us the “bus” was for “locals only”. We figured her husband probably owned a taxi.
After 2 weeks on St. Martin, and our two nights at Phillipsburg, we were ready to move on. So after breakfast and coffee on a bright, sunny day, we left for St. Barts, and then Antigua, with our new crew members, ready for adventure. On the way south from St. Barts, we got a good dose of adventure.