Cheshire Cat in St Martin

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

St Martin

Luxurious motor yachts lined up in the Lagoon on the Dutch side of St. Martin

Like other Caribbean islands St Martin was first discovered by Christopher Columbus, but this one was soon claimed by the French and the Dutch. One story related that the island was divided between them in an original way. Both countries chose a man, each of whom was to walk from one side of the island to the other. Where they met would decide the division of the land. Of course the weather was very hot, so each man took along something to drink - the Frenchman took some wine and the Dutchman took some gin. Apparently the gin slowed the Dutchman down considerably because most of the island is now owned by the French!

St Martin is a great place for cruising yachts to visit, re- provision and fix up or buy boat systems and services. We live almost side by side with the opulent power yachts and magnificent sailing yachts that charter from this island duty free island.

Bilge sale for boaters; one mans treasure is anothers junk

Anchored in the lagoon or in one of the marinas one is protected from the worst of the wind and waves (although we have had up to 40 knot gusts at one time) and the holding is good for anchoring. The water isn’t very deep – we were in about 12 feet, although there are a couple of places where one has to watch the shallows – although the main channels are fine.

The entrance and bridge were widened recently – now it opens at 9 am. 11 am and 5.30 pm – holding up all the road traffic for ages. Channel 12 monitors the bridge and departing vessels leave first.

Mike and Andrea enjoying a
late evening beer

Sitting at St Martin Yacht club – just inside the bridge entrance can be pretty entertaining at the 5.30 afternoon bridge lift. This just happens to coincide with happy hour and $1.00 beers (guaranteed to be a yachtie favourite). There was the additional benefit when a tray of finger food appeared, deviled eggs, fried plantain etc – yummy! Patrons line the shore just outside the bar either to wave sayonara to outgoing vessels or hello and welcome to the incoming boats. They are accompanied by an expert conch blower who exercises his skill in time with the amount of enthusiastic shouting. Most people seem to like the attention, and wave and shout back from their lofty positions with varying degrees of enthusiasm

Opening Bridge giving access to The Lagoon from Simpson's Bay

The St Martin Yacht Club was constructed of four ships containers – one at each corner, with a tarpaulin roof. But the bar is lively – the company easy to talk with and the beer inexpensive! Our Midland Bay Sailing Club burgee has a place amongst others strung across the roof. It was left by a former visitor – Terry Burt-Gerans.

Shopping is always an adventure in any new town. Here there are a number of small stores situated along the road on the west of the lagoon, as well as a couple of banks. Buses run each way to and from Phillipsburg all the time, and one only has to wait a couple of minutes to wave one to a stop and hop in. They are actually small vans with bench seats to seat seven, and two up front beside the driver. There is a board in the driver's window indicating the destination, and the drivers often drive past very slowly, tooting a little on their horns, looking for passengers. When they get really full each there is a fold down seat at the end of each bench seat so the van can accommodate three more. If you want to get off you shout “stop please driver,” and the van pulls up smartly on the side of the road (where possible) and out you jump. It may take a little longer if you are at the back and all the pull down seats are occupied – they all have to jump out first! But it’s all very friendly and casual. Each trip costs a$1.00, and the view on the coastal road is spectacular.

Once in Phillipsburg one comes face to face with the cruise ship tourists. St Marten is a tax free island, and there are seem to be more jewelery stores than there are restaurants, not to mention the shops that sell t-shirts and souvenirs, electronics and clothes. Streets are very narrow, always full of people, vendors and cars, all noisy and as we had come to expect, very cheerful and friendly.

Provisioning was best at the Cost U Less warehouse – something like a Costco. One can buy a variety of household and farm or garden items, as well as food, although the range of canned goods does not have great variety. Nearby was a Grande Marche – packed with great fresh produce – and the familiar names on jars, cans and bottles. And just a little further was Rams – which had an excellent produce section, meat not so varied, but there were Dutch, Indian and Chinese sections that couldn’t be found in the other two places.

Going the in the opposite direction way one can visit Marigot on the French side –- and experience a total change in atmosphere and customs. There are no casinos and little obvious tourist traps apart from appealing restaurants. The architecture shows a lot of French influence; there are curb side cafes, great gourmet food shops and excellent quality stores and restaurants. Of course one has to remember that the shops don’t open early, they have extended lunch hours and a half day on Wednesdays. And although we haven’t managed to stay out late enough we were told the night life is excellent. We hiked up the nearby hill to the abandoned fort St Louis, meandered around the town and the market and visited a very nice supermarket - lots of lovely European cheeses, pate and delicious bread.

Fort St Louis, Marigot

In the Lagoon we met with some boats from Bermuda; Quietly with Dalton on board; Willow - Brenda and John on board; Gallant of Fowey an English boat carrying Andrea and David, they had their daughter Alex with them and were joined by Tom, their son.

China Moon was there and any number of other yachts. Some boat people work, some are passing through and some revisiting for provisioning or boat work. We first met Melodye and John and their dog Millie on Second Millennium here. They work the Caribbean Security and Safety Net every morning on Single Side Band radio, and provide an invaluable service for us all, with boat watch information, (in case a boat goes missing, or somebody has an urgent message to pass on to a boat) emergency news, and warnings of potential danger spots in the Caribbean where dinghies have been stolen or boarding and robberies have taken place. Yes, bad stuff still happens, even in paradise.
We even caught up with news of Diana anold friend from Canada who had finally gone home to New Zealand. We traced her through the 12 meter yachts that do the tourist racing trips from Phillipsburg. Colin Percy, who owns the outfit, used to live in Oakville, bought the 12 meters as a business, and of course it is one of the big attractions here. I remember that Ellen was tickled pink having had a ”race” in one of those boats!

Haircutting day for the cruisers

One day we arranged to meet a few other friends at the Sunset Bar on the beach by the airport. This beach bar is a favorite place to hang out at and to watch the planes landing – particularly the big ones like Air France, American Airlines, Transcontinental and KLM. It can be pretty busy with smaller inter-island flights as well as the privately owned jets nipping in and out all the time. The sea comes right up to the road with just a small beach that has quite a steep drop down to the water. Between the road and the airport is a tall chain link fence.

As you may imagine, Juliana airport is fairly small, so the big planes have to take full advantage of all the room they can get. If you happen to walk along the beach you can get blown off your feet. This has developed into quite an exciting event - all kinds of people, young and old, line up at the fence at the end of the runway, close their eyes (if they aren’t wearing goggles) and hang on for dear life as the big jets set off on full power!! Cameras whirr and click to record the scene. Air blasting, bodies rocking in the wind and on special days, maybe somebody will find themselves lifted right off their feet!! They say that wearing flippers helps!!

Group at the Sunset bar after some silly people tried to fly at the fence