Tuesday, May 17, 2011

St. Martin/Sint Maarten in the Leeward Islands

Lush beautiful courtyards
May 17, 2011, Tuesday

Pulling anchor at first light about 5:30 am, we cruised uneventfully 10 or so hours to St. Martin/Sint Maarten, a tiny island located at the northern tip of the Leeward Islands.  The 37 miles of land are both Dutch (Sint Maarten) and French (St. Martin), both with their own language, currency and customs.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten
Coming toward the Lagoon on  the Dutch side

History says that after all those centuries of fighting here on the islands (all those countries again & the pirates), the Spanish troops left, taking all the French and Dutch prisoners with them, except for 10 who escaped.  These 10 stayed and soon more and more French and Dutch arrived, making peace, not war.  Legend has it that the border was determined by a walking race between a Dutchman and a Frenchman - walking in opposite directions around the island until they met.  The Dutch ended up with 16 square miles because the Dutchman kept stopping for a drink.  The French got the majority of the island - all 21 square miles.  Today 37,000 live on the Dutch side and 30,000 on the French side, with tourism as the means of support for all - this is a TAX FREE DUTY FREE port. 

Making the turn to enter closer to the entrance of St. Martin on the Dutch side, we were hailed by Scott aboard RASMUS, who heard us on the VHF trying to reach the bridge official.     Our plan had been to anchor outside the Lagoon based on our friend, the Brit’s advice.   I’d also just determined that the fees to enter Simpson’s Bay & the Immigration/Customs fees would be $120 for our boat - an outrageous amount!

The blue bridge on the Dutch side
It seems the Dutch want to pay off the cost of that new blue drawbridge they built, sticking it to those using the bridge.  A side note, anyone can pay $1,000 and the bridge will open for them off schedule!!  Phew - a drop in the bottomless bucket if one has one of these mega yachts.

It did not take us 5 minutes on the hook, bouncing and rolling outside of the Lagoon to decide NO WAY we wanted to stay there for a few days.  Nor did we want to partake in what would be very long, wet dingy rides into the Lagoon where all the stores, restaurants and activities were.  We especially did not want to have to do that after dark!   Sliding through the narrow bridge into the lagoon at the 5:30 PM opening, we found a spot and settled in.   A side note:  Checking in the next day, we learned the fees had been reduced greatly to be in the Lagoon and use the bridge.  We paid about $60, which is still far higher than checking into most other islands.

Fort on the French side @top of hill

French side inside the harbor
Brittany & Scott were waiting for us and off we went for a few days of sightseeing on both the Dutch and French sides, eating and drinking our way through the many fun places.

Fruit stands and smoothies are everywhere

The rain and drizzle continue but are not stopping us from exploring.  Our first impression was “Wow - we could spend the winter here”.  Well, after exploring for a couple of days, maybe NOT.  We are not into spending $$ on designer bags, clothes or jewelry - even duty free.  In fairness to the island, however, we will come back and explore via auto next time to get a better flavor of it all and to see all the mega yachts that will be docked here by December.  We are here ‘off season’ with very few tourists about.  We are told that by mid-November through March every place is PACKED, marinas are booked solid with mega yachts of the rich and famous and one could walk boat to boat across the anchorage. 

A favorite place we visited on the Dutch side was Jimbo’s, a lush garden like place with a swimming pool around the bar located in the center of a shopping complex, Plaza del Lago located behind the tiny Isle del Sol, or also known as Snoopy Island, in Simpson Bay.    We might have worn out our welcome, spending several hours sipping water and later Margaritas and Nachos as we caught up on our email via the free wifi and avoiding the latest downpour outside. 

Another day, running with Andy, Brittany & Scott, to get out yet another downpour that came without warning, I slipped and made a grand entrance on my butt into Topper’s Bar and Grill in Simpson Bay.       


Topper of Topper's Bar

Climbing onto a bar stool with help as my butt and back hurt, we were greeted by the owner, Topper, who happened to be there....a delightful, interesting gentleman from Chicago who owns restaurants around the world.


We spent an hour or so enthralled he regaled us with stories and shared with us the rums he produces 
on the island.   We tasted at least 6 different ones, all sweet, but good. 

Rums produced by Topper locally

The walls are lined with photos of the rich and famous and Topper tells us the restaurant is always packed solid during the season.  He has another restaurant in Simpson Bay from which he produces first class theatre, complete with elaborate costumes and local talent.  For the price of a meal, you get to see the play.  We plan to do this upon our return this winter.  In case I lose the business cards, Topper’s two restaurants are:  Topper’s at Flamingo Beach Resort @ 6 Billy Folly Road and at 113 Welfare Road, next to Dolphin Casino.  I forget which is which, but can find them on foot.

Mega yacht in the Dutch side
The largest sailboat in the world @ mooring Dutch side
French side restaurant

Not certain I understand this one  

A treat for a change - real French bread

Ah, the wonderful French side for it's bakery and its restaurants!  So great tasting...a real treat, including the gellato ice cream.
Doesn't get any better than this!


May 22, 2011  Sunday
Six days after dropping anchor in St. Martin, weather finally was good enough to depart.  Cruising seven hours from here to Ballast Bay anchorage on St.Kitts, under fairly clear skies and puffy clouds.  We were thrilled to see the sun for the first time since departing Puerto Rico ten days ago but could barely keep our eyes open half the time as we gently bobbed up and down in the waves and warm sun.   We are flying the Q flag as we are not getting off the boat, planning to pull out early tomorrow morning.  St. Kitts and its sister island, Nevis, are both large with lots to see and do....on our return trip.  In the interim, given our schedule, we are chugging along.

The guide book calls the islands strung out for the next 90 miles along the sea, “The Islands that Brush the Clouds”.   Saba, St. Eustatius or Statia, St. Christopher, commonly known as St. Kitts, Nevis, Redonda & Montserrat are small, lush, green, volcanic islands that rise straight out of the water,  touching the clouds overhead.  St. Kitts is the highest, at 4,000 feet.  One’s goal should be to explore each island on land - something we will have to do on the return trip.  God, our list of places to see and things to do is getting so LONG for our return trip!  Saba & Statia are Dutch; St. Kitts & Nevis - sister islands - are their own independent nation & Montserrat is British.

We carefully picked our way beside a long reef that sticks out from the point, dropping our anchor in a well protected, large cove in Ballast Bay, St. Kitts.  We love it when we are one of the first into an anchorage & can pick our spot easily without threading our way around other boats hunting for a spot not to close to others.   Shortly after we’d settled in, putting out nearly 200 feet of chain, about 8 more boats came in, one after the other, for the evening.

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