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St. Martin/Sint Maarten

A Sailor's Paradise


A brief southbound sail from Anguilla brought us to the enchanting island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten. It embodies a fusion of French and Dutch cultures, evident in its dual nationality. This small yet vibrant island is divided into the French side, known as Saint Martin, and the Dutch side, referred to as Sint Maarten.


Boaty Buddies!

We initially cleared into the French Side at Marigot Bay. En route to clearing in, we zipped over to Mark and Terri's boat, The Spirit of Tobermory, to reunite! Our acquaintance with Mark and Terri began in Nova Scotia, and we hadn't crossed paths since Annapolis.


While we ventured to Bermuda, they journeyed southward to Florida and then to the Bahamas. Reconnecting with them was truly delightful. It was great fun to hear all about their adventures first hand.

Terri and Mark adventuring. From her facebook page.
Spirit of Tobermory

Clearing in on the French Side

The clearance process here proved to be the most laid-back entry into a country we've ever experienced. We dinghied to Ile Marine, a French marine store reminiscent of West Marine.

Ile Marine

There, a designated computer on the counter facilitated the clearance procedure. Adjusting to the French keyboard layout, required extra attention, mostly when I hit the A key.

French Keyboard

The hardest part of clearing in was finding the USA in the drop down list since it was called Etats Unis. A guy working in the store checked our passports and boat registration then we were good to go. No fees at all. We asked if we were supposed to go to immigration next. The guy said yes. But I don't think many people actually do.


We could only find the Immigration office because Terri had pointed at it the night before when we went in for dinner. There are no signs and the building is fenced off. When we showed up, they looked at us like we were crazy for seeking them out. The officer approached us at the gate then reluctantly took our passports to his office, stamped them, and returned them to us.


In Marigot Bay, we reunited with our fellow boating buddies from the BVIs, Mario and Nathalie. Joining us for dinner were Mario, Nathalie, Mark, Terri, another couple from Quebec. The evening was filled with laughter and lively conversation, making for a truly enjoyable night. Regrettably, Mario and Nathalie set sail the next day, followed by Mark and Terri departing the day after. Saying good-bye is a big part of the cruising life.

We shared a meal at Bistro de le Mer.

Marigot Bay

Marigot

Dave and I set out on foot to explore the bustling capital of the French side, Marigot. Nestled along the shores of Marigot Bay, this picturesque town captivates visitors with its vibrant colors, colonial architecture, and a busy waterfront.

No French town is complete without its bakery!

It was nice to be back in "France" since we thoroughly loved our time on the French Islands, St. Pierre and Michelon, off the coast of Newfoundland. Sadly, my French has not improved since last July. I still "Je ne parle pas francais".


At the heart of Marigot lies the circular Fort Louis Marina, where luxury yachts and sailboats sway gently in the breeze.

Fort Louis Marina

One of Marigot's main attractions is its vibrant market in the town square. Local vendors display an array of fresh produce, handicrafts, clothing, and souvenirs. The market's lively atmosphere, infused with the aromas of tropical fruits and spices, is fun to walk through and window shop. There's also a row of local eateries that are super delicious.

Downtown

Fort St. Louis

Overlooking the town is the historic Fort Louis, perched atop a hillside with panoramic views of Marigot Bay and the surrounding coastline. We explored the ruins of this 18th-century fortress, which offers glimpses into the island's colonial past and strategic importance.

View from Fort St. Louis

Nowadays, the fort is only occupied by iguanas of all sizes and colors and tourists who don't mind climbing all the steps to get to the top.


The Lagoon

A part of Marigot is built on the shore of a large lagoon that Marigot Bay shares with the dutch side, Simpson and Cole Bay.


Stretching over several miles, this tranquil lagoon provides a sheltered haven for boats, from small sailboats to luxurious yachts.


Lined with mangroves and dotted with small islets, the lagoon offers a scenic backdrop of rolling hills and lush greenery. Its calm waters make it an ideal spot for anchoring, jet skiing, kayaking and paddleboarding.


In the center of the lagoon lies the Causeway Bridge, a drawbridge that connects the two sides of the island. This bridge serves as a vital link for both maritime and vehicular traffic, opening several times a day to allow boats to pass through. The lagoon also has two other lift bridges, one at the French entrance and one at the Dutch entrance.


Causeway Bridge
Simpson Bay Bridge (Dutch side)

On a particularly blustery day, we attempted to enter the lagoon from the French side, only to find the Sandy Bay Lift Bridge remained firmly shut. Despite my online research indicating the bridge's operating hours from 8:30 AM to 5 PM, it appeared this information was not entirely accurate.


In reality, the bridge only opens twice a day, precisely at 8:30 AM and 5 PM. We never did make it in the lagoon with our big boat. Nonetheless, we made ample use of our dinghy to traverse its waters during our stay. The Dutch bridge opens more often.

Sandy Ground Bridge (French Side)

Sailor's Paradise

The Lagoon really makes St. Martin the sailor's paradise. Along its shores, we found a plethora of stores, restaurants, and bars, creating a vibrant atmosphere. Navigating by dinghy is effortless, allowing easy access to all corners. With four marine stores equipped with their own dinghy docks, we found everything necessary for our boat and more (there is always more).


Walking to Simpson Bay

One of the significant downsides to cruising, for me, has been the absence of consistent exercise.. I miss yoga sessions and jogging along familiar routes. Hence, whenever feasible, I opt to walk rather than rely on the dinghy. I talked Dave into walking the 5 miles from Marigot Bay to Simpson Bay.


Typically, walking on Caribbean islands can be risky due to inadequate sidewalks. However, this particular stroll to Simpson Bay proved delightful. The main road featured a designated lane exclusively for pedestrians, making the walk safe and enjoyable. Additionally, as it was Easter, the road was relatively quiet, with fewer cars passing by.

We walked by the official border.

Mo and Cindy

We were always planning to sail to St. Martin after Anguilla. However, on Anguilla we met two very cool ladies from St. Maarten/Canada (they live in St. Martin in the winter and Canada in the summer). Cindy is from Ontario and Mo is from Calgary.


Mo, a talented saxophone player, extended us an invitation to St. Maarten to hear her band perform at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club.

During our island hike, we made our way to the club. Mo's band delivered an exceptional performance, and we had the delightful opportunity to reconnect with Cindy, who was also present to enjoy Mo's music.


Mo actually performs in two bands and we seized the chance to experience both groups, one specializing in funk while the other leans towards a jazzier sound. Her funky band One White Chic provided a fantastic atmosphere for singing-along and dancing, making for a great night.


We got to see One White Chic's final performance at D's Beach Bar. After 20 years together, the band is going their separate ways. But the final show was amazing and partying with Mo and Cindy and their friends after was lots of fun too! We actually met up with them again in Dominica but that's for a different blog.

Her band is called One White Chic. Can you tell why?

Circumnavigating the Island

We spent a week sailing around the island. It gave us the opportunity to contrast the two sides.


Parts of the French side appear as though Hurricane Irma struck just 6 months ago instead of 6 years. Numerous hotels and extensive residential areas still bear the scars of missing roofs and windows and have been completely abandoned.


In stark contrast, the Dutch side presents a more developed landscape, boasting a greater number of businesses, hotels and houses, and exhibiting almost no lingering signs of damage from the hurricane. The Dutch side felt to us like we were back in America.


Grand Case

One of our favorite stops was the French town, Grand Case (pronounced Grand Coss). Grand Case is home to several swanky French restaurants. And if you are on St. Martin on a Tuesday then this is the place to be.


For close to two decades, Grand Case, a historic fishing village, has been home to Saint Martin's largest craft market, held on Tuesday evenings in February, March, and April. Initially created to highlight the talents of local tradespeople, these Tuesday events have transformed into the premier artistic, culinary and party event on the island complete with a Mardi Gras parade.

Tuesday nights are busy and fun!

At this event, we met three lively twenty-five year olds- Christian, Guillaume, and Alex who were thoroughly enjoying themselves. We had watched one of them climb into our wooden dinghy, the one Dave built, while his friend took his picture. Dave couldn't resist saying something to them as they walked by us.

The three rambunctious guys ended up joining us at our table for drinks and conversation. It turned out they were all from France, spending the season working at the restaurants on Penil Island. Impressively, they had learned to speak English from just their short time at the restaurant.. They told us we needed to go there and see it, so we sailed there next!


Penil Island

Pinel Island, nestled on the eastern shores of St. Martin and overlooking Cul-de-Sac Bay, offers a serene retreat in paradise. Renowned for its stunning landscape, Pinel boasts a tranquil sandy beach and shallow, placid waters perfect for leisurely wading or underwater exploration with snorkeling gear.

You can indulge in the culinary delights of the islands two charming restaurants, Karabuni and Yellow Beach. Both serving Caribbean specialties, fresh local fish, and delectable lobster dishes.

We ordered these delicious Poke Bowls at Karibuni

Boobs

Female toplessness is entirely accepted without question on all beaches on the French side of St. Martin. Dave was like a kid in a candy shop enjoying the view.


Hike the "Outback" but leave by 5

Dave and I took a hike across the small island. Our stroll unveiled a rugged, untamed island where the mighty Atlantic waves crash against the shore.


Being a National Nature Reserve, at 5pm every day, all visitors and staff depart, leaving the island to its rightful inhabitants—the iguanas and hermit crabs—whose sanctuary is meticulously preserved.


Sea Urchin Attack

On our first day on the island, as we were casually floating around the shallow waters, I reached my hand back on a rock and felt the sharp stab of sea urchin spine. Blood flowed profusely from the hole in my thumb but worse then the blood was the searing pain that accompanied it.


Dave, being all too familiar with sea urchins, having been poked by one in the BVIs, knew what to do. We went to Yellow Beach to get a cup of vinegar to pour into the wound. The pain began intensifying so we went back to our boat to soak my hand in hot water to stop the toxin from spreading.

My very inflated right hand and arm.

Unfortunately the pain kept increasing. It felt like each bone in my hand was being grated and squeezed. Thankfully after a few hours of this, the pain subsided.


The next morning I woke up to a giant swollen right hand and forearm. I could barely move my fat fingers and had no strength in my grip. Dave did not have this reaction at all when the urchin poked him.


Over the next four days, the swollen fingers, hand, and forearm gradually deflated and went back to normal. Thankfully!


Orient Bay Beach

Orient Bay Beach

Just a short hop from PInel Island lies Orient Bay Beach. This beach on the northwest side of St. Martin is one of the biggest and most popular. It stretches for almost 3 kilometers and is full of soft, white sand and crystal clear turquoise water. There are

parasails overhead and jet skis buzzing around the anchorage.


Getting ashore proved to be a bit of an adventure. With no dinghy dock available and beaching dinghies prohibited, we had to anchor the dinghy offshore and swim in. I carried our clothes, shoes, wallets, and phones in a waterproof bag, swimming with it held above my head.


Nude Beach

At the south end of the beach is a clothing optional area, but we arrived too late in the day and didn't encounter a single naked sunbather.


We went to the Frenchest Irish Pub and struck up a conversation with a friendly gentleman from St. Tropez, France. I jokingly remarked, "They call this beach the St. Tropez of the Caribbean. What do you think?" He simply replied, "No."


Clearing in on the Dutch Side

We watched a helicopter land on this megayacht.

As we sailed along the eastern coast, the transition into Dutch waters became evident. While the French side boasted smaller hotels and scattered houses, the Dutch territory featured towering hotels and expansive mansions.


We anchored on the Dutch side in Simpson Bay on the south side of the island. Clearing in here was much more bureaucratic than the French side.


First, we had to dinghy back to Ile Marine and clear out of France on the same computer we cleared in on. Then we headed to the Dutch side and to the Immigration Office near the police station and the drawbridge.


Despite submitting all our information on Sailclear.net, we found ourselves filling out two additional forms at the office. We patiently waited in line behind agents processing clearance for megayacht crews and passengers, each armed with a stack of passports.


Following that, we proceeded to the payment window, where we were charged $20USD per week. Opting to anchor outside the lagoon, we avoided the doubled fee that would have been incurred had we anchored within.


Cruisers

Even though the French bay is chock full of sailboats, it seems the Dutch side is where the cruisers hang out. I woke up early to catch the Cruiser's Net on Channel 10 on the VHF radio. Mike gets everyone up to speed daily on all the cruiser happenings on the island.


We met a salty sailor, Sean from South Africa, by chance. He humorously pointed out our mistake of walking around instead of using the dinghy. Taking matters into his own hands, Sean dinghied us back to our dinghy and led the way to Lagoonies, a popular spot among cruisers.


At Lagoonies, we had the pleasure of meeting Matt and Cathy from Illinois. Sean amusedly discussed the newcomers to cruising, and initially, I assumed he was referring to us. However, it turned out that Matt and Cathy had only been cruising for three months. They had purchased their boat in St. Thomas and sailed it to St. Maarten.

We thoroughly enjoyed our conversation with them. And met up with them again for more fun before we left.


Simpson Bay Beach

During a leisurely stroll along Simpson's Bay Beach, we came upon a sailboat that had run aground back in January during a storm. The boat had been thoroughly stripped of its valuable parts.


No sailor ever wants to see a boat left for dead like this on the beach.. We tried not to think about Lagerhead ending up in that heartbreaking position!


Maho Beach

There are warning signs all over.

Maho Beach, located in the next bay over from our anchorage, is renowned for its close proximity to Princess Juliana International Airport.


This beach has gained international fame for its thrilling experience of airplanes flying low overhead just before landing. We gathered with a huge throng of tourists to watch the planes, which pass closely over the beach, creating an unforgettable and exhilarating spectacle.

You can feel the plane overhead.

Even more astonishing than the close landings are the aircraft departures. They pivot their engines towards the shore and hurtle down the runway. We experienced the heat and the forceful gust of the jet blast as they surged forward toppling people and sending beach chairs, bags, and hats into the ocean.


I googled it and a woman was killed there in 2017. Back then people would hang onto the airport fence and the blast would lift them off the ground. The 57-year old woman was tossed onto the concrete and later died from her injuries.


This video really captures what it is like to be there. It is intense!


Driftwood Beach Bar

Once your heart settles from its rapid pace, unwind with a drink at the Driftwood Beach Bar. on Maho Beach. Its boat-shaped bar was crafted by the same artisan responsible for Elvis' own boat bar on Anguilla. However, the drinks are half the price of Elvis'!


St. Maarten has cheap alcohol. The Soggy Dollar has $1 drinks happy hour from 5-7 every night which is a cruiser hangout and also very dangerous. You can get quite drunk for a few bucks.


Underwater Sculpture Park

Opening last December in Little Bay, Sint Maarten, the Spirit of SXM Underwater Sculpture Park is a breathtaking eco-attraction. Snorkelers encounter over 300 artificial reef sculptures.


The sculptures are casts of real St. Maarten residents. They celebrate the island’s vibrant culture and history, all while providing a protected haven for marine life


These underwater creations narrate the story of Sint Maarten through four distinct galleries.


When we were fueling up in Philipsburg , we saw more of the locals getting ready to join their friends in the deep.


Sailing Away

Having spent three weeks in St. Martin/St. Maarten, it was time for us to start our journey southward. Our aim was to reach Martinique in time for me to catch the flight home for my son's college graduation.


However, we could have easily stayed here for years (except during hurricane season). St. Martin is affordable, well stocked, diverse and beautiful. There is so much more there for us to explore. Every sailor (and tourist) should visit this island at least once! We will be back.


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2 Comments


David Althoff
David Althoff
Apr 20

Nice post! Sounds like you two are having the best time.

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Diane Rhodes
Diane Rhodes
Apr 20
Replying to

It's a pretty good life. :-)

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