So, we actually visited Sint Marteen twice already, and that within 3-4 weeks. Our first visit did not leave us with a great impression, and we had no desire or plan to return. But coincidence led us back, and in retrospect we are glad it did, because we now appreciate the place a lot more then after our first visit. And as Eros says: “Behind all coincidences there is a plan, and behind all plans there is a coincidence”!
Our first visit was in the end of March, arriving from Antigua. The weather forecasted a period of swells and winds, so we wanted to anchor as protected as possible. We therefore decided to go in under the lifting bridge called Simpson Bay Bridge and in to the famous lagoon of Sint Marteen.
The lagoon is HUGE, and divided between the Dutch and the French. The island itself is pretty small, so it’s quite amazing that it actually is two different countries. Sint Marteen is the Dutch part and south side of the island and St. Martin is the French and northern part (funny enough). Entering through the Simpson Bay Bridge like we did, leaves you on the Dutch side of the lagoon. If you go through the next bridge, Causeway Bridge, which is a swing-bridge, you will have the opportunity to stay on the Dutch or French side.
The end of March means high season with a crowded lagoon. No wind inside the lagoon means it is steaming hot. Steaming hot means you will want to take a swim to cool off. And one of the best things about living on a boat is that you can jump straight in from your anchorage to cool off, but inside the lagoon with that many boats, it is not tempting to take a swim. Rusty and abandoned boats here and there in the lagoon (a terrible and hearbreaking sight!), and to be met by an industrial area when we first went ashore did not help on our first impression. A lot of people we met before we went here spent a lot of time here, and at this point we could not understand why, unless they were having trouble with their boats and needed to get them fixed. For that the place is great, as there are many shops and marinas to cater for a sailor needs. Please do not misunderstand, we did not think the place was THAT bad, it is just that the other places we had been appealed a lot more to us.
Once we had taken our dinghy over to the French side (20 minutes) and been ashore there, we understood that there were nicer parts than the industrial feel that first met us. But still it did not become a favorite. We needed some things for Tango, plus we wanted to do some provisioning here as we knew we would not see big supermarkets for a while. So our days were mostly spent getting our to-do list out of the way.
Apart from the shopping, there were a few things we really appreciated here, one of them was the cruisers net on VHF 10, Monday to Saturday at 07:30 AM. Do not miss it if you are here on a sail boat! It is run by Mike at Shrimpys, and you will get weather reports and learn about what’s going on in the community. The cruisers actively participate, and you can for instance ask questions, ask for help on your boat, there are sections regarding buy, sell, swop, arrivals and departures of cruisers, and announcements etc.
A“must do” is to visit the beach next to the airport. The airplanes, from small twin otter’s to big transatlantic flights, fly in straight over your head. And when they take off you are sure to feel the blast from the planes. Good fun, and a nice thing to do in the afternoon.
As mentioned, we had no intention of returning to Sint Marteen, even though we upon departure knew there was a chance we would go back south after our next destination, the British Virgin Islands (BVIs) further north. We wanted to take a different route going south again, and when we left the BVI’s we cleared customs stating our next port would be St. Kitts. As we were motor sailing along from the BVIs against wind and current, an alarm went off. We were taking in water! Luckily it was not as dramatic as it sounds, just a broken seal at one of the salt water cooling pumps. It did mean that we had to turn that engine off to avoid further damage, and we were now moving along in about 2 knots with sail and 1 engine….
We immediately understood that the chance of getting a hold of a new seal would be better in Sint Marteen, which was also the closest port from where we were at this point. So that was the coincidence that led us back. This time we dropped anchor in Simpson Bay, outside the lagoon. A much nicer anchorage as you have beaches, clear water and turtles swimming around your boat. Seeing it was now mid/end of April it was a lot less crowded, as the high season were coming to an end. We do not know if it was us or the other people there that were in a different mood, or a combination of the two, but it felt to us that the atmosphere was different, more relaxed. We met quite a few nice people that have similar plans as we do in the near future, so we are looking forward to seeing them again soon! Fixing the broken seal was done within a couple of hours, and once the weather was right we were off to a new island.