With Antigua going into curfew mode, the rumour mill is speculating the next move is a lockdown. Having been told our last lockdown in Turkey would last a couple of weeks and it turned out to be 4 months, we headed north to the much busier island of St Martin. St Martin has the distinction of being the smallest island in the world divided into two nations – the French and the Dutch, each with their own capital.
The southern section is Dutch and was open for us to land. The French side was closed as were all the French overseas territories because France is now shut. We arrived at Simpson Bay expecting the third degree, but found a delightful police station where all the pre-approved paperwork we had submitted a few days ago was lodged and all we had to do was have our passports stamped and sign a piece of paper. No fee, no test, no quarantine and all done at one desk – unbelievable.
Simpson Bay is huge and has a bridge that opens to allow the boats to enter the large lagoon inside. All the chandlers, sail makers, electrical retailers, riggers etc are on the lagoon and all have their own dinghy docks. This has made this island the most boat-friendly island we have ever been too. Even the bars have dinghy docks! As we cruisers don’t have cars, sometimes getting to a chandler can be really hard and time-consuming… and because St Martin is a duty free island you can get everything at a good price here. Ian is literally in heaven!
While Ian spent hours in the chandlers buying bits and pieces, I found a place that sold sewing machines. I had been wanting one for ages, and as most of our canvas work needed attention I purchased a heavy duty machine and spent the next few days fixing stuff. The boom bag needed attention, the chaps (dinghy covers), the barbeque cover, the gas bottle covers, the list went on and we reckon it’s paid for itself already.
Our friends Robin and Paul came in from Veni Vidi Vixi and so we spent the next couple of weeks with them.
We worked on Indian Summer and enjoyed the social life of St Maarten – with all the bars open we are enjoying mingling with other yachties and hearing all their stories. The main topic of conversation is which countries are open, what the requirements are for entering and where we are all going to spend the hurricane season.
The 7 of us decided to visit Toppers Rhum distillery – a privately run distillery which makes unique rhums. We really enjoyed the tour, which included so many tastings we all felt tipsy when we left! We ended up in their restaurant down the road for more Rhums and lunch – where we were joined by Topper himself- he has huge plans for the distillery but with Hurricane Irma and Covid over the past couple of years, he has had them stalled. Hopefully soon he can start to activate them, one of which is moving his restaurant to a gorgeous rotunda over the water behind the distillery.
One of the most exciting things to do on St Maarten is to go to Maho beach and watch the planes come in. The runway backs onto a fence about 10m from the beach and you stand in the slipstream behind the plane as it takes off and you are literally blown down the beach. We didn’t realise how immensely strong it was, and the first time we all ended up in giggles as we were tumbled down the beach. The other aspect is that you can stand under the incoming planes and feel their power as they fly overhead. We had a great fun afternoon and went home covered in sand….
The next day we hired cars and went round the island. It’s not large and easily done in a day. First up we visited the hardware shop (always the hardware shop!) Where we bought a new bbq. Ours had been slowly dying and all the knobs and handles had disappeared into the ocean so we treated ourselves to a Weber. We went to Oyster Bay where the kids were thrilled to find some donkeys – and crossed into the French side. The border crossing was just a sign on the road- the easiest border crossing I think we have ever crossed!
We ended up at Grand Case, a lovely beach region to the north which is lined with beach restaurants. The kids spent their time jumping in from the jetty while we had a long lazy lunch…
We have caught up with so many lovely people here, some of whom we knew from Antigua and some we met here. We had spent boxing day at Pepe and Bears house with Liz and Jim from Whisper and also Bob and Bev from Icarus and we all had ended up in the lagoon in Sint Maarten. We shared many drinks with them at the Soggy Dollar Bar and on each other’s boats. We also enjoyed the company of Stuart and Sondra from White Wings but sadly they are heading north so unless we go to the US or they come to Australia it’s another case of saying goodbye… one of the downsides of cruising. We will catch up with Icarus again in Grenada which will be nice.
Robin and I decided to go on a brewery tour one morning, and found the delightful SXM Brewing company. We were met by Rob, an American who has just arrived as master brewer. We got the guys to come and join us – they would have not been happy to miss a brewery tour!! Rob was so knowledgeable about beer and beer making and gave us a very informative tour. Overlooking the brewery itself was a great bar where we somehow managed to spend 6 hours, tasting all the beers and putting the world to rights. Many beers later, we left and we even had our photo taken for their website!
To get to the French side, you could just take your dinghy over and leave it in the harbour at Marigot. One day we decided to have a girls day out shopping, and so Ian dropped us over and we hit the shops. I bought a gorgeous dress, completely unsuitable for a boat of course but… We also stocked up on their unbelievably cheap rum and stopped for a glass of wine. There is still a feeling of emptiness with many places closed and no tourists but in St Martin we have felt much freer than Europe or Antigua- here they had a high COVID transmission a year ago and now they are one of the lowest in the Caribbean.
We spent many lazy days on the beach, shopping and listening to some of the amazing bands that frequent the bars. 6 weeks flew by and we realised our time was coming to an end. We needed to get a wiggle on to get to St Vincent and the Grenadines as we needed to do a 14 day quarantine there before we could even start to enjoy the islands there and hurricane season is only 3 months away.