We left the BVI’s on May 14th around 4:00 in the afternoon, we planned to sail overnight to the French side of St Martin. We were really looking forward to ending the “thorny” portion of our cruising path in the Caribbean. Winds were predicted to be from the ENE, that would have made a great sail to St Martin, unfortunately the wind had a Southern component in it, so here we go again, another overnight motor sail. Good thing we fueled up in Virgin Gorda before heading out.
I fell in love with St Martin immediately, the markets, the sidewalk cafes, the mussels and thin crusted pizza, the french cheese and baguettes, the pastries, and let’s not forget the inexpensive French wine! I felt like I was in Paris except with a view of the beautiful blue sea and access to white sandy beaches. Other than using pesos in the Dominican Republic (DR) we had been dealing with $US currency, now it was time to get out the Euros (we keep a tin full of foreign currency that we have “collected” over the years from our travels). Even though the exchange rate was $1.25 US to 1.00 EUR, some of the restaurants were allowing you to pay the amount shown on the check with either, now that was a good deal. We walked all over Marigot taking in the sights, colors, smells, tastes and sounds.
We took a bus over to the Dutch side and spent the day shopping and sight seeing in Philipsburg. I have never seen so many jewelry stores in one place. Everything was duty free so we took advantage of replacing some of the liquid spirits aboard Beausoleil that had been consumed since we left the US. We spent more time than expected in St Martin due to issues with our outboard engine. We had been having issues with it since the Mercury mechanic in Key West tuned it up before we left. Our dinghy is our method of transportation to and from the boat, we use it for everything and it must be reliable. It ran fine in the Bahamas however we began to have issues with it in the DR, everything from stalling out to the prop slipping when put into gear. We paid someone to work on it in Samana, DR, we replaced the prop in the USVI’s, it ran ok but it still wasn’t reliable. In St Thomas we continued to have issues, Jon cleaned the carburetor and polished the fuel, that worked for a bit, we crossed our fingers and toes, held our breath and said a small prayer every time we went to start the dinghy. Even under way, it would run fine for a while, die, then take her time getting started again. We ended up getting stranded in the lagoon entrance with a rushing current and had to throw out the dinghy anchor. We got a tow into a nearby working marina where a “mechanic” jumped on board and worked on it all day and made an appointment for the following day with another Mercury mechanic. Even after the local Mercury mechanic worked on it several times, it continued to leave us stranded. Finally Jon had had enough. He happened to get stranded, again, near the Budget Marine dock on the French side of St. Martin on his way back from the Mercury mechanic that had spent the better part of two days working on the outboard. He called me on the VHF, totally frustrated, and although it wasn’t in the budget, we discussed and agreed on the purchase of a new Tohatsu 18 hp two stroke outboard. They were so nice and helpful at Budget Marine. They didn’t have it in stock, so one of their employees dinghied over to the other Budget Marine branch on the Dutch side of the island to pick up the new outboard and brought it back to him within a few hours (normally a three day delivery timeframe). Besides a 10% discount, we were even able to purchase it duty free (which saved quite a bit of $). You can read my column in Fishmonster to learn more about our experience in St Martin and “Hottsie Tahtsie”.
Once we had a working outboard we zoomed across the lagoon to the Dutch side to visit Island Water World (another large chandelry) and Le Grand Marche (a large grocery store) to refurbish our provisions and find any boat parts we might need. It was great getting on plane on that first dinghy ride with our new outboard, she is fast! Anyone in the market for a used Mercury 9.9 four stroke outboard? We left the rolly anchorage of Marigot Bay and sailed to Cane Garden Bay. Even though we had less than 10 knots of wind it was from the right direction to allow us to sail for a few hours, we weren’t in a hurry and it was pure bliss. What a beautiful place! Bright caribbean colors, a long sandy beach, clear blue water, blooming trees and flowers everywhere you look.
We spent a few days resting up, enjoying the beach and exploring here. It was the first time I felt like I was really “on vacation” since we left the U.S., the boat projects could wait.
We snorkeled Roche Creole before we left the anchorage, we saw a few colorful fish and some coral trying to make a comeback but nothing like we experienced in the BVI’s.
We headed to St. Barts on May 27th to the protected anchorage of Anse Du Colombier. This is a marine park where the moorings provided are free of charge for boats 60′ or under. It was quite crowded but we were able to grab a mooring ball and relax for a few more days.
We took the dinghy into Gustavia to clear in/out (even though St Martin and St Barts are French countries you must clear in and out of each one separately). Gustavia is beautiful, rich with color and lot’s of $ and beautiful people, makes us “boat rats” feel a bit frumpy. We spent the day walking the streets of the town, everything was closed except a few restaurants so we had a very “French” lunch at The Wall House restaurant that included beautiful petit fours (bite sized sweets that included crème brulee, a creamy cholocate cake, a lemon bar and a small pastry with a creamy strawberry filling) for dessert and espresso.
Back to the boat to do some hiking and work off this lunch! We enjoyed our time in St Barts and like several of the other islands it didn’t seem like we spent enough time here, we must come back. Now, time to sail – really sail, without the engine since we turned the corner and begin to head South, next destination – St Kitts…