Our journey from Virgin Gorda, BVI to Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten was pretty bumpy and uncomfortable. Some of that was because it was long and windward– about 80 miles southeast, nose straight into the trade winds. We did it overnight, so that we would not arrive in a new port in the dark. Also, the winds were a bit higher than we liked, which made it choppy – and turned an estimated 14 hour trip into a 17 hour one. Ugh. Those extra three hours are painful when you’ve been up all night.
Nevertheless, we made it! It felt like an accomplishment, because the passage from the BVI to St. Martin/Sint Maarten is the last significant one – the last one that’s longer than a daylight island-hop. We’re not completely done with going east, but we’re done with night passages, which feels great!
Approaching the island, we knew that we had to go through a drawbridge with timed openings for entrance and egress. Our guidebook told us that there was an 11:30 inbound opening, which matched our 11:10 arrival to the coast outside Simpson Bay. Andy radioed the controller, letting him know we’d be waiting for the scheduled opening… and, silence. He tried twice more, with no response, so our only choice was to wait and hope that the guidebook’s schedule was accurate. It was. We discovered later, chatting up a local bartender, that the bridge operators spend all day at the bar in the St. Martin Yacht Club, next door to the bridge. At the scheduled opening times, they pop over to the control booth, push the button, then skedaddle back to the club. Tough work, right?
Sint Maarten is another island that, like Hispaniola, hosts two different countries. St. Martin is the somewhat larger French territory, and Sint Maarten is the southern Dutch version. The island is beautiful seen from sea – lush, mountainous, with a large calm lagoon in which to anchor or dock. Dock rates and car rentals are plentiful and cheap (at least in the off-season, as we were); there’s a huge European grocery store and shopping malls and a movie theater (we saw the new Spider-Man!); there are not one, but two HUGE marine-supply chain stores represented here, with every possible option for service and parts for any repair we might need to make.
Which was a good thing, because once we got here, we realized we’d be stuck, for a little while. The weather was not friendly for forward progress, and we had enough chop in the last passage to remind us to wait patiently for the right window.
So we settled in for a bit. We did some hard-core boat maintenance, which as you know by now is never-ending. One thing we had to do was the N.A.S.T.Y. job of cleaning out the water filters for the air conditioning and the generator. All of these units draw in ocean water as part of their cooling systems…. and the filters eventually get full of seaweed, gunk, and small critters. The smell! Ack! But I made the job even worse when I was rinsing out one of the filters and DROPPED part of it into the harbor! If you’ve never docked in a harbor, you cannot know how gross the water can be. I was not jumping in after it. Just. No. Luckily, the marine store had a fine (and inexpensive) replacement. We bought two. Just in case.
The biggest, most impressive (to me) fix Andy made was to our ice maker. Right as we were leaving the BVI, we found ourselves regularly mopping little puddles off the galley floor. At first we thought our filtered-water jug was leaking, but no – after some experimenting, we realized it had to be the ice maker.
Now, please know – I LOVE our ice maker. About as much as I love having air-conditioning. It is so freaking hot down in the Caribbean in the summer, I need every available resource to keep me from drowning in my own sweat. (If I expire down here, it won’t be because I go overboard or get eaten by a shark. It will be because I spontaneously combust in the blazing sunlight.) So I died a little inside when I realized that we might have to do without our ready-made ice. Noooo!
Never fear – Andy is tenacious when it comes to tackling something like this. Over the course of a few days, he removed the ice maker, and we made multiple excursions to the marine-supply and hardware stores, to buy (and then exchange) parts. We took off panels and pulled out hoses and wires and conducted test after test. But mostly, we kept mopping up water and hanging towels to dry – until, FINALLY, Andy not only isolated the leak, but rigged together a new supply line with the appropriate connectors. Voila! Ice in the bin and no water on the floor! He is a genius, I tell you.
In between repair days, we rented a car and did a little exploring. Did you know that there is, on St. Maarten, a YODA MUSEUM?! I can’t make this stuff up, people. A Brit, who fabricated the original Yoda, in Star Wars, has retired to a cruise-ship port in St. Maarten and opened a museum of movie memorabilia. It was only twelve bucks to tour it (including a photo with the movie guy!) so of course we had to check it out. And I really found it enjoyable. Life-sized replicas of various Star Wars costumes, copies of script rewrites, and Hans Solo’s carbonite tomb – all represented. Along with an actual Yoda puppet, of course. And some “death masks” of lots of historical figures and more recent celebrities. Quite interesting.
A less successful outing involved searching for a beach to lounge on. There are beaches here… but Irma definitely left her mark. We took the dinghy out one day to see what we could find, but several beaches looked washed away. We drove over to the French side of the island another day to look for a beach with chair rentals, only to find that the beach we’d researched had eroded and was full of trash and construction debris. It’ll probably be nice again a year from now. By the time we backtracked to Plan B on the Dutch side, it was lunchtime and all the chairs were taken. So we lunched by the ocean but did not get our toes in the sand.
We did, however, find multiple French restaurants over the course of the week to delight and wow our tastebuds. The best was La Cigale, where we celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. Scallops for me, lobster for Andy, and a bottle of French Chardonnay. And an awesome dessert called “Almond Tiles,” which was like crushed almond brittle sprinkled over chocolate mousse. Mmmmm. Honorable mention meals were breakfasts at Zee Best (Omelettes! Pan au chocolat!), and the local cruisers’ bar, Lagoonies, with the best rum punch we’ve found.
The weather finally looked like it would allow us to leave on Saturday, about nine days after we arrived. We spent our last day making one final grocery run, returning the rental car, and checking out of the country. The customs and immigration process was incredibly smooth and professional – soothing our ruffled feathers from our BVI experience. Also, while we were here, I checked into something called SailClear.com – an online system that several Caribbean nations participate in. You submit your boat and passport paperwork to the system, then you can apply for entrance to various countries in advance. I’m hopeful that it will make clearance a little easier in at least one of our upcoming ports.