Monday, January 26, 2009

Statia to St Martin

[Maryanne]Since our last leg to Sint Maarten from Statia was a longer one (40 miles) compared to what we’d been used to, we needed to get up early to ensure we could check in at customs before they closed at 3:00pm. I set an alarm on my cell phone for 4am which went off promptly at 8:40!!! Fortunately, by then I’d already been up since I noticed daylight – we got ready in short order and departed the mooring under sail (always feels good – 2nd in satisfaction only to anchoring under sail). We ghosted in the lee of the island towards the oil terminal. Along the way we noticed (and heard) Ivan and Gulliver having their breakfast at Kings Well – we honked a farewell to Kings Well on the hailer. Within a minute or so Linda called us on the radio and said goodbye, and it was nice to meet. Linda and Will promised to visit us in Sant Maartin and to bring Maryanne some of her secret salad dressing (Maryanne had pestered unsuccessfully for the recipe, so a good supply would be the next best thing!).

We weaved our way through the tankers and outside of the restricted zones. Out of the lee of the island, we ran smack into heavy chop and head winds – Auggh! How I hate head winds. We had to quickly reef the sails (well - Maryanne did anyway), but were able to maintain pretty good speed anyway. Once we were further away from the island the wind veered and we had a nice fast beam reach to Sint Maarten in bright sunshine. On route we passed both the island of Saba and St Bart's, but unfortunately we'd already decided we would not stop (Save them for another time). We actually had enough speed that by the time we approached the island it looked like we would make it to customs about 10 minutes before they closed.

We started the engine, & put down the sails as we entered Sint Maarten, and motored up to the customs dock just outside the Simpson Bay drawbridge – it’s a very shallow dock (basically a dinghy dock) and not good for anyone drawing more than a couple of feet – we had to raise one of our rudders to be on the safe side (but hey, we were in a hurry). I rushed into the customs office, breathless, while Maryanne finished tying up Footprint, and began filling out the paperwork. Maryanne soon joined me and turned in the first few forms I’d completed while I continued. She discovered they were not closing at 3, so the pressure was off (but we still didn’t find out what time they would close).

Once done with customs clearance we had about an hour and a half before the drawbridge opening time for inbound boats. We were a little cheeky and lingered as long as we could at the customs dock, thus avoiding having to lower and raise the anchor for such a short period. I’m not entirely sure it was a good idea after all, as most of the power boats (and jet skis) left a good wake and bounced and jerked us around. The bridge opened for outbound boats at 4:30pm and we noticed that watching the exiting boats seemed to be a bit of a tourist attraction. About 15 minutes to go, we untied an left the dock for the inbound procession (and there were plenty of us) – again anther tourist attraction for the local bars and yacht clubs.

Bridge opening from Dutch side of Island into Simpson Bay

Once we entered the bay, our goal was to anchor as close as possible to the airport. We swung north and then west to get as close as possible to the airport terminal; this part of the bay was practically deserted (only one other boat anchored nearby). This was not surprising as it was a LONG way from anything useful (laundromat, stores, etc), and was also probably the least attractive part of the bay. It was getting dark so we anchored anyway. – We were safe at least for the evening. It took us 3 tries to get the anchor to hold fast (poor Maryanne was at the bow doing most of the work with our manual windlass). By the time we were done, it was too late to care about much other than eating dinner and going to bed. The one plus we found was it was really exposed, and with all the wind, the batteries were fully charged by morning. Later, Maryanne found a free internet connection with an antenna hoisted up the mast!

The following morning (Monday), all we really intended to do for the day was to make sure my flight to work was OK (space available); if not I’d have had to rapidly make alternative commute plans, and also to move the boat to prettier part of the bay with more facilities for Maryanne. We were both pretty tired from our week and found ourselves taking our time over things (I read a book, we worked on the blog). Eventually we moved the boat just outside the no anchoring zone off the departure end of the runway, much closer to the facilities, although the walk to the airport will be longer! While checking for the nearby dinghy dock and possible airport shuttle (before anchoring), we asked directions of a passing dingy – and found it was Fergus, a fellow Gemini owner (same boat as ours) – small world!

[Maryanne]It’s hard to say what our first impressions of St. Martin are since we just arrived. Our guidebooks have pages and pages of information, however it’s mostly listings for bars, night clubs etc. There are lots of casinos and “gentleman’s clubs”. All beaches are topless, and quite a few are nudist. Without really seeing the place, I’m thinking Spring Break in Cancun – not really my cup of tea. Once Kyle heads to work, I’ll explore more and hope to find the gentler side of the island. The only time we’ve set ashore was to clear into customs, where the notice board informed us that it is DANGEROUS to sight-see and hitchhike anywhere on the island (Hitchhiking I can understand, but the lady collecting our port fees, assured us that sightseeing too was dangerous). Indeed, it suggested whenever you visit a new town to check in with the local police as a courtesy visit and to be alerted to any particular areas to avoid. The guidebooks stress that rental cars are routinely stolen from (or thieves even deliberately bump into so they can hijack you! – the books advise NOT to stop at the scene of such an accident)… Yeah, not sure really how worried to be, but not too happy so far.


Mommy Dearest said...

Now it's sounding like you have arrived in the outskirts of Detroit. Without really knowing whether the warnings are fair or fear-mongering, I suppose you will have to take care for your safety. I can't imagine warning Maryanne, the penultimate sightseer, that sightseeing is dangerous. Oh dear. I like your last stop with the macaws and friends and pools. These snakes may be the human kind. What a great life!

Anonymous said...

Hi Footprint,
You don't know me but I found your blog and enjoy reading about your travels. I have been impressed with your outgoing and adventurous nature and hope that you are not dissuaded from exploring an interesting island by the writing of a few guidebooks. It is true that St Martin is no Stacia, or Saba, or Nevis, or any other island for that matter, but there are certainly some interesting places to explore and wonderful people to meet if you keep an open mind and heart. I feel that the different cultures on the islands is what makes them so interesting.
That being said do not totally ignore the warnings. St Martin does have a rough side, especially in the tourist areas. If you think of St Martin like visiting a big city like New York, and don't act like a small town person in the big city, you can have a wonderful time. Stay away from the strip joints and cruise ship attractions and you will find a beautiful and vibrant island where you can acquire almost anything you could need for your boat or your kitchen.
I have spent some time cruising down there with my wife and look back on those years fondly. The Leeward islands are still one of our favorite cruising grounds and whenever we can get some time away from work we try to come down and charter. I hope you enjoy your time in St Martin, take the time to stock up at the wonderful stores like Match, and Budget Marine, and I highly recommend getting out of the tourist areas and go out to the smaller anchorages like Grande Case.
Keep up the wonderful posts.

sv Magstar

SV-Footprint said...

Hi SV Magstar (and all)

Just a quick update - once we got Kyle safely off to work I've had the last day and a half to explore a bit... I've booked the boat in for some maint work, and got my bearings. So far all is looking fine.


Anonymous said...

Hey Guys!
Just back from Africa, after extending my stay since losing my job at Trader (last day was end of Nov). Looking at your site gives me motivation during these stressful job searching times (i need to play the lottery). Please give me an excuse to fly down to visit. Take care! Carl

SV-Footprint said...

Doh Carl! You didn't leave an email address... I was so worried about you when I heard they "dumped" all the QA staff - I'm glad you got the news while you were in Africa and could extend your stay at least!!!!

I've been wanting to get in touch - let me know your email - You can get me at Maryanne_L_Webb AT Yahoo dot co dot uk. :-)

I bet your glad you didn't buy a house now eh?!