Sirens and Chainsaws
23 January 2018 | Simpsons Bay St Maarten
The first thing I noticed on approaching St Maarten from the southeast was the shells of buildings, really just concrete shells with no windows or doors, just openings where glass used to be. The second thing I noticed was the flies. As soon as we anchored we realized the boat was full of flies. I think they are related to the trash from the hurricanes that is everywhere. We had a lively sail from St Kitts to Simpson Bay. We had originally planned to go to St Barths, but when we saw the wind direction somewhat northeast we decided it would be easier to head straight to St Martin and we made such good time that instead of stopping in Phillipsburg as planned we carried on to Simpson Bay and anchored outside the lagoon for a night. It could have been a mistake. We found out later that the only supermarket is a brand new Carrefour in Phillipsburg. Well not the only one, just the nicest. We tried contacting all the marinas in our guidebook because we wanted to move inside the lagoon so we could clean up the boat, do laundry, provision etc. Most didn't answer. We found out why after we got in. The one that did respond sent a tender out to meet us and lead us into the berth. On the way we passed wreckage upon wreckage. I saw what I thought was a very strange boat but on closer inspection realized was a sunken megayacht still attached to the concrete pier that had broken off with it. The marina we got into is billed as a luxury facility with all sorts of perks, but it actually only has water and electricity. There are some showers about 1/4 a mile away that you can get a key for, only cold water no electricity, no lights. There are no luxuries not even wifi. It's definitely built for megayachts. Our boat is half the size or less than any other boat here and we have some concern that with a big wind we could get pushed under the concrete dock. Our guidebook said the nicest supermarket was near here and there is supposed to be swimming pool, tennis courts, spas etc. along with internet on the docks. No, none of that. We have a concrete dock with water and electricity and we should be happy for that I guess. We hope to move to a less expensive place when a spot opens up. We went there today by dinghy. You go everywhere by dinghy here. I saw parents taking kids in school uniforms in dinghies. I thought they were using a crane to raise a sunken boat but actually they were clearing some broken and sunken docks. No wonder they didn't have space for us. Everywhere we went we saw wreckage along the shore, roofing panels, punctured inflatable boats, pieces of wood, metal, plastic. There's a cruisers net on the radio we listened to this morning and they thanked all the people who came out to a cleanup near a place called Witches Tit. It sounded like they salvaged a lot but also hauled away lots of trash. There's still a ton of cleanup to do, but in the chandlery the woman who checked me out said after they saw the conditions in Puerto Rico she felt like they're lucky here because of the quick recovery. That's not the same story we got from the security guard at a wrecked marina. He gave us directions to a grocery store where we could buy ice after telling us about how it had just been robbed. When Jack said, 'who would rob a supermarket in the middle of the day' he said since the hurricanes there's no work and people need to live. He said something about how Holland said they will give money but only after an election and that's not happening. So one sound we hear everywhere is sirens -- maybe because there's no work. The daytime sound we hear most is chainsaws. I'm guessing that it is getting more quiet. People are working hard to recover but it’s a massive undertaking. There are wrecked and sunken boats everywhere. Lots of them have ducktape covering holes. Some just have gaping holes in them. Some are just upside down hulls. Some are almost completely underwater. Hopefully most of those have been moved so we don't hit any. All of them are covered in mud. Most don't have masts or they're broken partway.
This is the first place we have been where the hurricane damage is overwhelming. There should be full employment with the clean up and rebuilding needed, but governments are either unable or unwilling to spend the money. There is lots of private money here as evidenced by the number of megayachts and their caretakers. Where we are the only people on boats are either full time captains and crews (usually a husband and wife) or people doing some work on the boat. Our boat at 38 feet is about half as big as any other boat here. So there is money but the boat owners are not enriching the community in a significant or long term way by investing in the infrastructure needs. Seeing the need here makes me sickened by the lack of support for Puerto Rico by the US where there should be full employment and the construction of distributed solar power so the people would have a more hurricane proof power supply. The actions of our government in that respect is criminal. The question is how and when people will be held accountable. I have been thinking a lot lately (and to some degree it is related to reading Mitchner's Caribbean) about race, corruption and the psychology of denial on the part of governments and individuals. It seems we are still wrestling with the role of reason versus philosophy as guiding principles. I grew up with the impression that we were a nation of reason, and on paper perhaps we are. But in practice we are still haunted by the philosophy of value being determined by birth, race and wealth, with the systematic exclusion of the majority of the population. What I do not understand is why people stand for this as the status quo and by what method we can effect change. Being in the Caribbean makes it clear how difficult it is to undo a culture of corruption and exploitation. It frightens me to see that culture ill gaining such a strong foothold in the States. Power and money are everything, historically and now, race is the tool by which power and money are attained and maintained. That is why the black lives matter movement is so important and so alarming to people because it cuts to the core of the structure of money and power.