The Friendly Island!
15 May 2012 | 18 02.763'N:63 05.616'W, Simpson Bay, St. Martin
"The Friendly Island"- We crossed from Anguilla on Wednesday in light SE winds with relatively calm seas. It's only about 5 miles across the channel but we took the coastal route from Road Bay on the north side around little Anguillita island on the west end and back toward the south shore until we then turned south and headed to St. Martin.
Our plan was to reach Simpson Bay on St. Martin before the 5:30 pm bridge opening or we would have to wait until the next day to get into the Lagoon. The island is actually divided into two countries with the Dutch side, Sint Maarten, on the south and French side, St. Martin, on the north and a big lagoon in between. So we would be entering the Dutch side. Each side has a swing bridge to enter the large interior body of water simply called the Lagoon. It is easier to enter the Dutch bridge but the cruising permit cost is greater so most people enter and then cross immediately to the French side and then clear immigration. We followed this plan and were at anchor before sundown. You could anchor out in the bays but they are subject to ocean swells and are not as comfortable so most cruisers come inside.
We were up and anxious to go the next morning. We dinghied into Marina Royale and tied/locked up the dinghy. This was the first place we were highly advised to actually lock the dinghy. So we did. We set off to find the immigration office in the main town of Marigot. In fact, Marigot is the capitol of St. Martin. It is also home of the main port and ferry dock for the local island ferries and a lot of shopping/restaurant areas. But the immigration office was not where our guides indicated. We asked around and were directed to the ferry terminal. There we sat down at a computer and entered our arrival details and we were cleared in. Pretty simple and the cost was only 5 Euros ($8 US).
We really had no plans for seeing the island. So we found a sidewalk pastry/coffee shop with wifi, checked our email and business, roamed the shopping and had lunch in the Marina before we headed back to the boat. One of our emails was from Lorna Grochowski from "Kwahu", a Caliber 40, we had met in Virgin Gorda. Her husband, Gene, teaches at the Medical school here but was going to Curacao for the weekend conference and she was offering to take us on an island tour the next day. She gave us her marina name but being here for all of about 18 hours, we had no idea where that was and no way to contact her again. So we asked around, got the location and took off in the dinghy. To make a long story short, we found her and made a plan to go touring.
The entire island is about 10 miles wide and 7 mile long so it is not very big. But there are close to 80,000 people living on the island and more with the cruise ships and sailors. So needless to say it is busy on the one road around the island. But the views are fantastic and there are many parts to the island. We had lunch in Philipsburg, capitol of the Dutch side at a little bayside restaurant. This is also where the cruise ships dock when visiting the island so the town has the typical duty free shopping area and loading for bus tours and off ship activities. Finally Lorna took us to the grocery store to reprovision. We really appreciated her time and her local knowledge saved a lot of time.
The next day we had two projects. Get a new SIM card for the cell phone to work in the French islands. It wasn't hard to do but took time because like any typical phone store there are too few people working and too many people waiting. But that accomplished, went looking for a Laundromat. Every place before this had not been a big problem but here we couldn't find a public place, only a drop off laundry which we finally decided to do.
Then we went walking on the Dutch side of the Lagoon around the marinas. Here there are not as many shops but a lot of waterfront restaurants. The absolute highlight of this was the Carousel. This is like a Baskin-Robbins on steroids. It is an ice cream shop that was the dream of the owner for a long time. It opened about 2 years ago and is very successful. Not only is the ice cream delicious but there is an actual working carousel in its own rotunda. It is also on the cruise ship bus tour route so it gets a lot of attention. All-in all, the walk was good and we got a good feel for the other side.
Now we were trying to decide what last thing to do before we left the island. We had heard about the hiking trails through the island. We decided to go and walk the trail to the Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak) the tallest mountain on the island at about 1350 ft. On Sunday, we headed back into Marigot and checked out the old fort first. Then we took a local bus to the road heading to Pic Paradis. We had packed a lunch, had extra big water bottle, our good walking shoes, hats, etc for a nice walk. But...this one went almost straight up. We followed the street (not knowing until later that there was a trail through the woods) up and up. Slowly. There was almost no shade and it was pretty grueling. But after about 1 ½ hours we made it to the top. Wow.
We actually met several other groups of people at the top. Some had driven up and some had walked the trail. On their recommendation, we decided to take the trail back down. It was much more pleasant since 1) it was going down and 2) it was almost completely in the shade but was more rock strewn and difficult walking. At almost the end of the trail, Gail twisted her ankle and we were about ready to seek help. But she gutted it out and made it back to the base camp of the trail and back to the bus stop. It wasn't until we got back to the boat and she sat down that the swelling started. It looked terrible but we packed it in ice (Yea! For the icemaker!) and put a wrap on it. By the next day she was up and about.
Plus after a good shower and with our new SIM card installed, we called Mom to wish her a Happy Mother's Day and checked in with Joey for his 43rd Birthday. Technology is great!
Now it's our last day here. We are relaxing after the long hike, picked up our laundry, cleared out of the immigration (at the office we found right in Marina Royale dockmaster), and are going out to dinner this evening with the Grochowskis. We have enjoyed St. Martin and now understand why so many people like to visit here but now it's time to move on. Just for a preview, over the next few days we plan to visit the island of Tintemarre on the NE corner of St. Martin for a dive and maybe another hike. Then off to St. Barts by way of Ile Fourchue again a planned dive and overnight anchor before arriving Gustavia. Bon Voyage!