Sint Maarten: Shopping and Carnival!

We arrived in Sint Maarten at 7am after an overnight passage from Cooper Island in the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). You may recall that Sint Maarten/St Martin is an island divided into two countries: The Netherlands and France. In the past we have stayed on the Dutch side in Simpson Bay outside the lagoon and dinghied in for shopping, restaurants  and to access the French side but the swell and winds were pretty uncomfortable on this occasion, even for a cat! The upside of staying in the bay is the water is cleaner allowing for  swimming and water-making. So, while everything was going up and down including my tummy,  we spent the day making water and swimming whilst planning to enter the lagoon the next day at the 9.30am opening for inward-bound boats.

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Simpson Bay Lagoon bridge in Sint Maarten. Photo taken from the lagoon side.

It’s funny to watch everyone ‘queueing’ beforehand. At 9.10am we lifted the hook and prepared to get in the queue. They appear to keep the bridge open until everyone is through but you want to make sure you’re in line, ready and waiting so you don’t miss the boat, I mean bridge! We motored over near or thereabouts to what looked like other boots jostling for position. Everyone is waiting, circling, waiting, but, as you can imagine, it’s hard to stay in a queue when everything is moving: the water, the wind, the boats! There was a large French Customs (Douane) boat wanting to go through and he was reversing and going forward whilst other smaller boats  circled. The queue looked like a dog’s breakfast! I took three short videos  if you are interested and you can check it out here.

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Large cat going through the bridge ahead of us. Photo taken when leaving the lagoon.

Being in the lagoon was good; windy but no swell and easier accessibility to shops, buses, restaurants. And, as mentioned above, we couldn’t swim or make water so we were just as keen to get out of there when we finally left for Nevis a week later.

During the week we caught up with old friends Izzy R and Wild Cat and met new ones, including some Aussies. George from Wild Cat organised a dinghy-drift where we met Annie and Cam (s/v Annacam) from Horsham in our home State, Victoria, and Frances and John (s/v Kia Ora) from Margaret River, Western Australia. We also met Canadians Catherine and Henry (s/v Mowzer) and Americans Janice and David (s/v Livin’ Life). Janice and David have been following our blogs and Facebook for about six months and it was lovely to meet them. A dinghy drift is normally done close to a full moon where dinghies tie up to a lead dinghy and cruisers share food, drinks and lots of stories whilst drifting along. As this one was in the lagoon and as the evening wore on we looked like side-swiping some moored boats, George and Jan tied up to a vacant mooring ball and we all hung off them just bobbing along. A very nice way to while away the evening 🙂 Photos courtesy of s/v Distant Shores.

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We were lucky enough to be in Sint Maarten for Carnival this year and it was fabulous fun. Each island seems to celebrate it slightly differently but it is always a mass of colour, costumes, loud music and super-friendly people. This Carnival was the Dutch-side celebration and held in Phillipsburg which plays host to 4-5 large cruise ships nearly every day but, the port was closed for Carnival thereby enabling all locals to attend. A group of 10 of us took a bus over and had a great day. If you’d like to see some short video clips of the carnival click here.

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Gorgeous women….
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Captivated crowds…… L-R: Guillaume, Gwen, Mark and moi.
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A rewarding beer after another great day with friends…

The last time we were in Sint Maarten we purchased a piece of beef tenderloin or, as we Aussies know it, fillet steak. We loved it so much we bought another one this time and using our FoodSaver vacuum system, we portioned it out and have several meals ready in the freezer. It’s such a great meal for the boat: quick to defrost, quick to bbq and delicious to eat with a salad or veggies. 🙂

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Our tenderloin ready for the freezer.

After a week of shopping for boat supplies, waiting for parts, provisioning, socialising and just having fun, a weather window opened and we left Sint Maarten for Nevis.

Until next time, cheers, Sue and Mal xox

So much to do and see!

Since our last post we visited the northern-most point of our journey for this season, Puerto Rico, and have now started our trip home to Grenada. In our last post we had just arrived in St Croix, the southern-most island in the USVI (United States Virgin Islands).

We spent about 10 days on St Croix with good friends Gwen & Guillaume from Slow Waltz and Dalynn and Glenn from Amoray. Initially we anchored off  the pretty township of Christiansted but after a few days moved around to the beautiful anchorage of Fredriksted. We hired a car for a  day tour and, given the driving is on the left-hand side of the road, I volunteered to drive. The strange thing is they have American cars so the driver sits on the left! Crazy! When it came to returning the car it was evident we were subject to the ‘GG curse’: a flat tyre only to be replaced by a flat spare tyre! Note to self: don’t hire a car with Gwen and Guillaume.

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Ready for our day-trip around the island.

We enjoyed a wide variety of cultural activities: rum sampling, hermit crab races and Art Thursday, which is where we heard about “chaney”. Apparently, during a slave uprising in 1878, plantation houses were attacked, set on fire and valuable items such as china bowls and jugs were smashed. Crucian children found the broken shards and used them as play money. The term chaney is a combination of “china” and “money”. They have been found across the island and created into jewellery. Dalynn and I purchased two pieces and were also lucky enough to find a piece when scouring the beach in Fredriksted. Cool!

The diving under the Fredriksted Pier was sensational. We had two very special finds: two seahorses and one baby octopus being harassed by a blue-headed wrasse.  Whilst enjoying a beach BBQ organised by Lynne and Eric of s/v Amarula, we discovered there is a  ‘friendly’ green turtle called Charlie near our anchorage. Apparently a local has been feeding him sardines so we went to meet him. He was pretty friendly and swam amongst us but when I stupidly put my hand out he bit my finger! He wasn’t too happy with the taste so didn’t hang around too long. We were super lucky to also experience swimming with dolphins in this location too. How good is that!

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Charlie bit me!

Leaving St Croix behind, we sailed north-west with Slow Waltz to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. We discovered Culebra is part of Puerto Rico and that there isn’t really a “Spanish” Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico is part of the US but, for some reason, we had to clear-out of the USVI in St Croix and clear-in to Puerto Rico, exactly as if it’s another country. Anyway, Culebra was great and we loved it.  Playa Flamenco is a beautiful beach and down one end there are abandoned tanks once used  by the US for target practice but now decorated with funky graffiti. Apparently there is unexploded ordinance on the island so we ensured we stayed on the walking tracks thereby avoiding any unwanted explosions!

Again, we had another ‘special’ find: a mobile octopus. We see them hidden in crevices but very rarely out and about so this was a good sighting. Check out our Team Kool Kat Youtube Channel for a 36-second video of his amazing variety of camouflages.

Street art on the tiny island of Culebra was gorgeous.

Whilst in Culebra we took advantage of the $1US fare for the 1.5hr trip by ferry to mainland Puerto Rico. Again, we hired a car and spent the day in the capital, San Juan, and doing some much-needed shopping at the fabulously-priced US malls. Given they drive on the right-hand side, Guillaume offered to do the driving. No arguments from us there and we’re delighted to say the ‘GG curse’ has been lifted – no flat tyres!

Old San Juan was a pleasant surprise – so European and very elegant. The streets have blue cobblestones, there is a majestic fort and the city villas were stunning!

We enjoyed our taster and vowed to return to Puerto Rico next season for a decent amount of time.

So now we need to turn around and go back down the island chain. Back to the BVIs to clear-in and out at Jost Van Dyke. We stopped at The Baths on Virgin Gorda and left for Sint Maarten from Cooper Island. Check out our video of The Baths on youtube.

We did an overnight sail to Sint Maarten which means with 80+ nm to cover we left Cooper Is at 5pm anticipating a 14hr sail. Normally we’d have a schedule of two hours on and two hours off for each of us. Unfortunately, I was ill and Mal had to do the whole night without any help from me! Needless to say he was exhausted when we arrived in Simpson Bay. I was well enough to do the anchoring but egads the remote control for the windlass wasn’t working so I had to motor around for almost an hour whilst Mal worked out what was wrong! A broken connection! Mal did a quick temporary fix joining the wires back together and we eventually dropped the hook 15 hrs after leaving the BVIs.

Aah, the joys of sailing! I’ll put a halt here so until next time, keep well, and warm if you are in Oz.

Cheers, Sue and Mal xx