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Saint-Martin: Beginning of The Caribbean Sailing Season


Friday, January 21, 2022

After 16 days of constant offshore sailing from Mindelo in Cape Verde, we finally arrived in Saint-Martin and got our first taste of the Caribbean. We weren’t the only ones who came across the Atlantic either, and the anchorage in Marigot Bay was packed full of boats and mostly liveaboards like myself.

The Caribbean generally has two seasons: Wet season and dry season. The wet season, also called hurricane season, runs from June 1 to November 30. The dry season starts December 1 and lasts until May 30. Our arrival at the end of January put us just at the beginning of the dry season, which is a perfect time to start our Caribbean sailing adventure, and I was excited.

There is a saying: From Gibraltar, go south until the butter melts, change course 90 degrees to starboard and then continue until you see land. Then you will find palm trees, reggae music, island vibes, and pristine beaches. It turns out to be true!

You may want to check out the journey from Europe to the Caribbean in the Atlantic Crossing Series

The first part of this post has some practical information about the island, and the second part tells our story. Skip the practical info by clicking HERE or continue to read on for the full content.

Marigot Bay
Photo by Opfelie Quivron: Marigot Bay

French Saint-Martin

We were anchored up in Marigot Bay, one of the busiest anchorages in Saint-Martin, and launched the dinghy for the first time in weeks. Before we could start exploring, we needed to check into the country as we were coming from overseas.

Since the island is split into French and Dutch territory, you must clear into the region where you park your boat. However, there is no limit to movement between the sides on foot or by dinghy.

How to clear in and out

Clearing in on the French side is very simple:

The formalities are done in a ship chandlery called Budget Marine, located at the channel’s entrance to the lagoon.
Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 8h to 17h, Saturdays from 8 am to 12 pm. They closed Saturday afternoon and Sunday.

Budget Marine has a computer where you fill in boat information and passport details about yourself and the crew onboard. It only takes a few minutes to complete the form and the only fee to pay is $5.

Once finished, the personnel stamps your passports, and you are officially cleared into the country. To clear out, the process is the same, except there is no fee, and you tick the box for departure instead of arrival.

Saint Martin
Google Maps: Saint Martin

Marigot and Grand Case

Saint-Martin often referred to as just SXM, has two sides with different nationalities. The French side is in the north with its capital Marigot and the Dutch in the south with Philipsburg being its capital.

The island is only 87 square kilometers and is home to a little less than 75 000 inhabitants, with about 41 000 of them living on the Dutch side, which is far more developed and busier than their neighbors in the north.

Marigot Bay on the French side is very relaxed without too much happening. There are good restaurants and a brilliant supermarket called Super U where you’ll find good French wine, food, and pastries for a reasonable price. Marigot is an excellent place to provision before continuing to other islands. I discovered that the French islands generally have a better food selection than the other islands at a more reasonable price.

A little bit further north of Marigot, Happy Bay has a beautiful remote beach. Just around the corner continuing north lies Grand Case, my favorite anchorage on the island. Grand Case has an excellent dinghy dock, a cool and lively beach bar on the pier called Quai 58, and several more along the beach.

As you walk down the street, you’ll smell BBQ everywhere between the tiny houses, and there will likely be loud music as you pass the beach bars. If that isn’t your thing, you can easily continue along the beach to the more remote part and have it all to yourself. Or dinghy around the corner to picturesque Happy Bay!

Iguanas live in the channel to the Lagoon in Marigot

Dutch Sint Maarten

The Dutch side of Sint Maarten (See how they even spell it differently) in the south is where all the action is, especially around Simpson Bay.

There are big marinas with everything from small boats up to superyachts. You will find excellent boat facilities, shops, restaurants, and bars. A big draw for the yachties is the huge Island Water World, Budget Marine, and Yamaha Centre chandleries that allow you to shop boat stuff tax-free.

Time to pull the plug on that nice Tohatsu 9.8 HP or Yamaha Enduro 15 HP two-stroke? I did…

Simpson Bay is also home to the famous Heineken Regatta arranged by the local Yacht Club, which is an excellent restaurant to kick down some beers and have a snack. Their wifi is awesome, and I spent some time doing online content here. The Yacht Club has a lovely vibe and is an excellent place to meet fellow sailors and exchange pirate stories over some cold ones.

How to clear in and out

There are two places to clear in and out of Dutch Sint Maarten: Simpson Bay and Great Bay.
The procedure here is much more expensive and intricate than on the French side. For sailors, I highly recommend keeping your boat on the French side and taking the dinghy or a taxi down to the Dutch side.

The following tables show the fees that have to be paid in USD whether you intend to enter the lagoon or not:

Customs fee in USD
Harbour fee in USD
Weight of your vessel in tonnes
$2$5< 99 t
$5$10100-499 t
$9$20500 > t
The table shows customs and harbor fees charged on arrival in USD in Dutch Sint Maartin, depending on vessel weight.

Anchorage Fee in USD
Length of your vessel in meters
$208 – 13m
The table shows the weekly anchorage fee charged in USD in Dutch Sint Mart,n depending on vessel length.

Bridge fee in USD
Length of your vessel in meters
$79 – 12m
$2112 – 15m
$4215 -18m
$12019 – 22m
The table shows the bridge fee charged in USD in Dutch Sint Maartin, depending on vessel length.

To clear in, you need to bring:
  • Clearance documents from the last port
  • Crew list
  • Passports
  • Vessel registration papers
  • Insurance documents
To clear out, you need to bring:
  • Proof of payment for clearance and mooring fees
  • Crew list
  • Passports
  • Vessel registration papers

Simpson Bay formalities

All formalities are done in the Police building located at the channel’s entrance into the lagoon, and you can leave your dinghy at the police dock in the front.

The Clearance Office is open from 5 am to 5 pm – 7 days a week
Immigration Office is open 8 am to 4 pm – 7 days a week.
You can contact them on VHF channel 12.

Great Bay formalities

All formalities are done in the same building right outside the harbor gates.

The Clearance Office is open from 8 am to 12 pm, 1 pm to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday, and 9 am to 12 pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Immigration Office is open 7 am to 5 pm – 7 days a week.
You can contact them on VHF channel 12.

Maho Beach sunset
Sunset at Maho Beach

Simpson Bay

This place gets crazy every night, and the nightlife is superb, with an extensive selection of bars, clubs, casinos, and restaurants that plays loud music until late hours.

Princess Juliana International Airport SXM is the main airport in Saint-Martin and is located in Simpson Bay. To the west of the runway lies the famous Maho Beach. Have you seen the pictures where planes take off and land almost on the beach?

Yep, this is the one. On Maho beach, head to Driftwood Boat Bar for sundowners after getting sandblasted on the beach from a plane. It has a relaxed vibe and has cheaper beer than Sunset Bar on the other side. It is also a great place to watch the sunset!

Another restaurant and bar worth checking out are Lagoonies in the SE part of the lagoon on the Dutch side. They arrange a flee marked with treasures from the bilge from the cruisers in the area and have a friendly vibe going. It gets busy at night, and there is often live music. Just stay away from their terrible shrimp soup!

The Lagoon

A huge and shallow lagoon separates the two sides of the island’s western part, and you can enter it from Marigot or Simpson Bay. From Marigot, you enter the channel from the bottom of the bay. Here you will find the Budget Marine chandlery where you can clear in/out, and it also has a fuel station to bunker fuel and water. Be careful and plan ahead if you take the mothership in here, as the current can be strong and the channel is narrow.

Shrimpy’s Laundry and Yacht support is to the north of the french entrance, and he does laundry, sells second-hand outboards, and runs a VHF net for cruisers, among many other services. Continuing along under the bridge brings you into the lagoon.

There are massive shallow areas, sunken boats, and shipwrecks, so navigating at night is not recommended. If you take a keelboat in, you need to follow the buoyed channel not to run aground, and watch for the deeper areas if you intend to anchor, which is allowed.

With some care, the lagoon is lovely to use as a passage between the two sides, and you can easily reach everything from your dinghy, including the airport. The French side has some cozy restaurants inside the lagoon, but if you want nightlife, head to Simpson Bay or Grand Case.

Maho Beach

The Journey

After checking into Saint-Martin, we walked around Marigot and had a few beers. Karolius had to fly back to Norway the following day to get back to work finally after all our delays coming across from Europe.

Filly was leaving a couple of days later to meet her boyfriend for a vacation in Guadeloupe, and I was going to be home alone again onboard Ellidah. I had mixed feelings about this because I looked forward to relaxing, lowering my shoulders, and just collecting myself after the big crossing. But still a bit sad because it is nice with the company onboard, and making this journey with others is the way I prefer for the most part.

After relaxing for some time while anchored in Marigot, I sailed down to Simpson Bay for about a week before returning to Marigot. Here I met up again with Garrett!

We met first time in Las Palmas and the second time in Cape Verde and decided to stay in touch. This guy could write a book about his journeys and life adventures.

Excellent view
What a view!

Making New Friends

Garrett knew some people on another boat called Promise, and we met in the Yacht Club in Simpson Bay for some sundowners. Gerry is the skipper on SV Promise, and his crew was CJ, Erin, Edwin, and Felicia, which made us quite the sizable group! We spent a few late nights exploring the nightlife together in Simpson Bay and had an awesome time.

Then we met two Italian sisters, Virginia and Valentina, and explored some remote beaches together as Garrett had a rental car for a few days.

Garrett had been on the island for a while already as the boat he was supposed to cross the Atlantic onboard had some safety concerns. He and another familiar friend, Fabi, decided to leave the boat in Cape Verde and Fabi flew home while Garrett took a plane to Saint Martin to find another boat.

After clunking two beers together in a Viking Skål in Maho Beach one afternoon, he decided to join Ellidah as crew. A few days later, he returned his car and moved into Ellidah’s port aft cabin.

Simpson Bay Yacht Club
Sundowners at the Yacht Club in Simpson Bay
Exploring beaches
Mullet Bay Beach
Garret and Robin
Driftwood Beach Bar at Maho Beach, where Garrett decided to join the Ellidah family

Norwegians in the Caribbean

I was in the head (boat restroom) doing the daily delivery after an excellent morning coffee and breakfast when I heard a boat approaching. A few seconds later, I hear someone speaking Norwegian to Garrett, and he replies in English that he is from the US and A, but that there was, in fact, another Norwegian onboard.

As a Norwegian, I always get excited to meet fellow Norwegians in other countries. I finished the paperwork quicker than an educated bookkeeper on speed and went outside to meet this mysterious fellow countryman sitting in a big fancy dinghy, or RIB, which might be more appropriate for this craft.

– “Always fun to see other Norwegians; I’m Peter,” the guy said.

 I introduced myself, and Peter surprised me with his reply:

– “I lived and sailed around the Caribbean on a boat exactly like yours a few years back!”

This is one of these coincidences where you feel like this big world maybe isn’t all that big after all.

After a quick chat, Peter invited us over to his boat a bit later for a beer and a conversation and told us he would take the boat in and anchor next to us.

A few hours later, Garrett and I jumped in the dinghy and raced over to a big fancy Sunreef 50 catamaran named Tiril. Well onboard we automagically had a beer each the moment we stepped onboard. Peter told us about his journey with his own boat named Fortia, and it turns out that I actually know about it!

A former colleague of mine told me a while back that he and a friend crossed the Atlantic together many years ago, and his friend had a boat similar to mine.

Guess who I was drinking beer with?!

Yes, Peter was my former colleague’s friend, and he told me he was about to sell Fortia and was working as a captain on Tiril. Peter works with Sunreef to build these incredible boats, and after a tour around what I want to call a ship, I was amazed by the size and luxury that comes with a boat like this.

Later in the afternoon, he told us that he had a Swedish friend in another boat in the Marina called Libertine II. We went to them to say hello and met with Geir and his crew Emil, also from Sweden. However, they both had lived in Norway for ages, and the boat was also Norwegian.

Geir decided to take his boat out of the marina and anchored next to the rest of our growing little flotilla. We spent a lot of time with the crew from Libertine II for the next part of the season, even after leaving Saint-Martin.

Check Geir’s Instagram for cool pictures from their journey onboard Libertine II.

Suddenly, we were a bunch of friends anchored in the same place, and we realized that we might get stuck on the island for a bit longer than expected, which wasn’t a bad thing.

Sunreef 50
Tiril, the beautiful Sunreef 50

Meeting a Famous Sailor

Maidentrip is one of my favorite sailing movies. In 2010 at the age of 14, Dutch Laura Dekker set off in her ketch named Guppy to be the youngest girl to sail single-handed around the world. She sailed from the Netherlands to Saint-Martin, continued around the world, and completed the circumnavigation two years later back in Saint-Martin.

Now she runs the Laura Decker World Sailing Foundation and sails her new boat, also named Guppy, with young people in an education program.

You can stream the movie on Amazon, and I highly recommend watching it!

One day Garrett and I were sitting in the cockpit, we suddenly saw a big red boat anchoring next to us and realized that it was, in fact, Laura Dekker. It goes without saying that we got excited and took a dinghy ride over to say hi.

It is fun to meet someone who has been a great inspiration.

Check out her website here: Laura Dekker World Sailing Foundation

Guppy, a beautiful red Scorpio 72 ketch

Beach Party in Happy Bay

We spent many days and nights together on each other’s boats, in the bars, on the beaches, and around the island. We were hanging out with Gerry, Erin, Felicia, CJ, Edwin from Promise, Geir and Emil from Libertine II, the Italian sisters Virginia and Valentina, and Peter from Tiril.

One day we decided to lift the anchor from Marigot and head up to Grand Case together, and Virginia came onboard as crew for a few days.

From there, we took the dinghy to Happy Bay, where we made a bonfire and had a crazy beach party with a group of other people we met.

It was fun, especially since we were this big group of friends. The time just flew by in FTL speed. Yes, Faster Than Light speed for you fellow sci-fi geeks out there. But after spending some time in Grand Case, it was time for me and Garret to continue the journey and set sail to the British Virgin Islands.

Leaving Saint-Martin

Sunday, February 14.

Our fridge was getting empty, and we walked to the Super U grocery store to do some provisioning. I was also told that the food selection and prices would be better here than in the BVI’s, so we made sure to stock up well. This turned out to be very accurate, but more on that later.

Later in the evening, we lifted the anchor and set sail for Tortola in the BVI’s. A couple of hours later, we saw the lights from Saint Martin disappearing behind our stern as the steady breeze from 130 degrees on a starboard broad reach pushed us comfortably along the calm sea.

It was time for new islands, a new country, and more crew.

Exciting times!

To be continued.

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