Tuesday, April 11, 2017

St Martin - Everything In General...

Every morning except for Sundays, there is a Cruiser's Net run by Mike (and his wife Sally) at Shrimpy's Laundry.  It is an informal/formal net... in that there is a format, but otherwise you aren't quite as likely to get "into trouble" for minor transgressions on the VHF as you might in say, Georgetown or St. Augustine...

There are the usual segments:  Safety & Security, Arrivals & Departures, Business, Buy/Sell/Barter/or Give Away... and then there's the final segment called "Anything In General".  It's the most informal catch-all where anything goes.  That's kind of where I am now with St. Martin.

St Martin has been such a wonderful surprise.  Why did nobody tell me that it is a place where you can do just about anything you might need or wish to do?  Since we've been cruising... in many countries (including our own) we've been sort of "oppressed".  On some level the land dwellers don't want us.  They don't want us to access their land, they don't want us to hang our laundry within their line of sight, they would really... let's face it... they would really rather we be gone entirely!  No matter that we bring an injection of money into their community that they would otherwise not have had.

Here in St. Martin/Sint Maarten we have felt nothing but warmly and genuinely welcomed... by everyone we have met!  Truth!  It is just so easy to be here... we settled right in.  And if it weren't for the fact that hurricane season is looming near... maybe we would never leave!

So let's just dive right in... Marigot Bay.  The Bay is wide open and huge and is a stunning shade of blue-green when the sun shines.  Had it not been late winter with a steady procession of "north swell" events making the Bay a rockin' place (and not in a good way)... we wouldn't have gone into the Lagoon...


But, after only a couple of days here we became so uncomfortable that we gave up and followed a line of other boats through the narrow canal beneath the Sandy Ground lift bridge and into the safety and comfort of the enclosed Lagoon.

Starting to get straightened out and flowing easily along...

Shrimpy's from the canal!

Bruce made sure we were dead centre of the narrow opening

Green light means GO!

Going under... it looks like we're going to make it!

We made it!!!  Sandy Ground Bridge in the rear view!

Highly interesting new scents for Jezabelle...

Most sources we consulted previously led us to believe that the Lagoon was treacherously shallow and that the channel leading in was poorly marked.  There must have been some recent improvements... because the channel was very well marked and we found depths of at least 8 ft everywhere we went.

There are several wrecks inside the lagoon... ominous...
It could be considered to be a bit confusing as once inside, the canal empties into a shallow area where the channel leads to port and starboard.  We've seen boats anchored in the channel but there is plenty of room to go around them.

A sharp turn to starboard will lead you to the main body of the Lagoon, where the channel ends because it's all just wide open.. .with the exception of some shallow "bumps".  Just watch the water and you can usually see the more shallow spots.

We chose a spot in about 10 ft. between Mount Fortuna (or "The Witch's Tit"as it is known to boaters)  and Grand Ilet, otherwise known as Explorer Island.  And here we stayed.  For almost three months!!!

Completely, wonderfully calm!
Our spot was nearly mid-way between the docks on the French side and the multitude of places we would soon visit on the Dutch side.  When you find the perfect spot... why move???


Rainbow over Explorer Island

Wonderful new food choices... Breakfast!

$1.79 Frozen Lasagne?  Not so wonderful!
I've written already about the Multitude of Boat Projects we've done while in St. Martin... so here I will focus on the many miscellaneous other things we did to fill those three months... The fun things that we usually miss because we're so far behind the other Cruisers.  Here we caught up with the crowd and there was always something going on.

The beautiful Port de Plaisance
The day we moved the boat into the Lagoon, we were rushed to get settled so that I could run off to join a bunch of other Cruising Ladies at Port de Plaisance.

During the season ladies regularly get together on a particular day of the month to get to know one another, share information, laugh... and of course... eat.

The Port de Plaisance opens their doors to our group of vagabonds from all over the world to take over for a few hours.   We are treated to a nice meal at a a reduced price and two-for-one drinks!

Photo credit - Willie Haskins
I attended two of these get-togethers and met some nice people whom I'm sure I'll be seeing again down in Grenada or somewhere along the way!

Thanks to our chauffeur- Barry did a good job ferrying this giggling bunch back home!
When we heard that Cruising Outpost would host one of their Cruisers Parties at the Buccaneer Bar on Dutch Sint Maarten... we dropped everything to attend!

The place was packed by the time the band got going but we got an early-bird seat and enjoyed the Buccaneer Bar's delicious pizza and rum punches!

Jody and Bob from Cruising Outpost!
This was our second time to attend a party thrown by the infamous Bob Bitchin' and his lovely bride, Jody.  They are icons of the boating community and it was awesome to have a little bit of time with them to discuss the future of their magazine and to thank them for being a huge part of why we are out here cruising!

Photo credit: Matt and Christine from Sugar Shack!  Old friends from Texas!
We met up with some old friends and made many new ones... several of whom were friends only on Facebook!

We enjoyed the party, the food and the company so much that we were out WAY past our bedtime... making our way back to the boat in the dark...

But even that turned out to be a treat!  We got to speed right under the festively-lit Causeway Bridge.

The bridge is lighted with rainbow colours that dance through the night.  Zooming along on the silky water with the warm moist night air caressing our faces was sublime!

Yes, they still use these!!!

It isn't unusual to see a horse in town...

Checking safety equipment... Yup!  Inflatable harness works... at least it DID!

The next fun thing that came along amidst a flurry of ordering eyeglasses, making new snubber lines, installing new chain and splicing the old rode to it, sourcing and ordering various parts and pieces, and doing a full review of our safety gear onboard... we took a break to attend a Beach Brae...

That's a BBQ...  We met up with a bunch of other cruisers right behind our boat on Explorer Island.  On the other side of the island there is a tiny little beach that, from the looks of it, gets used quite often for all manner of things by those of us who need some hard ground beneath our feet now and then...

What a nice way to meet the neighbours!

Read the sign...
Someone made a fire pit with a grate over it for cooking meat... lots of people brought things ranging from hot dogs to nice steaks!  There was also an assortment of side dishes of all kinds...

We all mingled until the sun got low and the meat choices started to come off the fire... then Bruce and I headed back to the boat.

Did I mention the Baguette boat?  I think I must have on one of my posts, but it bears repeating.  There is this boat that comes around the anchorages each morning bringing fresh baked baguettes and, if we're lucky... they'll still have an almond croissant or two by the time they reach us.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  I guess they basically load up and when what they have is gone, they're done!  It's such a nice treat to see them coming.  Hint:  They don't seem to come around to your boat if things look locked up... they don't want to wake anybody!

More fun times ahead!  One of our friend-boats, Island Time decided it was time for a Float'n' Hoot'n-Holler.  The call went out on the radio to meet up off the beach on the far side of Explorer Island with beverages and a snack to pass around.

It began as just a few boats but before it was done, we had a hole raft-up with food being passed around... endlessly...  It seemed like we would pass one dish then turn around and another one was being handed our way...  STOP the madness!  Finally most of the food was done and we got down to enjoying our cocktails and the music.

I'm jealous!  I want that flag!
Patrick and a couple of others had brought instruments and were strummin'' and drummin' away... It was our only chance to hear them since we don't go ashore at night much so it was a treat for us.  We stayed until the sun got low... then we started the mass exit as one by one, boats peeled away from the pack to return to their mother ships for dinner.... Maybe no dinner...

I'm not sure what they're selling here...
There were always errands to be run and shopping to be done... There are many choices for provisioning in St. Martin.  There is the Super U in Marigot.

There is a public dinghy dock inside the Lagoon that is reportedly much more safe than leaving your dinghy on the boardwalk in Marigot Bay where the tourist shops are... Supposedly there are thieves who case the docks and steal your gas tank when you're ashore.

The Super U Grocery is a few blocks away, easy walking distance really if you have a cart to carry the groceries back to the dinghy.

Honestly, after the first time there, I found the novelty of shopping in the big French supermarket had worn off and we did most of our shopping in the smaller local Chinese markets.

One of so many Chinese Markets
See... It's really better inside than it looks from the outside.  You just might have to shop in three stores to find everything.

They are everywhere and it is so easy to just pop in on the way from somewhere and pick up a few essentials.

For the heavy duty shopping we found the several big "box" stores (similar to Sams and Costco) to be very cost effective... The one catch was that if you saw something you wanted there, grab it!  Because it might not be there the next time you go.  Hit-&-Miss is the rule for any kind of provisioning in St. Martin, Dutch or French side.

The best was probably the Cost-U-Less but it requires a car as it's on the way to the Dutch capital city of Phillipsburg... But a car rental is cheap and you can do some sight-seeing and then swing by the store on the way back home.

Then there are THESE little stores...
There's the Prime Cash & Carry near the Budget Marine on the Dutch side and also the Carrefore, but we didn't find that place any better than the small local groceries...  Maybe better for "familiar" brands, but who needs them... we're cheap!

A walk about town gives us the quintessential French-ness that we love... Nobody is in a hurry here.  They close most stores down for two to three hours every day and almost nothing is open on Sundays... maybe the grocery stores for half a day...

Toby's Boat yard
There are so many services available to cruising boats... You can haul out in one of several yards ranging in price from bare services to full service, with everything in between.  Toby's is one of the inexpensive places where you can haul out and do your own work if you wish, or you can hire parts of it done for you.

Toby's is very involved in the community.  There are Facebook groups for Buying/Selling and for general information and you can always count on Toby to be the first one to volunteer information if you ask a question.  You can also sell almost anything online quickly with the dense cruiser population around the island.

Toby is also giving back to the cruiser community by offering up his boatyard as the location for a monthly Jumble Sale...  We went to two of them and found amazing treasures.  We found things that were literally on our list of things to buy at the chandleries after we left the jumble!  SCORE!

Mom teaching the boat kids about money

Lucky for us... these little blond girls set the prices for their wares!  

One part yard sale and one part social event!

And when you were done shopping and found yourself to be famished... you can pop right over to the line and get yourself some local BBQ for lunch!

Another of the local merchants that does a lot for the cruising community is Lagoonies.  They are on the water in Cole Bay on the Dutch side between Budget Marine and Island Waterworld...

They have a very nice dock with lots of room and it's STILL always very crowded... they're just so popular.

AND they allow us to use their dock to access the other businesses in their area.  In fact, that's probably the single-most important thing about St. Martin.  The businesses on the water allow access.  Of course they want us to buy something in their place... but they know that extending the courtesy of shore access for other businesses makes us more likely to use theirs as well... And I guess it works!

It doesn't hurt that their food is absolutely delicious!  Each dish is special in some way and the prices are really not bad for the quality you get!

We had several meals and happy hours at Lagoonies.  They open their deck for Cruisers to have meetings, parties and seminars... They even give free drinks during some events.  Seriously.

So many local merchants that make Cruisers feel welcome...  I needed some things from the US.  One of the biggest challenges for us has been how to get things shipped to us.

St. Martin is Duty Free.  I said... ST. MARTIN IS DUTY-uty-uty-uty... FREE ee-ee-ee-ee!!!

That means that we can have things shipped here without doing any paperwork or paying any import taxes on them.  You just do not understand how awesome that is!

We went to Phillipsburg to the Cost-U-Less
We found the services of Business Point (there are several like this but this is who we used) to be conveniently located in Simpson Bay Marina complex... We can leave our dinghy locked there securely with cameras watching... we can arrange for car rental with the friendly ladies there... and we can park the rental car in the parking lot there for free.  Parking is a huge issue in St. Martin!

Bruce fits right in at this French Bistro...right outside of Business Point
We used their postal service like crazy!  For $20 US per month you can have things shipped to a US address.  Then once per week, those things are loaded onto a boat, which takes a week to get from Miami to St. Martin.  It is "relatively" on time, but of course is weather (and human incompetence) dependent... Then you pay $3.99 per pound for your stuff.  Unless you're buying really heavy stuff (but why would you, there is so much stuff to buy right here on the island) this is seriously cheap overseas shipping.

Jezabelle gets a dinghy ride...  

She would really rather not...
One of our car rental days we had to take Jezabelle to the Vet.  We found a wonderful veterinarian on the Dutch side at Sint Maarten Veterinary Clinic.  They were over-the-top helpful in taking care of Jezabelle for her annual visit with vaccines... and later when she developed a urinary issue.

They helped us with completing paperwork for travel health certificates and have emergency and after-hours care.  Love them!

How many full moons did we see here???  I've lost count!
This strange bank of clouds hung around a LOT!
OK, where was I?  Focus...  I'm exhausted but I'm almost done!!!  What else do Cruisers need?  Propane.

The process for getting propane was in a state of flux... The Budget Marine, Ile Marine and Island Waterworld all had days where you could drop off your bottle and pick it up the following day.

Old regulator - out!
We could never remember which place was which day, and then one of the places stopped offering the service... but...

When we ran out of propane, we just dinghied over to Budget Marine's dock on the Dutch side and walked a couple of blocks to the GasKing.  They offered next-day-service any day of the week and the price was about half what you would pay the marine stores for their "free" service.

We ended up having bottles filled three times... once was because we're idiots and failed to properly tighten all of the fittings on our propane hoses when we replaced the regulators... I know, I know... don't judge!

Moving on...  Laundry!  We had laundry done at a place behind Lagoonies the first time, and they were good but perhaps slightly more pricey than Shrimpy's.  Shrimpy does so much for the community we just had to give him our business...

Shrimpy (aka Mike) is the guy who does the Cruiser's Net... he also accepts packages and mail for Cruisers... and has a hodgepodge second-hand stuff store... He also has crews quarters... but more importantly he has a laundry service.

So to get our laundry done, we have to load it all up into duffel bags, dinghy it across the Lagoon, into the canal and then heft it out of the dinghy and onto this cluttered porch and into the even more cluttered store...

We leave them and, depending upon the day of the week, or how much work they have, or what time you dropped them off, you may have same day or next day pickup.  And then you reverse the process.  The prices are not exact so you never know what you're going to pay... but I have come to appreciate Shrimpy's laundry more than I knew was possible.

It always came back folded in uniform squares, separated by sex or utility and smelling ever-so-lovely.

Before we became Cruisers... I never knew how important fresh scents could be.  You see... we don't smell anything good most of the time.  So whenever I pass a person on the street who has freshly washed hair, or who is wearing a nice clean scent... it's a head-turner.  So is fresh-smelling laundry.

The joy of opening a drawer and unfolding a floral-scented shirt... the sheer orgasmic pleasure of sliding between crisp, dry fresh-smelling sheets on that most important of days... "Clean Sheet Day"... There is nothing.  Like. It.  NOTHING!

I think that about does it for the practical needs... all there is left is the fun stuff!  With all of this grocery shopping and boat work being done... we were able to find some time, usually at the invitation of another Cruiser... to go and hang out in bars for happy hours and dinners.  Lunches are also high on our list... There are SO many delectable things to eat on this island.  I can't even scratch the surface... you'll just have to go there yourself... But be warned... It will take you a year to try them all...

No shoes on the boat!
We hung out at the Soggy Dollar several times... This little place is tucked in behind the dock where some really nice boats dock.  We get to sit and watch the crews clean and stuff... while we drink and wile away our leisure hours...

Terrible pic in so many ways...but it's the only one I got!
 We celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and nothing!
A rare sighting of Bruce having fun!

  Well... there you have it.  What a garbled mess this post has been.  I really should have broken it down and posted as things happened... but we were just living life... The best thing about St. Martin was how easy it was.

Until you leave your world and go out on a boat into the unknown... you have no idea what that means.  I'm not complaining because we are so fortunate to be here doing this... but sometimes I miss easy familiarity.

In three months of living in St. Martin we found that.  St. Martin is everything in general... and more.  Thanks for making it through with me!

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