Caribbean - Saint Martin
In the collective imagination, Saint Martin is today compared, at the worst, to a tourist factory, at the best to a gigantic supermarket where everything can be found at cut prices…Yet the island deserves much better!
Like most of the West Indian islands, Saint Martin was discovered by Christopher Columbus, in 1493, on St Martin’s day… Then, as usual, the island was occupied by the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and occasionally by the English…
Today the island enjoys a special status, as it is divided in two: Saint Martin, the French part and Sint Maarten, the Dutch part. The legend has it that the division took place after a race between two runners, one from each nation. The Frenchman covered more distance, giving 3/5ths of the island to his king, whilst the Dutchman, who was more cunning, took possession of the salt marshes in the south of the island. For more than three centuries, the two nations have shared the island’s 90 km².
Thanks to its free port status, the island has developed a mass tourism, and offers enough electronic, perfume and fashion goods for a mega shopping trip at very attractive prices. You will see liners full of tourists arrive at Philipsburg for the day…
St Martin island offers several attractive anchorages, such as Orient Bay (Pinel islet), Tintamarre or Anse Marcel. And of course, in the French part of the island, the small town of Marigot is worth the trip. Finally, Simpson Bay lagoon is also worth the journey, not for its beauty, but for the originality of this genuine ‘car park’ and the lifting bridges that must be passed to get there.
But Saint Martin’s strength is that it has an international airport and numerous charter bases, from which you can sail out to islands with much more glamorous names.
In first place, there is of course Saint Barthelemy, known as St Barth, the jet set’s island, and its magnificent port, Gustavia, where your 50’ catamaran will look like a dinghy… Then there is the Grand Colombier anchorage, at the foot of the Rockefeller residence, where we had, as neighbours at anchor, Bill Gates and Rothschild’s Gitana. Not to be missed either, between St Martin and St Barth, is the stopover at the ‘Ile Forchu’, a small desert island which gives the impression of being in a Jules Verne novel and where if you are lucky, several turtles will come and visit you!
From St. Martin, it would also be a shame not to visit Anguilla. In fact it is only six miles from Marigot bay on St Martin to the east coast of Anguilla. And Anguilla has an absolutely magnificent coastline, as well as many small wild islands with lots of fish and a sublime seabed. The evenings here are more peaceful than at St Martin; nightlife is almost non-existent…so the anchorages are much more solitary!
Finally, from St Martin, you can also envisage a trip to the Virgin Islands. The crossing poses no problems, but you should count on a night at sea. On the other hand, the return trip is more ‘robust’, as it is often against the wind.
Leaving from St. Martin, there are many possibilities, according to what you want and the time available.
If you have about ten days to spare and passages of more than 150 miles don’t worry you, you can do a loop, by going to St. Barth, St. Kitts, Statia, Saba and returning to St. Martin – a nice trip which will allow you to discover some very different islands.
With just a week, the ideal is to do a loop between St. Martin, Anguilla – Prickly Pear and return to St. Martin via Marigot.
Finally, for those who like passage-making and above all, those of you who have 2 or 3 weeks ahead of you, the cruise to the Virgin Islands will remain a superb memory for the rest of your days…
Formalities : Valid passport for EU and USA citizens to enter St Martin or St Barth. Then compulsory clearance on each of the islands. Beware if you opt to go to the Virgin Islands from St. Martin, the arrival clearance in the British Virgin Islands can be quite long…
Weather : Tourist season from December to April.
But sailing is very pleasant until the end of July. August and September are much wetter (lots of rain) and this is above all the period when the hurricane risk is great. Temperatures : between 26 and 30 °C. Air humidity : 70 %.
Sailing conditions: In the channels between the islands, the sea can quickly become choppy and short. Sailing between the islands can therefore be fairly uncomfortable, especially for a crew which has just climbed off the plane and not got its sea legs. The winds: the easterly trades blow from November to July (rarely stronger than 30/35 knots). However, beware of the squalls, (which can easily be seen from far away), as the precipitation under them can be very violent. The overall current flows in a westerly direction, and an eye must be kept on it as in certain passages, despite a 1m range, the tides can give rise to strong currents. Buoyage : You will be sailing in area "B" (green buoys to port when entering the harbour). Buoyage remains unpredictable and the lights do not always work. In any case night sailing is not advisable and is forbidden by the charter companies.
Money : Euros and US dollars are accepted everywhere in St. Martin and St. Barth.- West Indies.
Useful to know : The Caribbean Sea offers a marvellous and diverse cruising area. The charter companies made no mistake; there are a lot of charter bases there. From the Virgin Islands to the Grenadines, the string of West Indian islands offers many destinations… The best period to enjoy them stretches from December to April, as the weather is drier, the trade winds are settled and thus the conditions are more stable. To add to this, the nights are (relatively) cool and thus pleasanter. The hurricane season in theory lasts from June to November, but above all, the months of May and September will have the most depressions.