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For as rough of a time as our last week was in the USVI, we were super productive in St Martin!
Our passage over was all motor sailing, close-hauled, but the waves weren’t too bad. It took us about 22 hours to get from St Thomas to Marigot Bay, arriving December 16th.
About Saint Martin
Saint Martin, the island, is one of the busier ports in the Caribbean. This was our second visit to the island; our first was in 2013 when we did a charter on a Leopard 48.
Saint Martin, the island, is divided in half. The top half is the French collectivity of Saint-Martin. It’s biggest city is Marigot, which is also an excellent bay for cruisers.
The bottom half is the constituent country of Sint Maarten, belonging to the Netherlands. The capital is Philipsburg, but most boating is done in Simpson Bay.
On the west side of the island is the Simpson Bay Lagoon. The lagoon, too, is split in half from French to Dutch, and the lagoon connects to Marigot Bay and Simpsons Bay by a lifting bridge on either side.
While you do have to clear in and out when your boat crosses from French to Dutch or vice versa, you do not have to do formalities if you cross the border via dinghy, car, or by foot.
Marigot Bay is pretty damn awesome. It’s a huge anchorage, with beautiful, shallow, clear water and room for at least 100 boats. There is a dock right by customs, which we used often. In addition, we were thrilled to get to meet up with several people we knew in Marigot Bay! The bay is chock full of cruisers, so it’s no surprise we ran into people we knew in real life and online.
Provisioning in St Martin
I had received advice that St Martin was the best place to buy provisions in the Caribbean. Since St Martin is French, everything was very similar to La Rochelle, down to the brand names.
I spent time checking out all of the grocery stores. First, there is a place called Simply, right next to the bridge to the Lagoon. I tied up Little Dipper at Shrimpy’s in the channel and walked over to Simply. Simply was, I thought, better for fresh meat, but you have to make sure not to go too early, otherwise, they won’t have received their product for the day.
Next, I went to Super U, which was quite a walk from the dock by customs. The store was much bigger, with more specialty items. I picked up some lamb chops for Christmas, and the produce was much nicer than Simply. However, there were a few items I couldn’t find at either place.
There are a ton of small grocers and variety store in St Martin, and it’s smart to pop in to check them out. I found curry powder in a small spice stand, and I found 12 oz jars of peanut butter at a tiny shop called The Happy Shop.
Let me take a moment to say that there is NO FOOD more American than peanut butter. In a large French grocery store, peanut butter is scarce, and if you can find it at all it may be in the “foreign” section. The Super U had small 8 oz jars, but with David having a PB&J for lunch every day…I made sure to stock up from the Happy Shop.
Saint Martin is duty-free and has become the yachting hub of the Caribbean. There are two stores in St Martin where we purchased boat supplies, and both are Caribbean chains, but based in Saint Martin.
Budget Marine was right at the channel into the Lagoon, and Island Water Works was on the left side, once you proceed towards the Royale Marina (look for the building with the Cat engine logo, and it’s to the right). Although neither had the parts in stock we were looking for, they were able to order them from the corresponding store on the Dutch side.
IWW carried Trident Marine products, so they were able to order a replacement solenoid for us. Budget Marine carried Isotemp products, so we got the heat exchanger from them. We quickly replaced the solenoid, and YAY it worked! We haven’t replaced the heat exchanger yet. We also got out propane tank refilled from IWW.
And let me just interrupt myself the gripe about our propane system and Trident Marine/Trident Rubber. First, they sent us the wrong control panel, and then they sent us the right one but that didn’t fix our problem that THEY diagnosed. We asked them to send us a replacement solenoid. Guess what? They sent us another control panel. Thank god we have been able to buy our own solenoid to fix the system, otherwise, we would be without propane for 3 weeks! They have never responded to my emails, I always have to call, and every time I ask them to send me the FedEx tracking number and they never do. Such a pain to deal with!
But have no fear, we had fun too! We got to meet three boats that we had talked to online but had not met in person: Lisa and Nils on Aggressive, Christina and Jeff on Altera, and Shane and Sarah on Dream Chaser, another Helia. Frank and Mary Grace on Let it Be had also arrived the same day as us (coming from the BVIs). We managed two get-togethers on the 17th, one was breakfast at Sarafina’s with the crew of Let It Be, Altera, Dream Chaser, and us. The other get together we had that night on Starry Horizons, with all five crews for drinks and appetizers. It was a great time!