One island, two nations

After a lazy evening on board and catching up on our sleep we were raring to go on Sunday morning. Went ashore to Marigot and found a patisserie / boulangerie for a really good French breakfast – great coffee and pastries. I practised my school girl French with my terrible London accent and after saying ‘thank you very much’ the lady fell about laughing and translated that I said ‘thank you, nice arse’. She had misheard mind – I did say the right word – just not in the right way! But she did say it was nice that I tried to speak French….

Anyway…after a leisurely breakfast…we posted our passage blog and headed off to the supermarket to top up on fresh provisions – and nice bread / cheese. We had asked for directions at the boulangerie and was overhead by a young girl who gave us a lift as she thought it was too hot to walk both ways! What a nice introduction to the French St Martin.

After dropping off our stuff back on board we headed out in the dinghy to explore the Simpson Lagoon. This is apparently a good anchorage with great holding and lots of yachtie facilities. But to get in there – whether you enter the French or the Dutch side – you have to go through a lifting bridge at set times of the day. And before we committed to this we wanted to go have a look. So went under the bridge and watched the comings and goings – and then launched into international rescue mode to help a monohull who had run aground outside of the dredged channel.  While going through the lagoon we came across an interesting structure, we thought it was a floating bar!   So went to explore to find out it was a floating guest house – and unfortunately, because we weren’t guests, they couldn’t serve us.   However if we had phoned ahead and booked a meal, we could have had some beer.    Apparently this is French legislation… Not for us to reason why but shame we didn’t have our mobiles on us to go round out of sight and make the call…..

Went up into Port Royale marina and had a look at the shops / restaurants huddled around this area – although most were shut being a Sunday. We did, however, hear loud music coming from around the corner so we headed off to investigate and came across a mini carnival with girls all dressed up and gyrating to the very very loud calypso music. Wasn’t expecting that!

Anyway…….back in dink and headed off to the Dutch side.  If you take your yacht from one side to the other you have to clear in / out customs and immigration for both countries – if you travel by dink or by car you can go freely…. Not sure why…. Anyway….the French side was predominantly filled up with cruisers, rusting hulks left over from hurricanes, and charter boats. The Dutch was completely different – very very large contingent of superyachts. Maybe the abundance of casinos and adult entertainment leisure facilities over there attracts the wealthy owners????

The water in the lagoon was pretty grubby and we realised that we would not be able to use the watermaker in here – and as Marigot Bay is a pretty town anchorage with easy access to shore in beautiful clear blue water, why bother to go into the lagoon unless you need to??? After a nice day we still felt tired so had a quick happy hour in a French fish restaurant where the lobsters were sitting in their tank on death row. Watched the sun go down over Marigot Bay and had a quiet evening and early night on board.

This morning we moved Morphie into Port Louis Marina – which is also in Marigot. We did this as we wanted more security for her while we explored the island by car for a few days. This was a good move as the swells started to come in this morning into the bay and would have made for a rolly night….

After getting ourselves organised we headed off to the ferry terminal to see Fatso who we had done a deal with the day before for cash… A little Hyundai – with loads of existing damage! – for €80 for two days including tax and insurance. Bargain. Picked the car up and headed off round the island. Richard turned into Alain Prost immediately behind the wheel and this is a mountainous island with a slow speed limit….it turned into hairpin curves and something out of Top Gear! Anyway….we had great fun and first off visited Orient Bay (French side).

For those of you who don’t realise by now, St Martin is actually one big island split between the French and Dutch who call their side Saint Maarten. The story goes that the French and Dutch were trying to decide how they were going to split the territory and the French guy turns up with wine and the Dutch guy turns up with gin. They start to walk across the island as they are drinking, the gin being stronger, the Dutchman collapsed and the French got more land as a result.

Anyway – back to Orient Bay. We wanted to visit here as it looked great in the pilot book – but very difficult to navigate into with reefs breaking on both sides of the bay. So thought it was one for the car. When we got there we were surprised to see rafts and rafts of chairs and umbrellas with wall to wall tourists. I guess we have been spoilt in the past by undiscovered beaches in the BVI. Anyway….we’ve been there now…so moved on after a quick stop for a soft drink and drove all the way round to Phillipsburg (Dutch side). This is the major port where cruise ships come in and has a long board walk and lots of bars, restaurants and shops to cater for the crowd when they come ashore.

We came across Captain Jack Sparrow quite early on and found a nice spot to have lunch across the way from the Naughty by Nature reggae band performing. Nice local food and we then wandered the shops until we had had enough. Oh yes – needed some cash – so went to the ATM. Asked me if I wanted dollars or local currency? I said local – expecting Euros – and, oh no, got Guilders! Didn’t know they still existed…

Moved on and having heard stories about planes landing at Princess Juliana airport coming low over Mahoe Bay decided to go there and check it out for ourselves. My god – they really do come low – and even though you know you are safe you still duck as they pass overhead. That’s the closest I hope I ever come to a moving plane! Taking off is worse – the thrust from the engine sandblasts you if you are in the firing line.

After this bit of fun we went to the chandleries – which we had been led to believe were the best we would find anywhere in the Caribbean chain. So list in hand – credit card wobbling at the thought – we turned up and went shopping at both Budget Marine and Island Water World. Well – they have loads of stuff – but not the stuff we want or need. Really disappointed but we’ll make do with what we have…

First impressions? French St Martin is chic with a more relaxed atmosphere and lots of good dining choices, although the beach we visited was very busy. Dutch Saint Maarten is geared up for a higher density of tourists and has developed their infrastructure to suit this demand – we counted three MacDonalds, two KFCs and Subway seems to be making an impression plus lots of casinos.   But both have some nice original architecture….

Back to the boat for a snack of fresh French bread, cheese, pate, salad and a couple of beers. What could be nicer eh? Now sitting in the Marina’s yacht club using their free wifi overlooking the amazing sights of the superyachts and a cruise ship in the background.

Another day of exploring tomorrow…so won’t be up late.

Bye for now.