DATE: January 25, 2007
This morning pulled the hook in Grand Bay, outside Phillipsburg Saint Martin bound for the mountain island of Saba, some 30 miles to the west and south. It is clearly visible, its peak climbing to well over 3000 feet and today free of the cloud cover that nourishes its cloud forests. The forecasts are for light easterlies and I first thought with the light wind off the stern quarter we would be unable to sail but the wind proved just right for the spinnaker and Parallax glides along in smooth seas at nearly 8 knots with Saba growing ever larger as we approach.
We arrived n Saint Martin the afternoon of the 20th after an all night slog to windward from St Thomas. I had hoped to work my way North and depart from Annegada, which would on a good day, have provided enough angle on the wind to make the trip under sail. But after a week of 25 to 30 knots out of the east the wind was to drop to 12 or so from the east north east so we took advantage of the lull to get east, no time to work North. It was an awful trip, motor sailing was possible until 3 am or so but then the wind dropped and went east so I decided just to drop the main and slug it out through the sloppy left over seas. I hardly ever do that but I wanted to make Saint Martin in good light. At one point, there were 4 cruise ships around me and a number of small vessels going and coming all on the same or reciprocal course. One boat showing only a red light was on a collision course according to the radar. This was confusing but I altered course hard to the right and the sailing vessel passed not 100 yards to port. Her green running light was out making it look like she was crossing starboard to port when really she was coming dead on and should have been showing a red and green light. I tried to raise the skipper but no sign anyone was on watch.
Saint Martin was not a favored destination but I needed to get east to explore the Leeward island chain to the south so Saint Martin it was. I was pleasantly surprised. It is a beautiful island and though it has the deserved reputation for haven to the mega yachts it is also very cruiser friendly. The island is divided; the French own the north, Sint Maarten and the Dutch, the south, Saint Martin. Simpson Bay Lagoon is a huge landlocked body of water accessible from the Dutch side through Simpson Bay and from the French side through Marigot Bay. The shores of the lagoon are chock a bloc with something for every body, restaurants and bars of every type and price range, yacht services, boat chandleries, parts and pieces, tech services, marinas you name it. It would take a week just to work yourself around the lagoon. The mega yachts took up a lot of the shore side marina space (an one hundred foot yacht can take up a lot of space) but there were a few gazillion mid sized sailboats in the lagoon as well as in the surrounding French and Dutch harbors. There were also plenty of bars and gathering spots noted as cruiser hangouts, where sailors and cruising families discussed weather and destinations. Once cleared in on the Dutch side I was free to take my dingy from the Dutch side to the French side. Great. A 10-minute dingy ride and you're in another world. The French side is well, French, long angular girls with their cigarettes, wonderful sidewalk cafes , pastry shops and outdoor markets and lots of little shops all colorful and colored by the studied French indifference. I loved it. I spent three days in and around the lagoon and met several interesting people in the famed sailors hangout, Shrimpie's, before moving to Phillipsburg, the capitol of the Dutch side.
Phillipsburg is a place designed for the cruise ships, there were 6 there when I arrived late afternoon and I'm told as many as eleven have been there at one time, hard to imagine. It's a very manicured place with a great wide boardwalk and tons of duty free shopping. The cruise ships panacea. One evening was enough for me here so early this morning with light winds and no swell forecast for the next few days I cleared out for Saba.