The “Martin” brothers are a single island that is half French and half Dutch, the second major island of the leeward chain after Anguila. Just as brothers can be, the two halves couldn’t be more different.
We started in the French half. Approaching from the north, the major anchorage is Marigot. It lies on a large half circle bay. The depth gets quickly to about 15′ and more or less stays there in the Bay Area, occasionally getting as shallow as 10′. With our 7′ draft we had no problem driving about a bit as we divided what to do.
The decision was where to anchor. You can anchor in the bay, very good holding and a short dinghy ride to the port of Marigot where many French shops can be found. Or we could go through a drawbridge and into the big lagoon that is between the French and Dutch halves. Poring through our guidebooks, we decided to tackle the narrow channel after the bridge so we could avoid the rolly bay anchorage. In the lagoon, there would be no waves.
The bridge opens infrequently, so we had to wait, and after an hour or so, it raised and we were able to go through. The narrow cut almost gave us a problem as we advanced not seeing the obscure red light. This meant, it turned out, we were supposed to wait for outbound traffic and as another yacht came at us, and with no too to pass side by side, we had to quickly reverse back out of the cut. Alchemy reverses like a drunk sailor, never in a straight line, but always to one side. I watched nervously as we slewed backwards to port and towards rocks but we were able to get back far enough where a quick five point turn got us out of the way of the oncoming sailboat. A good thing, as the boat was a wreck. Always get out of the way of boats that have lots of hull damage. Same rule of thumb as cars!
Through the bridge, we had more challenges. The “clearly marked” channel had all it’s buoys washed away in hurricane Gonzales. It was also about 10′ wide. Another boat was also trying to pick its way through the shoals, so we did the decent thing and went first and run aground to show him where they were. I was quite disappointed with not even a wave of thanks as they sped past and left us stuck. A we did in the New York canals, we used our anchor and windless as a “kedge” by driving the dinghy away from the boat with the anchor in it to get it 50 yards from the boat. Then with the motor and the windless pulling, we were able to get off. We anchored as the sun was getting low and made a couple of large drinks.
The next couple of days we explored French Saint Martin. The lagoon was pretty crappy, not remotely worth the effort. The water was dirty and there were no clean beaches. But, the shops, vintners and patissaiaires with cheap imported wine, cheese and pastries more than made up for it. We spent three days eating fresh baguettes and pastries every day. We also climbed up the steep hill to the fort where we got a spectacular view across Marigot bay from the ruined fort walls. Even better, it was free, just a jumble of half fallen walls and rusted cannons.
Marigot itself was a fascinating combination of France and Caribbean. Almost everyone strolled the streets clearly having taken care to look well dressed. Everywhere French was being spoken and fancy French restaurants had hawkers outside trying to entice you in.
After our few days, we moved Alchemy through the lagoon and another two drawbridges into Simpson bay, on the Dutch side. Big hotels and party bars on the beach replaced the sophisticated coffee shops. That, and better wifi. Oh, and two big sailing stores with their own dinghy docks. How cool is that!
In retrospect, the lagoon is not that great to anchors in. It’s obviously nice and calm, but you’d be better off to head to whatever bay and beach is going to be on the leeward side of the island based on the weather. That and any swell that is forecast. The shops and streets in French Marigot are far far better to spend a day, or three, strolling through than the commercialized and vanilla Dutch shops.
There are a few other bays and anchorages in Saint Martin n the east side of the island but we didn’t have time to visit them. Our return we hope to as they are described as nature preserves and supposed to be beautiful classic Caribbean beaches.
Now on to Saba, and to drink the two case of French wine we bought!