Anguilla - Road BayBy Sheryl Shard
Photos by Paul and Sheryl Shard

“Simpson Bay Bridge. Simpson Bay Bridge. This is the sailing vessel, Distant Shores II, standing by for the 8:30 outgoing opening.”

“Roger. Roger. Cap'. Bring her right up. The bridge will be opening in five minutes.”

I set down my handheld VHF radio which was set to channel 12 for bridge communications and glanced around while my husband and long-time boating partner, Paul, moved our Southerly 49 sailboat as safely as possible up to the bridge channel entrance keeping an eye on the affect of wind and current on the boat's position.

St. Martin/St. Maarten
It was a sunshine-filled spring day in the Caribbean island of St. Martin, a unique island that is divided in two and managed by two different nations. The region to the north is owned by France and the region to the south is owned by the Netherlands (Sint Maarten in Dutch). The story goes that in days of old following a fight over the island, the French and Dutch decided the best way to resolve ownership was to appoint a Frenchman armed with a bottle of wine to walk in one direction and a Dutchman armed with a flask of gin to walk in the other direction around the island which is barely seven miles in each direction. Where they met became the boundary. The French ended up with a bit more territory than the Dutch because the gin was stronger than the wine. There is no historical fact to this story but it is well-loved and describes the whimsical atmosphere of the island.

St Martin - Marigot BayPaul and I were on the Dutch side of St. Martin at the moment, hovering in the shallow interior waters of Simpson Bay Lagoon, waiting to exit through the Simpson Bay Bridge into the bright blue Caribbean Sea beyond. Behind us, forming a neat line, were several charter boats, a mix of monohulls and catamarans with excited bareboat crews aboard, and two gleaming megayachts with all hands standing-by in crisp uniforms positioning enormous fenders and conversing to one another via headsets in preparation for transiting the bridge. Despite our differing levels of experience, income and the type of boats we were traveling on, we were all of the same tribe, loving to be out on the water, and eagerly awaiting the first bridge opening of the day so we could all head out to sea for new adventures.

The island of St. Martin is considered to be the yachting capital of the Caribbean where all supplies and services needed by sailors, powerboaters, charter fleets and megayacht owners can be found. As icing on the cake, supplies are all duty-free for yachts in transit. As a result, St. Martin is a cruising sailor’s crossroads where we and most sailors spend a little time each season to make repairs, do annual maintenance, have spare parts shipped in, stock up on provisions and catch up with sailing friends we have befriended in ports all around the globe.

St. Martin/St. Maarten is also a great place to dine out since the selection of international cuisine is top-notch yet there are abundant sailors' bars and beach bars to fit every budget. And the number of golden sand beaches is pretty much unmatched by any other Caribbean islands making it the region's most popular (and busy) holiday destination. Ready and refreshed after a visit here, everyone travelling by boat heads off to explore the charming islands surrounding St. Martin, to sail up- or down-island or jump off for big offshore passages or ocean crossings for which St. Martin is also well positioned.

St Martin - Sandy Ground BridgeWith all this going for it, it is not surprising that the island of St. Martin is also the headquarters for many charter fleets. If you are new to bareboat chartering, a week's cruise around the island is a delight since not only are there steady reliable tradewind conditions, many anchorages and excellent marina facilities, you also get to experience the cultures, cuisines and protocols of two different European nations in one destination.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a chartering experience where you can stretch your skills a little and do some blue water sailing to other islands in a safe environment the island of St. Martin is definitely worth investigating since you can make short offshore daysails to the British island of Anguilla to the north, the French island of St. Barthelemy to the southeast and the Dutch island of Saba to the southeast. On most days with good visibility all three islands are within view when you leave St. Martin.

A real plus is that St. Martin is easy to get to. The Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of the island is a Caribbean hub with direct flights from major cities in Canada, the USA and Europe making it easy for guests and crews to fly in without having to waste time making connections allowing them to get out on the water as soon as possible. The cruising destinations from St. Martin as a base are only limited by time, weather, the charter companies' restrictions and experience.

Bing. Bing. Bing.
We could hear the barrier gates on the bridge go down to stop the traffic on the road so the bridgetender could raise the single bascule bridge allowing us to transit out of the lagoon. There are only two ways to exit the huge Simpson Bay Lagoon which spans into both the French and Dutch territory and harbours hundreds of boats at anchor as well as several marinas and boat yards. On the Dutch side you exit from the Simpson Bay Bridge at Cole Bay and on the French side you exit at Sandy Ground Bridge at the main town of Marigot. Spanning the lagoon on the Dutch side near the border is the new Causeway Bridge allowing you passage from one territory to the other. All bridges have scheduled openings throughout the day.

Anguilla - Don't drink and Jibe T-Shirt“This is the Simpson Bay Bridge. The bridge is now opening. All vessels proceed to the bridge.”
Having been stuck in road traffic on many occasions which can back up for miles if there are lots of boats transiting, Paul had positioned Distant Shores II to slide through the opening just as the bridge was safely open so no time would be delayed. The boats behind us kept up close and no one was tempted to slow down or, heaven forbid, stop and look around to decide which way to go which would cause a pile up of boats behind them that were sliding through the bridge opening with nowhere to go to avoid them.

Ahhh. Out into the wide blue yonder.

We had cleared out of the Dutch side of St. Martin the night before so our options were open. We could carry on to Marigot to anchor off the picturesque town (port fees apply) and clear in at the port authority office at Marigot Ferry Dock or at the capitainerie in Port La Royale in the lagoon. If we chose to stay at Marina Port Louis the marina staff handles clearance for their customers. It is a delight to stroll through the town, climb up to the old fort for fabulous views of the island and lagoon, hunt for bargains at the straw market at the waterfront and, best of all, enjoy French restaurants, bakeries and cafes.

Just up the way a little further north is the anchorage of Friars Bay that has a reasonable beach and beach bar, good for a lunch stop on your way on to Grand Case. Grand Case is the gastronomic centre of St. Martin and during high season there is a weekly street party. Definitely plan to eat out here. The anchorage of Baie Grand Case can be a little rolly so plan your visit accordingly.

St Maarten - AccraCarrying on around the French side of St. Martin you reach Anse Marcel on the north end where you can anchor and enjoy the beach or opt for a peaceful night in the Anse Marcel Marina. Continue your cruise with a daysail to the small offshore islet of Tintamarre where you can pick up a marine park mooring. Tintamarre is about 120 feet high and just over a mile long. It has a fabulous beach along it's western shore and many walking trails.

Make your final stops at Orient Bay (we like to anchor behind Green Cay if conditions allow) where you'll find another remarkable beach and Oyster Pond (watch the reefs and follow the channel markers going into the harbour here). Oyster Pond is a completely protected lagoon where you'll find the Sunsail Charter base and enjoy the amenities of Captain Oliver's Marina.

St. Barthelemy
St. Barthelemy (St. Barts) lies to the east-southeast of St. Martin so is an easy offshore daysail. It's just a 12-mile sail to windward from Philipsburg or a fast 15-mile tack from the north end of St. Martin. Clear into St. Barthelemy at the port of Gustavia. There is an anchorage which can be a little rolly but if you are fortunate to find room in the inner harbour tied into the “trots” where you tie to a mooring at both bow and stern you will be very comfortable. This island is the playground of the rich and famous so shopping is fun. A popular and quiet natural anchorage can be found on the northwest corner at Anse de Colombier.

Anguilla - Sandy IslandThe small steepsided Dutch island of Saba lying to the southwest of St. Martin is a real treasure and one of our favourite Caribbean islands although it is somewhat challenging to visit. The anchorages are open roadsteds, deep and usually rolly in light conditions and treacherous in strong wind and swell conditions. Chose your weather carefully. The marine park here has 10 well maintained moorings on the west coast available on a first-come-first-serviced basis as well as four moorings in the commercial harbour at Fort Bay on the south coast. Hiking in the rain forest is the main attraction here along with the friendly people who live in small charming villages at “the top of the rock”.

We recently re-discovered Anguilla, the British island lying to the north-west of St. Martin. Our first visit was in 1992 and after that many restrictions were brought in involving expensive cruising permits to sail around the island and out to its outer islands. All this is for good reason since it is a small island with fragile reef systems but we hesitated to go back. However, this year we returned and were delighted that we did. The port of call for recreational boats visiting the island is Road Bay on the north coast where there is a lovely beach with many great beach bars and restaurants. There is no charge to stay here and you need go no further if you are on a schedule. To go anywhere else with your boat you must purchase a cruising permit. Day permits expire at midnight. It was $50 US per day for our Southerly 49 sailboat. Best option seems to be to rent a car or take a taxi tour to see this island. It's known for it's beautiful pristine beaches and luxurious resorts and they exceeded our expectations.

Saba - Small VillagesWhether you are looking for an easy relaxing place to charter with some international flair or wanting to extend yourself with some safe offshore sailing to different islands, St. Martin as a base offers it all.

Fast Facts
Sunsail Yacht Charters

Horizon Yacht Charters

St. Martin Yacht Charters

Dream Yacht Charters

St. Maarten Yacht Club – Home of Heineken Regatta

St Martin - ProvisionsPrincess Juliana International Airport

Cruising Guide Publications
“The Cruising Guide to the Leeward Islands – Northern Edition Anguilla through Montserrat”
by Chris Doyle

St. Martin Tourist Office

St. Maarten Tourism Bureau

St. Barthelemy (St. Barts) Tourism Office

Saba Tourist Bureau

Anguilla Tourist Board

Photo Captions
Photo 1 - Anguilla – Road Bay, Port of Call: Road Bay is the port of call for recreational yachts clearing in and out of Anguilla. There is no charge to anchor in this harbour which has a lovely beach and many beach bars and restaurants. There are many restrictions and somewhat expensive cruising permits if you sail to other bays or the
outer islands so on a short cruise it is a delight to anchor in Road Bay and explore this delightful island by rental car or taxi tour and visit the out islands using affordable local ferries or excursion boats as an alternative.
Photo 2 - St. Martin – View of Marigot Bay & Simpson Bay Lagoon: View from Fort Louis looking down on Marigot Bay, Marina Port St. Louis and Simpson Bay Lagoon in the distance.
Photo 3 - St. Martin – Exiting lagoon at Sandy Ground Bridge: The Sandy Ground Bridge on the French side of the island is one of two ways to exit Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Photo 4 - Anguilla – Don't Drink and Jibe T-shirt: Partying and sailing seem to go together but here's a reminder: “Don't Drink and Jibe”.
Photo 5 -St. Maarten – Salt Fish Appetizers called Accra: Salt fish (dried cod) is a staple throughout the Caribbean and it is used in many local dishes. A popular appetizer with drinks is this area is salt fish fritters called “accra”.
Photo 6 - Anguilla – Beach at Sandy Island: A magical desert island. A great place to relax and get away from it all. You can rent the whole island for private events such as weddings.
Photo 7 - Saba – Charming homes in the small villages of Saba: The Sabans are proud of their island and maintain their traditional homes in pristine condition.
Photo 8 - St. Martin – Paul with a dinghy-load of provisions: Even if your boat is at anchor it is easy to stock up in St. Martin/St. Maarten.