25 March – (Doubly Dutch) Sint Maarten and gently British Anguilla


March 28th, 2018


Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on March 28th, 2018 in Caribbean – Leeward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019.

18:12N 063:05.6W

The main mission of our trip to the Dutch side of St Martin was to find a refill for our cooking gas bottle.  The shop, marked on the pilotage chart, had simply disappeared.  We asked several local people, who all pointed us in roughly the same direction, but to no avail – the premises had been blown away.

Ashore, most commercial activity was more or less normal, but close up, the buildings were pretty shabby.  The supermarket was well stocked and prices reasonable.  We had Euros for the French side, but on the Dutch side they use Netherlands Antilles Guilders (what?) or, more usually, US Dollars.  Every sign was in English, not a trace of the Dutch language anywhere.  Everybody spoke English with a classic Dutch-American-super-self-confident accent (‘I must be so much crazy cooler dan you because I can spike your language fluent and you don’t know de Dutch at all, man’ (sic)). 

An odd mix of French, Dutch and American cultures vying for attention…


Under this was a 1990s Amel Super Maramu worth £400K.  The hole goes right through. Amazingly, the masts are still standing – just.  I didn’t think much of the damage control!

Eventually I traced the gas man to a new location on the other side of the island.  Julie took the food shopping back to the boat whilst I set off to find Gas King in Philipsburg.  The taxi driver was an absolute gem: from a very poor, black family he spoke very good English with a really thick accent through a mouthful of misshapen teeth, but in the hour we spent together, we discussed General Galtieri, Slobodan Milosevic, Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Somali piracy, BREXIT and the Chinese annexation of the Spratley Islands.  And we found the gas man, who refilled my canister whilst we waited.


Take your pick!  Getting rid of the yacht debris will be a massive challenge.

I met Julie back at the dock on the Dutch side and we returned north to explore the north-eastern, French corner of the lagoon.  We passed the charter boat bases, dominated by damaged vessels but clearly trying to get going and ran into a dockside area than must have been their equivalent of the Port Solent development.  A nice collection of shops and restaurants, now mostly boarded up.  One restaurant was open and fairly busy, so we went.  The French owners were brilliant: clearly determined to pull themselves out of the mire, they were quite different to some of the other Europeans around them, who were rather listless by comparison.  We enjoyed some splendid ‘moules frites’, imported from Canada because bringing the in from France was a bureaucratic minefield and were joined by half the island.  These guys were setting the pace of reconstruction and I wish them well.


Port Royale – the French restaurant is just about in the middle of the frame.  Basic reconstruction complete, but a huge amount still to do before the boats return…

The next day, whilst Julie had her hair done I went for a walk along the foreshore on the French side.  Close up, the power of the hurricane in overwhelming the concrete structures was awe-inspiring.  Much of the damage was not due to the failure of the ferro-concrete though, but poor quality fittings: rotten wooden battens securing cladding, poorly constructed aluminium or steel roof spaces, window frames held in place with polystyrene foam.  Gerry-built, in other words.  Some buildings had been cleared by man, others had their contents emptied into the ditches by the hurricane.  You could sift through the wreckage yourself if you wanted to, because nobody had tried to remove it.  Boatyards with 80% of yachts damaged, but most of them sitting on the sort of cradles we used in the 1980s and which would not be allowed in most UK boatyards these days.  The football stadium was completely trashed.  Saddest of all, a restaurant near the bridge with the roof and most of the walls removed, but all the contents strewn around.  Plastic Christmas trees, broken cookers and fridges, picture frames, posters, cutlery just lying abandoned.


The football stadium, utterly trashed.  I hope a rich French football club rises to the challenge… no harm in hoping!

In the afternoon we went back to the Dutch side in search of some footwear for me, probably available in the duty-free shopping area aimed at the cruise ships.  We landed at the Sint Maarten Sailing Club, a hive of reconstruction activity where they were launching a pile of Optimists and Laser Picos for a children’s sailing class.  Neaby, a 70 catamaran lay afloat, upside down.  A couple of chaps in protective suits were epoxying the hull, trying to make her watertight before trying to right her.  Good luck, lads!  We caught a bus into Philipsburg, sharing the ride with a pile of Haitian immigrants speaking their exotic language interspersed with the odd English word or phrase.

Downtown Philipsburg was like another world.   Whilst the outskirts remined me of Castries or any other faceless urbanised outskirts – fast food, tyre repair, warehousing, secondhand cars, repeat – the area a couple streets in from the seafront is clearly focused on tourism.  Hurricane, what hurricane?  You have to look very hard to find evidence of it amongst the duty free shopping and top-end boutiques.  It reminded us a little of Main Street in Gibraltar – loads of pushy Asian shopkeepers trying to sell you stuff you don’t need – but without the history, the fortifications or the omnipresent Rock!  We found some shoes though: I now own a pair of ‘Crocs’.  Not the luridly coloured squashed toads that made the brand famous, but some quite normal-looking waterproof sandals that I can wear in the water or out to dinner.


Philipsburg courthouse.  Hurricane – what hurricane?

We broke out onto the seafront for some refreshment.  Benidorm on steroids.  ‘Fabtastic’ beach, beautiful turquoise sea, some smart superyachts and cruise ships in the distance, white beach umbrellas and hundreds of holidaymakers sunning themselves or promenading and showing off parts that ought to remain hidden.  A fine holiday destination if that’s what you are looking for, but not the Caribbean we came to explore.  I’d stick to Benidorm…


The smart end of the seafront at Philipsburg.  Business as normal…

So the following morning, after a short walk ashore in Marigot to make sure we had not missed something, we cleared Customs and sailed for Anguilla.

Anguilla lies just seven miles north of St Martin.  It’s a pretty flat island with extensive low limestone cliffs, miles of fine sandy beaches and the contrast with the classically volcanic St Martin is striking.  The foreshore and clifftops are studded with smart looking homes and resorts, with the local people scattered in between.  It is a British dependency and was also badly hit by Hurricane Irma.


The only phot I took of Anguilla (my mistake – sorry).  A resort designed by a truck driver?

We anchored in Road Bay and scrambled ashore at the commercial wharf to clear Customs before they shut for the day.  They were welcoming and cheerful, although they have the traditional Caribbean love of pointless bureaucracy: the opening question of ‘have you got four copies of your crew list, please?’ rather summarises the approach.  They wanted about £100 per day to allow us to visit any of the other beaches, anchorages or sandbanks around the coast.  Given that the day expires at midnight, that would mean £200 to anchor overnight off a deserted dune.  We declined.  I guess people do pay those kinds of sums and in return get the privilege of a desert island to themselves; something that’s very hard to find in the busy Caribbean. 

The Escapade Finance Director rejected the business case though, so we made do with the lovely beach at Road Bay and the characterful beach bars dotted along it.  It’s ‘Caribbean tatty’, with plenty of chickens running everywhere, Nature reclaiming anything that’s left standing still for more than a few weeks; a salt pan/lagoon behind which was beautifully peaceful in the afternoon sunshine, people busy doing not very much.  We watched the sunset armed with a couple of beers reclining in comfy deckchairs at Dad’s Bar whilst a bunch of kids had a swimming lesson on the dinghy dock.  This is the Caribbean we came for.