St. Maarten/St. Martin is a wonderfully small island (only 7 miles in any direction) that is half Dutch, half French. The northern part is French; the southern part is Dutch. In its early days, the salt ponds created the economy for the Dutch, and the French produced tobacco and sugar. In the late 30s the sugar market collapsed and St. Martin as a whole became duty free, as it is today, in order to attract tourism. During World War II the US built airstrips on many of the Caribbean islands, which opened up world travel to the beautiful islands such as St. Martin, and today St. Martin is a marvelous tourist destination.
We started our Leeward Islands sailing adventure at Captain Oliver’s marina in Oyster Pond, on the eastern side of the island, exactly where the Dutch/French border is. Thinking we had safely stowed everything, I was not prepared for our crazy exit from Oyster Pond. We encountered 14 foot swells with white caps and wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour. The Moorings (our charter company) provided a captain to pilot us out of the tricky entrance to Oyster Pond. After he was picked up by a pilot boat, they led us out another ½ mile or so, past the treacherous reefs that lay just beyond Oyster Pond. Even on a calm day, the Moorings provides assistance for their vessels. The reefs around Oyster Pond have taken out many boats, and we did NOT want to be one of them!
During the seemingly ENDLESS bouncing and pounding of our exit from Oyster Pond, I fearlessly clung onto four or five bottles of wine in order to keep them from smashing all over our cabin. I am not one to get seasick but this was an occasion where I was feeling a bit queasy and was very happy when we cut the engines and put up the sails. The boat leveled out and we were able to properly stow the wine and other provisions that had become flying objects.
Once out into open sea, things did calm down, but it was still a heck of a sail! We were now on our way in our 39 foot catamaran, cruising at 10 or more knots, headed south to Phillipsburg, the capital of Dutch Sint Maarten. We arrived in no time at all. There, cruise ships and numerous vessels of all types and sizes were anchored in the harbor. This was to be our home for the first night of our trip, and it was a sleepless night! (more on that later)
Several of the crew went ashore to find immigrations. Since we had left from French St. Martin, we had to now check in with the Dutch immigration office. It was Queen’s Day, and the office was closed by the time anyone reached it. Queen’s Day has been observed on April 30h by Holland and Dutch owned islands since 1949, when Queen Juliana took the throne. (April 30th was her birthday)
We could hear the celebrations from our anchorage, which was at least a half mile from shore! The music, drums and celebration lasted way into the night. Once that quieted down, we all tried to get some rest. But the winds and waves caused our anchor to slip. Suspecting that was going to happen, Captain Jon stayed awake for his own anchor watch. In the middle of the night, I went on deck and the two of us determined we were drifting toward Paw Paw, another boat in our flotilla. In order to avoid collision, Jon quickly started the engines, which woke all of our crew. Everyone was quickly on deck to reset the anchor. After that we all took turns on anchor watch. What a wild first night!
Following are some pictures of our crew and this year’s Queen’s Day celebration.