St. Martin

Although this island is barely 7 miles in each direction, it is perhaps the best-known holiday destination in the Leewards. It is blessed with a multitude of superb white sand beaches backed by pleasantly scenic hills. Its fame has come from the way it has embraced tourism wholeheartedly, with casinos, condominiums, and scores of hotels. The whole island is one duty-free shopping plaza. Shopping is not restricted to cruise ship passengers. Two of the Caribbean’s biggest chandleries are based here: Budget Marine and Island Water World. With the help of their customers, they have generated enough buying power to be able to offer excellent prices to yachts. If you are buying a lot and set up an offshore account, you can often negotiate a discount. St. Martin is divided across the middle.

The northern part is French; the southern part Dutch. There is a charming story, completely unsupported by historical fact, that the French and Dutch were so civilized that, rather than fight over the island, they had a Frenchman armed with a bottle of wine walk in one direction and a Dutchman equipped with a flask of gin take the other. Where they met became the boundary, and the French ended up with a bit more because the gin was stronger than the wine. In the early days, the island was important to the Dutch because of the salt ponds in the southern part, which is why they settled there. St. Martin was successful for a time as a producer of tobacco, and then of sugar. With the collapse of the sugar market, it started a long decline. In 1939 an attempt was made to halt this downward trend by making the island completely duty-free. The strategy worked and St. Martin became the Caribbean’s number one shopping mall.

In 2017 the island was hard hit by hurricane Irma, which caused extensive damage to the infrastructure of the island. Many marinas, hotels, and restaurants were blown away. Most rebuilt, but some did not. The most notable are Oyster Pond and the French side of Simpson Bay Lagoon, where docks remain in ruins. Still, hotels are everywhere, cruise ships call daily, and there are hundreds of duty-free shops and restaurants, as well as over a dozen casinos. The tourism industry has quickly recovered, especially in Philipsburg, and there are facilities for most kinds of yacht work. The Dutch side has the Sint Maarten Yacht Club, which organizes many races, and which cruising sailors can join. The club is right next to the Simpson Bay bridge, with a good dinghy dock. Wander upstairs and ask the manager for the racing and social program. They have a very active youth sailing program and, if you are staying a while, you can join the club and your kids can enjoy the fun.

The Heineken Regatta is on the first full weekend in March, a world-famous international event that draws many famous yachts. The office is upstairs in the Yacht Club. The Course D’Alliance is a three-day cruiser’s race from St. Martin to St. Barts, then onto Anguilla, in December. If you have a catamaran, you can join in the Caribbean Multihull Challenge in March. There are many events, including informal races, year round. Their website is www.smyc.com.

Both sides have marine parks. Yachts can anchor or pick up a mooring in most of the marine park anchorages. Fishing is not allowed in any of the marine parks and the French really enforce this. Moorings for divers and snorkelers are on many sites. The French marine park goes from Oyster Pond to Tintamarre and surrounds Roche Creole. The only permissible overnight anchorages in the park are at Tintamarre and Roche Creole, where you must first get permission from the park by filling out and emailing the form available at reservenaturelle-saint-martin.com/en/camping-mouillage. Fishing, taking of anything, jet skis, any motorized water sports, drones, underwater lights, loud music, deck or hull cleaning, emptying holding tanks, and water-skiing are all banned within this area.

St. Martin has good medical and dental facilities. A good clinic, easily accessible to yachts, is in the complex by Simpson Bay Marina. Check with Dr. Datema or Dr. Ubbo Tjaden. You will also find a modern dental clinic with dentists, hygienists, and an orthodontist. Both the French and the Dutch have emergency lifeboats, from a rigid inflatable to an ocean-going rescue vessel. Call VHF: 16 or dial 911.