Saint Martin, French West Indies, is unlike any other island we have visited up to now in our travels. The island is not large, but it is half French and half Dutch. We arrived on the French side just after dawn, and were treated to a dazzling sunrise with birds singing in our rigging as we entered Marigot Bay. As we slowly made our way to an open spot for anchoring, we passed two boats with naked people taking their morning showers on their decks. Oh, yeah, this is definitely French territory.
Clearing in to the French side of Saint Martin is quite easy. You simply go to one of several local vendors that have an immigration computer terminal, and enter your personal and boat data. That’s it! No troublesome agents to deal with, no money (except a 2 euro payment to the vendor for printing out the paperwork), no long lines. For the first time since we started cruising, the French tricolor adorned the flag halyard on ¡Pura Vida!
Once cleared in to the French side, we could travel all over the island freely, including the Dutch side. We met our online friends, Rebecca and Brian, aboard s/v Summertime Rolls, and they gave us a whirlwind tour of both sides of the island. We visited three different marine supply stores, French bakeries, repair shops, and countless small bars and restaurants on both sides of the island. The large lagoon in the center of St. Martin makes most locations easily accessible by dinghy, so we put some extensive mileage on Lagniappe.
Our beloved and remarkably resilient dinghy, Lagniappe, was struggling to survive. She was leaking air badly from one pontoon and needed to be inflated daily. She was also showing the battle scars of her tangle with the roaring surf of Bimini and the coral outcroppings of Long Island, Bahamas. Despite Kimberly’s attempts to patch her, she would need a professional to bring her back to life. Because St. Martin is a duty free port, we decided this was the place to get a new dinghy. We beached both Lagniappes, and transferred the motor and battery. We then sold old Lagniappe to “Shrimpy”, the local dinghy repairman who will, hopefully, give her a new lease on life.
It was day three in St. Martin and we had not been to a proper wine or cheese store yet – the horror. Before venturing into unknown territory — we are French wine neophytes — we emailed our friend Lauren, on s/v Nightingale Tune, who is a sommelier. She armed us with the basics so we could select a variety of wines at reasonable prices to start our education. Her advice proved spot on, and we could not believe the exceptional quality of wine and bubbles we could get for under $8.
We then went to a cheese shop and I nearly wept! Ok, it was just the cheese section of a large French supermarket, but I was still close to tears as I browsed the expansive selection. Hundreds of different raw milk cheeses were seducing me with their intoxicating aroma, delicate complexion, and the promise of luscious, creamy, earthy delights. Kimberly had to drag me out before I filled my arms with all the cheese I could cradle.
During our exploring, we also met new boat friends, Laura and Jacob, aboard s/v Life Aquatic. That’s right, their boat name is almost identical to our blog name. They were entertained to finally meet the bloggers who “stole” their blog name. Their feigned resentment quickly melted away as the drinks flowed. We met them on “beach day” with Brian and Rebecca, their friends Francois and Pearly, and our constant companions, Will and Wendy . We all landed our dinghies on a deserted beach in Marigot Bay near a massive, abandoned resort. Francois gave us a tour of the formerly magnificent hotel that still showed a lot of class despite twenty years of neglect and weather damage.
We finished the afternoon by cooling off in the surf and relaxing in the shade. It may seem strange considering were are almost always near them, but we seldom spend time relaxing and playing on beaches. This outing was a nice break from the non-stop touring we had been doing.
During our stay in St. Martin, we celebrated a significant milestone, our twentieth wedding anniversary. Nothing could be too good on this momentous occasion, so we sailed a few miles from Marigot Bay to the culinary capital of St. Martin, the seaside town of Grand Case.
We put on our finest, and strolled the streets of this charming community peeking at menus and wine lists. We thought it would be easy to pick a high-end French restaurant in a beach town, but not in Grand Case. There are so many amazing restaurants that we ended up taking our friends’ recommendation on what they thought was the best, Tastevin. It was one of the best meals of our lives. Not to be snobby, but coming from New Orleans, our standards are high. We indulged our palates with buttery escargot, mouthwatering bouillabaisse made with fresh local seafood, and desserts that resembled works of art. Our new dinghy was riding low in the water on the way back to ¡Pura Vida! after that meal.
We knew it would happen, but there was no way to prevent it. Our schedule demanded we depart before we were ready. We did not want to leave St. Martin. It is now another place on our short list of locations we could eventually call home. A great excuse to brush up on our French!