The unusually smooth sail across the infamous Anegada Passage belied the chaos we encountered upon arriving in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten. We were tired from a sleepless, all-night sail, and just wanted to drop the anchor and rest, but it was the final regatta day, and hundreds of boats, both competitors and spectators, were crisscrossing the bay at full speed. To add to the commotion the westerly winds that gave us such a lovely passage were churning up heavy seas in the shallow bay, and tossing everyone about like bathtub toys. The bay was too rough for us to anchor, but we could enter the calm lagoon when the draw bridge opened for all the racers to return to their marinas.
That’s about the time a seventy-plus foot racing boat lost control of their enormous spinnaker, and was barreling at full speed towards us, dragging the sail and over a hundred feet of control lines in the water. The racing crew was frantically but unsuccessfully trying to get the sail aboard by maneuvering the boat from side to side. We wanted to get out of their way, so we made a sharp turn out to sea; they also turned. With every second, our boats were getting closer. We turned 180 degrees toward land to evade them; they changed course again. On this new course, our boats would not collide, but their out-of-control sail and furiously whipping lines threatened to hit our mast if we did not take immediate action. The racing crew was desperately yelling at us to move out of their way, but we were sandwiched between their boat and a fast-approaching rocky shoal. We pushed the throttle to max and headed toward the shallows. Just when we were about to run out of depth for Pura Vida, the race boat finally passed us at an uncomfortably-close distance, still struggling to regain control of their sail, and to not have a crewmember yanked off the boat in the process.
With relief, but our hearts still in our throats, we eased further in the bay to line up for the bridge opening. The calm did not last long. The small area near the bridge entrance was packed with dozens of boats waiting to cross single file. In the heavy swell the captains were not able to hold their boats in place, so we were all doing a kabuki dance. Some boats were doing tight circles, others were alternating between forward and reverse to try to avoid each other. Meanwhile, the passengers on some spectator boats were popping champagne, dancing, and screaming at the top of their lungs – I guess their favorite race boat had won. This all created a nerve-wracking disorder where Pura Vida was sandwiched in the heaving waves less than a boat length from a race boat, a powerboat full of drunk revelers, and a 200+ foot Coast Guard cutter. Finally, the damned bridge opened and we could get out of this madness!
That evening, after much needed sleep, we reunited with our dear friends on Flip Flops for celebratory cocktails and an outdoor Shaggy concert for the regatta closing party. The island returned to its normal pace after the race ended, and we settled into a happy routine of boat chores, exploring both the Dutch and French sides of the island, and joining friends for happy hours. We were also excitedly preparing for “the March of Audreys.” Our twelve-year-old godchild, Audrey, was arriving soon. Just four days after her departure, my sister, also named Audrey, was coming to visit.
We became a “kid boat” for the second time in our cruising life as Audrey #1 arrived to spend her spring break with us. Within minutes of her exiting the airport, thanks to Rebecca and Brian on Summertime Rolls, we had her splashing in the surf with locals in crystal Caribbean waters. We had tons of activities planned for her week aboard and didn’t want to waste any time.
Audrey’s visit gave us an excuse to do all sorts of fun activities that we might not normally do. We went on a private horseback tour that ended with us taking the horses swimming in the sea.
The following day we zip-lined our way through some of the tallest peaks on the island. She also enjoyed meeting our friends’ boat kids, learning about their boat life, and paddling around the anchorage with them.
We rented a car and toured the island, stopping for some fancy French cuisine in Grand Case. The waiter was completely perplexed at Audrey’s request to not have sauce on her chicken. He just could not wrap his mind around not having sauce, so he insisted it be served on the side. We all got a laugh when we ordered a bottle of wine and they brought out three glasses; Audrey politely declined. Gotta love the French!
After days of land activities it was time to make Audrey a sailor. We cleared out of the country, weighed anchor, crossed that dreadful drawbridge outbound, and set sail for St. Barthélemy, aka St. Barts. At first, Audrey enjoyed the bouncy ride upwind into moderate seas; but after a couple of hours, she started turning green and fed the fish. Like a true sailor, though, she handled it in stride and by the time we dropped anchor in the picturesque bay of Anse Colombier, she was ready to play in the water.
Although it is only two miles from the bustling, glitzy town of Gustavia, Anse Colombier is one of the extraordinary places that makes you feel like you are far removed from civilization. It has it all: crystal clear waters for snorkeling, an abundance of sea turtles, a pristine beach, fabulous hikes, birds doing acrobatic displays, a small, natural bubbly pool, and breathtaking sunsets. We were sad to only spend one night there, but we wanted to get back to Sint Maarten at least one day before Audrey’s flight home.
We spent Audrey’s last evening aboard alone in a spectacular anchorage, chatting about everything from politics, to religion, to women’s rights, to boys in school, to fashion. Wow! When did twelve-year-old kids become so informed and articulate about world events? She was an easy and amazing guest, and we were sad that she had to return to the US the next day. We hope we gave her new experiences and lasting memories with her godparents.
The boat felt a bit empty the next morning, but not for long. In just four days, Audrey #2 was arriving. Her visit would be quite different. She was not looking for adventures like horses and zip-lines. She wanted to relax and enjoy French food and wine.
The weather was a bit rough, so we anchored the boat inside the lagoon on the Dutch side of the island. This put us a short dinghy ride away from most sites and restaurants on land. Unfortunately, the lagoon water is less than ideal for swimming, so after a couple of days we cleared out of Dutch Sint Maarten and sailed to Marigot Bay on the French side.
We spent the next few days harbor-hopping along the French coast of Saint Martin. We anchored in our favorite places and tried new ones like Tintamarre Island and Orient Bay. Audrey loved the vibrant market stalls along the waterfront in Marigot with their rainbow of sarongs and dresses blowing in the sea breeze. The market ladies loved her enthusiasm for shopping.
When we were not shopping or sipping wines and sampling French delights, we spent time on the beaches and in the water. Audrey spent her downtime creating beautiful copper jewelry, which she graciously offered as gifts to all of our friends. We snorkeled with turtles, snared a huge lobster, and relished relaxing on land and aboard. We even converted this red wine drinker into a rum lover. But, just like with our previous guest, time flew and Audrey returned to land life in the US.
Just when we thought our party calendar was slackening a bit, we met fabulous new cruising friends. Rebecca on s/v Summertime Rolls, always the social butterfly, introduced us to the crews of s/v Calico Skies, s/v The Kraken, and s/v Jennie B. We also were delighted to finally meet up with single-hander, Kendra on s/v Sea Frog, whom we were briefly introduced to in St. Thomas. We became fast friends, and shared many a happy hour together. Fortunately, our itineraries are relatively similar and we will likely see most of them on our way south this spring, and possibly in the ABCs this summer.
All this fun made it easy to forget that time was ticking, and we needed to start heading south before hurricane season. Saint Martin has a way of seducing you into staying. “Just one more week,” we told ourselves… several times. We’re still here, stuck somewhere between contentment and wanderlust.