Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical

Chapter 16

Our Cruising Log
Part 3

The Virgins to St. Martin

See the comments on our cruising log at the start of Chapter 14

My comments to this letter were made in June 2003.


January 7, 1992


Down Time

Lat. 18o02'N Lon. 63o06'W



Dear Family and Friends,


Well, the "see the Caribbean" tour has made it to the French West Indies and the Netherlands Antilles. After five months in the Virgin Islands, the week before Christmas we crossed the last of the three legendary watery passages on the trip, the Anegada Passage, and pulled into Marigot, the capitol of French St. Martin.


Anegada was not the terror it can be.  Jim had finally solved the engine overheating problem while we were in the Virgins and we had the hull cleaned before we left St. Thomas. Dear old Down Time was as fast as she has ever been coming across the Passage.  So fast, in fact, that we got to St. Martin at 3:00 AM and had to "stand off", sailing up and down a few miles offshore of the island for 3 1/2 hours waiting for the sun to come up. Our reward was the most unusual sunrise either of us had ever seen.  The sky turned a matte cantaloupe color behind pale grey and white clouds. Truly stunning!


We have reached the part of the trip where every island is a new country, in the case of St. Martin/Sint Maarten, two countries. This is actually the smallest piece of land in the world shared by two sovereign nations.  Moving between St.  Martin and Sint Maarten requires no formalities which is fortunate because the great restaurants are on the French side (where else?) and the cheap shopping is on the Dutch side.


St. Martin has wonderful beaches but most are near resorts.  Jim was here several years ago for business and he says the island has changed considerably.  There is a tremendous amount of development going on here. This appears to be one of the destinations of choice for many Europeans as well as Americans and there are condo developments, timeshare vacation places and hotels ringing the island.  It also has one of the most secure "hurricane holes" in the Caribbean so there are a large number of permanent and long term liveaboard boaters here.


Marigot and Philipsburg, the capitol of Dutch Sint Maarten, are both old cities with many of the original buildings still standing. Philipsburg is the port where the cruise ships come in, so it is very oriented toward shops to attract cruise ship passengers who will only be in town for six hours.  It is very similar to St. Thomas (and, I suspect, every other cruise ship destination in the Caribbean). Marigot, on the other hand, gets more of the hotel tourist trade and seems to be just one long succession of boutiques, sidewalk cafes and boulangeries.  We have become terribly spoiled, indulging in fresh French baguettes with every meal.


Even more wonderful than St. Martin is the island of St.  Barth.  It's about 12 miles from St. Martin, an absolute jewel of a place.  The whole island is only 8 square miles.  You can see the entire island, drive every road, stop at several glorious beaches, and have a classic "loaf of bread, jug of wine..." lunch in less than a day. On an island with 5,000 permanent residents there are over 60 restaurants. Although there are hotels on the island, most of them have less than 30 rooms and a low profile along the beach so you really aren't aware of them.  The most common accommodation for tourists is a private villa rented by the week.


We had friends from Florida (Rob and Carole Harris) visiting us for the week we were in St. Barth.  Rob, bless him, is a runner who would get up every morning early to jog and bring the breakfast croissants and baguette back from the boulangerie when he returned to the boat.  We were in heaven.


We spent New Year's Eve in Gustavia, the capitol of St.  Barth.  It was like being on a set of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."  We sat on the boat and watched the largest concentration of mega-yatchs we have ever seen maneuver to the dock in Gustavia.  Walking past them on our way to dinner that night we estimated there was well over $40 million in boats on one small section of the dock, far in excess of $100 million in total on the dock, which itself held a small portion of the over 100 yachts/boats tucked into Gustavia harbor for the holiday festivities.


Dinner New Year's Eve we had at Eddie's Ghetto, a well known but difficult to find restaurant.  Eddie, a member of one of the oldest families on the island, doesn't believe in advertising so finding the restaurant can be a bit of a challenge.  To enter it, you have to go through a boutique.  Jim figured out which block the boutique was in and decided to just go into them all until he found the one hiding the restaurant.  It was well worth the search, the food was wonderful and the price, by local standards, was quite reasonable.  The restaurant was hosting a fascinating international crowd and the people watching was as good as the food.  We may have been the only table speaking English in the restaurant.


We will be here in the St. Martin/St. Barth/Anguilla area until at least the middle of February, we are meeting another set of guests on St. Barth in early February.  During the time we are here We are also hoping to get over to Saba to do some diving since it is supposed to be the best pinnacle diving in the Caribbean.  Then it is on south to some of the less developed (read less tourist oriented) islands like St. Kitts, Nevis and Statia.


The cards and letters have been arriving.  Thank you all for writing, it is good to hear from friends, to know how you are all doing.  We have changed our stateside mailing address from Miami to Jim's parent's home in Mississippi.  You will find a new card with our address enclosed in this letter.


As you can tell from the above narrative, some people have realized we are serious in our invitations to come on down and see this part of the world with us.  We understand that some of you have had trouble reaching us through AT&T High Seas; we have been working on that problem and have a new contact strategy.  You now can reach us through Virgin Islands Radio.  It works in basically the same way as AT&T High Seas.  You call 1-800-LEEWARD and ask for "Down Time", call sign WTA 2000.  VI Radio will broadcast the call to us for the next three days, so it could be that long before you hear from us.  They will not call you back every two hours like AT&T does.

Of course now in 2003 it seems a little old fashioned to be talking about the AT&T High Seas service.  Now you would probably have a cell phone that would work in most, if not all, of the islands and you might even have a satellite phone.


Jim & Diane

Send comments to: jkbarrentine@earthlink.net

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