St Martin is an island shared by two nations. The French side occupies the northerly half with the Dutch in the south. While this arrangement could be quite inconvenient, people are allowed to pass freely between the two jurisdictions and moving the boat between them requires a relatively painless check in and check out.
After a pleasant overnight motor sail from Virgin Gorda where we buddy boated with Bob and of Sarah of SV Rhapsody, Mermaid arrived in Simpson Bay on the Dutch side just at dawn. The anchorage was rolly as the swell wrapped around the island into the bay so after we cleared in we decided to move into the lagoon. This caused a bit of anxiety as the charts showed the Dutch side of the lagoon from 5 to 11 feet deep and the French side shallower still. We took the dingy in and using our hand held depth sounder located a spot to anchor with a minimum depth of around ten feet. This only left us with a couple of feet of water under Mermaid’s eight foot draft but we got in through the bridge and dropped the hook without incident.
St Martin is the cruising hub of the Leeward chain with hundreds of cruising boats scattered around the island. One of the hardest things about cruising is parting with friends when you head separate ways. However, one of the best things is coming into an anchorage and finding an old friend who you haven’t seen for some time. Turns out several of our old buds from the Pacific were passing through at the same time we were. We caught up with James and Charlotte of MV Pegasus and Peter and Mary of SV Neko whom we hadn’t seen since 2014. We met both on the Pacific side of Mexico and shared many an adventure coming down the Central American coast to Panama. We spent some time reminiscing about past adventures … “remember that time Mary jumped in the fountain in Suchitoto, El Salvador to rescue the dog?” … as well as having some new adventures. We rented a car with James and Charlotte one day and headed out for a circumnavigation of the island. We took in the sights in Marigot on the French side walking up to the old fort to gaze out upon the bay, had a fantastic lunch at a small, seaside restaurant in Grand Case and strolled along several white sand beaches. We also enjoyed a great time at a small, Indian restaurant to celebrate Peter’s birthday. The butter chicken was delish and the camaraderie sublime.
The Lagoon is notorious for poor holding when the wind blows. The bottom is nasty looking, soft, black mud covered in most places with grass. We were informed by some long time residents that the trick to avoid dragging was to have at least 150 feet of chain out. This seemed like a lot of scope for ten feet of water but not wanting to tempt local knowledge we laid out our 150 feet of chain, set the anchor well by backing down several times and never had an issue with dragging. Not all out neighbors were as successful. One afternoon with the wind gusting to 30 knots we looked out to find a boat that had been anchored in front of us just off the port bow. We sounded the horn several times and the crew came up into the cockpit. They continued to drag and after a couple of minutes they were about a boat length off the beam still sitting in the cockpit looking like they were trying to figure out what was going on. Robin calmly looked over and said “You’re dragging.” This seemed to take them out of their trance and they sprung into action picking up their anchor and getting safely re-anchored. The fun wasn’t over. That night just before we were going to bed Robin went up to take a look around and discovered that a boat that had been beside us was only a few feet away from anther boat. There were no lights on either boat but the dingies were there. Blowing our horn didn’t get their attention so we hopped in the dingy and knocked on the hull. A sleepy eyed skipper poked his head out and when we pointed to the boat just a few feet away his eyes went wide. He roused the mate and they safely re-anchored in the dark, blustery conditions.
This wasn’t the end to our good Samaritan act. One morning we noticed a gentleman in a hard dingy whose outboard had gone kaput while transiting the lagoon. He had thrown out his anchor near Mermaid while he was working on the motor but after a few minutes gave up and was just sitting there. Mike inquired and found that he would be most grateful for a tow. Mike jumped in the dingy and towed him over to his boat, an old, classic yacht. The next day he had the outboard repaired and came by Mermaid to deliver a European chocolate bar. Cruisers are the best people around. Mermaid’s rescue service wasn’t done. One evening Robin spied a couple of young ladies vainly pulling the starter cord of their outboard as they drifted toward the rocks. We dingied over and grabbed their painter. As we headed back to their boat a squall hit and we were all soaked when we got there but we shared a glass of wine in their salon as we dried out happy to have some new friends.