Double Dutch: Sint Maarten and Saba

Escape From St. John – Wed April 14

(posted from Deshaies, Guadeloupe April 26)

It seemed like we would never leave St. John, but leave we did.  We had a very enjoyable time there – especially in Coral Bay, but it was time to move on.  We left shortly after lunch so that we would arrive in Sint Maarten after dawn the next morning.  This was our last big eastward passage so when we got a window with reasonable seas and wind other than on the nose, we took it.  The trip went as planned – mostly motorsailing, but a few hours of sailing at the end.  We approached Sint Maarten after dawn and scooted into the Phillipsburg harbor just ahead of a couple cruise ships.

We anchored about 7:15.  I noticed a few similar looking “high-performance” boats on moorings as we threaded our way through the anchorage.  It turns out they are retired Americas Cup 12 Meter boats used for day cruises.  We anchored next to Stars and Stripes.

12 Meters: Stars and Stripes and a Canadian boat

Geography Lesson

The island is half French (Saint Martin) and half Dutch (Sint Maarten).  The story goes that both countries colonized the island, but rather than fighting over it they agreed on a contest.  A Frenchman started walking from one side of the island with a bottle of wine and a Dutchman started walking from the other side with a bottle of gin.  Where they met would be the boundry line.  The French ended up with the larger half because the gin was more potent than the wine.

Phillipsburg Beach and "Boardwalk"

Phillipsburg is the cruise ship port.  It has a long “boardwalk” area along the beach and a shopping district about two streets deep.  Because it is a duty-free island, there are many, many jewelry and liquor stores.  Most cruise ships come in the morning and leave late in the afternoon, so the shopping district is packed every day.

Civics Lesson #1

Each time we enter a country we have to clear in.  Most countries also require you to clear out just before you leave.  The process is mostly a formality – you fill out a couple forms, show them your ship’s documents and passports, and maybe pay a fee.  There is an immigration station in Phillipsburg and I managed to find it after a long, hot trek.  I filled out the forms and handed them all my paperwork, but they weren’t satisfied.  It seems they expected us to have a clearing out document from the last country we visited.  Our last port was St. John, VI, a US territory and as US citizens, we are not required to clear out of a US territory.  The previous country we visited was the Bahamas, and they do not require you to clear out, either, so we had no clearance document to show.

I thought I was going to end up in a Dutch Jail.  I apologized, plead ignorance, and looked ashamed.  They decided not to throw me in jail or even fine me, just made me promise never to do it again.

We spent a couple days in Phillipsburg and then a wind change made the anchorage rolly, so we moved over to Simpson Bay.  This was clearly the boating area.  The anchorage was full of cruisers and the mariTnas catered to mega-yachts.  There are two marine stores and some other marine services – it’s a great place to stop for parts and repairs.

Civics Lesson #2

Simpson Bay is divided into two parts – Dutch and French.  If Simpson Bay is your first landing point on the island, you have to clear in on the side where you will anchor.  Once in Simpson Bay you can dinghy to the other side of the island and no one seems to care about immigration formalities. 

Go figure.

We spent a few days in Simpson Bay.  We visited both marine stores many times, did laundry, sampled a couple restaurants, and got fuel.  We did a day trip to the French side and had a wonderful lunch in their marina area.

We saw a a nice weather window for going to Saba (“SAY-ba), a small Dutch island to the south.

Civics Lesson #3

Despite the fact that Sint Maarten and Saba are both Dutch, we still had to check out of Sint Maarten.  In addition to filling out forms and showing documents, we also had to pay fees for the drawbridge, for anchoring, and something else.  $64 later we were free to go – with a clearance document in hand.

The trip took about half a day and we were able to sail much of it.  We often drag a fishing lure on passages and this was no exception.  About 1 1/2 hours out of Saba we got a big hit on one pole.  As usual I raced to the back of the boat and started to try to land the fish.  I had just finished reading The Old Man and the Sea the night before and I was beginning to see how he felt.  This one didn’t want to give up, so it took me about 1/2 hour to get it to the boat.  It was a Dorado, aka Mahi, aka Dolphin fish.  When I think of cruisers catching fish – this is the one I think of.

Me and My Mahi

So what is Jackie doing while I fool around on the aft deck?  She navigates, trims the sails, steers or adjusts the autopilot, gets the gaff and helps me land the fish, takes pictures, and looks up the fish in one of our books.  Then she divides up the cleaned fish and stows it.

This fish was over 40 inches long, and weighed about 20 pounds.  It took a real coordinated effort for us to get it on deck.  Then it took me close to an hour to clean it.  That night we had our friends over for Dolphin dinner.  The rest of the fish filled our reefer and freezer.






It’s pronounced SAy-ba.  It’s essentially a mountain top sticking out of the sea and has no place to reasonably land a boat.  How it ever got populated is beyond me.  We took a park mooring ball off the in Ladder Bay on the west side of the island.  This was the old anchorage – one of the few places around the island where the water is shallow enough to anchor.  Early settlers carved 800 steps into the side of the mountain and until the new harbour was built on the south side of the island, this was the only way anything or anyone got on the island.  To make things easier, the Customs House was built halfway up.

800 Steps to the Top - The Customs House is only halfway up











Civics Lesson #4

Harbor on South Side of Saba

You check in by taking your dinghy into the harbor on the south side.  The harbormaster was out on the dock, so the ferry captain gave us our paperwork and helped us fill it out.  When the harbormaster came in we gave him the forms, our clearance from St Maarten, and $20.  He gave us a stamped clearance form and we were good to go.  Another form and $12 at the park office for fees left us $5 in pocket.  We stopped at Pop’s Diner for a soda and a Caribe ($4.50 + $.50 tip)

We only stayed a couple days, but we were busy.  We snorkled on a reef/boulder field near our boat each day.  One day we caught a cab from the harbor, through The Bottom and over The Road That Couldn’t Be Built to Windward Side.  (I’m not certain, but I think the richest person on the island has the clutch and brake shop). From there we hiked up Mt Scenery.   Amazingly there is a cement path and more than 1100 steps almost all the way up the mountain, but the trail is very steep.  The last stretch is a mud path through the cloud forest and then up some boulders to the top.

Looking down from Mt. Scenery

It takes a hard man to climb a mountain - Eric at the top of Mt. Scenery

We survived the hike up and back down.  Our taxi driver lives in town near the end of the trail, so we walked into town, had lunch and picked up a few groceries, and then crossed the street to his house.  His wife called his cell phone and a few minutes later he was there.  The ride to and from Windward Side was nothing but breathtaking views.  The road runs along the side of a mountain and the stone wall between you and the valley is usually only a foot or two high.  Very exciting.

Next: Guadeloupe

One Response to “Double Dutch: Sint Maarten and Saba”

  1. Dave Says:

    Nice fish. Let me know when you get another. Maybe I’ll drop in for dinner.

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