The French West Indies refers to specific, formal French possessions in the Caribbean region. The term refers to: Martinique, Saint Martin, Saint Barts, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia, French Guiana, Dominica, and Haiti. This area is also known as the French Caribbean because of the mix of French and Caribbean culture in their architecture, cuisine, and languages. The term “creole” refers to this French and Spanish combination.
As you may recall from my last article, we sailed all night from the Virgin Islands to Saint Martin, French West Indies into Margot Bay. Before dawn, we could see the glow on the horizon from the lights on the island of Anguilla, British West Indies, as well as Saint Martin, French West Indies and Sint Maarten/Netherland Antilles. Anticipation takes over for lack of sleep.
The stars were bright against a cloudless sky. The moon shone on the white foam of the waves as GRENDEL’S bow pressed forward toward the glow of the horizon. We played music in the cockpit, had coffee, and talked quietly to each other as we waited for dawn. Sunrise! This is always a breathtaking event. First, for its beauty and secondly, we made it. We were finally at Marigot Bay. From the anchorage, we could see the bright awnings hanging at each shop, a ring of trees graced the harbor, large globes sat atop lamp posts. From the distance, it looked like the Riviera.
We raised our yellow “Q” flag. A “Q” flag is a quarantine flag which a ship must fly until cleared in by customs and immigration. After that, you then hoist a small courtesy flag of your host country and remove the “Q” flag. This is done for each country you visit. We make this a formal ritual and proudly exchange the “Q” flag for the appropriate country flag. To us this is a symbol of our accomplishment.
The island of Saint Martin is divided into two countries. Saint Martin belongs to France and Sint Maarten belongs to the Netherlands. Once you are cleared in on either side you are free to visit each side without clearing customs again. Not so with boats. If you want to move the boat back and forth, you have to clear in the boat. We chose to leave GRENDEL in Marigot Bay and travel by dinghy.
At that time Marigot, French West Indies, was a nicer town than Phillipsburg, Netherland Antilles. It had a small sea coast village to it. Phillipsburg on the other hand was much more like St. Thomas, Virgin Islands with its many jewelry stores, trendy fashions, and T-shirt shops. Also, the streets were very crowded with tourists when the cruise ships arrived. As it is with larger cities in the islands, you can find out what is going on by listening to your vhf radio. I’m sure that things have changed a lot since then because of the internet and other advances in communication.
One store was a must visit when we were there, Budget Marine. It was an incredible marine supply store. We found things we had never seen anywhere else. We needed to replace a knob for our Goit hatches. We bought four just in case we ever needed another one along with other hard to find hardware.
Getting around the island was easy. Making a phone call was almost impossible. There were no ATT direct phones in Marigot or Simpson’s Bay at that time, except for Simpson’s Bay Yacht Club. The public was not permitted to use it. We, therefore, had to take the dinghy all the way to the Juliana Airport where there was one (1) ATT phone! The dink ride was another mile to the dock at Stop and Shop. Do not confuse this with the Stop and Shop at home. This was a convenience store. Once tied up, we had to walk to the airport to find the single ATT phone which we discovered worked intermittently. We needed this phone at that time, rather than a Cable and Wireless (Caribbean phone company) phone card phone, because we needed touch tone information for banking purposes and a few other calls. Now back in the dink for our two mile ride back to the boat. I’m sure there have been numerous changes since then. However, this shows you just how important a good dinghy and motor are as it becomes your car.
While in St. Martin, we accomplished a variety of things. We visited Fort Louis, strolled through the narrow streets window shopping, ate at outdoor cafes, got my hair cut. Herman found a really pretty dentist who fixed a loose crown, and we even managed a few social gatherings with other boaters aboard their boats or our boat. However, when you are cruising open ended, there comes that time when you have to move on, even reluctantly. We said “au revoir” to St Martin and sailed a short distance, about 15 nautical miles to Anguilla, BVI.
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.