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An article written by our staff and featured in The Charter Connection

by Jackie

Map of St. MartinMany charterers who have sailed The Virgin Islands and want to experience sailing in a new area choose St. Martin as their next destination.

The cruising ground covers roughly the same area as The Virgins but is less protected and has fewer anchorages but they do tend to be less crowded.

The island is nationally split in two - the southern side is Dutch (St. Maarten) and the northern is French (St. Martin). You will fly into Princess Julianna Airport (SXM) which is on the Dutch side.

For bareboat charterers, Sunsail and The Moorings both have bases in St. Martin, and both are located in Oyster Pond on the east (French) side of the island. Upon your start, they will provide a pilot to get you through the reef passage to open sea and again upon your return into Oyster Pond. It is a bit of a tricky passage through the reefs, with exposure to The Atlantic swell on the beam and is wisely be left to ‘local knowledge’.

Your first night might be at Orient Bay which is just north of Oyster Pond. There is a long, spectacular beach with a few beach bars and the largest nudist resort at the southern end! If you are on the shy side, stay at the other end of the beach! The approach must be calculated carefully and your chart briefer will go over it thoroughly. Another option would be to go around to the northwest side of St. Martin and into Grand Case. There you will find the best collection of fine French restaurants, most facing the beach. When you go ashore, first walk along the front of the restaurants where you can observe their menus – still it will seem hard to choose as they are all so good!

The following morning it's a nice sail up to Anguilla. Head to Road Harbor where you will have to clear customs as the island is British. They are very prompt about their schedules, so be sure to be there before 5 PM and with your papers in order! There is a nice beach there with ammenities such as a small grocery store, dive shop, and cab service if you want to see more of the island. Be sure to ask about the 2 moorings at Little Bay, as this is where you have to reserve and pay for them.

Sunset in The LeewardsThe next day is Crocus Bay, which also has a nice beach. It's very quiet, but there is a restaurant right on the beach called Roy's, which serves great seafood. They also have a parrot named Robert that will be happy to be your friend, especially if you give him a french fry.

An alternative is Little Bay which is a short dingy ride from Crocus. If you have reserved and paid for a mooring at Customs you may pick one up (but be prepared to have a line available to make your own halter). It is a beautiful spot with a tall cliff full of grottos, surrounding a small beach where several species of colorful birds are continuously flying in and out of the tiny 'bird caves'. Snorkeling is superb along the base of the cliff. It is not unusual to be the only boat there which makes it a special spot worth visiting.

A great day trip if the winds are not too strong is to Prickly Pear where you can pick up a mooring, have lunch, and enjoy great snorkeling.

Upon leaving Anguilla, you might want to head to St Barts. The most sheltered route is via the west side of St. Martin. You will have a nice reach all the way to the southern end, and then it will most likely be a close haul to St Barts. It can be a long day, and you might want to break it up by going into Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island. It is a busy town with a lot of nice shops and restaurants. Be sure to lock your dingy in the anchorage and while ashore as they are very tempting to some of the locals. As you sail along the southwestern coast you can see the high rise hotels and luxury resorts that many people associate with St. Martin.

A more direct route to St. Barts is back around the east side of the island, which can be a good alternative depending on the wind direction. Sailing round the east end of Anguilla is not recommended. If the sail all the way to St. Barts is too long, you can stop over at Ile Fourche about two miles northwest of the northwestern tip of St Barts. It is not inhabited, except by a roaming herd of goats. A short hike to the top will give you incredible views over to St Barts and back across to St Martin. The harbor is fairly well protected and the holding ground is good if you anchor just off the beach.

Antigua Nelson's DockyardSt. Barts is French, so you will first have to go into Gustavia to clear customs. Again, please be in before 5 PM and have your paperwork ready. In the very inner harbor, there are moorings available (should none be open, you can anchor in the outer harbor). You should only dock med style to the quay if you are comfortable backing a boat across an anchorage in a strong cross wind! Due to the traffic and the large boats often anchored there, very serious damage can be done to the stern of your boat if she is not moored correctly. By Caribbean island standards, you will find St. Barts to be more on the sophisticated side and quite lovely. Jeep style cars ('Mini Mokes') are available to rent, and going to the beautiful beaches on the north side is a favorite destination. There is a great market across from the airport that is more reasonable in price than some of the smaller shops in the harbor. You will also have your choice of fantastic restaurants (at fantastic prices). Most are within easy walking distance of the harbor.

The next stop would be Columbiere on the west end of the island. It is a large anchorage (no moorings), so you should not enter too late in the day or you will be on the outside which can be a bit rolly. The only thing ashore is the beach and some great walking trails, where, after a short climb, you will see some fantastic views of the north side of the island. There is also a beautiful trail that leads about a 1/3rd of a mile to Anse des Flamandes with dramatic overhanging rock formations and incredible plants and flowers. Snorkleing and scuba diving are excellent on the northwest side of the harbor.

Then it is back to Oyster Pond where the base will be expecting your call informing them of your arrival time, so they can meet you outside the harbor entrance.

Before leaving, be sure to shop for some fabulous French wines and delicious cheeses to take home.

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