I am pleased to report that this year’s post X-mas cruise in the French West Indies with wife Clare and daughters Lucy and Una was much more successful than last year’s. Indeed, last year there really was no such cruise. This was because a) Ehouarn, a shaggy French diesel mechanic who looked something like an Ewok, unfortunately failed to repair Lunacy‘s engine in a timely fashion; and b) the famous Caribbean Christmas winds were so strong that the entrance to Oyster Pond, where Lunacy was docked, was darn near impenetrable. We ended up noodling around St. Martin, doing the landbound tourist thing, and used the boat only as a hotel room.
This year the wind was unusually light, and though we had to rely on Lunacy‘s new engine to get around a bit more than I would have liked, we roamed the waters betwixt St. Martin and St. Barts with impunity. The girls got in lots of swim time, us big folk got in lots of down time, the suntan lotion flowed like honey, and I even got to check out a couple of places I had never been before.
If you are riding WaveTrain courtesy of BoaterMouth, you have likely read of the great northerly swell that plagued the area this holiday season, as Ben Ellison, Kim Kavin, and Diane Byrne have all remarked on it. We first noticed it a couple of days after we arrived, on Monday December 28, when we were anchored at Marigot and went around by dinghy through the channel into Simpson Bay Lagoon to buy groceries. There were breaking waves either side of the channel entrance, which seemed unusual, and several boats further out in the Marigot anchorage were rolling like pigs with their mastheads wagging back and forth like your momma’s shame-on-you-boy fingertip. Fortunately we had tucked in far enough behind the Marina Fort St. Louis breakwater that we were reasonably comfortable. The next morning, however, when we went to the fuel dock inside the marina we found the surge there was formidable. I was a bit surprised that we managed to come away without popping any lines or fenders.
On arriving at Gustavia on St. Barts the afternoon of the 29th we found–as documented by Ben, Kim, and Diane–that all the splendiforous superyachts that normally moor stern to the north side of Gustavia’s inner harbor were instead anchored out. What a scene! At night the blaze of lights from all the anchored boats was like that of a vast floating city. But during the day the vacant north quay made Gustavia seem a bit like a ghost town.
The absence of the glitterati ghetto was both a blessing and a curse. Day and night there was a steady stream of high-end tenders angling to get high-end passengers ashore without soaking them in the vicious chop that slapped up against the quay. We ourselves had great fun struggling to get ashore in a semi-dry condition, and once ashore found we rather enjoyed the subdued post-apocalyptic tenor of the town. Merchants shrugged their shoulders and were outwardly philosophical about the unexpected reduction in business; restauranteurs were especially eager to please. Several people told us that New Year’s had in fact been cancelled and there would be no fireworks come the cusp of January 1.
But no… there were fireworks, fired off from the fort above the town, though we missed them, because we crashed early. The best excitement came two nights earlier, after we first arrived at Gustavia, in the wee hours when a fancy tender full of fancy young things in cocktail dresses landed on Lunacy with a thump and a shout and their painter wrapped firmly around their prop. Even at that hour, there was no shortage of virile young Galahads astride gleaming RIBs ready to swoop in to their rescue.
And, of course, ogling superyachts is always great sport, whether they are anchored out or tied to a quay. My personal favorites were Fortunato, which had a most impressive inflatable waterslide strapped to its side…
…and Le Grand Bleu, which I had seen once before in Rockland, Maine (of all places), and is most unique in that it carries a 50-foot cruising sailboat on deck as one of its many tenders.
But what I enjoyed most was the time we spent in more quiet anchorages away from the bustle of civilization. Besides spending a day and a night (between transits to Gustavia) at Anse de Columbier…
…we also stopped for two nights at Ile Fourchue. Ever since I first cruised here aboard Crazy Horse over 13 years ago I have wanted to explore this craggy, desolate scrap of an islet that lies between St. Martin and St. Barts. There are no fewer than six steep hills to climb, and somehow I managed to drive Clare and the girls up two of them.
Along the verge of the bay where we anchored I not only found some decent snorkeling spots (these unfortunately are increasingly rare in this part of the W’Indies), but there is also a great wealth of beautiful beach detritus.
The other new place we visited was Ile Pinel, inside Orient Bay on St. Martin’s northeast corner. We stopped in for lunch the Sunday before we left and found a raging social scene dominated by thoroughly tanned locals who were throwing each other air kisses and wading around with wineglasses firmly in hand.
I now also have a much better sense of the Radisson Marina at Anse Marcel, where Lunacy is staying this winter, and can offer you a more detailed comparison versus Capt. Oliver’s at Oyster Pond, where she stayed last year:
1. Capt. Oliver’s is cheaper, though not by much.
2. The Radisson is better protected, with an entrance that can be easily negotiated in any conditions.
3. Capt. Oliver’s is much more comfortable, as a steady breeze blows through the marina and the bugs aren’t too bad. The Radisson, by comparison, is hot and airless and overly buggy.
4. Capt. Oliver’s is much friendlier and livelier.
5. The Radisson is much more convenient in terms of clearing in and out of the island, as there is a book-yourself-in immigration computer right there in the harbormaster’s office. At Capt. Oliver’s you have to take a cab ride halfway across the island and back each time you come and go, which can be a major drag.