What happens when your AM running route ends at a row of pâtisseries. We’ve been busy testing them all to find the best croissants and baguettes. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Following the nastiest passage yet, we dropped anchor in Marigot Bay, all salty, stinky and wilted. Thankfully, St. Martin gets us. They’ve done away with the tedious formality of clearing in with uniformed Customs officials and allow sailors to check in on a self-serve computer terminal at the Island Water World marine store instead. Once we got the hang of using a French keyboard (typing “Q” each time we meant to type “S”), we completed our forms, paid three dollars to a friendly sales associate, and were on our way. Having achieved our big accomplishment of the day, we found a dockside bistro and settled in for a long, civilized lunch. This is how all passages should end.
St. Martin/St. Maarten is known for having the best food and boating resources in the Caribbean. In Marigot Bay, there are three French bakeries in sight of Nightingale Tune. When the bakers crank up their ovens before dawn, buttery aromas waft through the hatch above our berth and we wake up salivating. And baked goods are just the start; there are abundant, delicious imports here, the likes of which we haven’t seen since New York – drippy, gooey stinky cheeses, charcuterie, in season tomatoes, soft salty caramels, greens, herbs, artichokes, Argentinian beef, grainy mustards, rich yogurts in tiny glass jars – oh the pleasures of shopping for meals one day at a time!
And don’t get me started on the wines. We’ve been busy lining our bilges and lockers with affordable Muscadet, Sancerre, and boxes of rosé.
It has also been a productive visit for boat improvements. Thanks to the chandleries in Dutch St. Maarten, one can find absolutely everything necessary for outfitting or fixing a sailboat here. We bought the parts for fixing and replacing some lingering to-dos on our list (the big Island Water World on the Dutch side is the best marine store we’ve ever shopped), replaced the broken handheld VHF radio that we’d accidentally submerged in bug spray, bought a spare propeller for the dinghy, and somewhat impulsively purchased a wi-fi extender that Brian has been lusting after for months.
Between all the cooking, eating, and boat chores, we’ve enjoyed exploring too. I love the wonderfully shabby/chic European vibe (replete with a “clothing optional” point of view) and excellent people watching on the beaches at Grand Case and Orient Point. Strolling through the funky mix of storefronts and restaurants in Grand Case made me feel as if we’d left the Caribbean all together. A short hike up to Fort Louis rewarded us with pretty views of the harbor, and we are grateful to have a flat, wide esplanade for morning runs with a sea view (necessary for beating back some of those extra calories).
We’ve really found our groove here in St. Martin, but I regret it’s time to move on. The elastic waistbands of our shorts are feeling tight. A few more weeks here, and our clothes will actually burst at the seams.
Nightingale Tune, looking like an ant in Marigot Bay, as seen from Fort Louis
After our dreadful trip through the Anegada Passage from the BVI to St. Martin, we treated ourselves to a long, slow lunch of moules-frites and a bottle of Chablis at a dockside restaurant. The mussels were brought in from Prince Edward Island.
Desserts in the case at Sarafina, one of three competing pastry shops in Marigot Bay.
The best baguette: Le Divin on the water in Marigot Bay.
We’ve officially entered the part of the Caribbean that is prone to theft. We’ve stepped up dinghy security with locks and cables, and spray painted the engine cover to make it more distinct and (hopefully) less desirable to would-be thieves. I picked out the cornflower blue spray paint back in the Bahamas.
Lagoonies is the big cruiser hangout, located conveniently among the many marine supply shops on the Dutch side of the island. Lagoonies is reputed to be a fun place to chill and listen to live music. Unfortunately, I was recovering from a bad cold during our visit and wasn’t in the mood to stay long.
$1 Presidentes during happy hour at Lagoonies.
With access to wonderful produce, French cheese, and decent bread, most of our meals have been simple salads and cheese. We’ve really enjoyed shopping for just a couple groceries at a time, preparing and eating whatever looks good in the market.
I dig the european vibe at Orient Point. There’s no BYO beach blankets here. Instead, beach-goers settle into a lounge chair at one of the dozen beach bar establishments. 10 Euro at Aloha buys your chair and umbrella for the day, one drink, and a cute Aussie surfer dude server to wait on you.
We’ve had surprisingly few beach days since we started cruising, mostly because we fear additional sun exposure. But under the umbrella at Aloha, I was reminded how relaxing a beach day can be.
Grand Case is a funky seaside enclave that is considered the culinary capital of St. Martin.
Most of the casual restaurants are beachside, and some provide beach chair service to sunbathing patrons.
During the day, the LoLos are where it’s at. LoLos are the local BBQ places where they cook on big, open air grills and $10 will get you a plate of grilled meat and sides. The Talk of the Town is one of the more popular spots.
Line of LoLos, as seen from the water
Grand Case has a funky mix of old and new architectural styles along with fancy and casual restaurant choices.
We stopped for lunch at the funky/chic LOVE hotel.
Pitcher of delicious, cold rosé sangria at the LOVE hotel, which we enjoyed from stools overlooking the beach. We loved the vibes of this place – it was stylish without being stuck up.
LOVE Hotel serves an Italian-leaning menu, but the sensibility here is undeniably French. We ordered a caprese salad and a pizza, which came topped with brie. We’re eating tomatoes like it’s our job – they must be in season, wherever they are being grown.
View of Dutch St. Maarten from a lookout above. Other than getting marine errands done, we didn’t spend much time on the Dutch side, which is far more commercial, with restaurants and shops that cater to cruise ship vacationers.
Brian at the top of Fort Louis, which overlooks Marigot Bay
Impressive collection of Champagne for an average commercial grocery store. I could get used to this.
Toasting my 37th birthday and our 1 year anniversary of living aboard Nightingale Tune. What a year it’s been! Looking forward another great one.
We traditionally have Maine lobster rolls and Champagne on my birthday. Caribbean lobster fishing season is over in St. Martin, so we opted for homemade steak-frites on the boat instead. It was the first steak we’ve had in nearly a year.
Shrimpy’s, a one-stop cruiser services stop, sits alongside the canal that leads into the big lagoon in the center of St. Martin. The owner, Mike, is a kind-hearted Frenchman who holds court on the CruiserNet six mornings a week (VHF ch. 10 at 7:30AM).
There are no laundromats in St. Martin, only wash and fold services. I happily handed our disgusting, smelly laundry bags over to the crew at Shrimpy’s, and received these tidy bundles the very next day.
We’ve been checking out all the bakeries to determine which has the best croissant and the best baguette. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
We had our rented car for a couple of hours on Sunday morning, so we decided to do some provisioning. We pulled up in the parking lot outside the Super U – our favorite grocery store in St. Martin, where there were already three dozen locals waiting outside with warm baguettes under their arms. We rounded the corner and discovered where all that bread was coming from – Au Pain Gourmand. That’s how we stumbled into our favorite bakery in St. Martin for croissants, macarons, and classic pastries. Here, Brian is about to devour an almond croissant filled with frangipane (almond filling).
Some of the cheese haul from our provisioning trip. With the exception of the Époisses, all of these cheeses will be vacuum sealed and frozen for us to enjoy all summer long.