Most people think of St. Martin/Sint Maarten—northernmost of the Leeward Islands—as being half-French, half-Dutch. But it’s also Creole, Caribbean and a hodgepodge of over 125 other nationalities. More importantly, it is an excellent jumping off point for a charter cruise replete with lovely sailing, blue bays, white sand beaches and high-end French shopping and cuisine.
Several charter companies have bases on the island, so you’ll have a wide variety of choices concerning fleets and take-off points. Horizon Yacht Charters has a base in Simpson Bay and The Moorings and Sunsail are in Oyster Bay, which straddles the border between the French and Dutch sides of the island. A dozen smaller charter companies like Any Way Marine in Marina Royale and VPM Best Sail in Anse Marcel surround the island.
If you sail with The Moorings, be sure to grab lunch at Captain Oliver’s Restaurant before your charter briefing. The food is outstanding and the open-air dining area overlooking the harbor entrance provides a great introduction to the area. The base recently opened an extra-wide fuel dock that doubles as a ferry terminal to shuttle passengers to and from the airport.
According to Moorings base manager Corrado Losi, you could spend an entire week exploring St. Martin and the nearby islands, never sail more than 21 miles in a day and never get bored. With a few extra days to spend, you could also sail over to Nevis and St. Kitts for even more beauty. Here are some tips to get started.
Whatever your itinerary, make sure it includes multiple nights around St. Martin, as the island has much to offer. From Oyster Pond travel north and anchor for lunch at Tintamarre, a quiet island with beautiful beaches. From there, sail west to Marigot, the capital of the French side, and explore the market, shops and dining in Marina Royal. The next day, do yourself a favor and rent a car. This will allow you to learn some island history at Fort Louis, windsurf on the flat waters of the nature preserve and maybe (if you’re feeling bold) zipline through the hills of Loterie Farm with its breathtaking panoramic views.
After that, sail north to Anguilla, round its western tip and beat to windward toward the anchorage at Road Bay. Anguilla is quite different from St. Martin. It’s British, for one thing. It’s also flat, sparsely populated and very Caribbean. Dinghy ashore to find No Fear tours. These guys will show you the top attractions: Little Bay for cliff jumping and bird-watching, Sandy Island for a rum drink under a coconut tree, Johnno’s for dinner and live music.
When you’re finished with Anguilla, sail back to St. Martin, because you’ve still got plenty to see. Grand Case, on the north side, is the self-proclaimed gastronomic capital of St. Martin, which is, itself, the self-proclaimed gastronomic capital of the entire region. This reputation, plus the general allure of living in the Caribbean, has attracted top-notch French chefs for years, resulting in a surplus of excellent French restaurants along the Boulevard de Grand Case. It’s hard to believe so many quality French restaurants can survive in such a small space, but they say that quantity breeds quality. After the mahi-mahi and profiteroles at La Villa on the Boulevard, I’d have to agree.
No trip to the French Caribbean is complete without a day on St. Barts, a high-end version of friendly St. Martin. The shopping and cuisine in Gustavia, the main town and harbor, rival that of a miniature Paris, with prices to match.
For a last quiet night aboard, anchor in lovely Anse Marcel, a hidden treasure on an island that can get quite busy with cruise ship tourists. This protected anchorage on the northern tip of French St. Martin is home to a tiny village at the base of towering hills. The entrance is extremely protected—so much so that in a hurricane, boats will come from far and wide to seek refuge there.
After that, it’s back to the charter base at Oyster Bay, unless, of course, you’re interested in that trip to St. Kitts and Nevis that Corrado was talking about. But that’s a story for another day.