Landfall at St. Martin

The crew of Tioga explores St. Martin before Philip Kersten sets off on the next leg of his Caribbean adventure. Part III of "Caribbean Bound on a Budget" from our September 2011 issue.

Landfall at St. Martin

Mark Pillsbury

It was just after 1500, nearly six days to the minute from our departure, that we dropped the hook off the beach at Grand Case, on St. Martin. It was a perfect tropical setting for our Thanksgiving dinner, which we feasted on in calm waters, then followed with an unabridged version of “Alice’s Restaurant,” a song I’m not sure our German crewmates really warmed to.

That evening, I’ll confess that we were illegal aliens as we went ashore and visited both French and Dutch sides of the island, where we discovered how dangerous it is to inquire about the fruit fermenting in jars of rum at the back of seemingly every bar. The next morning, we atoned and moved the boat to Marigot to formally clear in.

We now found ourselves in an interesting dilemma: We’d arrived in paradise far too early. Should we head straight to Antigua and rebook our tickets so as to be home that much sooner to families and jobs?

That thinking seemed somehow flawed.

Instead, we explored St. Martin’s nightlife before setting off to see what the beaches on St.-Barthélemy had to offer. We lost a day snorkeling and hiking at Île Fourche and Anse Colombier, then arrived on Sunday at Gustavia. It was still early in the season, and the harbor was all but empty, but we found the town enjoyable nonetheless. After dinner that night, we headed back offshore for an overnight sail to Barbuda. Early in the evening, sailing closehauled and pounding into seas whipped up by the trades, we had a couple of adventures with interisland freighters, but the strangest encounter came when Ulf and I were about halfway through the 2200-to-0100 watch. We spotted a white light well ahead of us, and over the course of an hour we slowly gained on it. We were well offshore and thought it had to be a slower-sailing boat headed in our same general direction. It was only at the last minute that we realized it was a fishing boat anchored and pitching wildly in ocean swells. I held my breath just waiting to become entangled in nets.

At dawn, low-lying Barbuda was in sight, and by midmorning we tip-toed our way through shoals and coral to anchor in about 12 feet of water off Cocoa Point. The reward for our bouncy overnight sail was to be the only boat along this white-sand beach that stretched as far as the eye can see.

That night, the island was dark and the stars were brilliant. To the south, we saw the glow from Antigua, 30 miles away. We’d sail there in the morning, to Jolly Harbour, where we cleared in and repaired two bolts that had sheered off the helm pedestal on our way to Barbuda. That night at the Jolly Harbour Yacht Club, the bartender pointed us toward a shoreside restaurant, Al Porto, where owner Angie Dickenson did all in her power to ensure we enjoyed her pizza.

Now our trip was nearing its end. We sailed the next day to English Harbour, anchored just off the Customs House for the night, and again tangled with fruit-filled jars. At the Mad Mongoose, Team Germany—Philip and Ulf—took to the foosball table for a definitive stomping of Team USA, a match that would repeat itself the next two nights as Peter and Bob attempted to spark comebacks. On Thursday, we visited Shirley Heights to take in the view, along with the steel band and barbecue.

By Friday, depression had set in. We spent much of the morning tinkering with equipment. Philip planned to stay put until the family joined him in mid December, so he went off to buy a membership at the yacht club that would allow him to work on the WiFi-enabled porch and join the Laser sailors for evening races. The rest of us, well, we cleaned the boat, packed our bags, went swimming, and soaked in the heat before the long flight north early Saturday. It was time for us to go and for the next leg of Tioga's excellent Caribbean adventure to begin.