Caribbean Cruising '23: Sint Maarten (Dutch Side)

Suzanna Pinder on 10 March 2023
Sailing up through the Caribbean has been interesting to see how totally different the islands are. Although you can often see one island from the next, depending on their history, governing nationality and accessibility by big planes, they wildly vary. It has also been fun to hear the local quirky tales, which whilst possibly not always true and/or may have been exaggerated over the years, add to the personality of each island.

One such tale is about how Sint Maarten / St Martin came to be both Dutch and French. Only 7 miles in each direction, rather than fight over the island, the matter was apparently settled by dispatching a Dutchman from one side armed with a bottle of gin and a Frenchman from the other side with a bottle of wine. Where they met became the boundary, with the Dutch ending up with slightly less due to the gin stronger than the wine!

Simpson Bay is on the Dutch side and centre of the islands yachting scene. Whilst somewhere I have not visited, until now, it is a place I have long known about from my yacht charter days, having sent many a happy charterer to explore these parts. The bay has lovely long stretches of sand, backed by numerous resorts, hotels, bars and restaurants, making for a very lively spot!

Entering through the bridge into the huge Simpson Bay Lagoon, we passed yachts and boats of all shapes and sizes, from kids sailing small dinghies to gleaming superyachts of 150ft+. Ashore felt like we’d arrived into Miami! A long palm lined strip, awash with bars, restaurants, burger joints, neon lights, Americans and a few crazy Dutch, this was not a Caribbean we had experienced before. We enjoyed everything, from chatting to locals at the St Martin Yacht Club to sipping cocktails and getting into the Ibiza vibe at Roxy’s Beach Bar, and from jerk shrimp at a roadside bar to burgers whilst watching US basketball in tv. The Simpson Bay area of Sint Maarten really is an anything goes, holiday party central!

Departing Simpson Bay, we discovered the Sunday 1030 bridge opening is a popular slot. As we jostled into position (the channel is only wide enough for one boat at a time), we could hear whooping and hollering from the St Martin Yacht Club, next to the open bridge. Approaching the bridge, we suddenly saw a chap pop his head up with a high powered water pistol, squirting each crew as they passed through the narrow gap, with no way of escape. Probably one of those ‘you had to be there moments’ but great fun for the watching crowds!

Sailing up the west coast of the island we crossed the boarder into the French side of St Martin, past Maho Beach, watching the tourists line the end of the runway to experience the low jets passing overhead as they come into land and past a number of beautiful long stretches of sandy beach, with many gorgeous looking whitewashed houses hidden amongst the swaying palms. This area of St Martin we felt had a Mediterranean feel and certainly a slower pace than the Dutch side.

This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’.

Next article ‘Saint Martin (French Side)’.