The day after we arrived in St Martin, we went ashore to check out the marine store and maybe do a little sightseeing. Unfortunately, the store was closed but we did notice some friends dinghy tied up at the dock. We knew Wendy and Sylvester made the crossing from the BVI’s on the same day as we did but we hadn’t yet heard from them, so I messaged them to meet for lunch.
We had a nice lunch at a small place near the ferry dock but noticed most of the other restaurants were closed. Our server told us that they too would be closing that afternoon and pretty much everything on the island was being shut down for the next two weeks. We decided it would probably be a good idea to top off our grocery supplies so after lunch the four of us walked up to the Super U to shop.
As we walked through town, we saw a lot of damaged or destroyed buildings. On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit St Martin as a cat 5 hurricane with over 180 mile per hour winds. The island is still struggling to recover.
Little did we know this outing would be our last social interaction for quite a while.
St Martin (French)/Sint Maarten (Dutch) is, at 37 square miles, the smallest island in the world to be divided by two sovereign powers. We had checked into the French side of the island and were anchored on the western side of the island. Normally travel, either by dinghy or over land, between the two sides is not restricted and people go back and forth at will. Of course, thanks to Rona (that bee-aach), we soon found things were not normal and the border was now closed. We were also hearing that other islands, one after the other, were closing their borders to boats. This included Grenada which is where we plan to sit out the fast approaching hurricane season.
We settled in for our two-week quarantine with plenty of provisions, good internet and a few boat chores to either complete or plan for when we get to Grenada. A bit inconvenient but not really a big deal – or so we thought.
Most of the islands we’ve been to have Facebook pages and some, including St Martin, have a radio net. The radio net here is each morning Monday – Saturday and is used to keep cruisers informed of all the relevant happenings in the area. These two things were key to keeping up to date on the restrictions, changes to the restrictions, changes to the changes to the restrictions, etc., which seemed to be happening daily.
We were lucky to be on French St Martin. The restrictions here seemed to be less harsh than we were hearing about on other islands. As it became obvious this thing was going to last much longer than the original two-week period, the government established guidelines that allowed people out to shop, exercise, walk their dogs, etc. We were required to always carry ID along with a form for each of us that stated the reason for being out, the date and the time we left. Some of the other islands would only allow for shopping one day a week which meant very long lines and empty shelves at the grocery. Here the grocery opened back up after just a few days and while they restricted the number of people in the store at one time, the lines were never very long and it was well stocked.
After ten days we really wanted to get off the boat, so we decided to make a grocery run. Armed with our forms and some masks we had on board for sanding, we made our first trip to shore since the quarantine began. There were only a handful of other people out and it felt very strange to walk through the town with everything closed and deserted. That first trip we were pretty nervous and unsure how things would go. We heard on the net of people being stopped and fined if they didn’t have correct forms, but no one ever stopped us or even asked for ours. We were excited to discover that bakeries were considered essential and open, so fresh baguettes or pastries were available any time we wanted them!
Having lived in close quarters on the boat for the last couple of years probably made it easier for us than for most land-based people but being quarantined is still a boring pain in the butt. We continued to limit our trips into town, so the days began to run together. I normally cooked lunch and dinner and we started having a cup of tea each afternoon. Russell generally took a nap after lunch. For the first few weeks swimming was restricted so we spent our time either on social media, reading and people watching. We were anchored just off a small beach which, of course was closed. Several times per day people would come to the beach and shortly after, the police would show up to chase them off. We kept an eye out for any new boats making their way into the anchorage while trying to ignore our neighbor who seemed to prefer working on his boat without clothes, invariably bent over with his ass to us. We began to look forward to doing bucket laundry or making water just as a distraction. Russell started feeding the little fish living under the boat – they do seem to like cheese. We listened to the radio net every morning, so I began to form pictures in my head of faces to match the voices. Pretty sad what can pass for entertainment after a few weeks of quarantine!!
The essential marine vendors here did everything in their power to make sure boaters had what they needed. There was fuel, water, propane and laundry service available during the entire time and while you couldn’t go into the store, a couple of the marine stores would hand your purchases out the door to you. Knowing we had access to these services was comforting and made us even more grateful to be here instead of some other area with either less services available or restrictions that limited access to those things.
As time passed and we became more comfortable moving around, we began to dinghy to shore for some exercise in the evenings and once they removed the restriction on swimming, we either walked or swam most every day.
After two and a half months, restrictions began to ease. Shops started to open first then some restaurants allowed sit down service. We were so excited for our first meal off the boat! We finally decided to try some French wine so made a stop at a wine shop. The prices here for wine are amazingly low! Busses and taxis are starting to run, the food trucks are opening and some of the sidewalk vendors are now setting up. We’ve noticed, however, there are a lot of shops and restaurants that have not re-opened. I really feel bad for these people who have had to deal with the loss of income and damage from the hurricane and have now lost their entire tourist season of income due to this virus. I wonder how many of them will never recover.
On the second of June, they finally opened the border, so we were able to go to the Dutch side of the island. This was great news for us because we needed to drop off our main sail at the sail loft for some work. The Dutch side appears to have come back from the hurricane a bit better than the French side so there are more businesses there.
We made a number of trips between the two sides via dinghy but one day we decided to rent a car to really explore the island. Being that it’s only 37 square miles, we circled the entire island before lunch. Since we had the car, we also made a trip to the grocery store on the Dutch side and found many items that we’re used to seeing in the US but are not available on the French side. It was great to be able to stock up without worrying about it being too much to carry in the backpacks!
We both really like this island and plan to come back next year, hopefully with no quarantine.
Still, looming above us is hurricane season and with that the need to be south. Thankfully the authorities in Grenada understand this and have set up a process to allow boats in. Currently we’re on their schedule to arrive the first week of July. What we don’t know at this point is if there will be any islands open for us to stop and visit along the way or if we will have to go straight there. Either way, it looks like we will be in another forced quarantine for two additional weeks once we get there.