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Old 12-02-2003
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Report: Sunsail Charter in St. Martin

My wife and I just chartered a Beneteau 411 from Sunsail out of Oyster Bay, St. Martin. Thought I''d provide a brief report-out.

It''s worth the trip.

Generally we had a good time, the boat was sound, Sunsail staff was pleasant and professional, and sailing and destinations were varied and appealing. November is nice. Not as hot as the summer, not as windy as the winter. The French side of St. Martin was more appealing to us. The Dutch side is very commercial and industrial. Better shopping though, if that''s your bag.

Tack: I strongly recommend bringing a hand-held VHF and handheld map GPS (like the Garmin ETREX) with Mapsource Bluecharts. The boats typically come with a GPS, but the read-out is below with no repeater at the helm. Useless IMHO. Ditto the VHF. Nice to have a hand-held with international frequencies in the cockpit if you''re short-handed. We were. Forget the spear-gun. They are prohibited in anyplace that''s good to spearfish. We brought too many clothes. Again. Provisioning from Sunsail was generally good, though kinda expensive. We brought Sospenders PFDs for more spirited days offshore, but they took our CO2 canisters during a hand-search prior to the flight out. $40 to replace two sets. Oh well.

General observations. Anchorages are more rolly than the BVI / USVI or Chesapeake. Half-moon shaped bays are de-rigeur, and even with an on-shore breeze that points you straight in, the waves usually sneak around the point and hit you right on the beam! Diabolical. Not too bad, but if you''ve got crew that''s sensitive to this kinda thing, you should be warned. Anchorages are usually not too crowded. In the BVI you have to get there at 1pm if you want a spot. Here you can wait until half-an-hour before sunset and come blasting in while the other couple of boats on the hook are having happy hour. Nice flexibility.

Beginnings: Oyster Pond, where you pick up your charter, is probably the most dangerous place to get into and out of in the entire area. The narrow navigable channel is directly exposed to the open sea and prevailing winds. You have to approach within 30-feet of a reef that''s directly exposed to the open ocean swells with nice big breaking waves. If conditions are light it''s no biggie. If conditions are heavy, it possible that you could be shut-out. In between it''s a bit rodeo. We went back in with 4-5ft foot swells running ans 15-20 kt breezes. Having the boat heading hunting back and forth as the swells pass under you that close to the reef is kinda exciting! Experienced sailors shouldn''t have a problem. ''Nuff said on that.

The chart briefing by Sunsail was excellent, and gave a good heads up to the trickier anchorages. Orient Bay is one of them. Pay attention to what they say, and you''re fine.

Places: Isl Pinel anchorage in Orient Bay (north-east) is cozier than Green Cay anchorage to the south - kinda rolly. Pinel is remote and secluded. The upside of Green Cay is you get to anchor right off a nude beach. ;^)

Sailing directly up-wind between the islands is relatively ungratifying. The currents are wind driven, accellerate between the islands, and you''ll be lucky to make good 140-degrees tack-to-tack. We motored in these conditions.

Anguilla is Nice. Road Bay w/ Sandy Island is a must-do. If you go early in the morning you just might get Sandy Island to yourself. We did. Prickly Pear Cays are well worth the trip. I''d say schedule at-least 2-1/2 days in Road/Crocus Bay. Crocus Bay can be pretty rolly in north winds. We beat a hasty retreat back to Road Bay in just these conditions.

The food in Grand Case St. Martin is to die for. We ate probably the BEST meal I''ve ever had in my life there. $120 for two, including an not-too-expensive bottle of wine.

Marigot is a city of two faces. The water-front is a mixture of 3rd world and modern. A couple of blocks back on the Simpson bay side there''s some really nice but very European / modern eateries and shops. The fort is worth a visit, particularly in the morning, w/ excellent view of your boat in the anchorage.

Phillipsburg was not for me. My wife could have shopped for two days there without missing a beat.

Gripes:

I have sleep apnea and need a breathing machine (CPAP) to sleep. I verified IN ADVANCE w/ Sunsail that the boat could support a 24-amp-hour nightly requirement. What I got was a boat with a basically dead battery. I know it should work on a battery because I bought a car battery and tested everything before going down there. No problemo. Anyhoo... this snafu resulted in my not really sleeping for two straight days. Ugh. Try it sometime. I pointed this out and the Sunsail techs who came on board and scurried around didn''t believe me for quite a while, and finally they talked themselves out of fixing it. Well, the battery REALLY was dead, and I could only sleep for 3-4 hours a night before the battery went dead for the rest of the trip.

Another boat gripe was that the rudder would "stick" occasionally near the neutral position. You could force it free, but I always had that lurking feeling that some day it might just stick for good. Keeps you on your toes.

Other than that, the boat was in excellent condition.
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