St. Martin: April 25-May 12, 2010 

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

Grand Case

The huge bay at Grand Case, St. Martin,  is a marvelous place.  The water is clear and clean, and the bottom is a mix of deep sand and grass.  Among the creatures that enjoy the bay -- especially the grass -- are many green turtles.  People enjoy Grand Case too; the main street is such a long stretch of shops and restaurants that guide-writer Doyle calls it the gastronomic center of St. Martin.  Folks show up every night from all over the island, and also from the anchorage, which tends to thin out in the mornings and "fill up" every late afternoon/early evening.  Well, "fill up" is an exaggeration; lots of vessels show up, but the bay is so large that there is always plenty of room for more.

When we first arrived at St. Martin, we went in to the Lagoon, since windy weather was due soon, and Grand Case can be more than a little rolly if the waves have too much of a northern component.    But after doing some shopping at the Lagoon's chandleries, buying, among other things, 7 gallons of bottom paint, and waiting out the strong winds, we moved out to Grand Case.

Eventually, Devi and Hunter (Arctic Tern) completed enough of their boat projects to be able to also move from the Lagoon over to Grand Case.    For two days running we went snorkeling at the north end of the bay, circling the island named Roche Creole.  The soft and hard corals are "good, but not great"; not as healthy and abundant as sites we have visited on other islands -- there is a lot of fire coral, however -- but the fish population was impressive, a consequence no doubt of regulations which forbid fishing or spearing in the vicinity.  The resulting experience was in marked contrast to what we had in, for example, Barbuda.  On the second day of snorkeling we all decided to focus on seeing how many different kinds of fish we could identify.  The crew of Tusen Takk II sat down after the swim and identified 31 species, including species as diverse as a cute little red-lipped blenny and an unflappable (but flapping) spotted eagle ray.  (Complete list available on request; just send a $50 bill in a self-addressed envelope to our snailmail address, and label the outside envelope "fishy".)

There is an interesting array of floats near the shore of Grand Case that creates in effect an Olympic-sized "pool".  We have seen plenty of kids horsing around on it, but never an organized practice or race.

We are in the process of ordering poles for our flopper stoppers.  We will write more about that as we complete the installation after the poles arrive. We mention it now, because we got email from Wayne Thomas (Fluke) telling us we were being watched.  Wayne discovered a photo showing Chuck up on the mast of Tusen Takk II as he investigated how best to attach the support lines to the flopper stopper poles we have ordered.  The photo was on the blog of the ketch Magnolia which was anchored at our stern.  The website is: .  The photo is under his May 8th posting at,Mast.  Barb caught a snap of Magnolia as it left our anchorage and headed to the north, presumably to visit Orient Beach.

Green turtle in Grand Case Bay.

Another turtle; this one with a prettier head!

Rub-a-dub-dub eight men in a tub...

... and then there were nine!

Roche Creole island, as seen from TTII

Ketch Magnolia, who posted on his blog a picture of Chuck up on the mast

"Pool" created by floats on the beach of Grand Case.

Ridge Walk

While we were at Grand Case and the Terns were still in the Lagoon, we decided to met in the middle and hike a ridge.    We met at Rambaud, and walked together on a road up to Pic Paradis, where we found the ridge trail.  We came back down at Colombier, and once again followed a road back to Rambaud.  There, we separated and each couple caught a bus back to our respective anchorage.    Along the way from Colombier to Rambaud we passed a tree bearing a seed pod.    Devi recognized it as a Sandbox tree pod, and insisted on doing a little harvesting. The pod gathers internal tension as it dries; ultimately it explodes with a BANG, spraying individual seedlings everywhere. The seedlings are greatly valued by local jewelry makers and cruising hobbyists alike; see the pictures below.

Sign on property along the road up to Pic Paradis

Zip line near the start of the ridge walk: "La Lottery Farm"

Barb and Devi admire the view from the ridge

Lots and lots of stone walls on the island -- look carefully to see that they are not all being neglected

Devi gets some help in her quest for a Sandbox seed pod

Captured seed cluster

Appearance of one seedling after the Big Bang

What the seedling can become in its afterlife

Grand Case Walk

After Devi and Hunter (Arctic Tern) had joined us at Grand Case, we decided to get in another hike.  Devi had scrounged from a magazine in some waiting room a couple of pages featuring descriptions and maps of hiking trails in St. Martin/Sint Maarten.  One appealing trail appeared to start at Grand Case and make its way to Orient Beach by wending along the coast.  We took our dinghy in to shore and followed the main road east through Grand Case, continuing east along a lesser road when the main road swung south toward the airport.  We soon reached a gated (and high-fenced) community with a locked gate.  Barb noticed a small portal on our left that opened to a path down to the beach, and we took that further east until we ran out of sand.  Fortunately, we had also reached the end of the high fence, although the dwellings continued.  Giving hearty "bon jour" greetings to the elderly gentleman sitting in his back patio in the first house past the wall, we walked first up his steps and then up his driveway to the point where the road continued east out from another locked gate that exited the gated community.  We followed the road up to a plateau where it branched into three stubs.  We took the leftmost, and it terminated at a cliff with no sign of a coastal path.  We scrambled up to the terminus of the middle path, where again there was no sign of a coastal path.  The rightmost stub led to a house.  Dogs barked as we stood in their yard and peered eastward over their fence for a sign of a path.  Curtains rustled at the windows of the house.  We consulted our maps.  Finally, we approached the front door and shouted "bon jour".    A lady stuck her head out of a window, and we asked if she spoke English.  She did!  We asked about the coastal path, and she said it had been gone for many years, wiped out by hurricanes.  So much for Devi's scrounged map.

As we returned down the road and were approaching the gated community, the gate was opened by a lady who was leaving in her car.  She paused and said hello, and asked where we were going.    We told her about the attempt to follow a coastal path, and she affirmed that it had been gone for years.  She asked if we were leaving via the beach, and we said we were.  She asked if we wanted to go back along the road, and we said that we could not because of the locked gate on the far side.  That was no problem, she said, and without hesitation gave us the "secret" code.   (Code available on request; just send a $50 bill in a self-addressed envelope to our snailmail address, and label the outside envelope "Sesame".)

So we made our way back to Grand Case, and turned left on the main road toward the airport.  We had intended on walking the roads all the way to Orient Beach, but soon noticed a dirt road heading up the hill/mountain to the east.   We took that, and soon were up on what we now think was "Pea Tree Hill".   When the path petered out at an antennae farm, we had to decide whether to return the way we had come, or to do a little bushwhacking.   We chose to bushwhack, and eventually, after crawling over stone fences and wire fences, made our way down the hill to the area of Mont Vernon.  We asked for directions, and were directed to the back roads that would get us to the far northern end of Orient Beach.  Dressed in our hiking apparel, we passed through increasingly less-dressed folks as we made our way to our favorite restaurant near the "clothes optional" end of the beach.  Along the way, we passed a number of topless ladies, some of whom were very attractive, and some of whom, were, um, not.   After our lunch, we caught a taxi back to Grand Case, since the prospect of walking the highway back had no appeal.

Panorama of Grand Case from the end of the road to the east

Goats at the end of the road

Grass hopper :-) along the road to the airport

Bushwhacking down the hill toward Mont Vernon

Tamarind tree where the bushwhacking ended and the dirt road began

"Refined" Recreational Activities

We don't just go on snorkeling explorations and sweaty hikes.  St. Martin/Sint Maarten is a sophisticated island.  There is a very modern stadium-seating multiplex movie theatre on the Dutch side; last year we saw Slum Dog Millionaire there, and this year we watched Avatar in 3-D.  And there are of course gazillions of restaurants, with a broad spectrum of styles and types and price ranges.   We have, in our own small way, tried to take advantage of some of the opportunities that are available.   We had a marvelous meal at the L'Auberge Gourmande in Grand Case.  We had delicious mussels (and frites) at one of the water-front restaurants at Marigot's Marina Royale: La Main de la Pate.  We have returned a number of times to a charming little eatery on the Dutch side that is run by folks originally from Columbia; Devi enjoys practicing her Spanish there, and we all enjoy their delicious soups and burritos.   Their name is "Taco Macho".   When you are in Sint Maarten, find it.  You will like it.

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