Hurricanes on Sint Maarten/St Martin

Since the mid-1990s, St.Martin has been hit by no fewer than 9 major hurricanes. Some of the most catastrophic include Hurricane Luis (1995) which was the strongest hurricane of the 20th century. 14 people were killed and thousands of the population were left homeless. Some of the worst hit places include Marigot, Simpson Bay, and Philipsburg. In Simpson Bay alone, 1300 boats were sunk or destroyed.
Another hurricane, Bertha, in 1996 severely damaged constructions. In 1999 Hurricane Lenny killed 13 people and caused large-scale destruction to south facing-areas such as Simpson Bay and Marigot. Gondola in 2014 caused numerous properties, businesses and water works to be ruined. The last hurricane, a year and a half ago, caused serious electrical problems and building destruction.
Because of the constant batterings due to hurricanes, the island has struggled to recover over and over again. The island is still repairing from 2017, this is visible when you look around either side of the island. When crossing the lagoon bridge you can spot half sunk boats, masts sticking up from the water and yachts simply abandoned on the side of the road due to the tidal surges. When we went vegetable shopping we passed a secondary school who’s roof has still not been repaired, wires dangle by the side of the road dangerously and restaurants are boarded up at every angle.
The problem with this is that if another disaster was to strike, then it would be doubly dangerous because nothing has been fixed making more things a liability.
Effects on the island include unemployment due to businesses closing down, which leads to poverty and a low standard of life. The Dutch side is trying to avoid this by building new resorts and funding casinos to pop up everywhere. I realise while I’m writing this that instead of restoring and making houses more suitable against destruction, cheap, unstable buildings are appearing which I can bet aren’t going to survive even a Category 3 Hurricane.
Thanks for reading!!!!!
Polly note. It’s really interesting that French St Martin bears far more scars from the twin hurricanes (Irma and Maria) that hit these islands in September 2017 than any of the other islands we have visited. In Anguilla they told me that St Martin was still a wreck because they have to wait for the government approval from France before any reconstruction can happen. Dutch Sint Maarten seems full of verve and energy in its attempts to rebuild but there is a feeling of dejection over the French side. We were told that President Macron visited recently (though I think this was in fact last October) and was furious to see the state of St Martin – wanting to know what on earth had happened to all the money France had sent. This article appeared in the local paper at the time.
If France really did send €500 million, as stated in the piece, then it is even more tragic to see the main Lycee in Marigot with its roof incomplete.

Prickly Pear Cays

Prickly pear🍐

On the 7th of May we went to an island off the coast of Anguilla called Prickly Pear this island is beautiful with gorgeous white sandy beaches and crystal clear water.

To get to Prickly Pear we had to sail there in the morning with some friends of ours on their boat. As we were anchoring, I saw a lovely green sea turtle poke his head up then dive back down. Prickly Pear is a deserted island off the coast of Anguilla. You are only allowed to stay there during the day as it is a marine park. It was rather funny because the people at customs said we had to pick up a mooring ball but when we arrived there weren’t any mooring balls! It was such a lovely little island in the morning there were 2 party boats but in the afternoon we were the only boat and people on the whole island and I had a lovely snorkel with our friend Edi. If you want to here more about the snorkels read on…

I did two snorkels on Prickly Pear, one was amazing I was swimming quite far out on a reef and the fish were amazing there were parrot fish, french grunts and many more small tropical fish. The water was lovely so refreshing and just to watch the fish and be so close to them was incredible. My dad and I spent a while just snorkeling next to the coral just observing the lovely fish. That was my first snorkel. My second snorkel I saw less fish but we had a few little snack crumbs so I gave them to the french grunt who seemed to really enjoy eating them. We went out for less time and the water was much colder but shockingly there was much more french grunts than the first time I guess they enjoy the cold weather. We’ve been having a lovely time and are enjoying St Maarten before we have our next passage up to Bermuda.

Polly note: Pics will follow! This was the most incredible place and we would have missed it if it wasn’t for our lovely friends on Honalee who invited us to go along with them. Their kindness and hospitality was beyond wonderful, What a perfect end to our two months in the Caribbean.

 

Anguilla to St Maarten

A very short 18miles or so but anything can happen at sea….

I was watching the girls doing their Ordnance Survey quiz book….

When I heard a loud noise behind us….

And this fellow came swooping overhead…

To skim the sun hats off the sun worshippers on the beach…..

Just type in plane landing at Princess Juliana airport to google for more up close shots.

I will also confess that shortly after this Tom and I realised that the bright orange mooring buoys we’d just passed probably marked an exclusion zone (not mentioned on our chart). All’s well that ends well!

Anguilla.

Anguilla is our last ‘holiday’ island in the Caribbean. Often overlooked, especially in the UK, this small island has the most stunning beaches and sea that we have seen anywhere. On top of that, the people are hard working, fantastically straightforward and beyond helpful.

A strange photo you may think but first impressions as we arrived. Customs and immigration on left of pic, all clearly signed and keeping to their stated hours. And public showers to the right – clean and virtually unused except by us. Joy!

It seemed a fitting end to our Caribbean interlude to visit an island with turquoise waters and white powdery sand that are conjured up in the travel brochures. We based ourselves in Road Harbour, a lovely sweeping bay full of visiting yachts and local fishing and tourist boats. Dora and I would go ashore in the late afternoon for a swim off the beach – which mainly involved me watching her underwater gymnastics display. Every day we saw the same seagull at the water’s edge, the same dog doing it’s evening rounds, the same two old ladies gingerly making their way in for their daily swim (make that daily gossip whilst submerged hopping gently from foot to foot), the same French couple taking their stroll along the beach, the same lady putting out the tables and chairs in preparation for the evening at Sunset Bar. And of course we became part of that afternoon routine – to me one of the pleasures of being longer term visitors is that opportunity to become part of the landscape.

I don’t know why Anguilla is overlooked by tourists from the UK. Those that have heard of it are likely to have done so because it was absolutely clobbered by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 (at about the same time that Maria was wreaking havoc in Dominica). My friend at the Watersports Centre, who I spent a happy morning with whilst the children scrabbled about on giant inflatables in the bay, told me about the damage (we were the only punters for the entire morning!). At the watersports office, she showed me where whole walls had been washed away and she explained that most of the the beach ended up in what remained of the building. Apart from putting the roof back on, she hasn’t rebuilt it to its former self. All around the island roofs were blown off and there are still many missing. There was little flooding this time but the island was without power (or ‘no current’ as my friend referred to it) for 3 months. Anguilla tidied themselves up pretty quickly, not having to wait for government approval back in Europe which has apparently hampered the efforts in neighbouring St Martin/St Maarten. They are a no nonsense people who mucked in and helped each other in order to get themselves up and running for the crucial start of the tourist season in Mid December.

Fortunately water based crime (and any crime in fact) very low in Anguilla.

This footage from our anchorage. Hurricane damage.

Beautiful as our bay was, we did want to do some exploring. All the other anchorages are a designated marine park for which one has to pay US$150 for the pleasure of spending the day there. So, other than Prickly Pear Cays, which Dora will tell you about, we rented a car and explored by land. No volcanoes to climb here, so we undertook an unforgivingly unshaded walk to Captain’s Bay, a remote beach in the far north with a swanky house at one end but otherwise deserted. Sea and beach insanely photogenic. We passed various villas perched on the cliff on our way, some inhabited but many still suffering from the ravages of Hurricane Irma.

Not a volcano in sight….

But the quality of the sand made the journey worth while. When wet it is like liquid velvet. I’ve never seen or felt the like before.

We spent a happy day at Shoal Bay, with its boutique hotels and beach bars where all was uncrowded serenity.

Apologies for bizarre pic. But my toe nails matched the colour of the water so perfectly…. that’s Dora coming out of the sea

Anguilla likes a party as much as the next Carribean island and we had an entertaining evening at Elvis’s Beach Bar, having a beer and playing oversized Connect 4 and Jenga, whilst people watching at the bar. Group from New York – lady in long floaty dress and straw hat “Why don’t we have something like this in the Hamptons?”. Later, a completely bonkers 60 something year old woman in pineapple sunglasses who even the children realised wasn’t entirely with it. Then a little 2 year old on holiday with her family who came to play Jenga with Daisy. What was lovely about the place was that all these characters were more than welcome and rubbed along happily enough.

Beach Jenga at Elvis Bar

I’ll let the girls fill you in a bit more on Prickly Pear Cays and hurricane Irma but if I could only come back to one island, it would be Anguilla. Despite the lack of volcanoes! An amazing place to end our extended Caribbean adventure and the sudden realisation that we turn for home next week and there’s a lot of miles to cover.

St Barths – where even the goats are well fed and glossy haired….

Dora has told you about the turtles we met on St Barths – they were truly amazing. We hadn’t originally planned to visit St Barths , not fancying anchorages packed full of super yachts and assuming it wouldn’t be quite our cup of tea, but we met a lovely couple in St Kitts who’d told us of the amazing turtles in Anse du Colombier. So off we went.

Superyacht with real yacht on deck. The yacht she is carrying is probably about our size!

Even before we met the turtles I was actually quite taken with the place, from our 3 hour pit stop in the capital, Gustavia. The port office were delightful and friendly. The supermarket wasn’t too hideously expensive by Caribbean standards – they even sold take away sushi! The showers ashore were clean and plentiful and there’s a great ice creamery. I had to ignore the Gucci, Hermes, Bulgari that line the dock. As does everyone else it seems, to my surprise!

Once checked in and stocked up we headed round the corner to Anse du Colombier where we spent a heavenly three days on a mooring. The turtles feeding feeding patch was about 20m away and we snorkelled above watching them feed and glide up and dive down, waving their little flippers at us. It was just enchanting I have to say and, for me, far more delightful than even the most colourful of fish.

Anse du Colombier from above. I’m sure you’re all v good at spotting us from on high now! That’s Ile Forchue in the background at St Martin in the far distance.

Other activities were limited to scrambles ashore across rocky paths to the nearby villages. There’s a lot of villas and boutique hotels, all exceptionally tasteful and lots of Chemin Privee and Access Interdit signs. The most prominent being at the entrance to a dilapidated 70s house originally built by the Rockerfelllers, but now abandoned. I’d have loved to sneak about but was scared of stumbling into an episode from The Night Manager. Love any further information on that one if you can find it….

No such signs for boats though and we felt very welcome both in Colombier and then in Ile Forchue, where we stopped off on our way out. Both quite reminiscent of Scotland. Or Greece perhaps. Apart from the glossy goats.

Next stop Anguilla

Ps. Thank you to Laura for update on the Rockefeller house. See comment below. She also sent this picture. The weird tower structure has gone and windows all blown out now but otherwise very recognisable.

Terrific Turtles

Terrific turtles🐢

Today,before school, my mum and I went snorkeling with turtles! At the moment we are staying on an island called St Barts we are in a lovely calm anchorage which is also a marine park. You can’t actually anchor in this anchorage as it is a marine park. So yesterday, 29th of April, we picked up a mooring the reason we are not allowed to anchor is because the sea bed here is covered in sea grass instead of sand. Do you know which marine reptile eats sea grass, jellyfish and urchins? TURTLES🐢. So this morning I got out of bed and my mum and I jumped into the cool water with our snorkeling masks on. We swam about 20 metres then right underneath us were 2 gorgeous turtles munching away on the sea grass. It was a lovely sight we ended up seeing 9 different turtles. As you can guess, the thought of being next to such a calm mellow creature in the wild was amazing. We saw 3 baby turtles which were only about 30 cm long and we saw 6 older turtles which were about 60 cm long. My first actual close encounter with one if these turtles was when I was swimming along with my head out of the water when about 2 metres in front of me a turtle just popped it’s head up and stared at me before diving back under the surface. My favorite part of swimming with the turtles is watching them dive they are so graceful and elegant.

Here is an interesting fact about turtles: when turtles are about 15 years old some of the turtles grow a tail but others don’t due to global warming less turtles are growing tails. Turtles with tails are male and turtles without tales are female so the female population of turtles is a lot larger than the population of male turtles. I hope you have enjoyed this blog post about turtles. Thank you for reading. Dora

Most People Don’t Know Holland has a Volcano….

So chortled the lanky Dutchman who popped out to join us admiring the view from the top of the Quill Volcano, highest point of St Eustatius (aka Statia). And it’s a dormant one at that, since there are hot springs on its slopes where the temperatures reach 60 degrees. The whole family are of course delighted with my new found past time of Volcano bagging.

So we followed the sign saying Panorama and this is what we found:

Statia passed the Polly smell test with absolute flying colours. We arrived mid afternoon and found the Customs and Immigration office (a sea container with Customs and Immigration painted in large letters – so helpful and yet so unusual, as normally I spend at least half an hour poking my head into every nondescript unmarked building in town until I chance upon it. I’m sure its is done on purpose as an initiative test that visitors have to pass). After clearance we visited the National Parks office as Statia has both a marine and a shore park. The Parks Officer was knowledgeable and welcoming, joking away in perfect English as only the Dutch can. Omens were good.

Statia is also known as Golden Rock from its days as a duty free port in the the late 18th century when , all around the French English and Spanish were waging great battles, the Dutch declared the island a duty free port , all trade legitimate or otherwise welcome, and so it was for a brief period, the busiest port in the world. All this borne out by the amazing paintings in the town’s small but perfectly informative museum.

Nowadays, The Hidden Gem of the Caribbean struggles to make its mark. It is very small (8 square miles), permanent population 3-4000, depending on which leaflet you read. Mass tourism hasn’t caught on here (to our delight, though not perhaps the delight of the inhabitants) since there are no golden beaches, just a lovely small black sand town beach, no large dock, and a very small airport. But the diving is stupendous and the hiking extensive and well marked, making it a joy for those who do make the effort. And there are a few, mainly well heeled Americans and Dutch, from my eavesdropping ashore.

Part of the problem I’d I imagine is Statia’s other significant feature, an enormous oil depot. This means that the anchorage – and the town’s outlook – is in fact a giant floating filling station. Fuel barges are manoeuvred about by a small fleet of busy tugs who ensure that all comers can either fill up with bunkers or unload their contribution to the depot. For me they are a beautiful sight, especially at sunset but I do see it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Statia anchorage from The Quill. You can spot us from the two masts. And those ships are mostly fuel barges (or ship equivalent of petrol pumps).

Although we do not dive, we do love a good snorkel. During its heyday the lower shore of Oranjestad was crowded with warehouses and shops. As the port’s significance declined (when the French and English took over and introduced taxes – take note!), the buildings gradually fell victims to the ravages of hurricanes and erosion, falling into the sea. This has left some intriguing homes for lots of happy fish and there are even a few loose canons down there too.

Sunset over Old Town ruins. With Saba in the background.

Ashore, the fauna is the usual mix of goats, chickens, lizards, beautiful ground nesting doves, and elusive iguanas. Flora includes our favourite gum tree, locally known as the tourist tree, because of its orange peeling skin. However, Dora has renamed it the Trump tree. For obvious reasons.

Fine specimen of the gloriously orange Trump tree.

So, apart from scrabbling around on volcanoes and snorkelling, the girls have been in the library keeping up with school. The library is the best yet,air conditioning, proper tables, those cushioned chairs you get at wedding receptions and an incredible selection of books – the young adult non finction section had titles as diverse as: An introduction to Genetic Engineering, Sea Turtles, Leopardfish (yes an entire book), Careers in Science and Living with an Alcoholic Parent. That was just the English language section.

We love this easy going place with its great sense of humour, genuine welcome and Dutch love of a party. If you ever get the chance, hop on a plane (or several) and come and see.

How can you not love an island that has a dedicated Iguana Hotline and reminders to look out for the little fellows.