17th May 2022
Simpson Bay Lagoon, Sint Maarten
Some islands give us rich culture and history, others offer endless beaches with snorkelling in clear water and some give us the opportunity to access skills that are beyond us, fill Ruffian with all the spares to keep her in tip top shape and fill her bilges with delicacies that are usually beyond our budget. Would Sint Maarten prove to be a cultural delight, a place of beaches or a centre of skill and commerce?
As the bridge into Simpson Bay firmly closed behind us we started tackling the list of jobs that had been waiting for the skills in Sint Maarten. Chief among these was delivering Brock to the dinghy hospital* where he’d get some well needed TLC.
Giving Brock this TLC was no easy affair and after inflating little Thug we started towing Brock across the lagoon. He clearly didn’t like the prospect of hospital as he slewed left and right tugging on Thug and pulling us in all sorts of undesirable directions, as we neared he started behaving himself and realised his fate was sealed.
Dropping him off the prognosis didn’t sound fun. Just to fix a little leak, his tubes would have to be removed, the aluminium cleaned and ground back and then everything reglued and sealed. This was a job way beyond us, but we knew that Brock was in safe hands as he was led away in the confident and capable hands of ‘Pappe’.
With jobs in progress, we now focussed on our shopping list which was full of things that would revolutionise our lives. In the cruising life it is amazing how little things can have a huge impact and we were searching for the smallest, lowest power kettle you can imagine. The thinking was that we’re now producing so much solar energy that we can stop creating hot water using gas and turn to the modern invention, electricity!
Electrical shops were sought out and time after time we were laughed out of them. Why would anybody want to buy a kettle that would take 5 mins to boil just 2 cups of water? Then as our patience was wearing thin and Iain’s shopping karma was leaving the room we happened across the smiling face of a salesman who’d been waiting just for us. He had a shelf full of tiny kettles and, because they were so small, he had a lot of them.
Happy with our purchase and with it looking like a normal kettle, just smaller, we trapesed the roads of Phillipsberg, the cruise ship capitol of Sint Maarten. Our list remained resolutely unfulfilled, but the people watching was something otherworldly. The ships had disgorged their contents and all around us were tourists touting coloured wristbands, of pale white complexions and smelling of soap. The touts selling tours, gold and gems descended upon these people, but for some reason they completely ignored us. We could just assume this was because of our threadbare clothes, our large rucksacks and deep tans.
As the days went on the chandlery shopping went on and on and on and on. Spares that we had been using up over months were replenished, but things were never as simple as just picking up exactly what we wanted from the shelf. Before we made any purchase, we had to do the rounds of Electec, Budget Marine, Ace Hardware, Island Water World, NAPA and FKG to make sure that Ruffian was getting just what she needed. Sometimes choice is great, but sometimes choice wears holes in your shoes.
Once Ruffian had the supplements to keep her healthy, we started to focus on our stores to keep us healthy. Zipping across the lagoon in Brock (thanks to his hospital visit the water was now remaining outside) we moved from the sanitised, clean and deep water of Dutch Sint Maarten to the French side Saint Martin, where masts from sunken boats poked above the water’s surface and rusting hulks littered the lagoon.
Our target in France was the huge SuperU and our trolleys were filled to bursting. Shelves were emptied of boxed wine and a dent was made in a UHT milk mountain. We then luxuriated in the rows of delectable tins where Iain was joyous to find long life chilli (which Fiona wasn’t) and Fiona was thrilled to find confit du carnard (as was Iain). The challenge to this shopping came when we entered the checkout.
The trolley seemed to have taken on Tardis like qualities as all our bags became full to bursting, our little trolley brimmed at the edges and all seated on top of foundations of UHT and wine. This of course was in addition to the bags in our hands, bags looped on our shoulders and bags clipped to our rucksacks. We were fully loaded.
Coming outside the little wheels of our trolley were upset time and again by higgledy-piggledy pavements; so Iain took to the road causing traffic-based chaos. Cars were unwilling to overtake and felt their liberal use of their horns would either make them thinner of Iain smaller and then came traffic lights where Iain could happily waltz though without a care in the world and a just a focus on getting to the dinghy dock asap.
Like the chandlery shopping, provisioning went on and on and on and on. Ruffian became fuller as air was banished from all our lockers replaced with all the delectable items from France and the Netherlands, not everything however was delectable.
With our final shopping trips, we found ourselves inside a huge cash and carry, where the trollies were the size of cars and the racking stretched high above us. We loaded up with more things from the list and returned to Ruffian triumphant, but unpacking our triumph nearly turned to disaster.
The pasta seemed to be moving and on closer inspection we’d introduced millions of little critters to a new home. The bags were alive with weevils who’d been feasting and multiplying in their food-based home. As quick as a flash the critters were banished to the dump ashore still in their wrappers with the pasta. Vinegar was deployed and we hoped that none of them had found their way into our stores.
Sint Maarten has given us everything we hoped for. There has been no culture or history, there have been no beaches or snorkelling, but Sint Maarten has allowed Ruffian to become full, Brock has been fixed and we’re now ready to explore new seas that are waiting over the horizon for us.
* The dinghy hospital in this case are the well renowned folks at Budget Marine who have a Caribbean reputation for fixing errant dinghies.
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