Why I Still Love Sailing St. Martin

I recently traveled to St. Martin for a sailing trip – my third visit to these islands ever – and my first since the 2017 hurricanes. Overall impression? It’s as good as ever for a sailing vacation. If you’re considering going to St. Martin and the surrounding islands, don’t wait. You will love it too, and here’s why:

St. Martin- Oyster Pond--Photos by Tom Smart for Sunsail

The new Sunsail charter base location! 

Unfortunately, the previous Sunsail marina in Oyster Pond did not fare well in the hurricanes. They are now settled in a new office at Marina Fort Louis in beautiful Marigot, the capital city of French St. Martin. The benefits? A quick 15-minute taxi ride from the airport. Lovely shopping, local eateries and fine dining all within a few minutes’ walk. Plus, very nice facilities at the marina including ample parking, nice bathrooms and showers, and a very short walk to your awaiting yacht. The Sunsail staff here are still the same; hardworking, warm and welcoming as ever!

The Yacht Club restaurant is on location, overlooking the marina and is perfect for a waterfront dinner complete with a gorgeous sunset. Another base staff favorite recommendation is O’Plongeoir – an open-air restaurant open for lunch and dinner – located just across the street from the marina. Arrive early, as it’s a popular spot. The Mahi Mahi filet is heavenly. Hint: ask the bartender what he’s blending and he might just provide a sample (this is how I scored and came to love, a delicious frozen Caipirina cocktail – made with Cachaca rum!).

And for a refreshing and healthy snack, you’ll love a fresh fruit smoothie from the open air cart near the marina. Made to order with local fruits, vegetables, and smiles – right before your eyes. Have them add a good shot of raw ginger before your charter for smooth sailing!

Sunsail base collage

Variety Within Reach 

Even before departing the marina you will have seen some of the great variety on offer – French and Dutch on the same island means more dining and shopping options, and a fabulous diverse population.

Once you’re out on the water you’ll find nearby islands Anguilla, Tintamarre, and St. Barts…each an entirely different experience. Like several vacations in one, a sailing charter here delivers the perfect mix of secluded coves and beaches, European flair, and easy Caribbean cool.

This was my first time visiting Anguilla, which I somehow managed to miss on my first two visits to the region. What a mistake! A short hour sail northward and I got my first look at this little gem of an island. The rugged rock coastline is dotted with one white sand beach after another. There’s scattered evidence of hurricane damage along the coast, but many establishments still open and of course, plenty of gorgeous beaches.

We went ashore at Road Bay to clear in and proceeded to explore starting at the east end of the beach at the famous Elvis’ Beach Bar. The vibe is perfectly laid back, and the view is unbeatable. A few other charters were enjoying the bar (that is actually a 16-foot boat with a countertop!) or playing corn hole out on the beach. Lucky for us, Elvis was in the building and no introduction is necessary – he’s easily recognizable as the coolest guy in the place. He personally prepared a strong “World Famous Rum Punch” for us, a popular recipe that he’s kept the same throughout his career in Anguilla. For the adventurous, try a shot of the potent, homemade rum concoction called “Mama Wanna”.

Just 3 hours south you’ll find stunning St. Bart’s. In stark contrast to Anguilla’s beachy vibe are Luxury mega yachts, high-end shopping, and locals dressed to impress. If I had to choose between the two? Definitely both!

Sunsail collage

St. Barts! 

While some areas of St. Martin and Anguilla were affected by the hurricane, St. Barts appeared untouched and as lovely as ever. Gustavia harbor’s sparkling blue water is filled with luxury yachts as we arrive at the dinghy dock. Our timing is a bit off – most of the shops and boutiques close between noon and 2:30 daily. But window shopping is more my speed anyway so a stroll through town is great. Later, we opt for a cocktail and people watching at nearby open-air café, Bar de l’Oubli.

The streets are very quiet, as I understand they usually are on Sundays. At the bar, I was let in on a nearby local attraction – one of St. Barts most renowned spots that I had no idea existed. Easy Walking distance from the docks at Gustavia, or short sail by yacht, Shell Beach is a feast for the senses. So, this is where everyone is on Sundays!

It’s not a single characteristic that makes it so special, but a perfect coming-together of elements. You’re transported to this cliff-side beach that could easily be in the Mediterranean. The water here is somehow a more striking electric blue, framed by steep cliffs on either side. Gorgeous open air and perfectly-named restaurant, Shellona, offers shaded seating for diners and beach dwellers, and an amazing posh setting where locals gather to see and be seen. All the while, visitors are entertained by beach strutting models flaunting the fashion on offer at the adjacent boutique. I could spend all day and more here with a good book and a cocktail.

St Barts

A Perfect Beach for Everyone 

It’s not just the sheer number of gorgeous beaches you encounter on a St. Martin yacht charter. They are all so different you can certainly name your perfect beach scene and you surely find it here. Some of my favorites:

On Anguilla, you’ll find the tiny and secluded beach at Little Bay. It’s a personal paradise for you and your group. Bring your own lunch – no beach bars to be found here!

Tintamarre Island is uninhabited and perfect for spotting turtles and birds, along with the water or on an inland hike. Fire up the grill as the sun drops and enjoy a lovely sunset meal. Overnights here are incredibly peaceful.

Maho Beach on Dutch side Sint Maarten has a fun, touristy vibe. A continuous stream of jets take off and land overhead while daring tourists await the blast. I thought Driftwood Boat Bar at the northern end was definitely my favorite on this beach – quirky and fun. Then I visited Sunset Bar & Grill and found it equally appealing with a fantastic view of the open sea, landing planes – and a swimming pool right beside the bar!

The beach at Friar’s Bay is absolutely stunning with palm trees, calm waters, friendly locals, no crowds, and a quirky little restaurant and bar called The Roots. A little off the beaten path, it has the feel of a hidden gem. A frosty Guavaberry Rum Colada is a local favorite, so I’m told, and it doesn’t disappoint. 

I could go on, but to find your paradise you’ll simply have to reserve a yacht charter of your own. 

Sunsail beaches collage

Dining, Dining & More Dining! 

Grand Case village is a St. Martin favorite, known by many as the gourmet capital of the Caribbean. Sadly it was also one of the harder hit areas following Hurricane Irma, and it’s only now beginning to recover. But certainly, don’t let this keep you from making a stop during your charter. There are still plenty of dining and shopping options, and the locals here will greet you warmly.

Sure, St. Martin has been known for its gourmet French cuisine. But you simply cannot miss the “lolo’s” in Grand Case. Our friendly server told us that lolo stands for “local food, local prices”. A lolo is an open-air food stand, with picnic table style dining, and several are available in the area. The infamous lolo called “Sky’s the Limit” is close to the dinghy dock when you land and the first we came to on our walk. The grills are piled high with chicken and ribs and the aroma stopped us in our tracks. Greeted with warm smiles and assurances that the food here can’t be beat, partly due to the fact that every meal comes with eight sides (yes, eight!), we made our way to a table. Expect huge portions and amazing Caribbean flavor. Try more than one lolo if you have time!

Another of my dining favorites was also in Grand Case. La Villa Restaurant, suggested by the Sunsail staff, offers a charming, open-air ambiance and specializes in French cuisine and seafood. The proprietors, Florence and Christophe, ensure that the service is attentive and the food is fabulous. Try the tuna tataki, and save room for crème brûlée and homemade rum samples – a perfect way to top off your dining experience.

During our evening in Grand Case, we were lucky enough to experience “Mardis de Grand Case”, a weekly Mardi Gras type celebration and parade that that usually begins in February each year and runs for a few months. It draws loads of locals and visitors alike, and the streets come alive with music, vendors, treats, and dancers. A few of the dancers even made their way into La Villa while we were dining for some spectacular tableside entertainment! 

Grand Case St. Martin

The Heineken Regatta 

The Heineken Regatta thumbed its nose at Hurricane Irma and continued the 38-year tradition of world-class racing on March 1, 2018, right on schedule. In a massive show of support for St. Martin, hundreds of seasoned sailors from more than 35 countries arrived with monohulls, multihulls, and bareboats – ready for 4 days of racing and parties.

I’m told that more than 20 Sunsailors are participating in the bareboat class this year, and the Sunsail staff at the new base were visibly proud to be a part of the action, busily assisting charterers with their yachts and briefing them on the race. One day one the Regatta Village opens at Port de Plaisance. Racers are registering, and the air is electric.

Heineken Regatta collage

It’s wonderful to witness St. Martin recovering so quickly, and heart-warming to watch her supporters returning – for the regatta, fantastic sailing, amazing beaches, and everything else that St. Martin and the surrounding islands have to offer. Plan your trip sooner than later and enjoy less crowded anchorages and beaches, too.

If you enjoy mingling with the island’s locals, most are eager to share their stories, adding another dimension to your charter. The people are the heart and soul of St. Martin – and they are so ready to welcome you back.


Ian Pedersen

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