April 28, 2020

Quarantined in St Martin

On March 16, we were enjoying our time in St Barts when France issued stay-at-home orders and the closing of all nonessential businesses, including in the French Caribbean islands, and we heard rumors that island borders could soon follow.

St Martin or Bust

After checking out of St. Barts, and with fears of arriving too late and being denied entry, we rose before dawn on March 17 to motor 23 nm north in light winds and calm seas to St Martin to check in before the 12 noon business closing.

Unlike St. Barts, St Martin gave us access to more resources and anchorage options if we were "stuck" there longterm. We towed the dinghy behind Borealis (minus the engine), something we've never done on a passage before, but we couldn't afford the extra time it would take to launch it from the foredeck.

We arrived to Marigot Bay, the capital of French St Martin around 10:00 am; Nick was immediately off in the dinghy to the customs office and we squeaked into the country with only an hour or so to spare before the office closed.

The following day, March 18, St Martin closed its borders to all non-European Union flagged vessels. We were relieved at having made the right decision to leave St Barts and rush up to St Martin!

One island, two countries

While only 7-miles wide in each direction, the island is divided across the middle into two countries. The northern part, St. Martin, is French, and the southern part, Sint Maartin, is Dutch. To make things confusing, in St. Martin the official language is French and the currency is the Euro, but across the road in Sint Maartin, English is predominantly spoken and the currency is the Dutch Guilder, but the U.S. dollar is widely accepted.

While the Dutch side would have been a shorter shorter sail for us, we opted to travel further north and check into the French side since the clearance process is easier and less expensive.

Always Ready 

While St Martin has enacted stricter quarantine measures over time, when we first arrived, more restaurants and businesses were open, including Budget Marine and Island Water World in Dutch Sint Maartin, the biggest marine chandlers in all of the Caribbean.

With so much confusion and uncertainty about Coronavirus and its future impacts on the island and us, we stayed busy our first few days on island preparing for the unknown; some island countries had revoked tourist visas, and we wanted to be prepared in case that happened and we needed to sail overnight to the closest U.S. territory, the U.S. Virgin Islands.

We filled our propane canisters, visited the marine chandlers to stock up on necessary boat parts, made several large trips to the supermarket to fill our food stores, and brought Borealis to the fuel dock to fill our gas tank and jerry cans with diesel and gas. Aboard, Nick changed the oil and fuel filters, and we tackled laundry and a few other maintenance projects. We are so glad we made the decision to do those things immediately, since new lockdown measures have made those things much harder or impossible to get done.

Finally a new US flag to replace our worn and tattered one; this flag sailed for 18 months and 4,000 nm 

Cleaning the slow draining head sink drain and hose
Nick up the mast to inspect the rigging

Cleaning the hull of barnacles and soft growth
Waterproofing the Bimini canvas

At the fuel dock to fill gas and diesel tanks


With all of our preparations complete, we had little left to do but hunker down in quarantine, and we figured the small, uninhabited island Tintamarre, off St Martin's northeast corner was the perfect place to do it. On March 26, we sailed in light 6-15 knot winds towards Tintamarre, where we grabbed one of the free moorings available at the marine park.

The island has a lovely white sandy beach, fabulous snorkeling along the reefs at the northern and southern points, and several hiking paths that lead over to the eastern shore.

We enjoyed several relaxing days there, swimming, snorkeling and hiking ashore with little worry of coming into contact with others.

Sadly, on the afternoon of our third day there, the marine Gendemarie police asked all 15 moored boats to immediately leave the island and return to mainland anchorages. France had ordered all parks and beaches to be closed, and as a marine park Tintamarre would no longer be open to boaters.

Grand Case

On March 28, just before dusk, we sailed into Grand-Case, a lovely little anchorage nestled in a northern crook of St Martin, where we've remained at anchor ever since.

Even the fish in St Martin are quarantined in place :) 
Since we've arrived in St. Martin on March 17, every island in the Caribbean has closed its borders to air and sea travel. Movement restrictions vary from island to island: several islands, like Grenada, BVI and St. Lucia went into full 24/7 lockdown with all supermarkets, businesses and restaurants closed for 7-14 days. Other islands, like Dominica and the Grenadines, have enacted curfews and prohibited large gatherings, but allow much more free movement.

Stay in Place Orders 

On St Martin, the island is currently under quarantine with all beaches, nonessential businesses, and restaurants closed; we are allowed to leave the boat with a letter stating our intended destination, such as to the grocery or pharmacy, and as long as we ensure a safe social distance from others in public.

Sadly, no paddle boarding, snorkeling or swimming is allowed, and there are fines of $160 USD for getting caught wet. The marine Gendarmerie police have asked that we stay in this anchorage and aboard the boat; with no high speed Internet or cable TV, our days can be long but we are doing our best to stay active and positive.

We are lucky to be so self sufficient aboard Borealis since we can can desalinate salty sea water into fresh water for our tanks, have wind and solar power to keep our boat batteries and personal electronics charged, and plenty of food in our stores. Each morning and evening, fellow cruisers here on the island head to the VHF radio to share information, swap advice and tools, play music and trivia, share jokes and commiserate.

As close as we can get to the water these days
On the other side of the island, in Dutch Sint Maartin, a full lockdown was put into place two weeks ago with all businesses closed; they are now slowly allowing supermarkets and other essential businesses and services to open a few times a week. Travel between to the sides of the island has been strictly prohibited, so once again, we feel relieved at having chosen to check into French St. Martin.

While we've continued to feel welcome in St Martin, residents on some islands have become increasingly wary of cruisers and other outsiders for fear of carrying the virus, especially as resources wear thin. So as guests on the island, we closely follow the rules to show respect and our gratitude for being allowed to stay.

COVID in the Caribbean 

Throughout this we've become very aware of the very fragile healthcare systems on most Caribbean islands, which struggle with a very limited medical supply in non pandemic times. We learned St. Martin has only a handful of ventilators and critical care beds, and with only a few dozen sick on the island, the hospital is already at capacity.

The past few weeks we've seen several large French military warships arrive with much needed resources: helicopters, military police boats and navy men have been busy in the bays delivering hospitainers, medical supplies, additional medical personnel and have even visited anchored boats to ask about our health. Thankfully the number of cases on the island is trending downward.

We spent two full weeks aboard Borealis when the quarantine measures were extended at the beginning of April, but have slowly started to transition back to our weekly shopping trips ashore, which is much easier with our small boat fridge and limited storage, and since the supermarket is a 2-mile walk round trip, its a nice excuse for us to get a little extra exercise!

We use a small foldable trolly to carry our groceries the 1-mile trek back to the boat

Current quarantine measures are in place until mid-May, so for now we continue to wait things out. We wish we could be out sailing and exploring the islands (according to our loose scheduling, we hoped to be in the Bahamas by now), but we are healthy and overall life is good.

We wish the same for all our family and friends.

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