Sint Maarten continues to be abuzz with construction activity. The Simpson Bay Lagoon is changing as preparations are being made to extend the airport runway and residential complexes, marinas and boatyards are under construction and expanding. Bobby's Megayard and St. Maarten Shipyard are both due to increase their haul out capacity in the near future with St. Maarten Shipyard adding a 75 ton KMI Sealift and Bobby's adding a 150-ton travel-lift. St. Maarten has become the place to have boat work done in the Caribbean.
That's all well and good, but whether you are cruising, racing big boats, or down for a fishing tournament there are times when you don't need to haul out, but you will need a marine specialist. St. Maarten's protected waters; its central Caribbean location and international airport have made it an attractive location for tradesmen and marine parts and services suppliers to set up business.
Without knowing a soul when we arrived in St. Maarten, we were able to get canvas work done, computers and electronics serviced, rigging repaired, and engine work and plumbing taken care of. Not only that, the sky was the limit when it came to stocking up on linens, house-wares, food and beverages.
Our network expanded organic-ally. We were sitting in the cockpit one afternoon minding our own business, when a total stranger in an inflatable dinghy pulled alongside and asked to come aboard. As he wriggled through the lifelines, he started to blurt out how fond he was of our boat and how he had almost purchased it a few years earlier. He was curious to see what alterations had been made down below.
After oohing and aahing at the interior refit, the stranger became our new best friend and an island directory. He told us his story of having a penchant for restoring unique boats and explained that he had spent most of the summer in St. Maarten overhauling a 70-foot yawl.
"If you ever need a recommendation, I'm more than happy to put you in touch with good people," our guest assured us. We thanked him for the offer, but thought little of it, because everything seemed to be in working order.
A few nights later, we bumped into our new friend at Uncle Harry's bar and restaurant. By the time he arrived, we had met all of the regulars who take advantage of the afternoon shade and breeze to unwind at Uncle Harry's after the St. Maarten shipyard closes for
the day. By that time, our list of projects was lengthy.
St. Maarten Shipyard's Carl Vaughan was happy to take care of us or put us in touch with anyone we needed. And so it went. No matter where we went around the Simpson Bay Lagoon, we always met people who were willing to help or recommend someone. Did we have 'sucker' tattooed on us? No, but it was clear that we weren't locals and that we had a lot of boat for two people to manage.
When we finally got down to the business of making the boat shipshape, we were making daily runs to Cole Bay. A simple trip to the chandlers would trigger a swing by FKG Rigging. While we were at the riggers, we might as well walk around the building and stop in at Tropical Sail Loft, or walk down the street to St. Maarten Sails and Canvas. And why not drop in on our friends at Electec? There were times when our visits included a sweep of Island Water World, Budget Marine and Ace Hardware. On more than a few occasions, we would run into our contractors coming and going from the very same stores and warehouses that we were frequenting.
I can't speak highly enough of the Ace Megacenter. The store has everything. I filled the car with a toaster, fan, cleaning supplies, cutlery, baskets, floor mats, towels, linens and even place settings fit for a photo-shoot. There are many other hardware stores on the island, including the Kooyman Mega Store, but Ace was well stocked, friendly and close to all of our other Cole Bay friends.
We weren't in St. Maarten long enough to know how to completely avoid traffic, and there were times when we wished that we had used the dinghy to get around rather than a car. We took note of where our friend kept his boat. It all made sense. He was docked at a small marina within walking distance of everyone he could possibly need help from in Cole Bay. Not only that, there was a friendly restaurant and bar, with WiFi right at the end of his dock. It doesn't get better than that!
Lynn Fitzpatrick's articles on sailing appear regularly in international publications including AARP The Magazine and Cruising World. She has been a highly competitive Snipe sailor and was the 2008 Sports Information Specialist for sailing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.