Putting the boat up for the summer is never fun. Besides the emotional piece of saying goodbye to cruising life, there’s the stress of taking the boat out of the water and closing it up properly – all with a firm deadline. Add to that some unreliable bridges, and you can easily find yourself in a pickle.
It all started a week before haul-out, which was booked for April 19, the day after the Easter long weekend. Historically, we have been stymied by the bridge. When in St. Martin, we generally anchor in Marigot, the main anchorage on the French side. The boat yard where we haul out is in the lagoon, just on the other side of the Sandy Ground bridge. So all we have to do to get there is go to the back of the anchorage and go through the bridge. Alas, that is easier said than done.
This is because ever since Irma, the Sandy Ground drawbridge (also known simply as the French bridge) has had nothing but issues.
When we first arrived in St. Martin after Irma back in 2017, the bridge didn’t open for months due to hurricane damage. Since we were in the lagoon as soon as we launched, we got used to going the long way around, leaving the lagoon through the two bridges on the Dutch side, then sailing around the south side of the island to the French side, which takes about 2 hours in the normal easterly trade winds.
At the end of our first season, in preparation for haul-out at Time Out, we tried to go through the French bridge from Marigot the morning of our scheduled haul-out. But it didn’t open. Thankfully we were able to reschedule to the next day.
This season, we weren’t so lucky.
Knowing that the bridge only opened Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, we asked around in advance to see if the French bridge would open on Easter Monday. Anyone who’d been on the island for a while reminded us that bridge employees use any excuse not to show up for work. However, we received confirmation from two quasi-official sources that the bridge would indeed open that Monday. We decided to take our chances and stay in the crystal clear waters of Marigot for our last few days, quickly setting aside our original plan to go into the lagoon on Saturday.
French Bridge – Easter Monday
As you can imagine, the bridge did not in fact open as planned on Easter Monday. Since it was a holiday, we weren’t even able to call the yard to reschedule our haul-out this time. So, in a panic, we motor-sailed all the way around to the Dutch side, with the wind on our nose as soon as we started easting. Despite this, we made the Simpson Bay drawbridge with plenty of time and entered the lagoon without issue.
However we hit a snag with the Causeway, the large swing bridge that effectively divides the Dutch side of the lagoon from the French side. Normally we’d just call the bridge on the VHF after coming through the Simpson Bay bridge. But when we did that this time, we were refused passage (likely because it’s a lot of work to stop all vehicle traffic for just one little boat). This had never happened to us before in the many times we’d gone through this bridge, and we suspect it was because of the holiday.
Trapped on the Dutch side
So we were now trapped on the Dutch side until the Causeway’s next opening at 8 the next morning (see the x in the map above). Besides the bureaucratic nightmare of having to overnight on the Dutch side without having first cleared out of the French side (an administrative no-no, which we were thankfully excused for this time), this totally threw a wrench in our plans. We had hoped to be on a pre-arranged mooring ball on the French side by 9 a.m. earlier that morning, giving us the entire day to prep the boat to come out of the water (removing sails, etc.). Instead, we had spent the day waiting for bridges that didn’t open and sailing around the island, and rushing around trying to get all the proper fees paid while stuck in the lagoon on the Dutch side (which charges bridge and anchoring fees). We eventually managed to get the main sail down, but the wind was howling over 25 knots, and our anchor dragged. Once we finally re-anchored, we decided there was no way we could safely get our larger headsail down, and it would have to wait until we were on the dock at Time Out.
The next morning we made it through the Causeway at 8:10 and motored to the boat yard. As we passed the French bridge on our way, we watched, incredulous, as it opened unscheduled. Had we known, we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble by just staying put in Marigot for one more day. But hindsight is 20/20.
The moral of the story? Stick with your instincts and never wait until the last possible bridge in SXM.
By 9, we were safely on the dock. The yard crew gave us time to get our sails down and our sh*t together, and by 10 a.m. Ar Sgrail was being demasted and hauled.
We spent the next four days packing, sanding, varnishing, tidying, cleaning and closing up for the season, and on April 24, we flew home, bringing our 4th Caribbean sailing season to an end, just in time for snow and subzero April temperatures in Ontario.
Stay tuned to our Instagram account for an exciting upcoming announcement!
One thought on “Bridge woes in St. Martin – 2022 season finale”
Oh, the irony… trapped on an island because of a bridge! I’m glad you included maps and all because otherwise, it would have sounded like a joke. Except maybe the part about French officials not super willing to work…. yeah, that part was a “goes without saying” part 😆
I came back on April 7 and yep, it’s been cold and damp. But according to my phone, we’re getting there, weather is actually pretty nice for the next few weeks. So, good timing!
Send an email for coffee anytime! 😉
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