Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Another Ferry Ride, this time to St Barts (St Barthelemy)

Al has been checking the weather forecasts every day, and became convinced that most of this week (Monday the 5th to Thursday the 8th) some storms were to be raging around the Caribbean. We are staying put, but getting restless, so we need some activity. Since Marigot does not offer much entertainment, we wanted to explore the other nearby island that we do not wish to sail to. When I read the guide-book about it, I learned that European rules for stern to mooring etc., were applied in Gustavia, its main town. Moreover, everything about their anchorages seemed too complicated, and I did not get the urge to visit it by Ruyam II. However, since we have been languishing in St Martin for a while, it seemed that a ferry ride there would be fun.

We went to the main dock in Marigot, to inquire about the ferry schedule and prices on Sunday the 4th. We learned that there were two lines that transport people to St Barts; Babou which goes three times a day for 40.00 Euros round trip, and Voyageur which makes one trip each way for 67.00 Euros. We know both of the boats intimately; they pass by us every day. As I mentioned before, I curse Babou One’s captain every time, because I recognize the wakes he makes, even if I don’t look. When we were talking to the young islander girl working for the Babou line, who was trying to sell us the tickets, Al said “Babou One’s captain has been really bad to us!” The girl was so surprised that he had to explain that it was nothing personal; we just did not like his driving habits. I think Al thought the girl was hurt, so he added that it was not her fault. It was decided that we would not trust our lives with Babou in expected 30 knot winds and 12 ft waves, and go for Voyageur. The boat called Dreamliner is much bigger and newer than Babou, and Al had been wishing to ride it for a while.

Monday morning we were at the booth round 8:30, and got our tickets and entered the waiting area long before the starting time of 9:15 am. Since St Barts is French soil, we did not have to go through customs in Marigot.

During embarkation, one of the crew told us that we should be prepared for the rough seas ahead. We knew, but acknowledged. A young female crew member went around, offering anti-nausea pills. I only get queasy if I were afraid, so we declined. The boat increased its speed immediately out of the bay, and turned to north, to go around the island and stay in its lee for a while; since St Barts lies in the south east of St Martin. In about twenty minutes we started to get hit head on with the full force of the wind. The swells looked like mountains and valleys that we dropped in and skipped out. I felt several times like I was on a roller coaster. I wanted to ask the crew when and if they would ever be afraid, but of course Al didn’t let me.

Halfway on the course, we realized that the boat slowed down. For a fraction of a second we thought the worst about a problem, but then heard the announcement: “There are whales in front of us, take your time to use your cameras.” Captain also changed his course and started to follow the whales. Al rushed to the front, along with some others, but came back empty handed other than a few glimpses of the whales. They were seldom out of the waves, no way of capturing a shot. Somebody behind me expressed impatience, and remarked about the futility of going after the whales in such weather, to which I concurred.

After a ten minute brake, captain resumed his course and sped up. Shortly afterwards we passed the small island called Ile Fourchue, halfway point between St Martin and St Barts. The whole trip to Gustavia as about an hour and fifteen minutes, although the Voyageur advertisement promised a ride of half an hour. I don’t know if the promise is attainable, maybe if he flew!

When we reached customs, we had to get our passports stamped by the local gendarme. Go figure, St Barts was supposed to be part of France, just like St Martin, but who is to argue?

St Barts is a replica of Marigot, but a bit more sophisticated. It is known for its population/visitors being the rich and the famous, so the quality and prices of the goods for sale in the endless small shops were unreachable, but entertaining for us. We did some walking around the harbour, kind of aimlessly. Then I saw the museum, and asked if we could go in. The attendant said that they would usually charge a fee, but if we wished to look around for a “small minute”, we could go. I guess we looked too broke to pay the fee. We did go in, but saw that the most interesting part was the building itself, which used to be a warehouse of the harbour. Al was able to take the pictures of all the displays in that small moment.

We ate at a restaurant which was recommended by the guide. It had free WiFi, so Al was happy; me not so much, since I had to use my own soap in the washroom. Did they not hear of H1N1 epidemic, for which the first line defense was recommended by health officials as washing hands?

Then we walked a short distance to the famous Shell Beach, located at the southern edge of the town. It is an interesting beach, covered with dead shells over the sand. It is in a sheltered small bay, lined with large boulders to sit on, with very clean water. One corner was captured by a nicely made restaurant/beach bar. They did not mind us using their bathroom to change into our bathing suits, but finding a moment to do so was the ordeal, since there was one stall for all the customers. And they charged us 10.00 Euros for a scoop of ice-cream.

I don’t know what it is with the both of us, we always overestimate the time required to reach somewhere, so get there well ahead of time. Long story short, we had an hour to spend at the docks, even after some shopping at Le Ship chandlery and a clothing store. By the way, we found some bargains at both places.
While we were sitting under a gazebo to waste time, watching the mega yachts docked there, we saw a big mono-hull from Germany, turning around in the narrow harbour, obviously waiting for some instructions to get tied up. After some time, they dropped anchor, and started to back up towards the dock, two elderly men at the aft with lines at hand, waiting to give them to somebody at the shore. They came dangerously close to the dock, but nobody was waiting. My Good Samaritan husband could not sit there idly of course, so he rushed to help. They pointed to the cleat they wanted to be tied, and he did what was wanted. They might have thought that he was working there, since they did not show any particular appreciation. Oh well, it is natural for sailors to help each other. That was Al’s good deed for the day!

Return to St Martin was easier, probably due to some mellowing of the seas, as well as the wind coming from our back, so we were home right before it got dark. I guess it was worth the money we spent without the aggravation of sailing there, but I doubt that we would want to be back.


  1. Hi,

    This is a comment from the Voyager ferry team: the 30 minutes trips is from St Martin Oyster Pond, not from Marigot (and you left on Monday from Marigot...) The normal schedule from Marigot is 60 minutes, but if we stopped to see whales, this is normal to spend 75 minutes! We are sorry but that's right that's the weather was really bad on that day. We did our best to make the trip the most confortable possible with our crew and new hydrofoil catamaran.