St Maarten/St Martin
9 March 2008 Newsletter

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Weather: Sunday wasn't too warm and had a downpour pass over Cupecoy in mid-afternoon. Monday turned out to be the best day in a long time, no rain and the temperature reached 81F with a nice breeze. Tuesday dawned with the first of a seemingly endless series of whiteouts drifting over Cupecoy. By the afternoon the showers stopped, but it was totally overcast and hazy, as the photo shows. Wednesday was a pretty good day all around. Thursday was so cool and breezy that our waitress at Bikini Beach had on long sleeves with a scarf around her neck. The photo below left shows Galion Beach with rather large waves and beyond that is the open Atlantic on the way to St Barts: whitecaps everywhere and still hazy. St Barts can hardly be seen through the haze. We also had a shower pass over Cupecoy at sunset. Friday opened to a clear sky and little breeze at 7AM. However, it picked up and the Regatta was off to a fine start, a bit cool, but enough wind at Cupecoy for the spinnaker run. Saturday was a great day for the regatta, if not for those of us in the chase boats following the racers. It certainly was dry, clear, and bright, but cool and very windy, generating more than enough chop to spill one's drink. Sunday has arrived with lots of clouds but no rain and moderate wind.   Cloudy Tuesday over Saba

Galion and St Barts   Today's (9 Mar) sunset will be at 6:16PM. Full moon dates for 2008 are: 21 Mar, 20 Apr, 20 May, 18 Jun, 18 Jul, 16 Aug, 15 Sep, 13 Oct, 13 Nov, and 12 Dec. Here's the local weather forecast from the Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel.

SXM-Beaches: Wendy K reports that Cupecoy midweek was a bit choppy, but ok getting in and out. There's still a wide sandy beach in front of Shore Pointe. We were at Orient on Thursday at both Bikini Beach and Kakao Beach - plenty of sand at both and plenty of wind. It will make the regatta crowd happy but there were fairly large waves hitting the beach. On Saturday we saw lots of beach at Cupecoy from Cupecoy Beach Club to Shore Pointe. You can't walk all the way, but much of it.

In other beach news, testing done on the lagoon's water quality after the latest rains suggests you should not be swimming there. Given the extrememly small tides here, the water flowing in and out of the lagoon is quite small. You would think that rain landing on the lagoon would be helpful. It is, but it's the stuff draining in from the land that causes the problem. Laws concerning sewage treatment are few and enforcement is up to Caribbean standards. If you don't know where the island's beaches are, visit SXM-Beaches for maps and photos.

Beach Reading: I've started reading Caribbean by James A. Michener. This will take a while as it is one of his 800 page epics. This is also a historical novel. Many events are incorporated correctly into the narrative and many characters are real, but obviously the dialogue from them is invented and many other characters are made from whole cloth. It does give one an overview of the entire area from the original inhabitants, through Columbus, and on into modern times. There's even a chapter about Cuba and Castro.


Activities: We're almost at the end of the 28th Heineken Regatta. The final race gets underway this morning bringing the fleet back from Marigot back to Simpson Bay for tonight's award ceremony and the more important PARTY. Even more important are the after PARTY parties. Jeff Sochrin, Chairman of Team Goldendog said, "This is the third year of the Team Goldendog Heineken Regatta Afterparty. For the last two years we have held the party at Halsey's Restaurant, and it's been off the hook. However, last year the party became too large, and consequently Ryan and Jessica Halsey and I have decided to pass the torch on to Tijuana Yacht Club, giving the new guys an opportunity to shoot the moon, hosting the all-night BASH. The management of Tijuana Yacht Club assures us that Tijuana is up for the challenge and will make this the BEST AFTERPARTY ON ISLAND. Mr. Sochrin will be consuming Tequila-Lime Jello shots at the main bar.

We went out on Celine, home of the world famous Lagoon Pub Crawl, with Captain Neil for Saturday's races. We met at Skipjack's, home port for Celine, at about 8:30 and went out on the 9:00 bridge opening to see many of the races start in Simpson Bay. There were about 20 of us on board, and a motley crew it was. After watching the start, we motored near the larger boats as they headed around the airport and on past Cupecoy to the west end of Anguilla. We hugged the coast as it was quite choppy, finally making it into the relatively calm waters of Friar's Bay for a lunch that had several salads, mahi, ribs, and Neal's paella with shrimp and calamari. The racers headed for a buoy near Creole Rock in Grand Case, rounded it and headed past us again toward the finish line in Marigot. After lunch we followed some of them to Marigot and took the shortcut through the lagoon on the 2:30 bridge opening.
Heineken regatta   Paella

Roy Deep Sea Fishing takes out parties of four or five and comes back with wahoo and mahi lately, marlin and tuna, sometimes. If you don't have a party of four, we'll use this space and Roy's website to help fill out the charter. Send an email to get aboard.

Construction: Marc at Rainbow has been offering a condo in a display ad in the Daily Herald for about $800,000 with 10% down for some time. They were also offering rentals for Heineken week. They've started painting the Cupecoy Yacht Club buildings. The Orient Express Group is a class act. Even at this early stage ion the construction, they are making the buildings look quite nice - unlike many of their neighbors.

Sapphire Beach Club: Sapphire has upgraded the septic system recently and that should make everyone who swims on Cupecoy Beach happier. For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we have opened up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. We charge $25 per year. If you wish to rent or sell your unit, send us some text (and $25 to esk@sxm-info.com via Paypal). If you wish to rent or buy a unit without high middleman fees, check out the website. Given the large assessment that Sapphire just levied, there may be a lot of sales. At present, there are 20 sales and/or rentals available directly from owners. Given a 25 to 35% standard rental commission, there should be some bargains in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct.

  Cupecoy Yacht Club

Travel: All travel to the USA now requires a passport. Life is pretty easy if you allow enough time to renew by mail. All the details can be found at this State Department page. Shopping: -->

Groceries: This week there is an egg shortage. I admit Monday morning is the time when stores are most likely to be out of something, but eggs!!??!! There was milk, but not the 2% variety. It was also rather busy in the Grand Marche.

Ever wonder how many virgins it takes to make extra virgin olive oil? Actually, none are needed in the entire olive oil process and certainly no extras. I was shocked and a little disappointed to learn that extra virgin olive oil is merely oil with less than 1% acidity, generally from the first cold pressing of the olives. Another fantasy shattered. Virgin olive oil comes in under 3% acidity and has a bit sharper taste. Pure olive oil comes in higher than that and must be processed with bleaching clay and chemicals and then mixed with virgin oil to be sold as "pure". Seems dubious to me. Light olive oil is only light on taste, not calories.

We have been getting our Illy Scurro coffee beans in 3 kilo (6.6 lb) containers from AutoBev in Cole Bay. they are on the left past PDG as you head from Simpson Bay into Cole Bay. Possibly you don't need that much, so they have a package of six 250 g (half pound) containers for a bit over $50.

Alcohol: We were at Michael Dingemann's (the publisher of St Maarten Events) condo next door for rather nice dinner and he dug out a bottle of 2002 Alderbrook's Old Vine Zinfandel. I'm rather partial to Alderbrook as I got a great deal on some from my favorite wine shop in the US (The Wine and Cheese Cask in Cambridge, MA) many years ago and eventually drove out to California to see them. I'm also quite partial to Zinfandel with spicy food, so I asked where he found it. The answer is Netco. They are a distributor located in the warehouses on the left just behind the new Ace Mega Store in Cole Bay. They have this wonderful zin for $15.50, although they don't like small orders. We bought six bottles and two six packs of Bennedetto water. Cash saves 5% on credit card charges.

Traffic: Coming back from Monday morning's shopping expedition to the Grand Marche in Cole Bay, we were in solid, but moving, traffic from PDG in Cole Bay along the bypass all the way to the Windward Island Bank in Simpson Bay, just before the airport runway. The other side of the road was backed up from Cole Bay over the bridge and around the end the runway. We tried the same thing on Thursday afternoon, leaving Pburg at 3:43PM, only to get stopped in traffic as we were coming up Cay Hill. It was creep and beep all the way to the bridge and then we got stopped again at the end of the airport runway. Our side was better than the other side. They were backed up from the bottom of Cay Hill, through Cole Bay, over the bridge and through Simpson Bay to the airport parking lot. We got home in about half an hour. The lesson is that traffic is variable, although regatta week makes Simpson Bay difficult almost any time.

Gas prices at Cadisco are now $1.04 per liter at Orient and $1.03 in Sandy Ground, almost $4 per gallon. They still do 1 to 1 for cash and I think they are still cheaper than the Dutch side. The Dutch side is priced in guilders and even if it were cheaper, I have never had a station attendant make the conversion from guilders to dollars correctly.

Nature: As we were winding through the curves near the road to Friar's Bay on the way to Orient, an iguana was sunning itself at the top of the ghut. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the camera our for a photo so you'll have to settle for these sugarbirds from the liquor shop next to Paradise View Restaurant high on Hope Hill above Orient.

Small island story: The Dutch Minister for Island Affairs said that the 15 December date of a separate status was a desire of the islands, but unlikely. A local official responded saying that Holland was rife with corruption.



Alert reader Allen M has pointed out that I mistyped the URL for my own Condo in the contest lists. Somehow a space got into the URL - not good. They are correct now.

Current Contest - now to 27 April 2008
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Halsey's Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Hibiscus Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
L'Escargot Restaurant - $100 off dinner for two (cash payments only, excludes Friday Cabaret show)
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine

Read our rules, visit the websites of these sponsors, find their contest codes, and enter them on our entry form.

One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once.

Future Contests:

27 April to 27 July
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Ti Coin Créole - $50 off a dinner for two
Marci's MegaGym 2000 - Two weeks gym admission and two mega-shakes

27 July to 26 October
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Azure Guesthouse - seven nights for the price of four
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine

26 October to 28 December
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Bikini Beach - A DAY AT THE BEACH
(including 2 chairs and a parasol, 2 welcome punches and $50.00 credit towards food and drink)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine


On 2 March the euro was at 1.519. Today it is at 1.542 - another new high. Last season, some restaurants were still offering a 1 to 1 exchange, but the numbers of such restaurants are decreasing. At a 15% or 20% premium they could do it for a while, but as the US budget and balance of payment deficits have ratcheted upward, international confidence in the dollar has ratcheted downwards. Most restaurants have dropped this because at 40 to 50% premium, there isn't much profit left. California Restaurant, L'Escapade Restaurant, Kokomarina, Rancho del Sol, Sunset Café, Ti Bouchon, Auberge Gourmande, Paradise View Restaurant, Spiga, Le France, Fish Pot, and Spicy are still is offering 1 to 1 and many other restaurants are offering favorable exchange rates. Just taking your dollars at the current exchange rate saves the 3% foreign exchange conversion rate from most credit cards.

Longtime reader and Pittsburgh Steeler's fan Buzz H said that they've had a good dinner at Toppers and good lunches at Petite Auberge and at Baywatch (Andy's Mussels).

Fresh pasta   On Sunday night we went to Gondola Restaurant at Atlantis Casino. David has come a long way since his hole in the wall in Sandy Ground. This is a large and lovely restaurant and as it is at the casino, valet parking is available. We were in the second seating at 9PM and had to wait about 10 minutes for our deuce. Menus and the wine list arrived smartly. Water was ordered and delivered. David came over to discuss wines and he said that the one I was looking at (2003 Chianti Classico Marchese Antonori - $69) was the one he had on Valentine's Day. The usual bruschetta arrived followed by the wine that was decanted and opened up considerably in a matter of minutes. We ordered a special of scallops on a bed of arugula with black truffle shavings ($14) that had multiple textures and fabulous tastes and had no trouble standing up to the big wine. Martha had the osso bucco ($34) and I had a sausage risotto ($25), passing on the seafood risotto, if only because we had just returned from a seafood binge in Puerto Rico. Both of these risottos are very good and I would not worry about having a red wine with the seafood. As it was, the Chianti complemented the sausage risotto wonderfully. We finished with espressos and grappa di chardonnay. Or at least we thought we did. David came by as we were calling for the check and asked if we wanted another grappa. We said no, but he said yes, and it arrived.

So we ended the evening with another glass of grappa as we reminded David that we first met him at his restaurant in Sandy Ground because of the Pizza Hot Night sign. During our first year here in the 94/95 season we had a great pizza at Pizza Hot Night in Simpson Bay. When we returned for the 95/96 season (after Hurricane Luis) many things (and restaurants) were missing. When we saw this sign in a new location, we stopped in immediately, only to learn that David got the sign from a friend who had now left the island. Nonetheless, David made a great pizza and eventually expanded into the space next door and started a small Italian Restaurant called La Gondola. It was very good and inexpensive food in a bad location. A few years ago he was offered a location at Atlantis Casino. He upgraded the food and now has one of the top Italian Restaurants on the island doing two seatings each evening. Our bill came to $178, although $69 was wine and $24 was espresso and grappa. The menu makes it clear that no tip is included in the bill, so the final tally was a bit over $200. Fine food and wine costs about this much on BOTH sides of the island.

On Monday we had a typical island day. We tried to do some shopping at the Grand Marche after our morning workout at Marci's Gym, only to find the parking lot full. I dropped Martha off and drove out front to an open spot. As I was getting out of the car, the cell phone in the gym back in the trunk started to ring. As I was struggling with the trunk and then searching through the gym bag, the cell stopped ringing. At this point I heard someone behind me say, "You never call, you never write," and turned to see Brad from Skipjack's. I told Brad that as we had driven past Skipjack's on the way to the Grand Marche we had decided to stop in for dinner. Later that night, we did, only to find that Tekkie (Brad's wife) and her parents were having dinner with some other friends of ours. Our dinner started with a bottle of Mondavi's Pinot Noir ($39) to accompany two tasty crab cakes with a tartar sauce enlivened with dill ($14). Our dinners were a cajun grouper ($21) and sesame crusted yellow fin tuna ($22). The tuna came with a soy dipping sauce with a hint of sweetness. With a 15% tip, the bill came to a tad over $110.   Sesame crusted tuna

Ronny Santana   Nearby Halsey's Restaurant is probably the most serious restaurant in the Simpson Bay area. Ryan Halsey is a trained chef and he does put together some great dishes, but after that, I'd have to say that the little extras that Brad coaxes out of his kitchen set Skipjack's a bit above the run-of-the-mill restaurants that line Airport Road. Start with the fact that Skipjack's is also a fish market and has a lobster tank (two, in fact, one for Caribbean lobster and one for Maine lobster). Next, the tartar sauce had a hint of dill, the tuna had a sesame crust, and the soy had a hint of sweetness. It's not Escoffier, but it is not run-of-the-mill either.

We told Brad that we were headed over to Pineapple Pete's for dessert (a Red Stripe and a Hoegaarden). Actually, we wanted to catch Ronny "Santana", the island's premier guitarist. We caught the last hour of his set and if you haven't seen him, you should. He's at Pete's almost every night from 7-10PM. When it was over, we headed back to Skipjack's for an after dinner drink: Jameson's Irish Whisky. By now Captain Neil had brought in the Lagoon Pub Crawl crowd and the bar was pretty busy. It cleared out and I caught up with Neil and his son Johan at The Stone Restaurant while Martha caught up with Brad and Tekkie.

  Chocolate Sax Watts

So what was typical about this day? The serendipity of driving by Skipjack's, thinking about dinner there, meeting Brad, showing up to find Tekkie, her parents, and some other friends of ours, catching up with Ronny, and meeting Neil at the end of a day on which we had no plans. The phone call? It was Sax Watts who came over to talk about his new website: Sax Tours.

On Tuesday we headed over to a small pizza place near the AUC Campus behind Atlantis Casino. Deepti from DK Gems found it hidden away in a small room attached to the Espresso Coffee House. I wouldn't drive over from Philiipsburg, but it's great to have a good thin crust pizza made with fresh dough and fresh ingredients right in your back yard. The pizza maker is French so the pizzas have the usual names and I got a supreme for $14. The Supreme has ham, mushrooms, and green peppers in addition to the usual cheese and tomato sauce. The photo has the Alderbrook that we got from Netco, great with a spicy pizza, on a large cutting board that we got at PDG in Cole Bay.


Mushroom burger   On Wednesday we went to Pburg and actually made it through Simpson Bay in record time and found a parking spot in the lot along the pond. We did a few errands and ended up at the Greenhouse Restaurant at the head of town. We both had mushroom burgers (Certified Angus beef) with fries and, as Beck's Beer is two for one all day on Wednesday, a pair of Beck's. Conan showed us some new merchandise. They will have even more for sale at the restaurant and on the site soon, but for now they have added some black logo tee shirts, one cut especially for women and available in smaller sizes, and some Fidel caps. No, he didn't get Fidel to bring out a line of clothing in his dotage, but it is the style of cap that Fidel made famous, when he was famous.   Cuba cap

View   That evening we had a waterfront table in a corner at Le Tastevin. This is the first restaurant I ever visited in Grand Case, back in 1993. It was totally rebuilt because of Hurricanes Luis and Lenny and is once again, one of the prettiest places on the water. The dining room is large with an stepped wall along the waterfront making several very private mini-dining areas with lovely landscaping between them. We were off on the far right near the well-stocked, glass-fronted wine room. We chose a 2003 Beaune du Chateau from Bouchard (59€) - it's not cheap, but it is a great burgundy. A taste of a cold, crisp cucumber soup was delivered. Some bread arrived with AOC butter from Isigny. It really was better butter. Our ap was crab and duck in a crisp roll on a bit very nice greens (13€). My main course was duck breast with a kumquat sauce (26€). Duck certainly goes well with fruit sauces and Burgundy. Martha had a very flavorful organic chicken breast with a mushroom and foie gras sauce (25€), also great with Burgundy. We ended with espresso, old rum for me and a glass of champagne for Martha. Service was impeccable, the food was quite good, and the views across Grand Case Bay were romantic, although the old rum and champagne helped. The after dinner drinks were comped, so the bill came to $182 using about $1.4/€.

On the way home we stopped at Mario's Bistro to pick up some cookbooks for some friends back home. This required a drink with Didier at the bar. My notes are a bit difficult to read, but I believe the reserve Rum Agricole was very good and Martha liked the Montaudon Champagne that is available from Cave de Marigot.

On Thursday we went over to Orient for some good Thai food at Bikini Beach. We choose a table far from the water as the breeze really was brisk. The breeze was nothing that the addition of a bit of hot sauce on my calamari salad couldn't fix. Martha had Pad Thai noodles with shrimp. We did have a couple beers. It's good food and they have many other choices if you're not fond of Thai food. This is one of the larger complexes on Orient and has a boutique, massage station, many chairs and umbrellas on a large beach, and many tables with great views. They generally have music and this guy was doing some pretty good reggae while we were there.

After that we headed up to Paradise View Restaurant and got this paradise view. That's St Barts in the distance and Galion Beach in the foreground, home of Tropical Wave.

  Reggae singer

Paradise View

On Friday we went to the First Friday Wine and Cheese event held jointly at Champagne Restaurant and Select Wine Cellar. We warmed up with a kir, cassis and Bourgogne Aligoté in Select before the event. The cheeses were Chevrotin des Aravis, Tomme Jouvray Au Marc, Bouton D'Oc Baratte, Pavé D'Auge, Abbaye de Citeaux, and Ubel Fiuritu. We enjoyed the of the Aligoté with the milder cheeses. The bouquet of the Chevrotin des Aravis has an hint of goat milk and flowers and its taste is soft, nearly sweet. Tomme au Marc de Raisin is a Tomme de Savoie, a raw cow's milk cheese that is aged under a thick layer of grape marc, the residue that's left after pressing the fruit to make wine. This gourmet cheese is not very strong; it is mostly fruity with a very slight sharpness. The fermentation in marc deepens the flavor and adds a degree of pleasant earthiness. The Boutons d'Oc is an unusual small pear shaped cheese with a straw (sometimes a vine branch) pierced through the center. The rind allows natural mould to form on the outside giving the cheese a wrinkled look. The taste is extremely pleasant. As the maturity period is extended the taste becomes more pronounced, but always tres agreable to the palate. As the cheese is small it requires one delicious mouthful to appreciate its qualities. Sylvain offered two Bordeaux for some of the more full flavored cheeses, one a mere $8 (and good at that price) and a slightly more expensive one. The pavé d'Auge is an old variation of the Pont-L'Evêque, and it is nowadays a generic name used for the washed rind square cheeses that are produced in the north of the Auge region. It can also be called "pavé de Moyaux" (the name of a country side), "pavé du Plessis" (the name of a dairy),or "Trouville" (the name of a small town by the sea). Although the Abbey of St Nicolas des Citeaux dates back some 900 years, production of this fermier cheese began in 1925. It is as soft to the eye as it is to the palate, and rather milder than the majority of washed-rind cheeses. Most of the production is eaten locally. Château Grand Pey Lescours ($30, a grand cru) was served for a final wine. Chocolate Sax Watts was playing (softly) all night long.

Warm-up Cheeses Sylvain

We stopped in at Pineapple Pete's on the way home, catching the last half hour of Ronny Santana's set. We have dined here and found the food quite good and the service was remarkably good. Pete (real name Pierre from Canada) has trained them well. The staff greets you and talks to you, makes eye contact, and is generally knowledgeable and helpful.

Changes: Our stop at Paradise View Restaurant revealed that Claudette is doing 1 to 1 pricing. The great views are free.


Wine & Cheese Party: Select Wine Cellar and Champagne Snack Bar are hosting a monthly wine and cheese tastings, usually on the first Friday of the month. The next one is on 4 April. Send an email to Sylvain for more details or a reservation (highly recommended as these are very popular).

Harmony Nights will run every Tuesday night in Grand Case until April. Pascal from Blue Martini is in charge of entertainment. He also has entertainment at his restaurant next to the parking lot on several nights.

Orient Village has a similar, though smaller, affair on Friday nights.

Coupons: Look on the SXM-Info website for a list of all restaurants and others that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper. Here's a list of what you'll find:

Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Kakao Beach
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Pirate Beach Bar
Paradise View
Pedro's Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Lots here
and here
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear

The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is now available. They are shipped via UPS and cost $49 for one, $87 for two, and $123 for three, delivered. Delivery via UPS should take a day or two in the US.

L'Esperance Hotel has great rates and is conveniently located. It's quite handy if you just need a night or two at either end of your vacation because of the wretched flight schedules. They have a lovely pool and offer free wireless internet access.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.