St Maarten/St Martin
21 February 2016 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: Sunday was extremely hazy at best and at worst it was a total whiteout with squalls racing across Cupecoy The photo on the right was taken from our Caribbean balcony. Porto Cupecoy, about a half mile away, was barely visible. Monday was more of the same humid haze with no islands visible, but at least no rain. It rained on Tuesday, but for the most part it was clear. The photo below left is the sunset with a lot of haze on the horizon. Wednesday was fine, hazy and humid with no rain, but the photo lower center shows a pretty good sunset. Thursday was cloudy and hazy with a quick tropical storm in the afternoon - at least in Cole Bay. Friday's forecast said scattered clouds, but the early afternoon was totally overcast with a few drizzles. Saturday morning was the first day I have seen Saba in a week. We went out to Kakao on Orient Beach. Unfortunately it rained all through lunch, cleared a bit in the afternoon and rained on into the evening. The sunset pano below was taken from our Caribbean balcony on Thursday evening. There was no green flash as the sun dropped into haze and clouds at the horizon.

The next ten days show seven clear days and three days with a chance of rain reaching 65% today, 40% on a couple other days and totaling 0.14 inches over the ten days. The high temperature will be 82 with one day at 81F and another at 83F and the overnight low will have a similar pattern, eight days at 74F and one at 75F, another at 73F. Here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 6:13 PM. That provides 11 hours and 27 minutes of sunshine. That's one minute more than last week. We are about halfway between the solstice and the equinox, heading for 33 more minutes of sunshine on the vernal equinox (20 March). The full moons for 2016 will be 22 Feb, 23 Mar, 22 Apr, 21 May, 20 Jun, 19 Jul, 18 Aug, 16 Sep, 16 Oct, 14 Nov, and 13 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: The Herald published its article on the battle between Tropical Wave and the French government. In the last week Pat has received over 400 signatures. Please add yours.

Help save Galion Beach! Please sign this petition.

On Friday, Wendy K said "The sand has come back to the southeast side of Shore Pointe beach and there is dry sand at baby beach this morning. The waves seem to have calmed down, as well." On Saturday she added "Between 8:30 this morning, when I did my beach run, and 11:00, when I returned to Shore Pointe for my beach day, the waves had increased significantly. A few people went in to play in the waves, but not I. After several light sprinkle-showers, and no sun, I headed home at 2:00PM. REALLY windy here. Tony is napping under our down comforter!"

Below left is a shot over the blue umbrellas at Kakao on Orient Beach looking off toward Pinel in the distance. The other two photos were taken at the new construction. There's not much happening here. A few clothing stores are open as they do not need electricity, gas, water, or waste water connections. Some of the previous restaurants are renting chairs and serving drinks, but it's unlikely that any full service restaurant will be in operation during high season.

We went to Mario Bistrot with friends from the Horny Toad Guesthouse. It turns out that their next vacation is on a cruise ship relocation from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean. Since the crossing requires about six days, a cabin sells for less than usual. That reminded me of some people we met at a wine tasting who were on a freighter cruise and then a container ship came past our Caribbean balcony (see below) and that reminded me of our friend Richard Pollak's book:

The Colombo Bay by Richard Pollak - Amazon.com says: Container ships lack the literary appeal of other, more romantic vessels, such as pirate ships and sail boats, and as a result their stories aren't often told. But as Richard Pollak demonstrates in The Colombo Bay, there's plenty to talk about. After all, a quick glance around your living room probably reveals numerous items imported from overseas and container ships are how they got to you. In 2001, after securing passage as an observer aboard a massive container ship bound from Hong Kong to New York via the Suez Canal, Pollak was just about to begin his journey when the 9/11 attacks struck, throwing the world into tremendous uncertainty. Pollak chose to go ahead with the trip but his trepidation serves as an appropriate undercurrent to the uncertainty that the crews of these ships face every day. Though the ships are enormous and strong, they live under a constant cloud of potential disaster. Piracy, far from being the stuff of old movies, is very much alive in the modern world, often with container ships being the victims.

Storms, the threat of running aground, stowaways, and the possibility of being an unwitting accomplice to global terrorism are always top of mind for the people operating these massive, and massively important, pieces of machinery. Pollak approaches his journey with a dogged curiosity and a refreshing dash of naivité that, combined with his skilled storytelling, make for a compelling read. He finds the accommodations more civilized than one might expect from such a utilitarian craft and a crew that, while they are used to the hardships of nautical life, are real people trying to cope with a profession that keeps them from their families for months at a time. Aside from a near miss with Hurricane Karen off the North American coast, nothing much dramatic happens during Pollak's ride on the Colombo Bay. But that inactivity, coupled with the constant possibility of palpable danger, provides an accurate depiction of life aboard a container ship. --John Moe

Sapphire Beach Club: I spoke to the Zumba girl again as she kept the volume down for a few sessions, but then turned it up in the hopes that I only owned a week of timeshare. We have had to call to get the TV lineup rebooted every evening, but at present we seem to have a few reasonable channels. We even got to watch Bill Maher puff on a doobie last week. On the right is a shot of a yacht pulling in to Porto Cupecoy from our lagoon balcony and below is a pano of a container ship passing by our Caribbean balcony.

Our unit will not be available in early April when we leave as we have signed a lease with our previous med school tenant. He will be here through the end of the year. Next door, studio unit 254, will be available for a couple weeks in mid-April. Check out the website and send Jim an email if you are interested.

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. At present, there are several 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.

Shopping: On the left is the entrance to La Case Occaz, a second-hand store in La Savane beyond the Fire Station and Gendarmes Building.

SXM-Activities: On the right is Passat coming by our Caribbean balcony on one of her many cruises past our Caribbean balcony. She does lunch cruises every day of the week, sunset cruises four days per week, and dinner cruises two evenings per week. She is a real sailing ship so during a circular cruise (it starts in Simpson Bay and returns to Simpson Bay), there almost has to be some favorable winds. It's an amazing thing to zip along with no engine noise.

green logo Nature: On the right is a is a female boat tail grackle on the palm tree off our Caribbean balcony.

Our office is well over 100% solar-powered. In fact, in six years of operation our solar panels have produced over half the electrical needs for the house, my work shop, and a large animal barn. Our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: It's almost time for the 2016 Regatta (the 36th) and according to this article in the Daily Herald, "the long-awaited subsidy payment for last year's 2015 event will not be made by the Government of St Maarten." There have been four ministers of Tourism over the last 18 months, all of them said the subsidy would be granted upon delivry of a financial statement and no audit would be required. In fact, no audits were ever required and the financial statements of the Regatta have never been audited. I'd guess that the lack of money has something to do with the quality of the Regatta this year.


As you can request five prizes on one entry form, you could win a bargain on entertainment and dinner! That would be five prizes to one person.

Current Contest: now until 27 Mar
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
DK Gems - $150 off a $500 purchase
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two -
Ti Coin Créole - $30 off on a dinner for two

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. You can enter five of the drawings on one entry. Thus, you could win a rather nice vacation at a considerable savings by combining dinners and activities. I really check and a while ago Sulay entered 33 times for one contest, instead of increasing her chance of winning, she decreased it to zero as I deleted all of them. She did account for about a third of the entries for that contest.

Here's some comments from a past winner:

We met with Sylvain at Select Wine Cellar, enjoyed the tasting, and opted for the Belin Champagne for the free bottle. It was very good. I will try and find this at home to drink again. He was a very nice host. ... I enjoyed entering the contest and look forward to future entries. Over 16 days we only had only one 4 minute rain shower; otherwise the weather was beautiful. We tried the Hideaway Restaurant at La Vista. It was very good as were the other places we dined.

Future Contests:
27 Mar to 22 May
22 May to 21 August | 21 August to 20 November

same cast of characters as current contest



On 14 February the Euro was at 1.126 and today it is at 1.113. That's a 1% increase in the dollar after last weeks 1% decrease.

With the Euro being so weak against the dollar it behooves those of us with dollars to check the exchange rate offered by restaurants again. For several years French side restaurants have been offering better than market exchange rates, especially for cash. If a French side restaurant offers a bad exchange rate, ask for your credit card to be charged in Euros. Assuming you followed my advice below and got a card that has no charge for foreign transactions you will get the wholesale rate on the exchange.

L'Escapade Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, and La Villa, in Grand Case are offering 1 to 1 for cash. Nearby Ti Bouchon and Rancho del Sol are offering 1 to 1. Simply and Super U are also offering 1 to 1. Note this is generally only for cash payments using US greenbacks. This is no longer much of a bargain.

You should not be paying a currency transaction charge as there are many credit cards that don't have this onerous charge. My United Mileage Plus Explorer/Chase card no longer charges it and gets my first bag checked free for all United tickets purchased on the card.

We had a Capital One Signature Visa Venture card. It's true that frequent flier benefits could be used on any airline and there are no blackouts, but that is because you accumulate 1 cent worth of ticket for every dollar you spend on the card. Then you use that to buy a ticket. To buy our round trip from Albany to SXM costs about $700 meaning we would have to spend $70,000 in order to get the ticket. Frequently we can get flights on United for 37,500 frequent flyer miles, ie the frequent flyer miles on United are worth about 2 cents, about twice as much. In the Spring of 2014, Martha was offered a Capital One Quicksilver Visa Signature Card that gives us 1.5% cash back - no fooling around with miles. They do not charge an exchange fee on foreign transactions and they do provide rental car insurance. This has been our primary card as airline miles are not as valuable or as easy to use as they used to be. Consequently, we canceled the Capital One Venture card with a $30,000 credit limit. The newer Quicksilver card only had $18,000 limit. I asked if they could bump up the credit limit on the Quicksilver card. Seems logical, they were on the hook for $48,000 before I canceled, why not keep the total the same. They said it doesn't work that way. My reply was that when the Quicksilver card runs out of credit limit, I'll use my United card. Your loss.

We always notify our card companies of our travel. Chase and Quicksilver actually accept this info on-line, making it much easier than working through the hell of telephone answering systems.

There are discussions on Credit card Forum and Daily Markets that may help you decide what card is best for you. The first one has a review of the new Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It gives you 2 points for travel related purchases and then allows you to take 20% off when purchasing your rewards through their Ultimate Rewards portal. It's tempting.


Rancho Del Sol
On Wednesday we had lunch at Rancho Del Sol. They are located high on a hill overlooking Tintamarre, Green Cay, all of Orient Bay, and even St Barts. The pano down below is Green Cay and the reef that protects the southern end of Orient Beach. Rancho has free wifi and Martha sent the pano below to some friends back in the frozen white north. Isn't technology wonderful! She ordered the Rancho salad with potatoes and bacon, something like a salade Landais (below left). Below center is my $12 plate of the day: onglet (hanger steak, from the end of the diaphragm) with a Madiran sauce, french fries, and a small salad. An amazing amount of tasty, yet inexpensive, food. Madiran is a big bold wine from the southwestern of France. On the right the Argentine malbec that Johann recommended with the very flavorful sauce. We spent more on wine and water than we did on food. Still, a $50 lunch of this quality and quantity is nice to find. They offer free delivery locally and they have a plate of the day at 10-12 on all weekdays. They close on Saturday and make something a bit more extravagant on Sunday (Couscous Royal, Paella, and Fricasee of Conch for this month) priced at $17.50. If you are staying out here, you should take advantage of this service and if not, you should find out what is on offer (Fax-info sometimes has the monthly plan as does this site) and plan an excursion. They are doing 1 to 1 on the dollar.

Tropical Wave
For the second Thursday in a row, we went to Tropical Wave for lunch on Galion Beach. I had to take a few photos in order to update the website. As usual, we got to talking and after half an hour, we had a breakfast beer and after another half hour I got some of the photos, but we were now hungry, so we asked Julia for a bottle of Cotes du Rhone, a mahi plate for me, and a shrimp salad for Martha. You can find Julia on the staff photo on the website. The full menu is on the website and there are a couple coupons there to save you some money on lunch and watersports. The Colectivité now says they will enclose the old hotel buildings in plastic before they tear them down and Pat will not have to close for two months. They still insist there is about 1100 cubic feet of asbestos in the buildings. Seems fishy to me, as asbestos was generally used for high temperature insulation on boilers and furnaces, possibly hot water lines, but in the 70's nobody (especially here in the warm Caribbean) insulated water lines. Help save Galion Beach! Please sign this petition.

Mario Bistrot
This is our second visit to Mario Bistrot this season but I'm going to repeat the changes that occurred over the summer. Mario bought out his remaining partner and moved the restaurant to Porto Cupecoy. It was a very short move but it crossed the international border requiring a new business registration (NV in Dutch) and for good measure he changed the name slightly, the logo, and the URL for a new website. I have repointed the old website to the new one. The food is every bit as good, the staff is essentially the same, there is parking, and the location is better.

We had a reservation, of course, and arrived on time to find an outside table reserved for our party of four. We started with a nice basket of rolls, a bottle of water, and a 2010 Crozes-Hermitage that was quite nice (about $40). The year is one of the two rated 10 in the last decade. The other exceptional year is 2006, unlikely to be found on the island. It's a Rhone, but not the most flavorful as we were going with three fish as main courses. Our friends went with the mussels in a tomato sauce, a Mario signature dish (below left) that is quite likely to be available on Thursday as seafood begins to arrive on the island. Our appetizer was a special, I had a grillled octopus (below center) with Parmesan cheese slices, grilled artichoke hearts, tomato, and asparagus. The wine was wonderful with both of these aps. It was also gone, so we ordered another.

One of our friends chose the baked, pistacchio-crusted mahi with a Parmesan potato croquette, romesco sauce, fennel soubise and roasted almonds with parmesan potato croquette, romesco sauce, fennel soubise, and roasted almonds (below right $31) from the menu.

Our other friend went with the lamb shank from the menu (below left, $31). It came with vegetables and a rich sauce with another Mario signature: a half head of roasted garlic. Martha had a scallop and shrimp dish with a creamy crab risotto, lobster sauce, leeks tempura and white truffle oil (below center, $34). I had a special red snapper with Cajun flavors (below right). We ended with a molten Valrhona chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (right, $13) and four forks, two balloons of old rum, a lemoncello, and a flute of Champagne for the Martha, the lady with champagne tastes. Our bill with an added 15% tip came to about $180 per couple. We added another 5% for good service and a wonderful evening.

Kakao Beach Bar
We had reserved a table for four on Saturday and were offered a front row table on the beach with a view of these storm clouds. We lasted about five minutes before we moved to a more secluded beach table. That lasted about two minutes as we scrambled into the covered dining room. We got some water and a Cotes du Rhone from Perrin ($25). Our friends ordered a chicken dish with rice and a ribeye steak with potatoes and a bit of salad.
Martha ordered a special tuna tartare (below left) and I had a supreme pizza (ham and mushrooms, below center). We needed a second bottle of wine during the dinner at and our peach tart dessert came with four forks. It stopped raining by about 1:30PM and turned into a decent, somewhat cool, afternoon. Our bill came to $167, not bad for some very nice lunches and two bottles of wine.

News and Changes: We frequently post some dining photos to Facebook. Less frequently we post activities and other things related to SXM or food. If you're interested, I trust you know what to do.

If you are looking to purchase gift certificates for island restaurants, check out Antoine Restaurant, L'Escargot Restaurant, Piazza Pascal, and La Villa. Treat your friends at your favorite restaurant!

There is a Thursday night party at Marina Royale in Marigot. The theme changes weekly. There is a Tuesday night party in Grand Case. There are Wednesday and Friday parties in Orient Village.

Here is the current list of the ARCHA members contributing to the security and clean-up of Grand Case. They would appreciate your continued support of their efforts. The sticker is displayed at businesses that participate in this much-needed endeavor.

Hotels and Residences:
Grand Case Beach Club
Le Petit Hotel
Bleu Emeraude
Auberge Gourmande
Bistrot Caraïbes
Piazza Pascal
Le Pressoir
Le Tastevin
La Villa
Ocean 82
Calmos Cafe
Blue Martini
Le Soleil
Le Cottage
Tijon Perfumery
La boutique D'Anaise
La Boutique D'anaise
Cotton Club SXM
La Boheme
Sexy Fruits
Simple Elegance


The Gill Commodore's Cup takes place on 3 March, followed by the St Maarten Heineken Regatta. It opens on 3 March with a party at Port de Plaisance. A round the island race starts on Friday morning with shorter races on Saturday and Sunday.

Coupons: Below are links to the SXM-Info clients who have coupons on their websites.

Kakao Beach
Endless Summer Beachwear
Lucia's Taxi Service
Pizza Galley
Select Wine Cellar
Table d'Antoine
Tropical Wave

SXM-Info has chosen SkyMed to arrange medical transportation services. We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have. Check out their offerings.

Kindle: We now have have two Kindle devices, as Martha bought a Kindle Fire, She paid about $200 for the device without the 3G option. It connects to WiFi which we have here in NY and at the condo in SXM, and nowadays, at almost all restaurants, hotels, etc. The Fire is essentially a tablet computer with Kindle capabilities and a camera. If you add Amazon Prime to the package you get free 2 day shipping on Amazon, access to a lending library of Kindle books with no expiration, and access to over 40,000 movies via Amazon. The Kindle Paperwhite e-book from Amazon is a great thing to take on a beach vacation. It is glare-free, weighs less than a half pound, and is one-third of an inch thin. It's only $119. Newsletter subscriber Contessa says: "I loaded it up with more books than I needed and it was a very convenient way to read without lugging books to the beach." Paul M wrote: "My wife and I spent a lovely week at La Samanna in late March and I loaded my Kindle with several books and read them on the beach. The Kindle was fabulous. I had a case and was careful not to get in contact with sand, but the device was excellent to use for beach or poolside reading." Wendy K reports that her friend Jerri is quite happy with hers and now Wendy reports she bought her own. If you've already got one, you can get books here. They are cheaper than any other version of the book (except used!)

Even though Martha has a Kindle and is quite happy with it, she still downloads audio books from our local library to her Zune or Sansa player (iPod knockoffs) and that has been working rather well. Obviously, these are audio books and it's not the same as "reading" the text, but it works quite well and keeps us amused as we drive or work in the kitchen. I just got a newsletter from a reader who reports that "Regarding downloading - several of my friends have the Nook and they can download books on it from their library in the states...but they do expire after 2 weeks."