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St Maarten/St Martin
8 March 2009 Newsletter

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ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset


Weather: Last Sunday, as expected, the clouds cleared out as the day heated up to 82F. It was still hazy on the horizon but both Saba and Statia were visible for the first time in days. The sunset (right) lit up the sky above Saba. The good news is that the days are getting longer. On the equinox (20 March) we'll all have 12 hours of sunshine and after that those of you north of here will have more sun per day than we get down here. The bad news (at least for us) is that the sun has moved so far north that we no longer can see the sunset from our balcony. The panoramic photo below runs from the sunset at 7 south of due west on the right, past Saba at almost due south (center), to Maho on our southeast (left), encompassing about 120. It was put together from six photos using Autostitch. I got the link to the program courtesy of last week's newsletter from Jeff Berger. Tuesday was a bit more hazy and there were a lot more squalls, not continuous, but not my favorite day. Wednesday continued the hazy conditions. The shot of the Coast Guard patrolling Cupecoy was taken that afternoon. Needless to say, they expect a few "extra" boats coming ashore during regatta weekend.   Sunset over Saba
Wednesday cruiser   The regatta also attracts photographers and sightseers who love to take photos from helicopters. There have been a few buzzing around and on Wednesday my neighbor, Jim Demone in unit 254, said "A Bell Jet Ranger helicopter just crashed off of Mullet Bay Beach around noon. I heard it blow its engine as it went by Sapphire and I ran to the balcony to see it crash into the water. The pilot did a good job of "auto-rotating" and put it down gently until the rotors hit. A nearby sailboat sent out a dinghy and rescued all aboard. On the right is a picture of it after it drifted close us where divers came to attach a line to it. All that was above water were the two landing skids. Somebody towed the upside down copter away with a boat." Copter swimming at Cupecoy

The Daily Herald reported that there were two sightseers and the pilot on board. They "landed" about 50 yards offshore and about 200 yards from the sailboat that sent out a dinghy to rescue them. There were a few tense moments, but everyone got out and is doing well. The copter was towed off to Uncle Harry's boatyard and will probably become scrap as saltwater and avionics are not a good combo.

Thursday was much less hazy and much better for a regatta! We could see features on Saba and Statia was more visible than any earlier time this season. Friday dawned with quite a few clouds left over from a large rainstorm overnight, fairly calm seas, and little wind, but as the sun came up, a NE wind started to kick up whitecaps on the lagoon and open water. This pushed the storm clouds and sheets of rain toward Saba and the start of the around the island race looked pretty good! Saturday was coolish (upper 70's) with winds approaching 20 knots and fairly clear - a good day if you are a competitive sailor. Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Here's the current local conditions and here's the forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. We've passed the winter solstice, so for the next six months we'll be getting more sun every day. Sunset today is at 6:17 and the moon is a waxing gibbous. It will be full on 11 Mar and dining on the water, especially in Grand Case, will be quite romantic. Full moons for 2009 are 9 Apr, 9 May, 7 Jun, 7 Jul, 6 Aug, 4 Sep, 4 Oct, 3 Nov, and 2 Dec.

Panoramic sunset
Sapphire Beach Club at Cupecoy   SXM-Beaches: As we sailed past Cupecoy on Random Wind I took these photos. On the left is a shot showing more sand at Sapphire Beach Club than we have seen in while. On the right is a shot of the little cove just past Ocean Club. A little further north from this shot is the monolith and old dock which had a bit of beach. The far end of Cupecoy in front of ShorePointe also had quite a bit of beach. I'll update the Cupecoy section of SXM-Beaches later this week. I have about 50 photos to add to the beaches, construction, and the regatta pages.   Little cove at Cupecoy

Beach reading: Martha just started The Emperor's Children (Paperback) by Claire Messud - $10.17 The NY Times Book Review called it the best book of the year. The New Yorker said "In this witty examination of New York's chattering classes, which opens in the spring of 2001, the despot of the title is Murray Thwaite, a famous journalist who made his name in the Vietnam era. The next generation, however, is having trouble gaining traction. Murray's daughter, Marina, unable to complete a long-overdue book on the cultural significance of children's clothing, has moved back into her parents' Upper West Side apartment and is doing a lot of yoga. Her two best friends Danielle, a television producer, and Julius, a gay freelance critic are similarly ambitious and entitled, without being particularly driven. All three find sex the easiest way to transform themselves. Only Murray's brainy and profoundly disenfranchised nephew from upstate aggressively pursues his belief in the true and the good, but he proves to be a sort of literary terrorist, threatening to blow the family apart. The humorous intimacies of Messud's portraits do not, finally, soften the judgments behind them: If this is what's become of the liberal imagination, is it worth fighting for?"   The Emperor's Children

Tango   Activities: Here's Tango coming in close to shore in Cupecoy as it waits for the sunset. They do a sunset/dinner cruise on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, departing from Simpson Bay at 5:30pm. They come around Beacon Hill and check the sunset as they run along Cupecoy. Then they return to Simpson Bay for a Creole dinner on board followed by music and dancing. Of course, the bar is always open.

We went out on Random Wind to watch the Heineken Regatta. We started with a breakfast at Ric's Place and dinghied out to the boat to see the start of the regatta off Simpson Bay. We'll assemble all the photos for the regatta link later this week.

  Random Wind
Caravanserai   Construction: This is Caravanserai taken from the deck of Random Wind as we sailed by during the Heineken regatta. The photo was taken from the south and shows a project that was called a see-through in the bad old days of Houston real estate. Look closely and you can see the lovely blue sky of the Caribbean through the building, not a good sign if you intend to vacation there soon. There is another photo on the construction page of SXM-Info.

Sapphire Beach Club: Our condo will be available again in low season (starting 15 April) for $1000 per week. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

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.

  ginger

Jewels by Love   Shopping:: Last week we visited Jewels by Love in downtown Marigot. He told us that Dev Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire, wore the Jaeger-LeCoultre AMVOX 1 timepiece to the Oscars. Slumdog Millionaire became the biggest winner grabbing eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Needless to say, he told me this because the watch is available at Jewels By Love.

Chateau Lieue   Groceries: The melon that we bought at Grand March finally ripened. As mentioned earlier it was from the Dominican Republic, not Guadeloupe, because of the strike in the French islands. It was every bit as good as the Guadeloupe version and became part of one of our favorite lunches: melon, prosciutto (or Serrano or Bayonne ham), and a bottle of Chateau La Lieue ($12) from Select Wine Cellar. Use the coupon on Select's website to get a 10% savings.

That night for dinner we had some IQF (individually quick frozen) tuna steaks from Cost-U-Less. They cost about $8.30 per pound and were quite good with a topping of capers, red onion, and lemon juice finished with a pat of butter.
Alcohol: This isn't exactly about St Martin, but it connects to the French, who are still connected to St Martin: Poire William. The writer, a gentleman who makes Poire William from Bartlett pears in Oregon, advocates buying locally. No, he doesn't expect you to buy his Poire William, but to seek out something similar made locally with similar attention to detail.   Bartlett Pears

Travel: An article in the Daily Herald told of the results of SHTA's latest poll: visitors seem to be off 30%. At least Maho claims that they are running at 70% occupancy rather than the 100% they usually have at this time of the year. There were fewer boats in the regatta this weekend and the Yacht Club responded by holding two parties in Simpson Bay rather than Friday in Pburg and the Sunday in Simpson Bay. I guess that saves them some money but I'll bet they don't get a lot of donations from Front Street merchants next year, especially after they sprung for a counter-party at the Sint Rose Arcade.

Frigate Bird   Nature: Here's a frigate bird sailing above the lagoon near Skipjack's. They are the large iridescent black birds with forked tails that seem to stay aloft forever, even feeding while flying.They do have the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird, allowing them to stay aloft for more than a week, landing only to roost or breed on trees or cliffs. The constant flying produces birds that don't swim and can't walk very well. Lacking any ability to get up to flight speed by running, they cannot take off from a flat surface. The females have a white underbelly and the males have red-colored throat pouches which they inflate to attract females during the mating season. I've tried lying in the sun without sunscreen on my belly which produces a similar effect. I have to say the results were not impressive, so I question the effectiveness of this approach.   Male Frigate Bird

Traffic: When we left Orient heading to Pburg this week we used the newly paved section of road coming out from Galion Beach. Awesome. Earlier this year I feared that the potholes would swallow our Picanto. I've been told that the entire road is not paved, but certainly the part from the main road to the turnoff to Orient is fabulous.

Regatta week is not the best for travelling as there are more cars, more bridge openings, and more parties to screw up traffic over the weekend which includes timeshare changeover day. Someone has put some thought into this and they have free parking and shuttles at Princess Casino. Needless to say dinghies and water shuttles are quite convenient. We actually were coming back past the airport after our Saturday sail on Random Wind. As usual, traffic heading east was really bad, but we got stopped in front of the Simpson Bay Blue Martini (no relation to the Grand Case Blue Martini), so we pulled over to see what it looked like. It's much the same which is quite nice, but now has considerably more flat screen TV's. The concerts I have been mentioning below have not mentioned a price. That's because I've seen nothing about a price in their advertising. The website is a complete waste of time but the bartender thinks they are free.

Crime: The Daily Herald said that about 30 more gendarmes were arriving to combat the spate of robberies and break-ins on the French side, many in Orient.


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


Current Contest: 28 December to 1 March 2009
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
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more


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 accommodations with dinners and activities.

Future Contests:

1 March to 26 April 2009
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
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
GCBC Watersports - Two for One snorkel trip to Crole Rock
Tijon Perfume - One free bottle
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more



RESTAURANTS


On 1 Mar the euro was at $1.269. Today it is at $1.264. At this point in the current economic situation even a half cent looks good to me. Vanessa at California Restaurant confirms that they are still doing 1 to 1. Pirate Beach Bar's menu is in dollars, no conversion necessary. Momo at Ti Bouchon says his menu is in dollars also. We had a lunch at Kokomarina where the menu proclaims 1 to 1. Le France in Marigot's Marina Royale is doing 1 to 1 also. L'Auberge Gourmande is doing $1.2 to 1 . We'll let you know as we hear from more of them.

 
Dining with Deepti
Bajatzu Bar & Grill
On Monday we headed over to Bajatzu on the second floor of Maho at the western end of Simpson Bay. We used the free valet parking at the casino, crossed the street to the escalator, and were seated in our reserved table. It wasn't full when we arrived at 8PM but it was as the night went on. We ordered water and wine and the server was pouring a bottle of 2005 Premier Cru Chateau de Beaune from Bouchard ($63) as Deepti from DK Gems arrived. This is the best wine that Bouchard can blend from his many Beaune Premier Cru properties and 2005 was a great year. We served the 1985 vintage from magnums at our wedding reception at La Chamade in Marigot in 1998.
  Crabcake
  On Deepti's recommendation, Martha and I split the crabcake ap while she had the Caesar salad. The crabcake (above right, about $12) was quite good and came with a mild salsa on the plate and a dangerous variety in the metal bowl. Notice the gauze around the lemon and the flower on the plate, both nice touches. Martha and I had steaks, the 10 oz flatiron special for her (left) and the 18oz bone-in Delmonico off the menu for me (right). Deepti had a free range Chicken Banzai. Many sources claim the original Delmonico steak (from the eponymous NYC restaurant) was a boneless top sirloin, but this one with a bone, as advertised on the menu, was probably a top loin, well-marbled, moist, and very tasty, especially with the Barnaise sauce. The flat iron steak is a cut of steak from the shoulder of a steer, customarily used for chuck, but with careful preparation it's a lovely, and somewhat less expensive, cut. All dinners at Bajatzu are served with a house salad and a choice of roasted garlic mashed potatoes, a large baked potato, French fries, or steamed rice. Most steakhouses charge for every side dish. The steaks were great, cooked as requested. Another bottle of wine was required and we switched to a less expensive Bourgogne from Jaffelin. The wine list is not huge, but adequately covers the major regions.  
  Flatiron Delmonico  
Molten Chocolate   Deepti is the dessert queen and she choose a molten chocolate cake with whipped cream and a pitcher of crme anglaise (left) with three spoons. It was quite good, especially when complemented with complimentary balloons of Armangnac. We stayed and chatted with Deepti so long that host/owner Jen brought another round of Armagnac and joined in the conversation for a bit. The room is on the second floor with essentially no view and is closed, but air-conditioned. They are working on an outdoor space but at present, it appears to be more of an adjunct to the restaurant rather than an extension. The interior is quite striking, modernistic, with low lighting and bold colors. All in all, a very nice evening with good, friendly service and good food in a lovely space. Note that they still allow smoking in restaurants on the Dutch side.  

Bamboo Bernies
Wednesday night we returned to the second floor of Maho but went next door to Bamboo Bernies for some shrimp tempura and sushi. They were voted the best sushi on the island by the readers of the Daily Herald. They moved into the old Hanabi space at the northern end of the Maho complex over the summer of 2008. You might miss the spectacular views from the Caravanserai location, but Jimmy Goldman has turned this into one of the smartest places on the island: low lighting with bold colors, interesting Asian touches and widely spaced tables. We choose some sparkling water and a bottle of Olivet's Attitude 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($35), a very nice wine with fish, sushi in particular.
  Bamboo Bernies' logo
Deepti had told us to try the tempura shrimp (below left, $14). Five rather large shrimp arrived in a glass with three dipping sauces (there was very good soy sauce already on the table). The shrimp was crisp with a tasty batter. The mixed dumplings arrived next (below center, $15). The platter contained four each of pork, shrimp, and vegetarian dumplings with another dipping sauce. Our final plate was actually two orders: a spicy tuna (below right front, $8) and a yellowtail and scallion roll (below right back, $7.50). The rice was great and the fish was just as good. Deepti pobably wouldn't approve, but for dessert we had spicy, crispy, calamari salad ($9). Service was fine even as a party of twelve sat down nearby. The total bill at $120 included a 3% tax and a 15% tip and loudly stated that the tip was included.
shrimp tempura dumplings Spicy tuna rolls and Yellowtail and scallion rolls

Rancho Del Sol
On Thursday drove out to Orient Beach to have lunch at Rancho Del Sol. It's high on a hill overlooking Tintamarre, Green Cay, all of Orient Bay, and even St Barts. We choose a table on the veranda with this great view and ordered water and the Mon Redon Cotes du Rhone, a very sturdy wine excellent with pizza. You already knew that was coming from the photo of the western pizza with ham, mushrooms, and olives. Martha had a very tasty Rancho salad with potatoes, tomatoes, smoky bacon, and sauted onions. The view includes these lovely flowers and they are frequented by two species of hummingbirds and the usual gaggle of sugarbirds. Clicking on the photo gets an enlarged version that is quite impressive.
Pizza hummingbird Rancho del Sol Salad

We were here in order to photograph and taste the coconut and fruit dessert that will be featured in our article for St Maarten Events magazine next year. You'll have to wait until then for a photo, unless you go to Rancho and take your own, which would be an excellent idea as it was very good and quite beautiful.

For what it's worth, Rancho offers free Wifi. I must admit that I rarely take my laptop out to Orient Beach, but if you had lodging in the area, at Acropole Orient Villa, for instance, then a quick trip over for lunch with your laptop would allow you to pick up your email, have a great lunch, and enjoy a wonderful view.

News and Changes: Picante on Billy Folly Road is closed. Terra in the Maho Plaza is closed. I hear La Chapelle is now only a bar open on the weekends (Thursday through Sunday)

The Heineken Regatta has been great fun so far, though a bit smaller than last year. We went out on Random Wind yesterday for a close look at all the activities. We'll have lots more in next week's newsletter.

Mount Gay Rum is sponsoring an after-regatta party at Sesame Caf in Grand Case starting at 7PM on 9 March (tomorrow!). Mr Skin will be providing music. Hamburgers, hotdogs, merguez, and Mount Gay are $2 each. Buy 10 Mount Gay drinks and get a free gift. Maybe it's some aspirin.

It appears that the Blue Martini on Airport Road in Simpson Bay will be presenting semi-famous musicians: John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band with Eddie and the Cruisers on 22 Mar and Firefall and Al Stewart on 11 April.

John Abbot is playing pop/rock at Sopranos in March.

Karakter, on Simpson Bay Beach near Mary's Boon, is having a beach dance at 6:30 on the first Friday of every month. You just missed one.

  Mount Gay


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


Gunslinger's Steel Pan Band Tuesday Night in Grand Case: Grand Case is again having a Harmony Night on Tuesday. Restaurant Row will be blocked off and filled with street vendors, music, dancers, and parades. Here's some photos from previous years.

Friday Night in Orient Village: Once again Orient Village is bringing in a band and several vendors on Friday evening for a lively time in their square.

Band in the square at Orient

  Our condo: We are here until 15 April and have a good bit of the following two months rented already. The condo will be available for rent at $1000 per week from 15 April 2009 to 15 December 2009. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients. The holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season that is available will be $1500 per week. It will be unavailable from 15 January 2009 until 15 April 2009. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. The rate is so good and the coupons are so popular that we get about 60% occupancy in the low season (we are already at 30%). If you want a week, it's best to book early.

It's hard to use the words Cap Juluca and bargain in the same sentence, but having just spent $20 million on renovating the resort, the new owners are now offering two nights for the price of one from March 14 - April 12, 2009. If you are coming late in the season and wish to experience awesome luxury at half price, consider a two day trip. Stuck at the beginning of a timeshare week, you may save a few bucks on airfare by avoiding Saturday. You'll certainly avoid the crowds at the airport. We stayed here about two years ago and wrote about it in our features section. It will cost about $70 each way for the ferry and a taxi (per couple). Fantastic late breakfasts that carried us through to dinner were included in the room cost, but you'll spend a few bucks on dinner. Import duties are quite high in Anguilla so wine and food, almost all imported, costs more than on SXM.  

  SXM-Info has chosen SkyMed as our preferred medical travel insurance partner. Any medical travel insurance will get you back to the US, but SkyMed takes you home. Where's home? From their website: "Our definition of home is simple: Home is where you say it is. When struck by the unexpected, our service takes you home.  

PassportMD provides many things, including access to Monthly Harvard Health Letter and the Harvard Mental Health Letter, savings on prescriptions, medical reminders, an ability to email your doctor, and more. The most important benefit for travelers on cruiseships or those who take extended vacations in the third world is the ability to have your medical records stored in a secure server that will allow quick access in your time of need. SXM-Info has teamed up with PassportMD to provide these services with a two month absolutely free, no strings attach trial.

 

  Our article featuring four recipes from four restaurants from Cupecoy to Sandy Ground has been published in St Maarten Events and is available on the island. Look for a moules appetizer from Mario's Bistro, a vichyssoise from Ti Sucrier, lamb chops from Montmartre Restaurant, and a blanc mange dessert from Boucaniers. I had taken several photos for the article and Michael Dingemans, the publisher, was on the island just before high season taking more photos. As always, his wife, Carina, turned it into a beautiful layout. The magazine is distributed free throughout the island and contains a useful island map as the centerfold.

Amazon: I'm not convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach, but it sure is a lightweight way to get some of your favorite books to the Caribbean, especially now that the second bag costs $25 or so on most flights! They just came out with the newer version and it's barely a quarter inch thick and weighs about 10 ounces. It has 16 shades of gray for the page background and reads well even in direct sunlight. Maybe it is the best thing to take to the beach? Here's a NY TImes review of the Kindle. Martha has been downloading audio books from our local library to her Zune (an iPod knockoff) 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.

 

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
Diamonds International
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Oizeau Rare
Paradise View
Pizza Galley
Pirate Beach Bar
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
Mario's Cookbook   The Mario's Bistro Cookbook is still available online. 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.

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

Cupecoy Villas features two spectacular villas on the water at Sapphire Beach Club. All the amenities of Sapphre are available and you have your own two-bedroom, three bathroom accomdations in a 2300 square foot mini-palace with a private swimming pool overlooking the Caribbean.
  View from