Caribbean charter destinations St. Martin vs. BVI

Vadim_go

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Any opinion is appreciated. 

I did try BVI, as it was presented as the best for novice. Is there something that makes St, Martin nicer? At first glance, more options to wine/dine on shore, but what else?

Thanks

 

Not My Real Name

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Any opinion is appreciated. 

I did try BVI, as it was presented as the best for novice. Is there something that makes St, Martin nicer? At first glance, more options to wine/dine on shore, but what else?

Thanks
St. Martin is a nicer destination to be in, in my opinion. The French side has fantastic restaurants and food, its a bit more modern. The Dutch side has great boat facilities and shopping. It's a better place to be as a cruiser for sure.

As a chartering destination,  it is less interesting I think.

It's one island,  you sail around the coast. The most protected anchorage  (the lagoon) is a pain in the ass to get into and is crowded. You can do it on a charter boat, but it's not well geared for it. You may be allowed to sail to Anguilla, but while that's lovely it's not particularly small boat friendly. 

The BVIs are an archipelago with a bunch of island destinations separated by easy day sails. There are easy moorings, easy dinghy landings, and almost every spot has charter friendly facilities and places that are expecting transient boats. There's fantastic snorkeling all over, tons of beaches and beach bars.

Having spent significant time in both places on our boat...I like them both. I like St. Martin a little better, but I'm a full time cruiser. My needs and experiences are different. 

If I was chartering - especially for the first time - I've do the BVIs hands down. Just not over Christmas because it's a madhouse.

 

freewheelin

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Agreed. B.J. is spot on.

By "I did try BVI" does that mean you have chartered there already? If not, you really won't be disappointed. If you have and would like to try something different, have you considered Grenada? It is a step more towards cruising, but I highly recommend it as a charter destination.

 

Mark Set

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Id like to charter in St Vincent/Grenadines next time i do. Harder to get to, but lots of small islands, similar to BVI. Anybody chartered there before? Comments?

 

KC375

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I've done BVI and Siint Maarten. BJ speaks (types) the truth.

I enjoyed both.

For a first time charter and or charter with family members prone to sea sickness consider Belize on a catamaran.

The sailing is mostly between the coast and the reef (longest barrier reef after Australia's) so mostly smooth seas and good wind.

Lot's of islands, good scuba - Glover's atoll particularly worth a visit.

Take a trip up monkey river into the jungle with "the king of the howler monkeys", add in a day trip to some of the best  Mayan ruins....

 

Vadim_go

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Thanks a lot!

Yes, I did a short (8 nights) charter on BVI, would do it again for all the reasons stated, but wanted to know how St. Martin would work for us (family with two kids).

Belize? Sounds interesting, did not look that far away. Will check it.

 

Not My Real Name

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Id like to charter in St Vincent/Grenadines next time i do. Harder to get to, but lots of small islands, similar to BVI. Anybody chartered there before? Comments?
I didn't charter there, but we sailed out boat through.

It's nice, we liked a lot of it. Bequia was quite nice, and the Tobago Cays are worth a couple of days. We did not do St. Vincent itself, but we did visit Mayreau, Canouan and Union Island. If you plan to sail to Carriacou (part of Grenada) you're probably going to clear in/out in Clifton on Union. Mayreau and Canouan are good to stage for the Cays out of.

 

CCruiser

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We have cruised the Grenadines/Grenada several times.  Grenada is a gorgeous island, but there are limited places to sail/snorkel.  We have always enjoyed cruising there as we could take in St Georges (gotten real busy) and the South coast. Its a bit like St Martin in that regard.  However the Grenadines are comparable to the BVI in the sense that they offer a lot of small islands to visit that are relatively close to each other.  They are also a great cruising ground because you can hang out in Bequia, Tobago Cays,  and Cariacou.  However, the sailing is more challenging than the BVI.  You can charter from St Lucia or Grenada, but both suffer from a long first and last sail (unless you buy one-way).  Another alternative is chartering out of the south end of St Vincent - Young Island Cut or Blue Lagoon. 

As for Belize its great cruising and chartering as well, except that the charter bases are concentrated around the Plascencia area, which makes it difficult to get to the area north of the entrance channel to Belize City - Goff's Cay, Cay Caulker and Ambergris Cay (San Pedro).  But there are plenty of spots south of the entrance channel, such as Blue Field Range, South Water Cay.  It is also next to impossible to visit the off lying reefs. The snorkeling is outstanding as good as the Bahamas.

 

teamt

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I have done BVI, Belize and St. Martin... in that order over the last three years.  BVI was a great place to start with family that all hadn't had much cruising experience.  We had all raced quite a bit, but limited provisioning, mooring, anchoring and customs.  We got our feet wet in BVI.   

Belize was great to learn shallow water navigation, and in our case, dealing with unpredictable weather events.  We were even chased by a water spout.  The Moorings 38 Cat was an absolute pig to sail... coming from a cat sailor.  You spend a lot of time motoring as the navigation between islands is limited to a lot of channels. The base staff at Moorings were great and locals were very hospitable.  We were there in June and saw a total of about 25 people in 10 days.  The island resorts are mostly deserted as they appear to be mostly reserved for destination events like weddings or are just privately owned.  Anchoring without harming corral is stressful and you must arrive early before sun gets low and you cannot see the bottom.

St. Martin was our favorite.  The French food was fantastic.   We stayed away from the Dutch side... we did Anguilla, Prickly Pear, ile Tintamarre, ile Fourchue, and St. Barths.  Much more open water sailing with some sizable waves to deal with.  Anchorages are less protected so a little planing with the wind direction is needed.  ile Fourchue was fantastic... not another boat in the 24 hours we were there, and full of turtles, fish and eagle rays and hiking to the top provided great views.  Stay away from boats less than 45 feet as you will just get beat up in the waves sailing between islands.  Also be prepared to check in and out of customs a lot, and be prepared to type on a French keyboard in customs offices... each island is a different country.  Also be prepared to anchor exclusively as there are virtually no moorings that are safe.  Also know how to rig a trip line as you can easily drag under rocks in the northern islands.

 

teamt

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"Open water sailing, French food"  yep, yep.

Nothing wrong with the Dutch side but just not what we wanted. It is more modern/commercial rather than Caribbean Island feel.  Even though you can drive from the French side to the Dutch site freely, if you sail around, you must go through/pay customs.  The cab ride over would be cheaper :)

 

Not My Real Name

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"Open water sailing, French food"  yep, yep.

Nothing wrong with the Dutch side but just not what we wanted. It is more modern/commercial rather than Caribbean Island feel.  Even though you can drive from the French side to the Dutch site freely, if you sail around, you must go through/pay customs.  The cab ride over would be cheaper :)
We went through the bridge to say in the French side of the lagoon, so we had to fork over for that. But we're cruisers, not charterers - different priorities; we spent a couple of weeks in the lagoon. The Lagoon doesn't make a lot of sense for charter folk unless you're planning to spend a few days exploring from there. But even then, unless you've got a northerly coming in or swell you can anchor off Marigot and come in from there.

Phillpsburg is generally packed with cruise victims. OK, if you don't mind the crowds, and you can legit get a $1 beer. We took the bus over there and found a funky Star Wars museum. No idea if it's still there.

 
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CCruiser

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On the French side, which is were you should stay, whether Marigot or the lagoon, check in at the Captiniere's office at the Port Royal Marina.- it was $7 dollars each way when we were last there.

 

Not My Real Name

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On the French side, which is were you should stay, whether Marigot or the lagoon, check in at the Captiniere's office at the Port Royal Marina.- it was $7 dollars each way when we were last there.
When we were the Dutch were sort of charging some fee for anchoring on their side. It wasn't much, and I think it was intermittently enforced, but it was a factor in  everyone flocking to the French end of the lagoon.

When we were there they'd started building the new bridge, I have no idea how that has affected anything since then.

 

CCruiser

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B.J.

We anchored on the Dutch side in 2014/15 for 2 months, (Nov-Jan) and when we checked out the charge was $280.  The bridge fee and anchoring fee are enforced when you check out at the bridge customs/immigration office, which you are required to do if you are in the lagoon. You can't check out at P-burg.   They have a record on the computer of every boat entering the lagoon, vessel name and date of entry, which is backed up with video and the bridge tender logs. 

The new bridge opens 15 minutes before and after the entrance bridge, so when you enter you can proceed to the new bridge, requesting an opening and pass through to the French side.  Then check in and out on the French side for $7.00 each time (last time we were there in 2017), with no anchoring fee.  That was the last time we anchored on the Dutch side.

Different from the first time we checked into St Maartin - you went around to the police station and signed a book.  No paperwork, no passports, no boat papers, just your boat name and your name.  Of course that was awhile ago.

 
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We have cruised the Grenadines/Grenada several times. Grenada is a gorgeous island, but there are limited places to sail/snorkel. We have always enjoyed cruising there as we could take in St Georges (gotten real busy) and the South coast. Its a bit like St Martin in that regard. However the Grenadines are comparable to the BVI in the sense that they offer a lot of small islands to visit that are relatively close to each other. They are also a great cruising ground because you can hang out in Bequia, Tobago Cays, and Cariacou. However, the sailing is more challenging than the BVI. You can charter from St Lucia or Grenada, but both suffer from a long first and last sail (unless you buy one-way). Another alternative is chartering out of the south end of St Vincent - Young Island Cut or Blue Lagoon.

As for Belize its great cruising and chartering as well, except that the charter bases are concentrated around the Plascencia area, which makes it difficult to get to the area north of the entrance channel to Belize City - Goff's Cay, Cay Caulker and Ambergris Cay (San Pedro). But there are plenty of spots south of the entrance channel, such as Blue Field Range, South Water Cay. It is also next to impossible to visit the off lying reefs. The snorkeling is outstanding as good as the Bahamas.C
I've done BVI and Siint Maarten. BJ speaks (types) the truth.

I enjoyed both.

For a first time charter and or charter with family members prone to sea sickness consider Belize on a catamaran.

The sailing is mostly between the coast and the reef (longest barrier reef after Australia's) so mostly smooth seas and good wind.

Lot's of islands, good scuba - Glover's atoll particularly worth a visit.

Take a trip up monkey river into the jungle with "the king of the howler monkeys", add in a day trip to some of the best Mayan ruins....
Did you charter or take your own boat? We're considering Belize after 3 winters in Bahamas. Plan B is USVI/BVI. Each is about the same distance from our home port in N FL. Have chartered in the BVI and vacationed in Belize, but never sailed in Belize. We're a 41' Hanse with a 7' draft, but have managed the Bahamas so are not (too) afraid of skinny water. Any advice/opinions are appreciated.
 

KC375

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In Belize I chartered FPs (Belize 43’ and Bahai 46’) 4.3" draft officially but probably deeper loaded for cruising. Most of the time plenty of water beneath the keels. Visiting the mangroves off Belize city I would not have wanted anything deeper. I found one afternoon navigating among some islets I was creeping along cautiously with inches under the keel (soft bottom). I would have been uncomfortable with any more draft in Glovers but it is probably doable with deeper draft but enter gently with the sun high in the sky. I never touched bottom. Out of total of almost 30 days only 4 was I overly concerned about depth but that was with 2/3 the draft of your Hanse.
 

CCruiser

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We have always been on our own boat, (Bahamas/East Caribbean) except for Belize, when we were on a friend's boat that drew 7'11" The only issue we had was getting into the marina at Key Caulker (but this was many years ago, so am sure that has changed). We joined the boat in San Pedro and island hoped to Placencia. Great spot to sail and snorkel. More challenging than the Bahamas in some ways (visiting the offshore reefs) but not by much. Are you on the West or East Coast of Fl? Much easier to sail from Fl (esp. West Coast to Belize) than the Eastern Caribbean, have done that trip several times, even a good trip from Fl is a challenge. Belize is down wind, you can leave from Key West and island hop, Isla, Cozumel, and then coastal cruise to San Pedro; and not as difficult to get back to Florida if you leave from Isla Mujeres for example, especially if going to Northern West Coast, and a substantially shorter trip than Eastern Caribbean.
 
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