Saturday, April 30, 2022
Latitude 18o 02’ N Longitude 63o 05’ W,
We made a leisurely 9 AM departure Saturday from the cove at St. Barts and headed 16 miles up to Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten. There was no point in leaving earlier since the drawbridge providing access to the Bay is closed midday and the first afternoon opening is not until 3 PM. As it was, we arrived with time to spare and slowly motored about in large circles before passing through the opening in line with half a dozen other boats.
Our original destination was the IGY marina, but a last minute e-mail we received while back in St. Barts informed us that they had no shower facilities for visiting yachtsmen. Many of the marinas in the island are still recovering from the last hurricane and have reduced facilities. Deciding that showers were an essential feature, a last minute internet search led to a reservation at the Yacht Club Port De Plaisance (PDP).
The Yacht Club PDP is on the Dutch side of the island, just short of the long causeway and swing bridge leading to France. This is a Yacht Club designed to cater to mega yachts. The finger of our assigned slip offered 80 feet of frontage for our 40 feet of length. Not having to adjust to significant tides, the dock is a massive concrete structure firmly anchored to the earth. The edges of the dock presented a generous two-foot vertical wall for our fenders, but the base of this wall starts high above the water, such that we were concerned that the gunwale of Lillian might slip underneath. We tied the fenders high on the lifelines and brought her in. Lillian was surrounded by beautiful yachts over twice her size, some with mast over 120 feet high, and powerboat supported by 40 ft cargo containers on land, just to store their surplus equipment. With no exaggeration we told David Carstens, our incoming crewmember, to simply look for the smallest yacht in the marina.
Having arrived late on a Saturday, we couldn’t take advantage of the concierge check-in service offered by the marina, so Kay and I took a cab over to the Marine Police Office to check the boat and crew into Sint Maarten. We got there around 4pm. As with the French Islands of Guadeloupe and St. Barts, registration had to be done on line via the internet. But, unlike those Islands, the office didn’t provide that service. They suggested we go over to McDonalds to use theirs. A burger and a password later, we commenced filling out the forms on line. As anyone who has dealt with government forms would anticipate, we didn’t get far.
List all the countries you have visited in the past 15 days:
St Lucia, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Barts
When did you arrive in Sint Maarten?
When will you depart?
Point of Departure?
Is this a trick question? Simpson Bay Sint Maarten? That can’t be right since it’s not in the pull-down menu. How about simply Sint Maarten? Seems a little redundant, but you never know. Selecting Sint Maarten from the pull down menu, we hit return and got immediately rejected.
Back across the street I’m told by the customs officer, who is obviously already annoyed with me, to provide the last point of departure, i.e. St Barts. Meanwhile, back at McDonalds, Kay has entered St. Lucia, since it was the initial point of departure for the countries visited. The software is fine with that selection so we boldly press on until we get to the part about what type of travel. Three choices:
- Air 2) Air and Sea 3) Sea
Already I sense trouble suspecting that option two is meant for cruise ships passengers. None-the-less we select door number two for Kay’s form. After all, she did sail in and will be flying home. As feared, opening that door leads to a snake nest of questions for which we are unable to second guess the correct answer.
Back again across the street, the customs officer scolds me to not to worry about the departure information and focus only on the arrival. With pleasure, I’m thinking. Now, armed with that guidance, we frantically fill out the forms for all crew members … but not in time to get back to Customs before the office closed at 7pm.
In a show of solidarity, Denise and Burke returned with me the next day to complete the process. The office must have remembered us because the lady behind the window brusquely informed Denise to step aside from in front of her window because she was blocking access for other customers … those would be the customers who had yet to appear.
I’m personally not in a hurry to visit Sint Maarten again, but if its government requires entry to be done via the internet, it seems only reasonable that should provide access to the same, as did St. Barts and Guadeloupe, rather than relying on Ronald McDonald. We are not a mega yacht; we do not have unlimited access to the internet.
But to be honest with myself, my frustration and resentment ran deeper that the inefficiency and lack of services provided by the Sint Maarten Customs and Immigration. I lament the transition to a world where internet is required to interact with society. The internet has created a new class of handicapped individuals: those without ready access to smart phones and the world-wide-web. And this avalanche of a transition to an internet based world is rapidly evolving without providing accommodations for those left behind.
The denials range from the trivial to the critical:
In a restaurant in Tenerife in the Canary Islands the menu could only be read using a QR code requiring an internet connect. The waitress kindly lent us her personal phone.
In a Walgreens Pharmacy in Huntsville, AL the pharmacist couldn’t authorize a booster shot for COVID. We were instructed to retreat and to go on-line to make an appointment.
The airlines require validating COVID records on-line, so we often had to go to great lengths before flying to and from various island to make sure we could connect with the internet the day before the flight.
The official website of Senegal explicitly states you must have a proof of vaccination QR code for entry. Reportedly it’s possible to get one, but this was a task I was not able to figure out. In order to make sure I would be admitted, I felt I had little choice other than to take a rapid PCR test in JFK 24 hours before my flight, at the cost of $200.
Alas, the days of gliding into an island nation with just a passport are fading fast. Circumnavigating the Atlantic, internet access was required to sail into the island nations of Guadeloupe, St. Barts and Sint Maarten. The positive exceptions were Ireland, Cabo Verde, St Lucia and Dominica, which still honor a passport and handwritten documents.
Steve Jobs would be pleased by the extent to which smart phones and the internet have insinuated their way into our world and become indispensable to modern existence, but it would be nice if the technology came with handicap ramps for those of us who, for whatever reason, don’t have unlimited access to 5g.
P.S. A printed copy of this blog is available upon request.