Tag Archives: British

A Day with the Coast Guard

One of the most important jobs in the Caribbean is that of the Coast Guard. These brave men and women are ultimately responsible for the safety and security of the islands. They are often an unseen presence, but Ben, Stacey, Turner and I had a chance to meet them up close during an event this week.

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Protecting Caribbean waters is an international effort. There are four primary countries that protect Saint Martin: Netherlands/ St. Maarten, France, Great Britain, and the United States. We had a chance to explore a boat from each of these nations and talk to the crew.

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This is the Poema, a Dutch ship outfitted to stay at sea for two weeks at a time. We thought the gun at the front of the ship was pretty snazzy. Not something you’d want to have pointed at you!

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I never realized how many knobs and buttons it takes to drive a military vessel. The more I learn about the military, the more I respect and appreciate them. You can see one of the ship’s officers through the window, giving a tour and answering questions.

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Jay and Sandy gave the Poema additional cool points just by stepping on board. Sandy is a classmate of Ben’s at American University of the Caribbean. We stopped to say hey before making our way to the next vessel.

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The biggest boat I’ve ever driven is a canoe. I was happy to sit in the driver’s seat of this police boat, but I’m glad I don’t have to actually steer it.

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After leaving the friendly Nederlanders, we boarded a small floating piece of home.

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We approved of the name.

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As much as I love being an expat, there was something wonderful about seeing the flag of the good old USA. I didn’t realize how much I miss seeing the Stars and Stripes until I stopped for a moment to watch it flutter in the Caribbean breeze.

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Here’s Captain Stacey, ready to embark on the Reef Shark.

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It was nice to stop and talk with some of the American Coast Guard. Expats, no matter their situation, are always eager to talk with someone from the home country. We compared overseas experiences, talked about where we’d been born, and discusses what’s best and worst about the change in location. Suddenly, Arizona and Georgia and Michigan didn’t seem to very far away from each other.

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Turner enjoyed the maps in each boat. Some of them were extremely detailed.

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I had to smile at this quirky hula girl on the dash. She’s a little out of place for a ship stationed in Puerto Rico, but I appreciated the touch of humor in this room of gadgets and gizmos.

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I attempted to quickly attune my ear to French accents after the familiar U.S. drawl of the American officers. The Sualouiga is a fairly large boat, with a massive engine and a larger crew than the vessels we previously toured. What struck me most about the tour was the number of back-up safety features that our guide pointed out to us. Nobody is going to die on this boat!

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Ben admired the wood interior of the control room. He especially liked the classic wheel.

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I wish I could remember how many horsepower this engine has. The boat had two of them, in addition to a couple of large generators. To put the size in perspective, the engine came up to my shoulder. I would have liked to stay longer and look closer, but the engine room was hot and stuffy. We moved on.

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Our next stop was a Sint Maartin rescue boat. It’s a little orange boat suited for choppy seas and quick returns. Everyone on board was relaxing with cool drinks on the hot afternoon, so we took a quick look around, thanked them, and went back to the pier.

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We watched the patrol boats perform crazy maneuvers in the bay.

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What’s a military fair without camo face paint?

We tried shouldering the 100-pound packs the Coast Guard wear to train in. Thy bulletproof vest was heavy enough for me, but Ben and Turner could join the Coast Guard if they wanted to!

Since guns are illegal on the Dutch side of the island, this is the first time any of us have held a firearm in months. They were unloaded, of course.IMG_2183

Our final stop was a huge Dutch ship. We had to wait a bit to go on board, since the commanding officer was preparing to walk down the gangway. It was cool to see the show of military order and respect that accompanied this event.

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The gun at the front of this ship was gigantic. We’ve come a long way since cannons!

 

Ben especially appreciated this helicopter on the ship’s landing pad.

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It’s good to know that our security is in good hands. I’ve always had a lot of respect for US military, but now I have a high regard for Dutch, French, and British military as well. Experiencing the work of international military alliances firsthand is something I’ll always remember. I hope they come together to do this event again next year! It was definitely one of my favorite things that we’ve done on the island so far. Where else can you freely tour and photograph military vessels from four different nations?

I Went to the British Isle

I went to the British Isle. No, not the one in Europe– the one next-door to Saint Martin. Anguilla may be Saint Martin’s closest neighbor, but it is nothing like it! Join my friends and I as we add a stamp to our passports and explore a new place.

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Sint Maarten only allows foreigners to stay on the island for three months at a time. I’ve heard that Americans can stay for up to six months, but with security on the island tightening every day, I decide it would be wise to take an international excursion before my three months are up.

Sandy, Emily and I drive together to Marigot, the port on the French side of the island. It’s a busy day– the cruise ships came in the morning, so the pier is buzzing with tourists. We finally find a parking space and make our way to the ferry.

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The ferry is a little bit confusing, because there are three lines to wait in before entering the ferry, and none of them are in any particular order! The employees and border officials are kind and helpful, though, so we quickly figure out what to do. Soon we are sitting on the ferry with stamped passports. The ferry costs $20 per person, in addition to a $5 port fee.

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The boat ride takes us about twenty minutes. I enjoy the rhythm of the ocean and the sea spray. Some of the passengers are worried about feeling seasick, but fortunately the ride is short and they are OK. Anguilla’s coastline becomes more and more visible, and soon we can see beach houses and boats.

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Soon, we arrive at the island! We eagerly pile out of the ferry and head through the customs line. Two more stamps for our passports. We walk out of the building and into the courtyard, where we are suddenly overwhelmed with people trying to rent us cars or offer us taxis! I am convinced that we’ll be able to use public buses once we walk out onto the main road, so the three of us refuse their offers and begin walking. All we see are a few houses and some goats.

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We walk about a quarter mile with no success, when a taxi pulls up beside us and offers us a discounted ride. “There aren’t any public buses here,” he explains, “Anguilla doesn’t have enough people to support public transportation.” We take his word for it and hop aboard. Each person costs $18 each way, but the third person in our group only costs and additional $5. We only have to pay $11 each– more than a bus would have been, but less than a car rental.

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We drive from Blowing Point to the capitol, The Valley, which is in the center of the island. It is so different from Philipsburg or Marigot, the capitols on Saint Martin! There are relatively few buildings– mostly government offices, schools, and restaurants. No tourist shops and no large hotels to be seen. We opt to take the bus all the way to Shoal Bay, which is the island’s best beach.

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Once we get there, we’re glad we did! Shoal Bay Beach is perhaps the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to– and that’s saying a lot, considering that I live a short walk from Mullet Bay Beach.

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We are instantly greeted by beach attendants and restaurant employees. I am afraid that they will smother us while trying to sell their services, but they do not. They are friendly to us and seem to be more interested in our enjoyment than in pressuring us to rent an umbrella or buy an expensive meal.

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We chose the more casual of the two restaurants, Uncle Ernie’s. The conch looks delicious, but we all decide on the $5 grilled cheese and fries. The food is good, and the meal is big enough to keep us content for the remainder of our trip. The ocean is calling us, so we leave a tip for the staff and head for the sand.

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I immediately wish that I had brought my snorkel gear– the reef looks amazing! One of the beach staff tells us that we can see parrotfish and sea turtles a little way out. I make a mental note to at least bring my goggles next time I come.

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We sun for a while, and then wade in the clear blue ocean water. Sandy and I decide to catch some waves before heading back to our towels.

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The beach is about 2 miles long, so we decide to go exploring. Every time we think we’ve found the most beautiful spot, we turn a corner and find something even more amazing. We finally come the eastern end of the beach. We strain our eyes to see the tip of Anguilla in the distance.

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Four-thirty comes to soon. One of the beach staff comes to tell us that our taxi is waiting, so we pack up and head to the taxi. He takes us a different way back to the ferry so that we can see more of the island. We have gorgeous view of Saint Martin almost all the way back.

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While we wait for the ferry, we wander around the beach near the port. I am amazed to see how close Saint Martin looks! Anguilla looks very far away from Saint Martin because it is such a flat island. Saint Martin’s hills give us a better perspective of the distance.

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We get our exit stamps, pay the $20 ticket and $8 port fee, and climb onto the boat. We’re tired now, and happy to clamber down into the cabin of the ferry, watch the sun set, and enjoy the movie being played on a small screen at the front of the cabin.

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We enter Marigot port and get our last passport stamp of the day.

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Anguilla looks so small from the harbor! It’s hard to believe we were standing on the other side not half an hour ago. We turn our backs on the lights of the bay and head home. Behind us, the flag of Anguilla waves farewell.

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