I have once read in a travel magazine that St. Martin must be the friendliest island in the world, since the island consists of a French side (Saint Martin) and a Dutch side (Sint Maarten) that live in all friendliness side by side, and you can move freely across the borders when you are on the island.

However, the travel magazine didn’t take into account the possibility of travelling to St. Martin on your own private boat. If you for example want to move from the Dutch side of Simpson Bay Lagoon to the French side, you have to first clear out from the Dutch side, then move your boat, and then clear in on the French side. All of this just to move your boat maybe some hundred metres! We didn't bother to move, even though the anchorage on the French side looked calmer.

Clearing in and out
Almost every Caribbean island is an independent island of some sort, which means that every time you go from one island to another, you have to clear out from the previous island and clear in at the new. When we left from Europe, I was a bit nervous about all of this, but it’s not a big problem, even though you never know what to expect. E.g. on most of the French islands you just have to fill out your information on a computer, print it out, and then give it to the marina office, the kiosk, or wherever they've put up a computer for clearance.

They then look at your passports, and if everything is in order, they stamp your clearance paper. On other islands it can be more complicated. In St. Lucia we were told to fill out the forms a second time, because we hadn't pressed hard enough with the pen, so the forth paper – after three layers of carbon paper – wasn't filled out. In Antigua we went from customs to
immigrations, back to customs and then to the port authority to clear in.

When clearing out there’s a different order, so we always ask where to go next. Luckily, the offices are normally placed right next to each other, or else it would be quite a show!

How much is it?
It always comes as a surprise to me, what we need to pay for the clearance at the different islands. Sometimes they charge you nothing at all, sometimes a small fee for the administration, and sometimes a lot more for many other things. Often you pay something for garbage, which makes sense, but in Sint Maarten, we also had to pay a lagoon fee, even though we’re outside the lagoon.

In St. Barth we paid a daily fee for staying at the anchorage (the most uncomfortable anchorage yet!), and in Antigua, they had to do quite a lot of calculating to find out, what we needed to pay. The weirdest thing is, I think, when we have to pay something to leave. What are we paying for, when we’re leaving the island? Usually, it is small amounts though, and often we pay even less, because of our small boat. Apparently, there are some advantages of small-scale living accommodation!

Signe storr - Freelance journalist and friend of Boatshed