Several months back there was a topic about what languages would be helpful for cruisers. It didn't go far, but I've just come back from a short visit (via jet airplane) to St. Martin in the Caribbean and just have to tell this story.
A friend of ours lives in a beachfront condo in Marigot. He's been staying in this condo for his winter vacations to St. Martin for more than 30 years. In this time he has learned nothing of French, and cannot read any of it, either.
Tuesday he told us that a gendarme knocked on his apartment windows (the gendarme couldn't get into the building because the doors were locked).
Our friend spoke with the officer, who, he said, told him that a bad thief was coming to the building in a red car, he would arrive about five o'clock, and he had keys to the building. The gendarme could speak little English, apparently, and what he said was probably heavily accented.
What the gendarme actually told our friend was that big seas were forecast to arrive in the bay that afternoon and evening. It was a "code red" and he was there to tell the ground floor occupants (half flight below the beach level) to evacuate their apartments and find a hotel to stay in. If the seas reached the building, it would flood the lower floor. Our friend's apartment is the next floor up, a half flight above beach level. In Hurricane Luis his beach side windows were smashed in by the seas and all the apartment's contents washed away. He now has hurricane rolling shutters on these windows, and I think that the gendarme was suggesting that he close the shutters to protect from the huge swells that were expected.
We left Wednesday morning and so do not yet know how bad the seas were on Wednesday afternoon, when the worst were supposed to arrive.
The French marine police told all the boats in the bay, close to 200 of them, to seek shelter in the lagoon. Boats on boat the north and south bays all took shelter in the lagoon.
Marigot Bay has some serious sand bars left by Luis, and 3 to 6 meter swells could lift the anchored boats up and slam them down on the bottom with potentially disastrous results. All but one boat left the bay.
Without a little knowledge, of French or how to receive weather reports, this could have been a terrible mess for the unprepared boats anchored in the bay. The northern swells make the lovely Marigot Bay uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst. In our time there we've seen many a boat's anchor dislodged due to severe swells and driven ashore. Years ago we saw a big freighter unloading cement bags at the Marigot commercial pier lifted up by the swells and deposited onto the pier. It took four tugs several weeks to remove the ship.
The forecast swells heading for St. Martin were supposedly some of the worst in recorded memory: http://www.thedailyherald.com/news/daily/k...edalert259.html
The Beach Plaza Hotel mentioned in the news report is just down the beach from our friend's building, and their beach lobby is a bit higher than our friend's apartment floor. I'll be interested to hear first-hand reports.
To me, this is one argument in favor of learning a bit more of the local language, whatever it might be. Even more, a lesson in how badly another language can be misunderstood.