How to Learn to Sail on St. Maarten

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Escape on a boating excursion with Aqua Mania Adventures

St. Maarten is famous for its sailing. It’s easy to see why—the steady breezes, clear turquoise waters and charming scenery are the perfect ingredients for an unforgettable boating experience. World-class regattas like the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the Alliance Race and Captain Oliver’s Regatta take place here every year, and across St. Maarten, dozens of boating excursions launch daily for every experience level. From amateur enthusiasts to yachting professionals, the Dutch side as well as the French side of the island offers plenty of satisfying sailing for everyone.

So, what better place to learn how to sail than St. Maarten? We sent Kara Phelps, the communications specialist for Divi Resorts, to Divi Little Bay Beach Resort to learn the ropes on the stunning waters of Little Bay. Here’s her take:

Hi there! Some of the best sailing in the Caribbean can be had on St. Maarten. When I visited the island this summer, I was excited to experience it firsthand.

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Kara’s hobie cat rental

My first stop was the Aqua Mania Adventures kiosk on the beach at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. The helpful staff recommended that I rent a single-sized catamaran, or “hobie cat” ($40 per hour). With its simple setup, this type of boat is easy for beginners to wrangle.

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Kara with Albert, a water sports attendant with Aqua Mania Adventures and her sailing instructor for the day

Albert, an experienced and easygoing water sports attendant born and raised on St. Maarten, accompanied me onto the water. He explained that most of what I’d be doing would be adjusting the “sheet” (the rope that pulls the sail into the boat or lets it out) to “trim” (reposition) the sail. On a larger sailboat, you need to pay attention to multiple aspects of the sails’ interactions with the wind, rope tensions, and so on, but the stripped-down nature of the hobie cat and its single sail allowed me to focus on the basics: angling the sail to catch the wind and move the boat in the direction I wanted to go.

We set out on a diagonal across Little Bay, directly into a light chop. (It’s best to wear your swimsuit for the rental—you’ll definitely get soaked!) Albert said that on a typical day, the winds swirl around in the bay, blocked as they are by land on three sides. Today was no different, so we needed to move diagonally to catch as much wind as possible.

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Kara and Albert sail across Little Bay

Every so often, I pulled on the sheet, hooked to the “boom” (the horizontal pole that helps the sheet guide the sail), to respond to the changes in the wind and to keep the sail full. It takes some strength, especially if it’s a windy day. You’ll also need to keep a hand on the rudder to keep the boat heading in a straight line. Sailing is a full-body workout.

As we neared the far shore, Albert taught me how to “tack.” Tacking involves turning the boat so that the wind shifts from one side of the boat to the other. It’s how you turn around to head back from where you came. As you tack, watch your head! The boom swings from one side of the boat to the other, and you’ll need to duck. On a small craft like a hobie cat, Albert told me, it’s also best to shift your weight to the other side of the boat. That movement keeps the boat balanced and prevents it from capsizing. In the protected waters of Little Bay, wearing the lifejacket that Aqua Mania provides, you won’t be in much danger if you do manage to flip the boat, but you’ll probably want to avoid that scenario anyway!

Luckily, Albert and I stayed upright the entire time. We tacked successfully and headed back toward the beach. We went back and forth across the bay several times, and each time, the necessary movements became a little easier. Sailing requires physical as well as mental effort, and it’s a rewarding experience when everything is working together and you’re heading smoothly across the water with the wind at your back.

Stay at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort for easy access to this experience! Aqua Mania Adventures rents hobie cats at the water sports kiosk at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. They’re also available by booking online.

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