The island of Saint Barthélemy might be small—it measures a mere eight square miles—but its well-appointed port, open bays, and mountainous landscape make for fun exploring, both on land and at sea. Seasoned skippers and first time bare-boaters alike will enjoy everything the island has to offer and most head for St. Barth from St. Maarten or other charter bases.
The Port of Gustavia, the island’s only marina, can handle boats up to 60 meters (180’) at the dock, while larger mega-yachts anchor out in the harbor and run their guests in via tenders. In the height of the winter season, the docks are full, as are the limited moorings in the inner harbor, so boats of all sizes anchor further out and there is a continuous flurry of dinghies zipping back and forth to the dock. Be sure to let the port office know that you have arrived—and when moving about the harbor, remember that the maximum speed is just three knots. Skippers should also be sure not to anchor in the entry channel to the port.
If you decide to sail around the island, there are a few popular spots where you can stop and swim, picnic, snorkel, and enjoy the unusual turquoise water and white sand beaches. These include Colombier, a bay and beach reachable only by boat or a 20-minute walk on a footpath that cuts along the mountainside. This bay is protected by the island’s Marine Park, so be sure to tie up to the appropriate-size buoy and do not anchor in the zones where underwater nurseries are flourishing. Snorkeling here reveals a variety of marine flora and fauna including sea turtles.
Also popular is Saline, which has one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. If you get to Saline by boat, swim to the beach and hike back over the dunes to the parking lot which runs alongside the island’s salt flats. In days of yore, islanders worked under the hot tropical sun to gather the salt— one of the commodities the island had to trade with other islands. As Saint Barth is a dry island—no fresh water, lakes, or rivers—nothing is grown on the island in terms of fruits or vegetables, so having something to trade was essential in the lean years before the tourist industry developed. Since then, the island has become a playground for the rich and famous (as well as the home to over 8,000 permanent residents, many of whom are descendents of the first French settlers who arrived in the late 17th century!).
Flamands Beach is another wide, white beach where sailboats and motor yachts might anchor if the swells are too large in the Port of Gustavia, or if people want to dine at the Isle de France hotel, but be warned: at both Saline and Flamands when the surf is high, it is considered too dangerous to run people ashore in a dinghy!
The height of the season is New Year’s Eve, when hundreds of boats are anchored in the harbor, following the annual New Year’s Eve Regatta. The fireworks at midnight light up the skies over Gustavia, and Saint Barth is ready to celebrate another year as one of the most popular ports in the Caribbean!
The Basics for St. Barthélemy, French West Indies
Location: 17°55 north; 62°50 west
Port of Gustavia
All spaces at the dock are first come, first served: no reservations
Electricity (220/380 volts – 125 amps), water, WiFi available
Port office hours: 7am-5:30pm year round
Fire/ambulance: dial 18
Where to eat
In the main town of Gustavia, the most popular hangout for sailors (and land-lubbers) is a bar/hamburger joint called The Select, which is the island’s oldest establishment. Drinks are reasonable, as are the cheeseburgers in paradise (the garden restaurant is named after the Jimmy Buffet song, and Jimmy himself makes frequent visits to the island). There are numerous restaurants with French food, some with a Creole accent, in town, and easily reached on foot from the dock.