The French island of St Barthélemy (St. Barth) has many ingredients that make it the perfect port of call, from unspoiled beaches with soft white sand to luxurious villas and intimate hotels. The island’s steep, rugged terrain has winding mountain roads, where one still sees chickens and goats wandering about. The smallest of the French West Indies, St. Barth measures a mere eight square miles.
Today, with a resident population of over 9,000, the island has become a popular destination for sailboats as well as mega motor yachts, with sailors enjoying an enticing mix of cultures, languages, and lifestyles. The core of the island’s population is made up of descendents of a handful of French settlers that came to St. Barth in the late 17th century. Over the last 40 years the population has increased considerably, with an influx of people from mainland France, the United States, Europe, and neighboring islands. The island is truly polyglot, with French as the official language, and English, Creole, Portuguese, and an island Patois also spoken.
The Port of Gustavia
Sweden ruled St. Barth from 1784 to 1878, calling the settlement around the port after their king, Carl Gustav. Vestiges of the Swedish era can be found as one walks through town, including some period government buildings and a picturesque clock tower, as well as several private homes.
An important economic resource for the island, the Port of Gustavia is extremely active with thousands of motor-yachts and sailboats visiting annually. Peak season, between Christmas and New Year, is when mega-yachts jockey for a place at the dock and hundreds of boats are anchored in the harbor. In fact, there is a ‘St. Barth size’, yachts built not to exceed the length limit of 198ft (60m) in order to be allowed on the dock. The yachts start to arrive in November and early December as places at the dock are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis.
The port hosts various sailing regattas throughout the year, the most prestigious being the invitational St. Barth Bucket, reserved for sailboats over 100ft (30.3m) in length, that takes place in April. Some of the world’s most magnificent vessels – including America’s Cup J-Class boats – unfurl their sails and show off their prowess in this annual event.
The streets around Gustavia are lined with luxury boutiques and colorful shops with facades of brightly painted clapboard or traditional cedar shakes offset by white shutters. Duty-free prices add to the allure of haute couture and jewelry. Brands such as Hermes, Ralph Lauren, Bulgari, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton have their own stores, while other boutiques blend the clothes, shoes, handbags, and jewelry of various international designers. Cuban cigars and duty-free liquor add to the mix, making Gustavia a good place for shopping and yacht provisioning.
From Gustavia, yachts can choose to sail clockwise or counterclockwise around the island. Pleasant anchorages can be found in the bays of Fourchue or Colombier, both are nice spots for snorkeling. Mega yachts often anchor off the more populated beaches, such as Saint Jean and Flamands, running guests ashore for lunch by dinghy, however, if the seas are rough this can be very dangerous and is discouraged.
Saint Barth is one of the most sophisticated islands in the Caribbean, which makes it a pleasure to stock up on groceries. Just steps from the port, AMC’s Libre Service is a small yet well-stocked supermarket, while around the corner is American Gourmet, with a high-end range of products. At the far end of the port is Route des Boucaniers, a restaurant with a take-out service, while in St Jean, gourmet delis such as Kiki è Mo and Maya To Go provide picnics with everything from filet of beef to grilled shrimp, sandwiches, and yummy desserts.
As sailors have discovered for hundreds of years, there is something magical about St. Barth, a little island between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, where the simplicity of the West Indies blends with the sophistication of France, and life is just about as good as it gets.
ST. BARTH REGATTA CALENDAR:
December 31 2013: New Year’s Eve Regatta
January 31 – February 2 2014: St. Barth Fun Cup (windsurfing)
March 27-30 2014: St. Barth Bucket Regatta
April 14 – 19 2104: Les Voiles de Saint-Barth
April 18 2014: Depart Transat Ag2r (France)
May 1 2014: Tour de St. Barth (windsurfing)
May 1 – 4 2014: West Indies Regatta
Mid-May: Arrival Transat Ag2r, Gustavia
November 21 – 23 2014: St. Barth Cata Cup