St Barthelemy – This could very well be the entrance to heaven: On the hill is a large white cross overlooking a crowded harbor entrance dotted with picturesque islands. Le Croix serves as a sort of mid channel marker for both the small, prop driven planes that drop out of sight to land behind the villa dotted peak it dominates, and for the multitude of visiting yachts as they work their way into a bustling Gustavia Harbor, St. Barthelemy, French West Indies.
A classic Mediterranean feeling immediately envelopes you, with more superyachts backed on to the quays and perhaps 25 smaller yet still impressive yachts moored Bahamian style in the center. About 100 recreational fishing and pleasure boats are moored along the seawall, where shops and trendy restaurants await on shore each with an attractive vibe all their own.
And the sunsets are among the best in the Caribbean; confirming the entrance to heaven! If that’s not enough proof, witness the topless angels that frequent the gorgeous beaches. In St. Barthelemy, even the ugly people are good looking!
But what makes St. Barthelemy heaven is what happens here, amongst the “super rich and those that serve them” as one local succinctly described the populace of 9,000. Nothing illustrates the true soul of St. Barthelemy better than the two 25ft engineless boats that gently sail out of the harbor about 5pm, each and every day, crisscrossing through the anchored and moored vessels in the outer harbor until they drift their way back to rest along the seawall well past dark. Across the water, you can hear the cacophony of giggles from the dreadlocked sailors who toot their air horns in celebration of pure sailing enjoyment; simple pleasures that money can’t buy.
A festive atmosphere exists daily during the season with live music throughout Gustavia Harbor, most regularly at places like BAZ and Les Routes des Boucaneers, and a DJ thumps popular house and disco standards at Bagatelle and at the Yacht Club. Le Ti St. Barths, on the hill overlooking Marigot, offers a semi burlesque cabaret dinner show that is often the highlight of any visit to St. Barths.
Yet it’s the people, visitors and locals, that you will remember most. Here you will find warmth, hospitality and patience. Everyone is willing to offer helpful advice or even a ride, as hitchhiking is easy and safe, especially since taxis are so expensive. Or rent a scooter, everyone drives them!
Even at the exclusive Nikki Beach and Eden Rock Hotel, a perfect example of St. Barthelemy’s brash opulence mixed with humble living exists. One April day, while my catamaran Sanctuary and I were anchored there, a Moroccan theme highlighted the party at Nikki Beach as belly dancers and Les Voiles Regatta participants table-danced all afternoon. In the middle of the festivities, the fishing boat RGM offloaded about three dozen Mahi Mahi into a small plastic row boat, and the two burly fishermen paddled their overloaded dinghy to shore. Later that night, a fly fisherman cast his line while standing on the reef at the base of the Eden Rock promontory, forming a bright silhouette thanks to the exterior lights of the famous hotel.
Upon swimming back to the boat at sunset, when I also saw many turtles in the bay, I heard erotic moaning from Eden Rock as two lovers enjoyed the hot tub at the foot of their cliff-side room, oblivious to my presence on the boat a mere 40 yards away.
The pleasant yet quirky nature of St. Barths continued later that evening while I enjoyed a tapas dinner at nearby Le Piment. I met a couple who had rented the historic Gustavia Anglican church for 15 minutes to renew their ten-year wedding vows and hired the long time local musician ‘Soleil’ to perform. I shared a drink with the pastry chef from Eddy’s Restaurant and withstood the drunken monologue of a Portuguese construction worker whose French no one could understand. Perhaps the only blemish here is that tobacco smoking is rampant, with no end in sight.
At ten, I joined my friends at La Plage to honor the local super model and pole dancer extraordinaire Christina in celebration of her 30th birthday while the moon rose over the star lit horizon. A perfect tribute to my friend and a typical day on St. Barths—warm, beautiful and a ‘heavenly’ place to spend time and money while still on Earth.
Captain Mark Denebeim, formerly a charter boat captain aboard his Island Spirit catamaran Sanctuary, is now a landlubber based in Red Hook, St. Thomas, where he is starting a weekly vacation dating business: ParadiseMatch.com. Sanctuary is available for bare boat charter from www.barecat.com