OK OK… those regularly following the blog are probably wondering if we’ve been shipwrecked. To be honest I’ve been slack. We’ve been hosting non-stop guests since Christmas, internet is lousy, my camera is in hiding, the diving is good, the weather balmy, rum punches strong… There’s no excuse really, I do apologise, so thought I’d break the drought with a snippet of our week.
Enter Saint Barthelemy.
More affectionately known as St. Barth or St. Barts, where we sailed into our first quintessential Caribbean postcard.
St Barts, which in 1493 Christopher Columbus named after his brother Bartholomew, is one of a handful of French-owned islands in the West Indies. A sunny, dry climate and poor agriculture that hindered its economic growth in colonial days, is today a tourism asset. And due to a lack of active volcanos – unlike nearby Montserrat, Dominica and Martinique – the island is ringed with powder-soft white sand beaches.
Not surprisingly it’s the Caribbean island of choice for the famous and fabulously wealthy. Filthy rich superyachts line Gustavia’s pretty French-flavoured main harbour. On the day of arrival we spotted more multi-million dollar yachts than in one month throughout the islands to the south. Red-roofed cottages with shuttered windows and breezy verandas surround the port, along with top-notch restaurants, laid-back cafes and cool bars. It was love at first sight.
Nearby it’s quite the spectacle to watch private jets and turbo-prop planes dive-bomb St Barts Airport runway. Approaching blind over a crest, they pull up short on the 650-metre tarmac that drops away to Listerine-blue waters of St. Jean Bay. This beach was the first we hit on a round-island scooter exploration and it literally took our breath away. It was Caribbean postcard-perfect with transparent waters lapping an idyllic white-sand beach. Fringed by palms, stylish sun loungers and parasols fronting boutique resorts and so-hip-it-hurts beach clubs like Nikki Beach (now a global franchise from its original Miami location).
Despite some steep hills – and corresponding killer views – the compact island is scooter-friendly. St Barts’ roads are filled with summer-fun motor vehicles such as restored mini mokes and sleek Mini Cooper Convertibles. Our guest Chad upgraded to an old blue Royal Enfield motorbike, cruising the island in retro style.
Escapists would adore the wild and rugged beauty of secluded Anse de Grande Saline (backed by once-harvested salt pans) and Anse du Gouverneur; their piercing waters windswept by the Atlantic trade winds. And in high season (winter) only a few dozen sun umbrellas dotted the sand dune-backed beaches.
Even the cemeteries were pretty. Lined with palm trees, crushed sandstone encircled perfect white headstones and crosses; every last plot compassionately adorned with colourful silk flowers to honour residents passed.
St Barts has several protected marine reserves for snorkelling and diving. Grass beds lining the seafloor supported green turtles that surfaced for air and swum around our boat whilst anchored in Gustavia Bay and later in stunning purchasepropecia Anse du Colombier.
We returned twice to JoJo Burger on the main road behind Anse de Lorient. I’d been warned the burgers got better the closer we inched towards America; washed down with a milkshake flavoured with homemade caramel. A few hundred meters away, bronzed school children were collected by SUVs, four-wheelers and scooters or Dad’s with surfboards under their arms. We envied their endless-holiday lifestyle growing up in this Caribbean paradise.
On a rare night out we dined on sushi to rival the best I’ve ever eaten (yes, even Whistler’s Sushi Village) at waterside Baz Bar coupled with a live jazz band imported from NYC. After dinner cocktails were served with elevated harbour views from the sprawling deck at chic restaurant Bonito and a nightcap or two at glittering nightspot Le Yacht Club.
Celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Beyonce holiday here along with the ridiculously rich, lured by the privacy of luxury villas or mega-yachts. Mingled with a breeze-through cruise ship crowd and the most fortunate of all – the anchored-off live aboard yachtie set like us. Surprisingly despite the wealth and opulence, the vibe was low-key and unpretentious.
That said, the contrast of wealth and living standards between Caribbean islands is staggering.
After the affluence, manicured ports, security and somewhat predictability of the Mediterranean, the Caribbean has been an eye opener with some islands home to the poorest communities we’ve visited by boat (particularly Dominica). Yet I sympathise with their reluctance and frustration given the real or perceived wealth of visiting sailing yachts, mega-yachts and cruise ships landing on their doorstep.
The night prior to arriving in swanky St Barts, we’d joined the dreadlocked rastas at their scruffy shack-like bars in Basseterre, St Kitts. We’ve generally found folks on the autonomously governed British islands to be friendly and welcoming, but a few beers in and some were noticeably unhappy with our presence at their local watering hole. It was the first time we’d felt a degree of intimidation.
On the other hand a mere six-hour sail away, the high-flyers in St Barts were probably dropping more Euros on their lunch bill than the Basseterre natives would hope to earn in a month.
We’ve covered some distance over the last five weeks. From the French overseas territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe, the dense rainforests and friendly rastas of Dominica, British holiday hotspot Antigua, to peaceful St Kitts and Nevis. All was shared with guests on board including the Gardiners, van de Riets and now Chad and Sarah. Soon we’ll be back to just the four of us for a few short weeks, quiet time I’ll utilise to share some words and photos from our first month of Caribbean island hopping. Thanks for checking in!
Below: two nights anchored at superb Anse de Colombier and a sun-dappled afternoon at Cheval Blanc on lovely Anse des Flamands.