From the sublime… to the not quite ridiculous

A sixty mile passage was required to take us from Barbuda to our next Island – St Barts. Well, actually St Barth if you want to be correct – or even St-Barthélemy if you want to give it its full title. I suppose, being that it is French, we should at least refer to it as St Barth. After all, on our previous sojourns to Ardrossen we would hardly have wanted to be saying we were going to L’Ecosse for the weekend would we.

They say that there are restaurants on St.Barth serving caviar with a four digit price tag. We didn’t actually see this but we did come across a Greek restaurant – I am always tempted by these – where the most basic of hummus starters was €12. Perhaps it had some caviar in it. Needless to say, we didn’t eat Greek that night.

Anyway, back to the passage. We left Low Bay, Barbuda at 05.45. Yes, I know, we are beginning to make a habit of these early starts. No need for Dave and Maggie to worry though for their trip to St. Martin in a couple of weeks. There won’t be any early mornings there – other than those where maybe we haven’t gone to bed before dawn. Sorry, I digress again, back to sailing….

Unfortunately the wind didn’t exceed 8 knots all day so it was motor on and just enjoy the trip. We did hoist the Genoa at approximately the halfway point which didn’t hinder us and may have added about 0.3k to the speed and we arrived at Gustavia, the main harbour, at just before 4pm. But, where on earth to anchor? I think there were more boats, of all shapes and sizes, here than we have seen in total. There were a heck of a lot, or so we thought, in English and Falmouth harbours on Antigua but St Barth was amazing. If the sea was real estate it would be worth a fortune.

The pilot gave three main options, just outside the actual old harbour being the first. We had to pass through here anyway so threaded our way past several offshore rocks and islands, avoiding the shoal water and all of the already anchored boats. The pilot says that boats anchored here should beware because the wind switches and boats swing through 360 degrees. To allow for this the boats close to shore are supposed to have stern anchors. But as those further out do not, the pilot goes on to warn folk thinking they have spotted a nice hole between two yachts not to go there because the outer one could swing. We didn’t see any stern anchors and we didn’t see any holes either – if there had been any they were already full so let’s hope that everyone swung happily with no mishaps. We decided not to stay there to find out.

The second option is the harbour itself where there is the possibility of picking up a mooring, which are laid in rows according to boat length, or anchoring stern to against one of the long new sections of dock built especially for visiting yachts. Given that there are only about six moorings available for our length of boat, the fact that the place was heaving and there would have been no chance, and because we prefer to anchor anyway we decided to give that possibility a miss. Fortunately, we also decided the harbour looked too packed to attempt the stern to option either. I say fortunately because, when we later ventured into the town I can only conclude that these special docks were built by boat repair yards because the swell in the harbour was awful. “Stern to” was a bit of a misnomer because every boat had to lay off otherwise risk having the transom smashed to bits. As it was their warps were taking a good deal of stress.

The final option was to anchor at the north end of the bay beyond the fairway near to Anse Corossol. This was described as being possibly rolly and with a longer dingy ride. But, it was the only place available and, in the end, we quite liked it there.

On our trip across the bay we had noticed rather a lot of racing type yachts, many boats with pennants and a number of yachts all of which appeared to be called “Richard Mille” as this name was emblazoned on their bows. So, what transpires is that we had picked a race weekend which was adding considerable numbers to what is already a favoured place for yachties. Now, who has heard of Richard Mille? OK, all those of you who said yes – do you own one? For the plebs like me who hadn’t and don’t you can always google and possibly find out that, like us, you wouldn’t want to.

Anyway, not being cleared in we spent our first night in Gustavia aboard Matador, being feasted on Kingfish which Stuart had caught on the crossing. The following day we waved a cheery farewell as they made their way to St. Martin and we took the dingy in to Gustavia having decided that whatever the Lonely Planet said about the expense of St Barth, we were there so we wanted to see it.

There are three forts in Gustavia. These are Forts Gustave and Karl, which used to protect the main harbour from north and south, and Fort Oscar which was built on the peninsula in the middle because the other two weren’t achieving what they were supposed to and too many pirates were getting in. We decided to visit Fort Oscar as this was the highest point with supposedly good views. But, it’s actually a Police Station – so you can’t go in or even into the grounds to see the views. Just what you need to know on a hot day when you have slogged up some pretty steep streets to get there! Therefore we made our way to Fort Karl, or the few walls remaining where at least we could see into the bay.

St Barth has a rather different history to many of the islands in that in 1784, Louis XVI gave it to the Swedish King Gustav III [hence the name of the town and forts]. Well OK, gave it is probably not quite what happened. The French got trading rights in Gôteburg in return. However, despite it having been sold back to France approx 100 years later following declining trade, disease and destructive fire [not daft these Swedes are they] there are still many reminders of that Swedish rule such as the street names, many of the buildings and its totally duty free status.

Anyway, all this sightseeing had made us very thirsty so we had a relaxing beverage in Le Select, which seems to be a very popular watering hole for yachties.

Being anchored at Anse Corossol, we decided that we should probably take a trip ashore to look at the place so the following afternoon – having spent the morning messing about on the boat doing goodness knows what but using up plenty of time doing it – we took the short ride to shore. What a lovely little place. Its claim to fame seems to be that many of the older women here make palm leaf bags, table mats and hats to sell and we did see some evidence of this but it was basically some goods laid out on a garden wall – hardly the shopping emporia of the kind found in Gustavia. There is one main street which from the left of the harbour goes about 100 metres uphill to give a view of the anchorage and to the right of the harbour it wends its way through the peaceful village where the only signs of another living creature was this tortoise chomping away on its owners lawn. Well we assume it was its owners lawn – perhaps the tortoise doesn’t have an owner?

Perhaps the reason we hadn’t seen anyone was because the “life” of the village seems to centre round an excellent little “Epicerie”. It is quite difficult to describe this establishment because it offered so much. As well as being a shop, the young French proprietress [who could have looked good wearing a coal sack] made pastries, fritters and a variety of other goods which could be ordered and taken away. It also had tables outside for coffee or, if an alcoholic beverage was you fancy you just got one from the fridge. I fancied a glass of wine and so she opened a bottle, gave me a glass and put the rest of the bottle in the fridge. Each drink was €2 which was considerably better than the €3.50 per drink we had paid at the “cheap” Le Select bar in Gustavia. There was also free wifi. Over a couple of glasses we debated whether to return to the boat for the computer as we hadn’t been able to access emails for some days but decided that we would return again the following day – a good decision.

Prior to our second visit we went back into Gustavia for Clearance out. As in the other French islands clearance is computerised but the system on St.Barth [once you have worked out what information it is you are supposed to be giving] is really good because the form filled in at clearance in can be retrieved for clearance out – unlike the other islands where the whole thing has to be typed again. Gustavia is the only clearance point – well there wouldn’t really be need for many more on an island of only 21 square miles – but we did want to spend a couple of nights within its anchorages. The computerised clearance only allows a 24 hour period post clearance but Jaques, the very friendly harbourmaster, gave a gallic shrug which suggested that nobody would be checking. However, whilst this flexibility is available it is important to remember that the next port you clear into wants to see papers and could ask questions if the time gap seems excessive.

The “Big Boys” in their cruisers anchor to the outside of the bay and we had to pass them on leaving. To our astonishment, on the stern of one of them was a smaller motor boat on one side and a yacht, at least the size of ours, on the other! Thinking of the cranes used for haul out I can’t begin to guess how they manage to lower it into the water. Perhaps it’s just an ornament.

Our first stop was Anse de Columbier, all of 2.7 miles north of Corossol. It is part of the marine reserve and therefore moorings are provided [free] and we were lucky to get the last one. It is possible to anchor, but further out, and as there was a bit of wind blowing and an awkward swell out of the bay we were glad to be inside. There is a walk from Columbier to Anse des Flamands. This small trail takes about half an hour and is quite delightful as it gives panoramic views, passes hills of cactuses and lilies and has hollowed out cliffs and rock steps along its route.

Unfortunately, although Anse des Flamands has a lovely sweeping beach, there are no cafe’s and only one [closed at the time we visited] restaurant other than those found in the all inclusive resorts at the far end of the beach. We found a small shop so sat on a grass verge with water [me] and beer [Mike] and watched a guy fly his model aircraft into a tree. Oh what fun we have!

Although there is supposed to be fairly good snorkelling we didn’t partake. There were supposed to be dingy moorings but we couldn’t see any so we spent part of the morning rigging a dingy anchor. The anchor we used probably weighs more than the dingy [as it used to be the yachts second anchor!] and, after spending about half an hour sawing through a rusted old shackle, we were able to separate it from its chain and tie it  to a line. We then took the dingy along to the places which most people seemed to be favouring, but there were no signs of fish or much coral and under the dingy it was all rock and no sand so we couldn’t use our magnificent anchor and therefore decided not to bother. I don’t think I could have lifted the thing to throw it anyway so we now have small dingy anchor on our list of things to buy. Of course Mike has one of these in Heywood but it’s not much good to us there and, even though it is relatively small, it would be a bit of a dent in the luggage allowance of any visiting mates!

And so to our last St.Barth experience, the small “Île Forchue”. The island lies three miles north west of St.Barth with a good sized protected bay. Well, protected from the north and east that is which is what mattered. The island is dry and rocky, with several small steep hills and rocky peaks. There is no-one living on the island, reputedly, but there appeared to be a couple of families camping there. Now, what do you do when there are rocky peaks – well of course you climb them. As if snorkelling and walking and sailing aren’t enough for us, on the day we were on Île Forchue we also took up scrambling. Many of you will know that Mike doesn’t like heights but he manfully took the challenge. The getting down was actually worse than the getting up – as is often the case – but it was accomplished without mishap and we did get a grand view of St.Barth.

And so that’s where we leave it. We are glad we visited. It was certainly a culture shock after the peace and quiet of Barbuda but, away from the playground of the rich and famous it has a real charm. It may have been nice to see more of the south and east of the island but there are no anchorages there, there is no public transport on St.Barth and, as the Lonely Planet puts it “taxi prices go from pricey to outrageous”.


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1 comment

    • Steve Toms on May 1, 2012 at 4:02 pm
    • Reply

    Hi, great blog as usual. The motor yacht belongs to Roman Abramavich and the yacht on the stern is a 60ft oyster!


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