Today we bid farewell to Simpson Bay Lagoon. Our timing is perfect for the scheduled 8:15 AM opening of the Sandy Ground Bridge. Once in Marigot Bay, our course takes us northeast past Grand Case, then east into the wind, passing north of submerged Spanish Rock. Once clear of the north coast of the Island of Tintamarre, a course change to the southeast places Cutter Loose on a rollicking beat into moderate trade winds in the 15 to 20 knot range.
Our destination today is St. Barthelemy (St. Barth for short). From Simpson Bay Lagoon, it is a journey of 27 nautical miles to the island’s primary port of Gustavia. The outer harbor is crowded with anchored boats and boats on moorings. At 1:30 PM, we are anchored way out in the cheap seats near the huge rock outcroppings known as Les Gros Islets. Thirty miles to the southeast, a hazy outline of the steep-sided volcanic islands of Saba and St. Eustatius can be seen on the horizon. The tops of these islands are nearly always touching the clouds.
The dinghy is launched for the trip ashore to clear customs at the Captainerie. Based on the length and beam of Cutter Loose, the port fees are $16 per night for the privilege of anchoring in the harbor and utilizing the dinghy docks. The fee includes refuse disposal (recycling) and wifi in the harbor. As part of the paperwork, visiting yachts are required to sign an agreement committing to recycle plastics, glass and metal. Recycling bins are located at each dinghy dock. With public wifi in the harbor and compulsory recycling, St. Barth is more progressive than other Caribbean islands that we have visited.
During his second voyage, Christopher Columbus sailed by this island in 1493 and named it after his brother Bartholomeo. Originally settled by the French, St. Barth was sold to Sweden in 1784 in exchange for a warehouse in Gothenberg. In an act of retrocession, the Swedes returned the land to France in 1878. Today, St. Barth supports a year-round population of 9,000.
Gustavia is a popular destination for charter boats and large mega yachts, many of which are docked stern-to the quay. The inner harbor at Gustavia is surrounded by concrete seawalls…essentially a large bathtub where the surge bounces off of the walls like balls on a billiard table. As a result, all of the boats in the inner harbor are swaying and tugging on their dock lines.
Nearly everything about Gustavia is postcard picture-perfect. The scale is boutique. The vibe is Euro-chic. The locals dress fashionably. There is no litter or graffiti, no crime, no panhandlers and no visible poverty. Gustavia is a playground for the wealthy and those who enjoy mingling with the upper class. French, English and Russian are spoken here.
The narrow streets and pedestrian passageways are lined with pricey, high end retail clothing and jewelry shops. Real estate offices advertise elaborate villas for sale and rent. The brasseries, cafes and expensive French restaurants that line the sidewalk are filled with tourists and locals from early in the morning to late at night.
The rental car of choice in St. Barth is the Mini Cooper convertible. Scads of them are parked along the streets in Gustavia. Motor scooters rule the road in terms of sheer numbers and speed. Our walking tour of Gustavia, including Fort Gustave and the road south of town towards the village of Lurin provide outstanding views of the inner harbor.
On Friday, we splurge and make a dinner reservation at Bonito, a casual but elegant French restaurant overlooking the harbor. At 7:30 PM, we are amongst the first to be seated for dinner on the circular veranda. The food and the atmosphere are outstanding. During our after-dinner stroll, we pause to listen to a jazz and blues band at a bar on the waterfront promenade. By the time we return to Cutter Loose, it is nearly midnight…a major departure from the norm of lights out at 10 PM.
On Saturday afternoon, the anchor is up in Gustavia harbor. Our destination is Anse de Columbier, a delightful anchorage just a few miles to the north of Gustavia. This Bay is part of a marine park outfitted with moorings to protect sea turtle habitat. Exposed to the west, we are treated to outstanding sunsets from this anchorage. On Sunday, our hike east along a rocky trail takes us to Anse de Flamands. The beach here is lovely and the exercise is welcome after our dining experience at Bonito.
Our time here in St. Barth is rapidly coming to a close. The weather forecast for Monday appears favorable for the next segment of our winter cruise…a passage to Antigua.