Long known for it’s glamorous Hollywood visitors and luxurious accommodations, St. Barthelemy in the French West Indies has turned over a new leaf in recent years to make itself more accessible to the rest of us.
A polished version of the wider Caribbean, the island’s charm lies in its central location, as well as the lack of crowds and abundance of soft, white-sand beaches. This has resulted in its becoming a destination for charters and cruisers of all shapes and sizes—not just the 100-foot-plus yacht crowd, like those who participate in the around-the-island Bucket Regatta every March.
To sail to St. Barths, most cruisers opt to charter out of St. Martin, where all the major charter companies have large fleets, as do a number of other smaller outfits. Flights from all over the world arrive at Princess Juliana airport in St. Maarten, making it easily accessible from anywhere in the United State. Many charter companies offer shuttles from the airport to the marina, and taxis on the island are relatively cheap.
St. Barths is most famous for its pristine white-sand beaches. There are 14 beaches in all dotting the coast of the nine-and-a-half-square-mile island. Most are protected, making for excellent swimming and snorkeling, as well as anchoring.
A cruising favorite is Colombier beach, accessible only by boat or a 30-minute hike out to the westernmost point of the island. Colombier is the only beach anchorage with moorings, available free of charge on a first-come, first-serve basis. Many choose to anchor in the ample space, where the holding is good. On a “crowded” day you can expect to see maybe 30 people on this large stretch of sand. Often, there are fewer.
Colombier is about a half-day’s sail from the capital of St. Barths, Gustavia, and is moderately well protected for an overnight stay. The sunsets are also unbeatable. You may want to avoid this area at lunch, when half-day charters tend to bring over-crowded boats of visitors for short jaunts and can make anchoring more of a challenge.
At the bottom of a steep hill on the southern side of the island, Gouverneur beach is often praised as the most picturesque of the St. Barths’ beaches. The flawless half-crescent of sand gives way to warm waters and gentle swells, ideal for an easy swim or a nap on the beach. Many choose to anchor near the less crowded western side of the cove and then dinghy to the beach itself. Bring your chart along: Gouverneur beach is shallow farther out into the cove than most of the island’s other beaches.
St. Jean beach can also be treacherous, as it is hidden behind reefs and rocks. However, with a good chart and careful navigation you can easily anchor off of this tourist favorite. Situated directly under the departure runway for Gustaf III airport, beachgoers experience the thrill of being buzzed by departing planes. The water is warm and calm, making it an ideal destination for families with children. On the far southeast side of the beach, there are rocky outcroppings that make for excellent snorkeling.
Restaurants and Gustavia
Although a large, well-protected anchorage, the harbor at Gustavia can be very crowded, and is reportedly vulnerable to a swell that, while not dangerous, can make things a bit uncomfortable. That having been said, there’s also lots of space to choose from and good holding in the sandy bottom–although look out for weeds. Moorings are also available for a fee.
Beyond that, if there’s one thing the French always get right, it’s their food. St. Barths is a culinary gem, with restaurants ranging from beach bars to gourmet four-Michelin-star establishments.
When you’re there, be sure to visit Eddy’s. This open-air restaurant at the head of Gustavia harbor is run by local legend Eddy Stakelborough, a dark-skinned man with an infectious smile and a shock of white hair. During the evening, expect a chuckling Eddy to stop by your table to make sure you’re enjoying your meal—which, of course, you will be, since the food is delicious and the ambience heavenly. The tuna spring rolls, foie gras, and crème brûlée were some of the highlights of my own recent visit. Eddy’s does not take reservations and can fill up quickly, so arrive by around 1900 or expect a wait.
Other upscale restaurants saturate Gustavia, but the Wall House wins on both location and menu. Situated on the western side of the U-shaped harbor, Wall House is as close to a steakhouse as you will get on St. Barths. It also boasts magnificent views of both the harbor the island’s near-perfect sunsets.
For something more casual, but just as delicious, Chez Andy/The Hideaway over at St. Jean is labeled as a pizzeria, but like many of the places on the island, offers much more. Truly, their pizza is a treat, crispy and fresh with a variety of toppings, but it’s the laid-back attitude and Caribbean flair that will put you in vacation mode. Don’t let the two names fool you, this place knows exactly what they’re doing, and it does it well.
If you’re able to rent a car or choose to hire a taxi, the views and the food from the restaurant Santa Fe are worth the uphill journey. Set atop the hill above Gouverneur beach, on a clear day patrons can see St. Eustatius and Saba in the distance—and dream of their next excursion. For more on St. Barths, visit st-barths.com.
Lisa Gabrielson is a former SAIL magazine intern living and working in Newport, Rhode Island
BVI Yacht Charters bviyachtcharters.com
Dream Yacht Charters dreamyachtcharter.com
Horizon Yacht Charters horizonyachtcharters.com
The Moorings moorings.com