DATE: February 20, 2007
I almost skipped St. Bart (Saint Barthelemy) . It had the reputation as the favorite destination of the rich and snooty, actors, athletes the good looking and the notorious… the Glitterati. There are so many islands and so many things to see you has to make your choices and takes your chances. But then I thought, why avoid the rich and snooty just because your not. It was a short hop from St Martin where I had been hanging out and on the rhumb line to my next destination, Guadalupe. After a three-hour beat we sailed into the port outside the main town of Gustavia. It was crowded. The inner harbor had a waiting list and the outside anchorages had tons of boats. I cleared in through the very efficient French customs, paid a nominal fee, stuffed my computer and camera in my back pack and set out to explore the Gustavia water front and hoped I wouldn't be too conspicuously common. For the next couple of days I grudgingly came to like the place. Not because the reputation was ill deserved, it wasn't. The rich and snooty are alive and well but they can also be very nice. The island had a wild and rugged beauty that begged for exploration so I rented a scooter and spent an entire day buzzing about, taking pictures, and trying to read French road signs and staying pretty much lost. I only went the wrong way on a one-way street once. (It was the main drag out of Gustavia but it worked ok for returning). The French can be so disdainful of such; they don't even honk but shake their heads in disgust. Gustavia is a delight, it wraps around the inner harbor replete with restaurants and boutiques. My cruising guide says the shops don't have merchandise they have “collections”. The architecture has been preserved and restored and is pristinely kept. St. Barts has been fought over by just about everybody but the French and the Swedes have had the most influence.
Along one section of the inner harbor was the most concentrated collection of mega yachts I have seen. Probably both St. Martin and Antigua have more but they are spread out over a much larger area. The Gustavia inner harbor is small and along mega yacht row they were stern to the wharf one after another with NO room between. When these yachts berthed they set two anchors in the channel which is scarcely wider than some of these yachts are long and backed down on the wharf Bermudian style. The two anchors are set at angles and of course cross the anchors of the adjoining yachts. Every time a mega yacht departed the dive boats would come out to make sure the massive anchors weren't fouled, or unfoul them if they were.
Watching the skippers maneuver their boats was fascinating. In the picture section I have a couple of shots of a mega sailing yacht backing down into a space that I think was actually narrower than the boat. As the boat backed in the crews on the two adjoining yachts and the crew of the sailing yacht were placing bumpers and actually prying the two boats apart to make room. These boats are over a hundred feet long and cost tens of millions and their skippers jockey them around, certainly better than I can drive my rented scooter.
I had already cleared out Tuesday and had planned to depart for Guadeloupe that evening when I discovered that Tuesday was “Carnival”. There were parades and floats and everyone had costumes, not just those in the parade but most of the St Bart population. Whole families were decked out sometimes to a theme and sometimes not, the kids were the most fun to watch, pirates and queens and fairys and goblins. I couldn't not stay for the parade. Then it started raining and I settled into my favorite restaurant the Kaz Bar, to wait out the rain and watch the revelers. I settled on the couch with a couple from Paris and a couple from New York (all in the fashion design business who holidayed every year in St. Barts). As the evening wore on it became obvious that come midnight Parallax was still going to be on the hook in St Barts without a Clearance. I was sweating that just a little. The Captain of the Port does occasionally check but it was stormy and I figured they would give me a beak for staying put. Still, I could almost hear the good Capatain after he boarded my vessel, “say, weren't you the guy going the wrong way on your scooter.” Anyway, the rain came harder and the Kaz got fuller of costumed carnivalers. There was a slight commotion across the room and the guy from New York looked over and said, “ There's Jimmy Buffet.” Turns out he knew Jimmy Buffet and he began to make his way across the room. I wanted to stand up on the couch to get a better view but that is just not done in St Barts, so all I could see was a couple or three balding middle aged heads. I took one of them for Buffet but I couldn't swear to it. Anyway, we all set on the couch and had a nice evening the fashion designers and a sailor from possum trot sharing a bottle of wine and watching the costumes.
When the evening was over and the bill came I winced a bit and made the conversion from Euros to Dollars. When you're in St Barts you best bring your 2 by 3 plastic, some things are priceless but the Glitterati are not among them.