I am writing this update two months after our visit. This was our last island visit before the shadow of Covid19 overtook us and as such I am (currently) nostalgic about it. Having visited Saint Barth’s before I wouldn’t normally write in such length about it on the blog, but it has become a fond memory of simpler and safer times. Only 2 months later our trip to Saint Barth’s seems to have taken place in a different century. The virus was catching up with us. When we visited Saint Barth’s at the end of February we learned that there were two people who had returned from France and had been tested positive for Covid19 on Saint Barth’s. As far as we know, this family (split between Saint Martin and Saint Barth’s) were the first confirmed Coronavirus patients declared in the Caribbean. Little did we know how quickly our cruising season would come to an end…
Diary excerpts : Gustavia
Thursday 27th February
Am writing this anchored up in the bay outside Gustavia, surrounded by super yachts. It’s absolutely jam packed! A very different vibe from when we were here last at the end of the season in May 2019. Quite fun to see the mega yachts (one, Eclipse, so big that we took it for a cruise ship as we got closer). It took Simon over an hour to pick his anchoring spot. It was spectacular coming in at night – the port was lit up like New York (or how I imagine New York to look) with many red anchor lights visible for miles. Another beautiful night sail up here- a beam reach (unfortunately a bit clanky when the wind dipped to below 12 knots apparent and went round on the stern), a flawless starry night sky without a cloud or a squall on the horizon. We saw about three other boats all the way up from Barbuda, one of which was doing the Caribbean 600 race – we saw him turn around the lit racing mark off the coast of Barbuda (and passed by this mark very close ourselves).
We went into Gustavia to check in; so easy and quick despite having lost our password from last year. We then enjoyed a leisurely saunter down the manicured pavements along the designer shops, splashing out on a mug and getting some treats at the supermarche. We came back for sunset and enjoyed the spectacle of the superyachts parking up in Gustavia port and all around us in the anchorage. It’s quite interesting to see the contrast between low season and high season. The pontoon space where we were allowed to raft up alongside for a couple of hours for free in May last year was occupied by five enormous super yachts, all mooring stern to the pontoon manned by professional skippers while crew carry fenders twice their size. The crew all look smart in their matching uniforms while the guests take selfies posing on the sundeck. Maybe Leonardo di Caprio is around somewhere? A greater contrast to Barbuda is hard to imagine. That’s the charm of the cruising life for you!
Saturday, 29th February
Yesterday we spent the day in Gustavia wandering around. We had the most expensive expresso ever (10 Euros for two coffees!) in a beautiful waterside café then explored the streets that we hadn’t walked down before. There is a walk to the ruins of Fort Carl with beautiful views over to Saba, Statia and St Kitts and Nevis (another brilliant day of good vis and blue skies) and a lovely walk along this side of the island that turned out to be part of the hospital. We walked to the end of Gustavia where the Mairie is, intending to walk up to the other fort which seemed far more impressive and intact, but it turned out to be a police station and a security gate blocks you from going near it. We went back to the yachties bar behind the capitainerie for drinks and a burger. I’d overheated, walking in the hottest part of the day and this watering hole was extremely welcome. At 3 Euros a beer and 4,50 E for a burger this bar is very useful! A little oasis of grungy cool amidst all the overpriced chic.
We then upped anchor and motored around the corner to Colombiers bay. It looks very different to when we were here last! The bay is pretty full (although we did manage to get a mooring buoy) and there are some enrmous boats parked here; three super yachts, one of which, (Limitless which I’ve renamed Pointless) takes up most of the bay just by itself. It spoils the “off the beaten track, wild bay” vibe somewhat to see a boat the size of a block of flats metres away on the beam. Never mind; it’s interesting to watch the crew come around the lit boat at night, like watching a floating stage set. Apart from this the bay is just as quiet and sleepy. I hope the turtles are still thriving!
Sunday, 1st March
In the beautiful Baie de Colombiers listening to the red-billed tropic birds flying in pairs and chattering away. The snorkelling here did not disappoint. Pleasingly I saw three big turtles as soon as I got into the water and more as I swam around. I recognised Barnacle Bum from last year. His barnacle got bigger. Then snorkelling I saw tons of Nassau grouper, some large Angel fish (grey and French) and a sleeping place for a dozen huge tarpon. Shame my camera was recharging! I love the predators, I find them thrilling and majestic. I have so many nice pics of turtles from last year that I don’t feel the need to harass them and leave them some space. The concrete block that secures our mooring buoy is a favourite hang out of them in the morning. I saw six of them all congregating on or near the block yesterday. It’s like a turtle bar.
Wednesday 4th March Ile Fourchu, somewhere new!
Yesterday (Tuesday) was delightful. We motored across the water to Ile Fourchu, the little island a mile or so from St Barth’s. There is nothing on it; it is a piece of wilderness except for the visiting yachts. We picked up what appeared to be the only mooring buoy in the bay; everyone else was anchored on the other side of the bay. A bit of secluded paradise and another gorgeous day for it, and one of my favourite snorkeling spots in the Caribbean so far! There isn’t much in the way of coral there, it’s all rocks and sea grass, but the visibility and the diversity are wonderful. I saw a beautiful Hogfish; he was huge! Also two nurse sharks having a siesta and then everything else in the book; French, Grey and Queen Angelfish, filefish of all kinds, trunkfish of all kinds, triggerfish, turtles, parrot fish, blue tang, chromis and the biggest school of yellow tailed snapper under the boat ever. They were a good size! I tried to feed them bits of tuna that Roger had frozen for bait but little bar jacks were faster and hoovered it all up. I was in paradise and wanted to stay but Simon wanted to be in Saint Martin to get a good enough phone signal to order his Raymarine VHF handset.
Goodbye St Barth’s
We left for Saint Martin, the bustling life of chandlery shopping, supermarket provisioning, Regatta parties and reasonably priced restaurants. My friend Rob booked his fateful air ticket to fly over to join us in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed off with so many plans of places to visit, people to see, chandleries to shop in, countries to cruise. The cruising season was in full swing and we were determined to take advantage of it. Visiting Saint Barth’s had been like visiting an old friend.