19th April ~ Passage to St Barthélemy from Barbuda!
We had a journey of 67 nautical miles to complete and so we ‘weighed’ anchor early in the morning – 06.20 – and set off for Gustavia, the capital of St. Barts!! We were sad to be leaving the beautiful island of Barbuda and Petit Goustan, hopefully we will see them both again!
I couldn’t resist including this photo taken the previous evening!
We had a good wind from behind which meant we could sail with just our big genoa! We didn’t bother with the mainsail as it would have blanketed the genoa and much frustration would have ensued!! As it was we made excellent time with just the one sail, ie we arrived in daylight – just, which is always a good thing!
It was very busy in the anchorage as we motored around looking for a suitable spot to drop the anchor! In the end we picked up a buoy as it was starting to get dark and settled for the night.
The following morning we were able to find a good spot to anchor! The reason for the anchorage being so busy was that there was racing going on and when we got up the racing fleet had already gone!! We’re not really into racing but we couldn’t help being impressed by the amazingly powerful yachts!
When we went ashore we discovered why Gustavia was buzzing! We happened to have arrived on the final day of Les Voiles de St. Barth Regatta! This regatta is apparently an important stop on the Caribbean circuit and this year they were celebrating the 10th anniversary.
The regatta is sponsored by Richard Mille, a luxury brand of Swiss watches! The branding was everywhere we looked but when we found the shop in Gustavia selling the watches, we were (I was!) singularly unimpressed by them!?
Here we see all the paraphernalia surrounding racing yachts on the quayside! It was definitely buzzing with activity!
That evening we were sitting out on the anchor when the sky suddenly lit up with the sights and sounds of a huge firework display from the fort on the hill opposite bringing the regatta to a close!
We had ringside seats, so to speak which also allowed us to see that a stray firework had landed on the side of the hill and set fire to the undergrowth!! The officials were quickly on the case though! It looked worse than it was and in the morning we could see that the damage was minimal!
We have been to St. Barts before and so we were quite au fait with the capital! The island is French and was, until 2003 under the auspices of Guadeloupe but in that year the island voted to form a separate overseas collectivity of France. It became then the fourth French collectivity of the Leewards Islands in the northeastern Caribbean, the other three being St Martin, Guadeloupe and Martinique, the four being referred to as the French West Indies!
St. Barts is the only island in the Caribbean which was a Swedish colony for a significant length of time. Symbolism from the Swedish era, the Three Crowns, appears on the islands coat of arm.
Here in St Barts the colony existed for nearly a century from 1784. France’s King Louis XVI bartered the island in exchange for trading rights to the Swedish port of Gothenburg. This arrangement ended in 1878 when France repurchased the island!!
The island is noted for it’s white sand beaches such as this one just round the headland from the anchorage at Gustavia.
…. it is also the haunt of the rich and famous with a result that Gustavia is full of designer shops and high end restaurants. It is very chic and in a way doesn’t really feel like the real Caribbean!
Despite the island suffering some damage from Hurricane Irma you really wouldn’t know it! Order is beautifully restored! We were able to do some grocery shopping before moving on to Anse Du Colombier, a very peaceful inlet at the northwestern tip of St Barts with lots of turtles! Again it was familiar territory for us and good to be back!
We anchored in the crystal clear aquamarine water and swam and snorkelled and generally chilled!!
22nd April ~ Île Tintamarre
Our next destination was the island of Tintamarre just a very short hop from our night stop! Again so good to be back especially as all signs of the hurricanes were nowhere to be seen! I feel sure that some of the vegetation would have suffered but if it had then it had regrown!
This tiny French island is uninhabited and is a marine park! Since we were last here several buoys have been installed, the authorities are trying to protect the nature reserve! We swam ashore and partook of an exfoliating mud bath, as you do!! The results are so good! Having plastered ourselves in the mud, we let it dry for as long as we could stand the heat before diving into the sea to wash it all off!!
We stayed over night which was magical! Most of the day boats had left and just one or two remained!
In the morning I went on turtle watch!! These creatures are very shy and usually by the time I’ve organised myself to take a photo they have disappeared!! I sat up on the seat we have in the bow and waited my chance – Bingo! A turtle appeared and rather than wait for a perfect shot I just held the shutter down – et Voila!
I was very pleased with myself, my patience had paid off! We have seen lots and lots of turtles but we gather that they are actually a critically endangered species?!
It is easy to see why it was quite hard to leave this little paradise but leave we had to as we sailed north, ultimately to the Virgin Islands where we would be setting off for the east coast of America, Chesapeake Bay!
23rd April ~ St. Martin/Sint Maarten ~ The Friendly Island!
This island is shared between two countries, France and The Netherlands in a 60/40 split although apparently the populations of both sides of the island are just about equal!
The French side, Saint Martin is one of the four French islands which form the French West Indies, it’s capital is Marigot!
In 1493 when Christopher Columbus’s first spotted the island on his second voyage to the West Indies he named the island, Isla de San Martin after Saint Martin of Tours because it happened to be 11th November, St Martin’s Day!
The Dutch side is Sint Maarten and is one of the four countries, which make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands and whose capital is Phillipsburg! The four countries are Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten
This island had been ravaged by hurricane Irma! Having been here before on bareboat charters we obviously had a picture in our minds of how it used to be and so were slightly concerned about what we would find when we arrived at Anse Marcel?
The two photos on the left were ones I had taken back in 2003! The once tranquil scene and beautiful hotel totally wrecked! The other upsetting thing we discovered was that people who had lived through the hurricane and managed to survive 200+mph winds were utterly traumatised?
However, our visit here wasn’t all sadness it was also a story of recovery, starting with the recovery of the Palm trees at the hotel in Anse Marcel! The beautiful palm trees at the hotel were rescued by an ingenious system to lever up the trees little by little until they were upright! The roots of a palm tree grow out sideways and because of this it is possible to rescue a tree which has been uprooted! Incredible!
Another story to lighten the mood… I was talking to a French guy who was living on his boat in what remained of the marina and commuting to work. The day before I spoke to him he told me that he had woken up to find that one of these iguanas had made himself at home in his boat???
I think I know how I would have reacted if that had happened to me!! These strange, prehistoric looking creatures are everywhere in and around the marina but are completely harmless we were told!
24th April ~ Marigot
We were preparing to leave for Marigot where we had arranged to meet up with Hugo a young French guy sailing alone on his boat, when a mini disaster struck as we were lifting the anchor…! Wow, how did that happen?
When we thought about it we realised that we had had a pretty uncomfortable night in the anchorage with Musetta rolling heavily with the swell! Somehow our anchor chain had caught round this huge piece of tree and wrapped itself round and round it!
Fortunately for us, as we had stowed our dinghy, someone else in the anchorage who had their dinghy in the water could see our predicament and came over to help. With quite a lot of jiggery pokery our rescuers managed to free the chain and so up came the anchor and we set off!!
Hugo had crossed the Atlantic with his father but then next part of his journey he was to do tout seul! Like Élise and Fabien he had taken a year off work to pursue his dream and like them he had to be back at his desk by 1st July!
We had met Hugo in Montserrat and while we sailed off to Antigua he sailed to St. Martin to wait for his departure to the Azores.
We enjoyed some beers and meals with him on Musetta and were amazed by his confidence as he prepared to sail to the Azores to meet up with his girlfriend and return to Brittany with her and her father on board!
Unbelievably, it transpired that Hugo kept ‘Margot’ in the marina at Port La Forêt and had work done to her by Extrado, the boat yard where we had kept Musetta over two winters?!!
25th April ~ Phillipsburg
While we were in Marigot we caught a bus to Phillipsburg on the Dutch side of the island! We found the Pasanggrahan Hotel where we had stayed with our friends Kate and Jerry in 2003 prior to picking up a charter boat. Nowhere had escaped Irma I’m afraid?
The facade of this beautiful colonial style hotel remains in tact but this is what we discovered when we walked through to the beach…
Like everywhere else, life continues for the people on the French and the Dutch side of the island and they are recovering and rebuilding apace. In fact with the cruise ships arriving and their passengers spilling out to spend money, business in Phillipsburg seems to be booming!!
28th April ~ Return to Anse Marcel
We had completed our chores and everything we wanted to do in Marigot and decided then to return to Anse Marcel, sailing in company with Hugo, where it was much more peaceful and we were able to do lots of swimming too!
29th April ~ Marina bound
We had another very rolly night at anchor and so decided to spend our last night before setting off for the BVIs in the marina! It also gave us a chance to clean Musetta and fill the water tanks before setting off the next day!
30th April ~ Back out into the Anchorage!
In the morning we went to the marina office to to settle up and ‘clear out’ from St. Martin. We then went out into the anchorage again to swim and enjoy the sunshine before we needed to set off for our overnight passage to Virgin Gorda, BVIs later in the afternoon.
From our arrival in Antigua to our departure from St. Martin we had thoroughly enjoyed revisiting all these Leeward Islands. Much had changed but much had remained the same, barring the hurricane damage! The pace of life was just as gentle and I would say that in general the island people were friendly and cheerful with their lot! It definitely was a very different experience going back in our own boat, very rewarding!!
The British Virgin Islands next…..!
** In order to know exactly where Musetta and crew are currently, please check the Yellow Brick Tracker page on the website!**
As I write, we are in Soper’s Hole, Tortola BVI