March 26th – 31st, 2014 (-4 on UTC) (Same as New York on Daylight Savings time)
After sailing by our “competition” from St. Kitt’s, arriving at the French island of St. Barth’s was wild and entertaining. We saw several “mega yachts” sailing around looking like they were practicing for a race. Indeed they were! The outer anchorages were packed, no moorings available and the inside of the main harbor at Gustavia was about as close to off limits as it could have been except for dinghies. We did manage to find a spot to drop the hook between five privately moored boats in Anse de Corossol. Calm and close enough to be able to dinghy into the harbor. The dinghy docks were well past capacity and Nikki and I found a secret spot by one of the waterfront cafe’s which we used on all our trips ashore.
Unbeknownst to us, we had arrived just before the start of the three day “St. Barth’s Bucket Regatta”.
To see some really cool short video of these boats under sail and learn more about what a “Bucket Regatta” is.
Sailing Video link: http://vimeo.com/91319608
St. Barth’s Bucket Regatta link: http://www.bucketregattas.com/index.html
The video of the boats under sail is absolutely worth the few minutes.
The “Bucket” as it’s known locally is a three day extravaganza for the most elite sailing vessels on the planet! There were 38 boats (invitation only!) ranging from about 90 feet to 220 feet! The “gold plater’s” were at the low end around 6++ million USD and the high end around 50++ million USD! I estimated the fleet’s worth at about half a billion USD! These yachts are incredibly fast and incredibly powerful. If things go wrong aboard, stuff breaks, it’s a real problem. The crews ranged from around 15-25 on each boat. It takes that many people to just move things around (like sails) on these boats. We met a young guy from Boston who told us, “I’m paid to ask no questions and move heavy objects”. That about summed it up for the need of most of the crew.
Imagine boats where if a smudge appears, someone is there within a few minutes to make it disappear. This is the Rockerfeller & Vanderbilt’s of old – ‘type financing’. The co-founder of Netscape – Jim Clark was aboard his gold plater as were many of the owners. Most of the crews don’t know who the owners are but if they do, they’re sworn to secrecy. The security that follows this group is just another part of the spectacle.
We rented a Quad ATV and drove up to the overlook to watch the start of the first day’s racing. The boats are started in a reversed staggered order by their sailing handicaps. This prevents 200,000 pound boats smashing into each other on a crowded start line. The courses were varied and mostly used the small islets around St. Barth’s as marks of the course. A few years ago, the largest boat in the fleet (218 feet), “Hetairos” hit one of these islets and it’s 20,000 pound break away keel feel to the bottom. They were lucky the boat didn’t capsize! This year would not be an exception either. “Seahawk”, the 197 foot Peri Navi brushed a rock while apparently trying to take a tight corner – or so we heard. Apparently, no major disasters which is a really good thing.
As these races go, the concept is to show them off, but not necessarily make a big deal out of who wins….yeah right! These guys have former America’s Cup sailors as hired guns to go as fast as possible. Paul Cayard of America’s Cup fame was aboard “Hetairos” this year.
Our Quad ATV was fun too and we enjoyed doing a self tour of the island; chasing many of the “gold platers” around and watching them bunch up as they got closer to the finish line.
We ran into old friends Richard Spindler and Dona de Mallorca of sailing magazine “Latitude 38” out of San Francisco. We knew they were in the area, but they saw us and dinghied by. We went to a modern art photography gallery event with them and Richard told us that Jimmy Buffet was in town for the regatta and would do a free concert on the wharf. For those of you who don’t know the musician, author and general troubadour to sailor’s and adventurer’s everywhere – Jimmy Buffet is an American Icon. Jimmy is and has been for the last 25+ years, consistently in the top 15 grossing concert artists in the USA. He finally got a number one hit a few years ago, “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson. Well Nikki and I thought that was really a cool thing that he was going to play and we went early. He did indeed appear and did a 45 minute set with a local band. I’m not sure he ever played with this band before, but they seemed to breeze along through Jimmy’s greatest hits without much difficulty.
Cindy and I always wondered if we’d ever come across Jimmy Buffet while sailing vast distances across the world with the Caribbean (his stomping grounds being the most likely place). Here he was, the man himself in St. Barth’s. Nikki and I enjoyed the brief concert and drank a toast to Cindy’s spirit – that she could see him too. Jimmy apparently has a house here overlooking the harbor and was rumored to be on one of the big boats on the race.
We had a lovely meal at “Maya’s” just outside the harbor. Maya, a local gal from Martinique and her American ex-pat husband Randy own it. Very nice, very pricey! St. Barth’s seems to be all about the privilege of spending more money than the next guy….) It’s the most expensive (of the expensive) places we’ve yet been too in the Caribbean.
I will say, the people’s attitudes with only one exception (stay away from the bakery near the post office!) was better than all the previous French Islands of the Caribbean. Very high end stores are here like Cartier, La Perla, Louis Vutton and more. Though the prices were very high, the food and service were very good. The mega yachts were paying between 500-800 USD per night for the privilege of dropping an anchor and tying up to the dock at their sterns. This did not include the diving services they had to help set and move their anchors. This was exciting to watch and if you were around; quickly shooed off. At least we only had to pay 30 USD/night to anchor outside the harbor. This was a first – paying to anchor OUTSIDE the harbor.
Despite the costs – the sights, the spectacle, the town of Gustavia and the ambience made this perhaps our favorite stop of the season to date.
Scott and Nikki (Currently in Puerto Rico!)