By Simon Piggott
The St Barts experience starts immediately as you fly across from St Martin (SXM) and touch down on the island at Gustaf III Airport (SBH); this reminds the newcomer of some of its historical origins, when the island was a free port under the Swedish Crown.
You fly in over spectacular views of the Port of Gustavia, the island’s capital, which also takes its name from King Gustav III. The short airstrip is at the base of a gentle slope which ends directly on the beach. Considered the third most tricky airport in the world to approach, the descent to the runway is extremely steep, passing straight over a hilltop roundabout. Departing planes take off right over the heads of sunbathers, as at St Martin, although signs advise sunbathers not to lie on the beach at the end of the runway: a barrier has been put up to discourage bathers walking across the beach at that point. Anyway only specially licensed pilots are allowed to land at St Barts so do not worry!
The island’s original name was Ouanalao, Amerindian for pelican. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and renamed by him after his brother Bartolomeo. French settlers arriving in 1663 called it Saint-Barthélemy. In 1784 France ceded the island to Sweden in exchange for trading rights at the port of Gothenburg. The Swedes then sold it back to France nearly a century later in 1878.
At 25 sq.kms, the island is small and was not conducive to plantations, such as sugar, due to its being dry and rocky. It thus became a centre for buccaneers before and during the colonial wars, when bounties could be exchanged without paying tax. Over the years the inhabitants, while retaining their free port status, converted to trading, fishing and farming.
In 1957 David Rockefeller, who died earlier this year at the venerable age of 101, bought a plot of land and built a property at Colombier, one of the most beautiful bays on St Barts. Slowly the dormant island, which had become a département of France in 1946 (a similar status to Hawaii in the US) emerged onto the map of an eccentric collection of characters, who settled on the island in search of its privacy and seclusion vis-a-vis better known spots frequented by the international jet set. A good read is Randy West’s book of tales “A Sunny Place for Shady Characters” about his encounters over the past 40 years at Le Select, the island’s only Caribbean-style bar, located in the centre of Gustavia.
Over the past 20 years, the island has developed into a hub for discreet luxury tourism under the savvy guidance of Bruno Magras, first as mayor from 1995 and then as Président de la Collectivité, following its independence from Guadaloupe in 2007. The original settlers and even the sailors who visited the island in the early 1980s would hardly recognize St Barts today!
Christmas and New Year’s Eve now attract an international crowd, with superyacht spotting becoming a “national sport” – 2016 saw the likes of the 162.5m “Eclipse” whose owner also has a property on the island, the 115m “Luna”, the 113m Le “Grand Bleu”, 101.5m “Symphony”, 96.25m “Limitless”, 92m “Aquarius” SY 88m “Maltese Falcon”, 85.6m “Aquila” and many more anchoring off Gustavia Port, which berths its largest yacht “Excellence V” at 60m. The owners are a mixture of European and American billionaires and friends, who appreciate the beauty and safety of the island, many of whom are members of Cercle.
It is within this growing international context that the Gustavia Yacht Club was established in 2016 by its Commodore, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, and a number of founding members, who have fallen in love with the island and its human dimension, but lacked a place in which visitors and inhabitants alike could come together to enjoy the island’s beauty and its fascinating nautical past
Over a short period of time since September 2016 GYC has gathered in its Clubhouse on the Port of Gustavia over 280 members (many of whom have made St Barts their winter residence) including Benefactors, Founding and Ordinary Members in a cosy atmosphere reminiscent of a home within a home, with members active in sailing, motor yachting and all the other activities that the island offers Club members have started to take part in sailing events held on the island, starting with the New Year’s Eve Regatta round the island, which saw Donald in his W Class “White Horses” among others. This was followed by the coveted Bucket Regatta, which this year celebrated its 30th Anniversary.
In the Club’s first Role of Honour we congratulate GYC member Kim and his crew for winning the Les Gazelles des Mers class on the 33m Baltic “Win Win”, and Elena on her 88m Perini “Maltese Falcon” entering into the true spirit of the Les Grandes Dames des Mers class, which was won by the 56m Perini “Rosehearty” with Paul Cayard of America’s Cup fame as tactician.
“Koo”, the 43m Vitters won Les Voiles Blanches, racing under the new Corinthian Spirit Class ORCcs handicap , while “Wisp”, the Royal Huisman 48m sloop, took the Les Mademoiselles des Mers class.
“Spiip”, the 34m German Frers designed and Royal Huisman built sloop won the Les Elegantes des Mers class and was crowned overall winner of the Bucket! Add in the return of the mighty
J Class, Le retour des legendes being won by “Hanuman”, a Royal Huisman built in 2009, and the 2017 St Barts Bucket was really an unforgettable trentennial celebration!
Next on the sailing agenda was the Voiles de St. Barths in April, which saw a number of members and friends competing. This will be followed by the America’s Cup rendezvous in Bermuda in June, at which many GYC members will be present.
Fair winds to you all and looking forward to seeing you in the Med for the season and at the Monaco Yacht Show at the end of September, where the Club will have a stand on the port.
Read the original article here: http://ccercle.com/st-barts-gustavia-yacht-club-launched-on-the-jewel-of-the-caribbean/