St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Yachts in action at the St Barths Bucket. Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Yachts in action at the St Barths Bucket. Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

Journeys

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

This tiny island is famed for its annual superyacht regatta, but there’s far more going on here besides.

By Dominique Afacan | 10 August 2018

I must admit – when I first went to St Barths for the much-lauded ‘Bucket’ superyacht regatta, I had countless preconceptions. As a luxury travel journalist, I have been exposed to all sorts of ostentation, but this exclusive island in the sun, I decided, would be the destination to outdo all others. I expected unrivalled gaudiness, sun-kissed swank and enormous egos. In the end, I found nothing of the sort.

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

The airport was the first clue. No matter how wealthy you are, there is no getting away from the fact that to reach this tiny Caribbean bolthole by plane, you’ll need to land on one of the world’s most ‘extreme’ runways. At one end lies an unfortunately placed and rather obstructive hill, and at the other – a beach, complete with reclining sunbathers and cabanas. As you rattle down towards the tiny strip of runway in between, it quickly becomes clear why pilots need a special licence to land here.

The whole flight experience does have the advantage of setting the tone for the Bucket; adrenalin-fuelled but super low key – just like the island itself.  Even Vogue describes St Barths as ‘exclusive yet totally unpretentious.’ They aren’t wrong. Sure, you can get caviar and champagne if that’s what floats your boat (and you can also sail into the island by superyacht if the flight is too scary to contemplate), but the vibe of this overseas French enclave is far more beachy and barefoot at heart.

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

My first evening was spent in Eddy’s, something of an institution on the island, where locals and visitors eat reasonably-priced fish and swap sailing stories amidst fairy-lit, tropical gardens. I also hung out a lot in Gustavia, the island’s pretty, red-roofed capital, with a daily fish market and a clutch of independent boutiques. By night, race crews and owners would pile into bars and restaurants after long and sweaty days on the water, discussing tactics for the next day of the Bucket.

Beyond the lovely low-key social scene, there is also plenty to please by day, should you not be busy sailing. For such a small island, there are beaches galore, each with its own character. On the far south side of St Barths, a mere 4.5 kms from Gustavia, is Grand Saline, a real gem in that it is only accessible by foot (part volcanic climb, part sand dune hike), or by yacht. Meanwhile, the likes of Lorient and Toiny are more suitable for surfers – and there are yet more options for snorkeling, paddle boarding or indeed, posing.

Video: Breed Media

The Bucket itself is a three-day, non-commercial sailing regatta for superyachts with a portion of the entry fees always donated to a local charity. This year, donations went to ‘Help St Barths,’ working to restore the island in the wake of Hurricane Irma. For yacht owners who witnessed the remarkable efforts to ensure this year’s Bucket went ahead, this edition was perhaps more poignant than ever. “Rounding a turning mark off St Jean with all the other yachts in crystal clear water was just a spectacular visual that will stay with us forever, “said Mary Shores, owner of Marae. “It was a unique memory that we were able to enjoy with our special family and friends on board.”

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

St Barths’ barefoot appeal

Photo: Jeff Brown | Breed Media

Despite the event’s competitive roots, there has always been a firm emphasis on ‘winning the party’ over ‘winning the race.’ This I could get on board with, quite literally, as it turned out. With zero sailing experience, I was definitely more of a hindrance than a help to the professional crews, but I came home with a collection of boat-branded T-shirts from my days on board various superyachts.

The atmosphere on each one was totally different – but a highlight for me was racing on Mark Dennings’s Alexa of London on the final day of the regatta. We rolled in last, all dancing around on deck, wine sloshing all over the place.  I still remember him saying, “I’ve never had so much fun coming last in my life!”

That pretty much sums up the Bucket for me. As for St Barths, that takes first place every time.

The St Barths Bucket is held over three days in March.
Find out more about the famed superyacht regatta here.

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