Big Fish … and Small Fry

In 17+ years of marriage, Rick and I have made over 30 visits to the Caribbean. He’d long been curious to visit St. Barth, but I’d demurred, feeling a bit out of my league -- not being rich or young or beautiful or chic enough. However, once we’d arranged to arrive aboard a beautiful black-hulled 72’ sailboat, I felt like I could fit in well enough to plausibly call on St. Barth.

However, having done just that, I learned two things. First, it doesn’t matter who or what you are; if you want to visit St. Barth, just do it. Secondly, and repeatedly, we learned that a 72’ sailboat isn’t a whole lot in these waters. While Donnybrook cuts a large swath in the Chesapeake and Annapolis, eclipsed from time to time by the likes of the Trump Princess or its ilk, down in St. Martin and St. Barth, Donnybrook is small. Never in my life have I seen such an assemblage of BFBs (Big F-ing Boats). On our arrival in Grand Case, Donnybrook was the largest sailboat in the harbor; by the next day, she anchored in the shadow of a 150’ sailboat, looking for all the world like the bigger one’s tender.

The quayside in Gustavia was lined with ranks of 100’+ poweryachts, lit up like glamorous hotels and guarded by menacing guys with crossed arms protecting the Cayman Island and Marshall Island-registered behemoths. Guy kept a list of the world’s 100 largest private yachts with him, and as the days passed, he clicked one after another off the list, all the while clicking pictures of them. From classically beautiful Ranger (a reproduction of its namesake J class America’s Cup yacht) to chokingly extravagant Le Grand Bleu, which has sitting on its deck a sailboat nearly as large as Donnybrook (in addition to a motorboat and helicopter). Millions of dollars are just a drop in the sea here.
In the top photo, itty bitty Donnybrook (on the far left) doesn't look like much when anchored near Maltese Falcon (middle), the world's largest sailing vessel.  But it's nice to know that little boats are still used to instill a love of the sport.
In heartening contrast, however, we saw in both Anguilla and St. Barth small fleets of Optimist-type boats. They are tiny little tubs used to teach youngsters how to sail. Following a dinghy with instructors, they look like little ducklings following Mama Duck, and like 4-year-old soccer players, tend to gather in small packs, following the ball. They are sweet to watch, and give hope to a future for our avocation that doesn’t require spending millions of dollars and hiring ex-Navy SEALS for security.

Valentine’s Day … and Other Notable Dinners

Valentine’s Day fell conveniently in the middle of our week, and while Maryland was battered by an ugly ice and snow storm (and my office closed), Rick and I got a chance to re-visit La Vie en Rose, where we’d had a memorable dinner on our honeymoon.

We made an early start for Marigot, catching a bus in Grand Case and using the afternoon to get in some quality shopping time. As mentioned above, the shopkeepers were not particularly friendly, despite our being dressed better than our typical cruddy sailor garb. But the prices for some of the French cosmetics brands I use – even after exchange rates and foreign exchange surcharges – were good enough for me to spend a few Euros (even though I typically make a practice of not rewarding haughty or indifferent
service). We strolled around a bit, and enjoyed some drinks at a sidewalk bar, and noticed how different and more developed and crowded Marigot had become over the years. Nevertheless, it possesses a Caribbean-Mediterranean appeal.

Promptly (and probably unfashionably) at 7, we entered La Vie en Rose, to be greeted with the strains of the eponymous song. At Rick’s request, we’d scored a balcony table, no small feat on Valentine’s Day as compared to the August Saturday we’d first visited. The food – frog legs, mussel soup, stuffed veal– was exemplary, and service was friendly and accommodating. To cap off the meal, I was handed a long-stemmed red rose, which all ladies receive. Sometimes, when you go back to a place that has special memories, the reprise is disappointing. This was not the case here; if anything, our own life’s experiences since that long-ago honeymoon dinner enhanced our experience here.
La Vie en Rose was the pinnacle of our honeymoon dining experience, but a week of Grand Case dinners this time around put La Vie en Rose right in the middle of the pack. We chose to splurge, both calorically and fiscally, and we were not disappointed, even though we arrived in Grand Case without a particular plan for eating, choosing instead to read the menus and choose whatever struck our fancy. From L’Escapade to La California to L’Auberge Gourmande, not a single false note was struck, from appetizers to after-dinner rhum. Luckily, grinding winches obviated some of our extravagances, but it’s not often we get the opportunity to dine so splendidly in such pleasantly casual (and often beachfront) settings.

Closing Thoughts

Despite the changes wrought over the course of nearly 18 years – many of which I would not consider favorably -- we’ve come away with much more positive experience of St. Martin than our first visit in 1989. It moves up from our “Not Likely” list to the “To Be Considered” list. With the power of research, the benefit of life experience, and the management of expectations, we got what we hoped for from our vacation, and much more. I don’t know when we’ll return, but I can safely say that the blush is back on the rose.

Marigot near sunset (above), and Grand Case Boulevard (below) in the light of day.