With Saint Kitts announced as the filming location of Below Deck season nine, Sophia Wilson steps ashore to discover what the islands have to offer as a superyacht cruise and charter destination...
Anchored off in a Caribbean bay, with cobalt blue waters lapping against the curving sand, 88-metre Maltese Falcon and 86-metre Aquijo sit side-by-side. Around the headland are equally notable yachts including 74-metre Plvs Vltra and 62.5-metre Party Girl. In peak season and it would be no surprise to find this calibre of yacht fighting for slots in St Barths’ Port de Gustavia or lined up at English Harbour in Antigua – but not anchored off the dual-island nation of St Kitts and Nevis. Yet in recent winter seasons, the larger island of St Kitts has rivalled the more traditional Caribbean hotspots for popularity.
The island is within striking distance of some of the region’s most beloved cruising grounds, but its lack of marina infrastructure and luxury tourism offerings has previously held it back. But this is changing fast. Superyacht owner and property developer Charles “Buddy” Darby III has spent the past decade transforming 1,000 hectares in the south of the island into Christophe Harbour.
One of the largest marina developments ever attempted in the Caribbean, the project encircles a former salt pond that has now been opened to sea water. It will include a Tom Fazio- designed golf course, but at its heart sits a superyacht marina, which opened in 2014 and can accommodate yachts of up to 76 metres.
Darby’s former superyacht captain Aeneas Hollins is now at the helm of the marina and has been a fan of St Kitts’ charms long before Christophe Harbour started to become a reality. “I spent more than 25 years at sea and this is the only place that made me want to swallow the anchor and come on shore,” he explains. “It’s a combination of the nature, the people and its connection to the past.”
The island is no stranger to foreign investment – in the 17th and 18th centuries it was one of the Caribbean’s leading sugar producers. Home to 68 plantations during a time when sugar was known as white gold, it was one of the richest colonies in the Caribbean and as a result was fiercely defended by the British.
A bold reminder of its past still sits on the north- west coastline – the massive Brimstone Hill Fortress. Nicknamed the Gibraltar of the West Indies as it looks similar to the fortifications on the famous Rock, the UNESCO World Heritage Site was built by African slave labour to British military standards. Sitting 230 metres above sea level, it took more than a century to create and is made of limestone quarried from the hill beneath it. The fortress is enough to keep history buffs entertained for hours but even philistines can’t help but be enthralled by the views across the Caribbean Sea (from where pirates and other nations would have attacked).
The island’s plantation history is also apparent elsewhere. Old sugar mill chimneys are dotted along the shoreline and green vervet monkeys, which were initially brought to the island as pets by the French (who shared the island with the British between 1627 and 1713), now outnumber Kittitians.
In the capital city of Basseterre, the British links are even clearer. Independence Square, which was once the site of slave auctions and known as Pall Mall, features paths that were shaped to resemble the Union flag. Nearby sits Piccadilly Circus, a small roundabout modelled after the London landmark and surrounded by Georgian-style buildings.
St Kitts and Nevis achieved full independence as recently as 1983 (the latest Caribbean island to do so) and sugar production wasn’t halted until 2005. This is one of the reasons why the nation’s history is so keenly felt but it also means that, despite its natural beauty, its tourism industry has been slower to develop than that of its neighbours. However, Hollins believes improvements over the past decade mean the islands can now truly cater for superyacht owners and guests. “We’ve come a long way,” he explains. “We now have four key high-end amenities for visiting yachts – us, the Four Seasons, the Park Hyatt and the Kayan Jet lounge.”
With an increasing amount on offer not only are more superyachts visiting but they are also staying for longer. “We have the marina and four or five nice anchorages in all weathers to ensure diversity of experience aboard and people enjoy exploring the island,” he adds.
The Park Hyatt, which opened as part of Christophe Harbour in 2017, is seen as a key milestone in St Kitts’ tourism development. Overlooking Banana Bay at the southern tip of the island, it benefits from easy access to St Kitts’ best beaches and has stunning views over the neighbouring island of Nevis. “The further down the island you get, the more expensive it becomes, so I guess it’s the perfect destination for this hotel,” jokes my driver as he drops me at the entrance – a lantern- lit portico lined with fish-filled pools.
Commanding the highest room rates on the island, it blends modern architecture – its airy rooms are housed within three-storey glass buildings – with plenty of nods to St Kitts’ heritage, including a replica sugar mill used for morning yoga sessions, and plantation-style arches intersecting its adults- only infinity pool.
As well as the ocean-to-table overwater Fisherman’s Village restaurant, and the tasting- menu-based Stone Barn, the added boon for superyachts docking at Christophe Harbour is that the resort is also home to a Miraval Life in Balance Spa. It deliberately shuns a traditional Caribbean aesthetic, with reflecting lily ponds and a minimalist Scandinavian design creating a calming atmosphere. As you would expect, the spa has a vast menu that makes use of local ingredients, and of course sugar, in treatments such as the 50-minute Coconut Sugar Glow scrub.
The golden beaches at the south of the guitar-shaped island may catch the attention of luxury travellers but the north of the island also has plenty to offer, with the Mount Liamuiga stratovolcano creating dramatic vistas and black-sand beaches. A train, which runs along tracks that were previously used to deliver sugar cane, gives a picturesque overview of the changing topography as tropical palms give way to vibrant rainforest. Or if you want to dodge the cruise ship crowds, a drive along the Atlantic coast’s main road gives a similar overview.
At this less explored northern end of the island, Belle Mont Farm is taking luxury in a new direction with its farm-to-table philosophy. Sitting among 160 hectares of organic tropical farmland, the sustainable farm resort sits on the slopes of Mount Liamuiga. For those not staying, Belle Mont hosts a twice-weekly farm-to-table evening. Guests are invited to dine at a long candle-lit table with views of the sun setting over the islands of St Eustatius and Saba. Head chef John serves up homemade focaccia with fish gumbo and fresh salads. The wood-fired brick oven produces platters of grilled chicken, duck and freshly caught fish. The food is delicious and the setting spectacular but what makes the evening special is the way guests chat and share stories throughout the evening. It’s testament to St Kitts’ charm that it can bring 20 people from across the globe together in shared admiration for this special island.
A quick sail along the sheltered Caribbean coast can only enhance the sense of wonder. Jumping into the warm waters in Shitten Bay, less than two nautical miles from the marina at Christophe Harbour, we are the only boat in the bay. As I paddle in the water, with a shallow shipwreck to explore, the only life in sight is the goats that scramble up the surrounding hillside. With secluded anchorages, wild natural beauty, a rich history and now the luxury amenities to support superyachts, St Kitts’ future looks sweet indeed.
This feature is taken from the April 2020 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW