Chartering a yacht in the Leeward Islands – The small northern Antilles, an archipelago of islands gems:
In the Leeward Islands you can experience a Caribbean Yacht Charter in its full diversity. The north of Martinique has a special charm that the more conventional cruises in the south simply can’t match. Large distances between the islands, and the fact that many bays are hard to reach, makes the area more suitable for advanced sailors. Sailors will also enjoy the islands from St. Martin to Antigua, in the northern Leewards with shorter hops, but scenically very different. There are also wonderfully contrasting colours, styles, vegetation, architecture and lifestyles.
Idyllic beaches and untouched nature can be found if you the start in Guadeloupe, and head towards Îles des Saintes and Dominica. Or you can sail amongst others to Antigua, St. Barths, St. Martin, Saba, St. Eustatius, Montserrat and St. Kitts and Nevis. The flat island of Anguilla in the north has endless sandy beaches and – in stark contrast – a rugged volcanic island rising out of the sea. St. Martin: The northern part of the small island is French speaking, while the southern part is Dutch. Most islands belong politically to France, the UK or the Netherlands; a few of them are independent. The area is really only recommended for experienced sailors. The main centres for a sailing cruise are Guadeloupe, Antigua and St. Martin which all offer large yacht sailing fleets and a wide selection of catamarans.
Wind & Weather: Due to the short distances in the northern part from St. Martin it is ideal for families. Hurricane season is from June to November. In summer, the winds blow from the east to the southeast between 5 to 15 knots and in winter from the east from 15 to 25 knots. In winter with cold fronts you can have heavy seas, especially around Christmas, and the wind can reach up to 30 knots. Temperatures range between 25°-30°, with a warm tropical climate, though in winter it can still get quite chilly at night. The leeward side can be subjected to tropical storms between June and November. From December to April it only rains occasionally.
Difficulty: Medium to hard, due to the large distances between some of the islands and strong waves between the passages. Night sailing is usually forbidden because of the large number of reefs, which need to be navigated with great care even during the day. It gets light at 6am and is dark by 6pm.
Navigation: Tidal range is 40 cm. The current between the islands can reach up to 2 knots so caution is strongly advised. The cruising area around St. Martin is well marked and Anguilla rather poor. The American system applies here: green is starboard and red is port. Especially in waters around reefs you should rely on eyeball navigation.
Ports and anchorages:
Anguilla is a water sports paradise, especially when it comes to snorkeling. The clearing in formalities in Road Bay a very stringent and only designated anchorages are permitted for use. Beautiful and natural beaches can be found in Little Bay, Prickly Pear Cays and Sandy Island. The large Road Bay is well protected, even if there’s a partial swell on the bay. It’s open to the west-northwest and is perfect for an evening of cocktails and dancing.
St. Martin: This so-called Hurricane Hole is very well protected – Simson Bay Lagoon. Located in the center of Marigot and hidden is the Marina Port La Royale, with many shops and places to eat around the harbour. The Marina Oyster Pond is beautifully located and well protected by a number of reefs. Great caution should be exercised when approaching “The Breaker” passage because it not marked by buoys. The Fort St. Luis Marina Latest is well equipped. Surrounded by high mountains, and open to the west, you’ll find the beautiful bay of Anse Marcel, although in the winter there can be a little swell.
St. Barthelemy / St. Barth: Gustavia is a free port boasting a beautiful landscape. The main town always offers very good protection, no matter what the weather conditions. It also has lots of services, bars, restaurants and shops. Anchorage will incur a fee. If Gustavia is overcrowded, the fishing village of Corossol is a good alternative.
St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis: In the west of the island of St. Eustatius you will find the place alled Oranjestad which is usually avoided, because it is very “un-Caribbean” . However, is worth is a 600 m climb to the silent volcanoThe Quill, and also if you like to dive the many wrecks, corals and ruins in the marine park around this area. In Basseterre on St. Kitts, you’re protected in the north and east by high mountains. In strong contrast to the rather bare St. Kitts stands the island of Nevis, with its lush green and picturesque Charlestown. The anchorage is sandy and rocky, but don’t go too close to the beach as there are underground lakes.
Antigua: English Harbour is a hurricane hole. Make sure you pay attention to the Charlotte reef when sailing. Nelson’s Dockyard is not very good for anchoring due to the muddy ground. The Admiralty House museum, the Officer House gallery and The Copper and Luber Store hotels are all well worth a visit. The Shirley Heights Lookout in Falmouth Harbour provides a breathtaking view, where you can also enjoy a rum punch. Another very well-equipped port that’s well protected by hurricanes is the Marina Jolly Harbour, which has a variety of restaurants and supermarkets with a slight French Riviera flair.
Here are also the charter bases of Dream Yacht Charter Antigua as well as Horizon Yacht Charter Antigua. To the west of Antigua are Deep Bay and Five Island Harbours which both provide excellent protection and safe moorings. If en route to St. Barths or St. Kitts / Nevis, Dickison Bay is the ideal place to have a rest stop. There are also some very beautiful bays in the southeast, or in the east, the Hurricane Hole Nonsuch Bay.
Guadeloupe: The Marina Bas Du Fort is one of the most modern marinas in the region and offers all kinds of amenities and services. The fleet of Dream Yacht Charter with many monohulls and catamarans is stationed here. Lagoon Bleu is also a very good anchorage. Perfect for protection of the Passat is also Le Gossier, open to the south and to the west. The Marina Francois is a small marina where you can anchor away from coral reefs on sandy ground. Anse Deshaies is open to the east and is located on the northwest side of Guadeloupe.
This is great starting point to sail over to Antigua. There are lots of supply possibilities and very good restaurants. If it’s a unique diving experience you’re after, try the Cousteau Underwater National Park located on the west coast on the other side of Ilets á Goyaves
Iles des Saintes. The fantastically picturesque Bourg des Saintes, hidden in the Anse du Bourg, is a popular meeting place for sailors. Anse Mire and Ilet à Cabrit are both well protected and very peaceful. Anse Fideling on the neighbouring island of Terre-de-Bas is open to the south and provides idyllic, tranquil anchorage.
Regulations and authorities: The different islands are either autonomous or are politically aligned with France, the Netherlands or the UK, which can make bureaucracy complicated. Customs and border authorities are often directly together or side by side.
Be sure to remain polite and civil and make sure none of your crew goes ashore until all the papers have been checked and filled in. The ship’s papers for the charter yacht, all passports of the crew members, and the complete crew list with all names, nationalities and passport numbers should be provided. Best carry identical multiple copies. For only a day stop clearing in & out can usually be done right on the spot.
Getting there: Daily flights from Europe to St. Martin or Guadeloupe with Air France via Paris, or with United or American Airlines via Florida or New York. KLM also operates to St. Martin via Amsterdam.
Antigua: Daily flights from London with British Airways or Virgin Atlantic.
Limitations: Long nights from 6pm to 6am, island hopping only during daylight, night sailing is often prohibited. Always carry value items such as money, credit card and passports with you and keep yachts and dinghies tightly locked.
Not to be missed: The Riverside in Deshaies: take a hike through the dense tropical rainforest where you’ll find lots of small waterfalls and pools with spring water, which are ideal for swimming.
The Leeward Islands
Guadeloupe, meaning ‘river of love’ is the largest of the Leeward Islands. Point-a-Pitre is the capital and home to a large airport with daily flights from Paris. Other attractions which shouldn’t be missed – on the western side, on Basse-Terre – are the cave paintings of the Arawak and also Sainte Anne, the old sugar town in the north.
La Soufriere is an impressive – and inactive – 1,467 metre high volcano, on the edge of which lies Basse-Terre built in colonial style. In the tropical heat this place with its old houses radiates peaceful charm and nostalgia. Basse-Terre is the administrative centre of the island and, while it makes every effort to look into the future, it is often overtaken by the past. This is characterized by a combination of American, African and European elements. Here you should visit the Fort Louis Delgrès with its fantastic view of the old cathedral, as well as the market right on the shore.
The Iles des Saintes / Saintes are a small archipelago about 15 km southeast of Guadeloupe, however, only two of the nine islands are inhabited. With its idyllic hidden coves and secluded beautiful beaches, Les Saintes offers a true paradise on earth and is an ideal place for water sports enthusiasts and those seeking relaxation. This small archipelago consists of two main islands, the Terre-de-Haut and Terre-de-Bas are surrounded by a number of uninhabited rocks. Terre-de-Haut with its unique natural harbour takes on centre stage. It’s famous for its beautiful beaches with turquoise water and is classified as a World Heritage Site by Unesco. Terre-de-Haut, the liveliest of the Les Saintes islands offers many bars, cafes and boutiques, picturesque hills and exquisite beaches. The numerous mountain peaks are of volcanic origin.
Marie Galante: Here there once stood nearly 100 windmills which were used to press sugar cane. This earned the nickname l’ile aux Cent Moulins or the island of 100 mills. Hotels and mass tourism have passed almost without trace on the island and you will still see carts pulled by oxen everywhere. The coasts are lined with gorgeous white beaches and lapped by clear water. Be sure to take one of the free visits to a rum distillery, and check out the Chateau Murat where there is a beautiful botanical garden and a museum. With its plethora of sugar cane fields, peaceful peasant hamlets and sleepy towns and cities, Marie Galante is truly the pearl of the Guadeloupe archipelago.
The island of La Désirade is shaped like a ship’s hull. The northern coast is for the most part rocky and inhospitable. On the southern coast, with its tropical vegetation and beautiful sandy beaches, the coast is largely protected by coral reefs. It’s very tranquil and unspoilt, and there’s plenty of nature alongside quaint, little fishing villages just waiting to be explored. La Désirade, Les Saints and Marie Galante should definitely be visited as part of any Caribbean cruise.
The island of Saint Barthelemy / St Barths is approximately 200 km north-west of Guadeloupe and 25 km south-east from Saint Martin. The island is a mountainous island with only 25 square miles and was under Swedish rule for centuries. Strict construction rules and price controls have prevented mass tourism, meaning the island has become a billionaire’s paradise. The city of Gustavia – and a dozen other places – make up population of St Barths with a mixture of immigrants from France and other countries.
Antigua: It is said that Antigua has 365 beaches, one for every day of the year! The crystal clear sea is bathtub warm and changes from shimmering turquoise green to dark blue. Black pelicans soar above the waves and every now and then a hawker will pass by offering hats, scarves or coconut flesh. Especially idyllic are the coves in the south of the island. Small bars sell simple fish dishes and cool drinks. On clear days you can see the outline of the neighbouring island of Montserrat, complete with smoking volcano. Exotic names such as Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, Clarence Town or the nature reserve IndianTown, provide an exclusive island with flair. In the north of the island is the bizarre rock formation ‘Devils Bridge’, which has been created by strong surf. Don’t miss Greencastle Hill on the way to the west coast, where there are great megaliths that were probably erected in honour of an indigenous sun goddess. On the Caribbean side, you’ll find the beautiful beaches of Runaway Bay and Dickenson Bay which stand out as the most popular and are where most of the upmarket hotels are located. The Bay of English Harbour in the extreme south of the island is very nice, and has so far survived every hurricane, thanks to its favorable location. It’s used by the international jet-set as a marina. Antigua is one of the major sailing centres of the Caribbean. The international sailing regatta Antigua Race Week, with participants of 300 boats from around the world, takes place in April every year. Charter crews can also join in.
The island of Barbuda is part of Antigua and has beautifully secluded sandy beaches and lush green forests in the middle of the island. To the northwest is a mangrove-covered lagoon with a bird sanctuary. The main town is Codrington and the whole island has only about 1500 inhabitants. There are long, sandy beaches and offshore reefs that were once feared by pirates but are now are a diver’s paradise.
The independent Nevis is a true ‘Caribbean Queen’ and a very classy destination that’s favoured by the international jet set. From the island’s capital, you can admire the wooden houses with beautiful ornaments. Many of the old plantation houses are now luxury hotels. Visiting the Bath House, one of the oldest in the Leeward Islands, is like going back in time.
Anyone visiting St. Eustatius, is transported back to the past. St. Eustatius was one of the most prosperous islands in the Western hemisphere in the eighteenth century. Thousands of ships were moored in the harbour of Oranjestad, the main trading centre between the emerging trade routes. Today this golden age is commemorated by a handful of interesting sights that include a fort and cannons. Stroll over the narrow bridge, past the remains of the old warehouses and the still remaining walls of defense works, where history comes alive. For divers, the area is perfect – a veritable underwater paradise.
St. Martin and St. Maarten: These two island colonies span 96 square kilometers and feature an interesting combination of cultural elements from the Caribbean, France and the Netherlands. The island is both urban and untamed, with rain forest-like landscapes, white beaches, and impressive caves and wildlife. Much of the architecture in Philipsburg, the capital of San Martin, has a strong Dutch influence. The main streets are full of pastel coloured houses decorated with ornate carvings and wrought iron balconies. The historic attractions of the island include a series of fortresses. The most famous is Fort Amsterdam in the Great Bay of Philipsburg. The small island in the northern part of the Caribbean boasts over 35 idyllic, white, sandy beaches against a background of lush, green, hills. The larger, but less populated French part of Saint Martin in the north of the island has an abundance of nature and a distinctly tropical feel, but also features well-attended beaches with cozy beach bars and excellent restaurants. There are numerous beach coves with plenty on offer for snorkellers, divers, windsurfers and kitesurfers. The highest elevation of the island is the Pic Paradis, which you can climb and which hosts the Heineken Regatta.
The island of Dominica in the Lesser Antilles is often called the nature island. This is thanks to the lush vegetation and 160 different species of birds. The capital, Roseau, doesn’t have a single high-rise building. What you will find are colourful wooden huts on the roadside. The capital is the economic and commercial centre of the island and there is plenty of nature on offer: as a diver you can experience the spectacular underwater world and as a rambler, you can enjoy the landscape of the island with all its flora, fauna, waterfalls and lakes.