ST. BARTHS - FRENCH WEST INDIES

Our visit to St. Barths was really interesting for me as  I have not visited the island in ten years and little has changed except that it is more Bling than ever.  Not liking that sort of things or the people that high end shopping attracts, we got to know the real St. Barths many years ago - the way it was before new money discovered it.

 

For example - You won't be judged by the size of your jet  here, because large jets can't use the short runway, or what car you drive (the narrow one-lane roads are best for small Euro micromobiles), or your home (strict zoning keeps the size of a home to a limited square footage.  Because of this people choose to build attached cottages and rent them for astronomical prices.

 

In the winter you will be judged by your yacht and all of the biggest come at New Year's and then again the first weekend in April for the St. Barts' Bucket - this race is only open to yachts 78 feet and larger. Last year 25 of the "biggies" raced around the island, including  the 295-foot Athenam the 156-foot Hyperion, and Joe Vittoria's 247-foot Mirabella V. We saw her in the BVI when we were there and she is indeed, huge.

 

The now famous Le Select hasn't changed much since it opened almost five decades ago on a little open square with simple café tables and bare wood walls. This is where Jimmy Buffet wrote "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and he still comes back every so often to throw a free concert. Le Yacht Club, the night club across the harbor, or hotspots such as Maya's or Nikki Beach are still great for night life.

 

Last year in the week after Christmas more than 350 yachts filled the harbor, some having "camped out" for long periods of time in order to try and get a great lcation on the quay (first come, first served). They ranged from the classic ketch Ticonderoga, which I had the pleasure to sail on during a former trip to Antigua, to the 452-foot motor-yacht Sunrise.

 

I visited the wonderful Shell Museum in the small village of Corossol and was amazed at the 4,000 varieties of sea shells that are housed there - Below is my article reporting this amazing spot -

 

INGENU MARGRAS’ INTER OCEANS MUSEUM – ST. BARTHS

By – Nancy Terrell

 

One of the most interesting aspects of cruising is that one never knows what is just over the next wave.  I have always loved St. Barths, with its pretty harbor and sophisticated shopping, but nothing prepared me for one of the most fascinating museums in the world – The Inter Oceans Museum in Corossol.  Facing the Caribbean Sea, founder Ingenu Margras, who is 86 years young, has spent his entire life collecting shells and sand from over the world, building boats and model boats and living a rich life involved with his large family and the sea.  The museum itself houses some 4,000 varieties of seashells, labeled and encased in glass.   Margras politely informs me that it takes 3,000 to have your museum in the famed Museum Book of Paris then humbly mentions that “I just continued collecting because I love doing it.”  His shells are from every country, each of the seven seas and every ocean, worldwide.  

 

The science of the shell is known as Conchology - the scientific study of shells of mollusks, a branch of malacology. Conchologists may study animal shells to gain an understanding of the diverse and complex taxonomy of mollusks, or simply appreciate them for their aesthetic value. The group of Mollusc (Mollusaca Phylum), of which the museum has many, is the broadest group of animals after that of the insects. It is estimated that there are some 100.000 species distributed within the oceans of the world.

 

This incredible hobby began in 1925, when Ingenu was only four.  Coming from a long line of fishermen he would wait for his father’s boat on the beach in front of his house and he started saving the shells that he picked up. When he was 25, Ingenu took his first trip to Guadeloupe where he met a French collector who taught him how to trade the many shells, that he had cleaned and boxed during his youth, to those in other lands. Everyone wanted shells from the Caribbean so he would trade his shells for those in other countries.  This trading of shells became a massive hobby that has turned into the world’s most unique shell museum.

 

After building his own fishing boat, Pourquoi – Pas (Why Not) he began travelling within the Caribbean and added shells from each country/island that he visited.  He now holds the recognized World Record (see sidebar) for the largest shells in several varieties.  He tells me, “I sailed from Puerto Rico to Martinique and from St. Barths to St. Thomas collecting shells.  It is a good thing that I did it then because the new laws forbid selling and shipping shells.  I have not been able to get any in the last four years.”  My favorites were what are known as “Old Collectors Shell”; these are shells that have other shells attached to them, as a sort of covering.  One such large shell had 15 smaller shells attached to it.  

 

Ingénu enjoys a well deserved retirement today, and lives with his son and daughter in the house in which he was born.  His museum is filled with the manufacture of models of goélettes, dugouts, dory and other wooden boats that he has made in model form.  A picture of the restaurant that the family ran hangs in the portion of the museum that has replaced it.  Ingenu has received many awards in his life but the one of which he is the proudest is when Keith Daley, of the International Rotary Drill came to Corossol to present to Mr. Margras with the highest medal of distinction “The Paul Harris Fellow”  

 

I can truthfully say that the morning that I spent with Ingenu at his museum was one of the most memorable of my cruising and it was a pleasure to meet members of his family who assured me that they will continue the tradition that he has started.

 

PICTURES OF THE SHELL MUSEUM ARE ELSEWHERE ON THIS WEBSITE UNDER THE HEADING OF " SITE PHOTOS"

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx On Saturday morning Dave and I took our dinghy, Leda, over to the Bay d' St. Jean and I took photos of the Junior Sailing Program for the island.  They had 9 Optis and 8 Lasars and we both were quite impressed.  After my interviews we concluded the day by totally circling the island by dinghy.  Please read Dave's report on the Welcome Page as he is most descriptive.

 

We had to leave and return to St. Martin for some boat parts.  I was glad to get away as there was absolutely nothing happening on St. Barths and the anchorage was really rolly.

 

 

 

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