In the centre of the popular cruising grounds of the Eastern Caribbean, a distinct new superyacht community is emerging on St.Kitts . The passion project of experienced real estate developer and superyacht owner Buddy Darby, Christophe Harbour is an exclusive island community that combines the relaxed charm of the Caribbean and its barefoot luxury with world-class superyacht facilities and service levels befitting this unique realm. The Islander speaks with Darby about the project, his vision and what ‘intelligent ownership’ means for him.
“To be honest, I had no idea what I would find the first time I came to St Kitts almost a decade ago,” says the man behind Christophe Harbour, renowned developer Buddy Darby. “But the minute I stepped foot on the island, I knew it was something special.” It was exactly what he had been looking for in a new project; 2500 acres that he could evolve and control, beautiful and varied scenery, safe and extremely well-located. “St Kitts has a real presence,” he explains. “Rainforests, pristine beaches, crystal clear sea, a volcano, wonderful cuisine, and the Kittitians are the nicest people.”
For Darby, an experienced superyacht owner (he currently owns the 56.7m Perini Navi S/Y Andromeda La Dea) with many years of Caribbean sailing under his belt, St Kitts importantly offered a much-needed alternative to the existing Caribbean hubs. “I love St Barths and have been going to the Bucket for many years, and Anguilla and Antigua are places that I have spent a lot of time in the past, but I knew that people were ready for something new,” he says.
St Kitts and its sister island Nevis really are in the heart of the Caribbean cruising grounds, however this nation has remained relatively under-the-radar for superyachts until recently. Typically a stop for cruise ships, the islands have been undergoing a considered evolution over the last few years, shifting focus towards high end travellers and, thanks to Christophe Harbour, attracting yachting traffic. Indeed, the 2015/2016 season saw nearly 200 yachts over 22m visit St Kitts and Nevis, representing a 20% year on year growth in large yacht traffic for the fourth year running.
Christophe Harbour is more than just a marina though. Over the past ten years, Darby and his team have been laying the foundations of a unique luxury community, one that is centred on the idea of the ultimate superyacht hub, which combines a top-tier marina and home port services with some of the most desirable real estate in the world. It is clear that this project is all about offering something different.
In terms of the marina, the intent from the start was to build “the finest superyacht facility in the Eastern Caribbean”. Every aspect of it has been designed specifically for superyachts, and it is managed by experienced superyacht captains who crucially understand what owners and their crew need, as well as the level of service expected. “We like to think of ourselves as an extension of your crew on shore,” says Aeneas Hollins, director of yachting and Darby’s former captain. “There are a lot of marinas out there that are little more than an expensive parking lot for your yacht. But berthing at Christophe Harbour is a full-service experience. We want to give owners piece of mind and make crew lives easier.”
Phase one of the marina was officially opened in February 2015, with 23 state-of-the-art berths for yachts between 45m and 67m. Services include everything you would expect: in-slip fuelling, wifi, black water pumpout, daily refuse collection, 24-hour security with single, controlled access point, concierge services and onsite transportation, as well as VIP clearance for yachts and private aircraft and access to nearby private jet terminal, YU Lounge. When the marina is completed, it will have 250 berths in total, 60 of which will be able to accommodate yachts up to 76m.
An undeniable USP of The Marina at Christophe Harbour is that all berths are offered as freehold rather than leasehold. “We own the crown grant to the seabed so owners have indisputable freehold to their spot,” says Darby. “By buying a berth, you are buying marine real estate, which means that when prices go up, berth owners benefit. The value has already gone up and owners have a real stake.”
Aside from financial return, Darby also stresses that everything is designed to ensure berth ownership enhances yacht ownership. “Berth ownership should be a natural extension of intelligently running your yacht,” he says. “It should make life easier for you and your crew, and it should give you the peace of mind that you always have somewhere reliable and safe to berth.” Add to all of this favourable trust and tax legislation, eligibility for St Kitts and Nevis’ well-established Citizenship-by-Investment program as well as work permit exemptions for yacht and jet crew, and it is clear that when it comes to homeports, this is a slick offering.
Something that Darby frequently refers to is the idea of ‘intelligent ownership’. “Intelligent superyacht ownership, for me, goes beyond just looking for financial returns from good business decisions,” he explains. “Yachting is not about making money. It is an investment in a lifestyle – privacy, time with your loved ones, amazing memories. To maximise this lifestyle investment you want to be able to spend as little time on the logistics and as much time as possible enjoying your boat. So, when it comes to managing it or using it, you want everything from the people you work with to the services you use to be entirely trustworthy and make your life easier. I want Christophe Harbour to be a safe haven, where you can leave your yacht in the hands of experts and focus on the things that really matter.”
While St Kitts as a destination has a lot to offer travellers – snorkelling and diving, hikes in the verdant rainforests, fine dining and a Caribbean flair that is charmingly unpretentious compared to other more well-established regional spots – its allure for yachties may actually be more practical.
Christophe Harbour and St Kitts’ location in the centre of the West Indies — around 40nm from St Barths, 48nm from Antigua and 44nm from St Maarten — makes it an attractive new option for starting and ending charters in the region. Not only does it offer a polished, safe place for guests to arrive and depart from, but it has also recently added a state-of-the-art fuel farm to its offerings, serving yachts up to 91m with ultra-low Sulphur diesel at 125 US gallons a minute. “Since it’s tax and duty exempt, our fuel costs about ten percent less than the local average,” says Hollins. “We can really maximise charter readiness and efficiency. From refuelling to resupplying and expedited guest clearance on landing, we can streamline the whole process.”
The marina may be up and running, having already hosted the likes of yachts like M/Y Amaryllis, S/Y Christopher, M/Y Naia and M/Y Invictus to name a mere handful, but this is clearly a long term project. Darby’s emphasis is on building long term communities, not resorts, and the marina is only one part of the development.
A landmark customs house is due to be opened early 2017, with customs offices for yachting guests, marina services, a fitness centre and crew lounge. Around the Customs House and marina, a bustling marina village is also taking shape, and the Caribbean’s first ever Park Hyatt, the Park Hyatt St Kitts, will call Christophe Harbour home and is set to welcome guests early 2017. Also in the works is an 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed championship golf course, which promises 360-degree panoramas of the stunning Kittitian scenery.
They have been granted permission to build 2000 homes across the land, but Darby says the likelihood is that the number will be significantly smaller than this as he wants to ensure that everywhere feels private, natural and exclusive. To date, 34 luxury homes have been built, are underway or are under design review. All houses that are built have to adhere to Christophe Harbour’s guidelines, using natural materials and drawing upon the island’s culture and unique environment to create structures that harmonise with the surroundings.
Darby stresses that with a long term project like this, the value lies in creating a balanced and cohesive community. As a result, he leads by example with the public buildings, which all embody the ‘old Caribbean soul meets new world luxury’ aesthetic of the development. Architect John Haley has been integral to this vision. The members-only Pavilion beach club, for example, combines the colonial feel of shutters, exposed stone walls and open air space, with bold prints, polished woods and a flawless infinity pool. Christophe Harbour’s chic beach bar SALT Plage, also Haley’s work, has become a chic social hub on the island and has already been the setting for some stand-out crew gatherings. Built on the foundations of an old 1940s salt warehouse, Haley upcycled materials from the old salt warehouse and sugar mill to create a stylishly rustic bar shack. Meanwhile, the impending Customs House will mirror the feeling of the Old Treasury Building in the capital of Basseterre, featuring stone detailing, a series of arched openings made of handmade brick and a crowning cupola. Clearly designed to be a statement, it is destined to be a bit of regional beacon, marking the gateway to St Kitts, the West Indies and the Caribbean.
To those more used to the kind of developments that seem to go with a big bang from conception to completion in a very short space of time, Darby’s careful and considered approach to Christophe Harbour may seem drawn out, but he is adamant that doing it right takes time. “If you want to create a destination that has real soul, you need to take your time,” he says. “It is easy to do cookie-cutter luxury but we want this to be a community that is unique. From superyacht services to real estate, everything should be a bespoke experience that really celebrates the island and the individual.”
There may still be a way to go before Christophe Harbour is as firmly positioned on the Caribbean superyacht map as old favourites like St Barths or Antigua, but the next season or two nonetheless promise to be game-changers for not only the island but the region. For owners, crew and charter brokers looking for an alternative to the overcrowded, overpriced hubs, Christophe Harbour and St Kitts are waiting to remind you how it can and should be done.