A stylish sign high above American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook on the East End of St. Thomas reads, “Eat Shop Play Fish.”
Whether you are interested in renting a bareboat, booking a luxury day charter, or reserving space on a group adventure tour, American Yacht Harbor is home to many of the most popular seagoing vessels on St. Thomas.
In addition to hosting an impressive array of sport fishing vessels, pleasure boats, and mega-yachts, American Yacht Harbor — an IGY marina — also is the place to check out everything from upscale restaurants and casual gathering spots to a varied array of retail shops. If you are under the impression you can enjoy a full day of fun at this one sprawling dockside location, you’ve got the right idea.
As is the case with many tropical destinations, American Yacht Harbor has a colorful past. In the late 1950s, a lone dirt road was the only way to reach the East End of the island by land. It was a drive best taken with at least one sturdy spare tire in the trunk. By the ‘60s, the area was developing as a decidedly sleepy fishing village. Johnny Harms’ Lagoon Marina — now American Yacht Harbor — was the main draw.
Proprietor, Johnny Harms had served in the Navy during World War II and began his career in game fishing after the war. Early on, as a pioneer V.I. fishing captain, Harms scored a doubleheader for blue marlin, a first in the territory.
Harms and other local visionary anglers were responsible for promoting the “North Drop” off St. Thomas for its spectacular Blue Marlin fishing. Word spread globally and the Virgin Islands became known as the Blue Marlin Capital with Johnny Harms’ Lagoon Marina the closest facility to the drop.
Simultaneously, Harms worked with philanthropist Laurance S. Rockefeller to develop the Virgin Islands as a major fishing center. As the story goes, Harms was responsible for renaming the East End of St. Thomas — originally know as Shark Bay — to Red Hook, “… so it wouldn’t scare off the tourists.”
Johnny Harms’ marina was filled with rustic charm — and a number of island characters who would join the proprietor at the “Liars Long Table” to swap salty tales.
Popular gathering spots at the marina were little more than plywood shacks. One such enterprise, Horsefeathers, was a haven for carefree Caribbean residents and visitors who appreciated really good pizza — a rare culinary “find” at the time.
Today, that spirit of timeless island camaraderie lives on at ITP — Island Time Pub — on the upper level of American Yacht Harbor. It’s a great spot to enjoy tasty food and an amazing view.
Other appealing places to check out at American Yacht Harbor include Easterly, Pesce, Agave, Caribbean Saloon Steak House and Bar, The Tap & Still, Hook’d, Bernie’s, and 3 Palms. If you are looking for a coffee shop with island charm, don’t miss Lattes In Paradise. It offers a variety of coffee drinks, lattes, and teas. The menu includes grab ’n go breakfast and lunch items such as bagel sandwiches, pastries, fruit cups, chicken salad, snacks and daily specials.
A BIT ABOUT ST. THOMAS’ FIRST COLONIZATION
The first successful colonization of St. Thomas was in 1666 when Denmark took official possession of the island. Initially, early settlers focused on agriculture but in less than a decade, the ever-increasing importance of port-related activities redirected interest to the burgeoning downtown settlement of Taphus — which translates to “beer hall” — where taverns reigned supreme. The irreverent name remained in place until 1691 when the town was renamed Charlotte Amalie (pornounced Ah-MAHL-yah) in honor of the wife of King Christian V.