Bastille Day, celebrated on July 14th, is the national holiday of France. It is celebrated on July 14th because on this day in 1789 the people of Paris rose up against the government of King Louis XVI and captured the fortress of Bastille. This capture symbolized a new feeling of freedom, which spread throughout France and led to the establishment of a new popular government. Bastille Day is celebrated in France, in French territories… and in the U.S. Virgin Islands!
“Vive La France!” in the Virgin Islands
People celebrate Bastille Day in the U.S. Virgin Islands with proud enthusiasm, primarily on St. Thomas. A week-long celebration called French Heritage Week (July 8th-14th) includes Bastille Day. During this time hundreds of St. Thomas residents join together to celebrate French heritage.
St. Thomas is home to a group of French people, and their descendants, that immigrated from St. Barthelemy (a French Caribbean island) from the late 1800’s through to around the 1960’s. This community celebrates its French heritage in earnest during French Heritage Week with various planned community events.
Most of the events take place either at locations on the Northside of St. Thomas or in Frenchtown, just outside downtown Charlotte Amalie. These two areas are home to the majority of the French population with ties back to St. Barthelemy. Events include pageants, dances, singing and reenactments. The latter is typically held at an evening event in Frenchtown. And there is fishing!
The Kingfish Tournament
The biggest of the French Heritage Week events is the Northside Sportfishing Club’s Annual Bastille Day Kingfish Tournament, which is held annually on a Sunday in mid-July. It is held at Hull Bay on the Northside of St. Thomas. The tournament was first organized in 1987. Today it attracts some 200+ anglers and over 50 boats. Anglers are drawn to compete for fun and for prizes.
This inshore fishing event offers more ways to win and more cash and prizes than any other Virgin Islands based tournament of its kind. Prizes are made possible by donations from local businesses. Adults and children compete in the tournament. The angler who catches the largest kingfish is awarded prize money. There are also prizes for best boat, best captain, best male angler, best junior male angler, best female angler and best junior female angler. Other prizes go to the largest Jack, largest Bonito, largest Mackerel and largest Barracuda.
The Kingfish tournament begins at 5am at Hull Bay. Anglers set off and cast their lines at 5:30am. They have to be back at the beach by noon to have their catches compete in the tournament. Starting at 11am anglers begin bringing in their catches. Some people bring in large kingfish and barracudas while others come in empty handed with stories of the one that got away! People wait excitedly at Hull Bay beach to see the boats and anglers.
In addition to fishing fun, there is a live band and beach party in the afternoon at Hull Bay Hideaway Restaurant, just across the street from the beach. The party begins at noon when the anglers have brought in their catches and the festivities continue into the early evening. A local band usually plays during the day and another in the evening. Bands might include Obsession Band, Sea Breeze, Cool Session or Spectrum Band. In the past, bands from St. Barthelemy have also been invited to participate in the festivities.
The Kingfish Tournament benefits the Joseph Sibilly School, St. Thomas Rescue, The American Red Cross, Kidscope and the Family Resource Center; as well as providing college scholarships to students of French descent.
If you are vacationing on St. Thomas during French Heritage Week plan to join in on some of the events!
Tip: If you plan to attend the Bastille Day Kingfish Tournament, parking at Hull Bay is limited and fills very quickly early in the day. Once the beach parking is filled, people start parking along the side of the road that leads to Hull Bay. This makes the narrow road become one lane in some areas; this creates a challenge for navigating the road and can be a pain. Best bets are; get there early and if you see cars already parked along the side of the road – don’t bother venturing further down, park behind them and walk the rest of the way.