Who is Remy de Haenen?
Remy de Haenen, the sailor
Remy de Haenen was born in London in 1916 from a French mother and a Deutsch father. He spent most of his childhood on the island of Bréhat, Bretagne, France. He quickly falls in love with the sea while sailing with his small sailboat, and shifts towards a merchant navy carrier. He discovered the Caribbean while working on the first luxury cruise tourism liners, which he decides to leave after a few years, because of a conflict with the union. He goes back to the Caribbean in 1938 in order to prospect the lobster fishing areas on behalf of a french company, then crosses the Atlantic again on a tuna seiner, turned into an experimental-study boat and starts travelling around the Caribbean sea, from Guadeloupe to Cuba, from Haïti to Aruba. And discovers St-Barthélemy. Seduced by the beauty of the island and by the hearty welcome for the inhabitants, he decides to settle in St Jean.
Remy de Haenen, the contractor
Remy integrates the local economical activity by creating with local carpenters “Le Chantier” (literally, “the Building Site”), a boat construction and repair company in Gustavia (where the Hôtel de la Collectivité is now located). He gets an authorization to import salted fish to Guadeloupe and Martinique, and thus develops the salting activity, helping a lot of families of fishermen to have a decent life. For the purposes of the activity, he acquires a few boats like Le Blénac, Le Madeleine, Le Mary, and builts his own, Le Tarpon.
Remy de Haenen, the aviator
Always passionated by aviation, he decides to learn to fly, and gets a pilot’s license allowing him to buy his first airplane, “Cucaracha”, a 2-seat Rearwin Sportster. Not only known for his great business acumen and his outspokenness, he became famous for his prowess aboard his plane: he becomes the first pilote to ever land in St Barth in 1946 in the savannah –on which the airport will be built after–, scared sheep on one side and a pond on the other side. After this inaugural landing, the place was cleared to allow planes to land in the grass, until a concrete 780-m.-long landing strip was build in the 70’s. He decides then to create an airline, the Compagnie aérienne antillaise (Caribbean Airline Company), based on the flat island of Tintamarre, buys discarded american crafts in Porto Rico, and hires talentuous pilotes to fly them. In 1959, he is also the first pilot to ever land in Saba, a “pocket handkerchief”. Only in 1991, at the age of 75, and after more than 18000 flight hours, will Remy de Haenen decide to stop flying.
Remy de Haenen, the precursor
In 1953, Remy de Haenen buys a small rocky presque-isle in St-Jean bay that no one wanted, for a few hundred dollars. Considered as crazy by locals, this precursor actually realized, long before others, that the future of the island will depend on its ability to open to tourism. He then builts on this presque-isle the Eden Rock, the first real hotel of the island, where he welcomes jet-setters like Greta Garbo, Howard Hugues, Robert Mitchum, helping to increase the frequentation rate of the island year after year.
Not only being part of the economical life, he will also participate to the political local life, as a General Consillor in 1953 and for 21 years, then Mayor from 1962 to 1977. Immediately after taking office, Mayor Haenen took care of developing the road network and made electricity and landlines available in all villages of the island. In the mid-1970’s, he had the first electric power station built in Public and the first drinking water production plant in St Jean. To help funding all these developments, he creates a docking fee of 5% on all merchandise values to be imported either by the sea or by the air. This docking fee still runs today and is the main revenu of the Collectivité.
Remy de Haenen, the adventurer
Still seeking new adventures, he sold the Eden Rock in 1995 and went to live in Santo-Domingo. But still in love with St Barts, he was frequently coming back to visit this unforgettable island. In 1997 he was made a Honorary Citizen of St-Barthélemy, and was decorated in 2000 with the Aeronautical Medal. He came back to live in St Barths in 2006, and died during the summer 2008, at the respectable age of 92 years.
It is with no surprise then that in 2015, the airport was renamed after Remy de Haenen, to honor a man who did a lot for the island of St Barthélemy!