Leeward Islands - Part One
St. Martin/Sint Maartin, St. Barths, Saba, Statia, & St. Kitts
February 25, 2006 - March 31, 2006
As I wrap up writing this trip report we are now back in the United States Virgin Islands, having traveled down the Eastern Caribbean to South America and completing a full circle by heading from Bonaire directly back across the Caribbean Sea to the Virgin Islands.
On November 11th, at 7:07 pm, we slipped our line from a mooring at the island of Bonaire, located off the northern coast of South America (just east of Aruba and Curacao). Once out to sea, we headed north northeast on a course of 42 degrees. Close-hauled and heading into both current and trade winds emanating from the east, we took advantage of a lull in the trades and motorsailed in moderate to light winds making way straight across the Caribbean Sea toward St. John, U.S.V.I. Exactly 420 nautical miles and 60 hours later, at 7:07 am on November 14th, we reached our waypoint at the southwestern point of St. John, averaging precisely 7 knots and having never altered course.
Our route was unconventional (as usual). The customary way to return north after a run down the Eastern Caribbean and to the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), is to spend seventy two hours or so heading a few hundred miles directly into the easterly trade winds off the coast of South America. By so doing, you can start your northern crossing of the Caribbean Sea from much farther east and have a much better sailing angle toward the Virgin Islands, closer to a heading of due north.
Theoretically, after you bash your way back east along the northern coast of South America, you can sail on a starboard-tack beam-reach to the Virgin Islands in the easterly trade winds. The only rub is that if you wait for a reasonably calm weather window, you will probably not have enough wind to make good speed and will have to motorsail some anyway.
Conversely, pick a weather window with the trade winds up and you will probably see solid 20 to 30 knot winds and 8 to 12 foot seas on the beam! The trade winds seem to be rather binary in nature: either the winds are very light (rarely) or ripping with not much in between (save the few hours of transition). So, even with a better sailing angle from farther east, it can still be "tough sledding" if you are dead-set on sailing back to the Virgin Islands and not motoring at all.
Some folks go even farther east and head all the way back to Grenada and then work their way back up the Windwards and Leewards Archipelago. We have found that a surprising number of long-term Cruisers simply don’t like the idea of, and have steadfastly avoided, overnight passages. They stick to the daysailing "island hopping" program no matter what. And hey, why not? I'm surely not knocking them. The point is that everybody does their own thing and that is the ultimate beauty of Cruising; there are no rules. You can choose routes and employ strategies that best suit your individual tastes and needs.
Our "need" was to get back to the Virgin Islands as quickly and painlessly as possible and beat the "Christmas Winds" (historically, the trade winds have a very active season from December through January and the Caribbean Sea can be unmercifully rough for weeks on end).
On another note, while underway on the passage from Bonaire to St. John, we passed the 10,000 nautical mile mark! We began this adventure when we departed New Orleans on January 1, 2005. Thus, Indigo Moon has over 10,000 miles under her keels in just a shade less than two years.
A few days ago, I ran Christmas lights in the rigging to form sail shapes. A string of blue lights for the mainsail bag adds a nice touch too, and our bright LED anchor light makes a great "star" and perfectly finishes off the decorations. We are gearing up for Christmas Day and so far our plans include a full Turkey dinner at Maho Bay with families from five other boats. We will use kayaks and planks, etc., to make tables on the beach and eat, swim, snorkel and share the spirit of the Season, all while enjoying 85 degree weather! How cool is that? Yes, this might be the best Christmas routine ever!
Although it's hard to keep a camera still while standing in a rocking dinghy, I managed to take a photo that gives a general idea of our Christmas lights rising 57 feet up to the masthead of Indigo Moon:
Well alright! That’s what’s happening on "the Moon" today. Let’s get going on the trip report. This report will cover the first half of the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.
I. Indigo Moon departs the British Virgin Islands and heads south into the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands
All of North Sound of Virgin Gorda was fast asleep as we raised our mainsail and slipped our mooring line at 4:00 am, just offshore from the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands. We had a good track line on the GPS from our entrance into the Sound the night before. Like following a "bread trail" we motorsailed out of the sound following our old trackline (and used a Q-beam and the radar to exit the Sound safely). Turning to starboard thereafter, we killed the engines and set sails while headed around the northeast end of Virgin Gorda, passing between it and Necker Island and into the open sea beyond.
We watched the sunrise and spent most of the day crossing 66 miles of notoriously rough water between Virgin Gorda and St. Martin. Known as the Anegada Passage, it is where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet head to head. Swells and currents clash, presenting steep, closely-spaced waves and confused seas that will put a knot in the stomach of even the most seasoned sailors.
Also, St. Martin is well to the east of the Virgin Islands and the wind angle is usually not north of east enough to sail directly to St. Martin from Virgin Gorda, but we have picked a lucky weather window that should allow us to sail directly to St. Martin without ever having to tack or start an engine.
Our daysail to St. Martin was uneventful except that it was upwind into very choppy seas and it was a "washing machine" ride with the boat jerking and lurching very quickly in the confused seas. Despite the uncomfortable ride, we were very appreciative that we were in fact able to sail with no engines the whole way and never had to tack. Welcome to the trade winds!
I remember my buddy, Dave, on catamaran Zing saying last year: “If you can’t sail everywhere you go in the Caribbean, you don’t know how to sail.” He's right and we arrived in St. Martin’s Simpson Bay with full fuel tanks.
II. Where in the World are the Leeward Islands anyway?
Before touring St. Martin, let’s get oriented with the Leeward Islands and where we are.
Our Leeward Islands guide book, written by Chris Doyle, separates the Leewards into three categories:
1) Renaissance Islands:
Anguilla; St. Martin; and, St. Barthelemy (a.k.a. “St. Barts”)
2) Islands that Brush the Clouds:
Saba, St. Eustatia (a.k.a “Statia”), St. Christopher ( a.k.a. “St. Kitts”); Nevis; and, Montserrat
3) Islands of Mountains and Mangroves:
Barbuda, Antigua, Guadeloupe, The Saints, Marie Galante, and Dominica
I will provide a little introduction for each island we visited herein below as the trip report continues. So, don’t forget to refer back to the Map now and then to keep oriented if need be.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten
The north half of the island is French ( St. Martin) and the southern half is Dutch (Sint Maarten). Folklore states that the French and Dutch did not want to fight over the island, so a Frenchman started walking south from the north shore (with a bottle of wine), and a Dutchman started walking north from the south shore (with a bottle of gin). Where they met, the boundary was established. Supposedly, the gin was stronger than the wine and the Dutchman didn’t walk as fast as the Frenchman, resulting in the French claiming more land than the Dutch.
The island has the predictable Caribbean history of sugar and tobacco plantation attempts that ultimately failed.
After the failure of the plantations, the island was declared a duty-free island in the early 1900’s and St. Martin evolved into a busy international destination for holiday travelers. It is undoubtedly far and away the most active Caribbean tourist destination and boasts many resorts and hotels and several beautiful beaches.
There are hundreds of restaurants and upscale duty-free shops with everything from ultra-expensive designer clothes and jewelry to fine art. There are big multiplex cinemas showing current movies (the only cinemas we are aware of in the entire Eastern Caribbean). Cruise ships swarm the southern port of Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, where the streets are lined with duty free shops and aggressive “hawkers” trying to coax you in to browse and buy. The island has “Big City” traffic and a wholly European feel that is much different than the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands. St. Martin is by far the most modern, developed place we visited since departing Ft. Lauderdale.
Of course, there is a very busy international airport on St. Martin, with the western end of the runway located right on the beach. Huge Air France jets come and go, as do other major airlines as well. As we neared Simpson Bay, a transatlantic Air France flight was landing.
We anchored in outer Simpson Bay, near the beach and the north of the entrance to inner Simpson Bay Lagoon. Considering the Lagoon is virtually stagnant and packed with vessels, we figured it best to make water outside the Lagoon and then enter with two full tanks of fresh water. We also washed off all the salt on the decks and rigging from the 66 mile upwind beat across the Anegada Passage.
We had very upscale company in Simpson Bay. Million and multi-million dollar custom catamarans and huge monohulls were already anchored in the outer bay.
After a night in the outer bay, Melissa and I headed into Simpson Bay Lagoon. There is a small drawbridge that only opens once in the morning and once in the afternoon. First, boats are allowed to depart the Lagoon, then the traffic light (yes they have one on each side of the bridge) went from red to green and we entered along with a parade of other boats. The drawbridge we used is located on the Dutch side of the island. There is another one on the north side of the island at French Marigot Bay.
Our plan was to enter the Lagoon on the Dutch side and motor north to the French side and anchor there. The French Customs check-in process is much easier and cheaper (free) than the Dutch side. Once you have checked into either country, you can visit the whole island.
Soon after anchoring, we dinghied over to the marinas at French Marigot, and then walked to Customs and Immigration.
It took us some time to find Customs -- no signs. We searched for 45 minutes or so, baking in the noon-day heat and being coated with dust as we walked along the busy streets. It turned out that Customs is located in the Marigot Bay Ferry Terminal, a smallish stand-alone building on the seawall at Marigot Bay.
The Customs Officer was on display inside a small ticket office with the obligatory plate-glass window with half-moon hole cut over the counter and round speaking hole at eye level. Plus, there was a big window in the back wall of the little office and the ferry docks and Marigot Bay were visible from where we stood.
The Customs Officer was so disinterested it was hard to get him to do anything: "Bonjour Officer; we have just arrived on our boat -- bateau -- and we need to check in please." He looked at us and shrugged. Not just any shrug, but an expressive shrug in the French vocabulary of a thousand various shrugs. Obviously, the French "shrug language" is well developed, complex and a study that begins with French toddlers picking up the first rudimentary shrugs and then honing those skills over a lifetime thereafter.
Also, the Officer did not grunt or make a sound, just a silent shrug with requisite facial expression. If you add grunts to the shrugs, mind you, the permutations and combinations are boundless.
So what did he say with that French shrug, you ask?
The Officer's shrug, with specific particularity, conveyed" "I don't care if you check in, I am extremely busy doing nothing and don't want to interrupt my meditations -- and by the way when I hear you say 'Bonjour' and 'Bateau' I want to vomit."
It is hard to imagine a simple shrug could say all that, but you must understand that these guys are good!
So I answer the shrug: "Sil vous plais, Officer, I want to check in", pushing our Passports through the little half moon in the window. Another shrug and glare that says: "If you insist; troublemaker." He reached back and got a form and used it like a bulldozer to push the Passports back through the half moon window, as if they were a couple of cat turds he didn't want to touch. He pointed toward a bench, which meant "go over there and fill it out."
We had our backpack with all the tools for Customs: Passports, Vessel Documentation Certificate including copies, Specifications Sheet for Indigo Moon in both standard and metric measure, Crew Lists with all our personal information and all the paperwork from whatever previous port we were in, etc. Any screw-up can mean starting over with a long walk and dinghy ride back to the boat to get something; ink pens for example. You learn very quickly that no matter where you go in this World, they will never let you use a pen at Customs -- you must have your own pen - and if you forget to bring one you must go all the way back to the boat or buy, borrow, or steal one if you want to clear Customs.
We filled out the form and returned to the window. I slid the form and the passports through the half moon window. The Officer picked up the form and let the Passports slide off and back out the window. A millisecond's glance was split between the front and back page. While turning his back to me to look away and out the back window toward the Bay, he simultaneously reached over in the opposite direction and blindly laid the form in a pile of other papers. He kept his back to me thereafter.
Hmmm. . . through the little hole in the window I speak: "Pardon, Monsieur, sil vous plais, Passeport, STAMP sil vous plais?"
He wheeled around on his swivel chair, and I, with Passports in left hand, made a stamping gesture with my right hand and again said: "Stamp, sil vous plais?"
A shrug again; this one said: "If you insist, and did I indicate that I really will vomit if you don't stop trying to speak French." And then it all became clear: he was forced to stand up and walk four paces to get the stamp for the Passports.
I wanted the stamp, because unlike anywhere else we have been, here in Marigot we did not get a copy of anything to prove we checked in. If there was trouble, it would be my word against the Customs Officer's shrug. In legalese that would be a "swearing/shrugging contest."
And while it seems that the French couldn't care less about whether or not you check in, and it seems there would be no harm in skipping it, there is more to it than that. As a lawyer, I am all too familiar with the customary exclusionary clauses in insurance policies. I don't even have to look. Like the old "Ragu" spaghetti sauce commercials with the slogan "it's in there", there is certainly a clause that excludes coverage for "illegal use or operation" of the vessel.
Somewhere, there is a one-hundred question deposition-checklist on an insurance-defense lawyer's desk that reads: Question One: at the time of the accident/incident had the vessel cleared Customs, or was it illegally used and operated in foreign waters. Thus, I always insist on walking away with something that proves we checked in.
With our Passports stamped, we could at least prove we visited Customs and that the "people" cleared Immigrations. Even though we still didn't get any paperwork to prove Indigo Moon cleared Customs, it would be nonsensical to conclude that Indigo Moon had not also cleared Customs at the same time.
Finally, we were "legal" and decided to walk around a bit and take a few pictures. Here are some shots from our first walking tour of French St. Martin:
After a quick lunch at one of the many open air restaurants at the waterfront in Marigot, we headed back to the dinghy to explore Simpson Bay a little more. Simpson Bay is by far the largest anchorage in the entire Eastern Caribbean. The bay is several miles wide, completely protected, and can accommodate hundreds of boats. St. Martin is a very popular yachting destination for Megayachts and Superyachts and there are several marinas that cater to the multimillion and billion dollar crowd.
Extremely well-stocked marine chandleries are located on the Dutch, St. Maartin side of the Lagoon, namely Budget Marine and Island Water World. These two marine supply stores are franchises with stores scattered about the Caribbean. Both are "West Marine-type" stores. Both franchises have their largest "flagship" stores located in Sint Maarten directly on the Lagoon's shore. They have dinghy docks too! Only ten paces from their docks, both stores are super-accessible by boat. You can’t imagine how gleeful all the Cruisers are to be able to buy anything they need for their boat and not even have to take a cab or walk a half-block!
Also, there are scores of professional yacht services in St. Martin for rigging, sail making, refrigeration, metal works and anything else you can think of. With the impressive population of megayachts, the yacht service industry is well-established. Accordingly, many Cruisers undertake significant boat projects in the calm of the Lagoon with every imaginable marine part and marine fabrication service available at their fingertips.
Television channels can be picked up in the anchorage with a regular t.v. antenna. One channel in particular shows old movies, transmitting from the nearby island of Saba. It even broadcasts actual, uncut movies from cable providers. - legal or not, it's pretty cool.
Several restaurants and bars line the shores of the Lagoon’s south side and offer free wireless internet access and hold flea markets and swap meets, etc. Also, there is an active cruisers’ net VHF broadcast every morning.
In fact, the Lagoon is such a “comfy” place many boats have stayed so long that they have become eyesores and permanent fixtures that will probably never move again (except to the bottom of the Lagoon). The longer a boat stays in one place, the harder it is to get it “up and running” and in “cruise mode” again. I think some Cruisers and their boats get too tired and rest a little too long, passing some invisible inflection point of no return and they will never get underway again.
On the issue of eyesore boats in general, of course, these boats are certainly not limited to St. Martin or the Caribbean for that matter. They can be found anywhere these days and have played a significant role in ruining some things for today's Cruisers. In places like south Florida, laws are now continually passed to get rid of all live aboard Cruisers, not just the eyesores.
Let's face it, nobody complains when a fine yacht in Bristol condition is anchored just offshore of a 20 million dollar Florida mansion. And why would anyone complain; it looks like the yacht might belong to the mansion’s owner, upping his stock. But, on the other hand, let one “bum boat” anchor within sight of any such upscale property and the ink in Legislators’ pens starts flowing like the Mississippi River and in order to avoid running amuck in equal protection arguments, it is easiest to simply draft laws banning all liveaboards.
Predictably, true offenders with really nasty boats are usually contrarians by nature. They scream about the Constitution and their Civil Rights and that “The Man” is after them, etc. They refuse to clean up their act, or move away from the nice areas. They have nothing to lose. Being “judgment proof” they are hard to evict from marinas and bays.
So, many U.S.A. marinas and municipalities are simply trying to ban live aboard boaters and long-term anchoring, passing laws limiting anchoring to 24 hours, etc. Florida is especially going through legal flux regarding these issues. After being opposed by the Seven Seas Cruising Association and other entities and individuals representing the rights of Cruisers, extremely prohibitive Florida legislation has now been scaled back, partially restoring some of the live aboard Cruisers' rights. But, it’s not over by a long shot. “Cruiser Law” is in its infancy and it will be a while before it reaches equilibrium.
I would expect that phase-two of the "Anchoring War" will begin with carefully-worded amendments by the Florida Legislature to take back all the ground that they can. It’s pretty much a “no brainer” that a voting constituency worth billions of dollars in waterfront property will require that Cruisers, a politically valueless group, ultimately lose BIG. We’ll see.
Here in St. Martin, there are at least two dozen true eyesore boats in Simpson Bay Lagoon. The Lagoon is currently a bum’s haven; a place you can apparently “kick back and rot in peace.”
Mercifully, the eyesore boats are not that offensive here due to the simple fact that the Lagoon is huge and there is plenty of room to anchor out in the middle and away from other boats and the shore. Thus, the "bum boats" blend in a little better than in Ft. Lauderdale, for example, where there is virtually no open water and only tight canals and very small lakes. Plus, here in St. Martin, you had to have a seaworthy boat at some point, or you could not have made it here in the first place!
Here are some scenes from our first looks at the Lagoon:
As we moved south in the Caribbean, the major fleets of huge power yachts did not follow because upscale marina facilities and suitable harbors are few in the lower Leewards and nonexistent in the Windwards.
Although it was not planned, we were in St. Martin for the biggest event of the year: The Heineken Regatta! A World Class event, the regatta draws participants from everywhere and St. Martin was transformed into a race by day and party by night festival. Melissa and I went to the western beach of Simpson Bay at St. Maartin to see some of the race boats fly spinnakers.
The participants truly enjoyed the event. The wind was uncooperative, however, and was so light at the end of the week that, for the first time in the history of the event, the last day of the race was canceled.
We really liked the contrast of St. Martin after touring the Bahamas and Virgin Islands. Its ambiance is so different than other islands we've seen. Everything is European: the food, the fire hydrants, the light fixtures, the language, the customs -- everything! It’s the first stop in our Caribbean adventure that presented what felt like a pure "foreign-country" experience.
I have always liked the sound of the French language and it was fun to watch and listen, and interesting to study the mannerisms of the French people. Just watching the waiters and bartenders and shopkeepers interacting with each other was a trip.
Neither Melissa nor I are fluent in any foreign languages. Melissa took quite a bit of Spanish way back in school, but she didn't use it and it was predictable that she'd lose it (although she knows much more than she lets on). Nonetheless, before leaving Ft. Lauderdale we bought two books: French for Cruisers and Spanish for Cruisers. Both books are written by Kathy Parsons and are very handy because they are neatly arranged into user-friendly sections of utility depending on the task(s) at hand. The author, herself a long-term live aboard cruiser, has the experience to know what unique phrases we need as boaters. Thus, everything from emergency VHF radio phrases, to anchoring, to boat repair, to boat parts is included along with, of course, phrases for everyday tourists' needs regarding pleasantries and grocery shopping and restaurants, etc.
We "met" Kathy Parsons briefly in Venezuela. Melissa and I were leaving the Bahia Redonda Marina with our friend and driver Arnaldo Anez who was taking us to the store. When we paused at the gate to depart the marina, a very pretty lady approached the passenger-side window and I rolled it down. She was clearly from the U.S., but she began speaking to Arnaldo in the most beautiful Spanish I think I have ever heard! As quickly as she appeared, she was gone again and we were driving away. I remarked about how amazing her Spanish is and Arnaldo said: "Yes, she wrote this book" as he pulled a copy of Spanish for Cruisers from his door pouch.
That was our only interaction with Kathy and we were sorry we didn't get to speak to her and thank her. Her books have been invaluable.
Anyway, Melissa and I spent quite a bit of time playing with the French for Cruisers book while in St. Martin. I often picked it up first thing in the morning and would peruse it for fun. Studying Kathy's book in private is one thing, but trying to speak French to a Frenchman is quite another -- a high-wire act in gale force winds without a net. So, I was rather timid, getting by just fine but at the same time always minimizing my exposure to that famous French GLARE which is reserved for us ignorant Americans who so offensively butcher their beautiful language. All kidding aside, we were very comfortable with it all and most people were very patient and nice.
Armed with our books and maps and cameras, we continued to enjoy our tours of St. Martin.
Here are some more shots of St. Martin, the French side of the Island:
St. Martin and Marigot Bay have quite a history of unrest and turmoil. In the 17th Century, French Settlers inhabited the northern shores at Marigot Bay, named for the mangroves and swamps of the great inland pond (the Lagoon). Tobacco, indigo, and cotton were cultivated, but the efforts of the French Settlers were often dashed by British Privateers and Pirates.
In 1764, French Knight Descoudrelles arrived as the new commander of St. Martin and St. Barts, all as the issue of military protection ripened. Descoudrelles wrote: "The biggest impediment for a solid [French] establishment in Saint-Martin is the cruel way that the British always treated the inhabitants of this island that has always been taken by force of privateers or individuals, who evicted the inhabitants every time after having plundered and burned everything they possessed."
By the 1800's, the French had enough of the ongoing British abuse. The fort at Marigot was built in order to repel further assaults by the British. In 1808, the new fort was tested. One of the placards at the Fort publishes a first-hand report of a Battle that marked the turning point:
"Monday, July 14th 1808, at daybreak, this little fort was attacked by about 200 men, sailors and marine guards from the English Frigate, the Wanderer, Captain Crafton and the schooners, the Balahou, Captain Spearing, and the Subtile, Captain Mills.
In about one hour after their landing, the brave and intrepid [French] Commander Pruits disposed of them as following: 7 among whom captain Spearing were killed. 18 among whom the midshipmen Gallowases were severely wounded. 140 among whom 3 were naval officers, Duncan, Leading Seaman, Mr. Milley, Lieutenant of the Schooner and Captain Mills were imprisoned.
The others were lucky enough to take their launches and rowed away. The fort garrison was composed of 28 soldiers including Commander, and about 15 men of militia. At the end came a Dutch military detachment that went around the Fort and took prisoners, who after having thrown their weapons had withdrawn away from the bullets down a little cliff. Between the besieged only one soldier was wounded, although his injury was slight and he recovered in 6 days. No cannon was used in this affair: it began and was concluded by the use of muskets. The enemy came to steal a great quantity of coffee that they knew we had in our stores, but undoubtedly, they didn't even take one bean."
As an aside, I have been reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series of historical novels. The battle here at St. Martin seems to be lifted right out of the pages of O'Brian's works, or visa versa is perhaps more accurate.
I can picture novelist O'Brian's main character, Post-Captain Jack Aubrey, engineering precisely such an assault upon St. Martin. I can also imagine the real life shock of real life accomplished British Naval warriors when they saw the efforts of a Frigate (and two Schooners no less) crushed at St. Martin by 43 Frenchmen with cold cannons and only hot muskets called into action.
And so against the backdrop of O'Brian's novels and with a keen understanding of the ferocity of British Naval operations in that era, I greatly appreciated the gravity of the French troops' efforts at Marigot. What a stunning, shocking, unbelievable, and spectacular victory for the French. It was the essence of pure humiliation and utter defeat for the British! A real David and Goliath victory.
From a wholly different and humorous perspective, however, the English should have known that the French victory was utterly predictable. Having grown up in the wonderful French and Acadian cultures of South Louisiana, I could have told the British that trying to screw around with a Frenchman's coffee is not a good idea! In the priorities list of life, Louisiana Dark Roast Coffee rates high, and is surely in the top ten: God, Family, Country, LSU, Budweiser, Coffee, Crawfish, Boudin, Mardi Gras, etc.
Aside from St. Martin's interesting history, we also enjoyed the fact that it was quite cosmopolitan compared to the Virgin Islands and offered all the shopping and services of a big city. Also, it was fun to see French and European hardware and fittings on the shelves of Budget Marine and Island Water World, the two big chandleries here.
For example, two years ago I lost a fuel-fill cap while refueling underway in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida. The little "BB" chain tether broke and the cap bounced nicely down the port transom and into the Atlantic Ocean. The lost fitting is made by Amiot, a European Co. Well, it was impossible to find that part in the U.S.A and it resulted in my installing two, much prettier, new American fuel-fill deck fittings (one in each hull's transom so they would match): one day’s work, including cutting larger holes in the hull and a couple of hundred dollars.
Well, I stood in Budget Marine in Sint Maarten and held the Amiot brand fuel-fill deck fittings in my hand: the fix here would have been seventeen dollars and five minutes.
Here are more scenes of our experiences in St. Martin:
There are so many yachts in Simpson Bay Lagoon that you can find just about anything from custom racing catamarans to water-jet powered mega yachts.
The bandage around Melissa’s left leg is a good transition into another subject. While at St. Martin, both Melissa and I had the unlucky fates of experiencing our first significant injuries/illnesses aboard Indigo Moon.
First, within two days of our arrival, I picked up a terrible bug of some sort. It hit within minutes one evening. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I had chills and was running a fever. I had always wondered what it would be like to be really sick “out here” and living on the boat. My question was about to be answered.
I managed to get the watermaker turned off and flushed. Then I got the boat's systems stabilized and took a quick shower, all before falling into the bunk where I shivered with 101+ degree fever. I slept until about 5:00 am and awoke terribly nauseated. Hmmm. . . . in my sleepy fog I instinctively went to the head, but coming out of my sleep I realized that there is not enough room to kneel by the toilet, plus as my mind began to further "boot up" I quickly concluded that throwing up into the toilet would surely cause it to clog. Yuck!
So, I went on deck and got one of our many buckets from a deck locker and knelt on the rug in the salon and dry heaved into that damn bucket for ten minutes or so in the soft, barely discernable first-light of morning! Melissa, still sleeping, detected this new, strange sound never before heard on the boat and she woke up and came to investigate. Not fun!
She dug out the books and our medicines and determined that I had Dysentery. We had a powerful antibiotic, Cipro, on board as well as Phenergren for nausea. I was so sick that I totally lost a couple of days while the poison worked its way through my entire digestive system. I slept all hours of the day and night, never knowing what time it was (or what day it was).
Melissa took good care of me and, all in all, Indigo Moon was a surprisingly comfortable place to convalesce. I finally shook the bug by day three, but I gotta tell you, it was a bad one! I am quite sure that I have not been that sick in at least twenty years. It left me pretty weak and literally terrified of Marigot restaurants for a while.
In the aftermath, we talked about how terrible/dangerous it would have been if either of us had gotten that sick on the seven day passage from Ft. Lauderdale to Tortola! I am a trooper and can tough it out with the very best of them -- anytime anywhere -- but I don’t think I would have been able to stand all my watches being that sick. We would have both been sleeping at the same time now and then, hove-to and drifting, hoping nothing ran us down. I guess that’s a good argument for bringing extra crew on the longer passages.
Just about the time I was all healed up and feisty again, it was Melissa’s turn "in the barrel." She took a terrible spill coming up the stairs from down in the starboard hull. The stair treads are wooden, but also have a protective metal trim on the edges that had already proved to be treacherously slippery now and then, especially when our feet are wet.
When Melissa slipped, her shin landed on the metal edge of the middle stair tread and it cut her damn near to the bone: a deep but clean cut about an inch long! I managed to get her and all the blood cleaned up. Once she was in the bunk and stabilized nicely, I immediately jumped into the dinghy and went to Island Water World and bought enough 3M adhesive-backed nonskid material to cover the ends of the stair treads, including the metal trim edges. With the new non-skid in place, Melissa has never slipped again. But, one woman's cure eventually turned out to be another man's poison; we'll get to that when we report on Bonaire in the future.
Melissa's laceration was pretty bad and I really should have stitched it in retrospect (we have sutures and scalpels), but it was too close to call, and given a choice I would rather not stick a needle and thread through my sweetheart. There is only a six to eight hour window for closing a deep wound and I missed it. So, I performed twice-daily wound care for two weeks until that vicious laceration closed up nicely. There is only a hint of a scar now and Melissa is blessed with very beautiful skin that heals with amazing speed.
And so, while we liked St. Martin very much, our memories of it are also somewhat painful because of the health problems we experienced there.
After getting better from our little run of bad luck, we headed back out into the streets and continued to soak up St. Martin. We rented a car one day and toured the whole island and even walked all the way down Orient Beach and into the "nude" section of the beach where it is clear that, as a general rule, nudists' eagerness to remove more and more of their clothes is pretty much directly proportional to my hope that I will never, ever have to see those particular people naked.
When you approach the nude beach area, a sign says "no cameras, cell phone cameras, video", etc. I'm not sure whether the sign is there to protect the nudists' privacy or to protect the cameras, camcorders and cell phones from damage.
Here are a few more views of St Martin that we liked:
By the second week, St. Martin was clearing out from all the festivities of the Heineken Regatta. We were all healed up from our physical maladies, and I had also performed maintenance on Indigo Moon. Our time in St. Martin was up and we needed to start moving down island.
With excitement in the air and the whole Eastern Caribbean lying to the south and patiently waiting for us to "discover" it at our leisure, we departed St. Martin on a sunny morning, headed for St. Bart’s, only 12 miles to the south. And that's the good news; from here on out, the hops between islands are relatively short -- no more 70 and 80 mile jumps. It will be easy day-hops all the way to Grenada.
St. Barthelemy (a.k.a. St. Barth's and/or St. Bart's):
French St. Bart's is probably the most chic of all the Islands in the Caribbean. It has a history of being shuffled between the British, French, Spanish and Swedish. A small island, it made its success from trade and having a very small yet extremely well-protected harbor.
St. Bart's might be geographically tiny, but it is a huge hotspot for the rich and famous. Acting, music, and sports stars as well as the wholly untalented but nonetheless ultra-rich congregate at St. Bart's. Basically, the “beautiful people” of the World ultimately find their way to St. Bart’s where art, music, and money are King.
Here we go on our short three hour trip to St. Barts!
Many folks accuse the French of having no guts and being afraid of a fight; the old joke: “French rifles for sale, good condition – never fired and only dropped once.” Well, I am here to tell you that, on the contrary, Frenchmen are fearless, at least when it comes to anchoring! In that department, the French are the most gutsy people on Earth! They will speed into an anchorage and drop the hook so close to you that when their anchor hits the water it splashes water on your deck!
One thing we liked very much about St. Bart's is how clean and neat the streets were compared to other islands like the Virgin Islands where the natives are oblivious to trash and junk lying around.
Here are some scenes from St. Bart's:
Wow, we really like St. Bart's too! It is so laid back; a much slower paced than St. Martin. The Customs office was the nicest, most modern Customs facility we’ve seen to date. It was more like a well-appointed Bank lobby than the usual dirty “hole in the wall” we’ve encountered most everywhere else. The Officers were nice to us, although I have heard reports from other Cruisers that some of the Customs Officers here have been known to display the rudest of French attitudes from time to time in the past.
While anchored at St. Bart's, I decided to break out the sewing machine. The sailbag for the mainsail was getting threadbare and some of the strapping had worn holes in places. Plastic buckles were long gone, the sun having disintegrated them.
So, for fun, I removed the sailbag and completely refurbished it, repairing all damage and installing new webbing, buckles and straps. And, why not make it one of a kind? Considering I had an old, purple LSU flag that was tattered, I used bits of it to fashion a purple moon logo for each side of the sailbag. I also repaired other items, such as the cushion for an ice chest, etc. Three days of sewing and all was good again.
Our time at St. Bart's was up. Next stop: Saba! It is off the beaten path, because it is located west and away from the main archipelago of the Leewards. Thus, it is not visited by the masses. Aside from it's isolated location, Saba is itself forbidding with no protected anchorages. Plus, a visit there requires an ultimate upwind bash back east into the trades to get back to the chain of Leewards. We were all for it!
We departed St. Bart's headed southwest to the island of Saba. For the first time since leaving the U.S.A., we finally had the wind behind the beam and were able to use the spinnaker on a light air day. We averaged only four to five knots, but it was a welcome, leisurely sail compared to all the upwind, close hauled bashing we have done since Ft. Lauderdale.
Saba’s topography is unlike any other island in the Caribbean. It is 4000 feet high and only 5 miles wide! Its shores are unbelievably hostile and the fact that it was settled and developed at all is a testament to the unwavering tenacity of its residents. There are no bays or safe harbors here. The entire perimeter of the island is that of steep cliffs and treacherous rock-laden shores; all its shores are reef-free and fully exposed to the full brunt of the running seas. Descendants of Dutch, Scotch and English (a tough bunch) built roads and towns that now stand in proud defiance of "experts" all of whom opined that the island simply could not be developed. In fact, the person who designed the main road across the island studied a correspondence course as his only primer before constructing a road that was impossible.
We already knew that the island had a reputation for awesome scuba diving, great hikes up the steep mountains, and the personality of an Alpine Village instead of a steel-drum rasta-man's Caribbean Beach Resort. As such, we were excited to be on our way to Saba and were looking forward to experiencing what is probably one of the most unique Islands in the Leewards.
Our arrival at Saba was uneventful from a seamanship standpoint, but it was unforgettably dramatic. The rugged and steep mountains of Saba are truly majestic. We were lucky enough to find an available mooring (in 65 feet of water) and were even more-lucky that there were no huge northerly swells running. The mooring field is on the western side of the island where it is protected from the easterly trade winds. However, the moorings are literally out in the open Caribbean Sea with no protection whatsoever from whatever is running from the north and west.
Thus, visiting the island can be impossible when violent seas or swells emanate from the north or west. There were only moderate swells running while we were there, and it was bearable, especially considering we are on a catamaran. Swells usually don't bother us at all, but those who are cruising on monohulls can have a very uncomfortable time of it even in modest swells: the heavy keel of a monohull turns the boat into a "metronome" when moored or anchored in swells. The side-to-side rolling motion of a monohull is greatly exaggerated by the fact that the mast and keel begin to employ their own inertia to keep the boat rolling hard from side continuously as the swells come and go.
We took the dinghy in to Fort Bay. While there, we checked into Customs and got approval to be on our mooring. There are only a dozen or so moorings and there are time limits.
Lest you think my repeated reporting of the Customs experiences signals some psychosis or crazy obsession, I find it to be the best shorthand for what the personality of a country is. It has been rare that the reception I get at Customs is completely askew from the reception I ultimately get in the rest of the Country.
Saba, part of the Netherlands Antilles, was true to form. The young men at Customs were super nice. Also, they are very proud of their Country and Island and wanted to tell us all about it. On the other end of the spectrum from the disinterested French Customs Officer in St. Martin, the Customs Officers at Saba eagerly wanted our Passports and wanted to stamp them with Saba's seal (they were very proud of the Saba stamp and I agree that it is probably the coolest stamp in our Passports). Later in the week, when we saw one of the Officers in town, he waved and said "Hi Buddy and Melissa." Geez, you don't find anybody any friendlier than that anywhere in the World.
As soon as we got approval for the mooring and checked in, we got a taxi to take us up to the settlements.
We took a tour with a taxi driver the next day and enjoyed more of the sights of Saba, described by a local Dutch fellow as “Heaven here on Earth.” We told him we sailed over the day before from St. Bart's. He asked: "Did you have a big purple sail? I saw a boat coming over with a big purple sail that was very pretty!" We said "THAT WAS US!" How cool is that?
The people of Saba have worked extremely hard. It shows both in their happiness and in their pride and appreciation for their beautiful little island. What a stark contrast from other cultures on some of the other Caribbean Islands where the natives are obviously allergic to hard work, have no pride in the appearance of their islands, nor any interest in improving their communities. "No result worth having is easy" as Supreme Court Justice Holmes once said. There is a certain level of happiness and self-worth that can only come from honest hard work no matter what you do -- whether you are out here cruising on a sailboat full time or still in the trenches in your chosen career.
If any bleeding-heart ever tells you that some Caribbean Islands and cultures have not progressed very far into civilization because it is just too tough for them with limited educations and resources on those little islands, etc., tell those excuse-makers to visit Saba which serves as a testament that the impossible can be accomplished, but only through tenacious, unwavering, relentless HARD WORK.
We were astounded by the accomplishments of the Sabans and they are a fabulous inspiration story of absolute triumph over hardship on the most forbidding and rugged island in the entire Caribbean.
One of the ways to make a living here in Saba is through Lobstering. The Saba Banks are comprised of relatively shallow areas of coral stretching for a large area of several hundred square miles to the southwest of Saba. Many Sabans operate lobstering boats on those Banks and sell their catch to all the French restaurants in nearby St. Martin and St. Bart’s, etc.
While waiting on a cab one day, we spoke to a local who was a former lobsterman, now trying his hand at running a restaurant near the small harbor (actually two little seawalls with very little space and providing what can hardly pass for a true harbor). He spoke of his lobstering days and I could see in his eyes that the restaurant business will probably give way to lobstering again in short order.
Okay, so what’s next? Well, we decided to hike up to the top of Mount Scenery! This is one of the most challenging hikes you can do in the Caribbean. The hike climbs up to 2,855 feet and takes approximately 90 minutes. It was equally beautiful and brutal. The placard claims 1,064 steps, but many of those steps are two feet tall!!!!
I have dispensed with the necessity for a physical examination this year, having survived the grueling Mount Scenery hike that far surpassed any treadmill test the doctors could throw at me. We sure enjoyed the hike, tough as it may have been! It was well worth the sore bodies and we will long remember the awesome views and lush vegetation we found along the way.
Every now and then, when the clouds thinned, we could see Indigo Moon below, a mere speck of white out in the Caribbean Sea!
What else is there to do here at Saba? SCUBA DIVING!
World-class diving at that! Saba will not allow you to dive unless it is through a local dive shop. So, we had to either pay for a trip or not dive. We opted for a two tank trip with a dive in the morning and another after lunch. I must say it was well worth it. We experienced the beautiful reefs of Saba and even saw a seahorse! I know many an experienced diver who has never seen one. Also, new species to us, like spotted drum fish and other colorful fish were a treat. There were lava flows, and areas of volcanic black-sand bottom that were very hot to the touch. It was a great, unique experience.
It was grueling at times, though, because the little harbor was surging so badly. Just getting on and off the dive boat was deadly dangerous. I had already noticed that our dive boat was an absolute wreck; the worst-looking torn-to-pieces dive boat I have ever seen. I was about to see why.
After the first dive, we came in for lunch and docked behind the small seawall area. The surge was so bad it ripped the breast cleat off the dive boat (along with a section of the deck that it was bolted to). It was unnerving to watch the deck hands dealing with lines and dive tanks as the boat rose and fell six feet vertically while slamming brutally against the concrete dock, all while lines went slack and steel-taught and then slack again. It’s been a long, long time since I have had to really think about how to simply step off a boat, but in Saba it was a death-defying stunt that called for intense concentration.
It was immediately apparent why all the local vessels are not docked, but live on moorings instead where they and can ride the seas outside the little man-made harbor area. And so, the shores of Saba are still wild, rugged and absolutely untamed. Although scary, that wild edge is part of what makes Saba so uniquely beautiful.
After the second dive, I bought a nice lobster from one of the boats that came in that afternoon. We had a nice lobster pasta dish that I like to cook and we enjoyed the sunset as we reviewed the charts and read up on our next destination: St. Eustatius, a.k.a “Statia.”
St. Eustatius (Statia)
Statia has an incredible history and in the 1700’s it was the undisputed trade capital of all the Indies! According to our cruising guide, it was not uncommon for up to two hundred sailing ships to be anchored here at the same time. Think about it! Two Hundred sailing ships!!!!! Thousands of tons (yes tons) of goods were traded daily; everything from guns to gold to cotton to slaves.
In the same year the United States won its independence, 1776, the Andrew Doria, an American naval vessel, made port in Statia. The Andrew Doria fired a cannon salute and received a reply salute from the fort. The British were incensed by this recognition of its adversary, the United States. The salute, as well as American rebels capturing a nearby British ship and Statia selling weapons to the rebels caused Britain to declare War on Holland. Statia was decimated. British warships routed Statia and burned much of it. Thereafter, Statia never recovered as a trade center.
Statia is now a quiet, slow-paced island. It is not at all a major tourist destination, but it is a favorite scuba diving destination. There are corals, lava flows, and wrecks, and the whole area is home to a stunning array of sea life. There is one other reason to dive Statia: during the years of slavery, the only currency used by the slaves was a specific type of blue glass beads. A sign of wealth and often strung into necklaces, the European-made blue beads were plentiful in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
We learned much of this information about Statia's Blue Beads from a great article by Suzzane Gerber in the 2005 November/December issue of Sport Diver magazine. Melissa was so taken with the article, she clipped it out and we still have it!
According to the article by Gerber, legend has it that Statia’s slaves threw all their Blue Beads into the sea when slavery was abolished. Today, the occasional lucky diver can still find a single Blue Bead upturned from the shifting sands in tides or storm currents. Several of the Blue Beads are on display at the local museum in Oranjestad. Finding a Blue Bead is supposed to bring good fortune and it is also a a sign that you "belong to the island" and will return to the island again and again.
We enjoyed two spectacular dives at Statia. The first was on reefs and coral flows where we saw abundant sea life. The second dive was on the wreck of an old tugboat and a wrecked barge that has holes cut in the sides so as to allow divers to enter the barge. One thing we won’t soon forget was the most beautiful and perfectly accommodating sea turtle we’ve ever seen. This smallish hawksbill turtle, a little bigger around than a basketball, sat perfectly still on the corner of the deck of the barge in 40 feet of water and let us hover around him, only two feet away, for five minutes.
He was perfect! With flawless, symmetrical markings and not a scratch on him anywhere, he was a pristine example of the species! He eventually cocked his head and gave us a look that said “See you guys later, I’m outta here!” With one graceful push of his front flippers he was "airborne" and on his way, gliding effortlessly toward the open sea. Wouldn’t you know it? Our underwater camera was acting up and we didn’t get a picture of him!
Although we didn’t find any Blue Beads while diving Statia, we still found a precious diver’s paradise nonetheless. Statia boasts a couple of dive shops and a very appealing, small resort The Old Gin House. It looked like a GREAT place to come and spend a quiet, peaceful dive vacation and decompress from a high stress job, etc. I thought: Gee, I wish I had known about this place for a great getaway back when I was under the intense pressure of running a solo litigation law practice. It looked like a great place to let your circuitry cool down.
Here are some pics of Statia:
See those cliffs in the background in the photo above. One morning I watched goats climb up those cliffs that are sheer and vertical and simply impossible to climb. With the goats slipping often and finding traction at the last fraction of an inch, I could hardly bear to watch them for fear that at any second they would slip and plummet fifty feet to their deaths! It was surprisingly nerve-wracking to see. Of course, the goats were totally at ease with it and successfully scaled the cliffs.
As we walked toward town, more sights were captured by the camera:
And certainly, History’s most-established West Indies trade centers had a well-situated fort overlooking the harbor. Fort Oranje is still well-maintained and offers panoramic, westward views of the harbor and the Caribbean Sea beyond.
The Dutch Reform Church is also an interesting structure:
While there is a lot to do and see on Statia, the island is very slow paced and nothing moves quickly. Again, we remarked that it would be a great vacation spot where you can dive, hike the volcano and even enter the crater if you dare, and then retreat to the elegant charm of the Old Gin House and read a book by the quiet swimming pool in the courtyard.
We did not hike the volcano, but did make two dives. At the time, we were just getting the hang of our new Sea Life underwater camera and only got a couple of shots worth sharing.
We very much enjoyed Statia. The evening before our planned departure to St. Kitts, a four-masted schooner, the Polynesia came in and anchored. The folks aboard were having a great time at the on-deck open-air bar. Music and the sound of partying drifted through the anchorage. The Polynesia is an interesting study and combines modern cruise ship with old sailing ship image.
One thing that caught my eye immediately is the trail of diesel exhaust smoke emanating from the very top of the aft mast! Obviously, the exhaust pipe for the ship’s diesel generator is plumbed all the way up the mast! That is pretty ingenious when you think about it – taking smoke and noise far away from the passengers.
Our sail to St. Kitts was very pleasurable. From a sailing/navigation perspective, island hopping down the Leewards is truly a dream: easy sailing; majestic volcanic peaks of the islands always in sight; trade winds so strong and steady that engines are used only to raise the anchor and depart the harbor. It is here that sailing becomes a true “pleasure cruise” comprised of one-tack romps through exotic scenery.
We had some excitement on the way to St. Kitts. All of a sudden, line began ripping off the port fishing rod. It took us a little while to stop the boat (charging south under full sail). I knew we had hooked something really big from the way the rod was bending and due to the sizzling speed at which line was spooling of our little Penn Senator 4/0 reel.
In fact, line was stripping off so fast we were almost “Spooled” (when a fish strips all the line off the reel and breaks its bitter end). I luckily managed to get the fish stopped just prior to being spooled and began reeling line in. Still no sign of what we have hooked.
WOW! A long, Long, LONG way off a billfish broke the surface and shook his head! He was so far away it was hard to believe he was on my line. Fast forward. After 45 minutes of drifting with sails in irons and situated southwest of St. Kitt’s northern-most point, I got the fish close enough to see that it was a smallish but feisty marlin in the 200 pound range.
Melissa tried and tried to catch him on film, but a far-off shot of his head and bill, pointing straight up is all she could capture.
As the fish got closer, I got impatient. Sure, it was exciting and exhilarating to see him jump, but I also knew I would have the hassle of dealing with this little "scrapper" at the transom and no food would even come from it.
The fish was not jumping anymore and instead sounded. I slowly worked the give and take fight, but I finally decided to expedite things (and break all the rules) by pinching down on the line with my thumb, trapping it against the rod and defeating the drag. That trick puts extreme pressure on the fish -- and the line. The pressure was too great and the line broke! We saw a great show, though! By the way, a hot-pink skirted bait is what that the marlin liked.
Here are some shots:
You cannot imagine how ironic it is hooking a marlin out here. We want food fish! Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Tuna – anything but a marlin. On the flip side, I’ve fished with big game “Pro’s” in tournaments like the Pensacola International and the New Orleans Big Game Club’s contest once and we prayed and prayed and prayed for a billfish. An what would we always catch?. Mahi Mahi, Wahoo and Tuna by the boatload – never a marlin!
As we continued our sail down the west coast of St. Kitts, I was pouting because I lost the marlin. Even though I did not want the fish and intentionally starting acting so stupid that I knew I'd probably lose it, it is mandatory nonetheless that all good fishermen of all ages pout like a six-year-old after a fish gets off on its own.
St. Kitts (St. Christopher) does not have the historical relevance of other islands like Statia, for example. Rather, it was an early settlement fought over by the French and English (who both had to in turn fight the indigenous Carib natives). St. Kitts is an agricultural island that now also depends on tourism.
We knew that St. Kitts had mixed reviews as a Cruising destination. Like many places, it is easily accessible by airplane and cruise ship, but arriving in a small boat at St. Kitts was not fun at all. It is not Cruiser-friendly, because getting to Customs and getting checked-in was tough. No, let me rephrase that: it was dangerous.
Also, St. Kitts is one example where the Chris Doyle Cruising Guide Book was too vague about where Customs and Immigrations are located and what the process is.
We arrived at the Capital City of Basseterre and anchored in the Harbor just off the general area where Customs was supposed to be located per our book. Looking shoreward, there was an industrial freight wharf, large cargo vessels and ships, forklifts and trucks kicking up dust and a fenced-in barbed-wired cargo area.
No matter how long you studied the shore, a sane methodology for setting foot thereon never presented itself. Finally, we had no other choice but to try anyway, and we dropped the dinghy and approached the big commercial docks. We found a little section of dock around to the side where there used to be some steps up to the dock fifteen feet above. The only things left of the steps were ragged, jagged, rusting, metal angle-iron frames that once housed wooden treads.
Gulp! We tied up and climbed slowly and carefully up the shaky framework, all the while envisioning slipping and being impaled on the structure that bristled with sharp, rusty, serrated edges that were literally lethal. It was even odds as to whether the dinghy would be punctured by the metal edges it rode against while tied there.
Once ashore, we began walking through the clouds of choking dust kicked up by trucks and forklifts speeding through the gravel freight yard, all while trying not to get run over. We asked around and found the Customs office. It is designed for freight, not people. I was directed down a series of absolutely filthy hallways to an office where a Customs Officer processed my paperwork. He questioned me repeatedly as to where Indigo Moon was located and I explained that we were anchored just offshore in the Harbor right here.
Turns out it’s so hostile to anchor and land here, we found out that other sane Cruisers we met quickly decided either to either dock at the marina or anchor a few miles away in one of the more remote bays and then find another, safer ways to get to Customs. Those we met who did so, however, were told they were in “Big Trouble” and we were told that the Customs Officers had great sport torturing them and admonishing them for proceeding to other anchorages before anchoring here and checking in at Basseterre first.
Thus, (and though I didn't know why at the time), the Customs Officer was clearly becoming suspicious and was obviously in disbelief that Melissa and I were crazy enough to anchor at Basseterre and scale the “Pier of Death” and comply with St. Kitts’ notoriously unfriendly Customs routine. In fact, he didn’t let up on questioning me until I stood up and invited him to “come on and walk down the freight yard with me and see for yourself."
Speaking of “crazy”: while I was in with the Customs Officer, Melissa was out in the hallway waiting for me and a disheveled and severely disturbed man was keeping her company by sneaking around the hallways and peeking around corners, calling everyone a Mudda F&$%#@ and using his hand like a pistol – pretending to shoot everybody he saw while yelling "I'll kill all you Mudda F@#%&*s!"
Welcome to St. Kitts!
After checking in, we only got permission to proceed to White House Bay at the southern end of the island and nowhere else. You can’t just check in at St. Kitts and go wherever you want like everywhere else. In St. Kitts, your papers have to list where you will go and our Officer would not allow us a “coastwise” permit – he limited us to White House Bay (probably still pissed off that we deprived him of his fun by anchoring where we were supposed to for check in).
We arrived at White House Bay and found two other catamarans there: Maker’s Match, a Lagoon 410 with Chuck and Terri Hill aboard, and Evensong, a Manta 42 with Steve and Sue O’Connor aboard.
We all decided to take a bus tour of the island the next day. Also, Maker’s Match informed us that Melissa and I were not checked in with Immigrations yet. We needed to go to the Police Station in downtown Basseterre and get our Passports stamped, despite the fact that the Customs Officer assured me that we needed to do nothing further. Ugh! What a hassle. St. Kitt’s really sucks when it comes to checking in.
So, the next day we all rode about four miles in the open sea (no kidding) in our dinghies, back up the coast to Basseterre from White House Bay (there is nothing on the shore at White House Bay) and we docked the dinghies at a marina. Melissa and I walked to the Police Station and checked in. Thereafter, we, along with Makers Match and Evensong, negotiated an island tour with one of the local drivers.
Here is what we saw:
Once underway from Basseterre, we enjoyed the sights of St. Kitts. On our way down the coast we saw many things that were very familiar to us as Louisianans. First, there were abundant numbers of Snowy Egrets (we call them “cattle egrets” back home because they like to eat the insects off of grazing cattle).
Also, there are large expanses of sugarcane fields just like those that cover hundreds of square miles in Louisiana.
We got a big laugh when our Driver/Guide, Perdella, went out of her way inland to direct our attention to the biggest Cemetery in old Basseterre. Perdella asked if we wanted to get out and see the Cemetery, and we all looked at each other and wondered why she was directing our attention the the graveyard.
It all became clear when we found out Sue O’Connor, in her crisp Maine, New England accent, had indicated to Perdella earlier that she definitely wanted to see the big “Saman Tree” (but didn’t elaborate further). According to our Cruising Guides, there are a few very large Saman trees on the island.
Perdella’s ears, however, filtered what New England Sue said through the musicality of West Indian pronunciation, and Perdella was sure she heard that Sue wanted to see the Big Cemetery (pronounced “sim-mah-tree” by Perdella). We all got a big laugh out of that once we all figured out what had happened!
There are ancient petroglyphs on St. Kitts (created by the Carib Indians), old sugar plantations, Batik artists, and lots of other touristy sights.
Let’s take a look!
Soon it was time for lunch as we continued up the western shore, with palm trees by the sea and sugarcane inland, St. Kitts is very picturesque. We wound our way up the coast past various calm bays that hide from the trade winds on the lee of St. Kitts.
We decided to stop for lunch at the Golden Lemon. It is a small hotel with several, private stand-alone suites. We invited Perdella to dine with us. She was an extremely personable guide and enjoyed cutting up with me while I rode in the front seat next to her while she drove.
She wanted to bring us to her home and cook for us! She informed us she was a sought-after local vocalist who performed at weddings. She sang a song for us as she drove. She was also very curious about our boats and said she would like to come see “our ships.” Her effervescent personality made up for the bitter taste we had in our mouths after Customs. St Kitts is one place where the attitude of Customs Officers did not necessarily foreshadow experiences to come.
Here are some more pictures:
After an all-day tour of the island, we all got in our dinghies and headed back to our boats. Trouble is, the wind and seas had kicked up and it was so wicked heading into it that our fiberglass dinghy seat cracked in half and Melissa threw her back out! We gave up on trying to plane and slowed to a crawl. It took forever to get back to the boat.
As such, although St. Kitts has some very attractive sights to see, it still ranks as one of the most cruiser-hostile locations we visited in light of the Customs hassles and lack of anchorages that are convenient to shore-side attractions, etc.
After getting ourselves back together from the torturous dinghy ride, we relaxed the rest of the evening. Terri on Maker's Match called on the VHF and turned our attention to wild monkeys on the hillside at White House Bay (probably soon to be captured and forced into a life of indentured servitude by the maniacal petroglyph monkey-scam guy).
As we watched the monkeys and the sunset and speculated as to whether Melissa's spine would ultimately survive the brutal dinghy ride, we also got our courage up to head out the next morning to the next island in the chain: Nevis. The winds and seas subsided and we enjoyed a calm evening while watching a schooner sail toward the setting sun.
The next morning Melissa felt much better. We made a lazy mid-morning departure for nearby Nevis. As we worked our way down the remaining southern coast of St. Kitts, we passed Bays named, no kidding: “Bugs Hole” and “Shitten” -- our votes for the number-one worst-named Bays in the entire Eastern Caribbean.
In short order we arrived at Nevis, less than ten miles away. We'll pick up next time with Nevis and work our way all the way down the rest of the Leewards to the wild jungles and eight volcanoes of spectacular Dominica. So, rest up and stay tuned!
Until next time, and hoping this finds everyone happy and healthy,
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