Antigua to Statia

gbowdish - January 5, 2010

A rain cloud passed over the anchorage as we prepared to leave Antigua. Behind us, Allegro was framed by a full rainbow. Discovery had already left and was positioned at the end of the rainbow. Barry and I had decided to leave the group and head off on our own but would meet up with them on the 15th in St. Martin to help celebrate Sharon's birthday. The others planned to anchor off St. Kitts on the way to St. Martin while we planned to visit Nevis where friends Hud and Lynne from Belle of Virginia had bought a home. They had participated in the 2005 Caribbean 1500.

As we left Antigua we were entertained by a school of dolphin that frolicked in our bow wake, diving under the boat without fear. Our course to the south of Nevis put the wind dead astern, which was very uncomfortable as the swell worsened the farther we got from Antigua. We altered course and headed for the Narrows that separated Nevis from her sister island of St. Kitts. We had a good view of Montserrat to the south, and Barry mentioned that the cloud above the volcano looked suspiciously like an eruption. Barry put out a lure on the hand reel as we got into the deep water. I thought I heard the line snap, and when he reeled the line in the lure was gone. It must have been a big one, and since we don't have a gaff it's probably best that it got away. The depth sounder started giving us readings again around 1530, and it was a little nerve wracking to be able to see coral heads on the bottom. The water was so clear that 20 feet seemed very shallow. The sun was ahead and getting lower in the sky, not the best situation when navigating in coral. The chart did nothing to ease my concerns when it said that the waters around St. Kitts and Nevis were incompletely surveyed. We rounded the Cow Rocks without incident, and approached the mooring field off Charlestown where we picked up a mooring next to a catamaran called Hands Across the Sea, another boat I recognized from the 2008 Caribbean 1500. We hoisted the Q flag and enjoyed a quiet dinner aboard. I called Hud to let him know we had arrived and arranged to meet in the morning after we were finished with customs.

The next morning we launched the dinghy and headed to town to clear in. This turned out to be a process that lasted about two hours. The Customs office was easy to find at the head of the dinghy dock in an historic old building. Then the officer sent us to the police station several blocks away to clear in with immigration. Then it was back to the waterfront to find the port captain, but the office door was locked and the officer was nowhere to be found. Barry went off in search of the Jamaican bakery while I waited. Finally the port captain arrived and he was finished with me in just a few mintues, then I had to go back to the customs office to show him I had visited all the proper officials and receive my cruising permit. I had forgotten to bring a hat ashore, but Barry had seen one he thought I might like while he was looking for the bakery, so he sent me into the store while we were waiting for Hud to pick us up. He didn't tell me which one he had chosen, but he wasn't surprised when I walked out of the store wearing the exact hat he had chosen for me.

Hud enjoyed showing us his adopted island, and after the tour, I could see why they had chosen Nevis for their home instead of one of the other Caribbean islands. There's not much tourism since the largest resort on the island was damaged by Hurricane Omar last year and has yet to reopen. American Airlines even dropped their service to Nevis until the resort has reopened. Locals now take a ferry to St. Kitts then fly from there. There was evidence everywhere of the island's history as a producer of sugar cane. While some plantations were in ruins, others were carefully restored and are living a new life as boutique hotels and restaurants. We had lunch in one of them, with beautiful grounds that could have been a botanical garden, and panoramic views to the southeast overlooking the tiny island of Redonda. We watched a rain cloud approach but managed to stay dry in the shelter of the pavilion while the grounds were drenched with a torrential rain shower that had moved on in a few minutes. The windward side of the island, especially at the higher elevations, is a rainforest and locals have learned to never leave home without an umbrella. Hud had three of them in the back seat of his car.

After our tour, Barry and I wandered through the streets of Charlestown, getting to know some of the locals, including a man who called himself Star. Everyone seems to have a nickname on Nevis. We staked out a place on a balcony overlooking what appeared to be the main bus stop and taxi stand, watching the flurry of activity as workers and school children were collected in vans at the end of their day. We headed back to Gaiamar but saw that the crew of Hands Across the Sea were now aboard so we stopped by to say hello. After cruising in the Caribbean they wanted to find a way to make their experience more meaningful so they formed a nonprofit foundation to collect and distribute supplies to island schools.

Back aboard Gaiamar we dropped off our purchases and gathered up the computer then beached the dinghy in front of the Double Deuce for Happy Hour and to use their wireless internet. After dinner the entertainment began, supplied by the patrons and a karaoke machine. We moved closer to the center of action, and I was surprised to hear someone calling my name. It was Ed and Heidi from Shearwater, the boat I had seen in Dominica and in The Saintes. They had arrived that morning from Montserrat, and they confirmed that the volcano has been in a constant state of eruption with ash and lava flows nearly every day. We spent a very enjoyable evening dancing and singing Christmas and Reggae songs, including the song that had become “our song,” Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. “Don't worry, 'bout a thing, 'cause every little thing, gonna be all right.” That song would become our mantra. As the evening wore on, someone tried to tell us that our dinghy was being swamped with the rising tide and the waves were getting higher on the beach. Note to self, when beaching the dinghy, turn it around so it takes the waves bow-on.

The next morning Barry took the dinghy out for a run, removing the drain plug to allow the water to drain, and sponging out all the sand. The rainwater we collected in the dinghy the next night became the laundry water for washing clothes on the way to Statia. The nonskid on the floor of the aft head made a fantastic washboard, and the motion of the boat under sail provided agitation. Add laundry detergent, and now you have not only clean clothes, but a clean shower as well.

We had a short sail over to White House Bay on the southwest coast of St. Kitts, where we dropped the anchor in 20 feet of water over sand. We had the anchorage to ourselves with the exception of a couple on the beach who appeared to be fishing. We snorkeled over an old wreck that included a cannon and we speculated that it might have been a pirate ship in its day. Our taxi driver “Honest Earnest” later confirmed that impression. While enjoying lunch in the cockpit, we watched as a truck pulled up to the beach and unloaded a dozen kayaks, then soon after a bus arrived with a group of people from a cruise ship. They went snorkeling, but never made it to the sunken wreck, then got in the kayaks and paddled out of the bay heading north. The serenity of the anchorage was restored.

After lunch we went to Basseterre, the main city on St. Kitts in search of the port office where we were required to report our arrival and get clearance to leave the next day. We were hoping to find a bus, but learned there is no bus route to the relatively uninhabited south side of the island. Taxis were abundant, however, since a cruise ship was in port, and we met “Honest Earnest” when he stopped to pick us up after dropping some cruise ship passengers off at a beach on the southeast side of the island. He gave us a mini-tour of the south half of the island, which helped to offset the $40 round-trip taxi fare. St. Kitts has a very healthy tourist industry, and beautiful white sand beaches. They recently built a multi-million dollar cruise ship terminal, but when they wanted to increase the port fees to help pay for it, many cruise ship companies refused to pay the higher fees and took their business elsewhere. We returned to our private anchorage as the sun was setting, and settled in for a peaceful night that was interrupted in the early morning hours when a squall passed through with 40 knots of wind. The anchor held, and I was glad I had snorkeled over it the day before to check the set. The flukes were well-buried.

After Barry bailed out the dinghy, we decided to tow it the short distance to Statia, most of which we would be in the lee of St. Kitts. I elected not to raise the mainsail for the downwind run, as the forecast was still calling for squalls with 10 knots enhanced wind, and we were already seeing 25-30 knots sustained. The “White Wall” on Statia's southeast coast made a good landmark, and by early afternoon we were tied to the best mooring in the anchorage at Oranjestaad, behind the stone breakwater that deflected the swell that found its way into the only harbor on the island. We went ashore but found the customs office already closed for the day, so we made our way up the goat trail to the upper city where we had a panoramic view of the harbor some 1000 feet below. Walking through the narrow streets we were impressed by how friendly the local people are as we received a smile and a wave from everyone we passed. We enjoyed a sundowner on the patio of a waterfront hotel before heading back to Gaiamar to prepare dinner.

The Customs office was open the next morning and when the officer needed to know how long we were staying, after our favorable first impression the afternoon before, we decided to stay three nights. Barry had wanted to visit Saba on the way to St. Martin, but the anchorages there are even more exposed than the one on Statia. After we talked to the crew of a boat that had just arrived from Saba and they told us how uncomfortable the anchorage was, we decided to postpone our visit to another time when the weather was more settled. We walked up to Fort Oranje where we learned a bit of the island's history as a supply depot during the revolutionary war. It now serves as an oil depot as evidenced by the fuel bunkers on shore and the many tankers at anchor just offshore. We headed toward the dormant volcano that towered over the city, but the distance and the elevation change was deceiving so after a couple of hours of walking we headed back to the lower city. We stopped at the Blue Bead restaurant, which was named after the trade beads that were used on Statia over 200 years ago. Thirty-three of these beads would buy a slave, and the Dutch traded these same beads with native Americans when they purchased Manhattan Island. We recognized the tour guide from the fort and she introduced us to her three companions who were pilots that helped guide the tankers into the harbor. Now THAT sounds like an interesting job. I had been experiencing some lower back pain, and when I noticed a poster advertising therapeutic massage, the owner of the restaurant called Veronique to schedule an appointment for me that afternoon. That gave us two hours to return to the boat, have lunch and snorkel the waterfront where we saw what remained of the ancient seawall that was the center of trade in the Caribbean.

When Veronique picked me up to take me back to her massage cabana on a beautiful property atop the White Wall overlooking St. Kitts, she said she preferred that Barry stay behind. He entertained himself with the internet, talking to people, and photographing two resident parrots. When I returned just after sunset, he remarked that those two hours were the longest we had been separated since he joined Gaiamar's crew a week ago. After getting to know the chef in my absence, he made a reservation to return to the Blue Bead for dinner that evening, and indeed the entrees were memorable. Barry had the shrimp-stuffed lobster while I had a pecan-encrusted grouper that would have rivaled any five-star restaurant in the US.

We visited the customs office the next morning, a Monday, as we would be leaving early the next day. The tourist office was open after being closed all weekend, and we paid our mooring fee at the marine park office, a very reasonable $10 per night which supported marine conservation. Barry purchased a reproduction of the blue trade bead for each of us, a souvenir of our visit to Statia. We promised to return once he became a certified SCUBA diver so we could search for an authentic one which we are told can still be found at many of the dive sites that surround the island. We enjoyed a quiet dinner aboard which we prepared from the lobster left over from the night before, and discovered that we really like the taste of christophene, a vegetable that we had picked up at the market on Nevis. Barry used a little Caribbean seasoning and Adobo in the rice which added just the right amount of flavor. We have discovered that we both enjoy galley duty, so we have been placing silly bets and the winner gets to do the cooking that day.  It was an early night since we planned to leave early the next day for St. Martin.