This was my primary personal goal for Lunacy‘s winter season in St. Martin. Together with fellow SEMOSA members, Phil “He Of Many Nicknames” Cavanaugh and Charles “May I Cast Off Now?” Lassen, I had previously sailed Lunacy south from St. Martin to explore Saba and Statia. Also, of course, I have voyaged with the immediate family north and east to the more immediately neighboring islands of Anguilla and St. Bart’s. But this year I wanted to get to St. Kitts and Nevis, to the southeast, which are probably the furthest islands you can easily reach from St. Martin during a one-week round-trip cruise.
The most difficult part of the process, sadly, was just flying down to the boat. Thanks to the biblical snowstorms we’ve had here in New England (plus an ugly bout I had with the flu), “Many Nicknames” Cavanuagh and I had to postpone our first flight down to SXM for a week, during which time (in a bid to take advantage of said snowstorms) Phil tore up his knee in a grim skiing accident. Our next attempt (with Phil now in ortho-knee-gear) was then pushed back a day by yet another snowstorm, and by the time we finally emerged in the bright tropic sun on the tarmac at Princess Juliana Airport we looked and felt like a pair of pale snow-shocked out-patients.
At least we hit the ground running. Within 24 hours of arriving we had prepared the boat to sail, taxied halfway across the island and back to shuffle paper and pay exit fees, purchased provisions, and sailed out to Ile Fourchue, an uninhabited islet about halfway between St. Martin and St. Bart’s.
The anchorage at Ile Fourchue. There were a surprising number of boats here, all of which (including Lunacy) were rolling like pigs as a southerly swell crept in through the night
This proved an excellent launching point for our leap to St. Kitts the following morning. It not only is a bit closer to the west end of St. Kitts, but is also further east than St. Martin, so instead of a tight closehauled board of 40 miles or so, we had a fast close reach of about 35 miles and consequently made good time. The next stretch, about 10 miles of motorsailing to windward from Sandy Point to the main town of Basseterre, was more tedious, but not at all uncomfortable, as the wind is diminished and the water quite flat close to the island’s long southwest coast.
Phil claps binoculars on St. Kitts as we approach from the north. It’s nearly 4,000 feet high and the lofty peak, dubbed Mt. Limuiga, is perpetually shrouded in clouds
One of many abandoned sugar mills we passed on the leeward shore, with a nice stretch of rain forest rising in the background. All the modern mills on the island closed down in 2005
Basseterre is a classic old West Indian town–a mix of old colonial architecture, corrugated tin, unlikely shops, and lots of colorful-looking characters. There is a small marina for yachts, but we anchored out, preferring to keep air moving through the boat at the cost of some rolling. (At times, reportedly, the rolling can be unendurable, and the marina becomes the only reasonable option.) Directly adjacent the marina there is a large cruise-ship terminal and a goofy cruise-ship shopping mall, but it seems none of the honky-tonk touristic nonsense from in there spills out into the town itself.
The portal of modern Caribbean commerce. There was one cruise ship in port when we showed up, and another when we left two days later, and four scheduled to come in the day after that
Marching in the streets. These are supporters of the Labour Party, which has been in power the last 20 years. An election is scheduled for early next week
The Edgar O. Challenger Library, part of the St. Kitts Research Document University
People here take great pride in their motor vehicles
The open-air market had lots of tasty-looking local produce
A fishmonger on the beach
On wandering into town we were immediately immersed in a large political rally. This featured lots of red-shirted people and loud cheerful music that unfortunately kept playing all night long and easily carried out to the anchorage. The next morning we learned more about the upcoming election from Matthew, a.k.a. Caveman, who agreed to drive us around the island in his taxi.
St. Kitts and Nevis, the smallest independent nation in the Americas, was originally a bit bigger, as it also included Anguilla, about 70 miles north, after the British, the former colonial power in question, cut the three islands loose back in the mid-1960s. The Anguillians, however, did not want to be in an independent nation with St. Kitts and so quickly rebelled, driving several Kittitian police officers off their island in 1967. The Kittitians threatened to invade Anguilla in retaliation, but the Anguillians beat them to the punch and attempted (unsuccessfully) to invade St. Kitts instead with the help of two hired mercenaries. Somehow this imbroglio led the British to conclude that Anguilla was being taken over by the Mafia, and so they invaded Anguilla themselves in 1969. This British “Bay of Piglets,” as it was known (the official name was “Operation Sheepskin“), was a great comic event in modern Caribbean history, as 135 paratroopers and 40 police from Scotland Yard stormed ashore and were greeted not by Mafia insurgents, but by members of the press who had been tipped off in advance. (You can see a short film of the invasion here.)
In any event, it seems Kittitian politics are just as entertaining as ever. As he drove us around the island, Caveman (a supporter of the opposition People’s Action Movement) complained to us at some length about the Labour Party and its leader, Prime Minister Dr. Denzil “Dougie” Douglas. The immediate controversy involved a nefarious gerrymandering scheme, in which Dougie had unilaterally redrawn all the voting district boundaries in his favor just weeks before the election, and as we toured the island Caveman explained in some detail which villages were anti-Labour and how the new boundaries had been drawn to dilute their constituencies.
(Note: according to yesterday’s news a five-justice privy council in the U.K. has just overturned Dougie’s plot, ruling the election must be held with the old district boundaries, which no doubt has made our friend Caveman very happy!)
Caveman did show us some other stuff while talking politics. This saman tree on the Romney Manor in Old Road Town is reputed to be the oldest tree on the island. Its crown shades almost an acre of ground!
The original Romney Manor burned to the ground and has been replaced by workshops and a store run by Caribelle Batiks
Brimstone Hill (as seen from the water here when we later sailed past) is a UN World Heritage site and is home to a troop of African green vervet monkeys, some of whom we encountered on the road to the top. Of course, there’s also an old colonial fort up here, which has recently been restored
View from the fort looking west. Those are the islands of Statia and Saba visible on the horizon
The view looking east, with Nevis (shrouded in its own forest-nurturing cloud) visible in the distance
The view looking down as a Sunsail bareboat lopes by on its way back to St. Martin
A volcanically rocky bit of the island’s windward shore
The next day, Sunday, we sailed over to check out Nevis, but because it was Sunday nothing much was going on there, except on the beach, where again there was loud cheerful music playing at high volume.
Lunacy on a mooring at Nevis, with the cloud-capped Nevis Peak (about 3,200 feet high) in the distance. Anchoring is now forbidden here, but there’s no shortage of moorings
The heart of Charlestown, the island’s major community, dead as a doornail on a Sunday afternoon
The only restaurant we found open in town was the Chinese Tea House, where young agnostics like to gather instead of going to church. If you make a government-approved investment of $400K or more you can become a citizen of the nation of St. Kitts-Nevis, and judging from the many Chinese-owned business we saw, I’m guessing many investor-citizens are in fact from China
This is Star, an old Marco Polo triple-master designed by L. Francis Herreshoff that is home-ported here in Nevis. I have often seen her in Bermuda and last I was there met her owners, Steve and Irene, who spend summers on Cape Cod and winters down here
We would have liked to spend more time on Nevis, as it seems a quiet, very attractive place, with a more hikable mountain than St. Kitts, but we also wanted to drop in at St. Bart’s on the way back to Oyster Pond, as Phil had never been there before. I warned him St. Bart’s isn’t really part of the Caribbean, but is off in its own alternative universe. (For example, it has always bugged me that there are hardly any black people on the island.) Once we got there, he was a bit surprised by just how true this is.
Your humble narrator, selfified during the sail to St. Bart’s
PC phones home as we edge out of range of the cell towers on St. Kitts. Note the knee brace and also the stylish do-rag. The latter was adopted after two different hats took off downwind
From Nevis to St. Bart’s was a 50-mile sail. We covered it in good time, about 7 hours, but were easily overhauled by this svelte Spirit
Our neighbors in the anchorage at St. Bart’s struggle to bring their tender aboard before heading off to another deluxe destination
Making the scene in fashion-conscious Gustavia. I bet that dog would kill to get that sweater off
After a night at Gustavia we retreated to Anse de Columbier, a far more civilized locale IMHO, where we enjoyed some snorkeling and our last sunset of the cruise
After we returned to Oyster Pond, I was kind of hoping the weather up north would delay our flying home, just as it had delayed our flying down, but we had no such luck. Bing bang boom—we were back in the cold right on schedule, and now I’m hunkered down in NH, waiting for the next blizzard to hit.
We’re looking for another 12 inches or so in the next 24 hours, on top of the 36 we already have.
PS: In case you’re wondering what happened to Anguilla after the invasion, they were eventually taken over by Britain again, which is all they wanted in the first place.
PPS: This is what this weekend’s blizzard looks like on paper: