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Published: April 28th 2013
The approach to St Kitts is through the appropriately named Narrows, which leaves Nevis to south and to port and St Kitts to north with a number of rocks awash. With a poled-out genoa and the main secured with the preventer we were not at our most agile. It was halfway through dropping the pole north of Booby Island that Lisa noticed the depth rapidly lessening. A few curt orders to Richard on the other end of the spinnaker pole had it quickly deposited on the deck and us testing the strength of the preventer by sailing the main on the wrong side and chancing a jibe. Luckily the depth started to read what it ought to have and we breathed a sigh of relief and made our way through the Narrows at a more sedate and controlled pace. Note to self – allow more time to conduct manoeuvres when short-handed.
St Kitts is a long island in the shape of a fish-hook with a mountainous northern end. It has a reputation for anchorages that are rolling and not the most comfortable. As we passed the southern tip all went calm and we reached north
Beautiful Swan dwarfs Fabiola
We would not have stayed in this anchorage another night - for this Swan or all the tea in China!
along the protected western side past White House Bay, Frigate and South Friars Bay moving ever closer to the capital of Basse Terre. None of the bays looked too inviting. Eventually we settled on South Friars Bay, largely because others had taken the same decision. We joined the other luckless sheep and dropped the hook next to a beautiful 70+ foot red Swan – they seemed to be hardly moving (everyone else was rolling to and fro like metronomes) so we felt that we would be ok, being more akin to the deep-keeled Swan than the lightweight charter boats inshore.
It was an uncomfortable night and not one any of wished to endure again. The beach looked uninviting – but so did any other beach in the world after the glorious sands of Barbuda. We would have to do something else so that required finding somewhere in Basse Terre. The small Zante Marina might do – a radio call to check the depth and luckily space was found for us alongside. Normality returned in the flat calm of the marina and we ventured ashore with the throngs of cruise ship tourists. Around 6000 tourists arrive daily by these leviathans,
disgorging them into the duty-free malls and slot machine arcades - almost certainly the same facilities available aboard. Fashion faux pas aplenty we watched obese tourists in socks and sandals waddling around “doing the Caribbean”. We longed for the greenness of Dominica or the remoteness of Chatham Bay on Union Island. It was not to be so we would need to see what needed to be seen and tick off St Kitts. Sally and Richard were flying out on Saturday morning so we would need to occupy ourselves until then.
Lisa and the Lonely Planet guide to the Caribbean Islands are good friends now so in short order we had an itinerary lined up to include a batik factory, a shell museum, lunch in a plantation house and a trip to Brimstone Hill Fortress. The following morning we piled aboard the smallest people carrier in the known world – powered by a very small asthmatic hamster on a wheel and headed off into the unknown.
St Kitts is clearly not as impoverished as the other islands. The daily influx of tourists brings huge amounts of money to the island and it was abundantly clear that this is the
way forward for those islands wishing to see improvement. The houses are more than shacks, the children are immaculate in their school uniforms and the roads (apart from the unmarked drainage dips) are in good condition.
We stop first at a shell-shop. Cameron and Lisa disappear inside to see what they can do with shells and get ideas for future crafty projects. The shop is in Palm Gardens, a small lodge overlooking Basse-terre Bay with a wonderful infinity pool and wifi! This is stored to memory and we are back on the road. Richard, the boys and I are delighted when the next stop is the batik factory. Lisa and Sally are in their element and sarongs appear in all sorts of colours. It is no surprise that both Mia and Lisa end up with the same colour material! There is a very pleasant shady garden where we wait for the professional shoppers!
The highlight for most of us is the trip to Brimstone Hill Fort, known during British imperial times as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies”. Sat on the north-western edge of the island it has a dominating position over the western side of the island
to interdict any aggressor. Built by St Kitts’ slaves, under the supervision of the Royal Engineers it is a substantial structure with all manner of outbuildings, a citadel and unparalleled arcs of fire (with the exception of the highest point of the island, to the fort’s east – more of that later). Atop a massive basalt hill it is almost impregnable, to the extent that when 8000 French troops attacked the 1000-strong British garrison in 1782 they were able to hold out for 30 days until their surrender. It was a short-lived occupation by the French who ignored the fact that they were overlooked from the east and this approach from the British regained them the control that they maintained until the end of the Napoleonic era.
The Citadel now houses, aside from the many recovered canons, a museum focusing on the British rule of St Kitts and their decision to push to leave the empire in the wake of the Second World War. In addition there was an excellent simplification of the Slave Triangle for the kids which the children looked at as a small project – particularly as we will have sailed it by the time we
return and that so much of the Caribbean history is to inextricably linked to it.
Finally we end up for lunch at the Ottley Plantation for lunch in the most stunning gardens and grounds. Worked by slave labour Ottley Plantation cultivated huge amounts of sugar cane to be sent across the British Empire. Now only workers from Guiana will undertake the physically demanding and poorly paid labour, the locals still regard it as an injustice against them and it was clear that when the newly-liberated slaves needed paying that the sugar cane business could no longer function, particularly when compared to the new sugar beets being grown closer to home and now sugar cane simply grows like a weed across the wasteland of St Kitts.
After a walk around the jungle path we complete the circular route around the island and find ourselves at the southern tip going past roadside tribes of green monkeys, brought to the island by the French. They watch our car like their Kwik-Fit fitter-cousins of Windsor Safari Park as an ideal target for removing windscreen rubbers and wing-mirrors. We roll cautiously on and make it for sun-downers with a fabulous view over the
Caribbean Sea, Sally and Richard happily enjoying the pace of life that ensures that a drink is in hand by 1800 daily!
Sally and Richard decide to take a ferry to Nevis the following morning. Charlestown is underwhelming and after a short visit they find themselves transiting back to St Kitts. We decide that Port Zante is too hot school aboard so we head back to Palm Gardens to do school in the shade, have a light lunch and swim in the pool. Just our luck to find that all the dance crew from a visiting cruise ship have descended upon the same venue. Some of the scenery is wonderfully tight and appealing, a few of the male dance-troop members show a fine line in speedos upon frightening toned bodies. Gloria Gaynor, Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys have nothing on these fellows! Note to self – don’t break out the speedos on a cruise ship – a whole new concept of cruising – “Hello Sailor!”
The Blues and Sally and Richard all drop by for a late afternoon swim before we head back. It is a wonderful end to Sally and Richard’s stay as the following morning
they must head home, via Antigua. They are wonderful crew-members who know their way about the boat and have understood the cruising mentality and the pace of life that we work at. I think they also understand that it is not a holiday, but an altogether different sort of lifestyle. Richard has a good understanding of the sailing and has, I think, really enjoyed the challenge of driving the boat (hopefully he’ll come on Niki for some cross-channel stuff) and Sally has seen, more than any of our other visitors, just how hard Lisa works with school, childcare and the logistics of provisioning – has pulled up her sleeves and willingly got involved. It is the Open Blue girls that set the tears rolling as they give Auntie Sally (as they are also calling her) good-bye cards. It is an emotional and lovely goodbye.
It is time for us to move on. The Bucket Regatta in St Barths is beckoning (or so we’re led to believe – well done Tim!). We make our way down the coast, unknown to us, Madfish and Chewsy are visiting Brimstone Fort and take some great photos of us under the barrels of the
guns (thanks guys). We enjoy a fine upwind sail to Gustavia, heeled over but absolutely munching the miles. In light winds Open Blue holds us but as the sea and wind picks up Fabiola surges off, tight on the wind – she’s made for this kind of stuff and even when heeled over she is rock-solid – upwind at 8 knots.
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