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Puttering Around St. Kitts

[Excerpt from Chapter 22: Island Hopping to Saba, Statia, and St. Kitts and Nevis (Islands That Brush the Clouds]

St. Kitts (St. Christopher)

Continuing southeast, we enjoyed a great 12-mile sail in the cut between Statia and St. Kitts, but then motored for the next two hours (another 12 miles) when St. Kitts got between us and the wind.

On our way to the capital of Basseterre, we puttered past an incredibly intact fort on the top of a very formidable Brimstone Hill. Storm the ramparts!
Our guidebooks told us to head to the Coast Guard’s home just east of the city of Basseterre. We pulled in, but where was the dock? Where was the office, for that matter? All we saw was a shipyard and a concrete freighter/offload dock. Michael dinghied to some rocks, tied himself off to something, climbed up the breakwall, and wandered around the yard. Someone saw the clueless white guy scratching his head among the cranes and asked him what the heck he was doing there. Apparently the customs office had been moved to the cruise ship dock five years before. Five years, huh? Even with the delay in publishing, it made me wonder how current the information in our latest books (and charts) was, despite the year of publication written on the cover.

TIME TO REHASH LESSON 28B: Keep your friends current This is why you use word-of-mouth in addition to sailing guides. Things change. Although I think that this one should have been caught, sometimes things change fast. A hurricane (or a volcano) can reshape the landscape or the seascape; a bridge opening schedule can be modified; ships can sink, causing hazards. Remember how much Philipsburg, St. Martin, changed after Hurricane Luis? If you can find someone who has recently been to where you’re going, ask lots of questions! Note that I say “recently.” I cannot tell you how many times someone regaled me with stories about things they loved or hated about a place only to find that they had last been there 20 years before. Not helpful.

Someone gave Michael a lift to the new office, but he had to walk back afterward in order to retrieve the dinghy and get back to Jacumba. The walk was about 2 miles long and on legs still sore from all that hiking we had done on Statia the previous day. Poor Mikey. Meanwhile, I wondered if he had become a permanent resident because the whole process had taken so long.

We then anchored closer to the capital. After a sleepless night listening to music, buses honking, and waves slapping our hull, we put Basseterre on our list of worst anchorages. Oy.

The next day we sleepwalked through town, realized that everything was closed (no cruise ships), made a date to hike a volcano with a local guide, and then motored southeast along the coast to anchor in White House Bay. Aaah, much better, thank you. Just us, some goats and cows on the cliffs, and monkeys on the beach. Monkeys! Yes, there were lots of monkeys running around like squirrels. How fun!

We spent an entire day doing nothing. Well, nothing strenuous. We didn’t even lower the dinghy. Michael snorkeled on a nearby wreck (there are two) and I read an entire book. My favorite part of the day, however, was when Michael went to empty the veggie peels from our cutting board into the bay. He tripped over his own feet and did a complete somersault into the water. I was really impressed when he didn’t lose the cutting board, his sunglasses, or the knife he was holding (nor did he stab himself). I’m still laughing about it. Bravo! Encore! Encore!

We were revitalized enough the following day to move the boat back over to Basseterre and rent a moped. We had a blast. We kept riding on the “wrong” side of the road (it was the first time we had to drive on the left since George Town in the Bahamas), but when people saw us laughing it up, they just smiled and shook their heads while we moved into the correct lane. We were told you couldn’t get lost, but we managed to do so many times. The main road looks just like the side roads, so we constantly ended up in little neighborhoods. Folks would flag us down and tell us we missed our turnoff and send us on our way.

Among other things, we checked out possible anchorages. Hans and Kristen on tiny Whisper had stayed in Dieppe Bay (on the northwest coast) and loved it, but after seeing it from the shore we decided to skip it. All we could see was reef, and fishermen told us that the entrance was dicey if you didn’t know what you were doing. Alrighty then . . .

LESSON 80: INVESTIGATE It’s not a bad idea to check out anchorages from shore if you have a chance. Either rent a car or a bike, or take a bus. You never know: A place you couldn’t wait to go might be crowded or uglier than you expected, or a place you thought you’d skip looks like paradise.

Of course, we had to visit the Brimstone Hill Fortress, which was as impressive up close as it was when we had motored under it a few days before. It’s worth get- ting the electronic guide and storyteller. We then thought we were headed for the southeast peninsula and its white beaches, only to miss the turn and end up on the other side of the island going north. Um, okay, no problem.

We looked at the map and noticed that Ottley’s Plantation was coming up, so we turned in—just in time to run out of gas. Oops. We momentarily forgot about our fuel problem, though, when we saw the grounds and the view. Wow! While we were oohing and ahhing and taking it all in, we ran into the owner/ manager and told him our predicament. The next thing we knew, his land- scaping staff was siphoning fuel from their mower and putting it in our tank. Thanks, guys!

By now it was time for a sundowner, so we headed downtown to the capital. We were surprised when someone called our names from above—who knew we were there? It was Mike and Kim from Child’s Play, last seen at a parade on St. Martin! Soon enough we were imbibing together, and Michael was getting a nice slimy aloe massage from a local—um—masseuse. It looked disgusting, but it made for a great picture.

We used up the last of our moped hours the next morning by making our way toward that elusive peninsula to the southeast. How could an island the size of St. Kitts (about 23 miles long and 5 miles wide) have so much open land? It was like the Serengeti out there and just as dry. Green (vervet) monkeys were everywhere. What a blast.

We didn’t stop until we scooted down every road we encountered before reluctantly returning the bike.

LESSON 81: PLAY BIKERS FOR A DAY If you want to “feel” an island, a moped can be the way to go, if you have the stomach for it. If the island roads weren’t too curvy and were wide enough, we gave it a shot. Mopeds, as opposed to cars, make it easier to get around potholes, maneuver through traffic, and take in the sights (because you’re going slower). Locals feel that they can talk to you, you can smell your surroundings (both a bad and a good thing at times), and it’s easy to blend in. Mopeds use less gas too. Yes, if you get hit it’s more dangerous than being in a car, but that’s why you’re paying attention! If motorbiking is for you, then St. Kitts is an island to do it on (just remember to stay left!).

Nevis—The First Time

We had one more day before our guided volcano hike, so we decided to take a day sail the 12 miles southeast to Nevis. It was one of our best sails. We went a steady 8 knots with the wind right where we wanted it (on our beam) from anchor up to anchor down (about 11⁄4 hours) off Pinney’s Beach by the Four Seasons Resort (north of Charlestown). The water was beautiful, the sail was easy, and the Nevis beaches were alluring.

We even got a welcome from the Nevis water police when they motored out to us while Michael was diving on the anchor. They told Michael he was swimming too far from shore. We looked at them strangely and told them that we weren’t swimming but were checking our anchor. We thanked them for their concern, and they left. Guess it was nice that they were looking out for us.

We hung out at Sunshine’s Beach Bar and tried their famous Killer Bee rum drink while talking with Sweet Pea, a hair braider. (No, neither Michael nor I had our hair done.) After a relaxing afternoon, we had a flawless sail back to St. Kitts. What a perfect day.

Back to St. Kitts

For our volcano hike and final day on St. Kitts, we first had to motor from White House to Basseterre at 6 a.m. to meet our guide. The weather was chilly and rainy, so we decked ourselves out in rain gear. The tour truck then proceeded to pick up some Marriott guests who were dressed as though they were going to the beach— bikini tops and brand-new strappy sandals.

It poured all the way to the mountain. The open-air truck had plastic flaps to protect us, but the zippers leaked. By the time we got to the trailhead, everyone was soaked and cold. Well, everyone but Michael and me and two other boaters who had worn their rain gear too. Nice and toasty.

We slipped and slithered up the mountain from 8 a.m. until we reached the gusty and cloudy top, and then slid to the bottom by 4 p.m. It took so long because people wearing sandals take a long time to hike in the mud. You can’t say we didn’t earn our rum punches. On the way back, we took pity on the least dressed of the bunch and sat where the truck zippers were leaking most. Quack!

We really enjoyed St. Kitts and placed the island as a definite contender in the island-as-home search.

Nothing! I’m pretty sure this was a record. We had gone two weeks without anything breaking down. Wahoo!


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