This point on our travels marks the change from upwind sailing to being able to get for much of the time a wind on the beam, making life far more pleasant on board. Although we still have to get out to Guadalupe via Monserrat, there should be enough S in our course to hopefully give us a close reach rather than the tight on the wind thump we have sadly been used to.
Although we thought about going across to St Eustatius, we decided that putting a couple of days into the timetable when we knew we were cutting things fine to get down in reasonable order to St Lucia to pick up the Thomas’s (our next boatload of friends visiting from the UK), might cause us dramas later on down on our travels.
The sail down to St Kitts from St Barths on a course of about 190 Magnetic was wonderful. Not being thumped by the waves meant that we left a little too much sail up but rather than lumping along at 5knts, we touched double digits at times. Exhilarating, fun and we even saw a slightly smug smile on Lou’s face as we went past a 60ft ketch going the same way as us.
We screamed down to the gap between the N end of St Kitts and St Eustatius before we got into the wind shadow of St Kitts. We had a slow sail down the side of the island to Basseterre, the capital. The island had far more obvious organised agriculture than anywhere else we had seen so far with large numbers of old chimneys sticking up. These we found out, marked different sugar plantations processing plants, dating back to the 1700s, the plantations covering a large proportion of the island for a long, long time.
We parked up, the only yacht in a very rolly bay, to allow us to book in. After wandering around to find the immigration office (tucked away at the awful cruise ship terminal with its obligatory “genuine” island product shops), we had a quick stop in town, finding a very good museum covering the history of the island. School done we headed back to the boat and were pleasantly surprised to get a call from our friends on Almost There.
We found ourselves parked up beside them in a partly built marina in the Great Salt Pond at the S end of the island, part of a huge complex being built there. It was obvious yachties were not the normal clientele. Used to having only superyachts, they let Almost There in on the basis that Robert gave them his @ Youngblood aviation.com address (yes, he did own his own sizable airport…). I think they were hopeful he might buy one of the lots! We got to tie up on the basis of being his special friends. Saying that, they didn’t bother giving me the glossy brochure he received once they had seen Skylark. Not quite superyacht status…….
Whilst the facilities at the marina were minimal, the clubhouse that we got free use of was pretty special. At only $400k membership fee, it is probably out of our price range when we finish sailing but we thoroughly enjoyed it whilst we were there. I think that the staff rather enjoyed the kids being around as well. As the club was pretty quiet, they may have just been a bit bored but it meant the kids and ladies got looked after royally.
Almost There had hired a car but we upgraded it to a van to allow us all to tour the island. The three things we really fancied seeing were a zip line course, the Botanic Gardens and the fort that looked so impressive as we had sailed down the coast to Basseterre. Sadly the zip line course, much to the kids disappointment, was closed and it was the wrong time of year to see the Botanics (wet season the best time). However from the zip line camp, we followed the road up the hill on a pretty rough track (hire care= someone else’s problem….) getting some great views looking N up the coast before being attacked by a couple of dogs guarding a small field of cannabis plants. After going a bit higher, we turned round when we thought that we would pull out the suspension.
Fort George (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brimstone_Hill_Fortress_National_Park ) was a bit special and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Having had several years at Fort George just outside Inverness, I was surprised at the amount of similarities I could see in the design. I was even more surprised to find the Royal Scots (the Royal Regiment) crest up in the military part of the small museum that the Fort had. It turns out that the Regiment formed the infantry contingent of the Fort’s population when the French invaded the island in 1792 and having fought the French to a standstill although hugely outnumbered, were allowed to march out bearing arms. The island still marks the occasion as the most significant battle the island saw. Up the Royals!
We went right round the island, stopping for some great and cheap food at the street cafés which are common here. We also stopped on a farm track and cut a few sugar cane. Cue sounds of crunching and quiet children!
After being joined briefly by Taia who had caught up with us from St Barths, we decided to move on quickly to Nevis. Nevis is very different to St Kitts. Whilst St Kitts has embraced the arrival of the big cruise ships, Nevis voted against their arrival. The island is far quieter and is reliant on one big Four Seasons hotel for a large part of its islands tourist income and island employment. It employs up to 2000 staff during the high season, a sixth of the island’s total population and maintains, by agreement with the island a minimum staff of 800 during the off season.
The island is volcanic. We had heard about the hot spring baths in the main town of Charlestown and we went up mob handed to try them. After we minced around (lots of expressions of “damn, it’s hot) we were shown by a local how you should get in which is to man up, get in quick then not move! Once you were in, it did feel good. In the end, even the kids managed a dip.
We went on to the Nelson Museum, just up the hill from the Baths. Lord Nelson’s wife, Fanny (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Nelson )was from Nevis. They met whilst he was stationed in the Caribbean early in his career and the island commemorates this by having a good exhibition on him. It is worth a look.
Almost There, having climbed the volcano at St Eustatius, was keen to try the same thing at Nevis. We got a bus around to what we suspected was a starting point and walked up a reasonably well defined path towards the major water source coming off the mountain. Further on, it got a bit cheeky and as we got up the hill, the vegetation turned into proper jungle. Spectacular, sweaty and quite hard going for the really smalls, Hannah and Matias, who both scrambled very well. In the end, we stopped just under the river source about 2/3 up the mountain, had a bit of fun roping down into the river bed with the rope Robert had carried up and padded in some rather nice and cooling pools. We invaded a very nice resort on our way down and illicitly used their pool to cool of in. A nice way to finish a good walk.
Back in Charlestown, we found another museum, a tiny affair devoted to sports (read cricket) personalities of the island. We had great fun taking Ernesto and Natalia in and trying to educate them in the rules of cricket. I fear we failed to impress them!
After another day anchored off Charlestown and a last dip at the baths, we decided that we needed to see an active volcano, that of Monserrat the next island down and so planned the move on. Whilst St Kitts had been impressive for Fort George, I’d have to say that I enjoyed the hospitality and friendliness of the Nevis locals more. I’d have loved to have been able to spend more time here. Next time…….