Archive for 'Nevis and St. Kitts'

Returning from Nevis to South Frigate Bay in St. Kitts, we found that our formerly calm anchorage now had a swell from the south crossed with wind-driven chop from the east.  The trades were finally back and it looked like a wet dinghy ride to get to shore.  By splitting the ride in into two trips, we were able to get people and luggage ashore at idle speed without getting too wet.  There was time enough for one more tourist stop before our last dinner, so we caught a taxi into town, enjoyed a great local lunch, and then visited the batik factory.  Batik is a technique for making patterned cloth that involves creating a sort of stencil with wax put directly on the cloth and then soaking the fabric in a dye that will take where there’s no wax.  By repeating the process several times with several different colors, you can end up with some cool looking designs, although the days of batik being a cost-effective production process are clearly long gone.

DSC_0145 Demonstrating the wax-application stage

DSC_0152 An example of the finished product

After a Barbuda lobster dinner courtesy of chef Lauren, we said goodbye to Lauren’s parents who were leaving on an early morning flight.  We’ve enjoyed their visit and it’s made us a little anxious to get home and see more friends and family.  The next day we did absolutely nothing worth blogging about.  We didn’t even make it off the boat.  The goal for the day was to decide where to sail to the next day, but we didn’t even manage to come to a final decision on that one.  Oh well.  You gotta have some lazy days, especially when you’re as good at it as we are.

Friday morning we decided to head for St. Croix on the way to St. Thomas, thinking we’d be able to check in on Saturday morning and save ourselves the hassle of checking in and out of the BVI.  The conditions for our overnight sail were great, and we arrived at the bank that stretches east of St. Croix right around sunrise.  We picked up a mooring and headed ashore, but found out that we couldn’t check in unless we took a taxi ride to the airport on the other side of the island, so we started exploring Christiansted a bit.  It didn’t take long it find some action.  Christiansted is a beautiful little town with old Danish buildings and a fort that are nicely painted and seem to be reasonably well preserved.  There’s a waterfront that reminiscent of Key West, and a half ironman triathlon was scheduled for the next day, so the place was bustling with a strange combination of your average US tourist and ultra-fit ironman race participants.  There was a definite island flavor to the place, but it also felt a lot like the states for us and so we had to take advantage of the opportunity to have real “American” breakfast and some authentic cheap, fresh Mexican food for dinner.  Maybe this fitting back in won’t be so hard after all.

DSC_0191We passed the island of Saba off to starboard late in the afternoon

DSC_0203A bit of Christiansted from our mooring.  What ever happened to yellow forts?

Just after the last of the triathlon swimmers swam by the mooring field, we headed north for St. Thomas where our good friends Brian and Julia are going to meet up with us tomorrow for a week here in the Virgins.  St. Thomas doesn’t seem to have the incredible reef and that borders St. Croix, but it’s beautiful and verdant and we’ve already seen some great beaches.  As we approached Charlotte Amalie, we could easily see St. Johns and the islands of the BVI right next door.  As long as the weather cooperates it should be another fun and active week.

Off to the Races

One of the fun things about traveling is to see how other cultures perform the same activities that you engage in at home. My parents and I did just that on Easter morning when we attended the Methodist Church in St. Kitts. Many aspects of the service and the congregation were similar to what we are accustomed to (the sanctuary, procedures, etc.), but unlike our one hour services, this went on for three! Most of this was filled with the 10 hymns (5-6 verses each!) that left us feeling a little hoarse by the end. Since it was Easter, the pews were filled with people of all ages, and I was surprised to see the children sitting still for such a long time in their Sunday best. The sea breeze from the open windows and the ceiling fans kept things reasonably cool for the first 2 1/2 hours until the generator’s capacity was exceeded (the city electricity was out), but even the lack of fans, microphones, and lights couldn’t stop the singing! It was a very memorable experience.

easter Still smiling three hours later

Monday we sailed about 10 miles across the channel (“The Narrows”) from St. Kitts to Nevis, its smaller sister island. Both of my parents enjoyed turns at the helm as we sailed down the coast of St. Kitts, passing S/V Maltese Falcon that had found some solitude in a large bay. When we approached the southern tip of St. Kitts (Nag’s Head), Dallas steered us closer to the rocks, and my parents and I put on our snorkeling gear and hopped off the boat! There was a mild current pushing us along as we snorkeled, but anticipating this, Dallas dropped us off at the one end of the rocks and planned to pick us up at the other. The visibility was great, but the coral and fish were not. Nevertheless, it was great to see my parents out there pushing the boundaries and having a go at what was definitely not a typical tourist activity.

winch Setting the jib

st kitts The coast of St. Kitts with Nevis Peak in the background

We had a brilliant, fast sail across the Narrows under blue skies and dropped anchor in Nevis in late morning. When we went ashore, we were quickly accosted by a Rasta dude who wanted to be our driver for the day, but we told him we really wanted some time to just walk around on our own. The town was deserted since it was a holiday (Easter Monday), but we located a couple of churches built in the 1800’s as well of the local bakery. Later we met a friendly driver named Bone who was driving a Dodge 300 fitted out to look like a Bentley. Bone gave Mom and I a free ride to a local event in the park, and in doing so, told us some not-so-nice things about the Rasta driver. It may or may not have been true (taxi driving seems to be a cut-throat business around here), but in any case, Bone became our guy. He told us about a horse race taking place that afternoon and evening, and with that, we were off to the races!

Bone drove us along a windy, often narrow road to the south end of the island to a makeshift track along the beach. There were maybe 200 locals and a few tourists hanging out in the wooden grandstands or standing around eating yummy ribs and drinking Carib beer. Shortly after we arrived, the first race began in a very funny manner. One of the horses called She-Devil, the favorite for the race, kept running in the opposite direction of the starting line with the 2nd of the 3 horses following in its footsteps. After this happened a good 3 or 4 times, the jockey backed way up to give She-Devil a nice running start. This time she carried on through the starting line, so the 2nd horse did as well. In response, they waved the red starting flag to signal the official start of the race even though the only horse that seemed to comprehend and obey the usual starting procedures was not ready. In other words, it was nowhere near a fair race, but they processed the bets as if She-Devil was the clear and just victor, and as far as we could tell, no one really complained.

Before the next race, they paraded the three contenders around. Wouldn’t you know it, the horse that Mom bet on threw its jockey off and started running away! To our amazement, they caught up with the horse, got it under control, and it went on to win the race. The odds were two to one, so Mom managed to double her bet and make a whole $5! She took her winnings and bet on a horse called Obama for the last race. He ran a good race but lost – foretelling? We’ll see… We were all so caught up with watching Obama neck-and-neck with the horse that went on to win that we were surprised to see the 3rd horse cross in front of the grandstands without a jockey! Everyone looked over to see two men pulling the jockey off of the track before the horses came around again, and a small group of boys and men ran over to see how he was. He was loaded into a car and sped off to the hospital, but Bone assured us that as he was talking, he must be fine. (Island medical assessment is a little more relaxed than what we’re used to.)

runaway Trying to corral the runaway

winner The runaway ran away with the race

neck and neck Neck and neck in the final race

As we got back in the “Bentley” and started the journey back, Bone showed us a bottle of wine with the better part gone and let us know that we were going to see just how well he could drive! He assured us that his co-pilot (a young man sporting the attire we saw on many of the guys at the track – bling-bling in his ear, new Gun It jeans and Adidas shoes) had not been drinking and would assist. As it happened, Bone did pretty well apart from scraping the under-carriage pretty well on a speed bump.

Undeterred by his antics, we called Bone the next morning to take us on a tour of the island. Nevis is smaller than St. Kitts (12,000 people vs 35,000) and does not have a cruise ship port, but several old sugar plantations have been converted to lovely resorts that attract wealthy tourists, mostly from the States. One such place was Nesbit Plantation on the beach where we had a drink and gazed at the beautiful blue water and the two kite-boarders who sped along its surface. From there we went to the ruins of a sugar mill and to two other plantations, one of which was originally established in 1640. (It was there that we met the jockey who’d been thrown off his horse the day before. He had shown up for work and was in fact just fine except for being sore.)

nesbitMom’s photo of Nesbit Plantation

Montpelier Plantation was an ideal setting for lunch amid old ruins and strikingly modern decor. We continued from there with a drive along the main road that runs along the coast of the island and back to the capital city of Charlestown. The drive was very scenic, and Bone offered up some interesting tidbits along the way but was a little too hung-over from the holiday weekend for the VIP tour that he’d promised. Oh well.

We rounded off our trip to Nevis by spending time at the Four Seasons Resort near which Pura Vida was moored. The facilities there are VERY nice, as they should be for the rate of $655/night. Mom and I passed as guests while lounging around the pool and hot tub before catching up with the guys that evening for Pizza and Peroni night at the Cabana bar. It had been weeks since Dallas and I had had pizza, so we were ready.

As I write, we are sailing back across the Narrows to St. Kitts in at least 25 knots of wind from the beam. We are flying the jib and a double-reefed main, and Dad is enjoying steering us right on course at speeds up to 8.5. (Both of my parents are speed demons, so I come by it honestly.) To top it off, we just saw a fish (maybe a mahi mahi?) jump at least eight feet in the air – twice in a row in case anyone missed it the first time. Just now we had a gust of 35-40 knots and had to quickly drop the mainsail. My parents may leave here with the mistaken impression that there’s never a dull moment at sea! Haha.

Our pleasant stop in Antigua finally came to an end Thursday when Lauren and I weighed anchor early in the morning and headed for Barbuda.  The sail from Antigua to Barbuda can be a pretty rough one, but the trades have been incredibly light (less than 10 knots) for the last week or so, leaving us to motor the 50 miles from English Harbour to Barbuda’s Low Bay.

DSC_0856 Barbuda is a postcard – gorgeous water, uncrowded anchorages, and empty beaches to the horizon

Barbuda is somewhat unique for the Caribbean.  It’s a low island that has miles and miles of beautiful beaches but now has only one major resort left on the island, and it’s only open during the high season.  Because it’s less visited, it has been the home to some pretty exclusive resort and celebrity guests – Princess Diana made several visits, and one resort has its own airstrip so that guests can skip the hustle and bustle of Barbuda’s public airport, with its one daily flight from Antigua.  The fringing reefs, which extend well offshore, have claimed over 200 ships over the years, nearly all in the days before GPS and accurate charts.  These days Barbuda’s claims to fame are less glamorous – lobsters, a bird sanctuary, and an interesting land act.  Barbuda was originally leased to a single wealthy family (the Codrington’s) who used it primarily as a supply and slave depot for their other land holdings in the Caribbean. The island’s 1500 inhabitants are almost entirely descendants from those early slaves. Private property never really took hold in Barbuda, and today the Barbuda land act officially makes all the land in Barbuda the common property of all of the inhabitants of Barbuda.  The Barbuda council is free to make leases with commercial interests and grant Barbudans land for houses, farming, etc., but there isn’t a single real estate agent to be found.  It’s definitely a unique system, but the slow pace of life and absence of large-scale tourism seems to be the way most Barbudans prefer things.

One other very unique feature of the island is its large saltwater lagoon with the island’s only town, Codrington, located on its eastern shore.  We’d been told in Antigua that the ferry bringing Lauren’s parents would land on the beach in Low Bay, but once in Barbuda, we quickly learned that wasn’t the case.  The ferry actually comes to the south side of the island.  Our backup plan was to meet in Codrington, and the place is small enough that “meet us in town” is actually enough to get the job done.  The 2-mile dinghy ride from Low Bay to Codrington isn’t the difficult part of getting there (although in strong trades it is the wet part).  The difficult part is hauling the dinghy over the sand spit separating Low Bay from the inner lagoon.  Our dinghy and engine together weigh over 225 pounds, and dragging them up and across the 100 ft or so of sand spit called for lots of rest breaks.

DSC_0943 Nearing the top of the spit

After picking our anchoring and spit-crossing spot poorly on Thursday night, we re-anchored Friday morning right next to the best spot for crossing and were pretty happy to be across the spit in less than ten minutes.  We reached the boat dock in Codrington just before Robin and Rindy pulled up in a taxi from the south side of the island, and together we began our day of Barbuda exploring.  First up was lunch.  We initially tried the one restaurant we’d spotted the previous evening.  The painted sign above the door only said “REST”, but the missing space for more letters, roasting meat in the window, and two tables inside filled got the rest of the message across.  It was closed and a second two-table restaurant we found wasn’t ready to serve food yet, so we headed for a roadside “no-table” restaurant that we’d sampled the night before and found to be a four-star sort of joint (as long as you’re only rating the quality of the food and the friendly company).

The stand’s proprietor, Washington, had outdone himself with jerk chicken, conch stew, dukanah (a local sweet, spiced dumpling), pastry, cooked vegetable “chop-up”, plantains, and potatoes.  Next to the tiny shop where picked up cold beers to accompany our lunch, we found some loose cinder blocks in an unfinished (barely started) building and sat down in the shade to catch a break from the heat and enjoy our meal.  Reviews were two-thumbs up for the food, but seating and ambiance isn’t quite ready for the cruise ships yet.

DSC_0872 Barbuda’s local five-star dining

Good Friday is a holiday on Barbuda, and it took the better part of an hour and lots of help from locals to track down customs and immigration officers, get them to come to their closed offices, and get checked out.  The customs guy in Codrington works out of a small room at the front of his house, has a hand-painted sign in the yard that says “customs”, and asked me for a job on board our “yacht”.  He was a really friendly guy, but after I explained that our crew pays us instead of the other way around, he wasn’t too interested in a position.

Our next stop was the frigate bird sanctuary in the northern part of the lagoon.  A local named Solomon took us on the short tour and we were impressed with large birds and how close they let us come in the boat.  Frigate (or man-of-war) birds earned their name by harassing other birds in flight into surrendering their catch to supplement the fishing they do on their own.  Although the frigate bird has the largest wingspan-to-weight (6-8 ft and only a few pounds) ratio of any bird, it can’t take off from the water, so it has to fly low and scoop small fish from the surface of the ocean instead of diving like a pelican.  Barbuda has no natural predators and their nests in the mangroves are completely surrounded by water anyway, so the frigate birds seem to be pretty happy here.  We even caught sight of several males, who are supposed to have migrated to other locations already.

DSC_0914 Male (all black top-left), female (white breast in foreground) juveniles (white heads), and chick (fluffy white in center) in the mangroves

DSC_0927 The frigate bird silhouette is distinctive

Barbuda is renowned for its plentiful spiny lobsters, but between the holiday and a local who buys up all the lobster daily to fly to Guadeloupe twice a week, I was having trouble finding any.  The going rate is $5-6 USD/lb (live weight) so I was hoping to stock up.  Solomon happened to have a 9 lb bag burlap bag of them hanging under the dock that he sold us before we left and as we motored back across the lagoon toward the spit, the driver of a local boat waved to us to stop.  We’d heard “Goldilocks” was a fisherman that was a good bet for selling lobster, and it turned out to be him in the boat.  He’s been lobstering in the lagoon and surrounding waters for 40 years and his day’s catch proved he’s pretty adept at it.  Instead of traps, he uses a wire noose at the end of a metal rod.  He slips the end of the noose around the lobster’s tail and when it moves, the noose tightens and into the bucket goes another lobster.  It’s a technique we’d heard of before, but I never imagined it could be so effective.

DSC_0935 Goldilocks with about half his catch

Back at the boat, we jumped into the turquoise water to cool down and then I started cleaning lobsters to store in the freezer.  They weren’t large, but the final count was 23 of them for less than $60 USD.  Not bad.  After killing them and trimming a few extraneous parts they fit nicely into the freezer.  Believe it or not, this was the first time on the trip Lauren had cooked lobster, and as usual she did an incredible job.  Pan-fried with butter, garlic, and some fresh lime juice, they didn’t last long.

DSC_0960 Ready for the freezer

DSC_0979Robin’s sunset pictures made for some tough choices…

DSC_0983 … so why not pick two

After dinner and a round of cards, we fired up an engine and started motoring toward St. Kitts.  Sunrise found us just east of the Narrows between Nevis and St. Kitts and with the calm conditions, we were able to motor through the Narrows and up to Basse-Terre to clear in.  A cruise ship had arrived just before us, and things were a bit of a circus during the check-in.  It turns out that checking in the 3200 passengers and 1200 crew is no more difficult for them than checking us in, although our crew/passenger list is one page and theirs was thick enough to look like the white-pages.  I’m pretty sure it will fall into the category of printed but never read.

After checking in, we moved over to South Frigate Bay for the night.  I was pretty exhausted from the night sail and turned in early, but one of the clubs on the beach was having a 10th anniversary party that made getting to sleep a slow but melodious affair.  A fireworks display overhead and a pretty talented band had things going strong well into the wee hours.  As seems to be the case in many places here in the islands, the speakers were still pumping Caribbean dance music when the sun came up.