Part 1 – to Antigua
At St Martin, where we finished the last blog, we were joined by an unexpected but very welcome visitor, Chris Nelson, who we first met before the ARC in Las Palmas where he was crewing on a catamaran, and was originally going to continue with the owners on the World ARC. But plans changed, and after St Lucia we kept in touch, and he expressed interest in possibly coming cruising with us in 2011. To get to know each other better and how the boat handles, he joined us on board Pipistrelle for 3 weeks.
Chris is a self-confessed Geek, or gadget enthusiast, and quickly had us learning about iPhones, different computer layouts, and playing Trivial Pursuit electronically! Not only a geek but an extremely competent sailor, Chris is actively involved with an organisation in the UK called ‘The London Sailing Project’ now ‘The Rona Sailing Project’. Taking young people to sea in large ocean-going yachts, it was founded in 1960 and is one of the most respected sail training organisations in the UK. For more information see http://www.ronasailingproject.org.
After finishing more inevitable repair jobs we had planned for St Martin, we sailed from there to St Kitts, and completed most of the passage under genoa alone, until the beat along the leeward coast of St Kitts to the main town of Basseterre where we checked in.
After the long-winded immigration procedures in Antigua, and a very difficult lady in St Martin who had us toing and froing to the airport to get Chris officially admitted, St Kitts was a breeze! They have rebuilt the port facilities and marina after a hurricane demolished everything, and we were welcomed to the port complex where all the formalities were relaxed. The anchorage was not so welcoming with a swell making life on board difficult so we moved to White House Bay further to the south. We had seen enough of the coastline to want to explore more, so the next day, we hitch hiked to Basseterre, and then took a taxi tour around the island, with a driver who was extremely informative and Chris introducing us to Geocaching. For those who have not heard of this, it’s rather like a treasure hunt and involves looking up a place on a website, seeing if there are any caches, and the level of difficulty to find them, as it could be on top of a mountain, or on the seabed! For our first one Chris took us to the Medical School, with an easy find of the treasure behind the security office! We collected a Geocache token, made an entry to the log and left a Pipistrelle visiting card! Our next stop was a Batik shop and factory, where we all found clothing that was colourful and useful. The marketing and layout of the premises were excellent, with great views across valleys and out to sea.
Lunch was bought from a bakery tucked away in an alleyway in a local village, and consisted of bread baked on the premises, and BBQ’d chicken.
We were then taken to Fort Brimstone, which was built on top of the highest hill in the west of the island, where we sat under Lady’s Tongue trees to eat it. Lady’s Tongue because they grow seed pods which rattle in the wind when they have dried, and do they make a lot of noise!! When in full flower, the blooms are bright orange – more easily recognisable as Flamboyants. The fort was captured from the French by the British, who having built a smaller fort on the coast within sight of the French fort, launched their assault. Fort Brimstone has now been renovated, and is an excellent example of the architecture and fortification of the day.
St Kitts like many of the Caribbean islands, used to grow sugar cane, and hence the need for slaves from Africa to work the land and drive the machinery needed to extract the sugar. The sugar plantations in St Kitts were only abandoned in 2005, when the government bought the land. Since then most of the plantations have been left, with the sugar cane growing wild. Thousands of acres are still in the same state, with currently only a golf course in the NW planned to use some of the space. There is also a miniature-gauge railway that circles the island, and was originally used to transport the sugar. It now only runs as a tourist attraction when a cruise ship is docked. In the south east of the island near our anchorage, a huge housing and hotel development is taking place, including a major new marina in a salt water lagoon, which next year will be partially open for business. Part of the Christophe Harbour development includes a world class golf course overlooking the lagoon and the sea. All in all we very much enjoyed our St Kitts experience and are continually surprised at how different the islands are from each other. The Trade winds were blowing strongly, which delayed our departure for a planned approach to Antigua via Guadeloupe. We decided on a night passage, but with Chris’s help, and the autopilot steering on the wind, we managed to make Antigua direct with an arrival in Jolly Harbour mid-morning albeit in pouring rain and poor visibility.