Upon departing Saint Martin, we had ten days before our scheduled flight out of Antigua to visit the U.S. The plan was to do several day-passages, island hopping from Saint Martin to Sint Eustatius (aka Statia), then Saint Christopher (aka St. Kitts), Montserrat, and finally Antigua. We planned to stay a couple of days at each location to explore a bit. Well, as any seasoned sailor will tell you, plans have a remarkably short lifespan.
The first day of sailing, from Saint Martin to Sint Eustatius, was pure bliss. The entire forty-mile journey took us eight hours and we sailed the entire time. We had sun on our sails, steady winds on our side, moderate seas under us, and smiles on our faces! Oh, everything was going perfectly; until we anchored right before sunset off the western coast of Sint Eustatius. Perhaps I’m a bit rusty in my religious education, but I don’t recall learning about “Eustatius, patron saint of stomach churning and sleepless nights.” We’re starting a petition to have this saint de-canonized. This was the rolliest anchorage we have ever encountered. It was too late in the day to leave, so we braced ourselves for a rocky night. Without uttering a word to each other, we both knew we would leave this lurching hell at first light.
NOTE TO SAILORS: If arriving to Sint Eustatius from the north, stay at least 300 meters away from the huge orange mooring structure. It has a long floating gas hose that is not on the chart and almost impossible to see in heavy seas until you are right on top of it.
At daybreak, we stumbled around like zombies. Partly because of the ruckus the night before and partly because it was impossible to make coffee, even on our gimbaled stove. Kimberly staggered forward to retrieve the anchor and I braced myself in the cockpit. Within minutes ¡Pura Vida! was making way, cutting into the malicious swell that stole our peace. But at least we had another beautiful sailing day ahead of us to reach St. Kitts; or so we thought.
Although the passage from Sint Eustatius to St. Kitts is just twenty miles, it took us almost as long as the previous day’s forty mile crossing.
The weather was gloomy, the seas confused and choppy, and the winds had shifted unexpectedly to a southeasterly direction, directly on the nose. We motor-sailed as tight to the wind as we could, bashing into the waves, and eking out one agonizing mile every fifteen to twenty minutes. We could see the towering hulk of St. Kitts the entire journey, but it never seemed to get any closer. We still had not had coffee!
At long last, we arrived in Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts. The main anchorage is industrial, but not terribly rolly. Despite being a Sunday, Customs and Immigration were open and within an hour we were cleared into the country and ready to treat ourselves to a fancy lunch and celebratory drinks. Since all the downtown eateries were closed on Sunday, we hiked a mile to the Palm Court Gardens. As we strolled through the manicured gardens and sculptures to an open air dining area with an infinity pool overlooking the entire bay we knew this would be the perfect antidote to the curse of Sint Eustatius.
After a superb meal at Palm Court Garden we returned to ¡Pura Vida! to relocate to a more scenic anchorage, White House Bay. Upon dropping anchor, we decided to stay for several days. The bay offers stunning views of the mountains of St. Kitts and Nevis towering in the distance. From our vantage point, it was easy to see why they are called the “islands that brush the clouds.” The steep peeks of Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat rise so sharply and high from the emerald waters that they trap moisture and are almost always topped with clouds.
Adding to our enjoyment of White House Bay was a deceptively upscale, outdoor lounge called Salt Plage. From a distance, the rusting corrugated tin siding made it look like a dilapidated beach shack, but upon arriving at the brand new dock by dinghy, we noticed the rusty tin was just part of the chic décor. The enticing soft outdoor furniture, impressive selection of craft cocktails, and a view of the sunset that is unmatched, ensured we would visit more than once.
After a couple of evenings of indulging our palates at Salt Plage, we wanted a beachier, local vibe. We took Lagniappe a couple of miles north and walked the beach visiting several truly “shacky” restaurants and bars where locals and tourists mingled with their toes in the sand while mongooses, chickens, and children scurried nearby.
One curious bar had a dartboard on a partial wall facing the beach. Any shots that missed the board by more than a foot would end flying dangerously close to the beach loungers. When we asked the bartender for some darts, he casually stated through a cloud of marijuana smoke, “we usually don’t play when there a people on the beach, so please try not to hit anyone.”
The calendar was marching on, so we had to leave St. Kitts, mostly unexplored, to make our way to Montserrat for an overnight stopover before heading to Antigua. Conditions were not ideal, but far better than what we experienced on the way to St. Kitts. We arrived in Montserrat and regretted that we would not be able to explore it this time. At least we had some local entertainment at our anchorage. We spend the evening watching goats defy gravity on the edge of a sheer cliff, and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing against the rocky precipice.
After coffee and early morning goat-watching, we departed the last of the islands that brush the clouds. Our upcoming trip from Antigua to New Orleans was just a few days away and we had a lot of preparations to make. While we skipped or rushed through much of this beautiful part of the northeastern Caribbean, we have decided to do a reboot after hurricane season. We plan to return here in November and give these islands the time that their beauty deserves.