Sunday, February 20, 2011

Leeward Islands

We have had very limited internet access the past couple of weeks, so no chance to post.  We are currently moored near a restaurant on Nevis that spills wifi into the harbor, so we're back online again.  Lots of news to catch up on.

Saba was a very interesting island.  There isn't any real harbor or place to anchor, but they have put in place several moorings for visiting boats.  We had read, and heard, that there were significant waves affecting the mooring field, which would cause the boat to rock back and forth.  In fact, we were lucky and had very little rocking and rolling.  The winds were very strong, though, whistling around the little island and making a racket all night.  The worst part of the experience was a very long dinghy ride from Callisto to the dock, with enough wind and waves to ensure we were very wet when we arrived.

The island of Saba is more than 3000 feet high (nearly 1000 meters), and only a couple of miles across.  The sides are steep cliffs, and there are only a couple of places where you can land a tender and get onto the island.  This island was settled by the Dutch around 1600, and is extremely picturesque.  There are about 1400 residents, not counting 400 medical students.  All of the homes were very well kept, with nice gardens and landscaping.  We visited on a Wednesday, which happened to be the day that a ship came to deliver supplies to the various grocery stores.  There was a steady stream of customers in the stores, trying to shop while the selection was good.

From Saba we went to Statia, which is bigger but quite similar in topography.  This anchorage was very rolly, but we got more or less used to it.  We had lunch in a restaurant near the harbor, and struck up a conversation with a man named Tom.  He is an American who has moved to the island, semi-retired but still working from there.  Tom invited us to dinner, which we readily accepted.  We had a great conversation with him, and a Dutchman named Kaes, about life on the island and the challenges there.  His house was absolutley spectacular, with a million-dollar view.

After a couple of days on Statia, the rolling was getting old, so we were glad it was time to move to St. Kitts.  We had arranged to meet our friends Don and Pat from Williamston, Michigan there for week.  They were happy to escape the Michigan winter for a bit.

Basseterre, the main town of St. Kitts, is even more rolly than Statia, but we had arranged to stay in a marina there.  This was a close call, since the original price quote we received was a ridiculous $465 per night.  It turned out the correct price was $35 per night, much more reasonable!  The marina is not very fancy -- basically a concrete bowl with some wooden finger piers.  No amenities.  Even the restrooms were an extra $4 per day, and they had no hot water.  However, the water was calm, and the location is terrific.

St. Kitts lives and dies with Cruise Ship traffic.  There is a big dock, and immediately adjacent is a large area of shops and restaurants.  When a ship is in, the town is chock full of passengers (mostly bored, I think), and all the shops are open.  On a day with no cruise ship visiting, it is basically a ghost town.

The main part of town is a bit better, but still very dependent traffic from the ships.

We took a long taxi tour of the island, and saw a few sites.  The highlight was the fort on Brimstone Hill.  This was built by the British as their main fortification in the Caribbean.  A restoration has been completed to a very high standard, and this is a wonderful piece of history available for viewing.  This is a very large place -  more than 1000 people lived there in its heyday.

One day, we had the taxi take us to a beach and we spent the day swimming and hanging out at the beach bar.  Very relaxing.

By Thursday, we had had more than enough of Basseterre.  We left the marina and sailed to Ballast Bay.  What a contrast!  Quiet, rural, and peaceful.  On Friday we dinghied over to the shore to look around.  It was very rocky, with quite a few interesting shells mixed in.  We walked along the shore, and saw the remains of a road heading over the hills.  In order to get to the road, we had to cross a low area.  Big mistake.  It was soft, black, sticky mud.  David had managed to get lucky and cross without sinking into the mud.  Don and Gretchen had more problems, but poor Pat sunk in up to her knees and almost lost a shoe.  Then we had to go back!  We found some rocks to make a stepping stone path.  Luckily the washing machine on board Callisto was able to get the black mud out of Pat's clothes.

On Saturday it was time for Don and Pat to return to the states.  We had arranged for a taxi to meet us in White House Bay and take them to the airport.  It was great fun having old friends to share our cruising experience with (and the nightly bridge tournament was a bonus).


Philip said...

Volcanoes and topography. What runs these places besides tourism? Is there internal economic activity-more outsider infused cash? Are locally grown vegetables and fruit available?
Any mountain bike trails....

David said...

Yes, it is pretty much about tourism, plus some handouts from the Netherlands for the Dutch islands. We have been surprised how little food is grown on most of the islands. There is a demonstration project on Statia (funded by the Dutch government) to show locals how it can be done, but not sure how much impact it is making.

A few of the islands have some industry, for example on St. Barths we saw factories that do electronics assembly and some clothing manufacture.

Statia has a very well organized and marked set of trails, mostly for hiking but no reason you couldn't bike on them. The other islands have less well-developed systems, but it is pretty wild once you get out of the towns, so you could always go for it. Most of the islands have some sort of bike rentals available.

Gretchen said...

Some more thoughts on the islands economy...The environmental and social impact of 300 years of sugar, slavery and storms is hard to understate. We learned on St. Kitts that the sugar company replaced the plantations and land ownership by Kittitians has really only been possible since 1985 when the by that time owner, the government, closed it. About 1200 people out of a population of 12,000 lost employment.

On most islands, every square inch possible was planted with sugar cane. Sugar cane can only be eliminated by uprooting the plants and continued due diligence against re-emergence.

In addition, when the world sugar market fell or hurricanes came through and wiped out all the infrastructure, there were waves of emigration out of the islands- both a brain and a brawn drain. Some of the islands have so few families that many of the health problems are genetically based.

The beaches, the fairly benin Caribbean Sea, coral reefs and climate are perfect for tourism, but there is concern about what happens when tourism levels are down. We have read about and seen local government initiatives to improve self-sufficiency with farming, power generation, water, etc.

Gretchen said...

2005, not 1985 for the divestiture of sugar business on St. Kitts...