A hard beat to Statia

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Tue 18 Jan 2011 03:30
17:28.796N 62:59.271W Oranjestaad, Statia, Monday night

It finally feels like we've found our feet in the Caribbean - not least because we actually got to walk on some land for the first time in days.

We got up this morning after another rolly night on our second mooring buoy off the West coast of Saba. If anything, it was even rougher than our first night so we were keen to get underway. As we rounded the SW point, the conditions were better than yesterday morning but there was still a hefty sea coming in. At least it wasn't raining, though. We went in towards the tiny harbour but I didn't fancy trying to get in there so we carried on past and picked up a mooring buoy. Andrea and I stayed aboard Saxon Blue while Kali shot off in the tender to do the clearing in and out with the harbour authorities. Launching the tender was as much excitement as I wanted and I was glad to see her set off safely.

I suppose Kali was gone about half an hour, during which time we were glad that we hadn't stayed on this anchorage as it was way wilder than the ones on the West coast. When Kali returned, we had to get the tender re-attached to the davits and then hauled up. It went OK but there is a lot of force looking for some nuisance to cause and I don't like it atall. At one point, the tender tube went under the stern of Saxon Blue, leaving a blue stripe of anti-fouling paint on the hull. I was very glad when Kali had all the lines fixed and we could haul the tender up out of the waves.

>From there, we could see our next destination, the island of St Eustatius, known as Statia. It's only about 15 miles away from Saba but it was pretty well dead to windward. We motored the first bit into the swell which washed the decks nicely but was extremely uncomfortable and slow. Bearing away 30 degrees or so meant that we could sail with most of the main and the full jib out. We were missing our destination but not by much and it was a lot more comfortable. It was still a hard beat, though. I thought Caribbean sailing was supposed to be a series of beam reaches. Anyway, we thrashed along through a sea that looked suspiciously like the English Channel apart from the fact that I was just wearing swimming shorts and a T-shirt.

The chop got to Kali a bit and I must admit that I was losing my enthusiasm towards the end. I could see a line of AIS targets around the West side of Statia and assumed that they were dive boats but, as we got closer, I could see that they were all supertankers anchored up offshore. We had to tack a couple of times to close the coast so we ended up going between them. One of the most visible features of Statia is a collection of massive oil tanks so I suppose there must be some kind of oil storage or trans-shipment thing going on. They can't be drilling for oil on a volcano and there aren't enough cars on the island to need that sort of energy.

The main port of Statia is the old Dutch harbour of Oranjestaad. In its heyday, it was one of the busiest ports in the World with 3500 ship movements a year. It's hard to believe now as it's just a wide open bay with a tiny breakwater at the southern end. Along the shore are a few scruffy bars behind which the land rises steeply. The main town is on top of the rise up the Old Slave Road which I think gives some indication of why this was such an important port. The Dutch ran a Free Port allowing anything to be shipped in and out of the Caribbean through here with, I suspect, no questions asked. They all got very rich for a while until the world moved on, the hurricanes flattened their warehouses and the place has been a backwater ever since.

As we came into the harbour, Kali raised the Customs on the VHF and they told us to anchor North of a catamaran that was already here. We were surrounded by unused mooring buoys but, apparently, there were no free ones. To be honest, I was quite glad as I've had enough of dodgy tackle for a while. We anchored a fair way out, assuming that we were only here for lunch and intending to continue on to St Kitts, the next island along. Then I realised that it was 2pm and I hadn't had my dinner. Luckily, Andrea is alert to these potential disasters and soon rustled up some avocado on toast, thus averting a terminal sense-of-humour failure.

Realising that it was far too late to head off for St Kitts which would have been another beat of over 20 miles, we decided that we would stay the night even though the anchorage was almost as rolly as the one off Saba. Then we had a good look around and thought that we could get in nearer the shore with a bit of judicious surveying. Just as were about to raise our anchor, a New Zealand yacht that looks very similar to Saxon Blue came in and dropped their anchor almost on top of ours. Hmmm. As soon as they were settled, we carried on and raised ours, coming pretty close to them in the process and worrying their skipper. We then set off slowly, surveying the depths and trying to follow the 5 meter contour along the shoreline between a couple of moorings.

As we got to the spot that we fancied, I looked to seaward and saw that a little catamaran that had also been anchored near us had got underway and was heading straight for us. I came around to port to get our nose into the wind to drop our hook and he came straight down the side of us about 20 feet away. It was obvious that he was intending to anchor in the very spot that we were aiming for and both Kali and Andrea shouted to him but only got hand signals that he couldn't hear. He dropped his anchor right on the spot that I was heading for and exactly where I'd actually been about a minute before.

Now I don't account myself as quick to anger but that really pissed me off. Kali was spitting nails and I think the catamaran skipper was lucky that there was a little water between us or he would have been in imminent danger. As we continued past his port side, Kali managed not to swear but told him that we had intended to anchor. I told him we were now going to anchor elsewhere and invited him to come and anchor on top of us there. He got all defensive but we just headed away with Andrea trying to calm us both down. Honestly, it's the worst bit of seamanship I've seen on our whole trip and the only time I've been really angry. There's a whole sea out here, for goodness sake. He doesn't need our bit. In any case, he's a catamaran and can anchor much further in than us so it was clearly not even a good spot for him. Hey ho. Revenge is sweet and wasn't long coming.

Kali suggested that we anchor slightly further North but I'd spotted a really nice Hallberg Rassy anchored just outside the tiny breakwater in much calmer water. I suggested to Kali that she ask the harbour guys if we could go next to them. A bit of Kiwi charm later and they said it was fine so we maneuvered ourselves in there, dropped our bower anchor and then launched Kali in the tender with our lightweight aluminium kedge. She ran that in towards the shore and I winched it in tight. So that was us. Saxon Blue is tucked into a bit of lovely calm water, held nose into the residual swell while outside us, other boats are drawing circles in the sky with their masthead anchor lights.

A short while later, the guys from the catamaran came past our stern in their tender and said "sorry" to Kali so now she only wants to kill them a little bit. She then went off in our tender to clear into customs as this is yet another sovereign country. It used to be part of the Netherlands Antilles with St Maarten and Saba but they're all separate now and I couldn't even buy a courtesy flag for Statia in the chandlery. As soon as Kali was gone, Andrea and I dived in for a lovely swim. I dived down to check both the anchors and it was reassuring to see them both dug right in. The kedge had only taken about a meter before it was buried.

After that, we sat and watched the shoals of tiny fish leaping out of the water to evade the larger fish intent of catching their supper. Then we had a quick shower and set off in the tender to find a restaurant. It didn't take long to find a beachfront place and the waitress said it would be OK to order dinner at 6:30. We got a drink and 6:30 came and went. When we asked, she was sure that the cook was going to come but they weren't there yet. We were famished so decided not to await the cook and asked the waitress, Vanessa, if there were other places to eat. She said there were in the upper town, at the top of the hill and offered to show us a short-cut. In the end, she walked with us most of the way up the hill and told us to go to the Chinese restaurant at the top which is exactly what we did.

Upper Town is amazing. The houses are tiny but perfect with verandas and neat little gardens. The roads are cobbled with brick edging. Public building are made from tiny bricks and the whole place looks a bit like LegoLand. There's a clear Dutch influence but mixed with so many other styles that the overall effect is unique. The Chinese was a bar come restaurant in a kind of chalet with no windows so it was like eating outside. The food was delicious and the waiter super-friendly. To make it even better, Kali was able to log onto the internet and we got lots of good gossip from our distant friends. Little Bill seems to have got himself a job as the Captain of a magnificent charter yacht so that was fast work. I got more news from Ashley and Paul told us about the latest happenings at White Hill. Big Bill said that he'd been up all night checking the mooring when he was off Saba and Richard Booth relayed the story of how he'd not got as far as the Caribbean on the Oyster he was supposed to skipper after Saxon Blue.

After all that excitement and over-eating, it was time to stagger down the hill again, dodge a tropical downpour and then tender back to Saxon Blue for cup of mint tea and a relax. We're rocking gently and I can hear the sound of waves on the beach from outside. Out to sea, there are bright splatters of light where the supertankers sit, awaiting their turn at the oil terminal. The combination of heavy industry and faded colonial charm makes this unmistakably an island and the sort of place where we feel right at home. It's not at all what we were expecting of the Caribbean - it's much harsher and more interesting. I think I'm really starting to like it.


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