Fw: 3 old men in the Leeward Islands

Phil Pascoe
Sun 29 Mar 2009 14:42
17:17.5N 61:53.0W
Basse Terre, St. Kitts.  21 March 2009
Three old men in a boat (again) and a vast number of years combined sailing experience, unfortunately for the first time in months (it seems) we had very little wind for the passage across to Nevis.  We motored most of the 40+ miles in bright sunshine and relatively smooth seas.  We passed Montserrat in the distance which has an active volcano and an exclusion zone for yachts, and then the small island of Redonda with some interesting history – it has had a string of English Kings over the years.  Eventually we reached the southern end of Nevis and headed up the coast to Charlestown and then onto Pinney’s beach.  Every boat in the bay was using a mooring buoy so we followed suit, although it was a long way from the beach to land the dinghy and a long walk into town.  A quick run ashore that evening gave us an impression of Nevis as a sleepy, peaceful island, but obviously has sustained quite a lot of hurricane damage over the years.  Many properties, in what would seem ideal beachside locations remained derelict – it seems odd that nobody repairs and reopens these as hotels or bars – not enough visitors, or not enough money we assumed.
The following day we did the clearing in, visiting 3 different offices as is often the case – why do they bother with all this bureaucracy on every island?  This is one of the main things that would put me off cruising the Caribbean again.  After some debate we decided on a taxi tour of the island for 60 US dollars and set off with Nicholas (our driver) at a sedate pace going anticlockwise around the island.  He did give us a few interesting facts about Nelson and Fanny Nisbet, took us up the steepest hill on the island and told us that most of the large new properties were owned by Americans.  We stopped at a fort and 2 plantations that had been developed as hotels, including one where Lady Di had stayed, then finally a beach resort where the beers were 6 US$, that’s about £9 a pint!  I couldn’t bring myself to drink beer at that price, so went for a look around the complex – nice but must be extortionate to stay there.  The tour was completed at a speed of about 15 miles an hour, just to make it last longer I assume.  Overall opinion – OK, but it needs to be a bigger island to make taxi tours worthwhile. 
Enough of Nevis, we moved off that afternoon for a quick sail across to St. Kitts and anchored in White House bay in time for a snorkel before dusk.  We all witnessed the ‘Green Flash’ as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Early the next morning (07.15h) we moved up the coast to the small but pleasant marina at Basse Terre, primarily to get water, but as there was quite a swell in the bay and the place had a good feel to it we decided to stay for the day.  The clearing in was relatively painless, the Port had a couple of cruise liners in for the day and was bustling, the shopping area looked fairly new and clean and the people seemed very welcoming.  After some difficulty in tracking down the shop, I managed to hire a bike – a Trek mountain bike for 16 US$ a day - could be worse.  John and Robin decided on another taxi tour.  Fortunately the road around the island was relatively flat, the tyres on the bike were quite hard and the gears worked well.  It was great to be out on the road and getting some exercise.  I did have second thoughts as I cycled up the bumpy hill towards Brimstone Hill Fortress, it was long, steep with little shade from the midday sun.  I had to get off and walk a couple of times.  I was told that the entrance fee was about EC$ 5, but that, I discovered, was the rate for residents, I had to pay $20.  It was well worth the visit, good views, well restored and good information and I did meet up with my fellow sailors, who were in the same minibus as someone with a link to Eurospars in Plymouth – small world.  There were a lot of displays explaining what life was like for the soldiers at the fort – playing cards, talking and drinking seemed to be main activities.  One board listed crimes and punishment:  Assault on a senior rank, murder, buggery and sex with an animal were capital crimes (punishable by death) – and this was in 3 different languages.  I suppose the sheep and goats felt a bit safer.
Coming down the hill was much better than climbing up.  I then continued around the island with a quick stop at a roadside BBQ for a bread and chicken lunch and a beer (11 EC$, about £3).  The island is not well populated, much of it is old sugar cane fields with the occasional village.  The traffic was light, in fact it was a bit like cycling along the minor roads in France.  There was some good looking surf on the NE side, but few places to access the beach – I felt in need of a swim.  Checking my map, I realized I had quite a way still to go and against headwinds.  Climbing a small hill I passed 3 local kids on bikes – the only other bikes I had seen outside of the town – they raced after me and stuck on my back wheel for the next few miles.  On a long gradual climb I felt the heat and the kids getting to me, so decided to stop and sit under a bush.  They joined me.  They asked if I had any water, but I didn’t feel like sharing my last few mls, so said no.  I suggested we ate some of the sugar cane, so out came their knives and cut some.  They said nobody harvests it these days and it doesn’t really belong to anyone – with a lot of crunching, chewing and spitting, we all derived some benefit from the sweet fibrous cane, but not much liquid.  A passing motorist they had shouted at earlier came back and offered us all some cold water and lucozade that he had just bought – a very kind gesture.  Off again and this time I lost them.  More rural landscapes and my first glimpse of wild monkeys, then through a rather industrial area to the SE of the island and eventually back to the boat – phew, that was good.  Estimates of the distance around the island varied from 30 to 68 miles (who cares), but I was surprised that my cycling legs were still functioning after so much sailing and inactivity.
I returned the bike that evening, compared notes on St. Kitts with R & J, then we had a peaceful night onboard before an early start to the next Island in the chain, St. Barts.  

Pics: the last Sugar Plantation to stop working (Nevis).  A nice spot, but beer at US$6!

Robin & John & Nevis.  Me with bike at Brimstone Hill Fortress & view across to St. Kitts.

Lunch for a Caribbean cyclist.  The locals and the sugar cane.

The Dockmaster (Trucky) washing his dreadlocks.  Whitemeadow in Basse Terre marina.