After leaving St Barts, we sailed to St. Eustatius, Netherland Antilles, better known as Statia. It was a “Chamber of Commerce” day. The sun was brilliant, puffy pure white clouds touched the bright blue sky which came down to a blue green sea. We just glided along on a beam reach with an east wind of 8 -15 knots and a gentle sea of three feet. Painted on the horizon were two of “the islands that brush the sky,” Saba and St. Eustatius. We were almost sorry that our 31nm sail was over. However, we were eager to anchor and get to shore and explore this island which is steeped in history and played a major role in the settlement of the Caribbean by western powers of French, Dutch, British, and American Colonials.
During the Golden Era from the late 1700’s, Statia was the trade center of the Indies with a population of 1,500 people. It was a golden center where goods from all over the world were traded. In its golden period, there were anywhere from one hundred to two hundred sailing ships lying at anchor. Goods from all over the world were traded here: fabrics, gold, silver, sugar, tobacco, cotton, guns, and slaves. The European powers were all fighting each other and the American Colonies were rebelling from England.
These countries wrapped their colonies in massive red tape and taxes. The Dutch were neutral and thus set up a free port so countries not permitted to trade with each other traded with St. Eustatius, thus the island became very wealthy. This lasted until England’s Admiral Rodney came in and captured this tiny country.
In 1776, an American vessel, Andrew Doria, came in to the harbor and gave a customary salute. The governor of Statia returned the salute. Governor de Graff did not realize that the American merchant ship was under the command of an American rebel navy captain. Thus Statia, a Dutch colony, became the “first nation” to salute an American naval vessel. I thought you trivia buffs might enjoy that piece of little known American history.
After St. Eustatius we sailed 24 nm to the island of St. Christopher (St. Kitts). Today was another perfect sailwith a northeast wind. St. Kitts was a majestic sight. It soared skyward. The sloping hills all around it were a bright lush green. The landscape was dotted with remnants of stone chimneys which were at one time the windmills used to grind the sugar cane. The green slopes we were seeing from afar were sugarcane fields. We were there in February, which is the time to harvest the sugar cane.
We anchored in the Basseterre harbor of St. Kitts. Once again we had to check in with immigration. If you go anywhere in these islands, keep your passport and other papers handy. We had to check in each time we went from one island to the next as most islands are separate countries. We inflated our dinghy, put the motor on and went to shore to complete our official business. We hadn’t even tied up yet when a young man came and took our line and said, “I’m Thomas and I will take you to customs.” My husband hesitated but we hired him since immigration was downtown and therefore, we needed a taxi. We subsequently hired him for an island tour the next day. Jobs are scarce in the islands. The biggest industry is tourism followed by fishing and agriculture.
As with each of the West Indies islands, Kitts is rich in history. One of its most famous sites is Brimstone Hill Fortress, often called the Gibraltar of the West Indies. In contrast to this edifice of power is the Circus which is the center of town at Basseterre. The Circus is fashioned after Piccadilly Circus in London. There is a monument in the center of the circle from which all the streets begin. This arrangement is not unlike the spokes of a wheel.
We had a fantastic sail to the next island, Nevis. As we were underway, we could see the island of St. Kitts from our stern, Nevis off our bow and Saba on our port quarter horizon. Incredible! Saba, Statia, St. Kitts, Nevis, Redondo and Montserrat are known as the “Islands that Brush the Clouds.”
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.