Spellbinder has spent the last 10 days exploring the northern Leeward Islands of Saint Christopher (Kitts) and Nevis, Saint Barthélemy (Saint Bart’s), Saint Martin / Sint Maarten and Anguilla. She is now tucked up in a quiet marina in the British Virgin Islands while I fly back to UK for a couple of weeks to catch up with the real world, while wondering whether I will be entering an EU country and leaving one which has firm plans no longer to be so! The more time I spend in the Caribbean, the less I care…
Crew for the last leg was my old Army friend Patrick, who flew from New Zealand via New York to join me. We had no particular plan other than to head north and explore, and once we had readied Spellbinder we set out from English Harbour Antigua on a 50-mile passage to the very round island of Nevis. It was a long day’s sail downwind, under working jib alone, enjoying the surfing waves as the giant round island got ever closer. Once arrived, we anchored off the main town of Charlestown awaiting customs and immigration for the next morning. Charlestown has an aura of colonial past – Nelson married a Nevis girl (Fanny Nisbet) while he was stationed in Antigua and Nevis people seem proud of their history.
Spellbinder off Charlestown, Nevis, with Saint Kitts behind
Nevis was once full of slave plantations of which the main reminders are old stone windmills, which were used for crushing the sugar cane. Quite a lot of these old plantations have now been turned into boutique hotels, and our first stop was to flag down a bus and visit one called Golden Rock. High up on the hillside, surrounded by beautiful gardens it was both beautiful and enchanting – but for me there was also a pervasive sense of the blood, sweat and harshness of those enslaved there who built the buildings now inhabited by wealthy guests. Patrick and I had the most expensive coffee in the Caribbean before heading down via another bus to explore Charlestown more fully.
Tropical gardens in a boutique hotel made out of former slave sugar plantation buildings
We couldn’t quite understand why the town was being spruced up with such un-Caribbean alacrity, but we learnt that HRH The Prince of Wales was due to visit a couple of days later. VIPs often comment that the smell of fresh paint follows them everywhere, and this was a good example. We visited some thermal baths and then the Nelson museum, which in addition to charting the latter’s life also had a good section on Nevis’s recent history and road to independence. This independence came via British-enforced federation with Anguilla and Saint Kitts, of which we learned more in Anguilla.
Our morning in Nevis was fun but in the afternoon we sailed over to White House Bay in Saint Kitts, one of the nicest anchorages of the leg. The snorkeling was good, including over the length of a sizeable wreck. White House Bay is adjacent to a giant marina in construction, which already has room for several super yachts taking up part of a sheltered lagoon. Once complete, it will become one of the largest bases in the Leewards, competing with the likes of Antigua. We had a great night in a beach bar called Salt Plage, talking to conferencing Americans, a Russian who had just gained her Saint Kitts citizenship (congratulations Maria!), and many others who had a story to tell.
The next day we went on a car tour of Saint Kitts, visiting a large Napoleonic fort called Brimstone built by the British, and having lunch on the windward shore by a beach protected by a reef. We enjoyed the island for its natural beauty and history, but also for the great mix of people we encountered.
Brimstone Fort, built to defend Saint Kitts from the French, who successfully overran it in 1782, only for the island to be re-ceded a year later to the British by treaty.
Re-enacting locals in the uniform of the 4th West Indian Regiment
We checked out here…
We enjoyed Saint Kitts, but not the throngs of cruise ship tourists and the associated shops full of tat which had invaded the cruise ship terminal at Basseterre, the capital. On the right, one of the world’s biggest cruise ships. A neat summation of everything I stand against in terms of never going on shepherded travel, although ‘chacun à son goût’
Saint Barts was next, and a great contrast. Our arrival coincided with the Bucket Regatta, an invitational competition for sailing yachts over 35 metres in length. Never have I encountered so many beautiful and ostentatious craft, most registered for tax reasons in fiscally-friendly nations, and others, for whom limitless wealth is just a state of life, flying their owners’ nationalities, often American. They were an awesome sight and beautiful to behold, and I was struck by the power and noise as they sailed by. Once again, they made Spellbinder look tiny.
The most beautiful, to my eye, of the big yachts in Gustavia Harbour, Saint Barts…
…and the most ugly, but the eye of the beholder is all. This one is Yacht ‘A’ owned by a Russian billionaire
The view over Gustavia, capital of Saint Barts
Spellbinder at anchor at sunset in the crowded harbour of Gustavia
We enjoyed Gustavia and the views around and over the harbour, and had a fine planteur (rum punch) in one of the bars in the harbour. St Barts exudes money, and has quickly recovered from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017, unlike some neighbouring islands. The next day we headed to a beautiful bay called Anse des Colombiers where we swam with turtles, I scrubbed the hull and we strolled around. I have never encountered both wild turtles and wild tortoises within a few hundred yards of each other. Much less busy than the packed harbour at Gustavia, Colombiers was delightful.
‘Planteurs’, Saint Barts style
Having swum with wild turtles, we met wild tortoises
En route to our next destination, Saint Martin / Sint Maarten, we stopped at a wild bay between the islands which might have been in the outer Hebrides.
Saint Martin / Sint Maarten is an interesting island, as it is divided into a French side in the north and a Dutch side in the south. The story goes that in order to decide the boundary, a Frenchman and a Dutchman got drunk together and afterwards the Frenchman headed north along the coast while the Dutchman headed south. Where they met would be the boundary. As the Dutchman met a woman en route, the Frenchman covered more ground and they ended up with more territory…but I might have thought it would have been the other way round…
We headed round the south of the island past the airport which is directly past the beach, and the subject of YouTube videos where the beach-goers can virtually touch the wheels of landing aircraft, and can be blown away by those taking off.
We anchored in the northern (French) part in Marigot Bay. Going ashore, we were struck by the impact of the devastation caused by Irma and how little the island had recovered, compared by Saint Bart’s. It was indeed a sad place and we didn’t linger. Two things summed it up for me – the Palais de Justice still boarded up (one would have thought the French state would have acted quicker – the Dutch side appears to be making more progress) and a comment from a Frenchman to the effect that the next time the wrecks in the inner lagoon would be moved would be by the next hurricane. The photos tell the story:
After Saint Martin, Anguilla: we had a cracking day’s reach up to this wonderful island, which made a great impression on us. A British Overseas Territory, Anguilla has a wonderful recent history of having been ‘invaded’ by the UK in 1969 when we thought that it was being overrun by gangsters and prone to sedition. On arrival, the Parachute Regiment battalion which was sent to quell the ‘insurrection’ was met by islanders who just invited them to a party and to discuss things the next day. Or so the story goes, as related by Remy, our guide who showed us the island. The events led to Anguilla gaining its independence from an enforced association with Saint Kitts and Nevis, while remaining under the British crown. They are very proud of this story, but I can believe it, having met some very relaxed and amiable Anguillans.
Thank you for your informative tour Remy
After the tour we enjoyed the beachfront in Road Bay, and in particular Elvis’s Bar, a remarkable establishment run by the man himself. Not only does this beachfront bar have the best WiFi we encountered in the Leewards (video calling my eldest son Tom while swinging in a hammock gave me great pleasure) it also has great service and lots of beach games anyone can play. We had two excellent nights there and again met some great people. Anguillans are laid-back, uncomplicated and friendly, and we much enjoyed our stay there.
Elvis, the epitome of Anguillan cool. Lest you are mistaken, he’s the one on the right…
We also visited a couple of the marine parks and had lunch at Crocus Bay, which was lovely. There was an excellent live band and we subsequently learnt that the lead singer was Omari Banks, one of the few Anguillans to have played cricket for the West Indies. He was immensely talented and I bought a CD of his reggae music which I hope will bring back some great memories.
Meeting Omari Banks. Great cricketer, great musician
Off Crocus Bay
Sandy Island, one of the marine parks, surrounded by reefs. It was an interesting dinghy ride in, and the solitude was spoiled by a large birthday party taking place. Anguillans like to play their their music very LOUD
Anguilla’s beaches are magnificent
After Anguilla, we had a 90-mile overnight downwind and down swell passage to the BVIs, where Spellbinder now sits awaiting her next adventures. It was good to be out in the Atlantic again. The BVIs call next, but thereafter 3 longish passages await to get Spellbinder back home via Bermuda and the Azores.
Only 3 courtesy flags left to fly…
The Leewards made for wonderful cruising; the variety is enormous, and the scenery stunning. I hope these last two blogs have done them some justice.
Thanks Patrick for being a great crew and for all the craic!