After a week back in St Martin sorting out our damage claim we finally left the Dutch/French island. Instead of heading north west to the VBI’s, Puerto Rico and Cuba , as originally planned, we back tracked and are now heading for Venezuela and the ABC islands. Our original intention was to leave the boat in Panama, but because of the lack of time due to our delay we have decided to go to Curacao off the Venezuelan coast where the repair facilities are a lot more professional and conditions for laying the boat up in the hurricane season are better as it is a much drier climate and the need to run an air conditioner/ de humidifier in the boat 24 hours a day would not be necessary.Our first stop south were the islands known as the “islands that brush the clouds”, five small volcanic islands that rise steeply from the sea. Saba, Statia, St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat.
Unfortunately we were unable to visit Saba as the seas were too rough to land the dinghy to explore ashore, which was a great shame as it is meant to be quite beautifulThe next island in the chain is Statia. In the 1700’s it was the trade capital of the Indies, until it fell foul of the British by saluting the first American naval boat that came into the harbour and consequently the British destroyed and closed the port down. The water front is lined with the foundations of many warehouses and the town above has lots of old buildings that once housed the merchants. We intended to stay only a couple of days but the locals persuaded us to extend it for the island annual party which takes place along the waterfront every Easter Monday. A couple of days before the great event , the islanders started setting up their tents, stalls and barbecues along the water front and of course putting in their large sound systems. We were certainly expecting a great Caribbean party. But when Monday arrived it was a bit of an anti climax as it ended up like a school fete with alcohol!!From Statia we headed for ST Kitts – back to the Eastern Caribbean dollar and an ex British colony. The island has had it a tough in the last couple of years as the EU took away their subsidies on sugar cane, which caused a major upset to their economy. All over the island there are fields of cane left rotting, sadly no use to anybody. There latest effort has been to develop their tourist industry and on arrival in Basseterre we saw St Kitts’ latest creation. A huge cruise ship terminal with so called duty free shops and bars (we counted over 12 jewellery shops) and when there is a ship in, which happens once ever couple of days, the place is heaving but after they have departed it’s a bit like a ghost town. Here we managed to do the usual taxi tour where we were shown all the delights of the island. The most impressive being the 18th century Brimstone hill fort, a world heritage site that has been beautifully restored.After St Kitts we moved onto the less touristy island of Nevis. Here we met our cruising friends Julian and Anne from “Freewheel”. We had a great time exploring the island with them before moving on to Montserrat, famous for its active volcano. The first modern day eruption was in 1995 which destroyed the capital Plymouth, and two thirds of the population had to be evacuated. There has been two further eruptions in 2003 and 2006 causing the exclusion zone to be increased to over half of the island. On a tour of the island you are limited to where you can go due to the exclusion zone. When we sailed down the south of the island we saw the full impact the eruption had on the city. It was like a moonscape under several metres of ash with just roof tops sticking out. The land was obscured by smoke and the stench of sulphur filled your nostrils. Although we were over two miles offshore the boat still got covered in ash.
IMAGE: the cargo ship that did the damage!!