Sunday, May 21, 2017

Killing Time In St. Kitts

Goodbye to the coast of St. Barth's
What a perfect day for a sailboat ride!  After a week in St. Barth's we were ready to move on.  The weather cooperated, giving us a sublime and easy sail straight south to the island of St. Kitt's.

Our "Oh-Shit-Ometer" was reading calm levels
Ahhh perfection
Almost calm seas, but enough wind to sail!
Ghosting past 'Statia
St. Kitt's Coming up!

Jezabelle knows when we're approaching a new island... She sits up and sniffs the air.

The Fort on Brimstone Hill - National Park since 1965
St. Kitt's Marine Works
Approaching Basseterre


We arrived on St. Kitt's in the mid-afternoon.  Our first choice for port of entry, the northernmost anchorage of Sandy Point, was a no-go.

We made a drive-by there and combed the shores looking for any sort of shore access.  The waves were coming in hot and crashing upon the rocky shores.  A couple of spots had volcanic sand but there was no way we could get our dinghy ashore there and arrive to the Police Station for Customs and Immigration clearance any kind of dry.

I don't know what people on Active Captain are thinking.  This is NOT an anchorage...

We continued on to drop anchor in the bay near the island's capital, Basseterre.  It has a reputation as a rolly anchorage, but on this day it wasn't a deal-breaker.

We were able to get the dinghy dropped with only a bit of drama as the waves rolled us...

Janet Lee and Michael (Adventure US 2) were happy to accept our offer of a ride into the marina basin where we would soon find the Port authority and Customs....

There are several areas in the marina basin where it is OK to dock the dinghy.  We chose one on the Northern corner, a steep concrete wall but there's a ladder.  The basin is completely protected and flat calm.

Customs and the Port Authority are housed upstairs right in the marina... Unfortunately, we were advised that there was nobody working at the Immigration office across the street from the marina, and we would have to go to the airport to finish clearing into the country.

There was one other couple and the six of us got a decent deal on a taxi bus to the airport... It was a little bit of unexpected, but not unpleasant sightseeing!

Back at the boat, we tried to relax with the rolling... Still not as bad as it would soon be.

Beautiful Basseterre at night
The next morning we had a surprise visit from the Coast Guard.  We finishing coffee when we noticed their boat exit the marina basin and begin stopping at each of the boats anchored here.  I was a basket case with worry about how they would take the fact that we had not declared our cat!  I watched them stop at Adventure US 2 and spend a good amount of time... then they turned their bow toward us!  

We welcomed them aboard and presented all of our boat papers, including those for Jezabelle.  The officer raised an eyebrow "Oh, you have a cat?".  Yes... I held her veterinary records out to him... he returned his gaze to the paperwork in hand, our boat documentation, and continued writing.  I put away the cat's papers and breathed a silent sigh of relief.

They thoroughly questioned us about our safety gear (Thankful that we had done a full review of and replaced expired safety gear back on St. Martin) and our cruising plans, past and present.  We showed them around down below, including our cabin where Jezabelle was stretched out unconcerned...

The only comment about her was about how BIG she is!  Whew!  That was close!  They didn't even CARE about her!  They left us with kindest regards to enjoy their island!

After all the excitement, we continued with our agenda and set out to explore the town.  We parked the dinghy in the official dinghy dock area, which is a little bit of a squeeze to enter if there is a boat docked alongside...which there always was!  The huge granite boulders have tumbled down close to the floating dock making it necessary to hug the dock.  But it is a very secure spot otherwise.

There is a charge of $5 US per day for dinghy dock usage but it does include disposition of one bag of trash and use of the showers/toilets in the marina.  The marina is fenced and gated with 24/7 guard at the entrance.

The Cruise Ship dock and village are right next door to the marina, so it is convenient to touristy shopping.  I wouldn't really want to be in the vicinity if a cruise ship came in.  Luckily for us, there wasn't one until the day before we left.

We walked into town and did some scouting around.

You can feel the history in these streets.  The people here in the capital city of Basseterre have preserved many of the buildings, as can be seen in the use of blocks, formerly ballast on slave ships, as building materials for the outer walls.

The old clock in the town square
First floor built of slave ship ballast stones
You can almost see the ghosts of horse drawn carriages on these streets
Many of the streets are still cobbled stone, but some have been covered.  Deep drainage ditches line the streets
Old stable doors hide the newer doors of shops

We wound our way along the streets, taking it all in... Suddenly we came out onto an open block... this historic church and graveyard took up the entire thing!

There are above ground tombs and headstones scattered on the lawn of this churchyard.

The history of this church is unclear.  The present building was not the original, but stands on the site of prior churches through history of both British and French occupation.

The St. Georges Anglican Church went up some time in the 17th century and remains a silent keeper of ominous secrets throughout a turbulent history full of plantations and slaves...

More ballast stones

This would be comparable to our Capitol Hill... A guide told us that this is where their governors "Fool the people".
Ever-present clouds on the volcano top
After a full day of exploring, we returned tired and hungry to our boats.  The rolling waves that had been manageable yesterday, had become less so now.

It was too late to move the boat, so after some deliberation, we decided to use our anchor rode and snubber line to angle the bow of the boat into the waves for an easier ride.  Fore and aft is far preferable to the side-to-side motion we were experiencing.

This trick made it possible for us to remain in Basseterre for another day so that we could figure out how to get our mountain of laundry washed.

Cruise ship in port!!!
Rumor had us prepared for the laundry process from here on out... There were reportedly no self-serve laundromats in the rest of the islands we would visit...

Supply boat leans to port as the starboard side is unloaded first!

We decided to try to cheat the system and find one for ourselves.  After asking around,  we learned of a laundromat up the hill in the middle of town near the cemetery...

We loaded up our two huge duffel bags of laundry and schlepped them to shore and out to the main street where we talked a bus driver into cutting his lunch break short and drive us up to the laundromat.

I set our stuff down and began sorting laundry as the attendant pointed to three empty machines.  I was jubilant, thinking we had found a way to get out of paying exorbitant prices for laundry service...

I loaded the machines in record time, not wanting to keep the attendant waiting... he put tokens into the slots and started the wash.  I got everything going and Bruce and I took up waiting at the front door.  There didn't seem to be any place to sit inside the laundromat.

When I eventually asked how much longer the washing would take, I was informed that some of the clothes were already drying and that this is indeed NOT a self service laundromat... Instead of waiting there all afternoon for the dry and fold service to finish... we explored the old cemetery across the street.

We entered the grounds through a break in the old cast iron and block fence and followed a well worn footpath through the graves until we came to a wide, bricklined walkway.

I left Bruce resting in the shade while I wandered through the grave sites, my camera substituted for my eyes as I eagerly snapped hundreds of photos.  Bruce doesn't quite share my zeal for cemeteries... but he is patient.

I could hear the voices of the children coming from the pink schoolhouse outside the cemetery walls.

This old church lies in the center of the cemetery where the two criss-crossing paths meet.

I found two men digging a grave just near the building and I began asking them questions.

One man disappeared into a waiting truck, while the second man humored me for a time... He even offered to take my picture on the church steps...

Turns out, it wasn't a church after all, at least not now.

I learned that this was the Springfield Cemetery (scroll down to information about the cemetery) and that the building was once used as a government building, but now it's a lowly storage place for grave diggers and an office for the cemetery manager.

The poor grave digger finally ran out of patience with my questions, pointed me to the cemetery manager, then leapt into the truck just before it sped away...

Inside the entrance doorway
I turned my attention to the approaching dreadlocked dude... Out of common decency, I did not take a picture of the man... But I wish I could have.  He looked younger than his years as he approached.  A thought crossed my mind that I should be afraid... Here I was in a cemetery alone but for a dreadlocked man fast approaching...  But I wasn't.

I took the man's outstretched hand and explained my presence here in his domain.  He told me his name was 'Mega (short for Omega) and we shook hands warmly.  This began a lengthy conversation, the details of which I will not bore you...

Except for one thing.  Among the many things we discussed, I mentioned that I could FEEL the history of the island.  Walking through the streets of the town, seeing the buildings standing through centuries... I love it!  I mentioned that I got a strong feeling of history from these places.

Looking up into the bell tower
Then he dropped the bomb on me.  He said that he understood exactly what I meant, but that what I felt was MY history... The good feeling that I enjoyed was my OWN...  Let that sink in for a minute...

HIS history was not so good.  HIS history was one of terror, pain and sorrow.  That was the history he felt walking these streets.

Back in the US right then, there were news stories of racial violence running amok.  Like a lightning bolt I was struck with the timelines of this conversation.

I've never considered myself a racist, but just this one sentence brought it home to me that being white, I could never know what it was like to be black.  And I was instantly sad and sorry.  Sorry for it all.  And sorry that I could do nothing real or valid to stop it.

Inside the old storage building
He went on to tell me that while tourists walked through Independence Square looking at the old slave quarters where people were held until they were walked up to the block to be sold... the feeling that he got walking there was shame and deep sadness.

He said that he was happy that we, as tourists, appreciated the beauty of the island.  He told me that it was his people who worked hard to keep it nice... FOR US.

I don't know if I'm getting this down in a way that readers can understand.  There was no malice or bitterness in this... Only stating the facts as they were.  The man was happy to accept my thanks for the work that is done by the Islanders for us...

That conversation had a profound effect on me and I will never forget it.

At this point, I saw that Bruce had come down the walkway looking for me.  I can imagine his worry at my lengthy absence...  I said my goodbyes to 'Mega and joined Bruce as we returned to the Laundromat.

Bruce waiting in the shade for the folding and drying to finish

By this time we were starving, so I went across the street to get some Rotis.  I bought for us and for the two guys in the laundry as well... This brought genuine astonishment and laughs.  I'm sure these guys thought we were very strange customers in deed...

In the end, we should have just given our laundry to the marina staff.  It would have been taken to this same laundromat and washed, then returned to us... for probably about the same cost... but without the lunch.

But then, we would have never seen this cemetery... Lots to mull over as the sun went down over the island this night...

The rolling in the anchorage increased overnight, passing the comfort level and approaching unbearable.  The next morning, we made a mad dash to the grocery store, sorry Jezabelle, then returned to the boat with just enough time left in the day to make our escape to White House Bay.

Red line is our track to White House Bay

WOW what an amazing difference!  The anchorage here was calm and beautiful!  We settled in to wait for the arrival of our friends, Robert and Kathy...

Of course, we had to forego the charms of the anchorage in favor of a massive cleaning frenzy in preparation of visitors.

We cleared out the v-berth and cleaned everything, stacking all of the stuff in our own cabin to create a temporary guest room...

We watched the setting sun through the Saharan Dust 

We did have a little fun scoping out the Salt Plage restaurant
We met up with JM and Michael at Salt Plage for happy hour and dinner.  The prices weren't bad at all and the food was delicious.  Customer service is king at the Christophe Harbour marina, and Salt Plage is a part of the marina village.

Our initial plan was to have Robert and Kathy come to the marina in Basseterre, but after taking a look around here, a taxi to Salt Plage would provide a much smoother landing and transition into Cruising Life for our guests.  Yeah, that's our story...

Dinghying around the point and into the Christophe Harbour Marina basin
Mega Sailboat in Christophe Harbour

The marina at Christophe Harbour is new and still under construction.  Part of the marina is open, but is geared toward mega-yachts.  There weren't any here!!!

We felt so small and insignificant coming into this huge complex... but after our experience with the people here, all of our fears are gone.

They are the most welcoming and accomodating marina we've ever visited, no matter that we were small fry, only using their services as fuel/dinghy dock, and car rental concierge!

They welcomed us with open arms, making it easy for us to collect our guests and tour the island by car using this as our home base.

Kind of a ghost town!
Kiosk coffee and sandwich shop  Plus FAST wifi!!!
We would return here many times to take advantage of the great lunch sandwiches, coffee and the fastest, most dependable wifi in the Caribbean!

And of course they have the least expensive diesel/gas prices too!

Rare sight of the volcano on Nevis without cloud cover
Finally all of our preparations were complete, and we waited at Salt Plage for our guests...   

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