Islands that brush the clouds

Arriving in Statia on 21 May 2015 it was pretty obvious why Statia, St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat are called The Islands That Brush The Clouds. Here we are tucked into the open roadstead of Oranje Baai and overlooked by the beautiful 1,970’ volcanic peak The Quill. Anchored in front of us is a stunning custom catamaran that had us drooling. You would need to stick a zero on the back of Drakkar’s cost to even get close to this one second hand. You don’t want to know the build price.

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The anchorage is not very protected and can be very rolly. Lucky we had it calm and had several lovely days here. Also it was very cool to be back with turtles under the boat. Amelia spotted a crazy cartoon like fish walking along the bottom next to the anchor chain which when scared had big wings like a bird. We took photos to the local dive shop and they helped us identify it as a Flying Gurnard.

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The waterfront was a fascinating mosaic of old ruins from the island heyday as the Indies trade capital in the mid to late 1700’s. Apparently up to 300 sailing ships could pack into the bay at a time. When the main powers were busy with their periods of fighting with each other they were not allowed to trade with each other. The Dutch owners made Statia a free port where anything could be bought or traded between any country. Seems the angle is still working as there are masses of oil industry here where Iraq oil is transhipped and sent off to the good old USA…

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Memo to self: Don’t repeat this steep walk in the afternoon after the day’s sun has been baking the dark rocks into a massive radiating heat bank while the prevailing wind blows offshore with no cooling effect whatsoever. Shoes and family were melting down by the time we reached the top…

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Crazy oversized ornate overflow drain from the bottom of town on the bluff down to the harbour. No idea what it was for? Too big even to photograph properly. More at home in a city the size of Rome than this little island? Either they get a stupendous amount of rain or someone made a memorial to themselves with funds that could have been better used elsewhere. Oh, did I sneak a shot with Drakkar in the background?

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Legitimate shot of Drakkar under the guns of Fort Oranje which were the first in the world to salute an American naval vessel 16 Nov 1766, recognising American sovereignty. It was a Big Deal at the time as the upstart Americans were busy rebelling against England to become independent. While the salute delighted the Americans, the British were less than impressed and penalties were severe. We’re talking surrender of the island’s governor, confiscation of ships, warehouses, gold and cargos, exile etc. The late 1700’s saw the island back in Dutch hands where it remains.

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While the lower town built along the seashore has been mostly eroded by time and hurricanes after being built on sand, surprise surprise, the main town retains much of its original charm and has many beautiful old restored buildings.

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The small island is well off the tourist trail and a contrast to the flashy St Barts. With only 3,500 people under Dutch protection with a bustling commercial oil depot the island has a unique relaxed friendly vibe welcoming of the few visitors who make the effort to get here. Even the local youths lounging around were well spoken and polite! A hike up The Quill is one of the must do’s on the island. Here some light entertainment makes for a welcome pause as a herd of goats pass by.

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Yes its Hot work climbing a 2000 foot volcano in the tropics. I’ll just stop here for a sec and admire the stunning scenery…

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But Mum, the view is better standing on the edge of the sheer drop into the crater.

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What do you expect to find almost at the top of a very large volcano? Why a fat semi tame rooster of course.

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Hazy view from the top in the nice cool clouds.

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For some reason it was much easier getting the kids down the hill that is was going up?

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I wonder if the Ford truck is worth more than the semi abandoned gas station?

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In only the second time in our trip that we have been approached by customs an armed forces spec RIB was cruising the bay boarding each boat. In situations like this we always bring the kids out to instantly change our profile from scruffy boat bum (me) to a nice family. They were very polite and checked flare dates and safety equipment as well as documents while asking usual border questions that sound casual but have lots of profiling and study behind them. They had come down from Saint Maarten being the local Dutch coastguard and were happy to pose for this photo after we had lent the lady on the right a pair of our sunglasses to match her partners. Another reminder of how lucky we are to be New Zealanders as they were all packing firearms and the RIB was obviously standing by monitoring the situation with more guys on board.

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After only 3 days it was time to keep running south east down the island chain. Next stop after the close hauled passage was St Kitts & Nevis. Back into a large bustling metropolis and hello obscenely sized cruise ship! Has to be one of the bigger ones in the world. The red twisty strands above the stern look to be waterslides. Being a completely different way to travel we wondered at the differences in experiences from them to us.

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After turning down the cruise ship priced USD 80ea train tour of the island we took a EC 10 (NZD 5) bus ride to Brimstone Hill Fortress and hoofed it up the hill. Shannon trying not to giggle thinking about how her Mum would react to be on one of these local buses here. They pack you into hard working Toyota Hiace vans decked out with as many seats as possible, loud music and speedie drivers. This one had been personalised with plastic lining the interior and dark mirror tinted windows and a driver going for a speed record attempt. It all works well somehow. I have not seen one dented or scratched and they are along so often the wait is never very long.

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Lime kiln with get out of jail ladder.

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We had spotted the fort as we sailed down the coast and it didn’t disappoint. Spread over several acres we spent hours exploring it.

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About this stage walking down the large hill it was noticed that the ‘Boston the Bear’ along for the day’s adventure had been left back at the top of the hill. Seriously? It was a hot slog back to the top where the friendly staff had already found the lost bear and were holding him for us.

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A surprisingly good shot of the wild monkeys we spotted further down the hilltop access road. I don’t hold much hope as they were way up in the trees and it was a quick phone shot before they disappeared. Not quite Galapagos level wildlife but the kids were so happy to see them!

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Trying to get out of the swell we tucked across into the commercial side of Basseterre’s harbour. Looking back over town and another of the daily cruise ship visitors.

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Someone stole your water mate.

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Shopping and touristing done we headed down to tuck into the protected White House Bay. We had met the Nahanni crew briefly on Explorer Is in St Martin so it was great to bump into them again in St Kitts. We quickly became buddy boats for the trip headed south down island. Nahanni have a lovely hard shell sailing dinghy and the kids would spend hours playing.

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Looking back towards Basseterre from White House Bay.

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There is a large marina and residential development on the southern end of St Kitts. The lagoons have had a channel cut and a large marina built in the first one with residential housing lots around the second. I shudder to think what the development costs are, particularly as there were only two small boats in the entire place.

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Nahanni kids on board for an afternoons play.

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Thinking the boys had sneaked off into the forward cabin with the tablet I was pleasantly surprised to find a chess challenge going on as I went to bust them.

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I am still surprised at the small distances when sailing in the Caribbean. The trip between St Kitts and Nevis is over in no time at all they are so close.

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Amelia was more interested in hunting for lizards and creatures in the museum’s garden than going inside. Shortly after this photo she was discovered by red biting ants who filled her shoes. Ouch.

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Refuel time at a lovely bakery on another hot days exploring.

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A charter boat without kids befriended us! Amazing… We bumped into Kort & Laurel in a few anchorages and become good friends. We had a great evening with them and the Nahanni crew on board.

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Only 6 days in St Kitts and Nevis we are off again headed south. Bottom formation looked promising on the chart as we left Nevis so in went the lines. We quickly had a good strike, but doing 7-8 knots to windward while reeling the fish in and it got off the hook close enough to tease me. Second strike very quickly, better slow the boat down this time. Something else big and hungry got the fish before I did by the time I had the jib furled. Darn! Looked like a lovely big wahoo or similar but all I got on board was a cleanly trimmed head still shivering.

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Here Drakkar is tucked into the main harbour of Little Bay, Montserrat and we are off on an island tour.

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I wish we have allowed more time here at the Hill Top Café. Very cool place with memorabilia lining the walls from the eruption and music studio. Photo on the wall at the top is an amazing satellite shot of the hot eruption plume clearing a gap in the cloud cover. The other wall was dedicated to all the famous musicians who had recorded at the studio just over the road.

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The island tour was mostly good, but way too much stopping to see abandoned houses in the exclusion zone like this one barely peeking through the rampant vegetation.

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Joe is explaining more of the history of the island and eruptions which ran from 1995 to the biggest in 2010!

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Cool part of the tour was this derelict hotel overlooking the destroyed city of Plymouth.

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Pretty average shot trying to show some of the destruction of the city. Some of the blobs are houses, some are boulders the size of houses ejected from the volcano…

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Doing a Nelson style tour we were only at the beautiful Montserrat for two days before running south again. We headed around the northern end of the island to try and get a better wind angle down to Guadeloupe for hopefully the last close hauled passage south. Lovely views cross the east coast of the island and the volcanic flow.

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Stunning sunset over Montserrat as we push south to avoid the comming hurricane season.

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