Tuesday, March 20, 2012

St Christopher (St Kitts)

When we motored out of the bay, we had seen that the fish traps were everywhere, and we should get away from the shore as far as possible. Thank God we reached the south end of the small island and the deep waters shortly afterwards, and debated about setting the sails, since the wind seemed close haul. I said if it would not work, we could let the sails go in a jiffy. As well, most of our sailing experience (with our small hobby cat, unofficially called Nel’s Baby) had been close-haul on the Ottawa River. So sails up! Of course when I was pulling it, the wind had to gust to 18 knots, and Al thought we should have one reef, to be on the safe side. He is as conservative as I am, but he doesn’t show it sometimes.

Our way in open waters was just two miles, then we were to come to the lee of St Kitts; one of the shortest passages. The wind was a bit stronger than the day before, and of course felt even more on our faces. We started to fly, several times made over 7 knots. Al asked me to check the speed on the GPS, while trimming the sails (our speed gauge does not work properly). The speed shown on GPS is never steady; it varies from 4.3 to 5.1 in one second. While checking the speed, I felt that as the wind was pushing us ahead, the waves were pulling us back. Poor Ruyam II had a beating from the waves, especially on the inner side of the starboard hull. While underway, going down to the cabin is always scary, the noises of waves exploding on the sides, and the different responses of fiberglass and wood to the beating are downright frightening, but I am getting used to it. The best place to enjoy the ride is the captain’s bench, which is wide enough for the both of us. The only drawback is the relentless sun, even if it would be hazy or cloudy. After the first day, I smartened up and used a blob of sunscreen on our faces and upper bodies. Well it was not smart enough, since my already suntanned legs got a burning!

When we reached the north edge of St Kitts, where the old volcano is situated, the wind vanished all of a sudden. We thought it was time to motor the remaining 10 miles up to BasseTerre, the main town in St Kitts. I have to point out that the decision was unanimous, since the route was turning almost to east, because of the shape of the island, coming down in a steep slope and narrowing down. Then we saw another cat following us, kept his sails up while motoring and Al wondered. After ten minutes, we saw the reason, although we were in the supposed lee of the great mountain, wind started to blow from different sides, coming down from the valleys. Our destination Palmetto Point right in front of us seemed to be drifting away, as the waves and wind hit us on the face. The cat passed us, but after a while she dropped sail as well, and set a course that seemed odd to us, since it was somewhat curved, towards open sea. We followed no matter what, since the water to our port was fish traps galore.

We spotted the aft of a cruise ship sticking out of the point, and realized that we were close to our destination. Then I thought that the cruise was leaving the port, since I saw it moving. In reality, that ship was anchored out in the bay, and there were two more on the docks.

According to our sailing guide (our bible next to the Imray maps) reported that the best place to stay in BasseTerre, St Christopher was the Port Zante marina, around the corner from the cruise ships; or at the anchorage right in front of the marina breakwater.

We saw the cat going into the small bay west of the marina entrance, and we followed. By the time we got there, the cat had anchored. To our amazement, we saw that the name of the cat was quite familiar; Double Trouble, which we had seen in Cane Garden, Tortola; Marigot, St Martin and Oranjestad, St Eustatius. Almost a friend, so we anchored next to her, and got settled. It was 1:30 am, and Al was famished.

After a quick lunch, we got into the dinghy to go to shore to clear in our boat. The map showed a customs for cruise passengers close to the marina, and the harbour port authority and customs at the far end of the wide bay, close to the deep water port. Al decried that small vessel registration would not be handled by the office dedicated to cruise passengers, so headed out into the bay. Well, the wind was quite strong, with matching waves, since BasseTerre is really low country, offering no protection from the trades. We turned around and decided to ask the marina office about what to do. Good decision!

First of all, the bay we anchored was downright rolly, wind and the wakes of endless ferries/pleasure day sail crafts/fishermen whizzing by. It seemed prudent to find out about the marina charges. All of a sudden being tied to land seemed attractive, especially for night ventures.

In the marina office a scary looking Rastafarian (long hair curled into ropes and bundled into big toque) welcomed us. After the first second, we hit it off with him, who had a great sense of humour, and gave us all kinds of important information, including the reasonable marina charges of $45.00 dollars per night for the size of Ruyam II. There is a nominal charge for water and power as well, but we need water to do some clean up in the boat. We decided to stay two nights, and the second islander, who seemed to be the right-hand man, showed out dock-to-be, just inside the concrete marina wall, where some cats were tied stern-to. There was some space left at the end, where a boat was tied from its port. The man assured Al that we could do the same as soon as the boat left, in about an hour. He told us that by the time we would finish with customs, the space would be ready.

Customs was time consuming, but easy and quite entertaining. There were three islander ladies, two in their thirties, one, apparently the supervisor, a little older. The two young ones were doing different tasks, older one reading a book. The only time she looked up was when we told them our route and final destination. However, while the young ladies were joking around (most of the time while doing their work), she was participating. At customs, I am always the accessory, the mule, and occasionally the assistant; so I look at the people around. This time, along with officers who were immensely interesting, the other boaters, who came into the office while we were there, were characters. The clearing in process involved going to another office, but apparently its sequence did not matter, so the ladies were sending whoever was waiting there, while dealing with someone. When we went in they were alone, then an American came and answered the questions for customs clearance, while we were sitting there. The American was curt and impatient, but the officer dealt with him with polite patience. Then an Italian lone sailor appeared whose English was kind of broken. After they sent him out, they had some laughs at his expense. Although the English the islanders speak is hard to understand, we started to get the hang of it, but they don’t know that. Thankfully they were courteous enough, to spare us in our presence. However, I learned about the procedures while listening to the conversations with others, such as the possibility of clearing out of St Kitts from Nevis, by presenting a boat pass (in actuality clearance) given in St Kitts. The sailing guide mentions the option of clearing out in Nevis, but not the boat pass. So it was a good thing that I heard the officer, otherwise we would have to come back to St Kitts from Nevis to get it.

After dealing with the customs, we went back to the marina to arrange our stay. We saw that another sailor from Australia was trying to get in as well, and was told to take the half spot right at our back. The sailor did not look very happy, and told us that he came into the anchorage before us, but was late to come to the marina office. The Rastafarian didn’t budge, first come, first served.

My first impression of this island is very positive, the people look so happy, they don’t just smile, they laugh all the time, joke with each other and outsiders, and seem to work hard. However, there are some old Rastafarians among the population, who look really wasted. From what I read about the history of the Caribbean, I learned that Rastafarianism is a modern age religion from Jamaica, which involves marijuana usage as a ritual. As well, cutting, and if I am not mistaken, washing hair is forbidden. Not my cup of tea.

We spent three nights in the marina, which were quite enjoyable except for the mosquitoes, despite a nice breeze that comes over the low hills behind Basseterre. We did not do much, besides sight-seeing in the village and visiting the Museum.
St Kitts had a long history under British rule, which was used as a cash cow for a bunch of settlers turned sugar plantation owners, using African slaves as free labour. The British was very keen in keeping whites and slaves completely separate, so mulatto was only a concept on French ruled islands. Most of the islanders around here are very dark, and tall, graceful people.

It seems that all the former British islands formed a commonwealth upon gaining their independence. Their currency is EC dollars, worth about forty cents US. It is possible to misunderstand when they say dollar. For example, the Rastafarian at the marina said they would charge 1.20 dollars per foot per night. He further clarified that it would make 45.00 dollars, plus 10.00 per day for water, regardless of usage. We are used to paying US$50.00 dollars in BVI, so thought it reasonable. I like marinas for their endless water, which I use liberally for cleaning Ruyam II, after skimping on our tank water for so long. Little that they know, what they charge for our stay is spent on water!

Anyway, the 45 dollars turned out to be EC, and Al was quite happy when he returned from the office before we left for Nevis. The sailing guide cautions about the reverse of the situation, especially with taxi drivers, who imply the fare to be EC to get the customer, and ask for US at the end. We never had such an experience yet.

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