St. Kitts & Nevis:
We're Glad We Stopped Here
by John Rowland
Today was a good day. I'm sitting in the cockpit, looking astern, watching a crimson sun drop into a cloud on the horizon. There will be no green flash tonight, but it was a good day anyway. Off the port side the western shore of St. Kitts strikes an arc into the northwest, showing a panorama of rugged hills and green fields. Off the bow, a troop of green velvet monkeys playfully makes their way to the north end of the bay, along the stony beach. This afternoon we snorkeled off the boat. Three hundred yards toward shore, among rocks and new coral growth, we found an abundant variety of fish. There were, also, sea slugs, some conch and Nancy saw an eel. It was especially comforting to see the coral in new growth mode. The stretch of sandy bottom between the boat and the rocks was littered with starfish, some the size of dinner plates. Then, on the way back to the boat, I saw my first eagle ray. Three feet from wing tip to wing tip, this graceful creature swam with me for a few yards then vanished as quickly as it appeared. It was a good day. We are anchored in Ballast Bay, St. Kitts.
We are the only boat anchored here. There are two or three others a mile north, in White House Bay and some further north in South Friars Bay, so we do not feel isolated. While 12-foot northeast swells hammer the Atlantic side of the island, we rock gently at anchor. There is enough wind to run the wind generator but not enough to create an unpleasant chop. With our anchor buried shank deep in sand, we are quite comfortable here. Back in the days before we ever considered a cruising life, we spent a one-week vacation on St. Kitts. One day we stopped on the road that overlooks Ballast Bay. There were two boats anchored here that day. The tranquil scene stuck with us, perhaps sparking the beginning of the dream we are now living.
When we moved onto the boat, now 15 months ago, Ballast Bay went on the list of milestones we call the "You'll know you've made it when" list. St. Kitts & Nevis is not high on the list of potential destinations for many of our cruising friends. We hear them say, "It's not cruiser friendly"; "It's too hard to check in and out"; "There aren't any good places to get provisions" and so on. We came anyway, because it was on our list. And we are very happy we did. We came into the country at Charlestown, Nevis, from Antigua, ten days ago. Charlestown is a quaint town of old stone buildings and brightly painted wood. There is a good dinghy dock at the town dock, a trash bin at the shore end of the dock and easy access to the town itself. Customs is right at the dock and Immigration is at the police station, three blocks away. The procedures were simple and the officers very pleasant and helpful. There are several grocery stores, from small storefront operations to large, well-stocked supermarkets. Buses and taxis put everything with easy reach. It seemed cruiser friendly enough to me.
There must be a substantial financial industry in Charlestown, because it is unusual, in our experience, to see a town this size with significantly more banks than bars. No problem finding an ATM here. We enjoyed the place thoroughly. The anchorage at Charlestown is open, a bit rolly, but very tolerable. Perhaps the most significant feature of Nevis was the friendly attitude of the people. North of the city, there is a long stretch of sandy beach with many places where it is easy to beach a dinghy. One spot many people choose is near Sunshine's beach bar. Sunshine's has good food, reasonable prices and a festive but relaxed atmosphere which attracts a mix of cruisers, locals and tourists. We met some interesting folks, including the owner and crew of a newly launched "First Rule Twelve" boat (design circa 1909) named Kate. She was built in St. Kitts and launched earlier this year. This gaff-rigged beauty turned every head in the anchorage when she came in. [See related story on page 14.] From Charlestown, we went to Basseterre, the capital, on the island of St. Kitts. We anchored just outside the marina.
The anchorage was really quite comfortable, with occasional swells generated by the ferries. There is a dinghy dock at the marina, providing easy access to downtown and the duty-free shopping area. Basseterre is a great town with wonderful shops, some good restaurants and ample access to groceries. The Circus, the center of town, is colorful and well kept. On Saturday, the open market provides a great opportunity to stock up on fresh produce. There was one negative: on Friday and Saturday night there was very loud Spanish music blasting across the anchorage into the wee hours of the morning. We never did pinpoint the source. When we return to check out, we'll use the Customs office conveniently placed next to the marina. And we'll be sure it isn't a Friday or Saturday. We came to Ballast Bay on Sunday. In this pristine setting, we've enjoyed the panoramic view of the entire west shore of St. Kitts by day, glorious sunsets (with one green flash) and the clear view of the stars at night. The water is the clearest we've seen since coming to the islands. Yesterday we took the dinghy north, along the shore, to do a bit of exploring.
The beach in Ballast Bay is very rocky, unfit to land a dinghy safely. There is a reef that extends one hundred yards west from a rocky outcropping on the beach, defining the north end of Ballast Bay. The middle of the reef is deep enough to take a dinghy across, but only with someone on the bow looking out for the large rocks strewn about the reef. The rocky shore has a stark beauty all its own which holds the history of the formation of the island. The beach remains rocky through White House Bay and into South Friars Bay. About a third into South Friars Bay, the beach turns to coarse gray sand. We beached the dinghy and stopped at the Shipwreck, a classic, shack-style beach bar. The patrons were a mix of mostly locals, a couple of tourists and a few cruisers. The beer was cold, the food was good and the conversation friendly and interesting. It seems we meet more interesting people when we get off the beaten track.
The scenery and the folks we met made for a most pleasant afternoon. I guess yesterday was a good day, too. Tomorrow it will be time to move. Study of the charts and cruising guides tells us there are several good anchorages on the south tip of the island, just around the point which forms the south side of Ballast Bay. If what we find there is consistent with what we've found in the rest of this lovely country, the next few days should be good days as well. In case anyone asks us, we think it is a mistake to leave St. Kitts & Nevis off your list of cruising destinations.
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