St Eustatius (“Statia”)
08 March 2011 | St Eustatius - Oranjestad
Henriette - Warm weather and clear skies!
It certainly lives up to the claim to be "The Caribbean's Hidden Treasure"! We anchored off the main town called Oranjestad! As the name of the town indicates - it is a Dutch Island. The customs officials were intrigued by the captain's Afrikaans! They understood every word he said and it sounds like they enjoyed the little interaction on a different level! (Dutch is the origin of Afrikaans...for the once not familiar with the lingo...)
An interesting little town - it reminds me a lot of St Helena - the architecture and how well the old buildings are used and maintained! It strikes you how small the entrances to the old houses are...they must have had n average height of about 5ft 6" ... I looked like a giant standing in one of the doorways... and Johann looks pretty gianormous going through the doors of the office at the forte! From the design of the street lamps to the names of the street and the detail on the houses - all makes you feel that it was purposely build to be small and cute ...like a doll house town...or a miniature city in maxi size...
The Dutch names of the streets are so funny to see...it is like walking in an Afrikaans town! Although the official language is Dutch, the people are fluent in English and a lot of them can converse in French and some Spanish. The locals are warm and friendly ....this is an Island slightly off the beaten track - so tourists are treated with warmth and genuine friendliness.
The History of Oranjestad is very interesting - it has changed hands at least 22 times between the Dutch, English and French (with an amazing Forte that was built for that purpose). The Dutch took possession and reclaim some extra land in Oranjestad and became a major trading centre. 20 000 inhabitants and a 1000 ships calling at her shores made it the only link between Europe and the American Colonies trading as a free port. So...countries that were not allowed to deal with each other could deal with Statia...so station papers were attached to many things produced elsewhere...e.g. Statia only produced 600 thousand pounds of sugar but exported 20 million pounds! It was officially approved smuggling which enriched a lot of traders and merchants. Statia became known as "the Golden Rock"....but it did not last forever!
When the Governor of Statia returned a salute to an American ship (the first ever entity to acknowledge the Americas - 177) - all hell broke loose and Admiral Rodney (from Britain - who did not want the Americas to be acknowledged as they were mostly English Colonies) attacked the island, confiscated all ships and warehouses and looted everyone and netted him and his crew a fortune! In the 19th century the economical climate in the Caribbean changed and Statia was not the only "Shopping Mall" of the Caribbean anymore! Massive emigration resulted and neglecting of maintenance of the town. The sea wall that was built on sand sank and subsequent hurricanes destroyed the lower town.
You can still snorkel around the beach to see the remains of the city, the wall and the ships that sank there 100 to 200 years ago!. ..Johann went diving on shipwrecks of 200 years old and was absolutely amazed by it! That is how and where we met Leslie and David (from the US). The cocktail we had together developed into a very interesting but way too short a conversation! Hope to see them again...although they are not into sailing - they love diving and we might see them in the Great Barrier Reef one day!?? ;-)
Statia was a first for a few things that happened to us....first for diving on 200 year old wrecks, first fully Dutch island we visited and... our first encounter with the Dutch Coastal Guards! That was an experience to be noted ...I will have to do keep that for a website side-story to go with my pictures! Ha! Quite an experience! Overall a worth wile place to visit...and I sincerely wish them the best for the future! May you soon get back on the prosperity tract again! The Dutch government is doing a great job with the restoration of their history...that is a brilliant start to the future! We loved Statia.....