03/08/2011, St Eustatius - Oranjestad
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.....
02/19/2011, St Martin - Leeward Islands
St Martin is made for shopping...the reason is that all tax has been abandoned on all goods to give the economy a boost (the whole island is duty-free!...it makes about a 15 - 30% price difference on most things except it is about 100% better here than in Australia...the TAX Guru of the World!!))! Well...and it did make a huge difference to the economy....it is now the best-known holiday destination of the Leeward Islands with masses beach leaching on the beautiful white beaches and enjoying clear blue waters. You can tell that it has become a major tourist destination by the amount of really flash Super Yachts in the Marinas and the hundreds of smaller yachts in the lagoon and around the bays and the buzzing airport with jets (private as well as Boeings) coming and going all the time!!...We were anchored at the end of the runway and had our fair share of big airbuses clearing the mast with not much and left us with some degree of industrial deafness!
Sunset Beach at Maho Bay is the only place in the world where the runway starts so close to the beach that the planes have to come in literally a few feet above the beach...and your head if you are standing there! It is of cause a huge attraction for beach goers to stand right in their path as it literally feels as if it is going to hit you! Almost too hard to watch! It makes for great photography though! The take-off of the big airbuses and jets are as spectacular as they start only a few meters off the beach. The blow of air that is forced out by their engines is causing a huge sand storm with the odd couple of hats and bikini tops flying into the surf! Great Fun to watch!
Simpson lagoon is a huge (and very protected lagoon against the infamous northerly swells) very popular anchorage amongst all yachties ... regardless of vessel size! The water of the lagoon is unfortunately dirty but the convenience of being a dinghy ride away from every restaurant and shop makes up for it!
We stayed in Simpson Lagoon for all 7 days to get the retail bug out of our systems..ha!..no... not really ...the budget did not allow for retail therapy! The real reason was to access much needed repair services (where the tradesmen can actually speak English and know what you want!) ...and we then got caught with super strong winds and bad weather for a while and had to wait for a weather window...
St Martin (French) or Sint Maarten (Dutch) the Island, is divided in half between the Dutch and the French...and the contrast between the two sides is huge! The French side has (like we have seen everywhere where they are involved) neatly decorated sidewalks, proper well maintained roads and buildings and flair in all their shops and restaurants...the Dutch side is a bit untidy and rough but wonderful restaurants (big portions aimed at the US market I guess...bigger is better!) and they like the late night loud parties.....which happens to be very, very popular amongst most visitors...of which the majority are Americans...so no wonder!
There is not much else to see or do other than hopping from one town (with really cheap bus services - about a US$1.50 - $3.00 to go to the next town) to the next ...purely to see what they have to offer duty free!
The vibe is great ...but it becomes a bit too much after a while ... the one fortunate thing is that we can up and go and seek some nature fun again!
If you like the sea...this is heaven on earth! Barbuda is a low island - no hills or mountains and sits in an ocean of blue that has the most vibrant and clear intense colour about it. The coral white beaches in contrast with all the clear shades of glass blues around you immediately gives you the feeling of: "whatever it takes - I don't want to ever leave this...!" It is like soul music washing over you... it just has an amazing relaxing effect ... it is like a magnet -you cannot look away, you don't want to look away and every time you turn your head it is just a more breathtaking site than the previous one hitting you!
This is where you can have a fresh baguette and cheddar cheese with a glass of champagne ...and just sit and sit and ...nothing will spoil the moment!
The AMAZING Blue (crystal clear) waters and blinding white beaches (almost all to ourselves) of Barbuda was another of the most wonderful places we have seen up till now! (with excellent snorkeling! - we spent just about 2 hours a day in the water!)
We did not want to leave! We had our "new friends" Karen and Matt (from the Yacht "Where II "- also Aussies) over for dinner last night - it was our farewell to Spanish Point and it was sad to leave.
We've visited the Frigate Bird colony on Codrington lagoon today and had to anchor in fairly rolley seas at Low Bay (also stunningly beautiful but more exposed!) - The Frigates was soo amazing to see ...but tell you what... we met the water taxi at the beach (the only way you can see the bird colonies is with them!) and we almost capsized our dingy in the breaking waves due to the Northerly swells that has showed up uninvited!
It's a good thing we took some dry clothes (in a water tight Pelican case (ha!) ...and all the camera's were in there too THANK GOODNESS!!) - the dingy was 3/4 full of water by the time we made it out into the sea again and it took us at least 15 min to get the water out through the opened bung! I honestly thought we were going to lose the dinghy!
There was water and sand every where and crocks shoes and pelican cases was swimming in the dinghy...with every wave coming onto us just bigger and more vicious!
The thought of getting capsized was lying pretty shallow in the back of my mind...and we did not have any life jackets! Another lesson learned!
I was not the most pleasant companion at the end of our blue water rafting adventure....!
Another Catamaran (Lucky Dancer) had a too big a dingy to drag out onto the beach and they went the long way around (to the north) to access the entrance to the lagoon (about a 3 miles detour!!) from where we are (in front of the Light House Hotel at Low Bay) ...that is certainly the best option to meet the Water taxi!
So if you are attempting the waves...make sure you go with something that is light enough to carry under your arm ...or take the safe option!