Cultural Fusion on the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean
by Trevor Joyce, Mariner Boating/Sail-World Cruising on 26 Aug 2013
Trevor and Maggie Joyce, private operators of charter-boat rallies to many exotic parts of the world, enjoyed taking time out sailing in the Caribbean prior to the three-day Heineken Regatta in March. Here they recount their magic experiences and look forward to returning next year.
Caribbean Canter 1 .. .
Antigua was the Caribbean stronghold of Admiral Horatio Nelson and English Harbour was his operational H.Q. All the old buildings have been lovingly restored and as you walk around you get a strong sense of what this place would have been like in the 17th Century. History here is as varied as the characters living and working here. English, French, Dutch, and Creole create an incredible cultural fusion.
When we go in late February, early March, the Caribbean air temperatures are in the high 20’s, winds more in the 20 knot range and, a sailor’s blessing, are all day, every day, from the same direction. The ocean is 20 plus degrees and is a bright, clear aqua blue. At night a light cotton cover is all we need over us, and there is a breeze when you need it.
Barbuda is a gem; she sits surrounded by miles and miles of pristine beach reflecting pink in the clouds. Resort development has been limited on the island because, with a history of sugar plantations and slavery, the people of Barbuda, controlling the land in common, have elected to preserve and protect the island’s natural beauty. We often visit the protected Frigate bird sanctuary in a lagoon at the northern end of the island. Thirty thousand of these amazing creatures live here and we love our tour with George. Next year we’re going to extend our range to the 'highlands of Barbuda' which are reputed to rise to as much as 40 metres above sea level. Maggie is looking forward to photographing that.
This year in St.Kitts, we went to a 50-overs cricket match between the Leeward Islands and Trinidad, the competition leaders. Cricket in the Caribbean takes on a festival atmosphere, between overs, locals crank Soca music on sound systems that adorn the 'hill'. Whether you are into cricket or not, take the opportunity to go to a match in the Caribbean if you ever get one, it is a revelation.
Rally travellers have tested the golf course at the Four Seasons resort on Nevis and rate it as very playable with most of the fairways showing off spectacular views down the verdant slopes of the mountain to where our yachts are usually moored off St. Charles.
The Dutch made St. Eustatius a free port when the rest of Europe was in a bureaucratic turmoil, they created a huge Caribbean trade hub. It’s hard to imagine 200 ships at anchor along the shore of this tiny speck of and island but that’s how it was. Also known as Statia, and part of Holland, St. Eustatius has a vision of at town overlooking the old port. You could easily be in the Dutch countryside, it is a little incongruous, but fascinating none the less. We had a post-race gig at the Old Gin House, which in history had nothing to do with the Gordons - they used to spin cotton here although clearly it was not cotton grown in St. Eustatius.
The Dutch also own neighbouring Saba, which we didn’t visit. We are going to include it next year because rally travellers who went there this year loved it. They described it as a secluded haven, peaceful and friendly.
In 2014 we will go from the quiet of Saba to the maddening rush of St Barts. St. Barts has always been part of France. Well, the French did give it to Sweden for a while in exchange for winter access to its ice- free ports back in the 17th Century. That’s why the main port is called Gustavia, after the reigning Swedish king of the time… but French is clearly the name of the game these days.
Today the main drag is fronted by all the big names in the French fashion world and so if you are looking for a pair of jeans for 1,000 euros, this is the place. The restaurants also reflect the French passion for food and wine – no one does it better - that’s a fact. The beaches are sensational; one rally traveller this year renamed one of them 'silicone ally' after a visit to the turquoise plage near the town. The runway at the airport is also worth a visit, the tiny planes plummet on their final approach over the saddle at one end to ensure that they stop before a dive into the sea at the other.
We left the town after a couple of nights and moved to Columbier Bay in the national park at the northern end of the island. A deserted beach, no anchors allowed, a few palm trees, no houses, no road access and the Atlantic Ocean pounding away on the weather shore of this slim peninsular creates a stunning scene – please excuse the superlative.
As the finale we stopped at St. Maarten/ St Martin. It is beautiful to think it possible to create two countries on an island little bigger than Sydney Airport with St. Maarten, on the Dutch side, sitting comfortably alongside St. Martin to the west, which is unmistakably French.
I call it the finale, as it was the end of our trip, but also because it ran straight into the three day Heineken regatta. This event injects a huge buzz into the streets and onto the flat but windswept waters that surround the island. Two hundred yachts, five thousand people, twenty bands from all over the Caribbean and free entry to all of the post- race parties created a terrific scene, what an experience.
This permanent fixture in the Caribbean sailing calendar is incredibly well organised, no fuss and there is lots of enthusiastic racing by sailors who are perhaps a little more pirate than elite racing fraternity, adding to the great and persuasive good vibe.
It was great fun and we'll do it again next year, 6-9 March, 2014. If you would like to come with us call Mariner Boating visit our website for more information, www.marinerboating.com