Last Mango In Paradise
Splat! A large lump of something yellow hit the path in front of us. Then another, and another. Flinching, I glanced up into the rain-forest canopy. Flashes of movement and an insolent chattering betrayed the culprits—monkeys, and plenty of them. Splat! Now we recognized the somethings as the remains of mangoes dropping from the canopy as the monkeys finished munching them. Messy eaters, those green vervets.
Being bombarded with mangoes by monkeys wasn’t high on my list of expectations for this charter vacation, but somehow it came as no surprise. Halfway up a mountainside on St. Kitts, we were off the beaten track in more ways than one.
Most people who charter out of St. Martin restrict their cruising to that split-personality island—half of it French, half Dutch—and to the nearby islands of Anguilla and St. Barts. The all-female crew that met up on board Barnabe IV, a Beneteau 473, at the Snsail base in Oystery Pond last June had more ambitious plans. Pip, Bird, and jean live near me in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Dawn had made the long trek from London. The four-star delights of St. Martin/Saint Maarten and St. Barts were tempting, but we had a yen to go farther afield, to St. Kitts and Nevis.
Sunsail guide Alcid’s eyebrows shot skyward when we told him. Few charterers venture that far away, and I suspect we were the first boatload of women who wanted to tackle the 40-mile beat to windward. He made sure we got an extra-thorough chart briefing. Provisions (beer, vodka, wine, rum, mixers, bread) were purchased and stowed, and within a few hours of arriving we were off, stopping at Ile Fourche for some much-needed snorkeling and then sailing to Anse Colombier, a beautiful anchorage on the northeastern tip of St. Barts. That night, we lay on the foredeck staring up at a glorious southern sky filled with constellations we northerners don’t often get to see. Shooting stars zoomed overhead, and we felt the weight of domestic responsibilities and decision making slowly dissipate.
There were a few moans and groans early the next morning as we secured the hatches and the chain clanked around the windlass. We were in for a long, tedious upwind sail, and my plan was to get the hard sailing over with first so that we could casually poke our way back downwind and return the boat on a high note.
The winds blow strong, mostly from the southeast. We were happy to be aboard a big Beneteau as we pointed her bow at the 3,800-foot-high peak of Mount Misery on St. Kitts. Slowly, so slowly, the merald-green slopes drew closer. Tired and salty, we finally rounded the northwestern tip of the island and motored the last 5 miles to clear in at Basseterre, the capital. The story goes that Columbus named the island either after himself or after the patron saint of travelers—St. Christopher—but who knows for sure?
Sunsail had recommended that we engage a guide named Percival to take us on a tour of the island, and we assumed he was the gentleman waving us eagerly toward an ominous-looking concrete pontoon; we declined and anchored instead, taking the dinghy ashore for the first of our bureaucratic negotiations of the week. Five wild-eyed, salt-encrusted, and unkempt women certainly caused a bit of a stir among the local taxi drivers. I left my heat-stroked crew to fend them off while I spent what seemed like hours filling out endless customs forms. The smaller the island, the more complicated the entry procedure…and we still had immigration to get through.
Basseterre is a quiet, sleepy kind of place. Its msall-town charm is enhanced by its recently opened marina, in which we found a slip that let us escape the rather rolly anchorage. We were quickly enchanted by the beauty of the town and harbor and the friendliness of the people. Its Britishness still shines through, nearly 40 years after independence. We dined that night at a great restaurant called Ballahoo, overlooking The Circus, a miniaturized version of London’s Piccadilly Circus complete with a red phone box and a statue of Eros.
Immigration, thankfully, was easier on us than customs had been, and we were soon crammed into a van with Percy the guide. St. Kitts isn’t a big island—maybe 17 miles long and 5 wide—but there is plenty to see, and every view is exceptional. We stopped to buy trinkets from a smiling woman at a roadside stall and watched a gentleman with a monkey perched on his shoulder bundle his uniformed children into a car, ready for school.