Island Hopping

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Island Hopping

There are great adventures to be taken around the world by train, plane and automobile, but the most gentle, peaceful way to travel is still wind power. And the Caribbean is home to some of the best sailing in the world.

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Published: Fri 28 May 2010, 9:30 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 1:27 PM

Taking two weeks off to visit a selection of islands meant enjoying three flights that finally ended up at a small airport in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Our voyage would take us to the islands of Anegada, St Martin, Antigua and Nevis, en route to St Kitts. Joining me was an American friend who met me in the old pirate haven of Tortola, BVI, one of four main islands and fifty smaller ones that make up the British overseas territory. Tortola’s main settlement, Road Town, isn’t much to shout about, but before leaving island we had to visit Pusser’s Pub. This old watering hole serves the same rum that English sailors have been drinking for over 300 years, along with fine Caribbean food, such as jerk chicken, beans, plantain, with lashings of Caribbean hot sauce.

The skipper showed us around the yacht that would be our home for two weeks. Called Ocean Indies, she was 47-foot long with three cabins (bedrooms), a compact galley (kitchen), dining area and, most importantly, a large top deck to sprawl over. It was time to bid farewell, pull anchor and cruise to the northernmost island in the BVIs, Anegada — one of the most unusual islands in the Caribbean.

The Lesser Antilles chain — running from the Virgin Islands to Grenada near Venezuela — is mostly made up of volcanic rock islands, but Anegada is formed from coral and limestone. At its highest point, it is only 28 feet above sea level. We pulled in for a night to enjoy the fresh lobster at Potters by The Sea. The poor crustaceans are in a net as you land, and you pick your favourite for the pot that night.

From the BVIs, we night sailed south towards St Maarten. Sailing south is not highly recommended as you head into prevailing winds, but with a lot of tacks (turns) you zig-zag your way to your destination. Spotting a night rainbow in different shades of grey was amazing, as were the friendly dolphins that joined us every hour or so. In St Maarten, again a restaurant was our target as, being a closet plane-spotter, I had to visit Maho Beach that is by the island’s airport. Twice a day a jumbo jet arrives and departs, which, if you’re foolish enough to stand behind it on the beach, will literally sweep you off your feet.

Another night sail followed our time in St Maarten, taking us to Antigua and English Harbour. This historic area is where Nelson once lived, and it still looks like he could roll into town any day. Antigua itself is a large island with much to explore. You can take a jeep around for the day, go zip-lining, diving, fishing, or just find a local restaurant for more jerk chicken and beans. The island has had crime problems, so visitors need to be wary outside the tourist areas at night.

Moving on, we sailed north, with the wind, enjoying the fast six-hour sail to Nevis. There is one large hotel on island, a Four Seasons franchise, but numerous storms have forced it to renovate, severely damaging the local economy. The golf course is still open and well worth the US$75 for a challenging round.

Finally, the yacht left for nearby St Kitts where we had to depart for our different flights to the UK and US. The highlights are only a small part of the trip, and being on a yacht, even if you just cruise around the BVIs, is enough reason to cross the continents and the Atlantic Ocean. This, of course, could be achieved by wind power too — you might have to give up the day job to enjoy it, though.

ANEGADA

This unusual island can be visited by infrequent planes, but in the British Virgin Islands almost everyone arrives by yacht. At the main anchorage, some 50 boats were moored up, so we had to carefully pick a spot before being able to land. Exploring the island is done by pick-up truck taxis, of which there are about three; taking you to visit one of the few restaurants or beaches on the low-lying land. It’s the latter most people come for — stunning diving or snorkelling — in waters teeming with fish and turtles. Its flatness is a little disconcerting, though. It looks like a large wave could wash right over it. Fortunately that rarely happens, but it is hurricane territory (June to November) so you never know…

ST MARTIN

The bustling island of St Martin/ StMaarten is another unusual Caribbean destination. It is the world’s smallest island to be shared between two nations — the Dutch, where it’s called St Maarten, and the French, St Martin. The story goes that two men walked around the island in opposite directions setting off from the same spot. Where they met on the other side was where the border line was drawn, although the Dutch blame their slightly smaller half on the Frenchman running. Today, the island is famous for its duty free shopping which island dwellers all over the region come to enjoy. It’s modern, safe and technically part of Europe as the French consider overseas territories as part of France.

NEVIS

This tiny island is sister to its bigger neighbour St Kitts, making up the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis. The latter is literally just a dormant volcano that pops up out of the sea. Viewed from afar you can clearly see where lava flows have created perfectly sloping hills right down to the beaches. Today, those lava flows are home to about 12,000 people. Famed for its quiet pace of life, much more so than its busier neighbour St Kitts (population around 50,000), tourists in the know head specifically to Nevis for its slow rhythm and secluded private hotels. Some of the more adventurous take to the peak challenge and climb the volcano, but most others are happy enough to prop up the bar, or take to a sun lounger.

ANTIGUA

Another ex-British island, the influence here is clear to see in English Harbour and the surrounding areas. Nelson’s Dockyard housed the local section of the British Royal Navy for most of the 18th and 19th centuries, and is named after Horatio Nelson, famed commander of the Royal Navy. The restored buildings are a reminder of what the Caribbean was once like — an important part of the British Empire that was a major provider of the cash crop, sugar. If you are lucky, you’ll be on island when one of the Classic Regattas takes place meaning you can see some of the finest boats in the region moored up ready for inspection. Some even welcome visitors on board; just be sure to compliment the skipper.

charlie@khaleejtimes.com



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