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Visiting Saint Eustatius

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There are not many places like Statia left in the Caribbean. Untouched by international flights, it still moves to the slower rhythm of 20-seater island hoppers, weekly cargo boats, and a little over 500 visiting yachts a season.
Apart from the excellent Golden Rock Regatta (November 11 to 17) that blasts into town once a year, most of the vessels heading to the island are aloof oil tankers hooking up to replenish the giant tanks at Statia Terminals.

This is a palpably quiet island where front doors remain unlocked, passing motorists wave and honk, and the only attacks on the daily equilibrium come from roaming goats. It is almost impossible to believe that Statia, with its 3,000 or so inhabitants, used to be one of the most influential islands in the Caribbean, an oasis of free trade among warring French, Dutch and British neighbours.

During its heyday in the 1770s and 80s, over 3,000 ships a year came to service the warehouses in Gallows Bay that teemed with traders in slaves, raw materials, and (crucially) weapons for the American Colonies. (See www.allatsea.net for archive articles on Statian history).

Today, you can wander through the same buildings, or climb the ‘Slave Path’ to Oranjestad on the cliff top where Fort Oranje stands majestic. At the other end of the island, the canons at Fort de Windt guard the channel to St. Kitts as they must have when Admiral Rodney and others rampaged around the region.

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The ruins, particularly around Gallows Bay, appear moody and poignant. Chris Doyle put it best when he wrote that Statia can feel “sultry and weighted by history.” This was, after all, a major clearing port for thousands of African slaves and the site of the forced expulsion of the local Jewish population, whose synagogue Rodney then torched.

Otherwise, the apparent reminders of a bygone economic boom that gave Statia the “Golden Rock” epithet recall the hubris in Shelley’s “Ozymandias”: “Round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Away from the history, which is preserved by the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation, Statia is dominated by the The Quill, the cone of a dormant volcano that stands some 600 metres above sea level, with lush rainforest at the foot of the crater. A network of easy to demanding hikes threads through forests of gum trees and giant silk cotton around the Quill; the whole area is national park. One hike leads round the crater and down the other side to the Botanical Gardens, a tranquil spot opposite St. Kitts. From here, a rickety road leads back through old plantations and parallel to the coast, which is rocky, rough and no place for a yacht, the reason why Oranje Bay is the only safe anchorage.

There is not much of a beach scene in Statia. The only one is at Zeelandia, where the sand is black and quickly becomes hot enough to roast peanuts. In any case, the surf here is far too dangerous for swimming. The windswept landscape is deserted, making it a valuable turtle nesting site and peaceful gathering spot for cows.

Diving, however, is another matter. Like neighbouring Saba, Statia is a world-class dive site, and there is a collection of excellent dive centers on Oranje Bay which depart for reef and wreck dives in the protected marine park. Some of the wrecks date back three hundred years, while the imposing Charles Brown was sunk just a few years ago.

With fewer than 100 hotel rooms on the island, options for dining out are limited. On top of the hill in Oranjestad, Superburger and Sonny’s Chinese Restaurant are ideal for cruising budgets. Down in Gallows Bay, Blue Bead is a popular French Creole eatery, while The Old Gin House and King’s Well are two hotels with high-end dining – the former French, the latter German. Finally, Smoke Alley is a BBQ restaurant at the foot of the hill which comes alive late on Friday night, making it the island’s official nightspot.

Nick Marshall is an English journalist living on St. Maarten who was consultant editor of All At Sea from 2003 to 2005.

Know Before You Go

  • According to Nicole Esteban, Manager of Statia National Parks, some 500 yachts visit Statia each year, excluding regatta boats. www.statiapark.org
  • The island should only be approached during the day as much of the coastline is hazardous, and there is an exclusion zone near the oil terminal.
  • The only anchoring zone is in Oranje Bay, but this is neither comfortable nor safe in heavy swell.
  • Statia Marine Park maintains 12 yacht moorings in the bay (yellow buoys.) There is a yacht fee of $10/night or $30/week for either anchoring or mooring in the Marine Park.
  • Customs and Immigration are at the Harbour Office (VHF 14) (open Monday-Friday: 0800 – 1600, weekends: 0800 – 1100). The Parks Office (VHF 17) is open Monday-Thursday: 0800 – 1700, and Friday: 0800 – 1600.
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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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