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Friday, February 4, 2011

SAILING TO SAINT EUSTATIUS .......................



A beautiful reach in 15 knots with a modest five-foot swell and a short passage of 28 miles on blue water and sunshine ..................... The best sail so far ........Worth doing again if we can find some more wind from the northeast, which is now rare as the season progresses ............ This island of STATIA has undergone some turbulent times and it hasn't stopped ............... A very recent referendum allowed the people to vote for option A : Stay part of Dutch Antilles group or Option B : Go their own way ..............Well the Island's Commisioners carried the overwhelming Option A back to the Netherlands where they met with the Dutch counterparts, who informed them that the Antillies would cease to exist in the future ............... So much for that referendum ....... So overnight STATIA became fully Dutch, a kind of colony all over again, with US dollars as their currency ............ All the islanders are now Dutch citizens and may have to " make cheese and wear clogs " ................. They could certainly use a windmill or two for the wind really blows here ........... Meantime life goes on just as before .............



There are some huge bulk fuel storage tanks on the island and there were six large tankers anchored offshore as we passed .............. The fuel transfer is a huge business and a boost to the island's economy by providing well paid jobs .........
These tanks sit right on top of an extinct volcano at one end of the island ............ This volcano last blew 1.6 million years ago, whereas the second one we decided to climb is only a mere 6000 years old ...............



Now this is a large lump of chocolate-chip cookie dough mix, that is well and truly baked in the Earth's own oven and therefore at least 1.6 million years old ............ And probably stale ...........



The ash and rocks that flew out of the first eruption created the whole island that then sat dormant for more than a million and a half years and then a second outburst came, resulting in this new volcano (the one you are looking at), leaving just enough room on the flats to plant sugar cane during the slavery period, and put a runway in when that was all over ..............



0700 departure to conquer the volcano ....... We had rented some scooters to at least get to the end of the road, before beginning the real hike into the forest ........... Like three mountaineers, ARND, LAURIE and I slowly ventured upwards into the clouds .............. A silent forest passage filled with heavy breathing and when we reached the crater rim, the caldera's depths below us was filled with overwhelming tropical growth totally protected from the hurricanes ................ No other animal life was seen or heard save a solitary rooster at 2000 ft above sea level who wanted a chat ............... What the heck is a lone rooster doing at the rim of a volcano ..... He wanted much more than just a chat, for he devoured three peanut muesli bars while sitting on my knee ............... The higher we went, the more ferns, orchids, bromeliads and moss were in evidence ......... All soaking up the moisture from the constant cloud cover ...........



A three hour up-and-down walk in a truly primeval forest .............. Exhilarating ............. And half way down we could finally glimpse the ocean again and the offshore tankers waiting to discharge ...........



It is the colorful history of the place and its historic remains, that really gets you .............. Everywhere are stone structures and buildings or remnants thereof, with a story to tell ............ This is FORT ORANGE in ORANJESTAD which, by firing an 11 gun salute in 1776, became the first foreign power to officially recognize the UNITED STATES whose rebel ship had first fired their 13 gun salute ............... They were there to buy gunpowder and shot ................ Had we but known this we too would have blown our horn at least 13 times and waited to see if we might have been officially welcomed at the dinghy dock .................... Certainly Charles Lindo did us more than justice at the Tourist Office in the Fort.



The original settlement by the Dutch merchants was on the foreshore, where slave traders, plantation owners and shipowners bartered their wares ............... STATIA was then the capital trading centre of the Caribbean, until a hurricane wiped out the foreshore and the warehouses and a British invasion plundered the predominantly Jewish merchants on the island ............. Only the foundations of some of the buildings remain, and here and there are walls, made of bricks carried from Europe as ballast in the ships ........... A brutal and violent past on which some of the wealth of Europe was built ..............



The 24 inch thick walls of the Dutch Reformed Church still stand, despite the fact that the roof was taken off by a hurricane in 1792 .......... The sermon was normally delivered from the balcony ............. The doors remain intact and someone has been mowing the grass ever since ...................



At the other end of STATIA, facing the British island of ST. CHRISTOPHER (St. Kitts) is the FORT DE WINDT, with a couple of cannons and a few more rusty ones pushed under the trees, that have not been moved since the 1700s ............. The Fort lies alongside steeply inclined limestone beds that were pushed up from the ocean floor when the recent volcano (6000 years ago) erupted ......... Relatively speaking, that was only yesterday ......



The Dutch needed the Fort and the lookout point because just across the channel were the British on St. Kitts and Nevis ................ And you just never know?.... Now that they are all in the EU together, it doesn't matter one bit ...............



Having dealt with a very talkative solitary rooster at 2000 feet we now see and most definitely hear a number of macaws flying freely around town .................There is no escaping their screeching ..... What a sight, as we visit the remains of the Jewish synagogue ............ Beautifully built in 1760 with yellow bricks brought over on trading ships as ballast .............. And this structure is roofless and floor-less also .............. The second floor where the women sat is missing .............



There is even an 'Mikveh', a ritual bath for women, which was uncovered by archeological excavations in 2005 ............. There is a wealth of history here fully preserved ..............



But the grand history prize goes to the discovery of the remains of a can of NEW ZEALAND butter ......... This is a long sought after item, magnificent in flavour, which requires no refrigeration and lasts forever if unopened ............ We now know that they are not extinct, and despite the fact the we have found only its 'exo-skeleton' in the graveyard of the Dutch Reformed Church, we are hopeful that a live specimen may soon be found ............. Our search is now on, in earnest .............. And for those of you that like sailing on your ear, well, the second video is for you .............. Enjoy .......

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