Story and photos by Chef Victoria Allman
“Good job!” Hilton barked.
Hilton “Like-the-Hotel” was the Rastafarian guide leading us through the tropical rainforest and up the dormant volcano of St. Kitts. It was the 10th time he’d repeated the exact same praise in half as many minutes.
We were three-quarters of the way up, scrambling over volcanic rocks and using twisted roots and well-worn ropes to pull ourselves through the rainforest, past old-growth mango trees and vibrantly colored poincianas. It was a good thing we had hired a guide. We were about to get lost in the clouds.
Whether St. Kitts was named after Christopher Columbus, who sailed past the island in 1493, or the patron saint of travelers, St. Christopher, is highly debated. The Carib islanders who inhabited the island from 1300 until the Europeans came, called the island Liamuiga meaning “fertile island.” And it was easy to see why. To get to the base of the volcano, we had passed farmers’ fields of tomatoes and peppers, as well as groves of papaya and breadfruit. Banana trees lined our path leading to the rainforest of exotic vines, candlewood, spikes of ginger and wild orchids. Everything was in bloom.
St. Kitts, a Leeward island in the eastern West Indies, is the ideal stop to add to any yacht itinerary or crew getaway. Christophe Harbour Marina, a megayacht marina on southeastern St. Kitts, is a natural harbor with a protected entrance, channel and basin depth of 18.5 feet, and state-of-the-art docks and amenities. Once finished, it will hold 250 berths for yachts of up to 250 feet. There are expedited customs and clearance onsite for both private jet and yacht arrival, duty-free fuel and provisions, and 24-hour security. Most enticing for crew might be the marina’s ultra-fast Wi-Fi or the short walk to Salt Plage, a stunning waterside restaurant and bar recently named one of the World’s Top 10 Beach Cafes by Condé Nast Traveler.
Christophe Harbour Marina is ever-evolving, and each season has seen an addition of shops and restaurants in its marina village. The stone-and-brick Customs House comprises all marina services, as well as a fitness center and crew lounge.
Hiking the volcano
The stunning green beauty of this island is dominated by the 3,792-foot extinct volcano, whose once-flowing lava has left fertile rich soil for lush tropical vegetation.
“’Dis a gumbo-limbo tree,” Hilton said, pointing to the majestic, green-canopied tree we rested under. Its red peeling bark was reminiscent of my shoulders in the previous week, spent drinking rum punches with the crew at Reggae Beach Bar and Grill, where I’d discovered a love for warm slices of banana bread pudding smothered in the same rum made into a caramel sauce. Under the gumbo-limbo tree, the cool, moist air of the shaded rainforest was a welcome respite from the burning sun that had sizzled my delicate, been-in-the-galley-too-long skin.
“Let us proceed.” Hilton charged up the path and was out of sight before we’d staggered to our feet for the second half of the challenging five-hour hike. We pushed on to the top, expecting a view of the Caribbean Sea to be laid before us, but unfortunately, a thick mist had circled the peak. It hindered the view and made us feel like we were in the clouds.
Luckily, our mud-splattered calves and sweat-stained T-shirts did not get us barred from lunching at the swanky Belle Mont Farm. East-west palms, splayed out like rays of the sun, dominated our view from the table in the great room as a bottle of rosé quenched our après-hike thirst. This West Indian farm-to-table restaurant is situated within a beautiful boutique hotel set on 400 acres of organic tropical farmland. It is surrounded by a world-class golf course and overlooks the neighboring island of St. Eustatius. Ninety percent of the restaurant’s provisions come from surrounding farms.
Visit the well-preserved plantations
Our next crew day off had us learning the history of rum production and the colonial sugar industry in the islands. St. Kitts was once the wealthiest of the Caribbean islands because of its sugar cane and rum.
The sad history of slavery translates to beautiful ruins and expansive lawns with a view at Romney Manor. Established in the 17th century, it is the island’s oldest colonial plantation. Ongoing archaeological digs have revealed a historical rum distillery and bell tower. Many of the surrounding tobacco field structures are still visible on Wingfield Estates. The 400-year-old saman tree on the front lawn of the old plantation is something to behold. It covers nearly half an acre.
In the afternoon, the crew visited one of the most complete fortresses in the UNESCO collection: Brimstone Hill Fortress, designed by British military engineers more than 300 years ago. It was called “Gibraltar of the West Indies” for its domination in 18th century battles. Thick, black volcanic stones cut from rock were hauled up the steep slope by slaves to build the impressive structure that is one of the best-preserved historical forts in the Americas. On a clear day, you can look out over St. Eustatius and Saba, like the fort’s officers once must have done in search of approaching French ships.
Rush slowly to one of the many beach bars
Under and on the sea
Diving the wrecks of ferries, tugs and freighters between St. Kitts and Nevis offers the opportunity to view a plethora of colorful fish, equally vibrant corals and, if you are lucky, a seahorse or two. Warm clear waters make for excellent dive conditions on the reefs, which host barracuda, spotted eels, turtles and nurse sharks. On our dive, creole wrasse flittered by my mask, while another crew member spotted a large sting ray nestled in the white sand.
I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the crew not to reveal the whereabouts of the best wave in the Caribbean, so you’ll just have to trust me – it’s there. You’ll have to explore the island yourself to find it.
Christophe Harbour Marina
Yacht Chef Victoria Allman currently works on M/Y Odessa with her husband Cap. Patrick Allman. She has been in yachting for 17 years. Find more on her books, recipes, photos and blogs at www.victoriaallman.com.