Ocean Explorers Society

Caribbean Explorer II, St. Kitts to Sint Maarten

June 2006

The Arrival - Our adventure began with us all trickling onto the island of St. Kitts, a British territory, located ESE of Miami among a group of archipelagos known as the Leeward Islands, located in the Northeast Caribbean bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Our group consisted of Mark & Elaine Clausen, Kevin Douglass, Dave Ambrose, Jon & Eileen Parkhurst, and Paul Lee. On Friday afternoon, after all the group had arrived at the Bird Rock Beach Hotel, we congregated at the ocean front bar for happy hour and watched the choppy surf, those of of us prone to seasickness wondered if we should begin taking our meds, or if the wind would die down by the following day.  Keep in mind, what is considered choppy in the Caribbean is calm for California waters, and I had been anticipating Cayman calm waters. I would consider the Bird Rock Beach Hotel a 2 star resort. It offers clean, no frills lodging, however some of the amenities are in need of repair or upgrading. The internet access computers in the lobby were extremely slow. At $0.40 a minute, it could cost a small fortune just to access your email account, let alone send or receive emails. However if your laptop has a strong wireless card, you could possibly get wireless signal down by the pool, as Paul did.

St. Kitts On Land - Dinner Friday evening was in town at Sprach's, a highly recommended restaurant, which offered excellent dining. However, as the night went on and the place got busier, the prices got more expensive. In the morning, after a delicious breakfast at the Bird Rock Resort, we packed up our bags and headed into town to look around until 3:00, at which time we could board the Caribbean Explorer II.  The town was small and most of the shops were closed. I spotted many nice things through store windows, however was unable to purchase any of them. Basseterre is an active cruise ship destination, however between mid April and mid October, the cruise ships do not stop at St. Kitts, and apparently many of the shops keep limited hours during the slow season. U.S. dollars are accepted in most stores however U.S. coins are not accepted and change given is most often in Eastern Caribbean dollars. We wandered around town and had lunch at the only air conditioned restaurant we could find, a Chinese restaurant which offered excellent food.At the appointed hour, we made our way towards the dock and boarded the Caribbean Explorer II.  

The Boat - The Caribbean Explorer II is a 20+ year old boat, and while it is in good condition and relatively clean, it is not as comfortable as other boats I have been on. The primary complaint I heard was the air conditioning in the cabins. They are not individually controlled and therefore we had no control over the settings. There appeared to be only two settings: "Freeze" and "Off". We dealt with this by stuffing a spare pillow in front of the vent, thereby stifling the frigid airflow. However, this just reroutes the frigid air into someone else's cabin. The end result is that the divemasters cabins become iceboxes. Another complaint I heard, primarily from the men, was that the doors leading into the bathrooms and the top bunks were not high enough and therefore responsible for many lumps on heads. The rooms were extremely small and offered virtually no storage space. The middeck of the boat held the sleeping quarters and the dive deck. Upstairs was the galley, dining area with TV and stereo system,  and a sundeck. It was nice  being able to dine looking out over the water and enjoying the breeze. The main deck contained the dive deck, four cabins, the "boatique" and the pilot house. There was a lower deck which contained additional cabins, however I never ventured that far below. Every evening, someone would queue up music to listen to, and the dining table closest to the electrical outlet would be crowded with laptops and digital cameras, as the photographers downloaded their day's efforts onto their computers for close scrutiny.  The dive deck was roomy and I never felt it to be crowded. The entry into the water was a six foot drop, and after my first tentative entry, I decided it was fun. Some of the divers used the momunent from the entry and continued on down into their dive.

 The Crew - The five person crew was friendly and very accomodating. Captain Grant had come from South Africa only a few months before and was very friendly and determined that his passengers have a wonderful vacation. The cook, Tony, had previously worked at the Turks & Caicos Club Med, and it appears that he was there when the club vacationed there in April 1998!  He was asked to make white chocolate bread and on Friday morning before we departed, he served up some white chocolate bread rolls! The dive masters were Michael, Barry, and Nicol. The Explorer had recently cleaned house and boat's crew had recently been replaced with a new crew and were therefore relatively  fresh and eager to  please. Unfortunatley, they were running short handed and had also still not settled enough with the daily itineraries to film and photograph our vacation.

Diving St. Kitts -  Although the diving was nice and enjoyable on St. Kitts, and made for a comfortable check out dive,  the marine life on the reefs was meager in comparision to the diving on Statia and Saba. I'm assuming the reason being that the sites we dove on St. Kitts were not marine parks or protected, as they were in Statia and Saba. The extra fees we paid to dive in Statia and Saba's marine parks were worth the price, as compared to the relative quiet of St. Kitt's unprotected dive sites.  Due to the choppy conditions, it was decided to head over to Statia, located six miles from St. Kitts, a day early and see if conditions were any better there. 

Diving St. Eustatius (Statia) - The diving at the St. Eustatius Marine Park offered reefs and wrecks fulll of life and even though our diving on Statia was cut short due to the conditions, it was very apparent that the reefs were healthy and teaming with marine life. Again, due to the choppy conditions which made life aboard the boat quite interesting, we left Statia early and crossed the 12 mile channel to Saba. On a few occassions, untended plates of food went flying across the table into the laps of unsuspecting diners, as unusually large swells would occassionally come through.  Diving was a consistent 84 degrees throughout the week, with an occassional variance of one or two degrees, however for the most part the water was bath water warm and I dove in a skin very comfortably the entire week.

Diving Saba - Diving in Saba was awesome, and is everything you have read. The bright side of choppy waters in St. Kitts and Statia is that it allowed us to dive Saba longer than our original itinerary allowed.  The reefs were healthy and teeming with life. Turtles, tuna, lobsters, sharks, groupers, barracuda, fish of all sorts, and jellyfish were abundant.  We arrived at the island in darkness and upon approaching the island, it conjured up images of prehistoric times. The island juts straight out of the ocean and is cloaked in darkness. Those divers who chose to dive that first evening were welcomed into the waters by a school tarpon and a GIANT barracuda, all of whom congregated near the surface within the lights from the boat. The next morning, we dove the Eye of the Needle, or the Pinnacle as it is often called, for which Saba is famous. It is an underwater pinnacle which rises out of open water and peaks at around 90', it is an awesome sight and worth the travel to Saba just to glimpse it for a few minutes. There were other wonderful dive sites, such as Third Encounter, Diamond Rock, and Ladder Labyrinth, which we dove numerous times.

Saba - On Land - On Thursday afternoon, we opted for the land tour of Saba, which was well worth the price and the "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" dinghy crossing from the boat to the island. We were unable to dock, and therefore had to be shuttled from the boat to the dock in the little dinghy. It was quite exciting getting everyone from the boat into the dinghy, as the seas were very choppy and wouldn't stay still. Saba boasts the shortest international runway in the world. It's a scary sight when looking at it from the heights of the island! Speaking of scary, Saba's single road consists of narrow, winding, hairpin turns. It was originally determined that due to the island's unique topography, it was impossible to build any roads.  However Josephus Hassell, a native of the island took correspondence classes and set about building a road on Saba in the first part of the 1900's, which has since been called "The Road That Could Not Be Built".  This Dutch island is a dormant volcano which rises 3,000 feet above sea level. 

Sint Maarten - At the end of our trip, we crossed the 28 mile channel from Saba to Sint Maarten, a three hour crossing. A warning to those who suffer from seasickness - be sure to take your seasick meds prior to the crossing! I overhead the crew talking one day that most people incorrectly assume that the waters are normally flat in this area of the Caribbean, however due to the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, the waters are usually a bit choppy. Upon arriving at Sint Maarten, we were free to wander around Philipsburg, a popular cruise ship destination.  The shops in Philipsburg are every girl's dream - shopping galore, with every shop in three a jewelry store! Although I have to admit I was a bit exhausted from the heat and the channel crossing to properly enjoy the shopping. That evening we met the crew at the 12 Metre restaurant located on the dock. Although the food was good, it was not worth the three hour wait it took to be served. If you find yourself in Philipsburg, do yourself a favor and take a taxi to Lee's Road Side Grill for excellent dining.

After we said our good byes to the crew of the Caribbean Explorer II, we headed over to Simpson Bay on the other side of the island to Sunterra Flamingo Resort, our lodgings for the remainder of our stay. The resort was very nice, and I would recommend staying there if one has the chance. It is located on the Dutch side of the island, and the U.S. dollar is eagerly accepted. The other side of the island, where we did not venture is French, and we were warned that while the French would accept U.S. dollars, do not expect it back in change. While it is away from the shopping district, it offers its own entertainment. There is an ocean front bar, which offers drink and food for a modest price. The accomdations are roomy, comfortable, and most important, air conditioned! There was free wi-fi connection at the "La Veranda Cafe" located within the resort.  For delicious seafood and BBQ with extremely generous portions, head to Lee's Road Side Grill, located just a short walk from the Resort. The restaurant offers daily fishing expeditions, fish and lobster served are caught fresh daily, and if you order lobster,  you can pick your own from the lobster pen held at the edge of the dock.

Now that our eagerly anticipated adventure is over, it's time to start thinking ahead for the next one...  (Eileen M Parkhurst)

Additional Notes -- The boat lacked an engineer for our trip. He met us at Sint Maarten and immediately adjusted the air conditioning so future travelers need not share their cabin with the local penguins. St. Kitts was severely overfished. There were plenty of fry and inedible invertibrates, but very few adult fish. I'm 6'1" and the bunks were a little short. It would have been nice if the bunks had been parallel to the centerline of the boat instead of crosswise. I didn't think the seas were that bad, but my last major boat trip was in the Channel Islands with a 4 foot swell. - Dave Ambrose


Back to Places

Back to OES Home

 

Please send your feedback to stargazer1@cox.net