Guide to the Caribbean Leeward Islands
By: Ted Barrett, Broadreach instructor High School Adventures, Middle School, Scuba, Sailing
My first Broadreach trip to the Leeward Islands is one I’ll never forget. I was completely blown away by the vivid colors – crystal blue waters, lush green rainforests and blinding white sand beaches. Each island is a unique link in the chain of the Leewards, containing amazing hidden gems. The key to finding these secret spots is to throw away your guide book, pack all your gear on a boat, grab some friends and go explore. Dive deep into the Caribbean Sea, climb to the highest peak of a volcano, anchor a boat in a forgotten bay and share a sunset with a wild monkey or two.
Since I’ve been sailing and diving in the Caribbean for over twelve years, people always ask me about my favorite must-see spots in the Leewards. While you’ll inevitably discover your own on your visit, here’s a guide to my top five must-visit spots:
Ile Fourche: Ile Fourche is an uninhabited island nestled between the islands of St. Barts and St. Martin, making it a great spot for beginning Broadreach’s advanced open water diver training. It’s a great anchorage in the Leeward Islands, and has one of the best diving spots on the south and west coasts. You’ll find a wide array of fish species, rays and turtles. Go ashore to spend the day hiking, exploring and climbing the peaks of the island. Be sure to hit a peak just before sunset to see the spectacular vistas of the Caribbean.
Fun fact: There is no vegetation on Ile Fourche, because in the 1800s, the island was used as grazing land for goats. The goats cleared the island of greenery, and since you can still find a few wild goats on the island, very little has grown back.
St. Kitts: St. Kitts is a beautiful island with great wreck diving along the north coast near Basseterre. The Moon Shadow reef off of Sandy Point town is my favorite dive site in the Leewards – tunnels are filled with long finger coral formations home to curious fish, graceful turtles and the occasional bright nudibranch, aka sea slug. The best part of the dive, though, is a great wall that drops off to 130 feet or so, where you’ll find huge coral heads. St. Kitts is a great dive site to learn the skills necessary for your rescue and master diver certifications.
Fun fact: When Christopher Columbus discovered the island, he named it after his patron saint, St. Christopher. It was later shortened to St. Kitts, his nickname, and was considered the mother colony of the West Indies.
Statia: If you’re looking for a great wreck dive, the Charlie Brown, a 320-foot vessel previously used by AT&T for cable laying, is another one of my favorites. This artificial reef is teeming with fish, lobsters and the occasional turtle. Complete your Nitrox specialty by swimming through the depths of the vessel, where you’ll find even more curious artifacts and marine life. When you take your adventure above the surface, hike the Quill, an inactive volcano – if you hike all the way to the crater you’ll find yourself under a lush rainforest canopy.
Fun fact: Statia, or Saint Eustatius, was the “it spot” during the 18th century, when valuable goods bounced among Europe, Africa and the New World. In fact, the naturally deep harbor was so sought after that the island changed hands 22 times before the Dutch permanently secured their claim.
Saba: Because of the island’s volcanic origins, there are spectacular formations and structural diversity underwater, making the Saba National Marine Park one of the best places in the world to dive. The marine park is a model for conservation and the park rangers offer seminars and classes that describe the techniques they use to best conserve this natural wonder. Two must-dives are Diamond Rock and Man O’War Shoal. These are pinnacle dives with heaps of rocks rising from the seafloor, making for stunning underwater views.
Fun fact: Saba, or “The Rock,” climbs right out of the water and peaks at Mount Scenery at 2,828 feet.
Tintamarre: The “flat island” is a prime example of the beauty the Caribbean has to offer – shining white sand beaches, crystal clear water and bright green palm trees blowing in the wind. Park a boat on one of the mooring balls, set up your grill and enjoy some fresh fish while watching the sunset. It’s the perfect way to end a day of diving in the Caribbean.
Fun fact: Tintamarre is a tiny 80 acre island that once had its own king, navy and airline.