Caribbean Cruising '23: St Eustatius (Statia)

Suzanna Pinder on 02 March 2023
Part of the Dutch West Indies, St Eustatius (Statia) was once a trade capital and one of the worlds busiest harbours. Dealing in everything from fabric to gold and tobacco to guns, whilst the rest of Europe were fighting over Caribbean islands and trying to quash the American rebels, the Dutch remained neutral, opened a free port and happily liaised between counties not allowed to deal with eachother. Often referred to as ‘officially approved smuggling’, apparently in 1770 Statia produced around 600,000 pounds of sugar but on paper exported 20 million pounds of sugar! Needless to say, the local merchants became very rich and the island was known as the Golden Rock.

However, in 1776 an American rebel ship came into harbour to purchase arms and ammunition for the American Revolution. Fort Oranje saluted the ship ‘recognising’ the new American government and Statia officially became the armoury of the American Revolution. This did not go down well with the English, who launched an attack on the island, capturing her ships and warehouses. Not finding as much wealth as expected and apparently noticing an unusual number of funerals, a further search revealed coffins full of treasure and money sewn into clothing, leading to many men being exiled to St Kitts. Whilst Statia did regain some of her trading relationships, it was never to the same level again and many of the grand buildings and warehouses have since been lost due to erosion and hurricanes. Quite a history for an island many people today have never even heard of!

Today Statia’s economy depends mainly on a large oil storage depot, which whilst rather blots the landscape as you approach the island, with tanks ashore and large ships at anchor, once landed at the main town of Oranjestad, this is mostly hidden and it is a rather pleasant little Caribbean town. Whilst clearing customs we were warned about the cheeky goat community and to ensure we closed any gates… walking around the corner the first sight we saw was a naughty goat trampling a car to reach the lush leaves of the tree above and soon after were told one of the islands favourite dishes is goat burger!

The waterfront is home to the Old Town, with some lovely restored merchant buildings, mainly now used as restaurants and small hotels. Statia was unfortunately one of the first islands to begin importing and trading slaves and the path up to the New Town on top of the cliffs is via ‘Slave Path’. Steep, uneven and with no shade from the blazing sun, it is a sharp, hot climb but fortunately for us, today it leads to the lovely shady town square.

Whilst small, the New Town of Statia on top of the cliffs is very friendly and has a lovely charm. With some pretty restored buildings and houses and the picturesque Fort Oranje, we spent a delightful couple of hours wandering around the town as the sun set, encouraged by the locals to take as many wild mangos as we could carry and being given all sorts of mango tips! Dinner that evening was fresh mahi-mahi in a lovely little restaurant serving from repurposed shipping containers to diners at plastic tables on the quay – by no means plush, but some of the most delicious fish I have ever eaten.

We sadly only had a short time in Statia but heard from other visitors how enjoyable the local hiking was, with well laid out paths and a very helpful National Park Office. Statia also prides herself on diving, with the National Park extending beneath the waves and some good local dive centres. Whilst Statia is generally off the beaten track for tourism, the locals relish interacting with visitors and for such a small island, we received a huge warm welcome!

This article was published as part of a series ‘Caribbean Cruising 2023’.

Next article ‘St Kitts’.