Location: Oranjestad, St. Eustatius
St. Eustatius is a special municipality of the Netherlands and is part of the “BES islands,” Bonaire, Statia, and Saba. The Dutch had formerly lumped all of their Caribbean territories together as the Dutch Antilles, but in 2010 many of the islands wanted a change. St. Maarten and Curaao became separate regional governments that mostly keep to themselves, but are still a part of the Netherlands, while the BES islands remain much more closely controlled by the Dutch. Overall the people of the BES islands, while unhappy at first, are now quite pleased that the Dutch are still present. The customs officials had a slow day and we got to chatting about it for a while. Interestingly enough, our customs official was on rotation from Bonaire and will be in Saba in the coming weeks.
Statia is a volcanic island with a big caldera at the top of its volcano. The area where the capital Oranjestad lies is a former pyroclastic flow area that stretched out into the sea and connected with an older volcano. On the older volcano, ships will stop to buy and sell fuel at a large fuel depot, which is the main source of income for the island’s inhabitants. In a way, this modern practice is similar to the island’s traditional role as a center for commerce. In the age of sail when the English, Spanish, French, and Dutch dominated the high seas the Caribbean was a war zone. Luckily for the Dutch, they often managed to stay out of the conflicts between the French, Spanish and English and they became the main pipeline for goods to make it safely to and from the Caribbean. If an English or French merchant sailed to Oranjestad and sold his goods to the Dutch, the Dutch could sail those goods back to Europe without fear of being captured as an English or French prize. The Island’s low taxes and trade friendly practices made it into a wealthy island of trade, smuggling, and contraband. Thus it was dubbed the “Golden Rock.” It all came to an end when the fledgling United States declared independence and sailed for Statia to purchase weapons for the revolutionary war effort. “The First Salute” recognizing the Continental Congress’s warship Andrew Doria took place at Fort Oranje on Nov 16th, 1776. Andrew Doria sailed into the harbor and fired a thirteen-gun salute for each of the American colonies and was met with an eleven-gun salute by the Dutch. This was the first time another nation recognized the young US as a sovereign nation. It is estimated that Statia supplied up to half of all the arms used by the Americans in the revolutionary war and that all of the communications with Europe were sent aboard Dutch ships. This greatly annoyed the British, and resulted in a declaration of war against the Dutch, followed by the immediate capture and pillaging of the Golden Rock. Luckily for the US, Admiral Rodney of the British fleet that took St. Eustatius was too busy counting his money from the raid on the island and therefore neglected to follow orders to reinforce Lord Cornwallis in the Chesapeake. Since General Cornwallis was not resupplied, he had to surrender to General Washington and the US won the revolutionary war.
Like me, many of the students were surprised to hear how instrumental the Dutch were in the formation of the United States. Franklin D. Roosevelt came here to present a plaque to the island to recognize it’s importance to the American cause and to commemorate the “First Salute.” Our Dutch student, Bobbie, was thrilled to walk around the island with the second tallest mountain in the Netherlands, and many of the students enjoyed touring the Fort and shopping for snacks. The diving was thrilling as well because most of the waters surrounding Statia and Saba are marine protected areas or MPA’s. The rarely fished and well-maintained waters support teeming life. There are also many shipwrecks that have ended up on the bottom here over the years, and many have become wonderful reefs. We ended our day with a lovely sunset squeeze and broke into an evening of charting and navigating. A wonderful day overall.
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