Cruising the Leeward Islands
The Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean span an arc of approximately 200 nautical miles. Whether you pronounce them “lee-werd” or “loo-ard”, it doesn’t matter, as both are correct. The Leewards played a major role in European colonial expansion in the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries. It also served as a theater to play out the machinations of the Spanish, French and English monarchies in their quests for control of Europe.St. Eustatius, under Dutch control, maintained neutrality and in 1756 announced it was a free port with no customs duties. That helped trigger tremendous growth for Statia (the island’s nickname) as the major trading port of the West Indies during that era. It was so successful that it was dubbed the “The Golden Rock”.St. Kitts became the first British Caribbean colony in 1623, and developed the model for the English sugar plantation system and the triangular trade. Sugar cane was harvested and processed by African slaves on St. Kitts into sugar loafs. The sugar loafs were shipped to England for the tables of British households. Manufactured goods from England, such as textiles and rum were sailed to Africa in exchange for slaves. The slaves were sent on ships to St. Kitts to work on the sugar plantations. The French, Spanish, Portuguese and Danish New World colonies all followed this lucrative, but harsh, system.Antigua was home to Great Britain’s main naval station on the Caribbean in the last half of the 1700s and England’s favorite naval hero, Lord Nelson, was stationed there in 1784.Isles des Saintes served as the backdrop for the most famous naval engagement in the Caribbean in 1782, the Battle of the Saintes. The British fleet roundly defeated the French fleet using the pioneering tactic of “breaking the line”.By sailing the Leeward Islands, modern day cruisers have the opportunity to visit islands that have the flavor of Dutch, English and French cultures, as well as the only settlement of Carib Indians in the West Indies.