What does “best” mean? To some it means there’s a party on the dock every night, to others easy access to shopping, but for me – and many other small-boat sailors, because we’re cheap – “best” means economical. This is an unsolicited review of St. Kitts Marine Works.
Back in June of 2013 I was in St. Kitts when I had to find a quick way home to Nevada for a family emergency. I didn’t have much time for research on places to store a boat in the Caribbean. I had just come from Antigua and knew the facilities at Jolly Harbour, and was preparing to sail back there to haul-out and proceed with storage.
I did one last check to see if I could find anything in St. Kitts and came across what looked like a new storage facility near Sandy Point, a few miles north of Basseterre.
St. Kitts Marine Works
I called St. Kitts Marine Works just to check on their rates to see if they were comparable to what I’d get in Antigua. Wow was I surprised – $12.50/ft per month in Antigua, but only $8/ft per month in St. Kitts! This may not seem like much to you landlubbers but it adds up quickly for bigger boats and longer storage! A $4.50 difference for 31 feet comes out to a savings of $139.50 per month, or $1,674 per year! And for you multi-hull people, there is no extra charge here either while there is a 30% surcharge for catamarans in Antigua.
I made the reservation and sailed an hour north to the dock. Their 150-ton lift with a 35-foot beam was a little much for my 27-foot boat but they pulled me out of the water and took me to a grassy spot towards the middle of the yard under the cannons of Brimstone Hill.
A backhoe was waiting and started digging the hole for my keel. This is what makes them unique from other yards – in-ground storage for monohulls is standard practice here. The hole is lined with tires and then the boat is anchored into the ground with tie-down straps.
Fast-forward 2 1/2 years. It was finally time to return to the voyage. The minute I got back to the boatyard, Bruce (yard manager) shook my hand and asked “how’s your mom?” I was honestly surprised by that welcome, because it had been so long since I had been here and when I was here it was for a very short amount of time. It gave me a good feeling about the care my boat received here.
The yard has 24-hour security, and since my last visit here has added a Customs & Immigration office on-site. This now makes it very easy to clear in and out as it saves you a trip to Basseterre (though you’ll usually have to go five minutes into Sandy Point to visit Immigration at the police station).
Also new is construction of a marina facility. There are currently only three finger piers (with water and electricity) but Reggie, the owner, has plans to expand this to a few dozen slips and call the facility Marina Telca. I asked when they’d start building more and they said “when we get more money.” Well folks, I’m about to pay for two years of storage, so start ordering the lumber.
I’ve since done some more limited research on other options for sailboat storage in the Caribbean. The price here can’t be beat. Compare it to, say, Spice Island Marine in Grenada, where I’m headed next. Storage for six or more months is $0.40/ft/day, comparable to Antigua. But they also have a 40′ minimum charge. That really stings the people like me with smaller boats.
Overall the staff is very friendly and willing to go out of their way to help you. There are a variety of skilled workers here for any projects you may need with welding, engine work, fiberglassing, and so on.
If you’re looking for a place to store your boat and nothing more, this is the place to do it. Even if you need some work done on your boat and are going to hire out for the job, this is also an excellent place to do that.
And now for the bad…
If you’re going to be living aboard and working on your boat yourself, it may almost be worth paying the extra money to do this at a different facility.
As far as living aboard goes, the boatyard is very crude. Well, I don’t know if crude is the right word to convey this…how about simple. It’s no more than a field that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere (it’s 30 minutes from Basseterre).
It does have a very simple toilet and shower on site, but electric and water connections are few and far between. You’ll most likely be taking advantage of whatever renewable energy system you have on board, and your inverter for AC power. Get a really long hose to fill up the water tank or you’ll be transferring water via jerrycans.
The mosquitos are intense as well, at all hours of the day. They seemed to find their way into my boat from openings I couldn’t find myself.
If you need parts, other than things you might be able to find at a local hardware store, prepare to have them shipped in yourself or have the staff source them for you from Budget Marine in St. Martin. As far as my experience went, it took days for my order to even get to Budget Marine, and then a few more days to get notification that Budget Marine was out of stock of nearly half the items I needed. I’d finally get what few parts were in stock weeks later.
I ended up staying here for six weeks. To escape the heat I’d take the 30-minute bus into Basseterre around lunch time, mostly just for internet access (it’s hit or miss at the yard – mostly miss) then return to do some more work on the boat for the rest of the day. I took a couple days off each week for some sightseeing and diving. There are a lot of really neat things to see on this island and it shouldn’t be passed up.
I mostly just made work for myself to do while I awaited parts for all the projects I had planned. You know how it is…the first step of a project requires some specialty fastener or electrical connector that you don’t have, and you can’t do any other work on that project until you have that one simple part…that you have to wait weeks for…so you just end up cleaning instead.
Despite everything I’ve said I’ll probably be to St. Kitts Marine Works. Though the yard isn’t much of a home for anyone living aboard while doing work, the staff does everything they can to make you feel at home. And the price just can’t be beat anywhere else.
When I do come back, it won’t be with a broken boat and it (hopefully) won’t be in storage for over two years again. This should, in theory, mean that I can arrive in St. Kitts by plane and get the boat back in the water in a matter of days. Which will negate all of my prior complaints, right?
Even if I do need some significant work done, I’d probably be better off making sure the boat is merely seaworthy and then making the daysail to St. Martin and have the work done there, where you have unlimited access to chandleries and labor.
After all, cruising on a small sailboat is all about saving money, and this is the way to do it.