“We’re by a picnic table on a black sand beach. You can’t miss us!” Nantucket Whale Carver Sunny Wood cryptically left on my husband Jonathan’s voicemail. Jonathan played the message on speaker and we looked at each other curiously. A picnic table? That was Sunny’s chosen landmark on an island that is 65 square miles? Like a needle in a haystack, it would be one hell of an adventure to find him on this great island of St. Kitts.
As all friends do, Jonathan had told Sunny about our plans for winter travel. We could not wait for our week on glorious St. Kitts, a cloud shrouded, mountainous island in the West Indies dotted with exotic rainforests, wild monkeys, and gorgeous beaches. Oh, and waves.
“It’s gonna be sick next week!” Jonathan said to Sunny, sharing a look at the surf report for St. Kitts on his phone, a forecast indicating that a secret reef would be firing during our vacation. Sunny took one look at Jonathan’s phone and back up with wide, serious eyes. “I’m going,” he said.
It’s ironic because Jonathan and I had never thought to go to St. Kitts at all until Sunny raved about it. “Oh, it’s gnarly there, man!” Sunny said. “There are real pirates there! And the waves?! They’re amazing!” In fact, Sunny had talked so highly of the place that by the end of our conversation, Jonathan and I decided to book our trip to this island, sight unseen, or even “un-googled” for that matter. It wasn’t until the trip approached, however, that I mentioned in casual conversation to Sunny’s wife, Julie, that we had booked this trip based solely on Sunny’s glowing recommendation. “That’s funny,” she said, “because Sunny’s never actually been to St. Kitts.”
And so there we were, my husband and I, sitting on the bed in our St. Kitts beach rental, looking out through open French doors to the sparkling Caribbean Sea, trying to figure out where we could now find Sunny Wood. We had only just arrived on island the day before and already knew too well its complicated and unnamed streets, challenges that Jonathan and I have come to discover as part of the charm of any given Caribbean island. Eager for exploration, we set out into the great unknown in our tiny rental car, equipped with a tourist map no more helpful than a sketch on a cocktail napkin.
Through the years of living on Nantucket, I have discovered there’s a special bond you form with the friends you make there, and so it was a delight to hear that Sunny had hitched a ride on a tri-catamaran from the neighboring island St. Martin to join us on St. Kitts. According to Sunny’s voicemail, the boat had arrived on island and was anchored in a calm harbor just west of the secret surf spot. “You can’t miss us,” Sunny said. “We’re the only tri-catamaran, or boat for that matter, in the harbor.”
Because we knew he was somewhere south of us, we followed the main road that led in that direction. On the grassy outskirts of town, a herd of goats hugged the shoulder and Jonathan pulled over to get a shot with his camera. From behind them he whistled loudly to get their attention, and in response they looked back and unanimously yelled “Baaaahh!”
One town after another, they were all so different but so alike, dotted with dilapidated wooden shacks, most homes so small that it was hard to believe a family could live inside. We got lost at one point, and finding ourselves on a dead end road, came upon two women hand washing their clothes in a bucket, a baby slung over one of the women’s shoulders. Backing up to turn around, we were careful not to run over their young chickens running free about the street.
When the road allowed a view of the ocean, I looked widely for the tri-catamaran. When we felt we had gone too far, we turned down a side street and pulled into a church parking lot. Just beyond us, the Atlantic lapped onto jagged rocks. Jonathan walked to the shore to get a better view, still looking for the catamaran, or the picnic table Sunny has referenced. When he returned his face was pale. “I saw this storm drain and there were all these lizards coming out of it,” he said, “But they were too long, they looked like snakes.”
With no sight of Sunny, we kept on going. As we progressed in our passage south, the towns seemed to get poorer. Locals sitting on their stoop looked at us, their heads turning to follow us as we went by.
Suddenly, a random dirt road appeared on our right. “I think this could be it,” Jonathan said as he turned down without hesitation. We made our way down a rocky, sandy, unnamed path, and finally came to a grassy clearing where another car was parked. Beside it was a picnic table. In front of us was a gloriously perfect wave the color of the lightest Caribbean blue. We knew we had found the place.
Getting out of the car, we stumbled towards the beach. “Black sand!” I yelled excitedly. “Picnic table!” pointing to the picnic table. A man stood on the beach with a camera, taking pictures of a surfer out on the break.
“Are you looking for those other guys?” the guy with the camera asked. “They said they were going back to their boat. It’s that way.” The man pointed to the left and we smiled, thanking him as we hurriedly ran in that direction. Jonathan and I giggled as we ran, looking at the perfect waves, stopping for a moment to pick up beautifully rounded sea glass at our feet. “They’ve gotta be down here!” we yelled as we kept at a quick pace. Finally, the beach rounded a corner and there in front of us in a sparkling blue Caribbean harbor was the tri-catamaran. Walking towards it, we waved with open arms, and although it was still so far away, the figures on the boat waved back. Two people got on the dingy to the side of it and they were quickly off towards the beach. We could tell getting closer that it was Sunny Wood, jumping out of the dingy onto the beach, surfboard in hand. We excitedly ran toward each other, huge smiles on our faces. Coming from an island nicknamed “Grey Lady,” there’s something so magical and miraculous to be standing with your friend on a sunny, Caribbean beach in the middle of January, and as we hurried back to that picnic table and to finally surf that breaking wave, we knew it was nothing short of a miracle.
Photos by Surf and lifestyle photographer Jonathan Nimerfroh. Jonathan’s “Slurpee Wave” photos recently became a viral internet sensation. Jonathan lives year round on Nantucket, an island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts and is the owner of three photography businesses; JDN PHOTOGRAPHY, Nantucket Salt and Runaway Bride Nantucket.