The Christena: A Story of Tragedy and Survival

March 27 05:56 2021
The Christena: A Story of Tragedy and Survival

Saturday, August 1, 1970, began like most other Saturdays experienced by the residents of St. Kitts-Nevis. They are a twin island state nestled at longitude 62.80 west and latitude 17.30 north, in the Eastern Caribbean Sea, with just 2 miles of sea separating them at their nearest point.

That Saturday was similar to others in that it was the busiest day of the week, when men and women made the customary jaunt to the public markets in both Nevis and St. Kitts, to either buy or sell meat, vegetables, fruit, ground provisions, or made their purchases from the supermarkets around town in readiness for the new week. Usually, many Nevisians went to St. Kitts to buy and sell. But yet, beside the accustomed hustle and bustle of the native people, that Saturday was also special. It heralded the festive celebration of Emancipation Day for the descendants of enslaved people in the Caribbean, commemorated annually on the first Monday of August, then two days away. Nevis was the action spot for that day. There was the place where most of the fun was taking place for the memorable holiday. Sure, St. Kitts had its own brand of merriment that was about to take place on Monday, but any party- animal worth his or her salt, knew all roads led to Nevis. Who could discount the dancing, horse racing, beach parties with rum and coconut water? It was going to be the party of the year! Yes, that Saturday was similar to others, but it was also special.

Many Nevisians were returning home with unsold produce and money that was made from the sale of their wares. Others who held jobs in St. Kitts were also returning home for the weekend and holiday. Kittitians were going across mainly for the anticipated fun. They all chose the same mode of transportation: the MV Christena, a ferry boat that made the trip between the islands, twice daily Monday to Saturday, except Thursdays. The 155 capacity ferry left the pier in Basseterre, St. Kitts laden with almost 350 passengers, some already in the throes of merry-making. About 30 minutes out on its customary 1-hour trip to Nevis, The Christena sank with its passengers. The tranquility of that Saturday changed suddenly. So, too, did the course of history for the twin island nation and its people.

Nevisian born author Dr. Whitman T. Browne, captured the accounts of that day with a depth and honesty that emanate from the very bowels of the ill-fated boat. He transports the reader to an up front and personal view of the unfathomable occurrences of that Saturday afternoon. The grief, pain, sadness, political discord, division and redemption that ensued from this tragedy, were sometimes raw, sometimes mysterious, sometimes unnerving, but always intriguing. Follow him on this true and haunting journey that took place 50 years ago, and ponder what you would have done in any of the situations he describes, had you been there. The book promises to keep you in its grip up to the very last sentence.

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