The Christena: A Sad Caribbean Saga

Ferryboat Christena

Ferryboat Christena

Visiting the M.V. Christena is a somber experience, but divers from the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis conduct a yearly memorial  to honor those who were lost in its tragic demise.

The passenger ferryboat sank in the Narrows–a thin strait between the islands–on August 1, 1970 when the captain failed to close the vessel’s watertight doors. Workmen had been repairing the propeller shaft below decks and they assumed the captain would make a final check before departing St. Kitts for Nevis. Designed to carry 180 passengers, the boat was overloaded with 300 happy people heading for rural Nevis on a holiday celebration.

Not long out of port, the ferryboat started to capsize and the captain turned his vessel sharply toward shore in an attempt to run it aground. But the bulky, top-heavy boat  capsized quickly. Fishing boats and pleasure craft came to the rescue, but only 91 passengers and crew survived.

Christena Certificate

Christena Certificate

A dark shadow suddenly appears in the clear water as divers approach the wreck. Sitting upright in the sand at 70 feet, it looks like a vessel underway. Dense marine growth covers the boat, enhanced by small lacy hydroids that resemble Christmas tree decorations. A bay window where passengers once sat to enjoy the seascapes is now just a big gaping hole. Juvenile dog snappers and dusky damselfish peck at algae covering hundreds of bottles scattered throughout the wreck and in the debris field. A child’s toy, a portable radio and strands of wire rest in the shadows near skeletal remains.

Christena Memorial Coin

Christena Memorial Coin

Inside the wreck, spiny lobster feelers poke out from beneath wooden bunks that are near a head and wash basin. Clown wrasse and spotted gobies swim in and out of empty cargo holds. The roof of the upper deck has weathered away, revealing steel ribs covered with small clumps of brain coral. Juvenile tangs slip out of the shadows at the keel and cruise over the debris field where a woman’s pocketbook, a child’s shoe and the boat’s ship-to -shore-phone are strewn.

The Christena is a protected marine memorial park and sanctuary that warrants dignity and respect to those who were lost in the disaster. Ellis Chaderton of Scuba Safaris Ltd., Oualie Beach Hotel, presents a memorial shipwreck certificate to divers who visit this shrine. There’s also a memorial coin available in his dive shop at the hotel.

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About Ellsworth Boyd

Ellsworth Boyd, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, pursues an avocation of diving and writing. He has published articles and photo's in every major dive magazine in the US., Canada, and half a dozen foreign countries. An authority on shipwrecks, Ellsworth has received thousands of letters and e-mails from divers throughout the world who responded to his Wreck Facts column in Sport Diver Magazine. When he's not writing, or diving, Ellsworth appears as a featured speaker at maritime symposiums in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Philadelphia. "Romance & Mystery: Sunken Treasures of the Lost Galleons," is one of his most popular talks.
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8 Responses to The Christena: A Sad Caribbean Saga

  1. Julie Clark says:

    I visited the Christena when I was in Nevis and it was an exciting dive. The ferryboat met a sad end but it is nice that dive operators, the government, and others have declared it a shrine and it remains a memorial that is honored yearly. Thank you for writing about this shipwreck!

  2. Oh good, I’m pleased that you had an opportunity to dive the Christena when you were in Nevis. Dive operator Ellis Chatterton does a nice job of taking dives to the site and his certificate presented after the dive is very touching. Thank you for your kind comment. Safe diving to you and your dive buddy.

  3. Dive DC says:

    I love the beautiful Christena memorial coin that is pictured with your story about the shipwreck. Are they sold somewhere? Is it possible to order one? Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Memorable Moment: Diving A Shipwreck During A Solar Eclipse | National Underwater and Marine Agency

  5. Ossie Huggins (Brookes) says:

    I was in Charlestown, Nevis on the night the boat sank.
    I had arrived with my Father from England the Wednesday before in St. Kitts.
    I have forgotten about the disaster until this morning, why I don’t know, but something in me told me to look it up.
    I saw your trips to the disaster site and was intrigued by them.
    The picture of the boat is how I remembered it all those years ago.
    It didn’t look safe to me and my one and only trip on it left me telling my Father, never again!!
    I have never returned to Nevis, something died inside me that Saturday night, but one day I hope to return.
    It was my dream summer holiday and it turned into one of the saddest times of my life.
    I remember arriving in Nevis and being greeted by my family members and thinking, everyone is so happy, that Saturday in night in 1970 changed that for many families forever.
    Keep up the good work and keep the memories of those lost, alive.

  6. I’m so sorry that you have those memories. You are correct–it changed many lives forever. It was difficult to do the research on this article. I spoke with some people who lost some relatives on the ferryboat. You are correct. It was very overloaded. It remains one of the saddest stories in Caribbean shipwreck history.

  7. Dee Sch says:

    just dove this wreck. Very nice but somber dive. Some human remains visible. So sad. Later met a man who was on the ferry as a boy and lost his mom and brother. RIP ferry victims.

  8. Philip Beamer says:

    I purchased a book in St. Thomas about 10 years ago and first learned of the tragedy. The book was given to a friend from St. Kitts, and I don’t remember its name. It discussed the political issues of the time and also interviewed survivors and relatives of survivors. Does anyone have a list of books that I can review to hopefully either get lucky or find a good substitute?

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