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St. Kitts, THE ISLAND TOURISTS FORGOT UNTIL NOW

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Deep blue sea fades to a turquoise green at the shoreline. The town of Basseterre forms a thin line of colonization at the water's edge. Behind that there are no further signs of human habitation -- only a sea of sugar cane rising steeply to Mt. Misery, towering 3,792 feet.

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The motorboat picks up speed. The prow rises and smashes down hard on the curling incoming waves. Passengers cling to their seats. Spray plumes up and soaks people sitting at the back of the boat.

Within 30 to 40 minutes the island of Nevis approaches. Above the jetty at the main town of Charlestown, a sign proclaims Nevis as the birthplace of alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the United States Treasury. Nevis was also the watering hole for the ships of Britain's greatest sea lord, Adm. Horatio Nelson. He stayed long enough to meet and marry a young, pretty widow, Frances Nesbitt.The Nesbitt plantation still exists today as a hotel. Its grounds are clothed in majestic royal palms.

Our family has gone to Nevis to spend the day at Pinney's Beach, which everyone says is "wonderful". The beach stretches for miles.There are no hamburger stands, cold drink stalls, or any other kind of public facilities, and very few people.

We've come prepared with a picnic lunch -- pastry-covered chopped beef, some apple turnovers, and a few coconut cookies we purchased from the American Bakery back in Basseterre.We get a taxi to the beach. We ask the driver to return some three hours later. He does.

The beach is glorious. The sand is white and clean and speckled with small seashells. Palm trees march straight- limbed to the beach. But at the edge of the sand some curve out dramatically like arms reaching out of a train window. The water is a translucent green as it flops onto the shore, and invitingly warm. A few gray pelicans swim on the calm surface of the water. Every now and again within a throw of sand from us they pull their bulky bodies out of the water and then with surpising agility fly up, snap their wings shut like a collapsible umbrella and divebomb into the water, emerging with a fish in their bills.

In the distance the mountains of St. Kitts form a dramatic backdrop. Within days the charter plane that brought us to these Robinson Crusoe islands 1,300 miles southeast of Miami will climb above those mountains and head back to Boston -- and, alas, five straight days without a ray of sunshine.

It is doubtful that anyone returning to these islands will find them the same. Tourism is bearing down on St. Kitts- Nevis, which enjoy full self-rule but remain nominally British because Whiteball is responsible for its foreign affairs and defense.

But tourism dollars could pave and pay the way to full independence, and for many islanders that's an incentive.

Last year there were only four charter tours to St. Kitts. This year they expect to get 28. Already in progress are more than $64 million in government development projects, from resurfacing main roads to the building of a new deepwater harbor that will pull in large cruise ships. More than 1,600 hotel rooms are to be built by private enterprise. Condominiums are not far behind.

The St. Kitts advertising and promotion budget has been increased threefold this year to $1 million. Says Tim Benford of M. Silver Associates Inc. in New York. "We're the first PR firm they've ever had. We were appointed only last year. They had no PR material so we had to send down a team of professional people."

Will change spoil unspoiled St. Kitts? "We are the last to go into tourism," says a local businessman. "We hope to learn from the mistakes of other Caribbean islands that built too big and too fast. If the hotels don't get too greedy, we'll succeed."