We chose St.Vincent & Grenadines, a part of the windward islands as our latest Caribbean sailing destination. As the name suggests, the island nation consists of one big island – St Vincent -and a number of islands of different sizes and characters, the Grenadines. They are a sailor’s dream with their clear turquoise waters, white beaches and almost constant trade winds.
The islands of the Caribbean sweep southward in a huge arc, like a string of giant-sized stepping stones from Florida to Venezuela. The Windward Islands are at the southern end of this chain, the last link before Trinidad and South America. The British named them Windwards because you had to sail windward to get there from many of their other possessions. They lie across the easterly trade winds and the four main Windward Islands, Martinique, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada are true tropical heavens.
During the colonization age these islands were the battle ground between the French and the British. Although the SVG is a part of the Commonwealth now and the language is English, the islands have a definite French influence. Which translates as fresh French baguette, fresh croissants and pain au chocolate delivered to your boat every morning by the friendly boat boys.
To arrive to SVG and our boat, we first flew to Barbados and took a small plane – a four seater- to Canouan, a biggish island consisting of a tiny airport, the relatively big Tamarind Golf resort and the local town. We were all coming from different parts of Europe, Aysegul from London, Mutlu from Dublin and my husband and I from Brussels and we were all dead tired. So after a quiet dinner at the Tamarind, we had an early night to fight the jet lag away. Next morning we said goodbye to Nick aka Hollywood, the capable and cute rep from Moorings and started sailing our way between the islands on board Shadowfax, a 41ft monohull that would be our home for the following weeks.
Most islands in Caribbean are surrounded by huge horse-shoe shaped reefs on almost all sides with only one approach, which is often tricky. But once inside the reef, you’ll find calm turquoise waters and coral reefs full of life which are great for snorkeling and scuba. In most islands the boat boys in their colorful boats come and help with mooring and offer a large number of services from lobster dinners to t-shirts and ice. They are very creative when it comes to branding, using names such as Romeo, Hard Fight, Mr. Quality, Carlos, Black Boy, MandyMan and More Fresh. Most are very professional and polite but once in a while an over friendly one can be a bit of a nuisance.
Sailing is relatively easy with the constant north-easterly winds but keep an eye on the reefs and rocks that are not only around the islands but can come out in the middle of the ocean. They are usually marked, but examining the route maps, chart plotters and a good pair of sunglasses will help during sailing especially if the swells are high.
Our first destination was Clifton at the Union Island. It’s relatively high reef-wall and shallow calm waters make Clifton Harbor an ideal destination not only for mooring but also for wind and kite surfing almost all year round.
For provision shopping, Union Island was a mixed blessing. The one major supermarket was low on provisions fit for a sailing holiday and was run by some of the most unfriendly people ever worked at the service industry. However two ladies in the little harbor town made up for them. One was Trini, the owner of a fruit and vegetable stall who had a magic cask hidden somewhere in her tiny cabin. She managed to provide for most of our requirements with her repeated question ‘ vat elz du yu vant ?’ and canned tuna and toilet paper started to appear together with banana, onions and soursap.
The other was Linda, the owner of Captain Gourmet, a French grocery – bakery selling fresh baguettes, homemade yoghurt, French wines, cheese and many more delicacies. She also served us a delicious petite-dej together with fresh coffee. Her shop is a bit pricey but well worth a visit. There’s also wifi on the terrace, so you can check on e-mails and catch up with real life – if you wish.
The second stop was Tobago Cays, five small deserted islands that are protected from the fury of Atlantic with not one but three giant reefs; the Horseshoe, the Egg and the aptly named World’s End Reef. The islands and the reefs form an exceptional marine park and one of the islands – the Baradal – is the hatching & feeding ground for turtles. Snorkeling is great around the reefs; the waters are crystal clear and apart from swimming with turtles that are everywhere, the reefs are teeming with schools of tangs as well as parrot fish, butterfly fish, trunk fish, trumpet fish and eagle rays. We also braved a dinghy ride to Petite Tabac, a tiny strip of white beaches, a handful of palm trees and a killer reef.
We did our obligatory t-shirt shopping from Mr. Quality, who also brought us our breakfast. I can’t vouch for the quality of his t-shirts but his baguettes were fresh and his banana bread , which was divine, lasted for three days. On a boat at 30+ degrees, this is saying something.
No visit to Tobago Cays can be complete without a lobster dinner on the sands. The dress code is barefoot with lots of insect repellent. You bring your own drinks and the locals provide the food. The grilled lobsters, accompanied by banana fritters, sweet potatoes and rice and completed with a large plate of tropical fruits are just yummy. The atmosphere is true magic, you sit on wooden picnic tables on the warm white sand, there are at most another twenty fellow diners and their muted voices are the only other sounds apart from your own laughter. One night local musicians came for a jump up and suddenly everybody was dancing to the rhythm of their tumbas. We soon learned to our pleasure that if enough rum flows (or any kind of alcohol really, folks here are not that selective), everybody jumps up.
The sky here is the sole source of light with a billion stars and the milky-way. Some of them seem so near, you can almost confuse them with the anchor lights of the boats moored at the bay. My favorite constellation, the Orion was there every night to keep me company.
Until Tobago Cays I never knew that the color turquoise has so many different shades.
After spending a couple of days there we decided it’s time to see how the other half lived and sailed to Mustique, home to European royalty and legendary rock stars. The privately owned island is amazing with its palm trees, rolling hills, white beaches and low key ambiance. The yacht harbor at the Britannia Bay is the main meeting area with a small fishing village, a couple of shops, a bakery and a market. The Basil’s Bar is a short walk down the road.
We spent days snorkeling at Britannia Bay, touring the island to gawk at the villas of truly rich and swimming at the Maceroni Beach. In season, Maceroni beach with its whiter than white sands can be very crowded and you might have to reserve the few shades and picnic tables in advance. But we had it almost to ourselves that day, which added volumes to its beauty. At nights we chilled at Basil’s Bar at sunset to killer rum cocktails and blues music and dined at the Cotton Club. It’s Great Room was the showcase for understated chic.
Mustique is the perfect example of what can be achieved when nature and men conspire to make a place truly memorable. The best season, we’re told, is end January – early February for the Mustique Blues Festival, where His Majesty Mr. Jagger sometimes takes the stage at the Basil’s Bar.
There are two other privately owned islands in SVG, the Palm Island and the Petite St. Vincent and they are both used as holiday resorts. The Palm Island is just across the Union Island and is surrounded by a reef twice its size. And Petite St. Vincent (PSV) is truly special. The day we were sailing there the winds were low so I was trying to get some speed by turning into the wind when my husband, in his most bored voice informed me:
‘ It’s Mopion Reef.’
‘ What’s Mopion Reef ?’
‘ The name of the reef you’ll crush the boat if you continue another mile on this route.’
‘ !!! ‘
To their credit, the guys at PSV marked the Mopion Reef with a sun umbrella, but the seas were high that day and I blinked and almost missed it.
Approach to PSV is real easy. Just avoid the Mopion Reef where the sea bed rises from 30m to 30 cm instantly, keep to the starboard at the Crazy Corrigans Crooked Passage and drop anchor when you see the jetty of the Goatie’s Bar, where Mr. Bequia, the best bar manager in Caribbean welcomes you with a huge smile and a divine menu. We were told that in high season there’s a guard on the jetty turning down the crowds unless they have a reservation, however that day everything was perfect. The passage between PSV and Petite Martinique proved to be a good anchorage although the winds picked up after midnight and there was a strong current. But with good food in our bellies together with two or three rum cocktails we slept like babies.
We spent a couple of days at St. Vincent, the largest island of the country. We stayed at the Blue Lagoon Marina, whose bar offered one of the best sunset views of the journey.
We were planning to climb to the La Soufrière, the semi-active volcano on the north of the island, but the weather proved too hot for a three-hour climb. Instead we rented a taxi and toured the island. We started at the Montreal Gardens, named so because it’s the coldest place on the island, a lush botanical garden surrounded by banana plantations and rain forests. Then we passed the Mesopotamia Valley, the agricultural heart of SVG and continued to Kingstown, a busy market town and the capital. We ended our tour at the Wallilabou Anchorage, a beautiful secluded bay with a small hotel – restaurant and black sands. The bay and the buildings around were one of the main sets of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, starring Johnny Depp. The owners of the hotel preserved the parts of the stage set that were on their property and maintain a room full of artifacts from the movie. We had a lovely lunch and a fun visit.
On our way back we met the coolest grocer on the planet. As most good things in life, this was pure chance; we had a flat tire just in front of his tiny stall. When the boys got busy helping the driver, Aysegul and I decided on some fruit shopping to the slight annoyance of the stall owner who only wanted to watch the exciting tire changing process. Instead he had to answer our childish inquiries about papayas, mangos and sweet apples with the most Zen manner imaginable, cut a few coconuts with his machete so we can drink its juice, sold us kilos of tropical delicacies for a few dollars so we shut up and finally found the time to offer his expert opinion on changing tires to our driver.
If you ever find yourself in St. Vincent don’t forget to:
– Dine at the Black Pearl at the Blue Lagoon Marina and taste their blackened tuna. You can also try the mahi mahi wrapped in bacon and served in a red wine sauce. They both go perfect with a cold bottle of beer and my favorite so far is Hairoun. This new restaurant is not in the guide books yet but the food was among the best we tasted on this tour and the prices were very reasonable.
– Take a mooring between Young Island and Ford Rock and explore the small caves.
After St Vincent we sailed to Bequia, another beautiful island with good restaurants and famed hiking routes. Unfortunately its famous Admiralty Bay was littered with cargo ships which really didn’t suit our mood and after the delicious food of St. Vincent the guys were craving for some badly cooked pasta on the boat so we anchored at the quiet Friendship Bay instead and saved the night life of Bequia for our next visit.
The people of Bequia still continue their sea-faring traditions such as model boat building and whale hunting. The islanders have a permit to hunt four whales a year in the old school way, which is using open boats and throwing the harpoons by hand. I guess both parties have a fighting chance but I watched the migration of Orcas in Canada and Southern Right Whales in South Africa and fell in love with these huge creatures, so I have mix feelings about this.
Another magical place was Mayreau, a little gem of an island with only 250 habitants. We stayed at the Saltwhistle Bay, a safe anchorage with a beautiful white sanded beach, calm waters, great sunset views. If you go there, look for Black Boy who offers an exceptional lobster dinner.
Our last anchorage was at Canouan. This time there was a jump up at the Pirate’s Cove at Tamarind so we finished an unforgettable holiday with a great night out.
Vat elz do ve vant ? What else indeed.