After arriving at Saint Lucia before Christmas we decided to sail south to the bottom of the chain of the windward islands (the lower part of the Caribbean chain). The Grenadines are split into two administrative groups; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada and the Grenadines. Each group comprises many small islands. When sailing you have to “check in” when you arrive in an island from one group and then “check out” when you visit an island in the other group (and “check in” again, which means paying a small fee and filling in a few forms at the local Customs and Immigration offices). It makes sense to visit all the islands in one group first!
We had heard good things about Bequia and decided to spend Christmas there and to have a proper holiday! No boat jobs, (well, hardly any although the Princess’ green algae beard had to go), no passage planning, no scrubbing out the bilges. Just staying put for a while and chilling out in the sunshine, visiting the occasional waterfront bar for a drink at sundown and Christmas lunch on the beach. Bequia has everything a yachtie in need of rest and relaxation could possibly ask for and even provided us with fireworks for New Year’s Eve.
We met up with our friend, Chris on his boat Freecloud. Despite having signed up to do the ARC + together, this was the first time since Italy that we had really had the chance to spend some time together. Chris had signed up to the Saint Vincent ARC + rally which meant that we left at different times from Las Palmas, Mindelo and of course, didn’t meet up in Saint Lucia. It was great to have his company for Christmas and New Year.
Bequia is a small island with a very big bay and is famous for the warm welcome it gives to yachties. Although there is always a cruise ship parked up in the outskirts of the anchorage (if not two) there is always room for more boats. Some of the larger visiting boats are an attraction in themselves and certainly look stunning lit up at night. There is one long walkway which runs along the sea so that it is possible to walk from the town to the beach at the end of the bay all along the shoreline without getting wet. The bars and restaurants that line this walkway obviously have views to die for.
Bequia has a music festival in January (at the time of writing I am wondering whether we can fit in a concert on the way back to Saint Lucia) and the bars all have live music practically every night. We particularly loved Mac’s pizzas (although the price of a pizza is eye watering, so it’s better to share) which has its own dinghy dock and one of my favourite memories of the island was the night spent drinking rum punch and listening to beautiful live Spanish guitar music. It reminded me of my visit to Grenada in Spain which the island of Grenada was named after (and so by extension, the Grenadines).
Christmas lunch at Jack’s was not so shabby either. Having left Bequia I appreciate the luxury of the many dinghy docks everywhere. Jack’s also has its own dock and is located right on the beach. We had to be patient to be served but the three course Christmas lunch for the price of a pizza at Mac’s was a steal. And a more stunning location is difficult to imagine.
We visited the turtle sanctuary on the island and admired the hawksbill turtles in their tanks but occasionally got a glimpse of a turtle in the bay, poking his head up to check us out.
All in all, Bequia is the perfect place to relax. We all kept pushing our leaving date further and further forwards and eventually left with Freecloud on January 2nd to sail down to Mayreau.
Mayreau is the largest island in the Tobago Cays Marine Park, a world-famous destination for snorkelling and swimming. We had a smashing downwind sail there. The distances are so short and there are so many small islands to choose from that, coupled with the constant and pretty reliable north easterly wind and abundant free anchorages, I began to see why this part of the world is sailing paradise. Bequia to Mayreau is a mere half day sail and we arrived just after lunch at our anchorage in Saline Bay. Chris had got there before us, of course, and was bemused at how empty it was. “There are only four boats here” he said, “it must be for a reason”. The only reason we could think of was that Saltwhistle bay, the more popular anchorage, had filled up first. We later had more company, but still… this was the most tranquil spot we had found yet. There was a wide beach fringed with palm trees, pelicans fishing in the bay and once the visiting Cruise ship had gathered up its visitors and ferried them back to the boat, we had it all pretty much to ourselves. There is a dinghy dock although when a cruise ship is visiting, it is reserved for their shuttle boats. We pulled Chris’ dinghy up onto the beach, by some miracle managing to find the one part of the beach approach which is free of rocks. We didn’t avoid disaster completely though… as we left the dinghy was quickly swept out into deeper water. I didn’t mind finding myself up to my waist in water before I could jump in until I remembered that my digital camera was in my backpack, also immersed in salt water. So after losing my laptop to a tropical rain storm, I managed to kill my Canon camera with a quick swim. The usual “tie it up in a bag full of rice” treatment turned out to be just as fruitless. At least I managed to get a good pic of the pelicans from the dinghy ride to shore before ruining the camera.
Mayreau is a tiny island and you can walk from one end to the other in forty minutes despite having a steep, hill climb. I fell in love with the tranquillity of the rural village at the top of the hill which offers views over the Tobago Cays. On my walk across the hill to Saltwhistle Bay I saw hummingbirds and smart, shy lizards with blue stripes. The island is covered in goats and the bay at Saltwhistle is an interesting one as it is located right on the peninsula of the island, so the protected lagoon of an anchorage, full of catamarans which can anchor in shallow water is divided by a slim beach from the windy side of the island where you can watch kite surfers zipping about in the bay. Swallows dart around underneath the palm trees. We had a nice drink at a bar called “the Last Bar before de Jungle” complete with a mural of a jungle in which lions, tigers and giraffes rub along with an ostrich and a donkey and then returned to our beach, completely unpopulated except for the occasional visitor with its view of the sunset and diving pelicans. I have to say that at the time of writing, Mayreau is my favourite place to visit so far.
Although it is officially part of the Tobago Cays Marine Park, what most people think of as the Tobago Cays is the tiny, pristine area surrounded by a horseshoe coral reef and comprising five uninhabited islands, the largest of which, Petit Bateau, must be smaller than Saint James’ Park in London. After three days in Mayreau we motored around the corner to anchor up in the Cays themselves. Unwittingly, we timed it right, arriving on Saturday morning. The weekend turned out to be surprisingly quiet, with only a few other boats anchored between Petit Bateau and Petit Rameau but by Monday the number of visitors ramped up progressively until I started to feel sorry for the turtles.
The speciality of the Cays is the marine wildlife and over our three day visit I started to grow webbed feet. I slept well at night, exhausted from having swum for hours, often finning quite hard in the current. My personal trainers were turtles and Stingrays, which I would swim furiously to keep up with, often finding myself quite a long way down current from the boat. On the very first snorkelling dip that I took I
was already enjoying the extremely cute, spotty fish (which I have seen in brochures called Cow fish and Smooth Trunkfish, but which I like to call box fish as they are an improbable looking square shape) when I turned around to find myself face to face with a big turtle, unperturbed by my presence and happy to swim at my level before diving down. As we were in 4 or 5 metres of water it was more common to find myself swimming above them and looking down on them. There can’t be many more elegant and calming sights in nature than that of a swimming turtle (although I was swimming flat out, front crawl to keep up them). They seem to glide through the water as if by magic, finning gently with their front legs. They can, of course, disappear in a flash when they want to.
The Cays are the best value stay possible. It cost us £20 to stay there for 3 days (a Ranger comes by in a boat and just asks you how many days you want to stay and takes your word for it). There are mooring buoys at the edge of the Horseshoe reef where you can attach your dinghy and go snorkelling along the most wonderful coral landscapes. I am becoming familiar with the colourful fish of the southern Caribbean now, but to see big clouds of Blue Tangs and huge Parrot fish as they moved around the spectacular underwater gardens of the coral reefs is an extra special treat.
My one regret during this stay is that our Gopro was not working. It appears that if you buy an SD Ultra
card it will work for a few weeks in a Hero 5 Gopro and then mysteriously stop working. Having contacted the folk at Gopro, we were told that we should have used Scandisk Extreme SD cards. This information is apparently embedded in their website somewhere. We fished out a cheap underwater camera that we had bought a couple of years back from Aldi and which worked for one snorkelling dip (and then leaked water and broke, joining my Canon camera and laptop in the junk locker). The results were disappointingly grainy anyway… and as a result I have no photos of the fabulous, colourful fish that you can see from snorkelling on the reef and no pics of turtles. I will cheat and attach a pic of a turtle in the turtle sanctuary instead.
After three days, we made our way carefully through the Union lagoon into the island of Union for cash, fags, rubbish disposal and vegetables (in that order). The little town of Clifton on Union has a very competitive little green with multiple vegetable and fruit sellers who have all set up their stalls in a semi-circle. Simon said that he wanted to buy something from everyone but it is easier to pick a stall at random and don’t look at her neighbour with her identical stall looking down in the dumps. We bought the most expensive fruit, vegetables and milk in our lives here. The smaller the island (and the further from the “mainland”, in this case Saint Vincent, the more expensive the prices). Six pounds for a small pineapple! We are very happy to have a lot of tins and staple foods left over from our provisioning in Spain! It makes you wonder how the local people cope.
The bay in Clifton is a great place to watch kite surfers from the little bar on Happy Island (supposedly built on top of conch shells although there seemed to be a lot of concrete around the conch shells) and to watch the sun go down. Simon and Chris both wished they were a few years younger and decided they would be talented kite surfers if they had had the chance to learn. Chris apparently did take a week long course but after the first three days of learning to “faff around” with the technical aspects of holding the kite, staying on the board, etc… the wind died. He wasn’t refunded his money, of course.
Apparently, the island of Union wanted to defect to Grenada in the seventies but were persuaded to stay by the Saint Vincent military. A good place to check out and leave for the Grenadan grenadines perhaps?