05/26/2012, Tobago Cays
We've found paradise! I know it sounds cliche, and my writer friends would all groan, however it's simply true. The Tobago Cays in the Grenadine Islands (north of Grenada) consist of a multitude of lush, green, uninhabited islands, each with its pristine, palm fringed, white sand beaches, situated in the bluest of Caribbean waters. As you look across the water in every direction, you see a myriad of shades of this perfect bluest blue, aqua and turquoise, the colors dependant on the depth and makeup of the reef or sand below it. Interrupting this perfect blue are small tan specs which upon closer examination are the heads of green turtles (which by the way are vegetarian and thirve on the sea grasses here) some with shells as large as five feet. I like to think that this place is so peaceful because of all the vegetarians (at least that's what I thought before I saw the sharks. :) )
To get here we had to sail between islands with a navigable channel as narrow as about 150 feet. The depth of the channel on the chart is eight feet, which when Centime isn't loaded down with water, provisions and fuel means that there are two feet left between us and the bottom. It was so incredibly beautiful sailing through the channel that I got out my camera to create a video; it was so tricky to maneuver that I wasn't able to turn the camera on.
The Cays and it's water are all part of a protected national park. It is as beautiful below the water as it is above. Under the surface you can swim with dozens of turtles and watch them munching on the grass, floating under and over one another, lazily drifting along. You can study the patterns on their shells and heads which I found fascinating. We also found ourselves floating among schools of literally thousands of small clear fish so close to the surface that they reflected the bright sunlight, sparkling like diamonds.
At the end of our turtle swimming adventure I went to check to see if our anchor was secure in the sand. I held my breath as I saw a four foot long, majestic Spotted Eagle Ray. She was slowly and gracefully gliding at a depth of about eight to ten feet. Dennis and I were close enough to see the beautiful patterns of her spots, but far enough away as to not disturb all of her beauty as we watched her glide by.
The people we're meeting are wonderful too. Walter with his deep voice and broad smile, sells banana bread that his wife makes and he calls "the world's best." Perry was just a wonderful dive leader and in listening to him talk I suspect he is also an amazing cook. Sydney who was so charming and helpful I had to buy two t-shirts rather than one. Romeo sold us the "freshest grouper," made sure we knew his Mother's recipe for spicy, coconut fish sauce, and returned the next day to make sure we prepared it properly and it was totally delicious. And even the park ranger provided good tidbits on what to see and where to snokle. And, each local vendor has a colorful handmade and painted boat with names like "Free Spirit" and "Fabulous."
Today we dove in a place called Mayreau Gardens and it was the best dive of my life. The corals were so colorful: oranges, reds and lime green; giant brain corals and soft corals: sea plumes and deadmans fingers. There were sponges of bright yellow and lavender. There were spectacular bright blue tunicates which look a bit like sponges, shaped like a handful of slender champagne glasses, clustered together and measuring perhaps a foot or two across each colony.
The fish on our dive were equally colorful and even more plentiful, hundreds of different species and tens of thousands of individuals. One of my favorite was a large school of more then a hundred blue wrasses each measuring six to 10 inches and swimming all around us (see photo above). We also saw three nurse sharks, one about 6 or 7 feet long, an Eagle ray and two Southern Stingrays. One stingray measuring about four feet long and three across was grazing in the sand below us and it appeared like he was trying to bury his head in the sand. I read that stingrays pick out invertebrates and small fish from the sand. To watch him was the perfect end to a fabulous dive.
If you've ever earmarked a book "A thousand places to see before you die" as I have, or watched the movie "Bucket List" and started your own list, then be sure to include the Tobago Cays as part of your own voyaging. Come here on a sleek, classic sailboat or a very seaworthy kayak and discover all that you can above and below her waters.
It will be hard for me to leave this place. I know for certain however, as I watch the sun set over the islands, that we will return to this place I will call, paradise.
Photos c/o Michel from Nyctea - Thanks Michel!
05/24/2012, Tobago Cays
05/21/2012, Saline Bay, Mayreau
We left Bequia on Sunday and had two great sailing days in the Grenadines (south of Bequia and north of Grenada). First we sailed to Corbay, Canouan which is a small protected bay at the north end of the island. Our friends from Quebec sailed with us and we had the only two boats in the bay. We also had a nice snorkel and Dennis spotted a Lionfish. Lionfish are highly poisonous and are starting to be an invasive species in the Caribbean. We enjoyed a nice sunset and Danielle's margaritas.
Today we had a great sail to Mayreau, just 7 - 8 miles south. The boat flew at over 7.4 knots. This anchorage has a lovely beach and you can see the lush green island of Union, with it's ragged peaks, to the south. Tonight we have cocktails on Centime and then go to a famous restaurant here called "Dennis' Hideaway.
From here will likely head out to the beautiful Tobago Cays before our trek to Union, Carriacou and Grenada. We are now about 50 nautical miles north of Grenada, our first year destination. It's been a wild ride!
05/17/2012, Admiralty Bay, Port Elizabeth, Bequia
Last March when I had four women friends on board and they offered a bracelet, an anklet really, to Dennis, symbolic of his joining the "sisterhood." (See March blog post.) He wholeheartedly accepted, joined us and continues to proudly display his anklet. Once our Dutch friend, Theo (right) saw what an amazing opportunity it was, he bought his own bracelet. Now our friend Michel (center) from Quebec, not wanting to be left out, has joined as well. This new branch is nicknamed "The Hood." Here's a photo of are our newest additions. As sister Brenda noted "real men wear bracelets!"
05/10/2012, Admiralty Bay, Port Elizabeth, Bequia
We're at a lovely anchorage in Bequia, south of Martinique, St Lucia and St. Vincent. It's a milestone for me in a couple of ways:
-- First, we're only 68 nautical miles - a day sail - north of Grenada which is our first year destination. It's been a long exciting journey from Maine. Dennis and I are truly grateful for this chance for adventure. It's so cool to be here!
-- Second, I came to Bequia 36 years ago and it was life changing for me. At age 19 I had studied Marine Biology and had a semester on a research vessel sailing from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to the Virgin Islands. Once in the islands I hitched a ride on a 38 foot sailboat, The Feather, with two semi-retired professors from New York University. At the time it was quite eye opening for me as I had grown up in a very conservative home while they were very liberal. Through our time together at sea they taught me much more about life than sailing. Our final destination then, was Bequia.
36 years later Bequia is as beautiful as before. We're in a large protected harbor with a small village at one end, enclosed by two green peninsulas. Bright, colorful homes dot the shore at the village end, then there are two long white beaches and a longer stretch of lush, green, wild land.
The people of the island have a long history of seafaring traditions that they have continued. On shore they build sturdy boats by hand with traditional tools and methods. The boats line the shore with their beautifully painted hulls.
Some of the men of Bequia also continue to hunt a small number of whales, using traditional methods, to feed their people. The ICW allows them to hunt up to four whales/year. During the winter season they head out in open boats, in strong trade winds, using hand thrown harpoons. In years where they do manage to harpoon a whale after long struggles, they haul it to an offshore island, divide the whale up and use every part. While I'm much opposed to killing such beautiful intelligent beings, I do respect the courageous men of Bequia who head out in their small boats to feed their people.
Being in Bequia also reminds me of my seafaring heritage. My Grandfather was a sailor who died at sea when my Grandmother was pregnant with my Mom. My son's name is Nico, who is the Italian Patron Saint of Sailors. Tonight, when we go to the traditional Thursday night barbeque, I will raise my glass to the brave seafarers of Bequia and the world.