04 June 2016
The Tobago Cays Marine Park is made up of five uninhabited islands sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the appropriately named, Horseshoe Reef. No trip to this part of the Caribbean would be complete without visiting this beautiful place.
In many respects, the Cays are best view from above, which is what we did a few days earlier during a stay on the nearby island of Mayreau. The view of the Cays from the church at the top of the hill was amazing. We waited for the winds to drop a little before we headed over.
As we approached Petit Rameau, the water changed colour from dark blue to deep green to turquoise with the gold and brown of the reefs all around. We dropped anchor and dinghies over to Petit Bateau where we climbed to the top of the hill for a close-up view of the Atlantic Ocean breaking over Horseshoe Reef. Back at sea level, we watched the official beach barbecues getting ready for the evening trade as we lay under a palm tree on the icing sugar sand taking it all in. A stroll along the shoreline and we saw rays, a baby shark, balloon fish and an iguana perched high in a tree. All this and we hadn't even been snorkelling yet.
With a forecast of a few days of windy weather, we decided to head back to Mayreau for better shelter and return once it had passed over. For our return to the Cays, we anchored over white sand which gave the impression that we were suspended above the water. Even though we are now in the quiet season, there were still quite a few boats there, all experiencing paradise together. Local boat vendors plied the anchorage selling ice, t-shirts, fish and taking bakery orders for the next day.
We were looking forward to snorkelling with the turtles around Baradel Island and taking the dinghy over to the reef to see what treasures were there. How lucky were we.
As it turned out, very unlucky, because that night, soon after we had gone to bed, our boat was boarded by two intruders who attacked us and stole money and mobile phones. Luckily, we were not seriously hurt but our dream destination had turned into a nightmare. The response from the Coast Guard and Police was quick and efficient and for the past week, we have been on Union Island dealing with the various authorities in charge of the incident. The staff of the Anchorage Yacht Club has made us feel like family and the local community has been very supportive and kind.
We feel as if we still have unfinished business at the Tobago Cays, after all we've still got turtles to swim with, but that will have to wait until next year as we begin the hurricane season and we need to be heading south.
For a full report of the incident, please click here...
Marine Park charge EC$10 pppd
Mooring buoys are available
Party Time in Petite Martinique
20 May 2016
Most islands hold an annual Regatta; a few days of boat racing, music, food and fun. On the larger islands they have become world-renowned affairs with big prize money and prestige luring some of the world’s largest and fastest racing boats to cross oceans just to take part. Others are much smaller but none the less important to the local communities and, it was at one of these being held over the long Whitsuntide weekend at Petite Martinique, that we had our first experience of what it is all about.
Not only could we hear, but we could feel the music pulsing in our bones about 2 miles from the anchorage. ‘It’s only for a couple of days’, we told ourselves as we dropped the hook off the beach and away from the many resident fishing boats there. We had a good vantage spot to watch the racing from the boat and with MC’s mega-speaker system, with added extra bass, we felt as though we were in the thick of it. No sooner had we arrived and the skippers were being asked to get their boats into the water. We felt that we didn’t have time to dinghy ashore to see the start up close and sat, expectantly, waiting for the imminent start. Again, the MC asked the skippers to get their boats into the water – it was all about to start. There were three categories of boats; small lasers, double & stern-enders and larger, traditional boats which required a crew of 8. Teams had travelled from Bequia and Carriacou to take part.
It was an hour later when the MC moaned ‘Come one guys, we do this every year, you know the format so why are you not ready with your boats in the water. You’ve got one more minute and then we start without you’. With that there was a lot of commotion and the boats were pushed off the sand and finally into the water awaiting the starters signal. Then the heavens opened and the start was postponed while the rain passed over. Team Bequia Pride chose this moment to announce that they had a problem and needed some gaffers tape urgently. The rain stopped just as the tape was applied and the start actually happened! It was a busy anchorage with all the fishing boats and the local kids swimming in the water, so the competitors had to negotiate a few obstacles to get on their course, and they disappeared into the distance.
Meanwhile, back on the beach, the land activities were in full swing with beer-drinking and arm-wrestling competitions being fought out. How the contestants could concentrate with the vibration of the music all around was amazing.
The boats returned and we headed over to see what was happening and get some food. There must have been 200 local people there and us – the only white visitors! We did feel a little out of place but just got on with it. We went to have a look at the racing boats lined up on the beach. One of the larger ones from Bequia was on its side having the mast hammered it. We looked on and recognised our lobster fisherman from Bequia amongst the competitors. It was good to see him again and find out a little more about the racing as the rules seemed a little different to what Chris remembered back in the UK.
That night there was a live music event but our ears were ringing enough from the afternoon so we headed back to the boat. Fortunately, we couldn’t hear a thing from there as it was held around the headland from the anchorage. Phew!
The next day was more of the same only this time we were there at the start along with a few more visiting spectators. The MC was on full form again and, while the racing was happening, he announced another beer-drinking competition, a Maypole dancing display, an Eat Your Criks (crackers) & Drink Your Coke competition for the kids where they had to do both as quickly as possible and a wet t-shirt competition with 300EC prize money. Each event was accompanied by a song that everyone knew and which was belted out on the bank of speakers ‘Champion, Champion, Champion’ they all chanted.
The bar and BBQ were doing a fine business but we were shocked that a lot of people just dropped their used bottled and empty food containers on the ground where they stood when they could have taken 10 steps and put them in the rubbish bags. We couldn’t understand it at all.
By late afternoon, the races and competitions were over thought the wet t-shirt competition did not take place as only one person had entered (it wasn’t me). The MC was still in full-swing after 48 hours with his non-stop commentaries and music as he announced another party-night that was going on all night and would culminate in J’Ouvert the following morning. We weren’t up for that and so left everyone on the beach to their chants of ‘Champion, Champion’.
Again, we didn’t hear any of the late-night revelries but at 6am the next morning we could hear the voice of the MC again. Through the binoculars we could see a long procession of people doing J’Ouvert, which is a kind of seeing the day in procession where everyone dresses up in costume. I think the previous two days was beginning to take its toll on the locals as most people walking along looked a bit tired and worse for wear, though I did see a half-Spiderman; a guy had painted his torso, head and arms bright red!
The final day was a quieter affair – the MC had almost lost his voice, the BBQ was running low on stock and the bar was almost dry and as we sailed away, the chant of ‘Champion, Champion’ followed us and we had to agree that our first Caribbean Regatta experience had indeed been Champion!
11 May 2016
Like most of the Caribbean islands, the 1,400-acre island of Mustique was once covered in prosperous sugar plantations until the sugar beet usurped the cane and plantations were soon abandoned.
The island was bought in 1958 by Lord Glenconner (Colin Tennant) who developed it and it soon gained a reputation as a Caribbean hideaway for the rich and famous, especially when he gave HRH Princess Margaret a 10-acre plot of land as a wedding present in 1960.
In 1968, The Mustique Company was formed, which acts as a custodian for the entire island, ensuring that protection for the environment, privacy and tranquillity are maintained. The home-owners eventually bought the island from Colin Tennant and immediately placed a restriction on any new development, which also meant that the value of those properties rocketed. Today, you are unlikely to see rock stars or super models here as the property owners are, for the most part, business people looking for privacy.
Although private and exclusive, the island has been kept open to visiting yachts with 30 mooring buoys available in Britannia Bay. Depending on who is in residence, access to some parts of the island are restricted but during our visit we were free to explore and we did, by bicycle.
The northern part of the island is relatively flat so cycling around was easy and the place had a village feel about it. The local school and Public Library buildings were small and pastel-coloured, the bakery and well-stocked supermarket were more brightly coloured with a pink roof and the fish market, down on the beach, was the meeting place for the locals who lived there.
While cycling around you don’t really get too close to any of the residences but those that we did catch a glimpse of, for the most, were exquisite with superb views. We can’t say that we thought that of, what looked like, a replica of Greece’s Parthenon perched on the top of a hill! One of the old sugar mills and coral warehouses from the 18th century is now the upmarket hotel, Cotton House and, it is in the grounds, that you can visit the small, but interesting, Mustique Museum.
The southern and eastern parts of the island are made up of 7 valleys that are quite steep, especially when you are cycling around in the heat of the day but when we got off to push our bikes up a hill, it gave us the chance to watch the resident tortoise (or land turtles, as they are known locally) munching away on mangoes or just looking for some shade.
The beaches around the island are just beautiful and you don’t need a bicycle to reach some of them from Britannia Bay. There is a great walk along the south shore that takes you on a beach trail where you come across picnic shelters that are free to use, if they haven’t been reserved by one of the residents (you’ll know if it has, there will be a sign). Due to the surrounding reefs, the sea is a ribbon of turquoise and jade and is simply breath-taking.
There is a small airstrip next to the cricket pitch and daily flights on Mustique’s own small propeller planes. It was quite something to sit next to the runway and suddenly see a plane appear over the ridge next to us, followed by a steep, short decent and landing.
The island has also become famous for its annual Blues Festival that takes place late January/early February at the equally famous Basil’s Bar. The bar has changed ownership recently and was actually closed when we visited. Hopefully, the Blues Festival will continue.
I think it’s obvious that we very much enjoyed our visit and we were pleased that the island has remained friendly and open to visitors. Long may it continue as we would love to return.
Mooring fee EC$200 for up to 3 nights
Mountain bike rental ES$150 for 2 people/day. See harbourmaster to arrange
Supermarket close to main jetty and has everything at not ridiculous prices
Mustique Museum free entry
Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary
03 May 2016
We have been fortunate in seeing many turtles since we’ve been over here and so we took the opportunity to visit the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, located in the rugged, northeast of the island.
Orton G. ‘Brother’ King, a retired professional skin-diving fisherman, started the sanctuary in 1995 when he successfully hand-reared an endangered Hawksbill turtle. Since then he has been responsible for having increased the seriously dwindling turtle population in Bequia, a project that he has undertaken with passion and no financial reward. We met him briefly during our visit and even today, as an elderly gentleman, he is still passionate and dedicated to his cause.
It was amazing to see the turtles up close (see above photo of a Green Turtle). The sizes ranged from small 1-year olds to a big 19-year old turtle. Most are returned to the sea but others that are injured or have a deformity that would mean that they would be prey to other creatures, have a home here and are very happy to see visitors. It was interesting to see how their shells articulated as they moved, to see their nostrils that looked as though they had been drilled into their horned noses and to notice that they have no eyelids. The injured ones had purple splodges on them from the medication used to heal them.
Some storyboards explaining the activities undertaken there would have been helpful but we enjoyed our visit none the less.
Peggy's Rock Hike
03 May 2016 | View of Admiralty Bay from Peggy's Rock
After our hike of the Soufriere volcano in St. Vincent, a hike to Peggy's Rock, high above Admiralty Bay, was next on the agenda.
The beginning of the trail was a little hard to find as there was no signage but a local indicated the way for us and we did then see a sign which read 'No trespassing/Keep Out' accompanied by two barking dogs, but the local had assured us it was the right way, so off we went, the dogs were behind a fence after all.
There are lots of old trails across the island and this one took us across bone-dry fields, up the ridge of the hill, and then clambering up volcanic rocks to reach the summit. The views from above were well worth the effort. We could see Mustique and St. Vincent in the distance, the Fisheries where we had bought our lobster directly below, watched a small plane take off and rise past us from the small airport and then gazed down into Admiralty Bay to see vessels of all shapes and sizes coming and going.
On the way down, we decided to follow a less defined path that, we hoped, would bring us out at Lower Bay, the next beach down from Princess Margaret beach where we were anchored. The latter part of the trail took us down a steep, rocky gulley that was quite tricky and which ended in someone's backyard! We had no choice but to walk through and then came to the gorgeous beach at Lower Bay where we refuelled before the final leg back.
Trail starts at the Whaling & Maritime Museum. To the right, as you look at the museum, is a white, picket fence and a path rising up (with the sign as mentioned above). This is the start. When you get to the top of the track shortly afterwards, the trail follows the ridge line to your left. When you get to the fork, that the left to Peggy's Rock. The right goes to Lower Bay.
03 May 2016
With just a few days to go before the end of the lobster season, a local recommended that we head over to the ‘Fisheries’, as the main fishing community in Paget Farm is known, to get a good deal on a fresh lobster from the fishermen directly.
It was late in the afternoon when we got there and most of the fishermen had ended their work but Richard, a local 25-year old who had been fishing since he was 12 and who was an avid sailor too, taking part in many regattas, agreed to help us out.
We didn’t really know what to expect but we were certainly not expecting him to don a snorkel mask and then swim out in shorts and t-shirt to bring a large, wooden container from the sea, back to the shore so that we could choose our lobster! We let him choose and he proudly held our 6lb lobster high for us to admire. He was a beauty.
There was no way we could take a live lobster back on the bus and no way, in our small galley, that we could dispatch it but the fishermen were well accustomed to providing this service and so Richard started to prepare a fire, put a small amount of seawater into a tall metal container and then we waited for it to boil. During this time, we had a good chat to Richard about many things as his clothing slowly dried off.
Once the water was boiling, he tied the tale down just in case there was any splashing of boiling water and, as we thanked the lobster for what he was giving to us, he lowered it into the container. It was over for the lobster very quickly but we then had to boil it for a little while to allow the meat to firm up otherwise it would have been just like an uncooked prawn.
While the lobster was cooling down, we looked over the old whaling boats that were now used for regattas. When our lobster was finally ready, we put him in a bag, handed Richard EC$72 (approx. £20) and, smelling like a wood-fired oven, we got back on the bus and starting thinking about the lovely three meals that our lobster provided us with.
It was a unique experience, totally unexpected and something that we will remember forever.
02 May 2016 | At anchor off Princess Margaret beach, Admiralty Bay
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) comprises 32 islands and cays shaped like a kite’s tail falling in a south-westerly direction. St. Vincent (SV), the largest island, is at the top, with Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, The Tobago Cays, Union Island, Palm Island and Petit St. Vincent being the main islands. We hope to visit these as we journey south.
Lying just 9 miles south of SV, Bequia (pronounced Beck-way) is the largest of the Grenadine islands at just 7 sq. miles. Whilst the island is small, there is plenty to see and do, so we anchored in the large and protected Admiralty Bay, just off Princess Margaret beach and made this our base.
The island has a long sea-faring history based around fishing, whaling, boat-building and navigation and even today yacht services are an important part of everyday life. In addition to sail makers and chandlers, there are several local who offer yacht-side deliveries of water, diesel, ice, groceries, bread, laundry and even lobster in season.
There is a much more laid-back attitude here, compared to the larger islands that we have visited, maybe it is something to do with the creativity here due to the talented artists and craftspeople. The main waterfront town of Port Elizabeth, which is mostly just a waterfront street, is easily reached from the anchorage either by dinghy or a stroll along the pretty Belmont Walkway that connects Princess Margaret beach to the town, along which you pass traditional buildings, restaurants and dive shops. The town has everything that you need for provisioning, plenty of eateries and a very good Tourist Office for advice about what is happening whether that is the Bequia Music Fest, Easter Regatta, Carnival or Christmas events amongst many others.
There are only two anchorages on the island, Admiralty Bay on the west coast and Friendship Bay on the SE, so whichever way the wind is blowing, there is always a spot to shelter.
I have a feeling we could be here for some time….
Tourist Office has great travel guides & local info. Opposite main ferry dock.
Entry port for Customs & Immigration
Rubbish can only be disposed of at the collection point just after the Fish Market
Friday is a good day for fresh produce, which mostly comes over from SV on the ferry
8am Cruisers Net on CH68
Bank with ATM
Time for a road trip – Montreal Gardens in the Mesopotamia Valley
25 April 2016
Our guide book recommended two ‘must do’ things when visiting St. Vincent and hiring a 4WD for a couple of days enabled us to do both.
Day One took us to the Montreal Gardens in the Mesopotamia Valley, just the name and destination alone sounded inviting and it did not disappoint. SV only has two main roads; the Windward Highway going up the windy, eastern side and the Leeward Highway going up the more sheltered west side. There are no roads that cross the middle as it is so mountainous. Not only are the roads in a poor state of repair for the most part, but they also lack road signs and we inevitably got lost on a couple of occasions but that simply allowed us to see more of the island!
Off the ‘highway’ the roads are very narrow and become tracks. When we reached what looked like the end of the road, and thinking that we had got lost again, we turned around and stopped to ask some locals the way. ‘Just keep on going up the road, man’ they told us and so we returned back to the track and kept going and arrived at the gardens shortly after.
As soon as we drove through the main gates, we were engulfed in all kinds of plants of differing colours, shapes and sizes and, best of all, we had it all to ourselves (obviously anyone else trying to find it had either got completely lost or had given up!!). We followed the paths that took us on a tour of these lovely gardens perched on a high ridge and marvelled at the mown grass, and gigantic plants that we also have back in the UK but ours are a small house-plant version kept indoors. Hummingbirds scooted about everywhere going from plant to plant in search of sweet nectar.
Driving back down the mountain afterwards, we had a perfect vista across the fertile valley with colourfully painted houses dotting the landscape and locals getting on with their day.
A great trip out and well worth it.
Time for a road trip – Soufriere Volcano hike
24 April 2016
We had an early start on Day Two and were heading north at 7am in order to climb a volcano before the day got too hot.
Our journey took us past the new international airport that is nearing completion and which has been a huge engineering and construction project providing plenty of much-needed employment. We also drove through many small hamlets where the children were waiting for the school bus to pick them up. They all looked so smart in their pristine uniforms with starched white shirts.
At the end of the Windward Highway, we turned left and followed a very holey, single-track road through banana plantations to reach the start of the trail, where we had some breakfast that we had brought with us to fortify us for the climb ahead up to the crater at 3,000ft. We had been told that it is recommended to hike the volcano with a guide and there was a guide there but he was waiting for some guests to arrive and said that we could go ahead on our own, which is what we did. A guide is a good idea because the hike is isolated and the trail has steep drop-offs in parts. The area at the top of the mountain is also home to the illegal marijuana farms and on our way up and down we were passed by some of the ‘special’ farmers. One guy was jogging past with no shoes on and another was balancing a large and heavy sack of fertilizer on his head and they all carry the customary huge cutlasses but we exchanged hellos as our paths crossed without issue.
The vegetation changed dramatically the higher we got. At the base was thick rainforest. This was followed by towering bamboo, then enormous palms and then the plants became much smaller and wooded as we reached the top and finally looked down into the smouldering crater 1,000ft below, which had last erupted in 1979.
It was very difficult hike because of the steepness and of the heat and humidity and I nearly gave up on a couple of occasions but, with Chris’s gentle encouragement, I made it and was so pleased that I hadn’t given up as we ate our picnic at the top looking across both sides of the island. We were lucky with the weather as low cloud is a regular feature but we were able to see everything clearly.
The climb down was strenuous too but taking our hiking shoes off at the end was a just reward!
Crossing the reef to get into the Blue Lagoon
21 April 2016
The next morning we motored the 10 miles to our next stop, the Blue Lagoon. For once it was nice not to have enough wind to sail so that we could plod down the coast, quite close in, and admire the shoreline and scenery behind.
We had to make sure that we arrived at the Blue Lagoon at high tide so that we could get across the reef safely. Luckily we did with just 20cm below the keel, tied up to one of the many mooring buoys rather than in the marina itself as it was much cooler to be in the bay, and then began arranging some car hire so that we could do some exploring.
When Columbus sailed through, it was known at the time as Hairoun, meaning ‘home of the blessed’ (it is also the current name of the local beer!) and was inhabited by a fierce tribe that Columbus called Caribs. The Caribs were followed by an even fiercer tribe who became known as the Black Caribs who were defeated by the British in the late 18th century and shipped en masse to Honduras.
The islands capital is Kingstown, a busy, bustling place with a fantastic market, cobblestone pavements and old stone buildings with arches, some of which date back to the late 1700’s. The port area is important for shipping goods around the islands and welcoming tourist who arrive on cruiseships. We had a quick, cheap and delicious lunch in the market before heading up to the highest point at Fort Charlotte for panoramic views down on Kingstown Harbour and the nearby islands.
Blue Lagoon Marina – Desmond is the dockmaster and will come out to help with mooring lines. EC65 per night.
Customs & Immigration are available in the marina 9am – 6pm.
Marina has dive shop, small grocery shop, beach bar, café and restaurant. The pontoons are all floating and could do with some updating. It is very rolly in there at times.
Image of Kingstown Bay