12 February 2018
The winds in the Caribbean are currently blowing from the NE and have been stronger than we expected averaging a good 15 to 20 knots and gusting 25 knots (that's hold onto your hat and forget the brolly!). It seems to be a familiar scenario that wherever we want to go means the wind is on the nose and there is usually a long discussion about whether we can sail directly, sail by tacking or if we should motor? Of course it doesn't help that the winds have whipped the sea up and we will be sailing into a heavy swell. We lifted the anchor in Bequia to sail the 10 miles to St Vincent but reluctantly resorted to using the engine. Even with the engine our speed was slow, battling wind and current and it took over 3 hours before arriving at Young Island, on the south tip of St Vincent.
We were helped onto a mooring buoy by Sparrow and now sat next to the private island and hotel resort on Young Island but in equal distance to the small jetty on the mainland.
St Vincent is frequently by passed by many yachties as it has a bad reputation for aggressive boat boys and thefts. We were advised by locals on Bequia that this was mainly further north on the leeward side, particularly Walliabou Bay (where the pirates of the Caribbean was filmed). Bill was particularly keen to visit the island as he wanted to hike the active volcano, La Soufrière. For the record, I was not so keen as I knew it would be a challenging hike!
We made tour enquiries but felt $70US each was a bit expensive. Tourist Information office told us that we must go with a guide but couldn't really say why. What was the danger? Was it not a well defined track? Were we in danger from attack? Would we be walking into a marijuana plantation? No was the answer, it would just be safer with a guide. We did contact a guide and left several phone messages but they never got back to us. Time ticking on and getting frustrated we decided to hire a car and just get on with it ourselves. I had done some research on the internet and many reviews suggested a guide wasn't necessary.
Next day we got up early, packed lunch ready and drove along the windward side of the island heading for Rabacca where the La Soufrière trail begins. The road deteriorated the further we went and we noticed the communities were less prosperous the further away from the capital of Kingstown. The drive was beautiful and dramatic with the Atlantic Ocean pounding the coastline. After 40 minutes driving we spotted our turning which took us along a very rugged road through a banana plantation. After a couple of miles we came to the car park of the La Soufriere information centre. We were the only hikers there (it was still only 9am).
This was the beginning of a steep and steady 2 hour hike up to the craters edge. We walked through a bamboo grove on a narrow path with a sheer drop either side and then into the lush green but humid rainforest. If you stop and listen you can hear the tree frogs as well as the many birds but catching sight is almost impossible. About a third way up we crossed two lava flows where the rocks were smooth from the flowing river. Just over half way we had climbed high enough to be in cloud and the forest changed into a head height thicket allowing clear views of the mountains and the sea when the mist lifted. It was also very windy and we got soaked when a rain squall passed overhead. After two hours we finally reached the ash-strewn rim of the crater and tentatively peaked over the steep edge to view the bottom whilst all the time being buffeted by the strong ocean winds.
The floor is covered in lush green vegetation , there is a huge dome where fumaroles release volcanic vapour and a small lake. You can walk the edge of the crater and for the more energetic climb down to the floor with the aid of a rope. It was well worth the climb. La Soufrière last erupted in 1979 but its most violent was in 1902 killing 1,680 people mostly indigenous Caribs.
Feeling pleased with ourselves we took it carefully back down the loose path and stopped to enjoy our picnic and a well earned rest by the rainforest river. We only met one other hiker the whole day.
As we had the car for another two days we visited the Vermont Nature trail in search of the very rare St Vincent Parrot. We could hear them but it was very difficult to even catch a glimpse. There are only about a thousand in the wild and their biggest threat is still from poachers as a pair can fetch more than $50,000US. There is also the fear that a future hurricane would decimate the parrot population. We visited the botanical gardens in Kingstown to see the parrots close up. Here many parrots are kept in captivity as a part of a successful breeding programme. We talked to their keeper who was very passionate about his beautiful birds. The colours of the national flag are taken from the green, blue and yellow of the parrots but their tail feathers also have a wonderful orange colour.
The parrot keeper kindly knocked some coconuts out of a tree and with his large machete took the tops off and then offered us both a coconut to drink the milk from within.
We also ventured into the Mesopotamia valley, the agricultural heartland of St Vincent. The farming is very labour intensive due to the steep hills but every inch of the land is used. The volcanic soil is very fertile and the whole valley is actually a dormant crater. The roads (if you can call them that) are only accessible with a 4WD.
Whilst in the valley we visited the Montreal Gardens. The British owner greeted us with secateurs in hand and as we chatted he explained how he had created these amazing gardens from what used to be a an old grapefruit plantation.
Our final stop was to the Black Tunnel Caves. It was not really a cave but 360ft tunnel drilled through thick rock using slave labour in 1815 by the owner of the Grand Sable Estate to enable quicker transport from the estate factory to the wharf where ships were waiting for their cargo. The tunnel was also home to a colony of bats.
While paying our $5 entry fee, Bill asked the lady if there was anywhere we could get a cup of tea? "No sorry, we only sell beer". Bill's sad face must have put pity on her as she very kindly offered to have a cup of tea (free of charge) waiting for us on our return from the caves. Her name was Michelle, she was so lovely and her fresh ginger tea was really refreshing. Michelle's kindness was what really made our day.
Grenadines- Union Island and Tobago Cays
04 February 2018
We spent just one day and night in Union Island as we had made arrangements to meet up with Maria and Allen from Lady Jane in Clifton. As it happened Patricia and Julian from A Capella of Belfast arrived the same day too. It was great meeting up with other boats from the rally again, finding out where everyone has been and exchanging stories.
We thought we were well out of the main channel in Clifton but apparently a ferry was due in that evening and A Capella and ourselves were advised to move. There are numerous boat boys milling about and one caught our attention. He assured us that he would find us a good spot further in where the anchor would dig deep into the sand. We dropped anchor where he suggested but as we dropped back we were quite close to some other boats. We sat for awhile weighing up the situation and decided that we probably wouldn't swing too close to anyone else. However we both felt it wasn't ideal but it would do, it was getting late in the afternoon and we had been invited for a sundowner.
That night whilst asleep in our bed, the winds blew a real hooley with over 30 knots of wind. It was 4am and we got up and looked around only to discover our anchor was dragging. What to do? We had no choice but to lift the anchor and move to somewhere safer. It was pitch dark, and I was on the helm terrified that the wind would swing us into another boat. While Bill was lifting the anchor I had to motor into the wind to keep some control of the boat. Somehow we managed to avoid any collision but it was scary stuff. After a cup of tea to settle the nerves we went back to bed. We were suddenly woken with a loud bang on the boat and shot out of bed thinking we had dragged anchor again. It was Julian banging on the boat. He had woken up at 7am and saw from his cockpit we had moved position in the night. However he didn't know we had reanchored and shot over to us thinking we were dragging. That boat boy with his good sandy spot has a lot to answer for- he gave more that just us a fright! However the lesson learnt is not to ignore your instincts.
That morning we sailed round to Tobago Cays. This is a collection of tiny islands protected by a huge horseshoe reef. I can't describe how beautiful the colours of the waters are. It was just amazing to be anchored in amongst a reef which sits in the middle of the sea. A Capella of Belfast joined us in Tobago Cays and we all thoroughly enjoyed the snorkelling. The water was so clear, the corals so pretty and there were an amazing assortment of fish to see. It really was a beautiful underwater garden. We took lots of pictures but I don't think they really capture the wonder we were looking at.
Grenadines- Petit St Vincent and Petit Martinique
01 February 2018
Petit St Vincent is another private island and an exclusive holiday resort. If you can afford over $900US per night then this is the place to stay (or you may prefer the Cotton House Hotel on Mustique for roughly the same price). Fortunately for us we could anchor just off the island for free and use the resorts beach bar and restaurant. Unlike Mustique you can't explore the island but could use the beach by the anchorage. It was another beautiful spot to drop the anchor and we did enjoy a pleasant evening up the hill in the restaurant bar where there was live music.
Opposite Petit St Vincent just half a mile away is Petit Martinique. We decided to dingy over to Petit Martinique despite it being a bit windy and a little choppy, we just might get a bit wet. We had heard of a little shop on the island that sells reasonably priced wines. Wine in the Caribbean is expensive as like everything else it has to be imported. Our stocks were getting dangerously low so we were lured over to go in search.
This island is a complete contrast to Petit St Vincent. There are no posh hotels just homes for local people. The vast majority of black Caribbeans live very basic lives, eking a living from tourism, fishing or working in the hotel and restaurant industry. Bill and I feel a little uncomfortable about this. There is still an obvious difference in wealth between black and white but despite this difference we've found the Caribbean people to be wonderfully generous and friendly. The school children are delightful, extremely polite saying good morning/afternoon as they pass you. They are beautifully turned out with whiter than white shirts and wear their uniforms with pride. It was the 44th anniversary of Independence Day and the children were all dressed today in the red, green and yellow colours of their flag.
We took a little walk off the beaten path, when a man came out of his house calling over to us. I thought we were in trouble for trespassing on his land. However he just wanted to say hello and tell us all about the charity work that he does. His name was Osbert Felix Founder. Since 2002 he has been buying the Bluggoe bananas, drying them using solar powered dryers and then hand grinding the bananas into flour which is then distributed to the poor. He dries other fruit and vegetables and told us that the flour is used to make bread. He also feeds stray dogs with watered flour as it is full of potassium and other nutrients. Osbert was really proud of his humanitarian food product which he funds through donations and from the Catholic Church. We of course made a little donation and Osbert gave me a sample of his flour.
With the booze cruise completed we stepped back into the dinghy to go the half mile back toour boat. The wind had picked up and we would be motoring into the waves. We weren't sure if we would get back. Obviously we did but only after enduring the waves crashing over the bow of the dinghy absolutely soaking us. But hey the water is like a warm bath and the sun was still shining.
30 January 2018
We spent two nights anchored in Saltwhistle Bay on the small island of Mayreau. It is a lovely bay with a small isthmus, which amazingly offers just enough protection from the open sea on the other side. Saltwhistle Bay is very popular with huge chartered catamarans full of young kite surfers that come to surf in the shallow windy waters the other side of the isthmus. The beach front has a ramshackle collection of bars and restaurants and vendors colourfully displaying their goods by hanging everything up on what looks like washing lines.
We decided on a walk and followed the road away from the beach up a very steep hill eventually coming to a lovely stone built Catholic Church. There was a sign on the outside of the church directing us round to the back. As we walked around the corner we caught sight for the first time of the amazingly beautiful turquoise waters of the Tobago Cays. After some picture snapping we continued along the road (now going downhill) towards Saline Bay on the other side.
I was looking out for Robert's bar as Maria and Allen from Lady Jane had given us the heads up that this was not to be missed. I was hovering outside a bar not too sure if this was the place when someone started talking. I couldn't see anyone so wasn't sure if the voice was directed at me but the voice told me to come in, not stand on the road? As I stepped inside and my eyes adjusted to the light I saw a man lying down on a bench and he introduced himself as Robert the Rasta (he never got up, life is just too laid back in the Caribbean). The bar was empty but Robert assured me this was the place to come for a cold beer and everyone would be here after 5pm. It was still mid afternoon so we said we would call in on the way back.
After a walk along Saline bay we walked back up the steep hill where Robert's bar is perfectly located at the top for catching your breath and getting a drink. It was now well after 4pm and other people (we assume other yachties) were beginning to fill up the bar. Robert after his afternoon rest was in full form entertaining everyone with his reggae drumming and singing. He was a real character and sure enough by the time we left the place was full.
We wandered back to the beach and booked ourselves a bbq'd lobster later on in the evening with Alyson the boat boy who had helped us anchor. It felt like everyone was on the beach that evening, there was certainly a huge number of dinghies lined up along the beach and after our delicious lobster meal everyone was in a party mood as the dancing soon broke out including some limbo! I had a go but the old body is not that flexible anymore, sadly!
Grenadines - Mustique
27 January 2018
Mustique is a privately owned island known for the rich and famous who reside here. Thankfully the island is not gated and still open to yachting visitors.
The island was first developed many years ago by Colin Tennant but the owners later bought the island to restrict further development and is now run by the Mustique Company. There are only 90 large houses on the island with famous owners such as Mick Jagger. The British Royal family have been frequent visitors ever since Colin Tennant gave Princess Margaret 10 acres of land as a wedding present. Princess Margaret built the one and only house she ever owned on Mustique. Today WIlliam and Kate and the Middleton's are frequent visitors enjoying the fiercely guarded privacy that the island offers.
The island is beautifully kept by the numerous people that are employed to sweep the beaches, mow the lawns and pick up any trace of litter.
Although the playground for the rich there is a friendly atmosphere and as long as you respect the signs and don't walk on private land you are able to wander all over the island. There was a particularly nice coastal walk which we split over two days always ending with a swim on one of the pristine beaches.
Our first evening coincided with the start of the Blues music festival. This is held in the famous Basil's beach bar. Basil Charles is the legendary proprietor of Basil's Bar, where for years celebrities and royalty have partied out of site of the paparazzi.
Basil Charles was just 24 and working behind the bar at the Cotton House Hotel in the 70's when he first met Colin Tennant. Basil was asked to help with the setting up and running of a beach bar and so began his glitzy life becoming a friend of Colin Tennant and the likes of Princess Margaret. In 1975 Basil met Virginia Royston, Vicountess Royston and they soon became lovers. This affair was considered scandalous in its time but they we're together until 1982.
I didn't know any of this when I shook hands and spoke to Basil Charles the night we ate and enjoyed the live music at Basil's Bar!
Grenadines-Bequia (pronounced Bek-way)
23 January 2018
We were meeting Lisa and Johan in Admiralty Bay. We hadn't seen so many boats anchored in one place for a long time, Bequia obviously being a popular place for yachties. It's appeal I suppose is the more sophisticated restaurants and hotels along the east side of the bay giving it a very holiday resort feel and the lovely white sands of Princess Margaret beach and Lower Bay. It's a huge Bay with many dingy docks spread evenly along the dockside walkway.
We soon spotted Rubicon and managed to anchor not too far away. Just in front of us was Lys de Mer and we spotted Yuana, both boats from the Jimmy Cornell rally.
At night the bay looks amazing lit up with all the anchor lights, it almost looks Christmassy.
Sunset always falls at 6pm and darkness settles in quickly. We decided to eat out that evening with Lisa and Johan and the four of us ventured ashore in our dinghy to the dingy dock next to Mac's Pizza restaurant. At the end of a lovely evening we all piled back into the dingy and headed in the direction of where our boats were, or so we thought! Remember it is pitch dark and there are hundreds of boats all swinging around, you think you can remember exactly where your boat is anchored but in reality it is much more difficult. Well we motored on for a bit and yes you've guessed, we completely missed our anchorages and had gone too far out. It was a bit disconcerting trying then to figure out where we should be but thankfully Bill eventually spotted our boat in the distance with its two flashing lights which he had set going before we left. How we missed our boat with its flashing lights was probably down to too many rum punches!
We took a taxi tour the next day with Markus, Manuela and their two lovely children Yanis and Julia from Yuana. Our driver Rally took us up to Matthews Fort which gave us some terrific views over Admiralty Bay (all the islands have forts, all to do with the British and French in the 18th century constantly fighting for possession).
We then visited the Turtle Sanctuary where newly hatched turtles are picked up from the beach and hand reared for five years to give them a better chance of survival. We were told that only about 1 in 3000 turtles survive to maturity and the most dangerous period is when they are small enough to be eaten. These wonderful creatures can live up to 200 years old and are currently considered an endangered species.
Bequia still has an active whaling industry. The island is proud of this tradition but can hunt only four humpback whales a year. Between February and April the Humpback leave their northern feeding grounds and head south for mating. Only a few people are left in Bequia with the traditional skills to hunt in an open sailing boat, using hand-thrown harpoons and it is an extremely dangerous occupation.
The traditional whaling boats are still made using trees from the island.
On a smaller scale but just as skilful are two workshops in Bequia that make models of the traditional whaling boats. Bill was very interested and there was no doubt that they are a work of art. He was tempted to buy one but they were expensive so his money stayed in his pocket!
Now that we had said bye bye to Lisa and Johan wishing them well on their adventure through the Panama Canal we would head south and return to the Grenadine islands we had missed.