Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is made up of the main island of St Vincent and a cluster of islands trailing off to the South – the Grenadines, including amongst others, Bequia, Mustique, Balicaux, Canouan, Union and the marine reserve of the Tobago Cays. These islands are a variety of lushly forested volcanic mountains, sandy cays, turquoise lagoons, and picture perfect beaches, Its a bit of a sailors paradise.
We left Dominica at the beginning of June, laden with friendly Rasta produce, cocoa beans, plantain by the hundreds… and having received our negative covid test results, we spent just one day sailing down to the most northerly bay of Martinique, a nights rest with our yellow quarantine flag flying, then an early start to sail south down the coast, a wee channel hop to be in the lee of St Lucia for a night sail, arriving at dawn under the still smoking, recently erupted volcano of St Vincent. Our destination was at the south end of the island near the capital Kingston, where, once we had managed to make contact with anyone interested in our presence (not easy without a working mobile these days), we were cleared in and free to roam.
After burying our anchor for so long in Dominica it was a treat to have plenty of islands and anchorages to explore. In the three and a half months there we’ve visited most of the islands, returned to our favourite spots at least once and got to know a couple of spots well – in particular Bequia!
Our first island was Balicaux, rarely visited, and we were alone, it’s uninhabited by humans but has a healthy population of Tortoise! It felt a kind of edgy place, maybe the rolly anchorage, the occasional gunfire of visiting goat hunters, and we learnt of a rather morbid history as it was also a prison island where thousands of Carib Indians were left marooned, and perished. The torrid history of the Caribbean and European’s vulgar impact, was often referred to in our observations of its culture, our conclusions only naive guess work of course…
A short sail took us to Petit Nevis, where we found 3 boats already anchored – all with young children on board, Hallelujah! This fact was to determine our movements for the coming weeks. From there to Bequia, to Tobago Cays, to Chatham Bay on Union, kids came and went, beach fires, snorkeling trips, play dates, beach days, and even sleep overs. The kids made lovely friends from Canada, France, and even NZ/Wales!
It was now hurricane season, which meant Jean-Marc and Nick kept a close eye on internet weather sites, a blip in the pressure would show up over western Africa and then over the following week or so it would track Westward over the Atlantic towards us, then it was a matter of watching to what degree and at what rate it would develop and then where it would go… more often that not they would veer off to to the North and fizzle out in the North Atlantic, some would clip the Northern Caribbean Islands – Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti… others would pass over the West Indies and develop later, maybe hitting America, and some of course developed faster and stayed South; generally speaking the further South one was the less likely you were to get nailed. So it was when Storm Elsa approached, it was forecast to pass over the Grenadines, so 3 days before, we sailed with friends on ‘Rajac’ South, through rainy squally conditions to a cosy little bay on the South coast of Grenada. A slightly legal grey area we felt we were hiding from officials as well as the weather! A couple of very wet days on board later we scuttled back North, back to our tropical playground.
The next fact to determine our movements, or rather non-movements was that one day having just weighed anchor the engine puttered to a halt… returning, under sail to our anchorage, we found the engine to have no oil, and on closer inspection that the culprit was the pipe leading to the pressure gauge had broken! So it slowly dawned that this was a major problem, (as are most problems on a Fordson Major!!!), and would involve removing the engine and dismantling to inspect its big end – bearings and crankshaft…
We chose Bequia to get greasy: it’s a good secure anchorage, has good boating and mechanical facilities, chandleries, a nice beach, plenty of potential for social interaction and is the main base for ferries both between the Grenadines and even to Trinidad where we ended up sending the crankshaft to be reground.
We got to really like Bequia; Rowena volunteered at a local sail loft run by Alec and his son, I believe Rowena will expand on this experience in her post… Alec and his family became good friends, one highlight was getting out sailing and even racing in his ‘Two Bow’ a 28′ wooden open sailing boat, based on the traditional whaling boats of the island – Bequia is still licensed to catch a handful of whales by traditional methods – it seems a little more acceptable when the risks are so much higher – a small open sailing boat, a hand harpoon, but it sounds like an element of the tradition and ceremony are under threat from greed and selfishness and a catch can create a furore of whale hungry locals after a cut…
Bequia’s inhabitants come from a broad palette of backgrounds – those of black African descent make up the majority, but there is also Carib Indian blood and a number of fair skinned locals of mostly Scottish descent and all the tones in between, It felt our whitey tourist status was a little less obvious…
After about a month with the engine on deck, it was rebuilt, repainted along with the gearbox and replaced into a clean and painted bilge, along with a few bells, whistles and improvements and we were once again able to move with ease. We do endeavour to do as much maneuvering as possible under sail as it is great fun (and we like to think impresses any onlookers!) but having the engine on call is a great added security and permits risks one wouldn’t otherwise take, like tacking through a busy anchorage and dropping anchor. Amanda, keen to get on to Central America, found another boat heading West and we waved her off during this period in Bequia.
Though all ship shape again, we did not make a dash for the Western horizon, though we could have. We hadn’t planned to stay this long in the West Indies; indeed our original plan was to pass straight through and head to Colombia and Panama. But it became hard to leave – the familiarity, the good anchorages, the easy inter island trade-wind sailing, snorkeling, spearfishing even a couple of days windsurfing with a great French guys kit. We met a handful of really nice folk, mostly with kids, on other boats, the excuses to stay just a little longer were always easy to find.
Back in Wales on rainy days it was largely this that I longed for – to muck about with the girls on the beach, collect coconuts, snorkel with amazing wildlife like turtles, eagle rays and abundant tropical fish, and they seemed to love it – learning to dive off Lilly, sail alone in the Dinghy, Seren can pick up star fish from 5 metres depth! Go to shore in search of fresh mangoes, passionfruit or maybe a fresh local juice…
And time to discuss and to write – there’s something liberating about the detachment we have from media and social influence… Any news we read is what Nick and Jean–Marc read and share from independent news sources so it feels like views and opinions come from a relatively uncorrupted, heartfelt perspective. If you read The Times every day or watch the BBC news then surely it becomes hard not to see the world through that lens…discuss…!!
Despite this paradise, there are questions: where next? What’s the purpose? Missing family, timing… and what’s the state of the rest of the world – do we need to get busy doing something more productive to save it? Is it a good time to travel? Which countries are open…? The days where I felt I was just hanging around in the exhausting heat were frustrating – In Wales I would chop wood on those days (though to keep off the chill not trying to search it out)
As I write most of the Pacific countries are closed; French Polynesia though open is experiencing a backlog of yachties with nowhere to go and the relationship between locals and yachties sounds to be getting a little fractious in places, and currently New Zealand our ultimate destination is not accepting visitors.
So some big questions: we are now approaching Panama and excited to visit the indigenous people of the Kuna Yala or San Blas islands; in the next months we will have to decide whether to continue through the canal to the Pacific or head North and East back towards Europe.