To the Grenadines

5/1/2010

By Tom Morkin

Should have been an easy overnight downwind sail of 100 miles from Barbados to Bequia, but a big swell from the northeast had us rolling more than we ever did during our recent Transatlantic passage. Worse yet, we were a crew of two again after being spoiled with four watch keepers for our Canaries to Barbados passage and we whined like “Valley girls” about not getting enough sleep.

Then there was the near heart-stopper incident as I watched a cruise ship’s red and green navigation lights off our bow get larger and larger, fast. The cruise ship was going from Bequia (just south of St. Vincent) to Barbados and we were of course going from Barbados to Bequia. We were clearly on a collision course.

Thanks to GPS’s accuracy to a meter or two, the modern navigator has a greater risk of a collision at sea. Since all traffic between Barbados and Bequia will tend to plot the same course line, the risk of collision is heightened. The good news that night was that after a couple of calls on VHF radio channel 16, alerting the fast approaching behemoth of our petite presence off of his not so petite bow, I heard the sweetest sound I could ever hear- his response: “Yes Feel Free, this is the cruise ship off your bow. I see your navigation lights and we will alter heading to starboard to pass red to red” (meaning we pass each other on our port or left sides).

As we gratefully watched the floating resort pass off our port side we couldn’t help but contemplate how a collision with such a vessel would be so catastrophic for us and yet would probably be unnoticed by the cruise ship, the only evidence being maybe a couple bits of Feel Free’s paint stuck to the bow, detected by the ship’s maintenance crew weeks after the fact.

Even our better than expected speed couldn’t make us happy that night. We were going too fast and would arrive in the dark, something we don’t like doing in unfamiliar ports. To slow down, we had to reduce sail area. Yeah, you guessed it, the less sail up the more the boat rolls. It was like someone turned the dial on the washing machine to ON.

It was about that time when Liz let out with “I HATE sailing! I really do. I’ll be happy to be done with it!” Now, this declaration of despair and disgust would probably rattle a good many husbands. Images of packed bags on deck and a taxi to the airport etc. could really upset a guy. But I’ve seen this movie before. Seldom does a cruising year go by, in fact some years it’s more than once when this utterance or a modification on the same theme is heard from if not Liz, then me, or worse, both of us.

Like many long time cruisers and mothers of more than one child, we’re blessed or cursed with lousy memories. What’d ya bet- Liz can’t even remember her outbreak that night. The sight of the high hills of Bequia off the port bow and St. Vincent off to starboard as well as all the easy ‘off the wind’ day sails coming for the next couple of months, makes the memory of last night’s ordeal fade fast.

Better still, as we enter Bequia’s large natural harbour we see the boats of buddies on Djarrka, Ascension, Grace and Clementine. It’s always good to see familiar faces in unfamiliar places, like our little pal Sami here, from the Aussie boat Clementine.

But the number of boats was a bit staggering. Paradise has been discovered. Bequia is not the place I expected. My mental image of Bequia came from a Cruising World article perhaps 25 years old. At that time, the bay was filled with engineless working sailboats built from the local hardwoods. Beautifully painted vessels with huge sail plans plied the waters and outnumbered the cruising yachts. Those days are gone. During our stay we counted fewer than half a dozen and most of them carried aluminum masts and modern Dacron sails.

The Friendship Rose is an example of traditional style boat building and now acts as a charter vessel, taking tourists out for day sails to nearby islands, but for many years she was the ferry between St Vincent’s capital city, Kingstown and Bequia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is still some boat building on the island and evidence of it can be seen on the beaches.

Times have brought change to Bequia. At least 300 yachts lay at anchor.

Every day we were visited by local boats with diesel (EC $14.75 or US$5.70/gallon), water (EC $1.50 or US.58/gallon), fresh bread, fish, and vegetables for sale as well as laundry service (EC $30 or US$11.20/load, wash and dry), and garbage pick-up (EC $8 or US$3 for medium bag).

Like almost everywhere in the south eastern Caribbean, wifi connections were plentiful so Internet and Skype were available on board. For those who didn’t want to get their dinghy wet, there was a water taxi service. Even marijuana could be delivered. If you had enough cash, you wouldn't have to leave your boat for months on end. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we couldn’t afford those items at their delivered prices so ashore we did go.

Ashore on Bequia, one was immediately made aware of the importance of music to these folks. Everywhere were small bars, each serving up local rum and very loud reggae music.

The streets were abuzz with colorfully dressed men and women, stalls were scattered along the waterfront with odd collections of souvenirs for sale as well as fruit and vegetables at the “Rasta market” at rather high prices. Bequia is a dry island and farming is obviously not a productive pursuit. The situation in the three grocery stores was only marginally better, virtually no fresh meat and surprisingly, not much fresh fish either.

As expensive as we thought food was in most European countries, it was cheaper than many of the islands of the Caribbean and we would have done well to put even more food on board than we did while in Europe. We wished we’d doubled or tripled our purchases of canned foods- vegetables, fruit, olives, nuts, cereals, wine, beer- just about everything with the exception of rum!

The picture is not entirely bleak as the situation will dramatically improve in Trinidad. So, until we get to Trinidad, we’ll not be provisioning in any major way, we’ll be in ‘de-provisioning’ mode, living off the boat stores until the cupboards are bare.

When we left Bequia, it was decision time: do we go north or south? North would take us to St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, St. Maarten, maybe even the Virgin Islands. South would take us through the Grenadine Islands of Canouan, Tobago Keys, Union Island, Carriacou, Grenada and perhaps Trinidad for Carnival. I was told some time ago, that when planning a sailing itinerary of the Caribbean, even before arriving in these tropical isles, decide on your exit strategy. Unless you don’t mind sailing in and around hurricanes, you’d better figure out where your floating home will be from June to November.

You can go north to U.S. or Canadian waters, maybe up the Intracoastal Waterway, but we want to stay in the Caribbean, so that means somewhere north of 12 N Latitude. Grenada used to be considered far enough south to satisfy the boat insurance companies. Then Hurricane Ivan came along in 2004, destroying or damaging hundreds of boats in and out of the water.

Although Trinidad is only 80 miles south of Grenada, it is now the most popular summer home for boats and boaters in the Caribbean. Other options include Curacao in the ABC islands, Cartagena in Columbia, and Panama. Venezuela, a long time favorite summering destination, has been rapidly falling out of favor thanks to its burgeoning crime rate, which has taken the form of increased theft from boats at anchor to outright good ‘ole fashioned pirate attacks at sea (more of that to follow in a future blog).

So Venezuela is out and Grenada is unlikely. The others all look doable so we decide to head south and maybe later we might head west to Columbia and Panama, all the time remembering our trademark of maintaining a ‘rigid policy of infinite flexibility.’ Grenadines here we come!

The Grenadine Islands of the SE Caribbean consist of several islands and two countries: 1) St. Vincent and the Grenadines (St. Vincent, Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau, Mustique, Baliceaux, Union Island and the glorious Tobago Cays) and 2) Grenada including the islands of Grenada, Carriacou, Petit St. Vincent and a few tiny islands.

For a seven day period we cruised the islands St. Vincent and the Grenadines, finding ourselves doing exactly what the sailing brochures say you will. From Bequia, we broad reached a grand total of 11 miles under brilliant sunshine with 18 knots of ENE trade winds and best of all, seas flattened by the presence of islands, islets and reefs off to the east. Didn’t even raise the main, just rolled out the jib and got the fishin’ line in the water. I’m lovin’ this Caribbean Island sailin’, mon!

Extra pics