Call For a Tow

Cruising St. Vincent


By Liz Tosoni

I swear. The most dangerous part of sailing around the world is not at sea, it’s on land. Being a passenger in a vehicle with a driver who thinks he’s in the Indy 500, who speeds up steep hills and around hairpin turns, swerving, passing slower vehicles, deeking back into his own lane milliseconds before what appears to be an imminent head-on collision, is far more dangerous. My chest was pounding with the vibrations of the reverberating, pulsing reggae music, my heart was in my throat and my stomach in a knot when we arrived at our destination on St. Vincent Island. We weren’t happy we made it, we were surprised! “Valium before that ride would have been a smart idea” quipped Tom wryly. Yikes, we may as well have been on a Fun Park ride.

Not only are many of the minibuses on this island fast and terrifying, they also have names that seem to make a statement about their characters: Back Off, Grand Hustler, Addicted to de Hustle, Busted, Survival Instinct, On the Run, Flipper, Venom, Cobra, Squealer, Code Red, Krap, One Blood. Ours that day was Scarface. Some of them are more spiritual in nature: Amen, Gifted, Faith, Bless, Hallelujah!, For the Glory, Hope and Prayer, Higher Heights, Forever Grateful. Others could be the names of boats: Tanya, Yankee Girl, Shorty, Tommy, Abdullah, Sunbeam, Sammy.
Our destination that blustery day was the base of Mt. Soufriere Mountain, the second most studied volcano in the world after Mt. St. Helens. Walking the rugged trails and reaching the top to view its verdant cone was perfect recuperation after that hair raising minibus ride from hell.

We arrived in St. Vincent after a short but fast sail from Bequia, which was beautiful flat sea Caribbean sailing, just as the brochures describe. Then came the rude awakening. We’d been warned by Chris Doyle in his Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands as well as by other cruisers, about the St. Vincent “boat boys” who want to help you upon arrival, lead you to a mooring, tie your lines, be your tour guide etc., all for a fee of course. Doyle states: “Men in rowing boats still approach you from as far away as three miles asking to take your stern line ashore and want you to tow them to Wallilabou. Refuse all such offers. If you do tow them, and their boat overturns (a likely scenario, it has happened to me), you could be liable for their boat and any personal damage. In any case, there are always plenty of line helpers in Wallilabou itself.” He actually recommends certain ones.

With the help of his outboard motor, Franklin was the first to come to Feel Free to solicit our business. “Welcome to Wallilabou. My name is Franklin.” We had read that the Wallilabou anchorage will answer VHF Channel 68 and give directions so that’s what we did, telling Franklin we’d made arrangements, and took a mooring from Ron who quietly helped us with a mooring and then tied our stern line to a post on shore, happily accepting EC$20 from us. Franklin was not happy. “I was here first, mon. It’s first come, first serve. I am telling you. Do you understand me?” He went on and on angrily. We honestly feared a fight would ensue but none did, thankfully, and we settled into this ‘knock down dead beautiful’ setting.

Our afternoon entertainment was watching the other boats parade in, with the attendant carryings-on by the eager lads, hoping to be guide to the nearby waterfall, sell crafts, local produce or even “the herb.”

Our visitors included friendly, entrepreneurial dreadlocked Rastafarian “Bugga” who came with his rowboat brimming with local produce. He drives a hard bargain but we both ended up happy, us with a nice pile of oranges, grapefruits, limes, bananas and a few nutmeg thrown in for good measure, he with a pocket full of cash from us as well as the other boats. “Be happy” were his last words as he rowed off to shore in the dark.

Kelly (16), Joey (17) and “Littlemon” (18) were three aimless youths looking for something to do. “We can help you. We can cook and clean. We want to see another place.” From them we learned that until the age of 16, school is free in St. Vincent but after that you have to pay. They didn’t have the money and there was no work for them so they were hoping for something from among the yachts. With the high rate of unemployment, and a poor economy, no wonder crime is on the rise.

Wallilabou is where the Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean was set and ashore, it’s fascinating to explore the mini museum of materials and artefacts left behind by the producers. It was, while in this gorgeous spot, that we learned of recent yacht burglaries in the area, including Wallilabou, so after two days there, we decided to head to the “Young Island Cut”, just 10 miles down the coast close to the capital, Kingstown, where we had heard it was more secure.

You might be getting the idea that Tom and I were starting to dwell on our safety and you’d be right. From several sources we had learned about yacht break-ins and even violence against “yachties” during attempted burglaries. The most recent Caribbean COMPASS, a well respected monthly cruiser newspaper, reported the arrest that month of a young man, Kenroy Grant, 28, for repeated yacht burglaries in St. Vincent.

When our friends in Grenada were having custom fitted stainless steel bars fabricated in order to lock themselves inside their boats and the bad guys out, we kind of pooh-poohed the idea. We thought it was a bit over the top, a foreign concept to us, it just seemed to go against the grain of cruising. But here we were, thinking along the same lines. What if someone tried to enter the boat in the middle of the night with everything wide open? We would be totally vulnerable, unable to defend ourselves.

So, our ship’s carpenter Tom got proactive and began taking steps to at least make it difficult for a would-be burglar to get inside our boat. He took metal and wood flat bars and screwed them in place in the forward sail locker. Anyone trying to enter the boat via the forward locker would have to first remove sails, and then try to figure out how to get through the bars leading to the forward cabin.

Both of our companionways can be locked from the inside with barrel bolt locks, but in all our years of cruising, we had never done such a thing. I remember thinking, when we bought Feel Free how bizarre- why would anyone want to lock themselves in? It seemed ludicrous, but here we were doing it for the first time in more than 25 years of sailing. So we spent our remaining nights in St. Vincent, locked inside the boat, with a few things at the ready in case of an intruder: air horn, whistles and mace. As it turned out, there were no intruders during our stay in St. Vincent, but we at least felt safer in the knowledge that defence measures were in place, that a “Pirate of the Caribbean” might give up rather than try to enter a secure boat, or so we hoped. I don’t mean to put you off St. Vincent. It is in fact a stunning island, with charming people and fabulous produce.

It was in the lively market in Kingstown, the capital, where we began to appreciate many of the special foods of the Caribbean. Breadfruit, for one. You may recall from history class that breadfruit was what Captain William Bligh carried to the Caribbean to be used as food for the slaves. It didn’t work out as planned as the slaves refused to eat it, but now, it’s a staple. Amelia here, has a unique method of baking breadfruit using a shopping cart. She makes a fire in her mobile oven, then roasts the breadfruit in the coals and voila, it’s done. At $5 each, she does all right!

Dasheen, christophene, papaya, sweet potatoes, pamplemousse and callaloo are some of the other exotic foods we’ve been learning about and incorporating into our galley cuisine. We learned the hard way that callaloo, a type of spinach, is delicious, especially if served in coconut cream, but must be cooked for a minimum of 30 minutes. Tom was positive he was dying after popping a raw leaf into his mouth! The tingling in his throat lasted for a couple of hours.