Time flies when you’re having fun! We’ve somehow spent a month in Admiralty Bay, Bequia in The Grenadines.
First, we enjoyed the holiday festivities. Then we hired Mr. Winfield Sargeant to do some varnish work on Sanitas. It takes a long time to build up a good coat of varnish when you allow 24-hours of dry time between coats! Especially when you’re applying ten coats, and when it rains every other day in the tropics!
Luckily, we’ve fallen in love with this beautiful small island and we’re in no real hurry to leave! The anchorage is well-protected from the Christmas winds (although it gets rolly at times) and there’s a lovely winding boardwalk that connects the beaches on the south side of the bay to town.
There are several short hikes to scenic overlooks, and when we get tired of these, we just pick a direction and walk to the end of the road! Once you get out of town, traffic is light, and you can only walk two or three miles in any direction until you run out of island!
Sometimes, the walks bring delightful surprises! Such as young Miguel who adopts and feeds the tortoises he finds in his garden…
Or the lovely Bequia Heritage Museum which preserves some of the wooden boats and simple tools that islanders have been using to hunt whales for hundreds of years. The UN has granted special permission for Bequia to hunt whales in order to maintain their history and culture. While I certainly have mixed feelings about hunting whale, throwing a harpoon at that ginormous creature from an 18-foot open wooden boat powered only by sail or oars means the whale has more than a fighting chance. Years go by between successful whale hunts but when they get one, the islanders use every last bit of the whale – meat, oil, skin, and bone.
On our most recent walk (to the end of the road in a northeasterly direction) we visited Mr. Orten King at the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. 82 year old Mr. King has been working to preserve and protect hawksbill turtles for over 25 years. He maps and protects turtle hatching grounds, and raises baby turtles in his salt water tanks for three years before releasing them back into the wild. I’d certainly rather see a turtle in the wild rather than in a tank, but I hope this little project is successful in increasing the hawksbill population here in the Grenadines!
It wasn’t a white Christmas (unless you count the sand) but I truly think we’ve had as nice a holiday as we could manage while being stuck far from home in the days of coronavirus.
Within the sailing community, everyone talks about “Christmas in Bequia” in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines. So as soon as we’d cleared into the country at Union Island, Capt. Mike and I started planning to sail about 55nm north to arrive in Bequia before bad weather moved in and to ensure we’d make it before the holiday. It was a brisk sail, with higher than expected seas, but Sanitas did great. We arrived and anchored just in front of the floating Bar One where friends from SV Jono and SV Maracudja cheered and jeered our anchoring attempts. Sometimes you watch the show, and sometimes you are the show!
It was a lovely welcome to this particularly welcoming island! Bequia is all about boats – they build boats by hand here, and fishing is a big part of the culture. Bequia is one of the few places remaining in the world where residents have approval to hunt whales. But they can only do so using small open sailboats (without motors) and using hand thrown harpoons. 😲 You can find any sort of marine service you might require here, such as canvas work, engine maintenance, or sail repair. And ferry boats run daily to the main island of St Vincent in case you can’t find a repair part here. It immediately felt like a place we could stay quite happily for a while. And the best part was that many of our sailing friends from Grenada and elsewhere had also gathered, so we could look forward to celebrations with friends to make us feel a little bit better about that fact that we were so far away from family.
St Vincentians have a unique Christmas tradition known as the “Nine Mornings.” For the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve, some folks attend early morning church services and then gather in the main square in town to listen to music, dance, and participate in contests like “longest earrings”, “best female dancer”, and “fastest juice drinker.” I have to admit, we didn’t participate very much – even hearing loud music from shore at 4:30 am isn’t enough of an enticement to get me out of bed before sunrise. And then…once the sun does come up, everybody heads to work or school and the party’s over. But we did enjoy the lights and decorations at a much more reasonable hour of the evening, lol!
On Christmas Eve, we were invited over to Andres and Elisbeth’s sailboat to join in a Norwegian tradition of sharing rice porridge (risgrøt) and mulled wine (gløgg) with friends and family. This tradition is new to me, but I love it! The “more the merrier” vibe felt so kind, and it was a great chance to meet new cruiser friends – several of who had just crossed the Atlantic in time for the holiday. Wow! Impressive! Our hosts were festively attired – those Santa hats are hot in the tropics!
We had Christmas lunch with some good friends at Coco’s Place. And while I *could* have ordered Turkey and the fixings, when in Bequia, you must celebrate Christmas with fresh fruit, right? And a cool rum punch 🍹Tourism is way, way down because of Covid, and it felt good to support a small local restaurant owner with our holiday business. And we’ll definitely be back for Coco’s famous fish chowder. Luckily, we have good cell phone signal here, so both the captain and I were able to call home on Christmas to speak to our families and to dream of the more traditional snowy, cozy Christmas we wish we could be spending with our loved ones.
Speaking of difficulties due to Covid, The Fig Tree restaurant is an institution in Bequia- long a gathering place for cruisers, as well as a resource for local school children who attend Miss Johnson’s reading program in the afternoons. But the owners were contemplating closing down because of the lack of visitors in 2020. So a group of Fig Tree supporters, including the owners and crew of Sailing Yacht Ananda, planned a fundraiser party for New Year’s Eve. I’m thrilled to report that every single table sold out, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening of cocktails, local Caribbean food, and dancing knowing that we were helping Miss Johnson and her team stay in business through this unusually quiet “high” season.
You may be wondering about exactly HOW we can safely have these types of celebrations during Covid. St Vincent and the Grenadines has used closed borders, mandatory Covid testing, and mandatory quarantine to do a good job of keeping the number of cases imported into the island nation low. There are limits of the size of gatherings, and requirements for hand sanitizer and contact tracing, but otherwise things feel pretty relaxed. Except….at about 7:00 on New Years Eve, the government decided that the big street parties and all night celebrations that usually usher in the new year would be too risky this year. So at the last minute they prohibited “amplified music” and sent policemen around to share that message. It definitely meant things were quieter than expected! But the Fig Tree party was granted an exception, because our entertainment was provided by a violinist playing pop hits with great enthusiasm. The authorities said he could play during dinner…..so dinner went on for a very, very, long time – right up to midnight! 🤣 He did have backup music, and a supporting DJ, but I guess they figured a violinist couldn’t get in too much trouble!
I hope you and your families had a safe and peaceful Christmas, and that you were also to do the best you could to make new traditions in this crazy year. ❤️