Warning – for the next three weeks, this sailing blog will be pre-empted by the trail journal of my end-to-end hike of the Long Trail in Vermont.
Instead of The Grenadines, we’ll be walking 273 miles from Williamstown, MA to the border of Canada. Instead of the gin-blue waters of the Caribbean, you’ll see the emerald greens and deep earthy browns of the Green Mountains. Instead of Jenn and Capt. Mike, we will henceforth be known as Dingle and ToeJam.
Just before the La Soufriere volcano erupted (life is now measured in BV, and AV) we spent three nights anchored off the private island of Mustique. Why three? Because the Mustique Company charges 220ec (about $82) per mooring ball, whether you stay for one night, two nights, or three. And the crew of Sanitas always get our money’s worth!
Mustique is definitely “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous” If you’ve watched The Crown, you know that Princess Margaret owned a home here, and visited for decades. Bryan Adams, Tommy Hilfiger, and Mick Jagger own homes, and several large villas are available for rent to the very wealthy at around 40,000 per week during the winter high season. Only small private planes can land here, and the rif-raf is definitely kept out. Except for us, lol! We’re considered “yachties” and we are allowed limited access to this beautiful island. ⛵🌴🌄 Of course our first stop was the world famous Basil’s Bar, clinging picturesquely to a wooden dock over the blue, blue water. It’s a lovely beach bar, decorated with carved wood, rattan lamps, and antique musical instruments. Unfortunately, we arrived one day too late for the weekly Wednesday “jump up” of live island music. We watched a mediocre sunset while sampling tasty but obscenely expensive cocktails and burgers. It was a bit of a shock seeing the menu in US dollars rather than in ec. Well I did say I wanted to see how the other half lives – so far, I think they get ripped off, lol 🤣
The mooring field in Brittania Bay is beautiful with tons of happy healthy sea turtles swimming around. We visited with Zach and Lindy on SV Holiday, and we shared this large bag with only two other boats. Unfortunately, it can also be rolly here. On Friday morning we experienced an insane roll as if we were sailing in one of our most difficult passages – we think caused by the volcano’s first seismic activity.
Visitors, like us yachties, are welcome to visit the amazing gourmet supermarket, gift shops, and a few restaurants.
Sean at the mooring office told us “When you see a Private Property sign, you turn around!” We didn’t realize how quickly we’d hit one of those signs on our attempt to go for a walk along the waterfront. Pretty much every road that heads inland from the bay is marked Private. 😡
Most of the island is kept natural and undeveloped, and I’d read about beautiful scenic hiking trails. So I wrote to Sean and asked very politely if we could do a hike to the southernmost point on the island. He said yes! As long as we stayed away from all homes, and didn’t take any photos of residents or their villas.
At this point in our stay, the volcano had started erupting, and the sky was grey and full of ash. So maybe, just maybe, going for a hike and breathing in all that crap wasn’t the smartest idea. But remember my goal of getting my Mustique money’s worth? We could feel the grit in our teeth and ended the hike with black streaks of dirt in our elbows and arm pits, but I honestly think it was worth it.
Rich people islands have gorgeous hiking trails! Great signage, mowed grass, and beautiful stone steps to climb the hills. In a distance of less than three miles we changed environments from bird watching in a blind on a salt pond, to a moonscape of exposed rock and cactus. We also glimpsed gorgeous wild beaches, of white sand on the Atlantic side and of black volcanic sand on the Caribbean side.
So is it worth visiting Mustique on a sailboat? Honestly, I guess it depends. If you follow royalty or you’ve always dreamed of rubbing shoulders with celebrities and CEOs, it’s probably the cheapest and easiest way to get here. I didn’t feel very welcome here; it felt more like we were just being tolerated But I have to say, Sanitas has anchored in many equally beautiful harbors where we could anchor for free. And I’ve enjoyed delicious barbequed lobster on the beach for the cost of a burger and a beer at Basil’s. Since we’re spending five months in The Grenadines this year, we’ve set a goal to visit every inhabited island in the chain (and some uninhabited!) so I think Mustique was worth a stop, especially with our lovely hike included. But if you’re here on a brief charter, or if the weather is bad, or if you prefer to spend 12ec for fruit juice and sunset rum instead of $20…. I’d probably pass 🤪
Picture that perfect Caribbean beach – soft white sand, photogenic coconut palms, gin-blue water – you know, the sort of beach you THINK we visit every day. For the past week, you’d be right! We’ve spent that week anchored in the Tobago Cays marine park which is the quintessential tropical Paradise. In a “normal” year, during high season, there would probably be 100 boats here fighting over the mooring balls, but in Covid times there are no charter boats and only between four and maybe twenty cruisers each night.
Our park fees of 20ecd per day (around $7.50) allow us to anchor inside a coral reef and next to a sea turtle preserve. We can snorkle right off the boat with these gentle creatures who munch on sea grass all day long, pausing every 5 to 15 minutes to surface for a breath of air. They seem to know they are safe here, and don’t swim away from medlesome humans. Although they certainly don’t look enthused at the sight of us! I’m pretty sure green turtles invented Resting Bitch Face, lol!
On one unusually calm day, we dared to take our little dinghy, Bug, outside the protective reef and into the wide open Atlantic. A journey of about a mile and a half over open water brought us to the beach at Petit Tabac where scenes from the original Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed 🏴☠️ This teeny island is absolutely stunning. A narrow point of sand stretches east and a line of waves from the north meet another line from the south forming a mesmerizing triangle of constantly moving water. Our friends on SV LeefNu and SV Holiday joined us for a sunny beach afternoon and for hunting and gathering a delicacy of green coconuts. Add a splash of dark rum and you’ve got yourself a coco loco!
Petit Rameau is the only island in the park to boast any man-made structures. Now we’re not talking hotels or spas. Nope, we’re talking a few picnic tables, a couple of barbeque grills, and a latrine. We paid a “boat boy” 20ec to bring us charcoal from Union Island and had ourselves a fabulous beach barbeque, dominos tournament, and ukulele concert on the beach. I think we beat most island restaurants in terms of delicious food and homemade margaritas and you sure as heck couldn’t ask for a better view!
After being off-grid for about a week, we got a little tired of my boring cooking. Never fear – Romeo and his lovely wife Juliet were there with fresh spiny lobster and they cooked us up a feast! For 100ec per person (around $37) we each had a whole lobster grilled in garlic butter, rice pilaf, grilled potatoes, fresh island veggies, and sweet plantains for dessert. Add in a couple of Juliet’s rum punches, and enjoy the sunset with your toes in the sand, and you have an absolutely idyllic island experience.
This past week has been absolutely perfect and I’m truly grateful to be spending time in this beautiful park. Soon enough, we’ll return to boat chores but this brief stay in paradise has done my soul good!
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. ❤️