Our “Best Of” tour of the Grenadines

After leaving Dominica, we had to come to grips with the fact that our cruising season on Sanitas is almost at an end. Hurricane season is right around the corner, and it’s time to head south to Grenada to get ready. The country of St Vincent and the Grenadines still requires a COVID test and expensive health check fee to enter, so we almost skipped it. But…we had so much fun in SVG last winter, we couldn’t imagine heading south without stopping at our favorite anchorages. So here’s a glimpse of our favorite places south of St Vincent and north of Grenada 😎

We sailed Sanitas past St Lucia, admiring the stunning beauty of the pitons. And we had a salty sail down the coast on St Vincent before dropping anchor in what feels like our winter home of Bequia.

Our favorite things to do in Bequia are to hike to beautiful viewpoints, enjoy the fish chowder at Coco’s, to lime on Princess Margaret beach, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  This year, we also had the privilege of participating in the naming ceremony for Popeye and Lisa’s beautiful homemade wooden sailing dinghy Velocette.

We tore ourselves away from bustling, exciting Bequia and headed south to the paradise of the Tobago Cays Marine Park. There’s nothing here but nature, but wow is it beautiful. we snorkeled with turtles and rays, climbed to gorgeous viewpoints, and ate a delicious barbecue on the beach cooked by our friends Romeo and Juliette ❤️ If you’re ever in the area, Tobago Cays can’t be missed!

Our next little downwind hop to Union Island was a short, sweet sail. We nestled Sanitas right into our favorite anchor spot behind the reef in Clifton and went ashore to look around. Clifton looks great! Perhaps the number of tourists who are returning now as COVID restrictions ease is bringing valuable money back to the island. Lots of buildings have had a new coat of bright colored paint, and there are some cute new bars and restaurants. We made the 30-minute trek over the hill to the most beautiful beach on Union and spent the afternoon at Sparrows Beach Club. I warned you that this would be our “best of” reel, didn’t I? Lunch at Sparrows really did feel like a vacation from our vacation.

After another easy downwind sail, we cleared into the country of Grenada on sleepy Carriacou. We hiked with baby goats, got our Pfizer booster shots, and reconnected with a friend we hadn’t seen since Grenada. Every Wednesday afternoon is Paint and Sip at Allison’s Paradise Beach Club. It’s a great chance to meet other sailors, enjoy a delicious cocktail, and eat a wonderful meal. Our boat name sign that we painted in November 2020 is still there – along with a couple hundred newer works of art!

Sanitas will be pointing her bow south again in a few days, enjoying her last sail of the season. Soon, we’ll be back in her summer home in Prickly Bay, and Capt. Mike and I will be working our butts off to get her ready for hurricane season storage. Yikes. Until then, we’ll enjoy every sunset we can experience on the water 🌅

Hiking our little legs off on Bequia

One of our favorite things to do on Bequia is to go on long walks, ending in beautiful vistas. On this trip, it was particularly attractive to get off the boat and go for a walk to escape the sawdust, smell of varnish, and chaos in the cockpit as our big brightwork project progressed. About every other day, we’d eat breakfast, welcome Winfield to the boat and get him all set up for the day’s work, put a couple of Hairoun beers in a cooler for him, and off we’d go!

The easiest hike is a road walk to Fort Hamilton on the northwest side of Admiralty Bay. I can do this one in flip flops with only the tiniest blisters ensuing. But it’s lovely to sit in the shade and the breeze and watch the water from the ruins of the fort. One unique feature of Fort Hamilton shows the strange colonial history of the island. Two of the five cannons in place are French, while the other three are English!

View from Fort Hamilton
Waving goodby to Bequia

Alternatively, you’d better wear comfy shoes and bring a lot of water for the hike to North Head. The daytime temperatures are usually around 85deg Fahrenheit in December, so the first time Capt. Mike and I did this 9-mile walk it felt like a death march. But the views of the big island of St Vincent are so gorgeous, and the final couple of miles of dirt trail through the forest so lovely, we had to try it again a week later. As an added bonus, you get to check out the sea state on the rougher ocean side of the island from a safe distance – it made us really appreciate the protection of Admiralty Bay where Sanitas floated safe and sound. Be warned, the trails turn into a confusing tangle at one point, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for the flip flop in a tree that marks the left turn 😜

St Vincent in the distance
We made it!

I mentioned the walk to Spring View park in my last post about a magical Sunday. The views from the park are almost as good as those from North Head and it’s much shorter. We did this hike three times and highly recommend it for beginners. The walk is mostly on paved road with about a mile of gravel road, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’ll be easy! Island roads aren’t built to contend with snow and ice, so they pretty much build ‘em straight up… and straight down!

I’ve saved the best for last. The climb to Peggy’s Rock is short and sweet with a huge reward at the top. I do this one by myself just for a bit of exercise when the Captain is too busy with boat projects to join me. Even though I did this hike five or six times in the month we stayed on Bequia, I couldn’t resist snapping a pic or two of the majestic rock and the view of the bay each time. It’s fun to assess how crowded the anchorage is from this vantage point. We definitely saw a swell in numbers between Christmas and New Years, and then the crowds thinned a bit as cruisers went their separate ways. Capt. Mike dipped his toe into a second career as a tour guide on this one. A British family wanted to know how to find the trail to Peggy’s Rock so Mike offered to guide them if they’d pay for the taxi. He had to admit, “I don’t know the history of this walk, or the names of any of the trees or cactus you’ll pass, but I’ll get you up and back safely and you’ll love the views.” He received only positive reviews! Next time, I think he should just make stuff up, don’t you?

Our new hiking friends, aged 8 years to 75 years
I didn’t want to bore you with Peggy’s Rock photos, so here’s a collage!

By the way, if you enjoy finding new hikes and walks while on vacation, I highly recommend an app named Wikiloc. It allows you to search for walks, bike rides, and even sails or kayak routes near you. When you find a route you like, you can follow it on your phone. The app vibrates and beeps to let you know when you’ve wandered off the trail, and lets out a celebratory “Ta-Da!” when you’ve retraced your steps and found it again. Also, maps.me is a great compliment to Google maps. It shows many more walking trails and paths than you’ll find on Google maps, and it’s easy to download the maps for the area that you’re visiting so you’ll have access even when you’re off line. I hope you enjoy these tips to help you get outside and explore wherever you travel. Have a nice walk!

Christmas in the Islands

“I don’t want an icy Christmas, I’ve had enough. The only ice I wanna see must be in my cup.”

Shaggy: “No Icy Christmas” from the 2020 album Christmas in the Islands

Thank you Shaggy! My sentiments, exactly. While I sure miss my family desperately each festive holiday season, I don’t miss snow and ice one bit. I have fully embraced the sunny beach Christmas. And Bequia is a fabulous place to spend Christmas as a cruiser. The ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) finishes in St Lucia in December, so there are suddenly dozens of European boats that just crossed the Atlantic and over a hundred cruisers in a celebratory mood. And Bequia is so incredibly welcoming to boaters over the holidays, hosting potlucks and parties and events. This is our second year in a row celebrating Christmas and New Year’s here, and I can see why some cruisers return here year after year.

Of course, even this corner of paradise is not immune from Covid. This year, the Christmas light displays and fireworks were canceled. When I asked around to find out why, I received two answers: “The government wants to discourage large gatherings,” and “The community is really suffering economically due to the pandemic and the resulting loss of tourism. Electricity is the most expensive resource on the island and it feels wrong to light up the parks when so many families are struggling to pay their electric bills.” But the stores and restaurants are decorated, sometimes even in a nautical theme.

The nautical-themed Christmas tree at Dockside Marine

I tried to bring a bit of that Christmas spirit aboard Sanitas through baking festive treats. Now, I hate to bake. I get kind of tense and twitchy just looking at the ingredients and knowing I’ll have to measure accurately to get this thing to turn out properly. Plus, I’m a celiac and eat strictly gluten free and I try to stay healthy by limiting carbs. But it’s Christmas! So I whipped up a batch of gf chocolate chip cookies with red and green m&ms. (I had to buy two packets of m’s and dug through to pick out the red and green ones). I bought colorful dried fruit and peel in syrup from Knight’s Trading and baked it into a gf Irish soda bread. And I spread a thick layer of mince meat over an almond flour tart to approximate mince meat pies. I kind of think I nailed it. 😀

A holiday baking extravaganza

Now, every restaurant on the island was competing for our business for holiday dinners. But I accidentally wandered into the Porthole one afternoon and ordered a soda water and started chatting to the owner. The Porthole restaurant and mini mart is a Bequia institution, operated by Mr and Mrs T for 40 years and famous for its delicious rotis. The couple have gotten older and struggled to keep it up (not to mention Covid) so their son Gladwyn and his partner Linda moved back home from New York City to take over. They’ve put a ton of work into painting and modernizing and the place looks fantastic. Linda told me they were planning a grand opening party for Christmas Eve with lobster and Mrs T’s traditional recipes for salads and sides so I jumped at the chance! We shared a table with three other cruisers and had a lovely evening – Elvis played Christmas songs on the steel pan, the food was delicious and the wine flowed, and we finally experienced some Christmas cheer. Even if the dinner we were promised at 7:00 didn’t actually get served until 9:00. Island time, lol!

New and improved Porthole Restaurant
Poached lobster, breadfruit salad, stewed pigeon peas, cinnamon yams, green beans and christophene, green salad

The main event of a Bequia Christmas is without a doubt the Cruisers’ pot luck at the Fig Tree. The owners, Cheryl and Lafayette open the restaurant to sailors free of charge and light of the grills. And folks from all countries and all languages gather to grill meats, share sides and desserts, and drink festive cocktails. All within feet of the lapping waves against the Belmont Boardwalk. It’s a total blast, and I’m so grateful for the Fig Tree’s hospitality.

Last year on New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999….and then four out of the eight people at our table came down with COVID and had to isolate on their boats for weeks. This year, since we’re vaxed and boosted, we planned to go to the Frangipani for steel pan music and a DJ – we even bought tickets. But on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, two of the most popular tourist restaurants on the island shut down suddenly because staff tested positive for Covid. We hemmed and hawed and decided not to risk it. Instead, a friend invited us over to his catamaran and we had a lovely little 5-person party on the deck with charcuterie and champagne. We could hear the music just fine from the anchorage – we didn’t miss a thing. And as midnight struck, the boaters made their own firework show, lighting off expired flares in the harbor (Cap. Mike did not like firey things raining down near Sanitas at all)

I bought myself flowers for New Years!

All in all, it was a lovely holiday, spent with good friends, and I enjoyed every minute of it! I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday also – maybe even with a little snow, if that’s your thing.

Saying goodbye to The Grenadines

After five months in The Grenadines (yikes – five months in one country!) we are finally preparing to say goodbye to this beautiful country and to head south for hurricane season. And we’re also saying goodbye to many good friends. We’ve been sharing anchorages with some of these same boats since Covid first started in 2020. I’m not so fond of goodbyes, so here’s a “See you later” to some of my favorite places and people….

All good things must come to an end. And so, lobster season in St Vincent ends on the last day of April. I kind of thought Capt. Mike’s epic birthday party in the Tobago Cays would be our last lobster beach barbecue of the season. But wait! In a calm weather window, we herded the cats and gathered four boats of cruisers off the beach of Petite Bateau for one last hurrah. Romeo and Juliet motored by in their red power boat, shouting out “welcome back my friends!” And, wow did they treat us well this time! They whipped up a towering platter of grilled critters, plus conch curry, plus all the delectable sides. We had so much lobster, we celebrated “Mofongo Monday” with the crews of Dorothy Rose and Soulshine with the leftovers the next day. Thanks Karen! I haven’t had mofongo since Puerto Rico, and yours is delicious! 😍

We recently had the opportunity to meet a large group of Scandinavian cruisers. It’s been fun to meet and play with a whole new crew! At one point, all of our boats were anchored in beautiful Chatham Bay on the quieter, undeveloped side of Union Island. There’s only a couple of rustic beach bars on this spot, and we’ve kind of colonized Sunset Cove, returning time and time again for Adele’s great food and Bald Head’s strong rum punch. We spent an afternoon there in a super competitive Mexican train dominos tournament. (Jill, from SV Ticora, shared the bottle of rum that she won with the rest of us). Ken, who owns the bar, offered a buffet barbecue and bonfire if we could get a good sized group together. Cara, from SV Music, took on the challenge and in no time, we had a goodbye party scheduled for the next day. This sleepy beachfront turned into a disco with a DJ getting everybody dancing off their dinners around the embers of a gorgeous fire.

We had to return to the “big city” side of Union Island soon after, so that we could get our second shot of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Clifton hospital. Many of the Scandinavian boats followed us over to the new anchorage, prompting the idea for a farewell to yet another favorite place. Sparrow’s Beach Club, on the most beautiful beach on Union Island, is always a special day out. I’ve organized so many group outings there that Bertrand, the manager, replies to my phone call with “Hello Jennifer.” This was the biggest group of all, with 20 sailors – pretty much every cruising boat in Clifton Harbor – attending. We had the largest pavilion to ourselves, claimed all the beach chairs with their fluffy pink towels, and lucked out on the sunniest and warmest day of the week! The fresh fish is always delicious at Sparrows, and you really can’t beat the location. When I told Bertrand it would be our last visit for the season, he treated me to a free mojito. Well played, monsieur Bertrand! You’ll see me and all my friends again next season for sure.

Photo credit: Nikki Marie on SV BooRie
Photo credit: Cara on SV Music

Caribbean countries have just started relaxing quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated visitors. We had to wait two weeks after our second shot to be considered fully vaccinated, so we squeezed in one last sail north to Bequia to check off the last few items on our wish list there. (If you recall, our last visit was cut short by that pesky volcano) I thought I’d walked every road and trail on the island, but I found one that I’d missed – a 9.5 mile round trip trek to the northernmost point on the island, with great views of the main island of St Vincent. I’m glad we came back for it, because this turned out to be one of the nicest trails we’ve encountered in the Grenadines – even if our feet were aching by the end of the trek. Life on a sailboat sure isn’t good for hiking training! In Bequia, we were also able to squeeze in a little gift shopping and gluten free food shopping, as well as visits to our favorite restaurants, and one last hike to picturesque Peggy’s Rock.

Most of this long drawn-out goodbye has been loads of fun. But the downside of this nomadic life (and the flip side of meeting so many great people) is that eventually we have to say goodbye to close friends who have become our chosen family. We’ve been buddy boating with Kevin and Cheryl on SV LeefNu and Zach and Lindy on SV Holiday on and off for the past three years. (Check out the “Fun on Holiday” YouTube channel for great videos of cruising life – with ukulele serenades!) From SVG, we are all going our separate ways. And while we might meet up with Holiday somewhere during next year’s cruising season, LeefNu will be sailing back home to Ontario to resume careers and hunting and canoeing adventures up north. We’ve had great times together; hosting beach barbecues, sharing recipes, repairing each other’s boats, hiking and snorkeling, and drinking rum. Saying “See you later” to such good friends was the toughest part of our long goodbye.

Well, goodbye month is winding down, and it’s time to stop liming on the beach, and start making plans for keeping Sanitas and ourselves safe during hurricane season. Next blog post, we’ll be heading back south to Grenada!

How the other half lives

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.

Nobody said we couldn’t take photos of pornographic tortoises

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 🤪