Friday, April 2, 2010

Bequia, Canouan and Tobago Cays

March 31 - Bequia to Canouan

First, something I forgot to elaborate on in my last blog posting. In fact, it was the first photo of a father (Hadu) and his young son at a fruit stand. We had such a nice chat about island life, how he’s worked as a fruit vendor in Bequia for fifteen years and much more. Then he commented that, for an American, I have a dark skin. So I told him my family history. Yet he was very light for a St. Vincent native. So I asked him the same thing. You are very light for a St. Vincent person. How come? He laughed hard. He said “Ah, but I’m black inside. You see, my mother is black and my father is from Portugal.” After he told me that, I told him about the American term for blacks who identify more with whites than blacks and are called “Oreos”. And that it referred to a cookie that was chocolate on the outside with a white cream inside. I told him that it was sort of the opposite of what he was. He simply loved it. He insisted that I write it down. I told him he could go buy Oreos right down the street at one of the small grocery stores in town! It was one of those memorable moments in a trip I’ll never forget.

We left Bequia late next morning and headed to Canouan, another one of the Grenadines. It was again a very comfortable beam reach of about fourteen miles. Once again when we got into the harbor in Charlestown Bay, there was evidence of a drought. The land looked parched and the shrubs were dusty looking.

Canouan is a small island. It is only a bit more than three miles long and half as wide. We went for a walk ashore and bought some local vegetables. On the way back, we stopped and had a drink at the Moorings Yacht Charter bar overlooking the bay before heading back to the boat for dinner.

Apparently, Canouan has nice beaches (and exclusive resorts). But unfortunately, the rest of the island is very trashy and with typical ramshackle housing with million dollar views. Not a place we wanted to spend another day.

April 1 - Canouan to Tobago Cays

We left Canouan after breakfast and headed for Tobago Cays. Being that it was only about four miles south, we were there quickly. The cays are a small group of tiny, uninhabited islands that are part of the national park system of the Grenadines.

We maneuvered through a narrow pass in between two of the small islands and found our way to a beautiful but very crowded anchorage near the fringes of a barrier reef that protects the anchorage from the Atlantic swells. The water was a beautiful emerald blue. The words idyllic and quintessential come to mind. We had not even anchored when we started to see turtles pop up for a breath of air.

After getting the boat anchored, we went snorkeling near one of the islands that is specifically reserved for turtles. We were in the water but a few minutes and already I could see five large turtles munching on grass at the water’s bottom. Every few minutes they’d come up for air and return to munching more grass. The turtles were haw bills. Our presence didn’t seem to bother them in the least.

Having had our fill of turtles. we swam out towards the reef’s edge. The snorkeling was outstanding. Lots of varieties of colorful fish and soft and hard coral. And it was all within a few feet from the top of the water. On the way back to the boat we stopped at other one of the small islands and walked around its white sandy beach with palm trees arching over into the water. Tobago Cays surely rates as one of the premier spots we had seen.

In the morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we headed off to Union Island, again only about four miles south.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Castries to Bequia

March 27 - Castries to Marigot Bay

From Castries, it was a short trip to Marigot Bay. The boat boys were out quite a ways from the harbor to assist us. We were looking for one of two guys - Michael or Nash. The one fellow who approached us identified himself as Nash. He took us to a mooring.

Marigot was a very narrow bay lined with palm trees to the edges and white sandy beaches. Like a movie set. Small resorts and restaurant/bars along the beach. Boats were in very tightly together. Uncomfortable so

Boat boys can be helpful but they also can be a pain. Too many of them were coming by asking us if we needed help, could they get us ice, groceries, take the garbage, etc. With some of them you could tell a sort of desperateness in their behavior - they really need the money.

It turned out that our boat boy, Nash, wasn’t who he said he was. Luckily, he wasn’t such a bad guy. To our credit, we knew to ask for a receipt for the mooring. But he never asked us for money. He told us that we needed to go to the office ashore to pay for the mooring. The way that pseudo-Nash made his money was to sell trinkets and carvings (made in Guatemala).

The following morning we left Marigot and again made a quick trip to the next anchorage of Sofriere, which was right under the peak of the Petit Piton. Pretty darned spectacular being anchored in the shadow of this beautiful, steep and craggy peak.

We went snorkeling around our the boat and it turned out to be excellent. What I found to be most unusual were a type of bushy, two to four feet long, corn-yellow palm frawns that were stuck on big underwater rocks. Hundreds of fish were swimming around. Quite a sight. Of the fish I saw, the only one I had not spotted before was a long, barracuda looking fish that had more of a dolphin-nose with small teeth. At first look I mistook it for a barracuda. But upon closer inspection, it was very different looking. They were inquisitive and not shy, keeping a close eye on me.

March 29 - St. Lucia to St. Vincent

Between St. Lucia and Bequia, our next intended anchorage, was St. Vincent. But we’d heard lots of negative comments on it regarding boat security and night time boardings. We had opted to bypass it until we talked to a French fellow in the anchorage who had just come from Cumberland Bay, St. Vincent. He had had a delightful stay there and had felt quite safe. So we decided to stop in St. Vincent on our way to Bequia.

When we finally left Sofriere we found a nice and steady easterly wind. After having some frustrations finding the right sail configuration for the wind and seas (and trying to mitigate the weather helm), we ended up having a smooth sail to St. Vincent. It turned out that the mizzen was causing a lot of the weather helm. After we took it down, the autopilot easily steered the boat.

The approach to St. Vincent from the north is quite spectacular. The first thing one sees is the Sofriere Volcano peak in a misty cloud with verdant vegetation that goes straight down to the ocean.

Once we got to our anchorage, Wallilabou, just as the book mentioned, boat boys in their row boats were out ready to help us find a mooring and help us tie our stern to a palm tree on shore. (The book also forewarned us not to agree to tow them back into the harbor, lest their boat turn over. We‘d then be held liable.) It all went smoothly. We got a mooring and the line was set up ashore securing us quite nicely We were just feet from the beach and the dock where Johnny Depp had made the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Parts of the set were still around.

Now for another one of my observations - After having read Jared Diamond’s book titled “Collapse”, I can’t help but consider the double-edged impact that tourism (in so far as hotels, resorts as well as yachts) have on these relatively small islands (most are 15-30 miles long and half as wide). Although tourism brings in much needed money and jobs, the trash they generate on these islands must be tremendous. I saw this first hand in Rodney Bay when the first day I deposited our bag of trash in a very large container-size bin that was nearly empty. When two days later, I again deposited trash into the same bin, it was overflowing on all sides. These islands must be suffocating in all this new world trash.

March 30 - St. Vincent to Bequia

Time is starting to run short, so instead of staying another day in St. Vincent, we decided to move on. Bequia is part of the Grenadines, as is St. Vincent and a number of other islands we‘ll still visit. As soon as we got out of the Wallilabou harbor, the wind already was blowing appreciably. We turned Lahaina Roads into the wind and hoisted the mainsail, double reefed it and put out a small jib. It was all we needed. Pretty soon we were in twenty knots of winds, doing a comfortable 5.5 knots.

We encountered lots of turbulent current causing small waves in different directions. Lines along the water made it quite easy to see. Part of that is due to the strong current that runs northwest and bounces of the jagged edges of the islands and up flows from underwater formations. With all that commotion, we decided that it might be a good time to put out a fishing line.

As we closed in on Bequia the wind increased. But with the way we had our sails set, we handled the increasing wind just fine and put Lahaina Roads through its paces up to 7.2 knots. We picked up a mooring at Bequia (pronounced “bequay”) a bit after high noon. Again, we had not caught any fish.

The anchorage looked pretty crowded. And Bequia itself looked a bit parched and arid. Not like the lush green pictures we were seeing in our cruising book. As it turns out, after talking to some of the locals, they indeed are experiencing a severe drought, not having had any significant rainfall this year. Since each house collects its own water through catchment basins, people who are now running out are having to have water trucked in.

Bequia is a laid-back sort of place with a working part of town on one end of the harbor where the ferries come in, ships load and unload cargo, the fishermen bring in their catch there, and it‘s where you can find the fresh produce market. On the other side of the bay are cafes, bars, restaurants, boutiques and other craft vendors. In the middle of town there are some grocery stores and government buildings. A nice blend with decent architecture.