Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cruise Report, Grenadines

Charter/Cruise Report – Grenadines By marc • Apr 25th, 2008

The Liat turbopropʼs engines droned loudly as we cruised over the Caribbean Sea
at 15,000 feet. The three hour flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico would bring us to
Kingstown on St. Vincent Island—just a short taxi ride from Sunsailʼs charter base
and our departure point for a week of sailing among the Grenadine Islands. Mike,
Randy, and Nate spread out in the lightly populated main cabin for some rest and
relaxation while I gazed out the scratched window. The paint on the engine cowling
was peeling off in the slipstream.
Liat Airlines

A few months earlier, Mike, a former charter client, had called me and asked that I
put together a weeklong sailing adventure in a “warm place”. I considered the
options. The Mediterranean was still too cold. Mexicoʼs Sea of Cortez offered some
great adventure, but the sailing conditions could be fickle and the destinations a
wilderness. The charter bases in the South Pacific held some attraction, but my
experience there was limited and many of the destinations required offshore
passage making. I figured our best bet would be the Caribbean. I knew the islands
intimately and Caribbean sailing is some of the most consistent on the planet. The
balmy trades blow from the easterly quadrants at 15-25 knots throughout fall,
winter, and spring. The island lees provide plenty of anchorages, and passages
between islands are short and though sometimes boisterous, rarely involve
tacking. But where in the Caribbean should we go?

For me, the British Virgin Islands are the Disneyland of the archipelago. The
passages are short and well worn. The destinations are scrubbed and shiny. The
word adventure just doesnʼt ring true in the BVIs. Iʼd just returned from skippering
the Heineken Regatta in St. Martin. This was great sailing, but the destinations are
few. Then I remembered the portion of the Caribbean that I had come to regard as
the most genuine and unspoiled during my 5-month jaunt up the island chain in
2004—the Grenadines.

The Grenadines are a group of small islands nestled between the big islands of St.
Vincent and Grenada. Politically, they are divided into the St. Vincent Grenadines
and the Grenadian Grenadines. The crown jewel of the Grenadines is widely
regarded as the Tobago Cays, an anchorage that is well protected by a huge coral
reef, but is otherwise open to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean and Trade winds.
Uninhabited islands, white sandy beaches, clear waters, abundant sea life, and
dramatic views account for the popularity of this area, and many visitors to the
Grenadines spend most of their voyage there.

A squall rushes toward us in the Tobago Cays as we try to finish our BBQ cookout
For my money though, Bequia takes top honors. For those who take the time and
make the effort to scratch through the surface, the people of this island have stories
to tell. Unlike the big islands, with cultures rooted in slavery and an economic
history based is based in agriculture, Bequia is ground zero of a seafaring nation,
famed for boat building and whaling.

The people of Bequia show little of the anger-tinged obsequiousness that
characterizes so much of Caribbean culture. These people are the independent
and proud descendants of sailing folk for whom the color of oneʼs skin counted less
than the cut of oneʼs jib.

To this day, the people of Bequia exercise their lawful right to hunt whale using
small sailing boats and hand-held harpoons. As you ply the Grenadine waters, you
will encounter at least two Bequia built schooners made of rough-hewn timbers
and crewed and captained by Bequian seamen. These people have stories to tell.

Friendship Rose is a Bequian-built schooner captained and crewed by skilled local mariners

For seven days Mike, Randy, Nate, and I toured the Grenadines from St. Vincent to
Bequia and then to Mayreau, Tobago Cays, Union, Mustique, and back to Bequia.
The sailing was as good as it gets—brisk and lively, and the navigation was just
challenging enough to keep things interesting. Good sailing in the Grenadines

But as I reflect on our voyage, I think the cultural experience may have been more
than my clients had bargained for. The black-skinned people of these islands may
live in a tropical paradise but their daily struggle to survive makes visiting their
home waters edgy. Boat boys, restaurant employees, and market owners proffer
their services in an aggressive effort to make a few dollars. Their manner and
attitudes are shaped by a long history of economic exploitation and daily
experience with rich tourists, expecting and sometimes demanding, a pristine

Determination Bar and Grocery echos a senitment that is typical fo the Caribbean
Beauty is more than skin deep, and to really appreciate the Grenadines, it is
necessary to dig down a bit to find the seafaring heart of the island people. It takes
a desire to know. It takes work. It takes time. Above all, it takes humility. But once
the exterior is pierced, the true beauty of the islands can be found.