The Finest Stretch of Water...Anywhere

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issueThe question came up every year: “Whadya think about chartering in the Caribbean?” And every year the answer was the same: “Nah.”My wife, Jennifer, and I sail our Caliber 38, Catamount, in the northern latitudes, on the fresh waters of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. The idea of chartering in the Caribbean
Author:
Publish date:

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue

FinestStretchPhoto1

The question came up every year: “Whadya think about chartering in the Caribbean?” And every year the answer was the same: “Nah.”

My wife, Jennifer, and I sail our Caliber 38, Catamount, in the northern latitudes, on the fresh waters of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. The idea of chartering in the Caribbean raised many different questions: Isn’t everything so close you don’t really sail much? Isn’t it too hot? How big are the sharks?

When the issue came up again this year, Jennifer had been rereading C.S. Forester’s classic Horatio Hornblower series. She read aloud from the final book, Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies: “Here where the trade winds blew at their freshest, just within the tropics, in the wide unbroken Atlantic, was, as Hornblower decided at that moment, the finest stretch of water for a yachting excursion to be found anywhere on the globe.”

So with Hornblower’s endorsement, the decision was made. But where to go? A friend walked us through the choices, and we settled on the Grenadines, part of the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (known as SVG), in the Windward Islands. She described it as “more than other island groups, like the way the Caribbean used to be.” St. Vincent itself, at just 12?N, is the northernmost, and the 30-some islands and islets of SVG stretch over 45 miles southwest toward Grenada, offering an excellent chance of doing some serious sailing.

The same friend recommended TMM Charters, which has a base at Blue Lagoon, at the southern end of St. Vincent, and a reputation for offering good boats, good advice, and excellent service. A few e-mails exchanged with John West, the base manager, convinced us.

FinestPhoto2

On a cold, gray April day, we got in a few last runs at our local ski area, drove to Boston, and flew south to learn if Hornblower was right. The first of many surprises was seeing St. Vincent from the air. The island rises over 4,000 feet in steep, serrated ridges and cloud-shrouded summits, capped at its north end by the La Soufriere volcano. The next surprise was landing on a short runway backed by a hill. The nearby cricket stadium looked bigger. Not to worry. We were soon sitting in the cockpit of Dolphin Dance II, a brand-new Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45DS, at TMM’s base. We thought her a bit big for just two people, but John told us she is easily handled by two; plus, she’s fast, maneuverable, and fun to sail. He was right on all counts.

John and his wife, Renelle, invited Yvonne Armour-Shillingford, head of SVG’s Tourism Authority, to join us for dinner at the French Verandah restaurant at nearby Mariners Hotel. With their help we ordered from a menu that included local specialties like callaloo soup, conch, and mahi-mahi; you definitely don’t find these at any restaurant on Lake Superior. The country’s goal, they told us, is to improve health care and provide universal secondary-school access for all its children. One source of the economic growth needed to pay for this will be a new airport on the other side of the island, big enough to handle jumbo jets. Seeing a smidge of concern on my face, John and Yvonne assured me that SVG planned to maintain its character by learning from the mistakes made by some of its Caribbean neighbors.

The next day we had our boat checkout and chart review, featuring British Admiralty charts. VHF coverage is spotty because of the mountainous terrain, so TMM provides cell phones to its customers for contacting the base. No radio weather forecasts are available, but we could call John if necessary. He’d look out his window at the sky, then tell us what he tells charterers every day: 20 knots of east wind with a slight chance of a shower.

FinestPhoto3

We set off for Bequia, the first island to the south, reaching in 20 knots of wind in the biggest swells we’d ever seen. Boats home-ported in the Caribbean and around the world had gathered in Admiralty Bay for the annual Easter Regatta. We were astonished by their size. Back on Lake Huron our 38-footer is usually the largest boat in any harbor. Here our 45-footer was the smallest, dwarfed by, among others, two 150-foot superyachts. What an eye-opener.

We didn’t hang around; there were too many places to go and too much to see. We were tempted to visit the private island of Mustique to the east, but none of its rich-and-famous visitors are on our Christmas card list, so we headed southwest to Mayreau instead. Dolphin Dance II rolled sweetly in the swells as she rose and dove, rose and dove again and again on the five-hour romp to well-protected Saline Bay.

From the anchorage, Mayreau’s little village looked like a featureless collection of shacks strung up a hillside, but as we strolled its narrow streets it became clear that each house, store and restaurant has a distinct color scheme and character. Flowering trees cover the tiny patios. Water is precious here; every building has a cistern marked with the name of the international aid group that donated it. A small Catholic church stands on the hilltop with sweeping views of the Tobago Cays to the east and Union Island to the south. Make no mistake: poverty is pervasive in these islands, but the locals proudly try to maintain their culture and way of life in today’s complex world.

Then it was off to Tobago Cays Marine Park, a few miles to the east. This was our first opportunity to navigate through reefs in shoal water, and we tried our best to distinguish this blue from that blue. There aren’t enough blue-greens in a box of Crayola crayons to illustrate the palette of colors in the waters of the Cays. Azure is close, cerulean closer, with maybe a touch of cobalt. We followed a local charterboat into the passage, admiring its neat gybe off the stern of an anchored megayacht.

FinestPhoto4

The Tobago Cays comprise five uninhabited islands with powdery white-sand beaches and steep cactus-covered hillsides, all protected from the Atlantic by 3-mile-long Horseshoe Reef. The waves were minimal even with the wind blowing its usual 20 knots. In the protection of Baradel Island we snorkeled for hours watching loggerhead turtles lazily nibble sea grass off the bottom. Out on the reef itself we watched bright-blue somethings chase smaller bright-yellow somethings that were feeding on tiny bright-silver somethings. Sea fans waved lazily off coral heads, their purple and mauve lattice configuration highlighted by the brilliant white sand. We felt like we were swimming in an aquarium theme park.

When the ubiquitous vendors came by in their gaily painted boats, offering fresh fish and fresh bread throughout the day, we succumbed to their offer to deliver fresh-grilled lobster to our boat that evening. We felt we could get used to cruising like this: warm lobster, locally baked baguettes and white wine served under a starry sky on a warm evening miles from anywhere.

The row of bobbing masthead lights from other visiting boats echoed the arc of Ursa Major overhead as it pointed to Arcturus low in the east. To the south we saw the Southern Cross for the first time in our lives. Then a gibbous moon rose from over the Atlantic and spread enough light throughout the anchorage to illuminate beaches and highlight still-swaying coconut palms. We loved the vistas in the daytime, but we didn’t want the nights to ever end.

Related

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more

2018-giftGuide

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Brass Yacht Lamp Does someone on your gift list spend the whole winter missing the warm days on the water? Let them bring a little bit of nautical atmosphere home with this new lamp from Weems & Plath. The glass enclosure means the flame cannot be blown out even by ...read more

image001

Opinion: On Not Giving Up Sailing

E.B. White was 64 when he wrote his now-famous essay “The Sea and the Wind That Blows,” which begins as a romantic paean to sailing and then drifts, as if spun around by a pessimistic eddy of thought, into a reflection on selling his boat. Does an aging sailor quit while he’s ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com A Helping Hand  This is a real-world solution, and I expect correction by my betters. However, anyone whose seacocks are modern ball valves rather than the grand old tapered cone variety may care to ...read more

1812-JeanneaueNewsVideo

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 410

Designed by Marc Lombard, the Sun Odyssey 410 shares much in common with her older siblings including of course, the walk-around deck. Other features that set the 410 apart from other models being introduced this year include the 410’s “negative bow” shape allowing for a longer ...read more

shutterstock_698968441

Cruising: The Bahamas

“The ‘Explorer’ chartbooks. All three.” “An unlocked phone. But good luck with BTC.” “Spam. It’s ‘spensive there!” These were just a few suggestions we received from fellow sailors who had cruised the Bahamas when we asked how to best prepare for the trip. In fact, several ...read more

windsensor

Gear: B&G Wind Sensors

Sense the Wind B&G has launched a new line of wind sensors, including the WS320, a wireless system that is suitable for masts up to 80ft. Wireless wind sensor technology has been hit-and-miss, with some users reporting intermittent signal failure on tall rigs, but B&G, citing ...read more