Winter Vacation

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
Author:
Publish date:
saip_0910_01_z+winter_vacation+boat



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.

saip_0910_02_z+winter_vacation+scenery
saip_0910_03_z+winter_vacation+map_directions

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.

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.

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.

saip_0910_04_z+winter_vacation+ocean
saip_0910_05_z+winter_vacation+headquarters

Related

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more

MK1_30542

SailGP: There’s a New Sailing Series in Town

San Francisco was the venue of the biggest come-from-behind victory in the history of the America’s Cup when Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013, so it seems only fitting that the first American round of Larry Ellison’s new SailGP pro sailing series will be ...read more