My last article reported us leaving St Lucia and sailing to the island of Bequia which is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Wow, what a sail we had that day! As long as we were in the lee of the islands, we had little or no wind and a calm sea. We poked our nose out first into St. Vincent Channel and later Bequia Channel into the “Bequia Blast.” We were flying with a reefed mainsail, a reefed Genoa, and a staysail! Eventually, we rolled in the genny.
For many years prior to our sailing adventure in the islands, we were reading about these “faraway places with strange sounding names” and talking to people who have sailed into these famous places before us. We have dreamed about them and romanticized them in our minds. The far away places included: Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, and now we are approaching Admiralty Bay, and the “Bequia Blast.” The people who sailed these places were very special to us for accomplishing something that we had only fantasized about. Bequia is one of these mystical places. It is here that many folks returning from the Mediterranean or Venezuela congregate and meet for Christmas. Sometimes, when a person imagines what a place is like it becomes grander in your mind than it really is and therefore you are disappointed. Well, not with Bequia.
Ringing the perimeter of the anchorage were places and sights we’ve only imagined in our minds. Straight ahead were the Frangipani blossoms on the twisted tree limbs. A stone wall, which was built along the sandy beach, made it difficult for people to walk around. It is known as the tourist buster. In the winter months the pounding surf makes it difficult to walk along without getting wet. To our starboard bow was Princess Margaret Beach. It was here that Princess Margaret decided to go for a swim and hence the name. An assortment of international boats bobbed on their anchors as we rode around looking for a place to anchor. No more thinking about these “faraway places with strange sounding names.” We are actually there!
Bequia is a small island that belongs to the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is a very special place with very special people. This tiny, tranquil island is home to some of the friendliest and warmest folks we have met so far. There was no fear of dinghy theft, (although we still locked our dinghy), pushy boat boys or folks looking for a fast buck from the rich yachtie. We felt comfortable and welcomed. Numerous shops and restaurants line the main street. These are not fancy shops or restaurants, just local ones. There is a New York Bar where local folks and yachties gather in the afternoon to have a “Carib Beer” and play dominoes or just “lime” away the day. That means, “to veg out”. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, you can have a great pizza at Max’s Pizza. For a more elegant lunch al fresco, go to the Plantation where there was a piano player playing quiet jazz. The most frequented stop was the outdoor bar and restaurant at Frangipani which was owned be the Prime Minister. Dress was never fancy, just cool and comfortable. However, do keep in mind that the island people are very modest. Skimpy tops and short shorts are not appreciated. Save that for the beach. Do not try to stand out in a crowd.
Bequia was home to a renowned whaler named Athneal Olivierre. At that time, each whaler was legally allowed to hunt a limit of two whales per year the old fashioned way, by harpoon. He set sail from his now famous whaleboat named, “Why Ask”. It had no motor and he chased the migrating whales under sail alone. When a whale was sighted, he and his oarsmen rowed to the whale and with only a harpoon in hand, they tried to slay the mighty humpback. For those of you who are crying, “foul” as I did at first, no more than two may be taken a year. Nothing more than sheer determination and a harpoon in hand are used to kill the mighty whale. The whale is then dragged through the water by small local boats to Petite Nevis Island where it is cut up and distributed to all the residents of Bequia for free. The oil, meat, skin, and the whale carcass are used. Athneal had a small museum in his home, where he shyly greeted visitors and explained why traditional ways of whaling were dying out.
Because of the long history of whaling in Bequia, model boat building of whale boats is a unique art form. The boat models are carefully carved by artists who have apprenticed with master builders before making their own signature boats. One of these models is indeed a real local treasure. We bought one for our home. Cruising life here is made simple because of the ingenuity and sensitivity to the yachties’ needs. There was a small barge that came alongside our boat to deliver diesel fuel and another barge delivered fresh water. Daffodil Laundry Service came by dinghy to take away laundry and return it later in the day. Other deliveries in the day were fresh bread and or vegetables. There was even a water taxi to pick up yachties at their anchored boats and deliver them to town and back again later in the evening. Aside from the local services, Bequia was a great place to re-connect with other boaters traveling along the same route. This was a most hospitable island with wonderful and gracious residents.
Since one of our favorite things to do is to meet old friends we were not disappointed. Once again we met up with “friends along the way” as I refer to other cruisers whom we would run into as we sailed down the island chain. It has always been fun to arrive at an anchorage and scan the harbor to see who had arrived.
While we were here visiting with our friends and meeting new ones on the way, a high pressure set in with strong pressure gradient which kept many boats from traveling. The wind was strong and the sea was high with many “white horses” pounding the shore. We didn’t care. We were safe, secure and among friends. Finally the wind and sea calmed down after a two week blow. That is one reason why you should have an open agenda and be prepared to stay in a safe harbor until the conditions are suitable for your next passage. When the weather calmed down, we headed for Tyrell Bay, Carriacou which is an island that belongs to Grenada.
There is always an “open road” when you are not sailing on a time table. If you are at all interested in sailing to “faraway places with strange sounding names,” do not have a rigid schedule. Travel when the weather permits you to have a pleasant passage. Over the years, we met many sailors who were always in a hurry. They missed some special places to visit, or had a battle with the wind and sea making for a harrowing experience.
If you do not have enough time to do it all, don’t, just choose the best destinations with the time you have.
Fair Winds and Calm Seas…