St Lucia, Grenadines, St Vincent, Mustique, Trinidad, Tobago, Saba, St Kitts, St Barts, BVI, Antigua, Barbuda
Exploring The Caribbean - December 1997 to March 1998
Our explorations around St Lucia took us to Castries, the capital, a bustling town with the first of many excellent Caribbean markets. Gros Islet, in the north of the island, is well known for its street parties where the locals gather to listen and dance to calypso, reggae and soca. The main street is lined with stalls selling drinks and barbecued chicken and fish. From here we sailed to Marigot bay, a beautiful little inlet fringed with palm trees and then to Vieux Fort. It was here that we finally felt we had discovered the heart of St Lucia. It was well off the beaten track and hardly visited by tourists, we were able to buy tuna or flying fish from the fishermen as they landed their catch on the beach for around $5EC per pound (£1). The local restaurants only prepared Caribbean dishes such as cow heel soup, roti, or fried chicken. It was poor but the people seemed happy and healthy and it was real and unspoilt.
Our cruise then took us south to the Grenadines, a chain of eight large and 120 small islands which vary as much in shape as they do in character. St Vincent was the first and another large green volcanic island which is mainly inhabited by native Caribbeans descended from the original slaves. It does not have much of a tourist industry and is generally not visited by charter yachts. We liked the island, which seems to provide its people with a reasonable existence in farming or fishing. We stopped at Cumberland bay and Walilabu, both beautiful secluded bays with sandy beaches shaded by palms, clear water and small local settlements.
Bequia is the next island south, a small attractive island with lovely sandy beaches, a few hotels and restaurants, and a large sheltered anchorage at Port Elizabeth. Mustique, its neighbour, is impeccably manicured and counts amongst its residents Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Princess Margaret and Raquel Welsh. Basil’s bar is internationally famous as the site of impromptu sessions by famous musicians. Dropping further south we called at Tobago Cays, a small group of uninhabited islands. Here we lay in clear blue water sheltered from the breaking Atlantic rollers by the Horseshoe reef. The snorkelling was some of the best we have found so far. Our last port of call was Union Island to check out of the Grenadines.
In Grenada we settled ourselves into Prickly Bay and explored over land by bus and taxi. It is called the Spice Island for good reason, and the markets at St George’s overflow with mace, nutmeg, cocoa, cinnamon, cloves and saffron. It was here that a little old woman with several teeth missing tried to sell Mark some Boca Boca bark which is apparently a very potent aphrodisiac and would "make him strong all night". He was however warned to be careful as too much could make the effect too strong and require hospitalisation! Grenada has some beautiful rainforest and we spent a memorable day hiking to Annandale Falls through hills and valleys carpeted with mangoes, bananas, nutmeg, dasheen and a myriad of other exotic plants and fruits.
An overnight beat took us to Tobago, which is more difficult to reach by yacht than many of the islands and so is quieter and has retained its own charm. Our visit was all too brief before we sailed to Trinidad for the Carnival. This is the place where Caribbean Carnival was born. Originally the Trinidadians masqueraded as their masters and the grandiose costumes were a high parody to their lives at the time. As with most things times have changed and today’s festivities are celebrated by legions of mainly female revellers in fantastic costumes dancing to the sounds of soca or pan. A tremendous visual and auditory display.
Our next cruise was a tour of the Leeward Islands, sailing to St Barts (very French and very expensive) Antigua (historically interesting and a yachting Mecca with 365 beaches and many islands and reefs to explore) Nevis (a beautiful long beach, green vervet monkeys at Golden Rock and friendly locals) and St Kitts (an old colonial style town at Basse Terre and signs of organised agriculture and a general affluence). Finally we called at Saba, a tiny emerald jewel surrounded by crystal clear water with breath taking diving on sheer drop offs. We dived on Diamond Rock, swam with a turtle and got buzzed by a school of Horse Eye Jacks.
Sailing further north west we arrived at the British Virgin Islands for race week. Three days of well organised and friendly racing with the usual obligatory parties to attend. A great time was had by all. Then we were off to explore the surrounding islands. First to the Baths and Bitter End at Virgin Gorda, then on to Anegada for a beach barbecue of lobster and snorkelling in turquoise water amidst the reefs to cool down. An exhilarating spinnaker sail took us to Jost Van Dyke, and the infamous Foxy’s Bar where Foxy is renowned for entertaining his guests with tales and songs. Our last call was to Cane Garden Bay and then back to Road Town.
We then returned to the Leeward Islands for a cruise to Barbuda and Antigua race week. Barbuda is a sparsely populated island and its 1400 local inhabitants are content with a subsistence level existence gathered from the land and sea, with a little help from very exclusive tourism which is based on the island’s many miles of deserted white sand beaches. We visited the Frigate Bird colony where we were able go right up to the nests of these enormous gawky and yet talented birds and see both adults and young at close quarters. John, our guide and driver, also kindly took us to his home and his wife Alison cooked us a delicious chicken roti lunch washed down with fresh local fruit juice. That evening we watched the sunset at Spanish point and then lit a barbecue on the beach and ate by moonlight.
Antigua race week consisted of five days of racing and nine days of parties from free Mount Gay rum on Galleon Beach before the start to Nelsons Ball at the Admirals Inn for the prize giving. Its a week that requires every ounce of stamina to keep up the reasonably stretching racing and then all the revelries as well. Doing it in our own boat made it very special and thoroughly enjoyable. Meniscus is no mean racing machine but she does point very well and given a little wind will drive through the seas well. We were assigned to cruising class III and were very pleased to finish 9th. in class and 31st. in the fleet. Meniscus was among the 4 smallest boats in class abd the largest was a 70' S&S so it gives an idea of the competion.We beat many of the larger boats, including our main rivals, a 57ft Trintella, even after we had ripped our genoa on Tuesday and changed down to a No 1 jib for the rest of the week.
Antigua probably has most things that you could want, beaches and reefs for swimming and diving, reasonable supplies for food and parts, safe anchorage’s and history. The old dockyard used to be home to Admirals Nelson, Rodney and Hood and has been carefully restored to provide a remarkable backdrop to today’s modern yachts who moor against the quay where ships of the line must have tied up to re-arm and victual. Strolling along the road past the officers’ quarters, the copper and lumber store and the sail loft, it is easy to imagine the scene as though the Jack Tars and the Red Coats were still there.
We spent the summer months in Antigua conducting a fairly major refit, including installing a new 50hp engine, laying a new teak and holly floor, and reupholstering the saloon.
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