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St. Vincent and the Grenadines


A rather odd national name for my next stops—usually just abbreviated as SVG—consisting of one large, steep island and many small, hilly islands, which are collectively called the Grenadines.



The former has its Soufriere Volcano last erupting in 2021 and the latter is the remnants of old volcanos worn down to the present-day small islands surrounded by reefs, which of course, make good anchorages and townsites.

 

We checked in customs and immigration at the north end of St. Vincent Island in the small fishing village of Chateaubelair since it was the closest after leaving St. Lucia.


Chateaubelair fishermen setting nets


It also had a peaceful secure anchorage and a dock for dinghy access to get ashore. This was the poorest such place I had been so far: other than a few scattered buildings with shops selling a few items and residences above, there were no services available, such as groceries. From the frequent garden spots in the village and the larger ones carved from the outlying hillsides and the free-ranging chickens and tethered goats, it would appear that most food came from local sources.

 

Mini-buses do provide access to the capital city of Kingstown at the south end of the island via a two-hour ride for residents able to make that trip. Schoolchildren over the age of 15 also have to make that trip daily if they want to continue their education. In between, there are only a few similar, scattered villages with poor harbors for visitors or fishermen. The larger, calmer harbor of Chateaubelair is much better for fishermen and that makes a source for income and food.

 

The further down the islands I have gone, the greater the number of enterprising and insistent boat sellers there are: individuals in small boats and in kayaks who come out to the yachts offering vegetables and fruit, fish or lobster, aid in anchoring or taking a mooring buoy, or just to take your garbage ashore for a price. It started in Dominica in a low-key manner, increased in St. Lucia, and seemed to explode in Chataubelair. I doubt that any other anchorages in St. Vincent Island would be much different. The sellers are quite young in Chateaubelair, too, not even teenagers.

 

You have to admire their willingness to work but also must realize that it is poor economic opportunity and poverty that drives it. Every day we would have 15 or so such encounters, including ashore. Where some fruit or vegetables were needed, we would buy them, but otherwise, it was more or less just being hassled.

 

Now, when we got down to the island of Bequia, there was still some offering of boat services, but none of the hassling: a polite “no” and they went on their way. Of course, since Bequia is a very tourist-oriented island, the shore sellers at their handicraft stands and taxi drivers became the most frequent sellers, but still polite. Anyway, it was nice to escape the quandary of boat sellers and poverty.

 

Overall, the island of St. Vincent does not have the accessible beauty of the other islands and certainly not the infrastructure of organized tourism, though the national government seems to be trying as evidenced by scattered modern residences/hotels across the steep hillside along the shore. We did sample a bit when we walked to Dark View Falls in hopes of an uncrowded time for a swim in the pool,


Bamboo bridge to the falls


but the minibus-loads of tourists soon to arrive from cruise ships two hours away quickly dispelled that expectation.



Bequia

 

This is the first island in the nation’s Grenadine island chain (pronounced “Beckway”), has a population of about 5,300, and is very tourist and ex-pat-oriented, though some economic income is from produce grown for local consumption as well as lobster and fish caught locally. It has an excellent protected harbor for both yachts, service skiffs, and inter-island ferries. Steep hills surround the bay and town with the usual mixture of modern architecture and poorer construction, for both the locals and a large number of foreign-born residents. There are a few low-key resorts mixed in along the waterfront beaches but not obtrusively.



Besides the good anchorage, what is appealing to cruisers are the numerous dinghy docks for shore access, a decent grocery store chain of three stores, a provided place to deposit one's garbage, some boat repair and supply shops, and numerous bars and restaurants. There are nearby islands, small and large, which are exclusively, or nearly so, for billionaires or guests of their corporation resorts, but these are of little interest to cruisers like myself. We look for the stuff mentioned above in places we visit and completely ignore those of that other world.

 

The main dock is used exclusively for vehicle/passenger service to the island of St. Vincent as well as to the rest of the islands south in the Grenadines. At any time, there are 3-4 red or yellow ferries docked and at least eight can be seen going and coming daily. Along with some day-excursion boats and yachts moving about, the harbor is quite lively.

 

The waterfront is also very active with various supply and tourist stores lining the street and a separate tree-lined walkway having produce and handmade items for sale.



Mixed in with this are taxis and hawkers for various tours and other services. Moreover, at night, there is the ever-present loud music blaring from bars and restaurants along the waterfront, with weekends having several together competing for your ears. 

 

One distinguishing feature that is unique to Bequia is the stone, cement, and wooden walkway that extends from the downtown ferry and market area along the edge of the water, meandering past shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, residences, two small hotel complexes, and leading to a couple of large beaches.



It’s a well-used path to get from one area to another, is well-maintained, and very pleasant just to walk along.

 

Canouan

 

The next island visited was Canouan. It has few geographic features to make it much of anything other than an overnight stopover if desired. These islands are not high and receive only small amounts of useful rainfall, so gardening or animal husbandry must be intensive to scratch out a living from the land, unlike the tall islands up north.


Each house has a water catchment system for rainfall.


We were curious about what the place was like and decided to break up the trip south with a visit.

 

I turned out to be a rather exposed anchorage, with accompanying large swells that swing into the bay and add to the surface chop tossed up by the prevailing easterly wind. As a catamaran, Mariposa handles such conditions better than monohull yachts due to the fact it has two hulls in the water at one time for stability rather than a monohull’s one—which is more susceptible to rolling. But, it still was an uncomfortable one-night stand.



We did, of course, go ashore to see what was there, which wasn’t much in terms of supplies and services for locals, let alone any visiting yachts. They must go to Bequia, it would appear, or into St. Vincent on one of those inter-island ferries.

 

An interesting feature of this island is that the northern third is owned by foreign investment companies, which are developing resorts, housing communities, a golf course (!?), and other touristic enterprises that are off-limits to locals and non-paying visitors—such as us yachies. The southern part of the island has another development that is also very restricted for access and has a large mega-yacht marina and an airport for private jets. They also have condos that can be purchased but are as ugly as sin—looking like multiple stacks of Lego blocks bordering between the marina and the airport.

 

On our walk, we ended up talking with a man—an electrician who once worked at the marina construction—and asked about who owned all the rather new and well-styled houses in the town between the two big development areas. He said it was outside investors who bought up the land from the locals at, to them, good prices and then built the new houses for tourist rentals and to the locals who could afford to live in them. He said most locals used to have land for raising gardens and various animals, but that land was bought up and developed—leaving only small house plots without garden space and room only for some goats, which we noticed there were lots of.



Who knows exactly where the truth lies in all this, but since this pattern of explanation seems to be common in these islands, I’d be inclined to go with what the pattern is. About 1 ½ hour’s sail south are the next islands on the list to visit.

 

Tobago Cays

 

This is a small group of hilly islands and shallow reefs that make an area that is often called the jewels of the Grenadines. The colors and shallowness are reminiscent of the Bahamas far to the north off of Florida, but the area of the cays (pronounced as “keys”) are dwarfed by those of the Bahamas. Still, it is a quite different geography for the Eastern Caribbean islands.

 

Besides its geography, it is known for its large population of Green Sea Turtles which congregate to eat the extensive seagrass beds of the shallow waters. One area adjacent to Baradal Island is set aside as part of the Marine Parks conservation plan as a place where visitors can easily watch and snorkel around the turtles as they nibble on the seagrass and go to the sea surface frequently for air.

 

Baradal Island to the left, turtles off the beach in the light blue water.


We anchored about 200 feet off this place and were able to just jump in and find turtles to watch. At one time there were four large adults below me, eating away and rising for their usual three breaths of air before descending to the grass again. There were also usually several grey sting rays nearby foraging in the grass for crabs or other crustaceans. It was interesting to watch, but you can only watch turtles munching seagrass for only so long—Yup, they’re eating the grass and breathing. So… what else is around?

 

The truth was, not much. A few little fish around the sandy bottom. When we went out snorkeling to the edge of the protecting reef in hopes of more something, anything, we found nothing. The coral was all beaten up by waves and bleaching, and what was struggling to survive was covered in brown algae. A few small fish and that was it. Not the magnificent reefs described in guidebooks, brochures, and reviews by visitors even recently.

 

In all honesty, most of my snorkeling trials on this trip have resulted in similar results, so the Cays are not unique in this matter. Other visitors have noted this fact in their more specific reviews. I think it’s due primarily to climate change and over-use by tourists. The governments of most of these islands are trying to reduce the damage by tourism but climate change is beyond their control, and that of all of us.

 

So, I’ll continue to check out what might exist of the corals and sea life during my travels, but I have little expectation of finding something different. At least SCUBA diving allows me and others to go deeper beyond the shallower damage by tourists, but even the deeper sea life can’t escape the damage of climate change, as can be seen even when diving at depths.

 

The Cays were an interesting stop, but not living up to the hype. The anchorage wasn’t too rolly but the direct brunt of the continual 17 mph tradewind made it rather bumpy. We anchored there for a day and a night and then left for Mayreau.

 

Mayreau

 

This is another hilly small island that is very dry with lots of scrub brush, evidence of a hard-scrabble life, brightly painted houses and cement roads... and lots of goats and chickens. But there is a different feel about the small village. The residents are a little quicker to offer and respond to greetings and more at ease about engaging in brief or extended discussions. The houses all have large black PVC water tanks for storing rainwater (their only source) and show evidence of efforts to maintain or improve the buildings. Some of the brightly painted houses are rented as B&Bs to tourists and provide income for enterprising villagers.

 


Also quite noticeable is the condition of the island’s dogs: healthy, well-fed, and willing to greet strangers, wagging their tails. We asked about this and learned that the island has been adopted by a UK veterinarian group that maintains a constant rotation of volunteer vets to spend time on the island giving free service to the canine population. We even came across one of the vets and talked with her about the endeavor they had undertaken. On all the other islands, we found some dogs that were obviously cared for by their owners, but most were simply street dogs trying to scrape by with whatever they could find, and then others that were in a rather desperate condition. To find the opposite in Mayreau was a welcome find.


Beach, fishing boats, and Jo


From a cruiser’s viewpoint, the small beach-fronted bay with good holding ground for anchoring, protection from the wind and sea swell, and a good dinghy dock made it a welcome place to spend a little time. There is little to buy here for groceries though there are numerous small restaurants and bars to serve you even if you are the only one there. Fishing and tourism are their sources of income with some of them making trips to the larger island of Union for jobs there or to the few small resorts along the northern small bays and beaches.


Union Island's north shore in the distance


With water so scarce and poor soil, growing personal gardens seemed to not be a choice, and we saw none. So, the residents of the island do what they can to make a living, but without the feeling of desperation that we sensed in the big islands back up north.

 

Union Island

 

The last island in SVG is Union Island, another island with peaked hills and volcanic neck pitons left over after the erosion of eruptions many years ago. The island has numerous bays with beaches, and hence the resorts and beach tourist stalls on them, but the main port of commerce and yacht access is the town of Clifton and its harbor, protected by offshore reefs.



It even has a small inter-island airport and, of course, the ferry system. Fishing and tourism are the mainstay industries, both especially serving the numerous hotels, resorts, and several private islands with their resorts and residences.

 

Clifton has a lively downtown area,



and its armada of boatmen out hustling up business by offering help mooring yachts that aren’t anchoring, selling fish, garden produce, banana bread, garbage collection, and anything else they can think of.



Generally, they aren’t pushy about it but a few are and tend to spoil the pleasant atmosphere sometimes.

 

The reefs are of little interest for snorkeling, even though Jo tried her best to find something worthwhile viewing, but they do serve to effectively break the eastern incoming sea swells for us yachts behind them. We anchored here for three nights after walking around in Clifton and the nearby tidy little village of Ashton and got some grocery shopping done, then left for the next island nation of Grenada.

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2 Kommentare


And you say your roughing it.... You've been off the farm too long. Hope your staying safe and enjoying the islands. Hope to hook up with you this summer.


Jim Manly

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Lance Packer
Lance Packer
24. Apr.
Antwort an

I probably have been, but boat maintenance is like the farm: it's never ending, but you don't let everybody know about it--you just do it. We'll try to get together sometime for sure.

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