Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Grenadines, Tobago Cays

Bequia and Tobago Cays 7-13 Feb 2012

As soon as you arrive in the Caribbean , you have to be thinking about leaving it for hurricane season, which used to be June to November, but lately has extended into May& December. Where you head for hurricane season, determines your route through the islands, as well as the steady NE to E trade winds which you want to go with, not against. It depends largely on your insurance companies whims, and whether you are going to carry on cruising,  or lay your boat up and head out of the country, which means you are not going to be on hand to deal with a 'situation'.  Many people keep their boats in hurricane holes, or hurricane-safe(r) marinas and don't leave the main 12 - 35  degree zone where most of the hurricanes track. Since New York was hit by 'Irene' last year, it's a reminder that nowhere is free of the risk of hurricanes, its just about reducing your odds, and being prepared, and plenty of boats and people survive hurricanes every year. We just get to hear about the really big bad ones.  You can learn more about them at

So, although our plan is to head north through the islands and up to the US coast, we heard on the radio that it was last chance for a long time to see some friends from Marmaris, and they were all congregating in the Tobago Cays. I saw pictures of the Grenadines and the Cays in a holiday brochure some years ago, and always yearned to go there,  so we took a small detour from our northerly progress and headed south to catch up with them.  We checked out of St Lucia, and headed down past St Vincent, and onto Bequia to check into a new 'country'. Bequia is a quaint hippy little island that exists on the business of the numerous yachts that stop there. It has lovely little streets with market stalls of overpriced veg for cruisers  and nick-nacks for the charterers.
It rained most of the time that we were in Bequia, and we shortly headed off further south with piles of soggy laundry that we couldn't get dry.

Tobago Cays; anchored behind the coral reef (line of white water left of photo)

We headed straight for the rendezvous in Tobago Cays, navigating nervously through the coral reefs that surround it. It is not actually in Tobago at all, but in the Grenadines, north of Grenada. It is a coral atoll, with a large horseshoe reef, always under water, which you anchor behind. So you are looking straight out towards Africa across the Atlantic, with the reef protecting you from the ocean swells, more so at low tide than high tide.  As you can see it is a little slice of heaven.

We had a reunion party aboard Miss Molly (Phil & Monica), with Awaroa (Helen & John and guests) and Cuttyhunk (Irene & Chris). Awaroa and Cuttyhunk would be heading south and west, through the Panama canal to New Zealand, so we won't be seeing them for some time. Miss Molly are cruising around Grenada and the Grenadines with various guests aboard, and who can blame them (Their son bagged a flight from UK for 400 quid). It is a fab little place to base yourself, lots of white sand beaches, small islands, great snorkelling etc etc.  Our four yachts had sailed from Marmaris last winter, where we had a lot of fun partying together. We all congratulated each other on the 6500 miles under the keel this year. Phil & Stu played guitar, I screeched the viola, and there was lots of singing in various keys!

We'll miss our Marmaris mates, but we will catch up with them again one day. In this cruising world, you soon learn to say 'ta-ra, see ya', instead of dwelling on goodbyes.

There's not a lot going on in Tobago Cays, just the wildlife, so the kayak was inflated, snorkels out and we were off to explore.
Hawksbill turtle

We tracked iguanas on the little island of Baradel, and swam with the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles in the shallow water behind the island – they don't seem to be bothered by being followed by numerous tourists, and as there is nothing to stop them leaving, one has to assume that the grass is particularly good there if you are Hawksbill turtle.

Iguanas fighting over my kayak. I don't think they liked the colour

We took the dinghy out to the outer reef, where mooring buoys are provided and we snorkelled up and over the coral reef. It was really hard going as so much water pours over the reef, you can only just make forward progress swimming hard with flippers. It was impossible to stop and take pictures with the now plastic encased Olympus 'underwater' camera.  We tried again on another day at low water (more water held back outside the reef) and it was easier but it was still hard going.
We found a better spot behind Baradel island, sheltered from the winds and the main currents. There were huge coral formations of stag horns, huge coral pots that look like Greek urns, and shoals and shoals of identical fish sitting still in the current, a barracuda stalking them menacingly from the deeper water. The water was as clear as crystal.
Swimming back to the boat in 3m depth, I suddenly saw a spotted Eagle ray beneath me. His tail was so long, I felt he could have easily flicked it up at me, but apparently they are unlikely to sting unless you do something like stand on them.

Our friends left one by one, and then a group of French chartered catamarans moved in and took over the anchorage, boat boys lingering longingly for their business. Unfortunately you have to share paradise with the French - sad sigh. It was time to head north again and get back on track.
On the SSB radio net the next morning we heard that a yacht called Norna, who we had followed but not yet met, were doing a music jamming evening at a bar in Bequia, so we upped anchor and set off for our next entertainment.  It turned out to be a fun evening, with lots of rum punch consumed, and Stu was invited to join in with the fiddler, banjo and mandolin players. It's fascinating to meet people learning to play weird and wonderful instruments.

Going north is harder than going south, as the wind is mostly NE'ly, so we broke our journey in Wallilabou bay in St Vincent, where much of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. You can still see some of the film set, and there's some interesting photos and documents left over from the filming. The three films are screened continuously at the bar there. Even the most die-hard Johnny Depp fan could tire of that, I feel.
Johnny Depp - happy sigh !

We walked to a waterfall recommended in the guide book, but instead of a wild and rugged spot in the rainforest, an EU funded restaurant and changing rooms had been built, and entry fee now charged. It was very disappointing from what we could see from the gate, but a least we had a little hike in the countryside. St Vincent is an independent country, so we have no idea why the EU felt the need to fund this little spot, perhaps it has a better return on the investment than what they've lent to the Greek islands?
St Vincent is very different from the islands around it, with intense lush vegetation. The north end is remote with terraced rain forest, with no roads into the terraces. It is an ideal place to grow marijuana, which is exactly what goes on there. If you travel ashore, further than Wallilabou bay, you have to have a local guide to ensure you don't stray anywhere you wouldn't be welcome. Imagine what the world would have been like if marijuana had been bought back from the new world instead of tobacco.  I guess its no more addictive than the other drugs that they did introduce to the old world : sugar, coffee, tobacco...

Cruising info:Bequia – $35 EC checkin. Laundry – up past the veg market heading north, there's a DIY cheap place in a garage.  Lots of chandlers, average prices.
Tobago Cays, park wardens come by everyday to collect fees – 10EC pp per night.
This is where we anchored, see symbols for snorkelling spots:

Fish symbol = good snorkelling
Yellow ring= dinghy ashore, turtles, iguana island
Dive marker=where we dived on outer reef

Wallilabou Bay. We took a mooring at the Anchorage restaurant, 20EC, refundable if you eat there, which we did, and it was good and reasonably priced. In addition, Davis, the boat boy charged us 20EC for tying up, but he did have to do a bit of work for that in his rowing boat. Good snorkelling over by the hole in the rock across the bay, not as good as T Cays or St Lucia though.