During January we had a group of 21 people, mostly from the Downtown Sailing Center, Baltimore, on 3 cats from Barefoot Yacht Charters, for a 9 day cruise in the Grenadines. This is the 9th annual trip I have put together for this group, having sailed BVI, Belize and the Grenadines in the past. Getting all these people into one trip can be a bit like herding cats, but it is always fun and worth it.
Having such a large group and considering the relative difficulty getting good flight connections into St. Vincent (SVD), I started by talking with a travel agent, recommended by the charter company, which “specializes in groups to the Caribbean”. Well, the airfare they quoted was substantially higher than the prices then being quoted on the websites of the respective airlines! So, we each made our own arrangements (another example of irrational airfare pricing; the same airlines ended up flying the same number of people for a lower price.) I told everyone when they needed to be where and let them figure it out – and it worked! One almost must use LIAT to get to/from SVD and various members of our group did it through San Juan, Barbados and Trinidad. While some were hit quite hard financially for the total weight of their luggage being over 50 lbs. (one for $140!), they all made it on time and with their entire luggage (the only bag lost was by AA in the States, it never arrived.) I was with a group flying from SJU to SVD. We had seen a post on TTOL that the flight made a stop on Antigua but the clerk at the desk assured us it was a direct flight. Of course we stopped in Antigua – to refuel! We just looked at each other and said “it be de ilons, mon”.
The “Galley Captains” of the three boats decided to use the online provisioning service of C.K. Greaves (That is the one area I stay out of in the planning! I have realized that often the Galley Captain position is more important for a happy cruise than the “Captain position”.) They were very pleased with that arrangement. Greaves delivered everything to Barefoot and it was even properly segregated by boat. In turn, Barefoot stored everything in their office and freezer and delivered it onboard the correct boat on our day of departure.
The check-in process at Barefoot was a mixed bag, but I covered that in a separate post in this forum. Some of their service was so smooth as to be almost unnoticed and thus easily forgotten (which might be another definition of good customer service) other parts were confusing and frustrating. As has been mentioned in other TTOL posts, the outstanding communication with Seth before the trip built up a familiarity with him which created, rightly or wrongly, an expectation of continued involvement. However, his job does not involve direct customer contact onsite. That is fine when one understands that.
Getting a late start on our first day we amended our float plan (that didn’t take long!) and went to Bequia instead of Mustique. Admiralty Bay is a large, busy harbor but very pretty. There are nice places to eat within easy walking distance of the dingy docks, the book store is always interesting, the produce market takes you quickly into “de ilons” and taking a “taxi tour” of the island is always a hit. The next morning we had planned to snorkel Petit Nevis but the heavy rain all morning caused us to go directly to Mustique. We got the last two balls in Britannia Bay, the third boat anchored (which is allowed after they have sold all the balls.) Most of the crew had drinks and dinner at Basils while the rest of us had dinner at Firefly. That was the third time I have been to Firefly and continue to find it a highlight of the trip.
The next day we sailed to Tobago Cays and anchored near Jamesby Island. Tobago Cays always has many, many boats but it seems there is still always somewhere nice to anchor. Various of the crew went kayaking, snorkeling, observing the green turtles and exploring Jamesby. Tobago Cays is fascinating as the wind is coming “all the way from Africa” while being protected by two large, consecutive reefs. The boat boys are always interesting. For instance, as we approached the pass between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau we saw a group of their boats waiting. Then as each of our boats came through the pass one would pull up next to us to “help” us to an anchorage and then offer to be of any help needed (we did not heed their advice on where to anchor but did engage them in other errands.) There is always at least one boat boy with nice sarongs, shirts, etc., which allows considerable shopping without leaving one’s boat. Just be polite and they won’t bother you.
From there we planned on Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau. However, when approaching – no later than noon – it appeared to be already packed and we knew more boats would be coming in as the day progressed. So we went on to Saline Bay, which was a very pleasant surprise. It has a very nice, long beach with fair snorkeling at its southern end. The generating plant was not even noticed. It is a closer walk to the “village” (than from Salt Whistle) and the one disco did not pump its “music” out over the harbor too late. When buying some ice it was in a bucket, like the kids would use when playing in the sand.
A note of caution: In ANY harbor, like Saline, where you see a large commercial dock, anchor well away from it. Ferry/supply ships use these docks at any time of the day or night and are not nimble enough to avoid anchored boats in their channel. Suffice to say, we learned that lesson, without incident.
We sailed on to Union Island (a couple of our boats “did” Palm Island on the way). We sailed past Chatham Bay and Frigate Island and determined they would be great places to stop in the future, but went on to Clifton. While we had intended to anchor off Newlands Reef it seemed to already be packed “door handle to door handle” so we did a Med-mooring at Bougainvilla. The crew (and I) really liked being on a dock and able to walk whenever we wanted to town, etc. Note that Bougainvilla does not have the usual amenity: showers! Clifton has a colorful town square with many produce and flower shops. Also internet, ATM, etc. We had dinner at Bougainvilla which was very good (and enjoyed watching all the fish in the aquarium and the lobster having their last swim.)
Some of the crew then found a local watering hole and evidently had quite a night of it – at least that is what I gathered when they woke up about noon the next day.
We then sailed on to Petite St. Vincent – a little bit of heaven! While I aspire to be able to someday actually stay at the resort (about $900/night) we did enjoy the bar and even I liked the boutique (interesting items at REALLY cheap prices.) Some walked the beach around the island, others just sunned on the beach and some of us snorkeled around Mopion Island (recommend actually snorkeling west of the island near the “rock pile” marking the channel.) We had intended to dingy over to Petite Martinique but it was Sunday and all the shops were closed, the next day we “didn’t feel like it.” I lost the starboard transmission on my boat while in the process of raising the anchor, didn’t get it back for the rest of the trip, and so had to be rather careful to not get into any situation needing much maneuverability.
After PSV, we started “back up” to St. Vincent with Canouan the first stop. Given my lack of maneuverability I tucked into the northern part of the bay, outside the Moorings mooring field, just past the green mark. That is actually a good spot as it seemed to be to the north of the wind blasts that came down from the hills. While our other boats then when on to Bequia, I waited another day in Canouan for some combination of Barefoot and their mutual arrangement with Moorings to fix my transmission. The only thing that happened was that then the mechanic couldn’t start the engine and determined a new starter was needed. The next morning Barefoot flew a new starter from SVD, but LIAT evidently flew it all around the Caribbean instead of dropping it in Canouan!
After waiting all day we did have a nice dinner at Tamarind Hotel. The other exciting thing about Canouan is that I caught my only fish (despite trolling most of the time) while anchored there. However, it was a “puffer fish” which looked like a huge porcupine by the time I landed it – could only cut it loose as I couldn’t get close enough to retrieve the hook. As I was without a starboard engine or transmission and had waited a day and a half for some resolution, I decided to forget about it and sail.
From Canouan we sailed directly back to Blue Lagoon, and a Barefoot mooring ball. The interesting thing that then happened was the Barefoot mechanic came onboard to work on the engine/tranny. He jumped down into the engine well then quickly popped back up and asked “where be de battery, mon?” Evidently the Moorings mechanic had taken it – why and where we do not know.
People have asked how I compare the Grenadines with BVI. While that is very subjective, I would make a few personal observations.
- In my opinion every place in BVI is tourist-oriented, however rustic it might be. On several islands in the Grenadines, once you leave the dock or beach, you are “in the Caribbean” with the locals – nary a tourist in sight.
- In general, the sailing is more boisterous in the Grenadines. There are open-ocean passages with measurable cross currents between islands. In the BVI, even the trip to Anegada is mostly protected by a reef.
- The snorkeling is probably better in BVI, I have found no place in the Grenadines with such colorful coral and fish (but that may be my fault.)
- Another difference is that in the BVI the boats are almost all identical bareboat charters while in the Grenadines there is a much larger percentage of private, live-aboard cruisers (which makes boat watching more interesting – hey, look how they rigged the rain catcher to drain right into the water tank! OK, OK, but some of us find things like that interesting.)
- In the BVIs an every day problem is how early you must get to any harbor to get a ball or room to anchor. There is some of that in the more popular harbors in the Grenadines but it seems there is often a nice harbor a couple miles away with plenty of room.