Monday, July 26, 2010

Spending Some Time in The Southern Grenadines

In the more remote Grenadines (other than Bequia, Canouan and Union Island), it is a little hard to find decent wireless internet. Even with The Wirie! We would pick up signals from other islands, miles away, but to be able to work without frustrations, we need a good connection, not one that cuts in and out (which is OK to grab emails and check the weather). Mark and I got very fond of the island of Mayreau, but WiFi is non-existent. That resulted in Irie having to return to the “metropolis” of Clifton in Union Island multiple times. There, we focused on the business and customer service for a few days and then left for the weekend to a more quiet area.

During one of our short stays in Clifton, we checked out Happy Island with our friend Dave from Tatia. Janti founded Happy Island a few years ago, by building his own piece of property/paradise on a pile of conch shells, in the middle of the reefs. The place is very popular with tourists and has grown out to be a successful enterprise. It is totally self contained (he collects power and water from Mother Nature) with 360 degree views over the islands, just like on a boat!

The Tobago Cays lure from a distance and from the pages of guides and brochures. Irie stopped there briefly last November, for my birthday. We looked forward to returning for a while. The little islands, or cays, belong to a National Park, which charges EC$ 10 (US$ 4) per person per night and mooring balls are available for an extra cost. The main anchorage is protected by a big horse shoe reef, so the water is relatively calm, but the breeze is steady and perfect to create electricity. All of the five islands have pretty white sand beaches, framed by palm trees. The reef offers good snorkeling and some trails lead to the top of hills with nice views.

Normally, the water is turquoise and very clear, but this time, there was a green hue to it, something we have noticed all through the Caribbean this summer. We think it has to do with the higher temperature of the sea water, which attracts algae. The water of some beaches is now so warm that it makes you want to get out again! Another inconvenience was an annoying swell that made Irie bounce all over the place, twelve hours a day. A result of outgoing tide running into wind chop, we presume. The six hours of daylight with calm seas and wonderful surroundings, we used wisely. Mark and I went snorkeling on the reef and enjoyed the pretty, colorful waterscapes and many fish species. A feeding snake, sliding through the coral heads was the most interesting sight.

We picked Darwin up for a dinghy tour around the islands and checked out every sandy beach, with a little swim to cool off. On a couple of islands, a trail revealed wonderful vistas of the Tobago Cays. In the shallows off Baradel Island, sea turtles feed on grass. It is a delight to snorkel with them and watch their habits. All you have to do is don some snorkel gear and float away from the beach. The uncomfortable pitching of our boat, made us leave the area prematurely after two nights.

Mark and I decided to give Salt Whistle Bay another try. The setting is gorgeous in this bay, but last time, a whole bunch of powerboats disrupted the peace and took up most of the space. This time, all we could see was a huge mega motor yacht, surrounded by sailboats. One of them left the bay, so we grabbed their spot close to the beach. The wind was absent and boats started to do weird stuff. Before long, we found our butt very close to the beach. It was a bit nerve wrecking, but after some calculations and personally checking depths in the water, we figured we’d be all right. For the first time ever, we could just walk off our back step, in the water and all the way to the beach! Quite a funny and practical revelation, but not one we’d like to repeat often!

After combining relaxation, reading, snorkeling, walking, having fun with Darwin and the normal chores with the necessary days of work in between, we felt it was time to leave St. Vincent and The Grenadines for Carricaou, one of our favorite islands and part of Grenada. A few days at quiet Sandy Island (which is being turned into a National Park on August 1st 2010, prohibiting anchoring and charging for the mandatory use of mooring balls) is now followed by a week’s stay in Tyrrel Bay to attend the Carriacou Regatta, be part of the local culture and festivities and promote The Wirie. Vacation is over!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Destination Grenadines

One of the highlights – if not the biggest one – in The Caribbean is SVG or St. Vincent and The Grenadines. This is how the country is officially called, but most sailors skip the first part of the name (for safety reasons) and only care about The Grenadines, an area south of “the mainland”, scattered with tropical, lush islands adorned with lovely white sand beaches, friendly locals and little land tourism. The Grenadines portray the typical image of what one has in mind when thinking “Caribbean”.

Irie has passed SVG before. Twice. Each time thinking “Man, I wish we could stop and enjoy some time in the islands”, followed by an accusing look at Darwin. Not that it is his fault that the rules to land a pet here are so complicated and full of hassle. But, visiting with a dog is not impossible, so this time around, we made it a priority to play by the rules, plan ahead and explore The Grenadines. Our main reason to stop in Martinique after Dominica was to obtain a health certificate for Darwin. That proved easy enough, but getting in touch with the SVG Agriculture Department about our arrival date and paperwork failed enormously for four weeks. Emails – with the dog’s documents and permit application attached- remained unanswered; the internet connection was never good enough to Skype. Finally we managed to maintain a decent phone connection with the department, only to hear that a health certificate from Martinique was unacceptable!

Irie was required to stop in St. Lucia to obtain an export health certificate. If only we would have known that ahead of time, we could have saved money and hassle, but our email questions remained unanswered… At this point, Mark had had enough of all the rules and difficulties and was ready to skip The Grenadines for once and forever. Since it would be one of our highlights and our only planned “vacation”, I was stubborn and determined. From that moment, Darwin became my responsibility. I checked us and the dog into St. Lucia, which took a whole day, paid all the fees and managed to hitch rides with Darwin in the blazing sun to the Agriculture Department of St. Lucia, where an export health certificate was issued… After a week of all kind of chores and social gatherings (The World Cup had started), I checked us out. The battle was almost over.

Our next step was a stop in Young Island Cut, on the south coast of St. Vincent, the only place a government vet could inspect the animal. We wanted to get there early to be able to continue our journey to The Grenadines the same day, so spent our first SVG night in a small bay called Byahaut not far from Darwin’s check-in point. This bay was wonderfully quiet, in a tropical setting, with jungle behind the black beach and a pretty coral garden under the water surface.

Once in Young Island Cut, we needed to pick up a mooring (and pay after bargaining down, since we only planned to stop for an hour) and call the government vet through a helpful local. After more than an hour of waiting, the apologizing, friendly vet showed up, inspected Darwin and his paperwork and issued us a pet permit for three months. Phew! Now we could continue on to Bequia, the first of The Grenadines, to check ourselves in –and pay- for one month. Finally arrived!

We joined our friends from Alianna, Imagine, Tatia, Maegus and Ubuntu in Admiralty Bay and enjoyed long walks on the nice beach, refreshing dips in the green water, a stroll in town (where, every five minutes somebody hassled us for having the dog onshore, but we could prove his legitimacy), social evenings and an interesting meeting with Sally, the editor of Caribbean Compass (, a popular and professional sailing newspaper for which I’ve written. Friendship Bay around the corner didn’t do much for us. The cloudiness of the water provided no visibility for snorkeling, or even checking the anchor, and the crashing waves made landing Darwin challenging.

On the way to Canouan, the next “big land mass”, we briefly stopped at Petit Nevis for an island exploration and a snorkel around the rocks. This is a very picturesque day stop, as long as the incoming swell is bearable. On Canouan, the atmosphere is very laid-back and people are friendly. Mark, Darwin and I managed an early, but already hot, morning walk to Twin Bay on the windward side of the island. Along the way we saw small tortoises and fended off aggressive stray dogs. The small, colorful town was filled with goats and chickens.

From the moment we read about the small island of Mayreau, we wanted to go there immediately. Hence the short stay in Canouan. Our first stop was Saltwhistle Bay, with its palm trees and white sand, one of the prettiest, most tropical and exotic bays we’ve ever seen. To use the cliché: it was a picture perfect postcard image. We hoped to spend a few lazing days here (there is no internet, yeah!), but the presence of six sport fish boats, all with close to fifteen people on it (mostly kids) and tied to shore, occupying a third of the bay, made us leave earlier than planned. Not that we mind sharing a beautiful place, but the noise, chaos and swell created by dinghy driving and wakeboarding kids all day was a bit too annoying. Add to that a bunch of charter boats anchored on top of us and the peace was completely absent. The perfect anchorage doesn’t exist!

So, we ended up in Saline Bay, a big, comfortable harbor on the southwest side of Mayreau, to sit out stormy weather and hang out with all our friends just a bit more. The beach here is also very attractive with palm trees providing shade and yellow sand providing walks for Darwin. The village, so small that it doesn’t have a name, is close by and houses the few inhabitants. The whole island, only one mile or so long, has one road (less than a mile), a handful of cars, wagging strays (Darwin made lots of friends) and friendly people, and perfectly suits our humble needs. Next: Tobago Cays for some relaxation and snorkeling!