Bequia, The Grenadines. March 15 - 22
Bequia is the largest of the Grenadine Islands in the country that includes the “mainland,” St. Vincent Island. Even so, it is only 7 square miles in area, 9 miles south of St. Vincent. Since it is a volcanic island it has several fertile plains and had plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries until slavery was outlawed. During the 20th century its major industries were whaling and boat building. Today the International Whaling Commission allows Bequians to harpoon up to 4 humpback whales per season using traditional methods in open sailboats, but the limit is rarely met and it was not possible to discover when the last whale was slaughtered. Some want Bequia to get into whale-watching tourism, but even the whalers say sightings are not frequent enough for the tourist industry.
Boatbuilding has been replaced by model boat building in several workshops on the island. The Bequia Easter Regatta is world-famous among sailing racers, and celebrating its 34th year but weather and our haul out date precluded us from staying for the races.
double ender crew getting ready for the races
In 2015 March was warmer than usual in the Bahamas and this year March is warmer than usual in the Windward Islands according to local residents. We started the practice of going ashore in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the intense sun and heat of midday. We noticed that the local dogs (both collared/owned and un-collared / stray) had the same practice, lying motionless under shade. This meant the dogs were up most of the night barking out their territory.
The hills on Bequia are steep and the roads go straight up the hills without any turns. Is this to conserve on road building material? It makes for a short, but tiring climb by foot.
The road climbs straight up
On the other hand, the Belmont Boardwalk, constructed of concrete and rocks instead of boards, provided a delightful stroll along the southern edge of Admiralty Bay all the way from
Port Elizabeth to Princess Margaret Beach and then on to the Lower Beach. In places, the walkway skirted overhanging cliffs and had bridges over outlets to an small tidal pool. Stairs up the steep cliffs included handrails and benches for resting. The beaches were not crowded and were clean, but lacked shells for collecting.
The harbour was full of small fish which meant there were many sea birds. At times the water became turbulent as the small fish jumped from the water to avoid predators below only to attract the birds. In addition to boobies and magnificent frigate birds there were laughing gulls in their winter garb (black heads) which we had not seen further north in the island chain. The brown pelicans so prevalent in the northern islands were not to be seen here.
Laughing gulls in their winter garb (black heads)
Fellow cruisers highly recommended having lunch at L’Auberge des Grenadines. House speciality is BLT: Bacon, Lobster, Tomato sandwich. It was a bit pricy at CAD$20, but worth every penny. The mascarpone, chocolate and hazelnut tart was an exceptional dessert. Brian noticed that one of the chairs had Anthony Bourdain painted on the back. We asked if the famous chef had actually eaten at the restaurant. The waitress said he dined at the restaurant before she began working there. Another chair had Robert De Niro’s name on it.
Tony's chair and the famous BLT
On Saturday we decided to visit the turtle sanctuary, but discovered it is closed to visitors on Saturdays. We went to the local high school where a fund-raising jumble (garage sale) was held. It used to be an Anglican school, but is now non-secular. However, the main gathering room had “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” painted on the rafters. We hope that theology has become obsolete. There was nothing for sale that we needed, but we enjoyed watching the action, including the goats trimming the lawn and the kids practicing soccer.
Jumble for the school and reflections on the past
We decided to stay in town for lunch and were specifically looking for the famous Caribbean curry wrapped in pastry called roti. As we were walking back from the beaches on Belmont Boardwalk we noticed The Fig Tree restaurant’s menu board featuring roti. The daily cruiser net is anchored by Cheryl Johnson, the owner of the Fig Tree so we decided to stop for lunch. The restaurant has shelves of books that have been donated, and we discovered that Cheryl runs a book club to encourage the children of Bequia to read. In the ladies’ room there were letters the children had written expressing how important the book club had been to them. After lunch the owner was sitting at a table talking with another woman, We interrupted them asking if I could make a monetary donation to the book club, and that started everything in motion. Not only does Cheryl hold a children’s book club, run a restaurant and anchor the cruisers’ net, she also owns/runs the bookstore and is involved with the other woman (Colette) putting on drama. They have been touring the Vagina Monologues throughout the Caribbean. In addition, Cheryl does all kinds of volunteer work with women’s groups. We became instant kindred spirits. We learned that the Fig Tree has the only donut machine in the Caribbean, but it has not worked for the past 5 years. We promised to return Sunday following church to determine the extent of the damage.
Sunday was Palm Sunday and we thought attending church in the land of palm trees was particularly appropriate. We were warmly embraced by the congregants and enjoyed the gusto of the congregational singing. A visiting couple from the US sat behind us. They live in Traverse City, Michigan, just 50 miles south of Charlevoix where we have our Nordic Tug, Tuglet.
Floors just polished and waiting for the pews to be reinstalled
At noon we arrived back at the Fig Tree and sorted out the various parts of the original donut maker (220 volts) and the replacement donut maker (110 volts). The history was vague and the documentation non-existent, but eventually Brian was able to make the new 110 volt version run although bearings in one of the motor units had been damaged. We look forward to donuts on Bequia next year when we return.
The sail from Bequia to Union Island’s Chatham Bay was what we imagined sailing in the Windward / Leeward islands would be like. 20 knots from the east on a broad reach with 4 foot seas. Even with a reefed main, just the staysail and the mizzen we were pushing 7.5 knots the entire way. At one point a wave broke on our windward beam sending buckets of salt water into the cockpit (the enclosure window was open) drenching us and also going down the aft companionway to find our mattress. It was an almost perfect sail.
Chatham Bay provided an easy anchorage, although the wind screamed down the hills in great gusts all night. The following morning we departed early for the 10-mile leg to one of two Grenadine islands that are not part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but are part of Granada, our last country for this sailing season.