The Grenadines are the embodiment of the typical Caribbean dream. Images of the islands are the kind that make you want to quit your job, buy a boat and spend the rest of your days in flip-flops. Oh wait…we did that already.
Far from just a string of white sand, palm backed beaches, the Grenadines saw us swimming with rays and turtles, hiking rolling hillsides, dancing to live steel bands and stumbling upon wild tortoises and iguanas.
Part of St Vincent, The Grenadines and are made up of 31 droplets of land cast across 33.2 square miles of wild blue Atlantic Ocean. Having avoided St Vincent because of it’s reputation for violent crime against yachts, the islands made the perfect stop over on our journey to Grenada before we needed to start heading west across the Caribbean sea towards Panama.
We were met with the sounds of a steel pan orchestra on our first night, as the island of Bequia hosts an annual music festival which coincided with our arrival. With the sounds of the Caribbean drifting across the bay and the beach bars flowing with rum and beer, it did not take long before we bumped into a group of young French sailors we had previously met in Cape Verde. Maybe it was the festival, or something to do with the strong, herbal aroma emulating from the crowd but everyone was in a good mood. With the next few days spent swimming and dinghy sailing and evenings catching up with old friends and new, it was only the promise of turtles and tortoises on the other islands that pulled us away from Bequia.
25 miles South of Bequia, The Tobago Cays are a group of small uninhabited islands reserved as a national park and protected from the Atlantic by a horse shoe shaped reef. White sand beaches blend into bright turquoise and blue water which host an abundance of fish and other sea life. After dropping the hook, there was no question over who would dive to check on the anchor. We both jumped straight in and were delighted to find a turtle grazing on the sea grass beside it. Swimming straight from the boat, we returned after a couple of hours having counted 1 sting ray and 16 green sea turtles! Before coming to the Caribbean, swimming up close with a turtle was a big bucket list box to tick. Making eye contact and swimming alongside such gentle, graceful creatures in their natural environment is an experience we hope will stay with us forever. The reflecting sun through the turquoise sea creates a dabbled light display of greens and browns along their backs as they glide through the water. We weren’t the only one’s appreciating their beauty as the anchorage in the Cays was packed with other boats. There was however plenty of plenty of space for everyone, both in and out of the water and we enjoyed the social side of being surrounded by other yachts.
Having said a sad farewell to the turtles, we set sail in champagne sailing conditions for Union Island in search of wild Tortoises. We watched the chart and water around us like hawks as we passed waves crashing over reefs around our exit. With the beauty of sailing amongst the Grenadines’ coral reefs comes the challenge of not prematurely ending your journey on them. As we approached the mountainous outline of Union Island, a huge Leatherback Turtle popped up for air beside the boat before diving back down into the indigo depths. Finally we rounded a steep, wooded headland into Chatham Bay, a large and magnificent anchorage shared with just a couple of other yachts, plenty of Pelicans and Frigate birds. There is no road access into the bay, just a couple of small local beach shack bars hidden amongst the trees – bliss.
Although many of the locals were kind enough to offer us “green” they did not mean the broccoli or courgettes we were after. Seeking fresh food and a view of the bay, we set off hiking up a rutted dirt track leading from the beach. It was hot work but the view of Florence in the bay was well worth the discomfort and effort. From the peak, the view stretched as far as Bequia, our original stop. As we were busy taking this in, we were approached by a local guy carrying a huge machete. “Bushman” worked the land and cattle on the peak and happily gave us advice on the best route to Clifton, the main town and neighbouring villages via his daily commute. Although Union Island is only 3 miles long, we took the islands laid back pace as we stopped to see snakes, wild tortoises and huge hungry caterpillars. Friendly locals, waved from brightly coloured houses scattered around the island and it seemed the island had more goats than people.
Clifton, the main village was where all the tourists had been hiding. Merchants sitting on stools, outside colourful fruit laden stalls, greeted us loudly. Although beautifully laid out, their produce was 3x as expensive as we had got on other islands so we wandered the side streets and found a lady with a plain, battered stall to stock up for a fraction of the price. Enjoying a lunch stop by the Yacht Club we were entertained by an eagle ray and nurse shark swimming in the shelter of the dock.
Excited to see Matt’s parents flying out to meet us the following week, we upped anchor and set sail for Grenada, determined to return again in the future.
In a (coco)nut shell, the Grenadines gave us a real taste of cruising paradise and have been our favourite part of the Caribbean so far, totally worth buying a boat and wearing out our flip-flops for.