ST VINCENT & THE GRENADINES (This complete editorial can be found at: www.yachtingmatters.com Edition 31)
The Authentic Caribbean
By Heather Grant
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is a small island nation in the Lesser Antilles set in the Eastern Caribbean. It is located in the southern part of the Windward Islands, south of St. Lucia and north of Grenada. Barbados is about 90 miles east. This 389 km2 territory consists of the main island of Saint Vincent and the northern two thirds of the Grenadines, which are a chain of smaller islands stretching south from Saint Vincent Island to Grenada.
The population is approximately 110,000, with most living on the main island of St. Vincent. The capital is Kingstown in St. Vincent. It is a parliamentary democracy based on the British system, with 15 elected members representing single-member constituencies. SVG’s status changed from colony to an associated state when it became a part of the West Indies Associated States in 1969. It attained independence in 1979.
SVG is comprised of 32 islands and cays, of which nine are inhabited, including the mainland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the islands: Young Island, Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Union Island, Mayreau, Petit St. Vincent and Palm Island.
The islands are volcanic in origin, indeed St. Vincent has an active volcano called La Soufrière which last erupted in 1979 (you can climb it). The rocky and mountainous physical features of the islands make them particularly appealing to visitors - Union Island is known as ‘Little Tahiti’ due to its distinctive profile. St. Vincent has black sand beaches, but the Grenadine islands have fine white sand, a factor that makes the Grenadines attractive to tourists.
The island now known as Saint Vincent was originally named Youloumain by the native Island Caribs. The Caribs aggressively prevented European settlement on Saint Vincent until 1719. Prior to this, formerly enslaved Africans, who had either been shipwrecked or who had escaped from Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada and sought refuge in mainland Saint Vincent, intermarried with the Caribs and became known as Black Caribs or Garifuna.
The French were the first Europeans to occupy St. Vincent, but after a few wars and various treaties, the British gained control in 1763 by way of the Treaty of Paris. For most of the rest of the island’s history until its independence, the British were in control, punctuated by occasional battles with the Black Caribs. African slaves worked plantations of sugar, coffee, indigo, tobacco, cotton and cocoa until emancipation in 1838, when many owners abandoned the islands and the former slaves had to toil alone, with no support. A long period of subsistence farming began. During the 20th century, tourism started to develop and today is one of the main drivers of the economy.
People like to describe the Grenadines as the ‘authentic’ Caribbean, the way the Caribbean used to be, the Caribbean they love and for good reason. Life is slow in the islands. No casinos, high rise buildings, elevators, escalators, not even traffic lights (They have them in St. Vincent, but they have never worked!). Spend a day in the Tobago Cays Marine Park, a remarkable World Heritage site where there are no man-made structures, however, turtles and sea life proliferate - you can swim with the turtles - it is an exceptional experience. Visit Clifton, the village on Union Island (known as the party island), where the fresh market offers a profusion of local produce, from the mundane cabbage to exotic snake gourds and calaloo. Climb the hill in Mayreau, an island of about 250 inhabitants, and gaze at the views from the top by the quaint stone Roman Catholic Church. Indulge in the local lobster, called langouste, straight from the sea to a beach grill, slathered in butter, lime and garlic.
Each island is distinct and unique. Although bound together within one country, each has its own character and even the accents of the local people are slightly different from one island to the next. From the old days, when transportation was scarce and island hopping was infrequent, each island retained its own distinct characteristics. As recently as the 1960s, people, food, doctors and all freight and materials moved between the islands in sailing vessels. Friendship Rose, built in Bequia, plied the waters for years as the local ferry before being transformed into a day tour schooner after a full restoration and electricity has only been on Mayreau since 2003!
Mustique is the exception. Developed as a private island after being purchased in 1958 by Colin Tennant, the British beer magnate, it is an exclusive enclave. Home to many well-known people from business, entertainment and British royalty, it is known for elaborate villas, parties and Basil’s Bar, known far and wide as the coolest hangout place in the country. Mustique has its own rules and laws, making access difficult for visitors at times, especially when the homeowners arrive in profusion during holidays.
Several of the smaller islands are leased long term as private islands and are operated by top resorts. Petit St. Vincent is at the southern end of the island chain, offering 5 star service to guests for over 40 years - some families now have a third generation turning up for vacations. Young Island Resort on Young Island at the southern tip of St. Vincent is another. On Canouan, the Canouan Resort has a huge complex of luxury hotel, a beautifully designed golf course and private villa development. A marina will soon join this collection in Canouan, the marina currently under construction and opening within the year.
The Grenadines is a paradise for sailors. The almost nonstop trade winds, the beauty of the islands, a climate which sees daytime temperatures of 31ºC, plummeting at night to 26ºC year round, few security concerns, crystal clear azure water and sugar sand beaches are the magnets that draw yachts, large and small to the region. In addition, the bays are not crowded; not water based versions of trailer parks with yachts cheek by jowl, but a serene and tranquil world where a yacht may not see another boat all day. If you want crowds, do not come to the Grenadines!
When it comes to sailing, the Grenadines is THE place to be. As mentioned above, conditions are excellent. But there are so many other reasons to come to the Grenadines. The people are friendly and welcoming. When dealing with them, you will find them helpful and accommodating. Clearance procedures are straightforward - yachts can clear at Union, Canouan, Mustique, Bequia and St. Vincent. Erika’s Yacht Agents offers this service to yachts, large and small.
There are so many delightful spots for anchoring. Where shall we begin? Starting in the north, the leeward side of St. Vincent is almost uninhabited and is characterized by steep mountainous slopes. Chateaubelair and Wallilabou are favourite anchorages - guests are always impressed by the geography along this stretch. At the south coast of St. Vincent is Young Cut, a safe anchorage between Young Island and the mainland. It is possible to hire mooring buoys for even very large yachts here. Just ask for Charlie Tango (although Erika’s can do that for you).
Moving south into the Grenadines, first is Bequia. Admiralty Bay is large and well protected, offering moorings for smaller boats only. Here you will find a quaint village, Port Elizabeth, some decent restaurants and activities to please a wide variety of interests. The turtle sanctuary is of particular interest to many. Take a tour in a local van to see the island properly. Catch a glimpse of the whaling station off the south coast. Bequia’s islanders are allowed to take four humpbacks per year during the season from February to May, using traditional harpooning from small boats. They use every scrap of the whale, eating the flesh and using the oil for many purposes, some of them medicinal. The taste of whale oil is indescribable. The overwhelming fish smell that it emits stays in one’s system for quite a long time and is bound to cure what ails you.
Next stop on the southward journey is Mustique, the private island. Beautifully manicured and more redolent of a top private resort than it’s more natural and basic neighbour islands, its Britannia Bay can be a rolly anchorage at times. A couple of excellent restaurants and hotels abide in Mustique along with the rich and famous homeowners.
Canouan is home to the Canouan Resort, sporting a top golf course, a jet port used mainly by yacht and villa owners and an under-construction marina that will make life more interesting for yachts by 2017. Charlestown Bay is the anchorage and is also prone to swells. Stay at the northern part for a quiet night’s sleep aboard.
Mayreau, the quaint little rock with its few hundred inhabitants is charming; the Tobago Cays Marine Park merits a couple of days, then on to the final jewel in the string - Union. A bit rough and ready, but friendly all the same, you can provision in Union - visit the fresh produce market in the village of Clifton. Large yachts cannot anchor in Clifton Harbour, but it is a short tender ride over from Palm Island. An amplitude of cute and charming bars, restaurants, snack spots and other shopping opportunities awaits you in Union. Chatham Bay at the west end of the island provides a peaceful and safe anchorage. This is the kiteboard mecca of the Grenadines, with two world recognized kiteboarding schools resident here.
The tour is over. We have only travelled a few miles from one end to the other of a very small country. For yachts, it is splendid; each day catches sight of one more island, another adventure, offering variety to guests and crew alike. Worth noting is the lack of international security concerns, concerns that are putting a blight on other yachting locations in the world. Let us hope it remains this way for all to enjoy.
Contact: Heather Grant
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