It seems the further south we go, the more relaxed the vibe. Maybe because the cruising season was winding down and everyone was heading south to their hurricane homes. Maybe its just always like this. As much as I enjoyed the beauty of the BVIs I think I have to say that this part of the Caribbean is by far my favourite. We are now at the very southern end of the St Vincent Grenadines. Further south lies the islands of Grenada and well beyond that Trinidad and Tobago, the latter not to be confused with...
The wild, uninhabited islets and reefs of the fabled Tobago Cays are known among cruisers as some of the most spectacular in the Caribbean. Seasoned cruisers often list this idyllic anchorage as their most treasured, citing dreamy crowdless beaches, dazzling reefs and vivid aquamarine seas. OK dear reader, you probably realised those were not my words, however Tobago Cays is a really special place and is now on our list of Caribbean favourites.
Located in the southern St Vincent Grenadine islands, the Tobago Cays are an archipelago comprised of five small uninhabited islands: Petit Rameau, Petit Bateau, Baradal, Petit Tobac and Jamesby. Together, these islands are the main attraction at the Tobago Cays Marine Park, a national park and wildlife reserve.
Much of the park consists of a massive 1,400-acre lagoon, surrounded by a horseshoe reef. Just imagine shallow, sand-bottomed, crystal clear lagoons teeming with green turtles and colourful fish, protected from the Atlantic Ocean by coral reefs and fringed with small, white-sand beaches (ok with a bit of sargassum).
It’s quite a short distance from Canouan Island so we pull out a headsail for the sail across. As we reach the islands we motor through “the cut”, between Petit Rameau & Petit Bateau. There are mooring buoys here and it's possible to anchor as well, but we continue on into the lagoon. One “boat boy” comes to say hi and see if we want a buoy, but we choose to anchor in the south of the lagoon with everyone else. It is relatively shallow, sandy bottomed and well protected from the swell but we still get the full force of the Atlantic wind. There is a small National Parks fee of EC$10 (AU$5) per day and they come around to collect it at varying times of the day, to keep you on your toes. There are so many turtles it’s really amazing! I snorkelled just around the boat to check the anchor and chased after a few of them in different directions, they are totally oblivious to humans and just go about their business, munching on sea grass and ignoring you. There is also a funny puffer type fish blowing at the sand around our anchor, perhaps he is trying to dislodge it, or to see his reflection. We end up spending a week around Tobago Cays, snorkelling, swimming and checking out the small islands and the wildlife.
Dinghied across to Baradal Island one afternoon and walked up to the top, which was really not that far, but a great view of the other islands in the Cay, out to the Atlantic and across to Mayreau Island. Saw a couple of pretty large iguanas hanging out in the trees, as well as some nesting birds. Keith got swooped by one being over protective. We also snorkelled off the south end of the island which was really special, not so much in the way of coral but lots of sea grass and turtles feeding that let you get pretty close. I followed a medium sized ray whilst thinking of Steve Irwin – definitely no sting in his tail though.
The rainy season is living up to its name and dark clouds gather most days. We had some light rain one day it was full of Saharan dust so ITIKI is filthy again. The only good news about that is it means the risk of hurricane is low as the weather off the coast of Africa is a little cooler. Rather than wait for some clean rain we spent some time cleaning the windows and getting some of the dust off the boat. It is a never ending task!
Went over to Petite Bateau in the dinghy and the motor cut out just as we reached the shallows – groan.... Fortunately it was only the fuel line that had come loose at the engine so we could quickly fix it. We walked up over the top of the island through the bushes and down to the beach on the other side. This is where the beach BBQs are as well as the popular, and more protected anchorage, called The Cut that we passed on the way in. Walked back around the much shorter and flatter end of the island. Bamboozle II has arrived so we dropped by to say hello to them. Andy and Brenda from Whispering Winds drop by as well, they are friends with Mark and Myra who came aboard on St Martin, having bought their Helia sight unseen.
We have been told of a couple of great snorkelling spots but they are on the outside of the horseshoe reef. We tried to check it out one afternoon, you have to go through the “dinghy cut”, a small opening in the reef, but finding it is quite difficult. It is marked by small buoys but they are hard to see from low down. We finally spot them and make it through the cut, tying up to the outer most buoy, but it is really quite rough so we decide to come back another day. Instead we popped across to Jamesby Island and walked along one of the "crowdless beaches". Sadly it has quite a thick coating of Sargassum weed, that is not mentioned in the tourist brochures! I think they must just photoshop it out!
One of the must do activities in Tobago Cays is the beach BBQ. There is a group of 10 of us and we join Romeo and his team for a great night! Sadly lobster season is over but we have a fantastic feast of Lambi (conch), freshly caught fish, pork ribs (I passed on those) plantains, veggies and salads. Coincidentally we met the new owners of a boat named Jace (Jeff and Lynne) - we knew the previous Aussie owners from Ragusa. It must have been a good night as I completely forgot to take any photos! The only downside is the trip back in the dinghy - its a dark night and we are motoring into the wind and waves, but we make it back and find our own boat without getting too wet.
Outside of the lagoon, on the eastern side, there is a small island called Petit Tabac. Its possible to get over there in the dinghy if it is calm enough, but one morning we decide to head over there in ITIKI (to empty tanks on the way and make water as well). Switched the instruments on nothing happened, everything was blank. No lights, no action! Went through a bit of trouble shooting but no luck at all. Seems they are not getting power, which may have been related to them cutting out intermittently. I called Garmin but they just sent the trouble shooting guide that didn’t really help. Keith took off around the anchorage to ask for assistance from fellow cruisers. Jeff from Jace comes over to take a look and spends 3 hours running the multi-meter over the boat with a fine tooth comb. Finally he found a voltage drop which turns out to be due to a chafed wire that has been pulled through a roughly hacked hole during installation. It has probably been there since the beginning and possibly been responsible to our continued electrical problems. Jeff cut and re-crimped the wire and we had power back to the instruments. Wow! Thank goodness for helpful (and persistent) cruisers! We invited Jeff and Lynn over for dinner to say thank you and had a lovely evening chatting.
The following day we realised it was quite calm and the wind was lighter than usual so we took the dinghy over to the cut and went snorkelling to the northern side, outside of the reef. It is quite a big reef but as with other Caribbean reefs, nothing special coral wise. Plenty of fish though and we saw a fairly large barracuda - fortunately he didn’t seem to recognise us… We are on the outside of the reef so the swell is rolling in and a couple of times it caught me and I got a little too close to the shallows. Went back to the boat and decided to head over to Petit Tabac. Jeff and Lynne and Brenda and Andrew have come over on the RIBs so we swim ashore to say hi. Bad move as it is coral and rock right up to the beach on the Western side. I try to swim around the end of the reef, which is nice enough but starting to get tired looking for a gap. Keith is ashore and directs me in. Andrew has a metal detector and they have found some coins which they think are props from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie which was filmed here. We decide to wash the boat and do a couple of loads of washing - housework in the most exotic of locations! Keith gets some fantastic drone shots though. After lunch we head back inside the reef as it is getting pretty rolly out here. We anchor in the shallow sand a little further south than where we were before. The sun comes out briefly and the drone goes up again. We are in very shallow water and it’s a rolly night.
In the morning we decide to head across to Mayreau after more drone flying and a bit of hull scrubbing. It’s such a short distance so we are motoring, avoiding a few reefs as we come into the bay. We anchor in Saline Bay and go ashore for a walk. There is not much here at all, a very quiet island with a small population, a school and a couple of small resorts. Great views from the top of the hill and we can see down to Salt Whistle Bay anchorage which looks pretty crowded. Not much in the way of supplies available here, can't even find bananas! There are quite a few goats wandering around - haven't seen it on the menu though so not sure what they do with them. Some local kids from the sailing school have been around the anchorage in their dinghy looking for donations of equipment, lines, fibreglass, resin etc. We promise to take a look at what we have and would suit them. A couple of dudes come around in wooden boats touting for business for restaurants. It’s so quiet here now it must be tough with tourist numbers dwindling.
The next morning we take the RIB to the next bay north and pop into the resort to see if they might have the football on (UEFA cup final). No good but it looks like a lovely spot. We continue on to Salt Whistle Bay and have a walk ashore here. It is a small, shallow bay with not much room so no real reason to bring ITIKI here. Back in town Keith finds that the D View cafe/bar/restaurant has a TV and apparently the football will be on. When we get there though they don’t seem to have the correct channel. We have a very ordinary lunch and the crew from Wild Thing 2 arrive and we manage to get the football on German TV on my computer - Liverpool lost so not a happy afternoon. There was a massive dump of rain whilst we were out and unfortunately we left the hatch above the table open so everything is wet! At least it is clean rain.
,After breakfast we head ashore to walk across to the windward side. There is some interesting signage along the way, installed by the beach bar on the other side. We feed the goats and untangle them from their tethers which are wrapped around trees and their own limbs. Not the brightest of creatures. The local power station here is a solar farm. On the southern end of the island is a large salt lagoon (without flamingos). We get great views across to Tobago Cays as we walk over the ridge to the windward side. When we get to the windward beach it is, well, windy. There is a fringing reef providing some protection but not really much of a swimming spot as there are lots of rocks and plenty of sargasso. The Beach Bar is not open yet. We walk along the beach and back and then head back to town. I decided to swim back to the boat. Later that evening we enjoyed sundowners on Mai Tai with Ollie, who is a keen ex professional fisherman and he gives us a few tips and lots of encouragement!
Ollie (Mai Tai) came over for morning tea and to have a look at our tweakers (no that is not a euphemism!) We then head off for Union island and decide to go the long way around so we can make water. Inspired by Ollie, we put the fishing line out and after reeling it in half a dozen times to remove the seaweed it suddenly zings! I grab it but it goes slack. Dang! The one that got away. Reeled the line in and the €30 lure is completely gone. There are some serious teeth marks in the trace line, must have been a Wahoo. We passed the Chatham Bay and Frigate Island anchorages before arriving in Clifton Harbour and anchored between Bamboozle and Mai Tai, the latter obviously went the more direct route. We head ashore for provisioning, which is quite reasonable. There are plenty of stray dogs and a few stray people as well... The dinghy dock is quite special - it’s like a mini Venice as you have to go under a bridge into a little pond, but there is only room for a handful of boats.
Head ashore in the morning and Keith goes in search of a hairdresser. He gets what is probably the best haircut since we left home! The simple pleasures of life on the run! I also manage to post a postcard (that’s the last one Pam!) Walked along the shoreline of the bay to the kite surfing beach which is inside the reef on the western end of the bay we are anchored in. Lovely location. Dropped by to say hi to some fellow cruisers on our way back to the boat before motoring down to Chatham Bay. It’s a lovely anchorage with a long beach and a couple of bars and we decide to stay a few days. We are greeted by Philip on his wooden boat to tell us about the beach bar/restaurant. Keith swims the anchor and sees a weird hand fish (Triglidae, Gurnards) aka Sea Robins under the boat.
We spent 10 days at Chatham Bay, with a couple of trips out to empty tanks and provision. Some of the highlights include:
Daring Dinghy oddessy to Clifton & back
From Antigua we took a “side trip” north to the island of Barbuda. Barbuda, along with another island called Redonda, is part of Antigua. The island is quite low (highest point is 59m!) and about a quarter of its area is taken up with a shallow lagoon. The main town of Codrington is on the leeward side, and inside the lagoon and has little in the way of facilities. The Southern coast is the most visited area and here we can find luxury private resorts and (apparently) Robert de Niro’s house.
We left Antigua just after breakfast, 1 reef in the main and full genoa to traverse the 31nm to Coco Point at the southern end of Barbuda. Sea was flat at first but it got bumpier as we got past the end of the Antigua. Copped a fair few waves including one that drenched us both at the helm. Reefed the genoa when we started seeing over 22kts apparent wind speed. As the island is low we dont see it until we are very close, We arrived around 1pm.
We are leaving our lovely anchorage to go and take a look at the Western side of the island. We had a rain squall follow us west along the coast, saw up to 33kts TWS, thankfully from behind. Just had the genoa out and we were making 8.5kts at one stage. We turned right and headed up the west coast to anchor just south of the gap in the narrow sandbar at Low Bay, which is the entrance to the lagoon. It’s about half way up the windward coast of this long, narrow island. Conditions are still very gusty and we are jerking around on the anchor bridle. Just like being back in Greece in the Meltemi! From the top of the boat we can see over the sandspit to the lagoon and across to the town. There is surf breaking across the entrance and it looks like it could be quite a spectacular ride to get in! We watched one couple head over there but turn around and come back again. After lunch we took the paddle boards ashore which was no mean feat in a 20kts headwind. Walked north along the sandspit to the gap, it looks fairly rough so we won’t be going in there today either. There is an abandoned beach bar here with piles of conch shells, wooden furniture and what looks like some brick structure that is almost sinking into the water. There is a frigate bird sanctuary inside the lagoon, but looks like we won’t be able to visit that either. The beach along here is supposed to be pink but you have to try really hard to see it without the rose coloured glasses.
We set out from Les Saintes about 9ish thinking we would head to Marie-Gallante, the round, and less visited island to the east of us, but the wind was stronger than forecast (when will we learn…) and we were banging into short chop so we changed our minds and headed to Pointe a Pitre, the main town of Guadeloupe. It’s in the centre of the two parts of this butterfly shaped island. We are still going to windward but on Starboard tack initially the swell is not so bad. On port tack we had negative 3kts VMG at one stage, but we kept pace with a couple of monos, one of which gave up and put the motors on. We end up doing several tacks to make course into to our destination but it’s a good exercise in sailing to windward and it took us about 5 hours, in total to make the 21nm passage. The anchorage is outside the marina in a very sheltered, enclosed bay although the surrounds are quite industrial with views of the cargo port and dockyards. We go ashore in the afternoon and walk into town but it is very seedy, dirty and nothing much open. There is a lot of very colourful street art though, a vain attempt to distract from the scruffiness.
The next day we take 4 x 4 tour of the north of the “west wing” with Pelican Safaris, as we did not have a chance to see much of the inland on our initial visit. We head south and take the traversing road inland towards Pointe a Pitre. The road winds up hill and down dale, through very dense rainforest. This part of the island clearly gets plenty of rain. We stop at a river with a waterfall and a popular swimming hole but its quite crowded. Across the road there is another small rivulet with a swimming hole and waterfall which is harder to get to so a lot less crowded. The water here is not so warm but it's novel swim in fresh water and very refreshing. Next stop is a short rainforest walk, the jungle is quite thick and very diverse flora.
Scenes from our tour of the island:
On Sunday we hired a 50cc scooter and toured around the island of Terre de Haut. It was a bit like riding around on a lawn mower, particularly interesting going up the steep hills. First stop was Fort Napoleon just after opening time. Great views from the top and a lovely garden area with many different cacti and some iguanas hiding in the bushes. We visited the various beaches around the island. Marigot Bay looked like it could have been good to anchor in but having seen it from above, it looks a bit nothing. Lots of weed. We stop at Plage de Pompier but again huge piles of weed (Sargasso) on the shore and along most of the beach. It has been a huge problem in this area and when it blooms, large volumes end up rotting on the beaches which is very bad for tourism. We watch a pair of pelicans doing synchronised diving for a while, before moving on.
Mid-morning we went ashore to Ilet a Cabrits and walked up to Fort Josephine. It was abandoned in 1903 and now is just a collection of ruins, inhabited by goats. From the top we can see across to Terre de Haut and Fort Napoleon that we visited before. After lunch I go into town (on my own in the dinghy, out of sight of ITIKI!) and try to connect to the internet, however they have changed the password since our last visit and as its Sunday the office is closed! Anyway some good practice in the dinghy and I have booked a restaurant for tomorrow.
We go ashore mid-morning to spend some time at the internet café but it is frustratingly slow! We also check out as we are leaving tomorrow. Our anniversary lunch (its Anzac Day!) is at Au Bon Vivre and it was the best meal we have had in a long time. French with a Creole twist and a lovely bottle of Rose. Just perfect! And a lovely way to finish our time in Les Saintes & Guadeloupe, as we head to Dominica tomorrow.
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.