12.60° N, 61.43° W Enjoy island life away from the crowds (published April 2013)
A bright smile, cold rum punch, island music to sooth your ears, warm sand to cover your toes and the blue Caribbean spreading out to the setting sun. A cruiser’s heaven? We think so. This is Chatham Bay on Union Island in the Grenadines, a must-visit anchorage whenever in the neighborhood.
Union Island’s main harbor is at Clifton, where you will find Customs and Immigration, shops, entertainment and scores of tourists. If you enjoy a bustling environment and do not mind pirogues and dinghies racing amidst a crowd of moored and anchored boats, then Clifton is for you. But if, like us, you prefer a quieter, less frequented and more natural anchorage, then head to the other side of the island. Chatham Bay is less than two miles from Clifton Harbor as the seagull flies, but a world away in attitude and style.
Chatham Bay is broad and quiet with plenty of room for anchoring and a beautiful white sand beach stretches between the wooded headlands. Dinghy ashore and check out the little snack shacks tucked under the trees. Our favorite is the Sun Beach & Eat Local Restaurant & Bar, owned by Seckie and Vanessa. Opt for lounge chairs in the sun, or seek the shaded picnic tables beneath rafters festooned with flags from all over the world, and t-shirts signed by grateful, sated cruisers.
We spent a long lazy afternoon there sipping rum punch and talking with Vanessa while Seckie whipped up fantastic fish fritters with a spicy dipping sauce. With a little advance notice, they can prepare a beach barbeque for your dining pleasure. Vanessa was a delightful and gracious hostess, proudly displaying photographs taken of her with Anthony Bourdain, host of the award-winning series No Reservations on the Travel Channel, when he and his crew stopped by for drinks while they were filming in the area.
A totally different experience awaits you at the far end of the beach at the elegant but low-key Aqua. Eventually the owners plan to have rental cottages here, but for now you will have to be satisfied with the beautiful bar and restaurant. These open-air buildings flank a small pool overlooking the beach. Beneath their thatched roofs are stylish interiors rich with warm wood, exotic wood carvings and stone sculptures. At the bar, we relaxed into the deep cushions of a settee and enjoyed cold beers and hot, crispy fries while gazing out over the bay. A delicious treat, but pricier than the more casual eateries down the beach.
The only road to Chatham Bay is steep, dirt and deeply rutted, so there are no influxes of taxi-driven tourists. Hiking out, however, is delightful. The island is small, and one day we walked well-paved roads to Clifton for provisions, passing fields, a salt pond and a quarry, detouring through the village of Ashton on our return. Our thighs ached from the steep inclines, but the views were unsurpassed.
If you prefer water sports, snorkel the reef in the cove just around Rapid Point on the north side of the bay. There is sand for anchoring your dinghy, and the reef supports a fantastic array of stony and soft corals, fish and invertebrates. It took an oncoming squall to drag us out of the water and back to the boat.
At Chatham Bay you can do a lot—or nothing. The choice is yours. But whatever you do, choose Chatham Bay the next time you are in the Grenadines.