Choose your own adventure in one of the Caribbean’s finest cruising grounds (published October 2014)
A strong easterly breeze and hefty quartering sea had us moving quickly towards and then past St. Vincent on our way to the Grenadines as puffy white clouds scuttled by. It was one of those picture perfect Caribbean days that people sitting at desks much further north dream about.
We were on our way south to Grenada and a week of bouncing around the Grenadines was in order before getting there. You could spend months exploring this sprawling and unique cruising ground, but here are a few spots we identified as our favorites.
When I walked into Basil’s I half expected to see Mick Jagger sitting at the bar with a drink in front of him. In reality, there were no other patrons there, so I did my best impression, pulled up a stool and ordered a cold Hairoun.
The island of Mustique is a private playground for people like Jagger, Paul McCartney, Tommy Hilfiger and many more, but the feel of it is laid back and friendly. And fortunately cruisers are welcomed, because it is absolutely beautiful.
As we sailed up to Britannia Bay, on the island’s west side, the water turned from a deep blue to a crystal-clear aquamarine. There were several mooring balls available (anchoring is not allowed) and we chose one close to the palm-lined beach to the south. The only drawback to mooring here is that you have to pay for three nights whether you use them or not and the fee was a heart-wrenching $77. Although we only stayed for one, we ponied up anyway—Mustique is that special.
Because of Mustique’s status as a private island, exploring ashore is relegated to just a few spots, as there are relatively few local businesses. There is a five-star resort called the Cotton House, and the Firefly guesthouse has a restaurant and bar. Then you have Basil’s Bar, which is a famed Caribbean watering hole with great food and an even better atmosphere. Perched on stilts out over Britannia Bay, live music is a regular occurrence and the mix of BBQ and seafood is some of the best in the Caribbean.
After lunch and drinks at Basil’s we spent the rest of our time ashore wandering the nearby beaches and snorkeling the reef south of the mooring field. For those who want to go further afield there are attractive beaches scattered throughout the island and gorgeous vistas that look out over the rest of the Grenadines.
When you see photos of the Grenadines you are typically looking at the stunning set of islands and reefs that make up the Tobago Cay Marine Park. Clearly the jewel of the Grenadines, the Tobago Cays are comprised of five uninhabited islands near the island of Mayreau and are a great source of local pride. I’d be remiss to not include them.
After weaving our way through the narrow but deep channel between Petit Bateau and Petit Rameau we found a sandy spot to drop the hook just on the leeward side of Horseshoe Reef, well clear of the mooring field. There is a $10 per day, per person park fee that a friendly ranger stopped by to collect and mooring balls are $45 per night. Anchoring is free.
We spent a couple perfectly idyllic days anchored here snorkeling over the beautiful coral and abundant sea turtles, walking nearby beaches, including a short hike to the top of Jamesby Island, and enjoying fresh pastries. This is what any Grenadines cruising experience is all about, so take a few days and soak it all in.
Something of note throughout the Tobago Cays is the presence of the “Boat Boys.” Easy to spot in their festively painted boats, the Boat Boys offer everything from ice and fresh seafood to t-shirts and locally crafted jewelry. They will also take your order for fresh pastries and deliver them the following day in time for your morning cup of coffee. Some visitors can be turned off by their presence, but they are friendly and if you want to be left alone they will certainly do so. I recommend chatting them up, because they are quite helpful and entertaining.
Union Island has an interesting volcanic shape to it and from a distance you’ll think you’ve been transported to the South Pacific. After two splendid days in the Tobago Cays we made two stops on the island, one to top up on provisions and clear out with customs, and the other to relax and spend the night in relative seclusion.
Clifton is the town located on the east side of Union Island and has been made popular by the Happy Island bar and restaurant perched on the reef in the outer harbor. It is also the commercial hub for this part of the Grenadines, which makes it a crossroads for cruisers who are checking in or out of the country, getting supplies from the local market or grocery store, using the Internet or simply coming ashore for a meal.
We opted not to stay here overnight, though, as it is more crowded and we were looking to get away and see a slower side of the island. What we found was Chatham Bay on the far west side of Union Island. After a short reach and run around the south end of the island past Frigate Island and the town of Ashton, we rounded Miss Irene Point and entered the expansive bay. Perfectly protected from the prevailing easterlies, Chatham Bay has a long, arching beach, tall cliffs and not much else. There is a small restaurant and bar right on the beach that will let you use their pool if you buy a drink, and towards the northern end is a small beach shack where a local vendor sells BBQ chicken and fish and has a beach bonfire if there are enough people around. Also, an unfinished road winds up and over the top of the island back towards Ashton and Clifton if you are looking to hike or bike into town.
There were a handful of other cruising boats here when we dropped the hook, but because the bay is so big, it felt as though we were alone. We were just fine with that and spent a relaxing evening here before sailing south for Carriacou the next the morning.
We were in no hurry to leave Chatham Bay, as it seemed time was standing still, but we weighed anchor anyway, hoisted the sails and made quick work south to Tyrell Bay, Carriacou.
While technically part of Grenada, not St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Carriacou is worth a mention here because it was one of our favorite stops along the way. Also, it’s closer to the Grenadines than it is to Grenada, go figure. Tyrell Bay is the main anchorage for cruisers and though it can seem quite busy at times, it is actually as laid-back as they come. Hillsborough is the town on the shore of the bay and is really the only town on the island. From here you can catch a cab to a number of beaches and reefs on the island.
Carriacou means “land surrounded by reef,” but we took a break from snorkeling and instead opted to walk through town to grab a bite for lunch. It was a Saturday and though the town was quiet, we found a couple nice harbor side restaurants to visit for some delicious conch fritters.
Later that afternoon, a nearby cruiser stopped by in his dinghy to invite us to a local watering hole for happy hour—a tradition in the anchorage. The watering hole turned out to be an old powerboat owned by a local woman who had converted it into a bar where she served grilled chicken, cold beer and the best rum punch I have ever had. The atmosphere quickly turned into a friendly bunch of sailors laughing and swapping sea stories until all the boat’s provisions were exhausted. What a uniquely Caribbean way to end the day.