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Cruising with a crowd

2015 April 15

A flotilla charter to the Caribbean islands of the Grenadines is filled with camaraderie and playing pirate

The locally built Bequia racing workboats line the shore of Admiralty Bay.
Bob Grieser

Young Island was hard to decipher against the dark green profile of St. Vincent. Eventually the 195-foot monolithic islet appeared, along with the treed swathe behind that we took to be the island. It wasn’t until the mainsail was down and we entered Young Island Cut that we spied the resort. The steep thatched roofs of the tropical restaurant and cottages were nestled among lush foliage, a garden setting of giant plumerias and heleconias. Later we would see agouti, the shy small, guinea pig-type creatures on spindly gazellelike legs. The resort was a treat after roughing it a few days, and we enjoyed the bar, Wi-Fi, gracious service and a fantastic gourmet dinner in a private beachside cabana.

The next morning we kayaked and lazed around the resort, while Lisa embarked on a diving adventure. Later we set off for the marina at Blue Lagoon, less than a mile away. The Sailor’s Wilderness Tours van picked us up early the next morning for a junket on St. Vincent. Although the island is just 18 miles long, its mountainous terrain makes touring slow and limited. We didn’t mind. With our driver Desmond and our tour guide Marlon we began winding west, noting the colorful buildings. 

A fishy sign directs visitors around Union Island
Bob Grieser


“We have a lot of pride in our homes,” said Marlon, who confessed that his own house was bright orange.

We snaked along narrow roads spare of sidewalks, shoulders or curbs, past children in school uniforms, to Fort Charlotte, which was built in the late 1700s to protect the British not from attack by sea, but from the natives who objected to their rule. The fort, with its thick sturdy walls and cannons, was also a setting for “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

We visited the famous botanical gardens, where Desmond jumped out and picked a large salmon-colored cannonball flower, with a cloying aroma, while Marlon briefed us on St. Vincent’s fascinating history from the ancient petroglyphs to British rule to the new modern airport slated to open mid-2015. In Layou we discovered what was probably the most startling treasure of all—petroglyphs dating back 2,000 years. We scrambled down a path to a volcanic boulder, carved with faces. Archaeologists have verified the sites, and although no one is able to interpret the meanings of these images, we agreed they look happy (and oddly Martianlike). Marlon called the petroglyphs, “intimate contact with the past.”

Traveling up the leeward side of the island, we left the populous behind. There were goats and sheep tethered in yards, a man leading a small, laden donkey down a dirt road, and women washing their clothes in the streams. We passed the old-stone remnants of sugar mills, and paradoxically, many tidy Anglican churches in towns with French names.

Ultimately we arrived in Wallilabou, not only an anchorage and port of entry, but the site of the city of Port Royal in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. We found the dock and landing intact, with cannons facing the broad bay and arch rock, and several outbuildings still standing. The set was adjacent to a small restaurant and bar which was empty, except for a pirate mannequin straddling the masthead, and the bartender who pointed us in the direction of the large trunk of remnant costumes and props.

After much rummaging we were dressed, with me looking a lot like Jack Sparrow in drag, and paraded and leapt around the movie set. Arrr! Eventually we returned to the 21st century and continued north, snaking below the 4,000 foot Soufrière volcano, and stopping at a beachfront restaurant. On the menu were Caribbean staples of rotis, curried meat and potatoes wrapped in dough, and a rice pelau dish. Several of us tried Mauby, the local sarsaparillalike soda, but most of us downed icy cold Hairoun beer. 

The black sand that lines the beaches here was sizzling hot, but we braved it to search for more sea glass before we left for Darkview Falls. It was a short walk from the parking lot, across a bamboo suspension bridge, to the falls. After the dry season the water level was low and the pool just a few feet deep. But we stood under the needles of bracing water that cascaded down 100 feet, chilled and massaged by the pounding waterfalls. After a solid dousing we left with our hair and skin cool and soft.

Upon our return, a taxi was standing by at Blue Lagoon Marina to take me to customs and immigration. I gathered up the boat documents and passports and we drove to the airport. We breezed through customs, but immigration took longer, for no apparent reason. We enjoyed our brief stay at Blue Lagoon, with its convenient services, accommodating staff and a friendly community of cruisers. Later we dined at the Black Pearl restaurant, which served up killer hamburgers and fries. The eatery broke into cheers when it began to rain, after an exceptionally severe dry season (December through April).

The next day began our backtrack to the Sunsail base on St. Lucia. We set sail early, and by mid afternoon rendezvoused with our group in the town of Soufrière, to check in. Some of our group were heading directly to the base, but we headed to Pigeon Island to squeeze in one final night of fun. The annual Jazz Festival was underway, and the anchorage provided us front row seats.

That night we dined al fresco at a popular nearby bistro, Jambe De Bois, which means “Peg-leg” in French, and is the nickname of a famed naval captain and chevalier. It had been a blast, we agreed, to explore the lighter side of the Golden Age of Piracy, and the many treasures St. Vincent’s and the Grenadines had to offer.  

See the accompanying sidebar on chartering in flotillas.
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