Just Plain Fun, No Fooling Ep. 47

We had some special guests aboard Thalia this week – my brother Todd and his daughter Julia. Todd, along with his wife Molly, live in Sacramento, CA, along with two additional boys. Given the distance – and they currently hold the record for the longest travel to be onboard with us! – they couldn’t all come together. Regardless, we had a very enjoyable week with the two of them; it is always fun to show someone else the pleasures of cruising in the Caribbean!

We started our trip with Todd and Julia at Canouan Island. This is a curious island that left me with more questions than answers. According to the cruising guide, for a long time it had been a sleepy island that time had forgotten, but recently a large chunk of the island was purchased by Italian developers. With this came a fancy Raffles resort and many small private jets flowing in and out of the recently expanded airport. Todd and Julia didn’t stay at the resort, but instead at the Tamarind Beach Hotel, a fine spot right on the beach with good access to the harbor for our rendezvous. But the curiosity comes when one walks into the local village. It is as divergent from a swanky Caribbean resort as one could get. This was an island where, if you didn’t work for one of the resorts, you were swaddled in poverty. I wondered what they thought when the Lear jets arrive and the passengers get whisked off to the resorts in shiny white vans. Every island is different down here. This one seemed to be one of the most destitute. I had never thought of the tourism trade as being so selective on who it rewards and who it ignores.

Canouan Island was an ideal jumping off point to see this part of the Grenadines. It was just a 5 mile sail for us to reach the stunning sights of the Tobago Cays. Here’s Julia at the helm of Thalia, and her Dad relaxing from his many days on the road…

Julia and Todd underwent a quick introduction to life on a sailboat in the Caribbean. After a brief demonstration of halyard jumping, we took them in the dinghy to snorkel the reef at Tobago Cays. This time, the current was quite strong, but I was pleased at how quick they became accustomed to the water. With six of us, we had a better chance of spotting and catching any stragglers. Among the cool sights we saw were a Southern sting ray and a lobster, trying its best to hide under a rock but, with its long antenna protruding forth, might as well have been hanging out a neon sign.

At one point, several of us ventured through a break in the reef to the ocean side. The current was even stronger in this passage, forcing us to kick as hard as we could and use our arms to paddle through the waves. Slowly, we began moving relative to the seafloor below us and finally we reached the deeper blue waters of the outer reef. Here, the reef dropped off into the depths below us about 50-60 feet. The current was nearly gone and the fish seemed a bit more docile. The color of blue in the water here was like from an artist’s paintbrush. It was an undiluted trueness of color. Against this background, the rainbow of tropical fish colors became that much more pronounced.

We swam parallel to the reef for a while, and came upon a sudden increase in fish – was this a town hall meeting or something? No, but we found the town mayor, a very dark colored barracuda – one of the largest I’d seen at about five feet long. The barracuda stands so still and watches your every move, it can become very creepy swimming around these creatures. They are not known to attack swimmers, but the way they keep their mouth partially open leaves a lot to the imagination of the swimmer. Todd and I were quickly drawn away, though, by a bigger ‘shadow’ making it’s way through the little fellas. This time, we were trading glances with a nurse shark of about 6 foot length. Again, research tells us these guys don’t commonly attack humans, but when it was lined up with you, and you can see the breadth of his head and jaw, and he’s salamandering in a way that makes you constantly assess whether he’s trying to come closer or not, it’s more than a couple 40-something brothers with their chest’s pumping can handle! We made a watchful exit, found the cut in the reef and rode the current in short order back to the dinghy. There was plenty to see and do ashore!

Example of a Great Barracuda

Example of a Nurse Shark

After two days, it was time to move on from Tobago Cays. Before we left though, I had some unfinished business to take care. I couldn’t leave this area without setting foot on Petit Tabac, the island that we all had assumed was the setting for Capt Jack Sparrow’s mutiny. It would have been accessible by dinghy if we were willing to find a supposed dinghy passage in the reef and then negotiate tall waves. Instead, we took Thalia out and around the reef. Petit Tabac has a very small cut in its eastern end, big enough for perhaps 2 boats in calm conditions. As we approached this spot, and the ocean swells caused breaking seas at the entrance, I got more than a few objections to my plan. As we nosed slowly into the entrance, the depth changed in an instant to only a couple feet under the keel, making it a unanimous decision to turn around and leave. However, the cut was so narrow that turning around meant swinging the bow precariously close to a coral reef. Karen was on the bow telling me to back down, to do the equivalent of a three point turn on a narrow country road. From the looks in her eyes, the reef seemed close enough to reach down and touch. Being a Pirates of the Caribbean roadie was having its consequences!

We sailed on to nearby Clifton Harbor at Union Island. Though we had been here the week before, no two trips are ever the same. This time, we discovered a man named Russell who owned, borrowed or squatted on – we are not sure – a tiny island in the harbor no bigger than a two car garage. We didn’t see him nor his tenement at first, having planned to explore on the island ourselves, but he waved us anxiously ashore. I felt like I was walking through someone’s living room, but he seemed friendly, and it became clear why. He was selling seashells and eagerly showed us his collection. It seems Russell would take any reasonable small payment for a shell so that, as he said, ‘I can buy some cigarettes ashore’. In a land of many vices and visible idleness, at least this fellow was making something of his life.

After considerable debate, we liberated him of at least a dozen shells. I’m not sure how many more smokes that would buy him, but it felt better than shopping from a regular store ashore.

Clifton Harbor is the main town on Union Island and after we had walked most of the streets, we ventured out of town on a dirt road and discovered a path to Fort Hill, with unexpected sweeping views of the area islands.

Seeking some peace and quiet, on the next day we motored around to Chatham Bay, on the western side of Union Island. Here was a spot virtually devoid of development ashore, aside from a few huts that looked like they were used for beach barbecues. The water was calm, warm and enticing, and we all ventured in the dinghy for a lengthy snorkeling excursion. Back on the boat, we enjoyed fresh Mahi Mahi from these eager fishermen (or perhaps fishermen’s agent – I’m not sure they did the catching…).

After filleting the fish, they seemed a little irked that we didn’t want to also take the backbone. They told us that it would make a fine soup, with some potatoes, coconut milk and spices. In fact, we were told it would be “especially good for the men”. I’m not sure what exactly was meant by this, but they were good salesmen and we accepted the bone and Karen turned out a splendid soup, which oddly enough, we enjoyed while in our bimini-less cockpit with the sun beating down upon us. Whatever was in it, it put smiles on the men, as much a credit to Karen’s cooking as it was to the Mahi Mahi.

To keep our island tour for the West Coast side of our family moving along, we sailed another short distance to the island of Mayreau. Mayreau has a curious write up in the cruising guide, where they explain that “The islanders have only recently gotten electricity, and they are making up for years of quiet by the liberal use of stereos.” We chose a still quiet harbor on the northern tip called Salt Whistle Bay. Here you can enjoy anchoring in the lee of a narrow isthmus, and have your pick of several white sandy beaches peppered with coconut palms.

Our final day with Todd and Julia was spent back at Canouan Island off of a beach right adjacent to the airport. They were taking a very early flight the next morning and we could get them to the little airport lobby with a short walk off the dinghy. The anchorage was named South Glossy Bay and indeed the water was glossy as we dove in and snorkeled nearby.

Todd and Julia boarded their plane for the ~18 hour, 5 hop trip back to Sacramento the next day. With steady winds, we raised sail and made the trip back to Bequia in a couple hours. Within a few hours we had the newly shaped bimini back onboard and installed, and we were ready to relax and enjoy an unusually colorful sunset.

It was a good setting to reflect on our recent visitors and how pleasant it is to have the company of family and friends to share this great wonderland of the Caribbean!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.