April 2018……I am trying to catch up on things…thanks for hanging with me!
We leave Martinique and pack our French flag away for the season. We are heading to Bequia by way of St Lucia for an overnight. We stay in Marigot Bay at anchor long enough to take dinner and sleep. By 0430 we are up in the dark making coffee and raising the anchor. It is a clear, cool (70 degrees…that’s relative, I know) morning. We try to maintain the peacefulness with low voices so as not to awaken our neighbors. Once the anchor is stowed, we make a heading west, out into the Caribbean, we must cover 55 miles today before we set anchor again.
We find wind immediately outside the harbor, raise the sails, and head off. Our day passes quickly as we sail in the shadow of the Pitons at sunrise
and get to see the island of St Vincent in the daylight (we have passed here twice in the dark of night). We average 6.0 knots of speed during our trip, encounter some incredible current between St Lucia and St. Vincent,
along with considerable 5-7 ft waves, and arrive in Bequia in time to take a nap and swim before sunset. We will make our customs stop the next day because if one arrives after 4pm, we understand customs charges double, even though they are open until 5:30!
A year ago when we came to this island (again heading south) it was Easter. We stayed long enough to watch the Easter Regatta here and left on Easter Sunday. We spent all of 6 hours ashore then, and vowed to take more time this year. Since that time, we have been told of the great hiking, wonderful people, and whaling history of this island.
Our friends on SV Honey Rider loaned us a movie called When the Wind Blows. (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/whaling ). It is a documentary on the tradition of whaling on the island and took nearly 25 years to complete! It was just 59 minutes long, but in that time we came to understand the longstanding tradition of the island. The inhabitants have been a peaceful people who survived on what the sea would bring them. The deep ocean around Bequia sees whales moving north and south particularly in January and February. They have harvested whales in small numbers over the years and share the catch with all the islanders. They will now lose their rights in July as the foundation that regulates this has imposed heavy fees to continue. They typically get 1 whale every 2-3 years using only a simple hand-thrown harpoon, lately this is done more as a tradition than for sustenance. With this knowledge we had a different impression as we approached the island and its high cliffs where we imagine whale watchers sitting and waiting for a spout to appear on the horizon, and the moment when they release the sailing dinghies to head out for the hunt.
We anchor in Admiralty Bay alongside other sailboats and catamarans who have made their stop here while travelling up and down island. The water is so clear we can see 25 ft to the bottom. The anchorage is protected by very high hills on 3 sides and is dotted with pastel houses and hotels amongst the deep greenery and palm tree lined soft sand beaches.
Shortly after we anchor, another monohull arrives alongside us and we see their hailing port inscribed on the transom is Burnsville, MN! Someone we must meet. We actually run into them while doing our customs and immigration detail ashore. We find out they have just returned from several years in Europe! The boat they sail is named Artemis and she is a Mason 43 ketch, a beautiful and very seaworthy bluewater cruising sailboat. We decide that we have enough in common to take in some of the island together.
Peggy’s Rock (aka Ma Peggy) Hike
Our cruising guide instructs us on how to ascend to heights above the anchorage to get to this hike…and so we set out. We pick up our friends, Sally and Al and motor a short way to a dinghy dock. We walk down the expansive Princess Margaret beach and then up a steep set of rock stairs to the Lower Beach Road.
We continue up the road and over the crest of the first hill. We pause at the bus stop to inquire about the route to the trail and find out we must head down the road and at the 3rd driveway look for the telephone poles on the ridge and begin our ascent. It is a steep road for the first 100 yards, in the hot sun. We arrive at the telephone poles and again talk to some locals cleaning out a shed. Pointing still further uphill, we are instructed to head up the grassy slope to the 100-year old tree and into the brush.
The brown grassy trail is well worn by other visitors, and littered with a few sharp cactus for which we must be alert. This winds through only a moments of shade where we stop for a much needed water break, then head off up a meadow of sorts to the next grouping of trees. We notice an overlook off the trail and find we are just above the airport looking toward the Grenadines.
As we head into the trees we are relieved to again be out of the full sun. There is a slight breeze that seems to get stronger and feels good. As the trail continues to slowly rise we must now find our way over large boulders and tree trunks. The route is obvious, but it is marked with white painted arrows to show us the direction. We pass a sign showing another “short-cut” back down and vow to take that on our return. The trail remains fairly wide and turns to a ridgeline with steep drop offs on either side, protected by heavy trees and brush. Peggys Rock is a group of large boulders that one must negotiate with a few large steps and accurately placed handholds, but quite a beauty.
There is a nice breeze to cool the perspiration. The view of Admiralty bay is pretty stunning from here. We can see islands to the North as well on this clear day. (Cameras never do justice in these places, they have to be experienced.) We begin the journey downward and do take the “shortcut- goat-trail, but find that is is nearly a gully at times and quite steep. We are back at the beach in half the time. Our first stop is a local restaurant, Keegan’s, open now for lunch and we settle on a couple of beers after we consume several cold glasses of water.
The afternoon back at the boat is restful after we cool off in the water we are surrounded with on Lost Loon.
The Whaling Museum…and a local education
With images of the whaling movie in mind we wanted to get to know more of the this tradition. There was to be a whaling museum on the east side of the island for which we were headed on this morning. Today, we were picked up by our friends on the boat Artemis and landed the dinghy ashore for another days adventure. Down the beach and up the rocky staircase and to the street, we made our way through the hilly pass, we began to descend along the coast. The views were beautiful on this, the rugged side of the island. We came by Toko’s bar, which we were instructed to make sure we stopped, as it was to be itself a miniature whaling museum. A little further on we came to the airport, no museum. We hailed a local and he indicated that the museum was several miles north of where we were and that we should get a taxi. Being without a good island map did put us at a disadvantage here. But in true cruiser spirit we decided a stop at Toko’s was in order.
The bar is set along the southwestern shore of the island, there is a sheltered landing closeby. Evidence of years of whaling paraphenalia litters the brightly painted establishment.
When we arrived Toko himself ( a weathered man in his late 70’s we surmised) had found a restful spot in the shade and was ready to tell us of his whaling experience and his grandfather’s as well.
We listened intently as he told of being the jib man on the whaling dinghies. He informed us that they still have whaling rights through the month of July. and in a “by-the-way” attitude tells us that one (a whale) had been sighted this just this morning, but the seas and wind too high to safely pursue the mammal. We bought a few beers and shared our life story with him as well. He brought out regular and fig bananas and mangoes for us, fruits from his own trees. We tasted the sweetness of fresh tropical fruit like none before. Fig bananas are much smaller and firmer, but have a nutmeg like sweetness. As the morning turned to afternoon, we decided to continue on our return.
We stopped at a nearby marina where many of the whaling dinghy sailboats were ashore. We did get to see Perseverance, the whaling dinghy featured in the documentary we watched.
And we again struck up a conversation with one of the whalers. A face, well worn by the sun and sea, told us of the difficulty now getting their permit to continue whaling due to the millions in fees they would have to come up with. It is likely that this would be their last year of whaling. Many years there were no whales taken, and most years only 1. They share every part of the fish with the island people. Now considered just a tradition and not a way of life, they have come to expect this would happen. It was enlightening, and like a living history lesson on the island. No we didn’t make it to the museum, but feel we received more of an education getting lost with the locals as it were.
Later, back “home” we enjoy snorkeling and make several attempts at spearfishing for fish and lobsters in the afternoon with our friend Randall on the boat Fine Companion. He was showing us some of the local spots for fishing. The water was relatively clear and lobsters present, but my skill level needs work to harvest the quick spiny crustaceans from the rocks!
Bequia Day 5 – Turtle farm
We are intrigued by the fact that there is a conservatory and farm for the sea turtles on the island, but it is again on the opposite side of the island. Directions are obtained from a kind gentleman in town, who tells us to head down the street past the customs office, turn right and follow this to the next intersection in the road. We are instructed to take the middle road. We head off on a cloudy morning, good for walking here in the Caribbean. We head up the first hill to the pass and then make our turn onto the road heading north. Cars and trucks move at varying speeds along the heavily shaded road and we move off in life preserving manner as they pass. We take time to notice the bamboo, mango trees, bird of paradise and explosions of bougainvillea with towering palms along the way. About 2 miles out of town we stop at the Firefly Plantation to check on the possibility of getting a tour.
At the restaurant we are told it would be several minutes while they find the curator to take us out. Ezra shows up with his basket and we head out to see Chinese apple, mango sweet smelling Fragapani, banana, wax apple and papaya trees.
There are Caribbean flowers of all kinds tantalizing our noses. We are escorted through the herb gardens with fresh lemongrass, huge thyme, and lime leaf trees (we are offered and take samples!). We eat sweet juicy mangoes and have fresh coconut and coconut water under the cool shade of the mango trees.
Our walk continues on down the road further to the turtle farm. We enter a metal building with several concrete pools filled with turtles of all sizes. We are asked to pay the fee, but are told we need the exact amount as they do not have change for us. (Unfortunately, we have just been to the ATM and al have very large Eastern Caribbean bills). We deposit a small donation and leave. They are doing a good job of raising the turtles, but the “tour” would have been self-guided and a disappointment since the owner was not present. For lunch we return back the way we came toward town, but stop at Sugar Reef resort for adult refreshments and a midday meal……
We sit in a beautiful dining room with high white ceilings, enormous driftwood chandeliers open to the Atlantic Ocean. Mike and I share delicious Mahi Roti and Callaloo soup. We return to Lost Loon in the late afternoon with 6 mile-tired-feet for our usual post-hike swim and watch the birds feeding over the jumping schools of fish out toward the open ocean as the sun sets.
Our 5 days in Bequia are great! We intended to see more of the island, and the people and we did just that. We have met new sailing friends who we will now travel with further down through the Grenadines. Making our way through the Grenadines…we return to Tobago Cays and points South toward our final Summer destination of Grenada.