Race to the island
Two yachts within sight of each other is a race. If the other fella doesn’t know that – it’s tough.
We left Bequia late morning on Friday 16th Feb heading for Keartons Bay, which is midway along St Vincent on the leeward side. The wind direction was forecast to be just sailable as long as the motley crew made an effort. So after unravelling all the mainsail, to help point higher into the wind, and most of the genoa too – off we went. The winds on the lee of Bequia are relatively light. When you reach the northern tip of the island, you receive what is known as the Bequia blast. And what a blast it is. It sent Lady Jane’s speed up to an average of 7.5 knots, just in time for us to be in reach of another sailing boat heading in the same direction.
The race was on.
Of course, the other boat might not have been aware of the rule that two yachts in a body of water going in the same direction has the right ingredients for a race, but I’m sure he was having a go. Ever so slowly we gained on him, and after an hour of sailing we were side by side, then we overtook him, and it was game over.
The reason I am banging on about this is that it isn’t very often that we overtake another yacht bigger than us. We prefer to sail conservatively, but this time we let Lady Jane’s skirts fly into the wind and off she went with a passion. We are very pleased.
This turn of speed meant that we arrived in Keartons Bay earlier than expected and were the first yacht in the bay. As we entered Keartons, Curtis and Squin greeted us. We couldn’t miss them, mainly because Squin was sporting a bright yellow Rock Side Cafe sash across his chest. They took our lines and tied us to a mooring ball near the middle of the bay, then pulled our stern around to another ball to tie us fore and aft to reduce the effect of the swell.
Curtis, who has the appearance of Mike Tyson’s bigger brother, offered to clean the waterline for $100 EC. I agreed and off he went to fetch his snorkel and brush. After he had finished, he insisted that I borrow his mask and snorkel to take a look. I did and liked what I saw. Curtis did a fantastic job. He cleaned all the underneath of the boat except the keel. I gave him the cash and a beer; then we had a chat for a while.
In 2016 a German man was murdered next door at Wallilabou Bay. That event stuffed St Vincent’s income from the yachting community, so I asked him if things had improved. His understanding is that one of the murderers is in prison and the other is permanently out of circulation with help from the local community. Yachts do seem to be coming back to Wallilabou. Later, we saw a number of them moored up there, which is good news. More reputation management is probably needed because the island is a great place to visit.
Mr Smiley (Donald) came by to show us his bracelets and necklaces, so we bought some from him. And we bought one from a young guy in a red dinghy who sells them after school to make some cash.
The water in Keartons is crystal clear all around the bay. And the snorkelling is excellent. To the right of Lady Jane, there’s a small cave that you can snorkel into where the coral is alive, and the fish are plentiful.
Rock Side Cafe
We arranged dinner at the Rockside Cafe, so Curtis returned at 1800 to take us to the restaurant. As he pulled alongside, he noticed some red marks, which must have been made by the young fella in the red dinghy. Curtis asked me if I had anything to use to clean them off. I said yes and he said he’ll be back in the morning to clean the marks off – no charge.
After being safely deposited on the beach, we hosed the black sand off our feet and walked the few steps to the Rock Side Cafe. The owners of the cafe are Rosi and Orlando – a German and Vincentian couple who have been together for over 26 years. They are both extremely friendly and tremendously helpful. And they understand the challenges faced by people arriving by yacht.
Our dinner partners for the evening were Tobias and Carmen. This lovely Swiss couple had previously bought a large yacht to sail around the Caribbean, but it fell victim to hurricane Irma and became a total loss. So they bought a smaller one, a Beneteau 311 instead. They plan to continue sailing until June and either sell the boat or sail it back to Europe.
The dinner was excellent and plentiful. Three courses later resulted in stretched waistbands. Then Maria and I spoke with Rosi about places to see, and she arranged a taxi for the next day to take us to the Vermont Nature Trail.
Vermont Nature Trail
True to his word, Curtis turned up and cleaned the red marks off the hull. And later he picked us up in his dinghy to row us ashore when the taxi arrived at 1000.
Out taxi driver was Redeye (Gary) an amiable Rasta man with an in-depth knowledge of the trees, shrubs and fruits. He took us to an ATM on the way to the trail, dropped Rosi at the supermarket and us at the nature park. When we arrived at the park, he asked if we smoke. I thought he was going to deliver a health and safety message. He offered us a spliff to take with us.
It costs $5 EC each to enter the trail. For that, you get to see the map and sign the visitor’s book. We were the second visitors of the day. A Welsh contingent had arrived just before us and had already headed to the hills.
The Vermont trail is famous for its very rare Parrot, Vincie, who occasionally makes an appearance at dawn and dusk near to the dedicated lookout station deep in the rainforest. Vincie has good reason to stay away during daylight hours. He is worth around $50,000 to collectors. Needless to say, given that it is late morning, we didn’t see him.
The trail meanders through an old plantation, then through a rain forest, but it isn’t a leisurely stroll. The Welsh contingent, who we found resting at one of the stops up the trail, agreed. It is steeper than any of us thought. And with bad knees and advancing age, these cruise ship passengers found it tough going. They were fit though, especially after that workout.
Two hours later we arrived back at the carpark with legs a little stronger and clothes a lot scruffier.
On the way back we stopped at the supermarket for a few essentials, including a bottle of the St Vincent strong rum, which at 84% strength can strip varnish. And before returning to Keartons, we nipped round the corner to Wallilabou to find out what’s left of the Pirates of the Caribbean film set. The answer to that is not a lot.
Unfortunately, the folks in charge didn’t ensure the sets preservation, so much of it has disappeared, which is a shame. It’s still worth a visit though. Some parts of the old set remain, and there’s a small museum containing photographs and documents from the film.
Rock Side Revisited
Back at Keartons, Curtis rowed us back to the boat, where we snorkelled for a while to cool off. Then Maria set about creating a rum punch out of the fruit juice and rum we bought at the supermarket. The resulting creation was strong enough to blow your brains through your ears.
Moorings here cost $40 EC if you are not eating at the restaurant. The alternative is to have a basic dinner for $50 EC and get a free mooring. That seemed a reasonable value proposition, so we were back on Curtis’s rowboat again at 1830. Some young lads were hanging around the restaurant, so we spent some time talking with them. They shared tales of sea monsters in the bay, dogfish that bark, and sharks that will get you. Great imagination and funny characters all.
Because we weren’t having all the courses, we had time to spend with Rosi and Orlando and the staff. And time to drink more rum punch. As a direct consequence of the extra-strong creation on the boat and the other rum punch here, the inevitable happened. After dinner, the music came on, and we became the most celebrated dancers on the dance floor, flailing our limbs in a discordant fashion to the tunes of Poser.
Then, carefully easing ourselves out of the restaurant, we trudged down to the beach to meet Curtis who was found trying to pull his boat back to shore. He couldn’t get it to move because the rope had got underneath the keel, so there was only one thing for it… he took off his clothes down to his knickers and swam out to get it.
The next day, 18th February, as reliable as ever, Curtis came out to help with our lines and off we went on the half hour trip to Cumberland Bay.