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SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES: CARIBBEAN DREAMS

28/06/2022
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CARIBBEAN DREAMS : SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES   

Pierre Mortefon takes to the high seas in a catamaran with his family to explore Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and tells us all about the highs and lows of his adventure.

WORDS – Pierre Mortefon // PHOTOS – Robin Christol 


After a great boat trip last year in Guadeloupe, the plan with my mate Robin Christol (a professional photographer) was to be back under the sun in a paradise place, sailing on a yacht right after the Christmas period. We wanted to find a good place for kids, wives, and for sure great windsurfing conditions too. We searched a bit and we quickly decided to go for St Vincent and Grenadines, which is famous for palm trees and turquoise lagoons!  

Being French we had the option of starting our trip in Martinique, which is 10 hours sailing to St Vincent. It was easier for us to rent the boat there, as it has a bigger number of vessels for hire and the immigration rules were easier too. But if you want to save a bit of sailing time, you can start the trip from St Vincent also.  

LOGISTICS 

I packed all my foil equipment, freeride gear, fishing gear and some wing gear. You always say, let’s travel light this time for holidays, then you end up with 3/4/5 bags as everyone wants their own gear, even my son Léon now!  

On arrival in Martinique, at Aimé Césaire Airport, I was happy to change into my board shorts and flip-flops, and find our boat – ‘Tahoe’ (a Fountaine Pajot Mahe 36 catamaran). We were welcomed by the vessel managers, Mylene and Remi, who greeted us with a nice local rum! They proposed a ‘warm up’ the following day to explain to us the specifics of the boat and check our knowledge in terms of sailing! It was perfect timing, as we had to wait for the 2 last guys of our trip anyway.  

After a good sleep and a first jump into the water, we went to the marina to fill up with fuel and water and make all the formalities (clearance out of Martinique/France). We made a briefing for little Léon (3 years old), explaining to him all the risks and how to use his life jacket. Then we got all the technical info for the boat. Robin will be the captain on top of his photographer role, and I was fully confident in his ability as he has lot of sailing experience. 

TESTING TIMES 

We sail through the bay and immediately dolphins join us; the girls are super happy and we can tick seeing dolphins off the ‘must-do’ list! Then we catch a lobster pot in the rudder. Robin grabs his knife and jumps in the water to free the boat. We go back to the mooring and go for a quick wing session.  

To enter into Grenadines, you have to be vaccinated and need to send back a document with information about the boat and your itinerary, you have to show proof of insurance and a PCR result no more than 48 hours old. We were thinking to do this at the marina right before our departure and receive the result during the crossing. But when we arrived at the test centre, the next availability was in 5 days. We missed something in our organization, but we were lucky to get help from the boss of the pharmacy who found us a test slot in Fort de France (the capital of Martinique), but it was 1.5 hours driving just to go there. So we lost a day. But we had the test, got a quick result and everything was ok. Our taxi driver (Gérard) took us to a nice beach restaurant, Le Cayali, to eat a tasty fish of the day and have a beer, and at least we saw some more of the island. When we got back to the boat we got ready for a night sailing to the island of Bequia (pronounced Békoué ) in the Grenadines, while waiting for Yoann and Bertille, the 2 last people. They finally arrived on the boat, we ate and then headed south! The beginning of the crossing was not easy as there were a lot of lobster pots, but we made it into the open ocean. The night crossing was difficult for the people who had just arrived – 2/3 buckets were needed for their seasickness. It was rough and being tired from travel didn’t help either. When you miss sleep, food or water and when you are cold, all those factors contribute to seasickness. So take care of those points and you can also use seasickness tablets. If you are still not good, try to sleep and staying outside on the deck of the boat helps too.  

BEQUIA 

We arrive to Bequia in Admiral bay around 12:30. The water is beautiful and the island looks cool. The formalities are not easy because you need to go to one side of the bay for a Covid test presentation, pay to get a form and then you are allowed to go through the normal custom clearance. The island has a nice atmosphere, really pretty colours, little shops and this special Rasta vibe. We are all tired but happy to start the trip. We almost forget but it’s the 31st of December! We are 5 hours later than France so we enjoy a beer in a local bar to celebrate. The sunset is crazy; we sit down in ‘Mac’s’, a restaurant with nice pizzas and fish, while the sun is going down. Our eyes are heavy, we go back to the boat and at 9 p.m. everybody is sleeping! A new record for New Year’s Eve! 

UNION ISLAND 

The day after we start again pretty early, destination Union Island, almost at the end of the archipelago. We prepare for 5 hours sailing, it’s grey and the wind is strong! We hit a quick storm with gusts up to 40-45 knots, so we take it easy for 20 minutes before raising our sails. The sea finally eases and we are cruising pretty ok, top speed 10.9 knots during a long surf! We meet again some dolphins, Léon is going crazy, he is so happy to see them playing with us. There’s flying fish and birds following us too. We arrive in Chatham Bay on the west cost of Union, and it’s nice and wild. There is not many boats mooring here and the wind is super strong and gusty. I try to rig in the front of the boat, but the gusts are violent, not really predictable and I give up. We try to wing, but it’s way too gusty for that too and after 10 minutes we’ve had enough and just head to the beach. It’s always cool to arrive at a new place and we sit for down a drink and just chill. It’s a nice bay, but nothing special for sailing so we decide to set sail again. 

MAYREAU 

During the night it was still strong and the gusts were crazy. We started to round Union island, but we decided to not stop; it’s nice but everybody wants to stop somewhere for a while and enjoy a place. We go straight to the Tobago Cays and we start with the island of Mayreau. We pass by Saline Bay before mooring in Salt Whistle Bay. A little boat comes to us and a local, Tyler, offers to show us one of the best places to eat close to the beach. He’s pretty cool, not pushy and we book lobster with him for the night. It’s a really really nice place and our smiles are back! If you go there ask for Tyler! After a quick swim and some pictures in the paradisiacal water, I go sailing on my 7.8 and foil. There is a really nice reach along the beach, it’s short but so beautiful. I go out of the bay and it’s a different story – choppy ocean swell! I had a look on the map and the other Tobago Cays islands are not far and I see them; 15 minutes later I am there! I know we will go there in the following days, so it’s perfect to have a look and check them out. It’s beautiful with the light of the late afternoon; they will be happy tomorrow! I go back to Mayreau fully overpowered. When I arrive in the bay it’s quite busy with a lot of new boats and not fun to sail in anymore. On the other side of the isthmus that is protecting us, there are some waves. Unfortunately it’s too shallow for our foils, but it’s a cool spot with onshore winds, good for kiting or bump & jump. Later we meet some French people coming from the other side of the island, Windward Bay. From what they say, the spot is nice, has less people and good wind but is not as beautiful. Here at Salt Whistle Bay is one of the best places I have ever seen. A little paradise with palm trees, white sand.. a true picture postcard. The girls are smiling, tanning and the little monster Leon is searching for every possible jump off point on our boat. Life is good! Now let’s go to the ‘Last restaurant before the jungle’, the place our friend Tyler recommended with some beautiful lobsters. He didn’t joke, it’s so close to the beach our feet are almost in the water!  

PETIT RAMEAU 

The next day we take it easy before sailing to see some more of the Tobago Cays. I rig from the beach and we leave the bay, everybody on the boat and me windsurfing. The wind is again pretty strong for a 7.8 and as I am going 4 x faster than the yacht I will go ahead and scout it out. We arrive in Petit Rameau and take a mooring mark because there is lot of current and the buoy is really close to a small beach. It’s perfect because I can leave my gear on the beach under some mangroves and it’s cool also for Léon to run around on land and make some sandcastles.  

The environment is just incredible and it’s great for windsurfing. We decide to stay here for a while as everyone wants to enjoy it. It’s important to be careful of the current here. There is one moment, around high tide, when it’s super strong. We tell Leon, “don’t go out without your lifejacket”. During the night we are woken by other boats dragging their anchors; mooring here is the best option!  

Over the next 3 days we just enjoy, sailing, snorkelling and building sandcastles! It’s great to have an almost private beach. Léon can play and mama can sleep on the beach.  

FREERIDE TIME 

We explore Petit Bateau, the largest of the islets in the Tobago Cays group. There’s a little path where you can walk for 20-30 minutes, go a bit higher and check the lagoon. We see some big white geckos and some small blue ones and different kinds of cactus. Finally we can rig the freeride gear! We organize with the other adults a nap for Léon and then Julie (my wife) and I have 2 hours free; 5.7 and 122 litre board, let’s go! We head to another island, Baradal, which has a big lagoon. Conditions are great with 15-20 knots and crystal clear water. I’m really surprised there is enough depth to foil there too. We share the spot together, just the two of us, then Robin arrives with his wing and 2 kites show up as well.  

ROBIN CHRISTOL 

“The lagoons in Tobago Cays are perfect for foiling, even though they felt a bit small with Pierre’s great equipment! It goes so fast that you run out of room quickly, but it forced me to make more progress in my gybes, so it was all good! Watch out for the turtles, they don’t hear you coming, as you are so quiet on the foil! Two days before I sailed in the open sea between the islands, it was fun on the wing but a different story windsurfing as I was fully overpowered! I give the equipment back to Pierre after that; I am the photographer, he’s the windsurfer!!!”  

GOOD TIMES 

It’s so good here, you can see Union downwind and the other island, Canouan, upwind. One morning I decide to go and check another island – Petit Tabac. It’s a small island to the east separated by a reef. So I go out of the lagoon, then go upwind to this small island. This is where Jack Sparrow was abandoned in the Pirates of the Caribbean. Today the wind is not too strong and the angle fully upwind, so if something happens I will just end up back in the lagoon. So let’s go! The sea is smooth and wind is great for 7.8 and I have a big wing on my foil. I sail to Canouan, not getting too close to keep in the windy zone, then I go back to the boat on a nice downwind run, surfing the swell and enjoying the ride a lot. Our team spend a great day on the water, and again Léon’s nap was perfect timing to allow Julie and I to sail together. Meanwhile Leon is dreaming about pirates, turtles and dolphins! We organize a treasure hunt for him and he loved it. The dream life for him …and for everyone else on our yacht. 

This dream became even more perfect the following day when he asked to sail on my board after a walk with his mother on Baradal beach. The wind is not strong, but we just want to go around and see turtles, so it’s perfect for getting close. Then a few gusts arrived, I ask him if he is ready, I pump and then we fly! I am waiting for his feeling, he’s just screaming! Fully happy, we go around the bay before coming back to the boat with a big smile on his and my face!  

JULIE  

“I pushed Pierre to take all my gear and we didn’t regret it! I felt so lucky to enjoy sailing in such beautiful water! It was really good – flat water in the lagoon, the wind perfect for 5.7, the water colour, the landscape and sharing the session with Pierre and the turtles made it so special! It was so cool so see our son and him sailing together also. It was a perfect break and this stop in the Tobago Cays will stay in my mind forever.”  

RETURNING 
After a really good few days, we checked the charts to make a plan to go back to Martinique. The way down to Union is normally easier than coming back to Martinique, as the wind is NE and the angle is full north/south. We want to stop again in Bequia, have a look in St Vincent, then St Lucia. If everything goes well, it’s 5/6 hours sailing each day to see everything. 

So we sail north. We pass close to Canouan, then we see the famous island of Mustique where millionaires live. When we arrive in Bequia, we moor almost at the same place in the turquoise water close to the little cliff. It’s time for some snorkelling; we meet some lobsters, nemo fish and even a moray. 

We book a taxi to make a tour around the island. It’s nice, the driver is pretty cool and knows everything. We buy some fruit and veggies, and a few souvenirs. The village centre has a lovely ambiance, with lot of small shops and stalls; you feel the Caribbean vibes!  

ST VINCENT 

Next morning we start again early, the plan is to go to the northwest of St Vincent to make clearance (the formality of leaving the country). We choose Chateaubelair Bay because it’s closer to St Lucia. It’s wild and the island is completely different to what we have come from. It’s pretty high – 1234 metres and the beach is dark with lush vegetation. The island has an active volcano, La Soufrière, which exploded in April 2021 with devastating results. 

We drop anchor close to the beach and quickly a local arrives, paddling on an old AHD Diamond board from 1999. There is a problem; he informs us that the clearance is closed since the volcano explosion. But he will help us and find a way. Robin and Yoann land and go with him to 20 minutes away! They arrive to the customs but it’s closed again. Back on the boat, we thank our friend for the help and give him what we can. The local population is suffering since the explosion and it’s the first time that we really see difficulty in a local’s eyes.  

So the plan is now to sail to Walilabou on the island where the customs will open later in the afternoon. This bay is famous because of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And in fact when we arrive some pirates welcome us! It’s little boats that want to sell you anything they can, we are not against it, but they are aggressive and not really cool.  

Now we need to wait for the customs opening, so we decide to go to the shore to visit. It’s very special and almost mystical! There are pirate flags and skeletons welcoming you at the end of the pier and a lot of props from the movie – coffins, costumes, even a guillotine! Léon is worried, he found some pirate treasure last week and now he is seeing real pirates! We are really into the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and discuss them a bit with the boss of the bar. He tells us everything about how it was 18 years ago with Johnny Deep and Orlando Bloom. It was a great opportunity for Walilabou at the time and they try to keep this special atmosphere here, still to this day. 

We use the Internet connection of the bar to check the forecast. The wind is predicated lighter and more east for the night, this is easier with less pointing and more reaching, so we decide to go straight to Martinique. So no stop in St Lucia, we will miss the famous Pitons (volcanic spires), but it’s better for all the team. Everybody prefers a calm, smooth crossing and then enjoy their time in Martinique. We leave St Vincent before sunset, set a rota for sailing all night and we finally arrive at 3:30 a.m. in Saline Bay in Martinique.  

MARTINIQUE 

We had a smooth wake up, breakfast in the bay and a quick walk on the beach. We are still in the Caribbean, Leon is happy to play in the sun after a long crossing, and the wind is back, so I am going to check out the coast on my board. Leon is calling me on the boat, “I want to come with you!” So here we go for a new session, father and son. We cruise around, I can even push a bit and in the end we even manage to go for a complete foiling jibe – so cool!  

We enjoy the day and a new night here in Saline Bay. It’s not bad in the end to have 2 extra days just chilling before we go back to Europe. The next day we have to go back to le Marin to fill up with fuel and water and also to complete our customs clearance and show all our papers. 

After this we decide to moor below Club Med Les Boucaniers. It’s great there because the point offers good protection from the wind and chop, but the wind is perfect 20 metres away from the boat. So here we go! All the equipment of the boat is out – winging, freeriding, foiling. We really enjoy the afternoon and have a last sunset beer to end this perfect trip. The last day is spent cleaning the boat, packing gear and then we fly home with a head full of incredible memories and images.  

REFLECTIONS 

The positives for our trip were the incredible landscapes, the sealife, ever-changing scenery, full disconnection offered by boat life, nice local people and on the water from 6 to 6! The downsides were our time was a bit limited (12 days), better to go for 15 days; boats are comfortable but slow;
dealing with Covid and customs clearance regulations and sea sickness! 

EQUIPMENT  

I brought a Falcon Foil 81, WARP_FOIL 7.9 and 8.9 (which I never used), a LokeFoil Race with XS, S and M wings. You don’t need too much gear, as it’s easy to play with the foil wings. Julie was using a wave sail – the Duotone SUPER_STAR SLS 5.7 and a 122-litre freeride board. The 5.7 was also good for foiling for Robin or me in strong winds! Léon was stealing my or his mother’s board with his iRIG XS. In total we had 4 bags with all the wing equipment. I wouldn’t advise taking more in a catamaran of this size.  

INDISPENSABLE 

Power XT Extension – it’s a must to have to rig easily on a boat, I cannot imagine doing without it! 

LokeFoil OTO foil system – this is a tool free fixing system and having those special screws makes my life easier on the boat where you have to be efficient while rigging. 

Sun cream – super important for every member of our family as the sun is strong from 6 to 6.  

Kids gear – for Leon we had 2 lifejackets, a big orange one especially for sailing, and another one just for the beach. He was also wearing a lot his long wetsuit because it was not too warm, but it was the best sun protection.  

Jacket – it’s important to have a light jacket for the night sailing and when it’s raining a bit.  

Medication – don’t forget the seasickness tablets and tips to help with it. 

CONDITIONS  

Northeast winds, 15-25 knots every day during winter. Big moving seas and flat water in the lagoons. It’s a true foil paradise, if you go with a group of sailors you can plan various long distance runs from island to island; this place is perfect for that!  

SAINT VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES  

Archipelago of 32 islands (12 populated) on 389 km2. 

Principal island St Vincent / capital Kingstown. 

Lot of influence from Great Britain but now fully independent since 1979. 

102,000 residents. Official language English but most spoken is Creole. 

Money – Eastern Caribbean dollar (XCD). 

 

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