25. March 2015 · Comments Off on Beautiful Bequia · Categories: Sailing Blog

What a week!

We are now officially PADI Open Water Scuba Divers!
Having gone for a stroll along the shores of Admiralty Bay, we decided to stop into the local dive shop and inquire about scuba diving courses and signed up there and then for a for a taster session last weekend. We turned up and were kitted out with all the gear and covered all the basic skills in shallow water in the morning and then, to our surprise, got taken out to a nearby reef to actually dive. What an experience!! Needless to say we decided to enrol for the full course. So this week has seen little time for any real exploration of the island.

We are anchored on the north of the bay quite close to the shore.

View to port.

View to port.

View to starboard.

View to starboard.

The anchorage is very busy with ferries from St Vincent arriving and departing throughout the day and cruise ships drop anchor at the mouth of the bay. Port Elizabeth actively welcomes Yotties and the people a friendly and the boat boys, that come and offer you a mooring as you enter, are not at all pushy…….a pleasant change from our first taste of them in Union Island!

Ashore all the businesses are centred around the ferry terminal and along the waterside. There are a few shops, bars and the bank that operate along the other road that lies behind the strand. This is the only town on the island, which is only 7 square miles, and on our stroll around we found all the public services………….schools, hospital, police station, cricket pitch and a back street pub with a pool table! Marcus played several frames  with the bar man, who is the island’s champion……..needless to say all the years spent in the pub paid off…………Marcus won!!

The Porthole mini market and restaurant.

The Porthole mini market and restaurant, overlooking the sea.

This was  our lunch stop on our way round the bay. There are numerous eateries along the way. Some are definitely catering to the visitors palates and pockets and others serve up local food at affordable prices. Bequia feels like you’ve stepped back in time to the 50s. The pace of life is slow, the people are relaxed and friendly and they seem to have a communal pride in their island.

Port Elizabeth's Book Shop.

Port Elizabeth’s Book Shop.

There are some unusual buildings……all simply built and well maintained.

Bequia is one of the few places in the world that is still allowed to hunt whales, due to whaling being deemed a pivotal part of Bequian culture and heritage. The local whalers go out in small boats with hand thrown harpoons and are allowed to catch a maximum of four whales a year. There are restrictions on which whales they can hunt, leaving the old ‘lone males’ as the main targets.
The whales have started their annual migration and ‘spotter boats’ are out daily. Some of the divers we have been talking to have actually heard the Whales’ songs underwater.
Whaling seems barbaric to us and we would far rather watch them than kill them, but whaling maintains the age old traditions and associated cultural and artistic activities that Bequian’s take great pride in. There is a bar called‘The Whaleboner’ on the waterfront which has a bar made from a large bone, bar stools from vertebrae and an archway made of two ribs.

The Whaleboner Bar with its whale bone bar and bar stools.

The Whaleboner Bar with its whale bone bar and bar stools.

Along the waterfront and at the back of the beaches, there are stalls set up selling local handcrafts using banana leaves, coconuts, turtle shell and scrimshaw on whale bone and whales teeth.

Local handcart stall at the back of the beach.

Local handcart stall at the back of the beach.

There has been a recent push to make Bequia more accessible for locals and tourists alike and we walked along the new path to Princess Margaret’s beach.

Artistic shot on our walk  to Princess Margaret's Bay

Artistic shot on our walk to Princess Margaret’s Beach

The newly opened walkway round the cliff.

The newly opened walkway round the cliff.

And under the cliff.....not a guard rail or warning sign in sight!

And under the cliff…..not a guard rail or warning sign in sight!

Someone's home or Fishermen's shelter ?, tucked in right next to the walkway

Someone’s home or Fishermen’s shelter ?, tucked in right next to the walkway

Another proud tradition in Bequia is boat building. There are loads of locally built boats around the island. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are fishing boats and some are much bigger sailing boats that are now skipper chartered or used for tourist day trips to the nearby Mustique or the Tobago Cays. We saw a poster in the bookshop of the launching from the beach of a boat built for Bob Dylan.

Locally built boat. Size S.

Locally built boat. Size S.

Locally built boat. Size L.

Locally built boat. Size L.

Bequia is really geared up, in a very low key way, for tourists and in their typically laid back way they advertise themselves Bequia style.

Literally Drumming up Business at The Bistro.

This gut literally drums up business every evening at The Bistro.

On the beach to the north of the bay is much less touristy and one evening we watched as a local fisherman arrived on the beach with his share of the day’s catch…..part of a very large shark. A crowd of locals gathered, presumably to buy or claim their share and the fishermen divvied up the catch right there on the beach.

Dividing up their share of the day's catch .........shark meat.

Dividing up their share of the day’s catch ………shark meat.

Having walked along the bay as far as we could one afternoon earlier in the week, we took the dinghy around the headland to Lower Bay to explore the remainder of the bay.

Lunch stop on Lower Bay.

Lunch stop on Lower Bay.

The beach was almost deserted, but we did spot our first bit of graffiti!

Graffiti, Bequia style!

Graffiti, Bequia style!

What a change from the ubiquitous ‘angry’ graffiti that we have seen, daubed on every surface, all the way down through Europe, The Canaries, Cape Verdes, Brazil and Trinidad.

As I said at the top of the blog, we spent the week learning to scuba dive. There was a lot of nervous tension and high levels of anxiety on board all week, but with a great deal of patience and understanding from our teacher, Cathy, we both made it through to our last dive, which lasted an hour and went down to 40ft!

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Ready for our final training dive.

Ready for our final training dive.

Marcus with his endlessly patient mentor, Cathy.

Marcus with his endlessly patient mentor, Cathy.

 What better way to celebrate than taking advantage of Happy Hour, just along from the Dive Shop, and watch the sun set.

It has certainly been a week to remember, but Marcus can’t remember rum punches number 3 or 4, nor how he got back to the boat!!

I keep telling him he’s so lucky to have me to fill in the gaps!

Happy Hour celebrating being Scuba Divers!

Happy Hour celebrating being Scuba Divers!

Beautiful Bequia!

Beautiful Bequia!

Monday, we took a trip into Hillsborough to stock up on food and to look up ‘Tanty Sholley’ and pass on Jackie’s love and best wishes. Tanty Sholley owns a small bar in a back street and when Jackie visited Carriacou a few years ago, she spent some time with her.

Tanty Sholley's 'The Back Inn'

Tanty Sholley’s ‘The Back Inn’

Tanty is a retired caterer who lived in London and worked for The Met., before retiring with her husband, back to their home island. Sadly, her husband passed away shortly after setting up the bar. After a drink on the house and a tour of her banana ‘plantation’ (garden) that runs down the side and back of the building, we said goodbye with big hugs and warm memories of a very generous spirit.

Tanty Sholley

Tanty Sholley

On Tuesday, we checked out at customs, intending to set off for Union Island, but the time slipped away and we decided to relax and go in the morning. Relaxing for me meant 2 hours in the water scrubbing the bottom of the boat with a scraper tied to a pole!! Quite a few large crustaceans had set up home since we relaunched in October!

We set off early (for us!) on Wednesday morning and had a good sail up the coast. When we hit open water the wind was, naturally, blowing at 20 to 25 knots ‘bang on the nose’………I’ve always thought that would be a great name for a sailing yacht!
We sailed for as long as we could and then pushed our way, slowly, towards the main harbour with the engine and mainsail.

Bashing into it on the approach to Union Island.

Bashing into it on the approach to Union Island.

Although we had a clean bottom, the propeller and shaft were still encrusted with barnacles and beasties and, despite several failed efforts, it appears that I have too much bouancy and too little confidence to dive down and scrape the prop clean. This meant that heading into the wind and tide, we could only just make 3 to 5 knots.

We arrived at Clifton harbour at midday, but after three failed attempts to anchor, we finally moored at 1400! There is a reef that protects the harbour from swells, but not the wind, and this means that the sand is not uniformally deep over the tail edge of the reef and with 25+ knots of wind bearing down on us, the anchor was dragging. After gilling around and dragging for the third time, we decided to accept a persistent, and rather rude, boat boy’s buoy.

Our mooring........as close as we ever want to be to a reef!

Our mooring……..as close as we ever want to be to a reef!

Generally we don’t trust ground tackle, unless we can see the bottom and check the state of the mooring block and the chain and rope attached to it, but it was the lesser of two evils, so we finally accepted the boat boy’s offer and his abuse!

When we first told him we were not interested in his buoy, because we are a heavy boat and prefer to anchor, he shouted, ‘You British are the worst. You don’t want to spend money!’…….this clearly did not endear him to either Captain or First Mate! We knew we were being ripped off and haggled the price down from 80EC to 60EC for the night.

Having lowered the dinghy and motor, we headed for shore and Clifton airport, where Customs and Immigration have their offices.

Clifton Airport.......the planes come n over this fence!

Clifton Airport…….the planes come n over this fence!

Union Island, is the southernmost of the St Vincent and Grenadine islands and having checked in, we are free to sail to all the other islands on our way up to St Vincent.

Clifton is a small village, rather than a town. It has a series of eateries that have their own docks (and aquariums!), along the harbour front.

One of the restaurant dinghy docks.

One of the restaurant dinghy docks.

Lobsters kept fresh for dinner.

Lobsters kept fresh for dinner.

There is a Main Street with a bank, an ATM and numerous small mini markets, each one quaintly signposted.

The one signpost in the village.

The one signpost in the village.

In the centre is the village ‘green’ that reminded us both of a Butlin’s themed centre piece.

The 'Butlin's' square!

The ‘Butlin’s’ square!

A few of the fruit and veg stalls were open and we stocked up with fruit for our morning ‘healthy smoothies!

When we were preparing to leave on Tuesday morning, ‘Mr Charming’ appeared, as if by magic, and offered us a new rate of 40EC! Unfortunately for him, his customers had had a restless night, worrying about the mooring and were in no mood to stay tethered to a dodgy guy’s potentially dodgy buoy with the boat veering and swinging, like Piglet on a windy day!  ………… Fine for the Kite Surfers, but not for us.

Kite surfer enjoying the wind.

Kite surfer enjoying the wind.

Once our sluggish propeller had negotiated our way clear of the other boats in the anchorage, we put up our jib and had a good downwind run to the end of the island, just 2 miles away! We were making for Chatham Bay where we thought we would be more sheltered from the north easterly wind. After another two failed attempts to get the hook to hold, we are safely anchored behind ‘Mount Olympus’. It is more sheltered, but the wind seems to get held up in the hills and then comes hurtling down into the bay.

Chatham Bay beach.

Chatham Bay beach.

Chatham Bay is only comfortably accessed from the sea. There is a dirt and boulder track that leads down from the road to the south end of the beach, where the Chatham Bay Resort is slowly coming into being. At present there is a restaurant, bar and small swimming pool………the accommodation has yet to be built.
Cruise ships anchor off in the bay and their passengers come ashore to ‘walk the beach’.

The four masted cruise liner anchored in the bay.

The four masted cruise liner anchored in the bay.

Another sailing cruise ship that stopped for the day.

Another sailing cruise ship that stopped for the day.

There are three or four other bar/restaurant/shacks along the back of the beach and some Fishermen’s sheds/houses. The buildings and fare are simple, but the welcome is warm. We went to Vanessa’s bar on the first day

Vanessa's place on the beach.

Vanessa’s place on the beach.

……and she didn’t have change, so she sent her husband off to the other bars to see if they could break a 20. We continued along the beach and when we returned she beckoned us to say that she still didn’t have change. ‘Not to worry’, we said, ‘We’ll trade it for another drink tomorrow.’

Tomorrow came and we set off up the track to the top of Mount Olympus in search of the road into the nearest village of Ashton.

Reaching the summit of Mount Olympus!

Reaching the summit of Mount Olympus!

The climb was quite a challenge for Captain Courageous and when we got to the top, the road proved to be devoid of traffic………….except for Vanessa and her family, going the wrong way, who stopped when she saw us to remind us she owed us $7! ………so we walked for half an hour, down into the village

Tobago Cays from the hilltop.

Tobago Cays from the hilltop.

Ashton village below.

Ashton village below.

We stopped for a quick bite and a drink, before grabbing at what might have been our one and only chance of a lift back to Chatham Bay ……..in the back of a pick up truck.
We walked down to the beach through some woods and came across a tortoise that had waddled in to and old copper and was wallowing in mud, unable to climb out. Needless to say ‘Hayward’s International Rescue’ swung into action and we left a contented customer munching leaves in the shade.

The tortoise we rescued!

The tortoise we rescued!

On Sunday morning, we popped our heads up to see what all the shouting was about, that was getting closer and closer to the boat. It turned out to be the local fishermen taking advantage of a gap in the moored boats to do a spot of fishing!

Local fishermen setting their net.

Local fishermen setting their net.

Once they have rowed round in a circle to meet up with start of the net, they start to haul in.

Hauling in the net.

Hauling in the net.

Sadly they went home empty handed……too much noise from engines apparently. We heard all about the fishing from one of fishermen who was dropped off at our boat on Sunday afternoon on his way out to do some speargun fishing on the rocks around the headland. We had just mentioned to another guy trying to sell us fish, that we had bought some already and didn’t need any, but what we did need was to get someone to clean our prop. No sooner said than ‘Hey Presto’ there was Desmond!

He proceeded to dive down in the twilight and did a good job scraping the barnacles off the prop.
On Monday the winds abated a little and we decided that rather than sit out the forecast for stronger winds in isolated Chatham Bay, we would up anchor and head for the busier harbour of Port Elizabeth in Bequia. Hopefully, when the winds drop a bit, we’ll be able to sail back down to the Tobago Cays to snorkel on the famous reefs and swim with the turtles.
The sail up to Bequia was close hauled into the wind with short choppy seas, but enjoyable. The clean prop pushed us around the anchorage with no problem.

Approaching Bequia.

Approaching Bequia.

As we started to enter Admiralty Bay, the rain that had been threatening, clipped us with its tail end.
After three goes at setting the anchor, we are now firmly dug in in the north of the bay. Lots to see and do in the next few days. We did a quick foray ashore yesterday and ate lunch in ‘Coco’s Place’

Tuesday's lunch spot overlooking our anchorage.

Tuesday’s lunch spot overlooking our anchorage.

…….and a very nice place it seems to be!