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Mission Ocean: Why you should go to Saint Vincent

by Mission Océan 6 Sep 2018 04:38 UTC
Leaving Saint Lucia in the rain © Mission Ocean

"You're going to Saint Vincent? Wow... Be careful."

"Yeah, we never stop there. Don't go to the capital..."

Our American cruiser friends were full of words of warning as we shared a final rum punch in the pool of the luxurious resort at Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia.

And yet our guidebook (the Bloc Marine published by the French Figaro group) was bursting with tantalizing phrases promising "snorkelling heaven...creole cuisine in a magnificent setting", and perhaps the most tempting: "no tourists". We decided to take our chances and not bypass Saint Vincent as so many others do.

We did not get off to the most auspicious start, with perhaps our worst sail in the Caribbean to date. Squalls gave way to downpours, and eventually to a storm with lightning bolts falling only a few hundred meters from the boat. We put all our portable electronics in the oven, fired up both engines and ran away from the storm.

Soaking wet and clad in foul weather gear that hadn't seen the light of day since the mid Atlantic, we must have been quite a sight as we arrived into the calm, sunny bay of Chateaubelair in the north of the island. The sweetest young man paddled out on a board to meet us, and offered some valuable anchoring advice in return for a tow back to shore (the bay is very deep, with a sudden steep rise to the black sand beach). He told us that he dreamed of becoming a marine engineer, but when asked confessed to having no tools. Henrique, a marine engineer himself, gave him a wrench from our workshop to start his collection, and definitely made a friend for life.

We checked in to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the strangest clearance office that we have seen, and a chubby little man in a Brazilian football shirt stamped our passports.

"Do you think he was really a customs agent?" asked Henrique as we left the office.

"Who cares, we got the stamps!"

Bizarrely, Henrique was awarded a 90-day stay in the archipelago on his French passport, whereas my British documents only entitled me to 30 days.

"We only like European countries," frowned the jowly customs man, disapproving.

I briefly considered launching a Brexit debate, brandishing my "remain" vote card and pleading for forgiveness, but thought best to smile and say thank you, and try to extend my stay later. Hopefully this is not a sign for things to come for all British cruisers...

A swell was beginning to build in the bay, so we had some lunch and a nap before raising the anchor and heading for Cumberland, a short hop down the coast. We had been completely alone in Chateaubelair and, with our guide promising a "quiet" anchorage, we expected to find Cumberland Bay full of sea birds and little else. To our surprise, we were greeted to the sight of seven or eight boats neatly moored with lines tied to palm trees and rocks on the beach. A rather gung-ho Rasta helped us to take our place at the end of the row, and tried to convince us that 30ft of chain would be sufficient for nearly 40ft of water... After a little wrangling, we were soon safely moored and sharing beer and mangoes with our new Rasta friend. On the beach just a few meters away, we could hear French voices and spotted three couples propping up a cute little bar. Rather unexpectedly, the bar would be destroyed by soldiers just two days later, in a noisy and spectacular end to a four-year tenancy dispute that had finished in the high courts. But in the meantime, we made friends and watched the sun set on a pretty tiring day.

We quickly warmed to the Cumberland way of life, and learned that many of the other boats had been there for two weeks or more. In contrast to Saint Lucia, where almost every boat had been US or Canadian flagged, the bay was a European enclave of French, Dutch and Spanish craft. We were thrilled to bump into a couple of friends from Barcelona that we had first met in Mindelo in the Cape Verdes; he is a luthier, and is sailing "around the world in 80 guitars", each one inspired by the culture, people and materials that he finds along the way. We spent two great evenings in their company, singing gypsy songs and comparing travel stories from the last 9 months.

Armed with tips of things to see from the other cruisers, we took the short walk from the bay to the main road, which involved pushing a cow out of the way and wading through a river (in which we would later do our washing and take baths). We had intended to catch a bus along the coast, but when no vehicles appeared we decided to walk. Our efforts were rewarded with little shops selling outrageously good cakes and sweets, wild trees dripping with fruit (we gorged ourselves on mangoes and papaya till we felt sick), and even a waterfall where we enjoyed a refreshing swim. A kindly farmer couple took pity on us as we tried to walk up what turned out to be a small mountain, and drove us up to their farm on the highlands, with a short detour to buy a cat. We had been told by some friends in Martinique that the Grenadines were devoid of fruit and vegetables, and that we should stock up before going. They had clearly never been to Saint Vincent, which may well be the most fertile island we have seen to date. We would later visit another farm in Cumberland (ask for Vincent and Josette, the nicest people you could ever hope to meet), where we stocked up on enough fruit, vegetables and eggs to last us over a month, for the almost laughable sum of 60 EC $ (less than 20€). We returned that evening with a bag of presents for Vincent and Josette.

Besides fruit and friendly people, Saint Vincent has some stunning scenery and hikes to offer. The Soufriere volcano the north of the island boasts a 5-hour walk, including a swim in the fresh water lake in the volcano bowl. For the less energetic, an hour's walk from Chateaubelair (along paths lined with avocado, grapefruit and banana trees) will take you to the stunning waterfalls at the base of the volcano, where you can swim and picnic to your heart's content. On our way back, we bumped into a steel drum band and Henrique joined in on a spare djembe.

Once we had understand how and where to catch the buses, we took a trip to the island's capital, Kingstown, spent a morning getting lost in the vast market, stuffed ourselves with ribs, rice, beans and saltfish, and visited the oldest Botanical gardens in the Western world (apparently).

The only slight blot on our otherwise fantastic week in Saint Vincent was the hour or two we spent in Wallilabou Bay, on the eastern coast. Famous for featuring in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, we felt that this beautiful bay had become something of a victim of its own success, with beggars on battered paddleboards, souvenir sellers and an over-priced pirate-themed restaurant. At the same time, the installations built for the film have been poorly maintained, and the whole bay has a rather sad, shabby feel to it. Worth a quick visit for film buffs, but be prepared to part with some cash, and perhaps don't linger too long.

But to those boats who skipped Saint Vincent and headed straight to Bequai or the Tobago Cays – you really missed out. Whilst the island may not be as luxury or as comfortable as some of its neighbours, it is authentic, welcoming and packed full of wonderful surprises. Oh, and the island's rum, Captain Bligh, was voted the best in world two years ago. So take the plunge, be adventurous and give Saint Vincent and go!

Mission Ocean is proud to be supported by: Boero, Doyle Sails Palma, Rotary District 1730, Navigair, OctoMarine, Battery World Service, Victron Energy, Monaco Marine, Aquatabs, Spade Anchors, Plastimo, Furuno France, Carenantilles, Pejout Marine Services, Lyvio, Storm Bird, Aethic, Corsica Yacht Services, Astrolabe Expeditions, Asociacion Ondine, AGL Marine, and Sail-Worldcruising.com

Mission Ocean is Laura Beard and Henrique Agostinho. Their three year plus mission is to share their love and respect for the ocean with others, through education and scientific research. Neither is a stranger to the water, so they have combined all their skills and passions in this bold, courageous and inspiring project. Sail-Worldcruising.com is delighted to be with them for the journey of their lifetime. You can also find out more on their Facebook page and Instagram account @missionocean06

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