The Caribbean is not Crowded
Grenada, May 2008
In late November we arrived at St Martin after a delightful 29 day crossing of the Atlantic from Lisbon, if anything the winds had been rather light until the last week. Our new Lagoon 440 ‘Sonrisa’ gave no problems and installing plenty of confidence that she would be a great home for the next several years – so long as we were going down wind !
We had planned to spend just a few months cruising down the Leeward and Windward Caribbean Islands before heading west to the Panama canal and into the Pacific. These Islands would have to be one of the most popular cruising areas, apart from the Mediterranean, so while they had plenty to offer we felt that there would be just too many cruisers and charter yachts for our reclusive style of yachting – how surprised we were to be at the number of secluded anchorages we would eventually find.
While St Martin and in particular MarigotBay are very popular for the services and entertainment ashore, we still managed to find plenty of spots to tuck away. Even Simpson’s Lagoon (on the French side) was relatively quiet. The proximity of numerous excellent restaurants, bars and sophisticated shops made up for the hassle of speeding tenders wizzing to and fro – one of our pet hates. At TintamarreIsland to the east of St Martin we would often have the western sandy anchorage to ourselves, as the day trippers would leave at dusk. This is where the impressive benefit of a catamaran, the lack of any roll, really becomes apparent as we could stay in anchorages that many monohulls found too uncomfortable due to the persistent trade wind swell. Even the popular beach area of OrientBay, behind GreenIsland was generally sparse with yachts overnight.
In early January we started our trek south, our first lonely place to visit was Barbuda, to the north of Antigua. Technically one should go to Codrington to clear customs and immigration, however the only other yacht in the anchorage to the west of Spanish Point was quite resolute that it was a waste of time to visit the town or make any effort to clear the necessary formalities. This anchorage has to one of our favourites – crystal clear water, blazing white sand and wonderful coral bommies for snorkeling made for a very special location. The fringe reef protects the anchorage from any swell with plenty of room for numerous yachts – we only saw two!
Our preferred anchorage around Antigua is on the East coast in the GreenIsland area, and for absolute privacy (and a bit of accurate anchoring) there is nothing like TenpoundBay – as there is only room for 1 yacht ! In NonsuchBay there are numerous quiet nooks to explore and enjoy the seclusion. Unfortunately this appears to be a popular area for resort development with several new construction sights.
While the Leeward Islands have plenty of good cruising and, in the French Islands, sophisticated shore based facilities we have always found the Windward Islands to the South, and in particular from Bequia onwards to give a genuine taste of how it would have been many years ago, during the early years of sailing in the Caribbean. We left Antigua in the early morning with a pleasant E / NE’rly breeze which made for good progress, arriving in Bequia at dusk averaging 7 knots. Invariably, if one has a few days to play with, sailing between the Islands can be on a beam / shy reach as the wind switches from NE to SE – a little patience goes a long way!
The most popular anchorage in Bequia is AdmiaralityBay to the west – well protected with plenty of room, however for us FriendshipBay to the east is more tranquil. There may not be any shore facilities, apart from a pleasant restaurant to the north of the bay, but the surrounding hills and tidy houses make it all worthwhile. There is excellent snorkeling to the south of Semples Cay. Probably the most secluded anchorage one could find is on the south coast of IsleQuatre and generally passed by except for the most intrepid gunk holler. The entrance is simple with plenty of water as one heads north and then to port one eyeballs it into a sandy patch behind the fringe reef – really only room for 1 yacht with a enchanting BBQ area ashore under the palm trees.
South to Mayreau one finds the Tobago Cays of which so much has been written about – it is a great anchorage but far too crowded for our liking, even now as it has been made a nature reserve and a daily charge is made. We really enjoyed Windward bay to the east of Mayreau, with only one other yacht making a visit. It also has the blazing white sand of the Tabago cays and there are numerous good diving spots within easy dinghy distance. On UnionIsland most yachts seem to spend their time at Clifton, the main town, but here again it gets rather crowded, with an unpleasant chop during high tide. We prefer the quiet anchorage on the west of FrigateIsland and at ChathamBay. ChathamBay can have many yachts at anchor but it is a large bay with a spacious long beach – with the added bonus of the secluded Jerry’s Bar and ‘Shark Attack’ BBQ shack. As there are no real roads into the Bay (though a new development at the Southern end may change this) one has to appreciate the effort that goes into supplying ice, beverages and food to this epitome of a Caribbean beach scene.
Finally at Carriacou we have several of our regular haunts, to the north in Anse La Roche one finds a special ‘hole in the wall’ anchorage that most yachts sail by. On the chart it does not appear much but it is well protected with a good sandy beach. It is also a nature reserve and turtle egg laying beach, with some very large Iguanas. On the way to the south we invariably spend a few days to the south of SandyIsland – the diving off the eastern end is excellent and this area is also a nature reserve. To the South of Carriacou, in settled weather, one finds WhiteIsland and SalineIsland, both of which provide seclusion and crystal clear water. The currents can be quite fast producing a rather uncomfortable feeling with the yacht stern too the wind.
It is now early May 2008 so our original plans of only one season in the Caribbean are up for change. Even in the most popular anchorages of this vast cruising area we have yet to feel any serious overcrowding and expect that the more remote areas of Venuzela and Panama will provide even more opportunities to hide away.