Imagine island hopping on a sailboat to unknown paradises that pirates once inhabited, with reggae music wafting through the air as warm breezes blow, and lying on pristine beaches as you laze away the summer. That was a 3-week sailing trip I took from St. Vincent and the Grenadines ending on the island of spice in Grenada.
The Grenadines are part of the Windward Islands in the southern end of the Caribbean that range from Martinique to Grenada. It’s an area of the world where chocolate and rain forest fruits are plentiful and laid back is the order of the day.
Sailing in the Grenadines allows you to experience island life in a way that cruise ships never do. You can interact with local salty characters and full-time boat dwellers who live where the wind blows them. The stories they can tell in beachfront bars and shanty shacks will amaze you.
Landing in Barbados
Most small islands in the Grenadines don’t accommodate jets so we flew into Barbados and spent the night at the Butterfly Beach Hotel. It’s located in Christ Church, Barbados on Oistin Bay and was a perfect location to greet the Caribbean.
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St. Vincent and the Grenadines
From Barbados, we boarded a puddle jumper to St. Vincent where we met up with our group who had flown in from various parts of the U.S. Kingstown, is the capital of St. Vincent and is its bustling hub. We went into town and walked through the busy outdoor market.
As we were walking we could see a peaceful but lively protest taking place. Residents were angry at the sitting Prime Minister who they called a dictator. However, St. Vincent is a parliamentary democracy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.
Immediately upon arriving in St. Vincent, I was affected by the intense Caribbean humidity. My feet swelled up and I could only wear sandals. That didn’t deter us from touring the island and we allowed a local man to lead us on a hike to the Botanical Garden and a tour of the town in exchange for a “tip.”
Goats rule the islands
They are everywhere. Almost everyone who lives in the Grenadines owns a gaggle of goats, sheep, or chickens. You have to be careful not to hit them with your car because they wander through towns like tourists. Goat yoga, anyone?
We were a group of six. Two were part-time sailors and the rest of us merely passengers along for the adventure. We rented our 50-foot Beneteau sailboat from Sunsail. It had 4 tiny staterooms below and one in the bow that was filled with supplies.
Our quarters were tiny and the bed I shared with my partner wasn’t much bigger than a twin. Sailing is like camping, which isn’t something I’m a big fan of. But somehow, the crystal clear azure sea made it bearable.
That night we stayed at the Blue Lagoon Hotel at the Sunsail marina.
The mosquitos started munching on me right away, even though I was wearing a strong repellent. I turned out to be their favorite host during our trip while everyone else was spared. The next day, as we were sitting at the bar waiting to board our boat, I started feeling weird and was convinced I had Dengue fever.
I felt better once we set sail and enjoyed our slightly rough and tumble ride to the island of Bequia. It’s known as “the island of sailors and boats.” I didn’t get seasick but the other woman in our group who was a motion picture stuntwoman, had to use the bucket a couple of times.
As we sailed into Admiralty Bay, we could hear the gentle sounds of reggae music wafting through the air. Bequia is a charming little island with an assortment of small sea-themed restaurants and colorfully painted shops. We anchored our boat in the bay and took our dingy to the shore to explore.
The next day, we hired a driver who took us on a tour of the island including the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary.
Sailing life in the Grenadines is relaxed and free-spirited. It’s not unusual to see people, especially the French, jump off their boats buck naked. If we knew our boat mates a little better we may have done it too.
If you’re wondering where Mick Jagger, Kate Moss, Shania Twain, and The Beckhams hang out in their spare time, it’s Mustique. Other residents have included David Bowie, Tommy Hilfiger, Raquel Welsh and Princess Margaret. This picturesque island is privately owned, making it much different than the other islands in the Grenadines.
The rich and famous own large estates there that are secluded and isolated from paparazzi. When they aren’t in residence, their homes are rented out to visitors who can afford the high price tags.
We anchored at the marina where you walk directly into the famous Basil’s Bar. At the time we were there, it was a rustic Hemingwayesque establishment that had been in business for over 35 years. It’s currently being renovated and is known as one of the world’s best beach bars. Make sure to order their rum punch.
We were sitting in Basils enjoying cocktails and were pleasantly surprised to be invited to a private reception at The Cotton House, Mustique’s exclusive premiere hotel.
Even though we were shabby from sailing, we happily obliged and proceeded to hobnob with the jet setters, although Mick was nowhere to be found… darn! The next day, we hired a local driver (our favorite way to explore new places) and toured the island and beaches.
Did I mention I’m not a good camper? By the time we arrived at Canouan I was totally over sleeping on the boat. We had to leave the hatch open while we slept to keep from sweltering in the humidity. It never failed that it would rain on our heads several times a night and we’d have to get up and close the hatch until it stopped.
I also wasn’t thrilled with the toilet being in the shower and was dreaming of an air-conditioned hotel. Once we set anchor in Canouan, my partner and I took the dingy and booked a room at the Tamarind Beach Hotel. It was wonderful! I took a “real” shower, and was a much happier “camper.”
Canouan is a sleepy but stunning island and I wish we could have spent more time there.
Mayreau is a tiny fishing village and is the smallest inhabited island in the Grenadines with a population of about 300. There are a smattering of bars and restaurants in the village and a couple of vendors onshore.
We landed at Saltwhistle Bay and were invited to join in on a BBQ hosted by Jean’s Seaside Restaurant and Beach Bar under an outdoor canopy. We sat there as it rained, mosquitos and all and enjoyed a tasty freshly caught fish dinner.
The Tobago Cays is an archipelago of tiny and mostly flat islands surrounded by unbelievably crystal clear sea. It’s a popular snorkeling spot and is mostly uninhabited. Like many of the islands in the Grenadines, we were met by local boat vendors selling bread, ice, art, and other necessities.
We even had a few Rastafarians come up to our boat smoking Gangia weed. At Tobago Cays, a tee-shirt vendor named Sydney greeted our boat. He had a deep voice that sounded just like Sebastian in the Little Mermaid. I got a big kick out of listening to his pitch.
For the most part, the boat vendors in the Grenadines are helpful and honest. We took advantage of their services whenever we could.
Tobago Cays is primitive with almost no amenities, but you can hook up with locals who will take you on tours. Scuba diving is said to be spectacular at both Tobago Cays and Mayreau.
Next was Union Island. It had an internet café that I quickly took advantage of to check in on my kids.
Union Island was originally inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indians before it came into the possession of French and English slave owners. They brought hundreds of Africans to the island. The island has a fascinating history of slave traders, pirates, and mixed cultures.
Most of the people we saw were a mix of locals, ex-pats, and foreigners. I bought a stunning handmade turquoise necklace with silver sea symbols from a Frenchwoman who had spent twenty years living on a sailboat in the Caribbean. She finally opened a tiny shop on Union Island.
We stayed overnight at the Anchorage Yacht Club in Clifton Harbor, next to the island’s tiny airport.
Before you arrive at the island of Grenada, you have to dock at Hillsborough in Carriacou to go through customs. Carriacou is part of the nation of Grenada which is separate from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
They are all part of the Commonwealth Caribbean. Carriacou is known for having over 100 rum shops. It’s an enchanting and friendly island with many areas of interest. As we did on all the islands we visited, we found a local driver who took us on an island tour.
Grenada was formed from the crater of an underwater volcano and is a stunning and diverse island with gorgeous beaches, small towns, and rain forests. The capital city is St. George’s, which has a deep bay formed by the crater.
The island was originally inhabited by the Arawak and island Caribes and is known as the Isle of Spice. It’s the perfect place to purchase, nutmeg, cacao balls, cinnamon, and other rainforest products.
You may remember the invasion of Grenada by the U.S. in 1983 when Ronald Reagan was President. Grenada gained its independence from Great Britain in 1971 and Eric Gairy became Prime Minister. Maurice Bishop staged a coup in 1979, removed Gairy, and took over.
He was Marxist-Leninist and his party, the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) had close ties with Cuba, Nicaragua, and communist bloc countries. In 1983, there was another coup, this time by members of the same party. Bishop, along with his cabinet members, were executed at Fort George in St. George’s, Grenada.
The U.S. became involved when they learned a 10,000- foot airstrip was being constructed on Grenada by Cuban construction workers. Along with the Regional Security System, they invaded Grenada on Oct 25, 1983, and the pre-revolutionary government came back into power. Grenada is now a stable, peaceful, and a safe place to visit.
We arrived on the island after maneuvering through a brief squall. Luckily, our captain knew what he was doing. We spent the night at the Grenada Yacht Club in St. George’s.
The next day we headed out to the True Blue Bay Boutique Resort, near Prickly Bay, where we stayed for the rest of our trip before flying home. It’s located in an idyllic setting with a marina bar and is charming beyond belief.
Our group spent several days exploring the island in a rented car. Highlights included The Belmont Estate’s cacao plantation, the rainforest, several of the island’s gorgeous beaches, and its extraordinary restaurants. It’s no wonder why ex-pats love living there. Life in Grenada is mellow, almost free from hurricanes, has fresh and natural rainforest superfoods, and is not far from Argentina in South America.
There’s never enough time
We missed the islands of Palm, PSV, and Martinique because it would have been impossible to do it all in the time we had to spend there. However, we did pass by the Kick ’em Jenny Volcano on the way to Grenada. It’s an active submarine volcano. I’m glad it didn’t explode while we sailing by.
A few glitches but worth it anyway
On the way to Grenada, we hit a reef in a shallow spot and could have wrecked the boat but didn’t. There was also the day our toilets backed up and it stank to high heaven. Our captain managed to fix it and hopefully, he did it legally.
The entire time I learned nothing about sailing and sat there like a Princess letting the guys do all of the work. Aside from the mosquitos and dealing with living on a boat for 3 weeks, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada is truly a paradise not to be missed.
Mosquito tip – After being eaten alive for 3 weeks I discovered a natural insect repellent on Grenada that worked better than anything else we had brought with us. It was made with essential oils. The company, Arawak Islands, no longer has a website but they do have a Facebook page. Or, you can make your own.
If we were to do it again, we’d book a Catamaran instead because there is more room to move around. Even still, our experience with Sunsail was incredible. They have rental locations all over the world.
During our trip, we ate fish, fish, and more fish. All fresh, and incredible! Oh, and the rum drinks. We drank lots of those too. Yo Ho! Yo Ho! A pirate’s life for me.
Plan to sail anytime soon or have you been on a sailing trip? Please leave a comment below.