12 Feb - Goodby Grenadines, Hello Rodney (Bay)
Port Elizabeth, Admiralty Bay, Bequia, The Grenadines. A good spot.
It really is a short sail from Mustique to Port Elizabeth on Bequia, which is the most northerly of the Grenadines. We roared across the Bequia Channel, famed for its humpback whales but we missed them in the big Atlantic swell and concentrated on keeping the boat speed over 8 knots as far as the western tip of the island. After an hour, we hardened up across the bay towards St Vincent, which seemed huge… and then tacked into Admiralty Bay to anchor off Princess Margaret Beach. I imagined the conversation:
‘My dear, you’ll never guess. They’ve named a beach after me!’
‘Oh really? They named the town after me’.
On the royal beach!
Bequia is delightfully different. The island is focused on maritime activity and has a long, distinguished history of seafaring and whaling in particular. They still have a licence to hunt whales and are allowed to take two or three a year. They never meet the quota these days: they use small, open sailing boats and don’t venture more than about 40 miles offshore. However, the skill of the boatmen is renowned and I would observe that the boat handling I’ve seen executed by the locals throughout the Grenadines is first class.
A penny dropped in my small brain as we learned about the whaling: up until the late 1980s the Royal Navy’s preferred seaboat, carried by anything bigger than a frigate, was a Montagu Whaler. A 27’ double ended, open decked wooden vessel that was a very fine seaboat but pretty slow (it had a small 15hp Lister diesel, if memory serves). There were a couple of sailing/rowing ones at Dartmouth left from the 1950s which I enjoyed handling. I never thought anything of why they were called ‘whalers’ until I saw their cousins and descendants lining the beach at Port Elizabeth. They were gradually replaced by the arrival of the Rigid Inflatable Boat, a development of a craft designed by my friend the legendary Dag Pike at the Atlantic College in Wales for the RNLI. In my humble opinion, the RIB is one of the most significant advances in maritime technology since the development of the steam turbine. Today, Montagu Whalers are largely confined to museum piece status, so it was particularly enjoyable to see the Bequian versions in use. Fortunately the commercial incentives to hunt whales have disappeared and the majestic animals are starting to recover their numbers.
A Bequian whaler – painted battleship grey, of course!
The shoreline at Port Elizabeth is very picturesque. We walked to the north west corner to look over the harbour from Hamilton Fort (named after the American politician who has had a musical written about him recently) and followed the shore all the way round to the south east and the end of Princess Margaret beach. The beaches have much more sand on them than some we have seen and are lined with mangroves and manchineel. There are plenty of colourful beach bars and cafes, clearly focused on well heeled tourists, good landing places for dinghies and the little town is much more affluent than, say the equivalent on Canouan or Union Island.
The waterfront at Port Elizabeth
Apart from whaling, Bequia is also renowned for ship model making. We visited a couple of shops and met the model makers, lovely, gentle men with patience, skill and a steady hand that I could only envy. At the model museum, the caretaker was clearly a stroke survivor. We were the only visitors and he took a close interest in our perusal of his artefacts. After a few minutes, we realised that he was the most famous and best of the island’s model makers; he had been selected to make a model of HMY BRITANNIA which the Grenadines presented to Her Majesty to mark her visit in the 1980s. He was about my age, but Lawson Sergeant looked about seventy five. We got on very well!
We crossed paths with the Morgans aboard A Capella of Belfast (see blogs from Tenerife to Cape Verde) and arranged to rendezvous with them in St Lucia. Like us, they are pushing north towards the US, but need to spend some time in Martinique to have warranty-related work done on their brand-new Allures 45 aluminium yacht.
A happy heron. The dark mass to the left of the picture is a dense shoal of fish.
We teamed up with Steve and Carol from INNAMORATA to visit a turtle sanctuary. Here they take eggs from the beaches and try to convert them into adults. The process takes about seven years before they release them back into the wild and they claim a 30% success rate. That doesn’t sound too good, except that they told us that Nature’s success rate is less than 1%. I’ve not been able to verify this. We saw hatchlings aged just five days (about 5cm diameter) and a collection of larger turtles, some of whom were recovering from injury – apparently these are NOT social animals and quite often fight. A seven year old turtle is about two feet across. We enjoyed seeing the variety of turtles but were not sure whether the main purpose of the ‘sanctuary’ might be making money from tourists rather than helping the turtle population.
The weather alternated between serious squalls and glorious sunshine, but the anchor held firm and Escapade was one of the few boats not to drag over the couple of days we were there. Throughout, I was trying to coordinate the delivery of watermaker parts to St Lucia. The trickle of information coming from Southampton was not encouraging and the company in Rodney Bay seemed mildly disinterested. The best solution was therefore to pitch up in St Lucia and try to catch hold of one end of this wandering snake. So on Tuesday evening, we sailed from Admiralty Bay into a North easterly Force 6, passing west of St Vincent on a 75 mile beat up to the top end of St Lucia. The first couple of hours were quite exhilarating as we were off the wind and flying. As we rounded the western tip of St Vincent we came hard on the wind and followed the advice in the pilot: drop the genoa and use the engine! Off the north west corner of the island, the wind howls round the volcano and whips up an angry sea which can be the match of the unprepared yachtsman. We were well reefed down and whilst neither of us got much sleep, we made steady progress northwards.
By morning, we were west of St Lucia and marvelling at the spectacular Pitons – the ‘symbols’ of St Lucia. The sea state was very rough and we had a 3 metre swell coming at us from the south east and the north east. The wind rarely dropped below a Force Seven and we had to work hard to make ground to the north east. Eventually we tacked close inshore off Marigot Bay and we short-tacked our way up the northern half of the island. We reached the shelter of Rodney Bay at lunchtime and went into the lagoon looking to pick up a mooring. The echo sounder showed nothing under the keel around the buoys though, so we crept back out and anchored off Reduit Beach for a well-earned afternoon nap!
The Pitons, St Lucia
The following day (Thursday) we went alongside in the rather smart marina, cleared customs and immigration and went to see the watermaker man. The parts were supposed to be arriving that same day and I was keen to pin down an engineer to do the work. No sign of the parts. No interest in visiting the boat for a recce. I resisted the temptation to say what I thought, but rehearsed some pretty pithy emails. Julie’s advice was to avoid pressing ‘send’ until we either had the parts in our hands, or the work completed. I listened.
Instead, we went for dinner onboard A CAPELLA and learned about their interesting gear failures during their Transatlantic. They had left Cape Verde a couple of days ahead of us with the Jimmy Cornell Odyssey and sailed into a flat calm for 48 hours. Thereafter things picked up, but they had weather no worse than we did. Nonetheless, their boom gooseneck failed (interestingly the spinnaker fitting had failed enroute to Cape Verde). It’s a Z Spar and I had a look at the bits: flimsy and poorly designed compared to the reassuring solidity of the 20-year old Selden products onboard Escapade. Not what you expect to find on a brand-new Allures designed to conquer the Globe… However, the aftersales service is clearly first class and Julian Morgan was pretty happy overall.
Oyster after-sales service used to be legendary. To be honest, they have not been much help to us because the boat is too old and we are probably at the bottom of their pile of ‘likely purchasers of a brand new one’. All change now then, with the shocking news this week that Oyster have stopped trading, despite having a full order book and winning the Dusseldorf 2018 Boat of the Show award. Run out of cash apparently. Can’t pay the workforce or the sub-contractors. The problem may stem from an expensive incident when one of their new 80 footers was lost off the coast of Spain due to keel failure… I hope somebody rescues them because these are iconic, remarkable vessels.
Boatboy selling fruit and vegetables off Reduit Beach, Rodney Bay. Note the plastic bag engine cowling!
On Friday, we learnt that the watermaker parts would be with us on Monday. I said nothing and we went back out to anchor to spend the weekend exploring the local area. Reduit Beach is a fairly narrow piece of sand backed by a procession of 3* hotels, some of which are shut down. Frankly it’s a little shabby. Further north, the beach at Gros Islet looks nicer but the town has a bit of a reputation for petty crime. A bit further round the bay, you come to a Sandals Resort. The individual components are quite smart but I think the overall look is spoilt by the large main buildings, which give it the appearance of a hospital rather than a 5* enterprise. Pigeon Island is at the north end of the bay. It’s a lovely area of wooded parkland, full of ruined military buildings from the wars with France (you can see Martinique away to the north). A great place to relax and compose grumpy emails…
Rodney Bay from Fort Rodney on Pigeon Island
The wording on the boom cover says ‘Exquisite Yachts’. It must a joke.