SeaKnots

Has anyone sailed the Windwards lately?
We will be there for 2 weeks at the end of February and would be interested in any tips or comments.
Thanks in advance,
Steve Schiff

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I was there 4 weeks in Oct-Nov - between Carriacou and St. Lucia. Have been spending 10-12 weeks/yr last few years - so getting to know pretty well area Grenada --- Dominica. Probably back next end of March for a couple weeks. Are you chartering? From who/where...and what kind of sailing and other activities are you looking for?
Kevin,
Thanks for the reply. We certainly would appreciate any of your accumulated wisdom on the subject.
We are going on a Moorings charter sailing south from St Lucia.
How is the sailing between St Lucia and St Vincent?
Any anchorages or restaurants to recommend?
We would appreciate any of your suggestions.
Thanks in advance,
Steve Schiff
Hi Steven,

If you don't already have one, I'd get a copy of Chris Doyle's Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands (http://www.cruisingguides.com/detail.asp?product_id=sgwi) and spend some time w/ it before you go. I find it the most comprehensive and up-to-date [there's a new one just out, for 2009-10]. Chris knows his stuff, and I've run into him several times going up & down the islands - he is continuously "researching" his books...not a bad full-time job, eh? I also have the ones by Pavlidis and Street - and both have something additional to offer, but I probably wouldn't be buying them unless expecting to go there more than just once in a while. I'd also recommend perusing the website: http://www.usual-suspects-sailing.com/ - particularly the "destinations" section. It was written by a former boat owner at Barefoot Yacht Charters in St. Vincent (where we have our boat) - and while getting a little out of date there's a voluminous amount of information and entertaining reading there.

I assume you're going out of Marigot...so you'll start very near the Soufriere Bay / Pitons area; I would definitely take the time for a few days there before heading south (I just posted a few pictures from the area). This is spectacular; it's all a marine park - so there are fees and you have to use moorings - but I find it well a highlight of many trips. There's several anchorages - by Anse Chastanet, the "bat cave", Malgretoute Beach, and between the Pitons in front of Jalousie Plantation Resort...sometimes I spend several days and just go from one to another! The park rangers who manage the Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA) are very friendly and helpful (Peter Butcher was the head ranger last I was there); they've given me lots of help and suggestions, and even offered to taxi me to customs & immigration.

There’s some good snorkeling – in my opinion most interesting just north of the Bat Cave and out near the point by Anse Chastenet (where there’s also a big dive operation and a nice restaurant at the resort).

Climbing the Pitons is spectacular; the Petit is the most difficult - when you look at it you can't believe you can hike (looks like a jet pack would be more suitable) - but it can be done if you don't mind a 2500 feet of stair-master and steeper. Best to do with a guide, though, at least the first time...start early and bring LOTS of water and sun block. This is a serious jungle climb that is more vertical than horizontal for the last 1/3, where you need the ropes that the locals have tied in strategic locations. We often start and end at Bennys on Malgretoute Beach (he'll watch your dinghy and give you suggestions...make a great late lunch and water you down with all the refreshments you need when you're done). I haven't done it, but I understand the Gros Piton is easier - more national-park style walkways (but still a workout).

Another, more civilized but equally rewarding suggestion there is sunset cocktails and perhaps dinner at Dasheen, the restaurant at Ladera Resort - perched high on the saddle between the Pitons. This is where the sunset picture in my posting was taken from.

The sail south from St. Lucia is usually a reach, at least if you head down the leeward (west) side of St. Vincent. Seas can be big, though, going across, depending on how strong the trades are and where you are in the tidal cycle. Anyone prone to seasickness is usually well-advised to take there meds well before you’re out of the shadow of the Pitons. The current nearly always is flowing east to west, with the wind --- but varies in strength. This tends to be more important when heading back north - which is usually hard on the wind or even a beat, and can be a real thrash if the wind is up. I find the current/lunar cycle tables Don Street publishes in the Caribbean Compass (free monthly paper distributed in that area) helpful in planning in this regard. Once you’re in the lee of the island, because of the high mountains (even more so than St. Lucia) you’ll likely motor-sail quite a bit as the winds tend to be variable and often light.

The windward side of St. Vincent has some beautiful anchorages - Chateaubelair, Walliabou, Cumberland, and others (though very deep, often requiring a line to shore, and/or using a mooring). There's a great waterfall near the north end of the island - the Falls of Baleine - which can only be reached by small boat or a very long hike. If the breeze isn't too strong or northerly I sometimes launch the dinghy from the boat and stay aboard idling around while guests go ashore there...but you can't anchor; and you need to be careful taking the dinghy in. You can also hire local tour operators up & down the coast to get there.

Unfortunately, the west coast of St. Vincent also has had a bit of a crime problem - particularly Chateaubelair - so if you go there be extra careful about security; I wouldn’t leave the boat with no one aboard after dark. Some the boat boys there are helpful…but some also can be harassing. Customs & Immigration can be cleared at there as well, or farther down the coast (but last time I was there one office was in one town and the other in the next one). Check on this during your briefing and/or in the new Doyle book – it doesn’t seem to always be the same.

There’s also interesting things on St. Vincent – climbing the volcano, botanical gardens in Kingstown, other waterfalls and gardens; an interesting (in a bustling, old Caribbean / third world sort of way) downtown…where farmers market on weekends is quite a scene. In my opinion the best restaurant on the island is the French Verandah, at Mariners Hotel (along Young Island Cut at the south end of the island). Say hello to the lovely managing hostess, Laurel; and Shawn, the restaurant manager if you go. The new Driftwood restaurant at the Barefoot Yacht Charters base, run by Leslie and Winston, has a lighter and simpler menu but also is quite excellent. You can get water, fuel, ice…and some additional friendly and knowledgeable advice there as well – ask for Seth or Philip.

If you are more anxious to get down into the Grenadines, you also can go down the windward side of St. Vincent. I have done this a few times, going straight to Mustique or Bequia. As you’ll be harder on the wind and in open ocean it’s a rougher passage, though this time of year the wind is likely to be northerly enough to make it a fast close reach until you clear the SE part of the island, and then you can crack off (a lot if to Bequia). Again because of the mountains, the winds tend to be not as strong once you are abreast of the island, and somewhat variable (though not nearly as much as the leeward side). An advantage in this I find is that clearing in is a very convenient and usually quick & efficient in Bequia, and it gets you to the Grenadines, beaches and so forth quickly.

Mustique isn’t usually listed as a port of entry, but I’ve always found you can clear in at the airport there (but call them to make sure of hours and that it’s ok). I usually call Mustique Mechanical Services to rent bikes or a moke – they’ll pick you up at Basils…and then you can ride/drive over to the airport. I enjoy touring the island by bike – there’s even some singletrack for MTB if you’re into it. The bar scene at Basils can be a lot of fun and the food is good. The Cotton House and Firefly have excellent restaurants – but, Mustique is a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” island, with prices to match; you could easily spend more for dinner there than the daily cost of your charter. If you do want to visit there, doing it first on the way south from St. Lucia is a good idea, as it’s the farthest east of all the Grenadines and if you go from Bequia or anywhere south it’s likely you’ll have a hard upwind sail to get there.

The cruising guides and Usual Suspects website will tell you a lot about the harbors, restaurants, snorkeling and other activities in the Grenadines. You of course won’t want to miss the Tobago Cays, with great snorkeling and a turtle sanctuary; and I always like Bequia, Mayreau (Saltwhistle Bay – both the anchorage and restaurant, and the small town there as well). If you’re ambitious enough to cover the distance (and another cycle of clearing out / in / out / in), I really enjoy Carriacou also - rent a jeep and drive around, or even sail all the way around the island and poke around inside the reefs on the south and east sides.

That’s a mouthful…hope I haven’t given you “too much info” – but feel free to ask again about anything specific. And have a great trip!!

Kevin
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