Paradise Found by Captain John Borden
The Grenadines: Islands in the Clouds Part I: The Island of Bequia
We had been chartering in the Grenadine Islands of the southeastern Caribbean for only a few months. Making the adjustment from the Virgin Islands was quite a challenge. Gone were the supermarkets, laundry services, seafood deliveries, marine chandleries, trained shipwrights, electricians and mechanics. In the Grenadines our sailboat was indeed an island into itself, and if anything needed to be done, it would have to be done by it’s inhabitants, namely me and my wife, Carole. Provisioning, for example, was a three-day adventure, haggling with vegetable farmers at the market, local bakers, transient fishermen and temperamental butchers. One quickly learns to go with the flow.
On this day in particular we finished a charter at Union Island and were en-route north to St. Vincent. We would get a chance only to wave at our new homeport island of Bequia (Bek-we); after all, we had a plane to catch out of St. Vincent bound for the States-at least we thought we did. What we didn’t realize was that the always-helpful locals had taken it upon themselves to forward our tickets by way of the local schooner ferry FRIENDSHIP ROSE to the Frangipani Hotel in Bequia. Fortunately, we arrived at Young Island, St. Vincent with a few hours to spare. Charlie Tango, St. Vincent’s best known taxi bus driver and entrepreneur, was the first to inform us of our predicament. With an uncharacteristic sense of urgency, he jumped into his taxi and headed up the mountain, hailing the Frangipani Hotel over the VHF radio. Back eight miles south in Bequia, our secretary and dear friend, Norma, sat engaged in her favorite activity, knitting. Upon receiving Charlie’s urgent message, she quickly sent a young boy running with the airline tickets back to the FRIENDSHIP ROSE before its final departure of the day. Miraculously, we made our flight.
The island of Bequia is so dear to us we chose it as the name for our golden retriever. Bequia is beautiful year round, but the perfect time to visit is around Easter. The Bequia Easter Regatta attracts sailors from all over the Caribbean. The local hotels and restaurants of Port Elizabeth, the island’s main harbor, are alive with music and a bounty of brightly dressed folk and colorful characters brimming with salty tales. The flowering plants and trees along the waterfront walkway extending from the Frangipani Hotel to Bequia’s Plantation Resort are at full bloom in the spring. Strolling by the quaint gardens and shops laced with gingerbread latticework, you are most struck by the shower of white cedar blossoms blanketing the bay. Within all this scenic beauty, it is the Bequians themselves who impress you the most. It is their liveliness, expressed through the gardens, architecture, boat building, painting, batik, local crafts, music and cuisine that make Bequia so special. There is no more fun-loving group of people on the face of the earth. With “jump ups” (dances) almost nightly, you’ll find a variety of musical entertainment from steel band and island folk to reggae. If you are chartering a sailboat, you don’t even need to go ashore to enjoy the music, as the delightful rhythms and night sounds fill Admiralty Bay. One of my prized possessions, which include model Bequia boats, batik shirts, etc., is a locally crafted Caribe bongo drum. Never had I felt more a part of the island and its people than at sunset when a group of us would sit on Gibbons Beach with our bongos of various size and pitch, serenading the sun as it dipped into the Caribbean Sea. Gibbons Beach, just south of Port Elizabeth, is a beautiful deserted sandy stretch bordered by huge palms, mahogany and cedar trees. At the far end is a natural rock archway. The coral lying just under the water from this archway is well worth snorkeling. It is not uncommon to see small, brilliantly colored Queen Angel, as well as many other tropical fish and schools of iridescent squid.
If you’d like to try scuba diving, there are several water sport companies to accommodate you. Despite the unappealing name, one of my all-time favorite dives between 35 and 40 feet is Devil’s Table. Here the coral is varied and colorful with an abundance of marine life. Of course, you don’t have to get wet to enjoy Bequia. Shopping, dining or just limin’ (loafing) are probably the most popular activities in Port Elizabeth.
Boat building is an artist’s craft here in Bequia. From the intricate inlay of model boats to one-hundred-foot schooners, Bequians use only a skilled eye and simple hand tools. The steel-hulled cargo and cruise ships, which are quite new to Bequia, are only reminders of a world which has graciously spared this island paradise. The FRIENDSHIP ROSE, Bequia’s grand schooner, sails back and forth daily to Kingstown, St. Vincent. This traditional gaff-rigged vessel transports all kinds of goods-produce, goats, furniture, household items, etc.; and for about three dollars, passengers can take a nostalgic ride sailing on the Caribbean trade winds. Bequians love to talk, so don’t be bashful and don’t be fooled by appearances. For the most part, Bequians are proud people whose forefathers are from Europe, Africa and the whaling boats that sailed from North America. While Bequia is one of the world’s few places granted aboriginal rights to hunt whales, environmentalists will be heartened to hear it is a dying practice. There are few whalers left, however, who are young and bold enough to risk their lives in local boats, stalking the humpback and sperm whales that frequent these waters. I found one such proud whaler who now makes a modest living selling homemade hot sauce. He would never have shared his adventurous past with me had I not stumbled upon the subject. I stood spellbound for what must have been an hour, listening to a poor, withered old man transform himself into a mighty harpooner! Needless to say, I bought some of his hot sauce.
Aptly named “The Islands in the Clouds” by the Caribe Indians, the Grenadines are wonderful islands to explore. I know of more than a handful of sailors who have been around the world, only to settle in the Grenadines, often times in Admiralty Bay. Bequia was our homeport for over a year and is still very vivid in my mind. Whether Carole and I were hosting a three-week or three-day charter in the Grenadines, we always found time to acquaint our guests with the island of Bequia. I hope each month visitors to our site may also, at least in their mind’s eye, become acquainted with these islands I have grown to love.