Paradise Found by Captain John Borden
The Grenadines: Islands in the Clouds Part III: The Tobago Cays
11.15° N. Lat. / 60.40° W. Lon.
When it is so cold that the pipes freeze and I have to bring the dog in, I inevitably ask myself why I ever left the Caribbean. Fact is I never really have, at least not in my mind. With all the colorful down island paintings and charts staring at me in my house and sailboat, I’m constantly transported back to warmer climes. Sure, I make my annual winter business trip to St. Thomas and Antiqua, but it’s not at all the same after having lived there aboard charter yachts for six years!
In the previous articles, I spoke of two Grenadine Islands possessing alluring charms all their own, Bequia and Mustique. However, both are quite inhabited. Now, when I sit land-locked, huddled by the fire, there is always one place in particular that stirs deep in the part of my soul that always remains in the Caribbean. That place is a tiny group of islands known as the Tobago Cays.
Located at the center of the island chain, the Tobago Cays are perhaps the most alluring of all the Grenadines. Anyone who has been lucky enough to explore the Grenadine Islands finds their visit to the Tobago Cays all too brief. In fact, you could happily spend your entire vacation exploring the hills, beaches and coral reefs of the five deserted islands: Petite Rameau, Petite Bateau, Baradal, Jamesby and Petite Tobac. Protected by the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Tobago Cays are a national treasure. There are no cruise ships here, no airstrip, restaurants, shops houses or developments of any sort. What the Tobago Cays have to offer is a natural playground second to none in the Caribbean.
The only way to reach the Tobago Cays is by private or charter yacht, sailing south from Canouan or north from Union Island. The best anchorage is right in the center of the five Cays. From here it doesn’t matter what direction you’re facing because every view includes at least one tiny beach lined isle, set in the azure blue of the Caribbean Sea. None of the islands are more than two hundred yards long, and all are as close as a brisk swim or a short dinghy hop. Jamesby, the smallest of the five cays, is probably my favorite. Behind Jamesby’s palm tree shaded beach lies a rocky hillside. You can reach the top of the island either by following a slightly overgrown trail or, if you fancy yourself a rock climber, by scaling straight up the rock face. Once at the top, the view of the Cays and most of the Grenadines is quiet a sight. There are nice grassy patches atop most of the tiny islands, perfect for picnicking, and Jamesby is no exception.
While picnicking, beach combing, rock climbing and sunbathing are wonderful activities, they all take a back seat to exploring one of the best coral gardens in the world! Surrounded almost entirely by Horseshoe Reef, snorkeling and diving in the Tobago Cays is a spectacle to behold. The kaleidoscope of colors found on the reef literally ignite the senses. The water on the inner reef is only five to ten feet deep, which is perfect for novice snorkelers. Rainbow-colored parrot fish, blue tangs, squirrel fish and yellow goat fish move as one through a variety of coral. Three-to four-inch long damsel fish are harmless but quite bold, and if you feel a tickling sensation, thses little rascals are usually the culprits. One would be wise to use the dinghy channel to explore the outer wall which is separated from the inner reef by a ridge of shallow coral. At the outer wall the marine life is breathtaking, as huge schools of blue chormis shimmer in a vertical display down the forty foot slope. Don’t be surprised to see larger grouper, angelfish, eagle rays, harmless nurse sharks or an occasional sea turtle swimming by. There is such a variety of marine life and so much to explore, you’ll probably grow webbed feet and hands before you’ve had enough.
I mentioned in my last article that my clannish family had begun to descend upon my wife Carole and me after only a few weeks chartering in the Grenadines. By the time my parents finally arrived, however, it had been months, and I had become quite comfortable navigating the winding Tobago cut. Sailing in at dusk, the five tiny islands were upstaged by the scenery above. The nightly view of the heavens is just as fantastic as Horseshoe Reef. Because the luminosity of the night sky is unobstructed by the glow of electric lights (save those on yachts), you can witness a starry sky beyond even Van Gogh’s imagination.
It wasn’t until the next morning that my father, first out of his cabin with binoculars in hand, got a clear look at any lunar activity. The Grenadines attract primarily European sailors who believe in the full body tan, particularly those of the fairer sex. The Tobago Cays are no place for the prudish. Scanning from one French boat to the next my father finally chanced upon an old German fellow, also with binoculars in hand. They acknowledged one another with a wave and emphatic thumbs up.
In the time we spent operating our charter sailboat, Carole and I both agree that the Tobago Cays are one of our favorite spots in the Caribbean. The Grenadines are aptly named “Islands in the Clouds” by the Caribe Indians, and the Tobago Cays are always foremost in my mind when my thoughts drift back to sailing in those beautiful islands.