Good-bye, `real world,' Hello, Mayreau. Eating, snorkeling, sailing in the glorious Grenadines
THERE are three ways to get to Canouan, the glimmering gold and green gem of the Grenadines. One way is to hitch a ride on the twice weekly inter-island mailboat. The second is to scare up a small plane. The third, and certainly the most pleasant, is by private yacht. We chose the third - a comfortably outfitted 43-foot, sloop-rigged Beneteau. In our case, the yacht was merely ours for a 10-day charter, long enough to sail to Canouan and the other islands, between St. Vincent and Grenada, that make up the Grenadines (geographically a part of the Windward Islands). Aboard our boat, the Zachari, we leapfrogged from island to island.Skip to next paragraph
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And while the three-dozen islands are clustered together in a 50-mile string, they often seem worlds apart. There's Mustique, peopled by the jet set; Mayreau, undiscovered and native; and the Tobago Cays - inhabited only by brilliantly colored fish.
We chartered our boat from the Moorings, one of half a dozen charter boat companies in the Windwards. We opted for a bare boat, which meant that the six of us - three couples - captained and crewed the vessel ourselves. But for those who don't know port from starboard, the charter companies will provide a captain and crew.
Sailing in the Grenadines is not for everyone. If you embrace the Holiday Inn's concept of ``no surprises,'' or seek glitter and gourmet restaurants, go elsewhere. But if you've lamented that you got to Hawaii after James Michener, try the Grenadines.
We had our share of surprises. The Moorings boasts of weather that's 80 degrees and sunny. But we left on our first sail from St. Lucia's Marigot Bay in the rain. Trapped by the tall volcanic mountains, the Pitons, rain dogged us for much of ``the long passage'' - 55 miles down the coast of St. Lucia, past St. Vincent to Bequia. But when we'd navigated it successfully, we congratulated ourselves on having accomplished the sailing equivalent of a triathlon.
We dried out in Bequia, an island with a long tradition of fishing and whaling. We browsed in boutiques and uncovered Bequia's cottage industry. Local craftsmen, with the most rudimentary of hand tools, turn out meticulously carved and intricately decorated models of boats. In the afternoon, we collapsed on Princess Margaret's beach to enjoy our first sunshine. At night we took our dinghy into town to visit a ``jump-up'' - an island equivalent of a disco - albeit with a steel band.
When we left Bequia the next day, we left civilization. St. Lucia and Bequia are large islands with the accompanying ``urban'' hassles of crowded harbors. From Bequia, we sailed backward in time. As we pointed our boat and headed for places we'd never received post cards from, the pace slowed.
Canouan, with hills the color of Van Gogh's palette, was as much a getaway place as you're likely to find. Two small hotels accommodate tourists. We walked to ``town'' - a tiny post office and cinder-block sometime movie theater. A women-only road crew was fixing the main road for traffic that consisted of bikes, donkeys, and an occasional motorcycle.
At Tobago Cays, we enjoyed some of the Caribbean's best snorkeling. The huge, shallow reefs of fantail and brain coral - just off the three Cays - are perhaps the best place for a beginning snorkeler. Not only are the fish abundant and diverse, but the often waist-deep reef makes it easy to stand up and reconnoiter.
My two favorite islands were probably Mayreau and Petit St. Vincent - opposite worlds. Mayreau won my vote for charm and isolation. The island is a canvas of tropical colors and images - lime green and hot pink houses - and gardens with vegetables and pink and red flowers. At the very top of the island, there's a small stone church, with goats grazing in the churchyard.