Nine miles south of St. Vincent in the Grenadines, Bequia, an island of just under 5,000 people, friendly and forthcoming, is steeped in seafaring traditions – fishing, whaling and boat-building – that endure to this day. Its perfect U-shaped Admiralty Bay harbor is encompassed by small mountains, like haystacks, with dense forests of green and golden hues from the cedar trees after the rains.
Brightly painted boats – from old-fashioned wooden double-enders to sloops, ketches, catamarans and moderate-sized yachts – greet sailors arriving at the capital, Port Elizabeth. Unlike St. Barth farther north in the Antilles with mega-yachts parked, like so many limos lined up on New York City's Fifth Avenue, Bequia has a conspicuously unpretentious affect.
One of about 30 moorings can be arranged by calling the proprietors of two water taxis, Phat Shag and African Pride, at VHF channel 68. "It's $20-a-night for a mooring," 39-year-old Winston Simmons, owner of the African Pride, an 18 ft. school bus-yellow motorboat with a green awning, says. "I'm willing to negotiate for any duration over two days. Otherwise you have to drop anchor and hope it holds or doesn't get stuck in coral." The centerpiece of the harbor is the waterfront Frangipani Hotel, the first on the island, an ideal place to sip a rum punch in deck chairs while watching the sun slip into the sea at twilight. Its restaurant menu includes a mouth-watering coconut desert ($16.50 EC) bathed in tropical fruit sauce with a suggested scoop of banana, coconut or vanilla ice cream. In a cluster of pastel-colored wood frame stores in the capital, redolent of the old Caribbean, are three model boat-builders' workshops and the Bequia Bookshop with nautical charts, maps, scrimshaw, postcards and sea stories for children.
Over the centuries Bequia, which means "island in the clouds" in indigenous Carib, came under both French and English rule until the latter eventually lay claim to the island in 1783. As part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the island gained its independence from the Crown in 1979.
Despite Bequia's moniker, Big Little Island, it is actually a compact nine square miles, navigable in under a day by boat or taxi (fares negotiable), dollar van or rental car located by the ferry dock, next to the almond tree.
("Under the almond tree" is a favorite venue for events like a children's steel pan orchestral performance during the recent Christmas holidays, when melodic calypso voices fused with haggling going on in the open-air vegetable and fruit, a.k.a Rasta, market.)
Many of the island's waterfront restaurants have dinghy docks. L'Auberge, just outside Port Elizabeth, offers a prix fixe dinner of callaloo soup, a rich, creamy Couquille St. Jacques, and a banana flame finale. ($30 US). Or try Fernando's Hideaway above Lower Bay, with fresh fish caught daily by Fernando.
On any night of the week, you can hear music, whether blues, reggae, calypso or country, on the island. Check the free "Bequia This Week" publication for listings.
The best beaches, Lower Bay and Princess Margaret, both on the Caribbean (west) side of the island, are reached by dinghy or water taxi. De Reef, a lively restaurant and bar on Lower Bay offers fresh fish and a Sunday afternoon music jam not to be missed.
For a panoramic Kodak moment, head to Mt. Pleasant, on the rugged east Atlantic coast about a half-hour drive from the capital, past pink, yellow and mango-colored houses with bougainvillea draped over white picket fences and wrought-iron gates. En route is the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. Here Brother King cares for over 200 endangered Hawksbill turtles until, he says, they can navigate the "wild blue yonder" on their own. Also in the vicinity is Industry beach, wild and wind-swept and, depending on currents, excellent for snorkeling.
To say farewell to jasmine-scented Sweet Bequia, as some call the island, stop in at the Mary's Anglican Church, a soothing blue limestone building with memorial tablets recounting Bequia's seafaring heritage and an oil portrait of Our Lady of the Sea. Count your blessings for days spent here, and pray for a speedy return.
Arriving and Provisioning
Port Elizabeth on Admiralty Bay has a one-stop Customs and Immigration building across from the ferry dock. Boaters' amenities – ice, water, gas, three internet cafes, two laundromats, two banks and Wallace chandlery – are within walking distance. Also you'll find basic provisions at Knights Trading, fresh bread daily at Kaybee's, and gourmet delicacies, imported cheeses, chocolates, pates and wines at Doris' Fresh Food. Take your yacht garbage to the fish market jetty area next to the vegetable market, or have it collected by water taxis for $3 to $5 US a bag.
Bequia Easter Regatta: April 1 – 5
More than 50 boats are expected for this year’s holiday event under the auspices of the Bequia Sailing Club. Race headquarters in the Frangipani Hotel. Come to compete or just to enjoy the festivities, including lay day fun on Sunday, April 4 at Lower Bay and Friendship Beach. For a complete schedule, NOR and Pre-registration form: www.begos.com/easterregatta
Patricia Burstein is a journalist and an author who began her career at the "San Juan Star" and now divides her time between New York City and St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications including "The New York Times" and "Harper's Bazaar." Jessica Burstein photographs for the Law and Order television franchise, has published two books and is on the executive board of the International Cinematographer's Guild. She was commissioned by the New York Yankees as their fine arts photographer to document the building of the new Yankee Stadium. She lives in New York city.