If you're looking for island-hopping chartering with a bit of blue-water cruising thrown in, then head to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Located in the southern Windward Islands, 24 miles south of St. Lucia and 75 miles north of Grenada, this 32-island nation is anchored by St. Vincent, the largest and northernmost Grenadine, with islands such as Mustique, Mayreau, the Tobago Cays, Union Island, Petit St. Vincent, Canouan and Bequia stretching out to the south.
"The sailing is more open water than in the British Virgin Islands," says Narendra 'Seth' Sethia, base manager at Barefoot Yacht Charters, headquartered in Blue Lagoon, St. Vincent. "It's adventurous sailing, but not difficult. The lay of the land puts you pretty much on a reach whether heading north or south. Inter-island distances are relatively short: from one to four hours, though typically two and half hours. This means a leisurely morning sail with plenty of time to settle in an anchorage, enjoy lunch and a lazy afternoon on the beach."
Some would describe St. Vincent and The Grenadines as 'the way the Caribbean use to be', and this is indeed spot-on. The area is un-crowded; no high-rise hotels or fast food chains here. Yet, there's plenty to do ashore: eateries to suit every pocketbook and taste buds, great hikes, sleepy fishing villages where wooden boats are still built by hand and lively 'jump-ups' for the night owls.
A great one-week itinerary that hits the 'high spots' of the territory and also takes into account the prevailing wind and current, is to cast off from St. Vincent and sail to the private island of Mustique. Here royalty and the rich-and-famous play anonymously. Think Prince William, Mick Jagger, Tommy Hilfiger and many more. There's only one anchorage, at Britannia Bay, and it's a mandatory mooring area.
"'Must do's' are to rent a mule (self-drive gasoline-powered golf cart) and drive across to stunning Macaroni Beach," says Sethia. "Have a cocktail or meal at Firefly, visit the Cotton House, or chill at Basil's Bar – rated by Time magazine as one of the best 10 bars in the world."
The next day, sail to Salt Whistle Bay, on Mayreau, the smallest of the inhabited Grenadines. The anchorage here is breathtaking, but small. Saline Bay, on the southwest, is not as picture-postcard, but there's much more room.
"Walk up to 'The Village' and hang out at one of several friendly, local-style bars where you'll meet some real characters and can enjoy a great West Indian meal," says Sethia. "Visit the beautiful hilltop stone church with its expansive views across the Grenadines. Eat at Dennis's Hideaway (he even has a pool) or Robert Righteous."
Day three, sail to the Tobago Cays Marine Park.
"Swim with turtles, snorkel on the reef, have a picnic on Petit Tabac where Captain Jack Sparrow was marooned in Pirates of the Caribbean, and ask the fishermen to prepare a lobster or fish barbecue on the beach," suggests Sethia.
Sail over to Clifton Harbor on Union Island the next day. Dinghy out to 'Happy Island', which is built out of conch shells, sand and stone, and chill out in a hammock with a cold beer. Happy Island's creator, Janty, is usually around for a chat. There are many little stores here to stock up on provisions. Then, take an afternoon sail to Petit St. Vincent. Walk up the hillside to the one and only bar, sit down with a cocktail in the lush surroundings where hummingbirds abound, and stay for dinner.
The next day, cruise to Charlestown on Canouan.
"Hike across the central ridge and down to the windward lagoon," says Sethia. "Take a picnic lunch, relax on the beach or snorkel on the reef."
Finally, round out the week before heading back to St. Vincent, with a stop at Admiralty Bay, on Bequia. Stroll through Port Elizabeth and check out the local boat builders and handicraft stalls, hike up to Spring and Industry and visit the Turtle Sanctuary, or laze on Princess Margaret Beach.
"You can also hang with the locals for fun and food at Lower Bay on a Sunday afternoons," says Sethia, "and sway with the rhythm at Thursday night jump-up at The Frangipani."
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
â€¢ A permit to cruise St. Vincent and The Grenadines costs $14 per person per month. Children under the age of 12 are free.
â€¢ The mandatory mooring fee at Mustique is $80 – and it's a 3-night permit. Moorings in other anchorages run between $15 and $20 per night, but its best to double-check them because maintenance is spotty to rare.
â€¢ Spear-fishing by non-locals is prohibited.
â€¢ Jet-skis are banned throughout St. Vincent and The Grenadines.
â€¢ The Tobago Cays Marine Park entry fee is $3.85 per person per day.
*All amounts are quoted in U.S. dollars.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based
marine writer and registered dietitian.