We love the Bahamas. We spent two seasons between the Abacos in the north and the Exumas in the south. That spans just under 400 miles of clear water, sandy beaches, small low islands, coral reefs, and some beach bars! The Eastern Caribbean, which we have spent the last 9 seasons (at least 8 months a year), spans over 400 miles. The difference in geography is amazing. Where there are dry, flat and low limestone islands in the Bahamas (all of which could be considered among a gigantic sand bar) the Caribbean chain of volcanic peaks of 3-4000 feet with lush rainforest interiors offer a stark contrast. The biggest affect of this difference is that there is more run-off from the land in the Caribbean and so the water is not quite as clear as the Bahamas. But we have to say, by shear numbers, the sandy beaches of the Bahamas beat the sandy beaches of the Eastern Caribbean.
I should clarify how we judge a beach. This is our own opinion as others have different parameters to judge a beach. The primary objective is to swim at the beach. That is ostensibly true. But the meeting of land and water has always been attractive to us. It is both an invitation to leave the land behind and the anticipated pleasure of being immerged in the medium that comprises 60% of our body. Birds may have similar thoughts when they take to the air. There is something transcendental entering a different medium beyond the common; a natural experience bordering the mystical.
The pure beauty of the location is a concern but not the final determinator. The Caribbean islands win the pure photographic beauty over the Bahamas. But for swimming at the intersection of sand and water other factors are considered. Obviously, the water must be clear and clean. Floating seaweed, like mats of sargasso must not be present. The beach must be protected from any persistent winds and the sea itself relatively calm (no large breaking surf) and without a strong current. A clean light colored sand bottom must extend well beyond the normal swimming area before turning into a dark grassy bottom. The slope of the beach should be moderate, neither too steep to land a dinghy nor too shallow and become a mud flat. Shade trees at an appropriate distance from the water and lack of insects add to its greatness. The sand itself should be light colored and neither too coarse nor very fine. The former is hard to sit on and the latter is too powdery and difficult to wash off. I collected 17 samples of beach sand here in the Eastern Caribbean and as you can see, they do vary. Nearby by coral outcroppings for easy snorkeling is also an advantage. Beach bars, chair rentals, unsolicited vendors of all sorts detract from its greatness.
We have not found the perfect beach but this is not to say that there are no great, nearly great or good beaches on East Caribbean Islands. All islands have candidates. Some of our “greats” are: Frances Bay, USVI; Deep Bay, Antigua; and Princess Margaret Beach, Bequia. None of these are perfect but are close to our idea of a great beach. Deep Bay, unfortunately, saw recent developments and has become less of an ideal beach.
I bring up the beach issue because we are in the Grenadines, specifically Bequia. Last week we sailed a few hours south and spent a few days in Mayreau and the Tobago Cays. The Grenadines themselves are very much like the Bahamas, especially the Tobago Cays although the actual beaches are few. The abundant sand shoals are very Bahamian and look like large swimming pools.
Given that these are all islands, you don’t need to go too far to find a beach! But that combination of factors we consider, that make them “great” are few. Since life on a boat consists of more than going to great beaches, it explains why we spend more time here than in the Bahamas. But that is another issue entirely.
While on Mayreau, we along with ROXY and ALLEGRO stopped by Dennis’ Hideaway for the afternoon and heard Dennis’ life story from Dennis himself. Born on Mayreau, one of twelve children, his mother gave him to his uncle for upbringing as his mother had little income to raise a large family. He “ran away” at age 12 to work on shrimp boats in Brazil and eventually, by the age of 18 became a captain. He worked hard and over 40 years, he captained work boats, tug boats, charter boats, helped run the boat yard on St. Thomas (Sub Base), bought land on Mayreau and built a small resort. His wish, now, is to bring his mother back to Mayreau before she dies (she lives in St. Vincent) to see all her relatives on this small island. Before we dinghied back to Kalunamoo, Dennis met us on the commercial dock where we bought some fresh caught Red Snappers, I’m sure they were relatives (the fisherman, not the fish).
Like the turtle fisherman and whalers on Bequia (previous blog) and other “locals” we meet, life on the islands provides opportunities and challenges that are met in different ways by everyone. How they are met makes for some interesting characters and stories – Life at the Beach.
Life at the Beach is not Life is a Beach. From physical isolation, limited resources and hurricanes, the art of living on the water always punctuates the idyllic. This is exactly what happened when we tied up our dinghy to the dock on Mayreau.
Apparently while we were alongside the high wooden dock our new “car” got its first scratch! The fact that the dock looked like a porcupine of protruding sharp objects should have been a tip off. Maureen noticed the cut but it didn’t seem to be a problem. A few days later, however, the tube was loosing air and so a patch was in order. We were going to sail back to Bequia and so I waited to anchor there for the repair.
On the sail back we stopped at Canouan but since our “car” was out of commission we didn’t go ashore. That was ok because after dark I noticed that Kalunamoo fell back a few boat lengths from where we anchored. I decided to reset the anchor closer to shore which we accomplished but not without some adventure. The bottom there is soft mud and so when I lifted the anchor it came up like a gigantic ball of mud. Getting it mud free, in the dark in a restricted area with other boats around was a bit of a task. Since our depth indicator was not working (see below) it added to the task. It was reset and we slept with the anchor alarm on but didn’t drag an inch.
In Bequia the dinghy required lifting onto the foredeck, deflating the tube and cementing a patch on. Mark on Roxy helped us and a day later, after it set, it was ready to go.
Well, that is the first of a long list of M&R items that need to be addressed when we get to Trinidad in two weeks. It has been almost three years since any major work has been done, other than “emergency generator and engine repair” on Kalunamoo. The list is extensive but includes painting the deck, unstepping both masts, some boom welding, A/C work, various pumps, canvass work, and probably new navigation electronics. The last item is necessitated by the multi display of GPS charting, radar and depth going dark in the cockpit. Of, course it is too old to “fix” and therefore we need to choose among the various options for replacement. In the meantime, the unit at the navigation station works fine and our back-up tablet can be used in the cockpit but that does not show depth. Maureen does have to call out the depth readings when anchoring from the navigation station below, and that is not ideal! New navigation instruments are all now connected like an internet on the boat. In other words, a year after you install thousands of dollars of equipment, it is out of date, a few years later no repairs are possible. Your model-T instruments belong in a museum.
Next week we sail south direct from Bequia to Trinidad. As I said, it has been almost three years since we have been there as the island was “shut down” for covid. In the meantime, we will be anchored off princess Margaret Beach, one of the “great beaches” of the islands.