St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Over the last number of years, we have sailed past St. Vincent numerous times. This large islands always looks green and rugged with few settlements or towns along the west coast. Few beaches are evident, and no natural harbors exist except for one or two at the southern end. In addition, a reputation of not being safe in some anchorages discouraged us from landing on the island. We therefore have sailed passed and anchored in Bequia, the first island of the Grenadines. These small islands are wonderful although they also had a history of “safety concerns”. As with most places, however, reputations are hard to live down and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (yes, that is the official name of the country) are probably no worse than many other islands.

After helping with the demasted sailboat (see last post) and which we assume made it to port, we anchored in Bequia. A number of cruising and Salty Dawg boats were here, some coming and going using Bequia as a jumping off point to the smaller Grenadines. Sundowners, beach BBQ, dominoes, restaurants, and gatherings have occupied our time but the lure of St. Vincent was always on my mind.

We decided the best way, at least for now, would be to take the ferry from Bequia over to St. Vincent and tour the island. Cruiser friends recently did just that and recommended a tour guide (Hazeco Tours). We would take the one-hour ferry at 6:30AM and land in Kingstown, have breakfast, then tour with a guide for the day. The last ferry back is at 6PM so there is no rush to leave the island.

We made arrangements for last Monday but knew the weather was not looking too good. It turned out that a week of showery weather was in store for us. Sunday night, Millie, the tour operator called and said the forecast was really not good to drive up the mountains and so we decided to wait until Friday when the weather returned to more “normal” conditions. That was a good call as we saw later mudslides can easily block roads.

Mark and Lynn on ROXY joined us, and we took the 6:30 AM ferry to Kingstown. We ate breakfast at the oldest hotel on the island – The Cobblestone Hotel – and awaited on our guide. We met Fiona waiting for us outside the hotel, but the driver of the van was stuck in traffic. As small as these islands are, traffic jams can be as bad as mid-town Manhattan in rush hour. A bit of a wait, but we all piled into the van and off we went. Of course, we were still in traffic, but eventually made it out of town.

Fiona and our driver

We had a few suggestions as to what to see but generally left it up to Fiona as this was our first time on the island. There really is only two main roads from the southern end of St Vincent where the capital and main town, Kingston, is located. One up the west coast, one up the east coast. Neither run all the way to the north end. La Soufriere, the volcano that erupted in 2021, is at the north end of the island.

About 20 minutes into the trip, we heard a bang and thought the van had a tire blow out. The roads are full of potholes, so that is not unusual. Unfortunately, it was much worse as the ball joints broke and the wheel was essentially off the vehicle. We could only thank God that it didn’t happen on any of the steep roads. Not many have guardrails!  

It took about a half hour for a car replacement and Fiona and the four of us climbed into the van and we were off again. Unfortunately, the traffic delay and the broken van meant we wouldn’t get to the Montreal Gardens. Well, maybe next time. We did continue on the east coast heading north.

We stopped at Black Point, which is a National Park and the sight of the Black Point Tunnel. This is a man made (by slaves) tunnel through a headland. It was used to transport sugar from the surrounding plantations to ships in the bay on the other side of the headland. It also included small storage rooms (caves). The bats and crawling creatures in the tunnel was an added attraction!

Continuing further north we entered the Red Zone. This area, about 1/3 of the island, is where La Soufriere is located and was very much impacted by the eruption in April 2021. That same volcano erupted in 1902 and 1979. In April of 2021, we were in Antigua but sailed to St Lucia in early May. This was during the height of the pandemic lockdowns with not many islands “open” for cruisers, however, St Lucia was one of them. We were concerned, however, how it would affect St Lucia, but the prevailing winds carried the ash east and west and little to the north.

The Eruption in 2021
La Soufriere today

On St Vincent, the situation was very different. The Red Zone had to be evacuated due to the volcanic fall out of ash and “fire balls”. Electricity and water were cut off and mud flows cut off the roads. The ash eventually covered the entire island and contaminated the water supply and severely affected agriculture. Our guide, Fiona, lived in the south by Kingstown and said she couldn’t breath outside and had to seal up all windows to keep the air breathable. Airports were closed for weeks as the ash disrupted normal air traffic. Over 16,000 people were evacuated from the red zone. The government eventually build new housing for them in the zone.

One of the lasting effects we saw were the numerous dry rivers. As in most of these islands, inland rains may make small streams into “flash flood” zones at times and it was no different here. But there is a difference. These streams carry ash and boulders released from the volcano. This makes the flood water almost like a surrey with a much more destructive force than just water. House were destroyed and burned. Bridges have been rebuilt but when flash floods occur they make it almost impossible to cross.

One good thing that these have brought is a new source of income. The ash aggregate was found to be a very good base material to make cement. The dry riverbeds provide an easy source of this material and is used and exported as all new construction is cement block and concrete.

Dry river bed

We then went to Owia Salt Pond Recreational park. At this picturesque point, a home cooked lunch of chicken and rice and rhum punch was provided by the tour company and eaten overlooking the tidal pools of Salt Pond. The beaches in this area have the black sand of the volcano but are still very “Caribbean”.

The drive back to Kingston covered the same territory while Fiona commented on life in St. Vincent. As in all these islands, their economies are trying to expand from just a tourist destination. St Vincent, is actively expanding its tourist attractions and visitors, is also supporting local agriculture and products to help diversify their income. They may be late to the game regarding tourists; they only recently opened their international airport. This may go back to James Mitchell’s ideas after St. Vincent became independent in 1979. Born in Bequia, he was their Prime Minister, 1984-2002 and saw the future as including tourism but wanted St. Vincent to be unique in that regard. Large international resorts were not envisioned. He may have gotten his wish until now, but it is hard for any government to turn down multi-million development plans. But as Fiona pointed out, construction jobs, materials, and ownership profits are very rarely beneficial to the local population.

The ferry dock in Kingstown

We got back to Kingston in time for the 6PM ferry back to Bequia. It was a good tour and would recommend doing the same to anyone to get an overview of the island. In the future, we are sure we will anchor in some of the anchorages on St. Vincent and take advantage of other sights.  

2 thoughts on “St. Vincent and the Grenadines

  1. Thanks for the travel update. I always was curious about St Vincent. Did it look very different from St Lucia? Have a good summer. Penny

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  2. We went to Montreal Gardens from the port in Blue Lagoon. It is not to be missed! I am sure you will get there at some point. We are now in Vanuatu and enjoying the Melanesian culture. – Lisa @biotrek-sailing

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