Cruising Grounds

The Windward Islands

Introduction
The Islands
Winds and Weather

Introduction

The waters of the Windwards offer line-of-sight sailing and excellent cruising conditions. In the middle of the Windwards are the Grenadines, which offer superb snorkeling and diving, especially in the world-renowned Tobago Cays national park. Wherever we go, there will be an abundance of colored coral, fish, squid, eels, and lobster. We may see turtles, dolphins, manta rays, and maybe even whales.

In this nation of islands, every island boasts its own stunning, palm-fringed beaches. The famous Mopion sandbank (shown below) is the quintessential “desert island,” with a single thatched umbrella on a sandy island only 100 feet in circumference.

Only 8 of the islands are populated and 4 of them — Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, and Union — have small airports. The larger islands of Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Palm Island, Petit St. Vincent, Mayreau, and Union have good facilities for provisioning, fuel, ice, and water. Many of the other islands are protected bird sanctuaries and havens for hikers and snorkelers. All volcanic in origin, the Grenadines are blessed with clear aquamarine waters lapping fine white coral-sand beaches.

The Islands

Here are a few highlights of the islands we'll visit, described from north to south.

St. Lucia

We'll start our charter at The Moorings' base in Rodney Bay on St. Lucia, the largest of the English-speaking Windwards, which Fodor's says is one of the most beautiful Caribbean islands. St. Lucia is mountainous and lush, with many beautiful white sand beaches. Tropical rainforest covers the steep slopes of the center and gives way to cultivated agricultural land around the more moderately sloping coastal fringe. Bananas are the principal crop. For sheer physical beauty, the area around Soufriere and the Pitons is outstanding (see the photo at right). These two volcanic plugs are a World Heritage Site and one of the most recognizable features of the island. The natural wonders of the area include waterfalls and sulfur springs.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent is an island of towering mountains, craggy peaks, and dramatic precipices. Everything is dressed in a tangle of dense green forest. It's one of the least touristy islands in the Caribbean — an unpretentious and relatively quiet island where fishermen get up at the crack of dawn to drop their nets into the sea, working people conduct business in town, and farmers work their crops in the countryside. We may stop here for a quiet evening, or push on south to the Grenadines.

Bequia

Bequia has long been a favorite of yachtspeople. Isolated enough to remain relatively unspoiled, yet lively enough to be stimulating and entertaining, it provides a blend of the old and new that many find perfect.

It's an island of sailors and boats, linked to the outside world mainly by the sea. The old traditions continue. Boats are built on the beach in the shade of palm trees. Everything from little "two bow" fishing boats to grand schooners are built by eye, using only simple hand tools. Whaling is still practiced from small sailing craft.

A fixture in Admiralty Bay is the "No Complain..." shown at right, used by a local craftsman to move from boat to boat in the harbor, selling his wares, propelled by a trash bag held up by hand as a spinnaker. We bought some of his wares in 2006, and probably will again in 2017.

On the point in the distance is Moonhole, a community of rock houses which grow out of the bedrock without straight lines or right angles. They have huge arches, fantastic views, and lovely patios. We toured Moonhole in 2006 (see details), though tours are not currently available.

Mustique

Mustique is unique among the Grenadines, a privately owned island that has been developed as an area of holiday homes for the wealthy. Mansions with tennis courts and swimming pools sit on rolling grassy hills and long lawns stretch to sandy beaches. Back in the 1960s, Britain's Princess Margaret put this small, private island on the map after the owner, the late Colin Tennant (Lord Glenconner), presented her with a 10-acre plot of land as a wedding gift. Tennant had bought the entire 1,400-acre island in 1958 for $67,500 and developed it into the glamorous hideaway it has become. (Read more.) Those who have owned property on Mustique include Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Raquel Welch, Princess Margaret, and Tommy Hilfiger. The list of renters (Bill Gates, Jennifer Lopez, Denzel Washington, and Prince William and Kate Middleton) is arguably even more impressive. High-end cuisine is available at the Cotton House (see above), and Basil's Bar is the Caribbean's most famous beach bar.

Canouan

Canouan, the central island of the Grenadines archipelago, surrounded by the turquoise Caribbean waters, has become an upscale, jet-setter tourist destination, thanks largely to the efforts of the Italian-Swiss entrepreneur Antonio Saladino. Intrigued by this small eight-square-kilometer piece of land, Saladino decided to take advantage of its privileged position, sheltered from dominant winds, to build what would become an ultra-luxurious hotel complex. Numerous investors were convinced to participate in the project including Donald Trump, who had a casino built as well as the Trump International Golf Course.

Canouan, unknown until recently, is now famous for the beauty of its landscapes and the wealth of its marine depths. The site also possesses some of the Grenadines’ most beautiful beaches, offering deep-sea divers the possibility of observing the profusion of coral in the waters of the Canouan Coral Reef National Park. There are spectacular beaches, great views, and lovely walks almost anywhere.

Mayreau and Tobago Cays

Mayreau is rimmed with pristine beaches and offers spectacular views from up on the hill. Visit Salt Whistle Bay and the Salt Whistle Bay Club, which has a whimsical woodland atmosphere. The dining area is set in the open among the trees, and each table is built of stone, with its own thatched roof. You can be sure of a top-quality meal here.

East of Mayreau are the Tobago Cays, a group of small deserted islands protected from the sea by Horseshoe Reef. The water and reef colors are a kaleidoscope of gold, brown, blue, turquoise, and green. There are small sand beaches and clear water. On cloudless nights, the stars are cast across the sky like wedding confetti thrown in an excessive gesture of bonhomie.

Union Island

Union is a great island to visit. It stands out from afar, with its dramatically mountainous outline. Clifton, the main harbor, is protected by a reef that shows off its brilliant kaleidoscopic colors and patterns as you sail in. Anchored out on the reef, the water is a vast expanse of brilliant green-turquoise. Ashore, the main town, Clifton, is full of color and local character. On the opposite side of the island is Chatham Bay, where we swam with manta rays on a previous cruise. Maybe they're still there!

Petit St. Vincent, Petit Martinique, and Mopion

PSV (Petit St. Vincent) and Petite Martinique lie just a short sail southeast from Union. PSV is part of St. Vincent, and Petite Martinique is part of Grenada. These tiny islands are small and enchantingly authentic, offering quiet and secluded anchorages. PSV is a private island with a quiet and exclusive resort which welcomes a few yachtspeople as dinner guests. In contrast, the residents of Petite Martinique live by boatbuilding, fishing, and seafaring.

Nearby is Mopion Island, shown at right. Looking like nothing more than a cartoon desert island, this tiny sandbar is home only to a single thatch umbrella. The small sandbar is so low that the umbrella was built on it for the sailors to spot from a distance to avoid going aground on the reef. The straw parasol is also the only protection against the sun for anyone marooned, intentionally or otherwise, on the idyllic little piece of land.

Carriacou

Carriacou is enchanting. The inhabitants live by farming, fishing, and seafaring, and must number among the friendliest in the Caribbean. Carriacou now has the widest and best choice in the lower Grenadines for those wishing to eat out. Just about everywhere in Carriacoui is of interest, but Windward should definitely be part of the tour. Windward is the traditional center of boat building and it is here you can see the fishing fleet arrive under sail. At right, see a traditional Carriacou sloop being launched at Windward.

Grenada

Grenada, a spectacularly beautiful island, has lush green mouintains, crystal waterfalls, golden beaches, and the fragrant spice trees that give the island its epithet "Isle of Spice." The Moorings base is at St. George's, toward the southern extremity of the island. It's here that we'll effect the crew change halfway through the cruise.

Winds and Weather

The Windward Islands lie across the easterly trade winds which make for easy passages north or south, just far enough apart for open water sailing. The winds normally blow at about 10 to 15 knots in the summer months, and from 20 to 25 knots from November to May. Winter-season winds are generally northeast, while the passage of weather systems between July and October cause northeast/southeast variations for short periods. The currents generally flow in a westerly direction and the tidal range is about 18 inches.

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