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Friday, August 3, 2012

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Beautiful Bequia

Bequia is the largest of the Grenadine Islands in the West Indies. It’s nine miles south of St. Vincent and is a must see on any charter of the islands. The two things you’ll notice immediately upon arrival is that you’ve been pronouncing the name wrong – it’s Bek-way—and that the friendliness of Bequia’s English-speaking population makes you feel immediately welcome.

Bequia is known for its local and colourful boats.

Bequia’s biggest drawback is that it’s only one of the spectacular Grenadines and charterers are often itching to get on to new places. That said, you’ll find your mind wandering back to Bequia, thinking about what you might have missed.

Getting There

Bequia can be a spirited sail from St. Vincent where Sunsail and Barefoot Yacht Charters offer bareboats at the Blue Lagoon, outside of Kingstown. Barefoot even offers ASA certified sailing instruction in case you want to learn while cruising in paradise. The main harbor of Admiralty Bay is large and easy to navigate with plenty of mooring balls or anchoring as options. Another place to hook up is Friendship Bay but beware the weather conditions because Friendship is on the windward side and open to the trades. It might be best to visit the other side by taxi.

By air, scheduled flights are available from Puerto Rico, Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique, Grenada and Trinidad. An inexpensive way to reach the island is to take one of the many ferries from St. Vincent which makes Bequia a great day trip for those on “the mainland.”

The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary is on the windward side of Bequia.

What to Do

It’s surprising how much there is to do on an island of seven square miles. Excellent beaches on both the leeward and windward side provide warm water, good snorkeling and plenty of palm trees under which to laze the days away with a book and a tropical cocktail. But what makes Bequia special, besides its people, are the myriad activities to engage even the most energetic of cruisers.

Bequia has a couple of reputable dive shops including Dive Bequia and Bequia Dive Adventures, and excellent dive sites abound especially around Devil’s Table. For the newcomer, resort courses are available and longer trips to dive destinations on other islands can be arranged. Passionate hikers can take on Mount Peasant or go up to Peggy’s Rock on a mountain ridge with a spectacular view of Admiralty Bay.

If hiking in the tropics sounds like a bad idea, one of the many taxis lined up on Front Street will be happy to provide you with a three-hour tour of the island. In that case, be sure to request a visit to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary up by Park Bay on the windward side. Orton “Brother” King has spent the last 17 years tending Hawksbill turtles and rears hatchlings at his farm until they’re old enough to survive on their own and are released at about age three. This passionate man will be happy to give you a tour of the many pools of turtles of all ages and fill you in on turtle facts: they can live to be 200 years old and don’t really mature until age 25. And who knew that a turtle enjoys a good back scratching through its shell?

In town you can visit Lawson Sargeant’s maritime museum where model replicas of old whaling ships are built to be historically accurate. Or peruse the colorful handcrafted boats at Mauvin’s Boat Shop, where they’ll pack and ship one home for you.

Eating & Shopping

You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the range of restaurants and cafes that line the waterfront, which you can cover on foot from end to end in a 30-minute stroll. A charming way to explore Bequia’s culinary delights is to start at the customs house and continue along Front Street where you’ll pass Pizza Hut (in no way resembling the US chain version), Maria’s French Terrace and Sweety Bird in the back garden of the Bequia book shop.

Continue on to the Belmont Walkway which is a stone path lapped by the waves of Admiralty Bay. Walking Belmont is like window shopping for a place to relax as cafes and bars line up one right after the other. The Whaleboner Bar has a bar, stools and an entrance made of whale vertebrae and other bones. The Gingerbread Restaurant offers intimate dining on an upstairs patio that overlooks the bay and with candlelight and the right set of eyes to look into, it’s very romantic. For terrific pizza, Mac’s is a must.

With a taxi, or hearty determination, you can venture farther and visit Fernando’s Hideaway in Lower Bay or Jack’s on Princess Margaret Beach, which is complete with tiki torches and a stage for a steel drum band. The best way to reach it is by dinghy to their private dock or by one of the numerous water taxis.

Best Time to Visit

Pretty much any time is a good time to be in Bequia since the temperature ranges from the 70s F in winter to 90s in the summer, and the tradewinds blow a refreshing breeze all the time. Bequia is approximately at 13° 17’ north latitude and 61° 8’ west longitude, which is technically in the hurricane belt. That means that July to October should probably be left off your itinerary, although big storms are fairly rare even in season.

If you want to coordinate with local events, consider the Bequia Mount Gay Music Fest which is usually at the end of January; it slightly overlaps the Mustique Blues Festival. If you’re on a boat, you can catch both on different days.

For the sports-minded, Bequia’s Easter Regatta is a four-day spectacle that includes the Heineken Around the Island single-handed yacht race. Boats of all sizes participate throughout Easter weekend, including Bequia’s famous double-ender two-bow boats which are based on a 26-foot New England whaleboat design. Hotels, charter boats and anchorages fill up fast at Easter, so plan ahead.

Once is not Enough

It’s unlikely that a visit on a charter boat will take you only to Bequia. After all, the Grenadines are exquisite and provide lots of varied islands within a few hours’ sail. However, after doing the Grenadines loop, I found myself charting a course back to Bequia for two more days of quintessential island charm before returning the boat. The second time, we hooked up in Lower Bay on a Sunday afternoon and experienced a very different and laid back island. The locals played in the water or relaxed on the beach and the pace was so much slower that it felt like a time warp. And even that stay wasn’t enough for this sailor who always wants to see new places – I’ll return someday, even if only to scratch a turtle’s back.

by Zuzana Prochazka

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Friendship Rose
Grenadine Villas
Grenadine Property
Grenadine Weddings
Sail Relax Explore