Charter in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

We were fairly confident that we wanted to buy a Fountaine Pajot Belize catamaran but decided we would do a charter to try out catamaran sailing and also Fountaine's product.

It was not long after 9/11 and all over the world, but particularly in America, people were putting their travel plans on hold. This meant I was able to find a seven day charter in the Caribbean in December for pretty much half the usual rate.

There were no Belize available to charter as it was still a relatively new design, but we were able to get a recent  Fountaine Pajot Venzia 42 Inordinate at the Sunsail base in Saint Vincent.

We enlisted our friends Francesca, her brother Enrico and Andrea to come on the trip with us, although none of them had any sailing experience.

It was very much a DIY holiday. I managed to find cheap flights to Barbados and then an inter-island flight on to Saint Vincent.

Arriving at Barbados airport, the baggage hall was chaotic, with lots of porters scrambling to "help" newly arrived tourists with their bags.

As I finished filling out out the immigration card at the transfer desk a guy next to me asked if he could borrow my pen. I looked up. It was Mick Jagger. I have to say he is better looking in real life than on TV.

I was going to engage him in conversation, about how "Can't get no satisfaction" was Number 1 in the charts when I was born, but thought better of it.

He was soon getting pestered by lots of other tourists as he tried to locate his bags, while Jerry Hall stood tall and motionless like a statue, trying not to stand out in a white dress, enormous hat and dark shades. Mick was most likely getting a transfer to his place over on Mustique island but, unlike in London, there didn't seem to be any concessions for VIP guests to keep them away from the rabble like us. He stole my pen.

Arriving at the Sunsail base we had a warm greeting. We had pre-ordering some food and drink for the boat and it had been delivered aboard. 

"We cut down your booze order, thought you must have made a mistake with the quantity" said our host.

We hadn't but it turned out to be enough in the end.

I don't recall much of a briefing on the boat, he tossed me the keys and we were on our own. Luckily I was able to back the boat out of the dock like I knew what we were doing.

I always had a fascination with Mustique. A private island owned by Lord Glenconner (Colin Tennant), home to many celebrities including Princess Margaret, David Bowie and of course my new mate Mick Jagger. We took a mooring ball as the water was a little deep to anchor. It was quite exposed and probably only comfortable in settled weather conditions. We put on our best rags and headed for the famous Basils Bar on the beach. The bar was pretty empty but the food was great, if a little expensive. There was also a small hotel on the island but we didn't fancy the steep walk up to it in the heat. The locals all seem to use golf buggies to get round the island.

Skipper only had a rough idea what he was doing

Canuoan was a strange place to visit at that time. There was a big resort hotel on the beach but it was closed down. We were told that the island was popular with Italians for some reason too. We needed some fresh provisions so Enrico, Francesa and I went ashore in the dinghy. We left Franscesca to watch over the boat at the dock. We couldn't find any shops in the village. Having walked around for a while and got drenched in a tropical squall, we were befriended by a guy who literally sprang up out of a ditch. He would not tell us where the shops were but said he would show us. I suspected he was looking for some kind of fee for the service, so did my best to get rid of him. But he was very persistent and it turns out very drunk. We did show us the shops and we were eventually able to "pay him off" for his hard work.

The shops were more like peoples houses, no visible signage or anything. In one we were invited to look through some freezers. They had all the bits of the chicken except the bits you would want to eat. We were able to get some bread though, but vegetables were not existent. The locals probably grow what they need to eat but don't think to sell it to anyone else, at least not in these shops. I took a wrong turn out of one of the shops and came face to face with a guy who was filling up empty bottles of Gordons gin from a large unmarked dirty plastic jerry can. Presumably some kind of industrial alcohol. I resolved to only drink beer from cans and sealed bottles after that.

It took us two attempts to get to Tobago Cays. On the first attempt one of the motors stopped. Luckily in a catamaran you have two engines, so we limped round the corner to a small bay at the top end of Mayreu island. There were no tools on board so we had to call out the Charter base. They said they would send a mechanic.

Some hours later a water taxi from Union Island called Secki brought our mechanic. He was a jolly, fat, older guy. He said he used to be in charge of the mechanics at the charter base. He had a pretty good idea what the problem was, blocked diesel filters. He told us the mechanics were lazy and often skip servicing steps - only changing out the bits that you can see. In this area Diesel Bug is very common and quickly clogs up the filters. We had no spare filters onboard, but amazingly he knew a cafe owner in the bay who might just have one, and he did.

Secki asked us if we were going to Union Island. We were, and he offered to let us use his mooring for a fee. We agreed to call him as we arrived and he would direct us in.

Inordinate at Tobago Cays

Our trip to Tobago Cays was magical. Its is one of the most beautiful reefs I have ever seen. We managed to do some snorkelling, but I didn't feel it was safe enough to stay overnight. With more experience I would not have hesitated.

As we made our approach to Union Island, I called up Secki on the VHF. He came out to meet us in his long wooden open boat.

"Follow me in to the mooring" he said and he sped off into the bay.

Looking at the chart, it isn't the way I would have picked into the bay as there was a large shoal patch in the middle of the bay. I edge forward slowly. Secki by this time was at the mooring ball, holding up a rope and gesticulating to get a move on. 

Crunch. We hit the bottom. Luckily I was going very slowly and with full power in reverse we were able to break free. It could have been a lot worse, there was no visible damage to the boat or keels.

We slowly made the approach I had originally planned and took up the mooring.

At that point another taxi driver appeared and started shouting and screaming at Secki. He came over to our boat and talked to us. This was a scam that Secki had perpetrated before. He would run the hapless yachties on to the reef then his mate with a powerful launch would demand $25,000 to pull you free. It turned out he didn't even own the mooring ball. The owner was away at that time but he had no right to let us use it. It was the first of two very bad experiences in that harbour and I am in no hurry to return.

Our crew

That night we headed ashore to a fairly lively bar near the dock. It was mostly full of locals but we got talking to a group of young English people.

"We're from the City" one of the very drunk young women offered, meaning the City of London, investment banking etc. I wasn't taken in.

"Navy or Air Force?" I responded, they didn't look City types, hair was a giveaway.

"Actually were Army" she confessed. They were all officer cadets, they had scored this Caribbean sailing trip as part of some leadership course they had been doing. Nice work !

Later that night we found the same girl passed out on the dock beside her boat, she was too drunk to climb onboard so we gave her a hand.

Bequia was undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of our trip. A real yachties paradise. You can get diesel water and groceries, even your laundry done without leaving the boat boat. They come to you. There are also some quite nice beaches in the Bay such as Princess Margarets beach.

There was also a great Restaurant ashore, owned by a former Prime Minister called Gingerbread. The best meal we had on our trip. We made our mind up to come back, and we did. In fact I booked Christamas Dinner 2003 at Gingerbread a full 12 months in advance, we didn't want to miss out.