Flying High in the Tobago Cays

The next island in the Grenadine chain is Canouan. Benny keeps a close eye on noonsite.com, which, among many other things, provides updates on nefarious activities that impact cruisers around the world. Like St. Vincent, Canouan has a reputation for thievery, so, like St. Vincent, we decided to give it a miss.

Further down the chain are the Tobago Cays, a beautiful group of small islands sheltered by a large reef. The TC’s are famous for shallow, clear water and good protection by the reef from the ocean swells. One of the islands is Petit Tabac, a low lying sand and palm-tree strip that was used in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

They are also a Mecca for Kite-boarders. Kite-boarding is exciting to watch as the boarders race around at great speeds, with the good ones performing all kinds of acrobatic tricks. We had one kite-boarder do a complete somersault at the back of Panache above the level our boom, which is about 10 feet above the water!

The shallow waters are home to rays and turtles. There is also a decent collection of tropical fish to see. Steve had to wear a head scarf when he was snorkeling to keep his sparsely-haired noggin from broiling. Have a look at the videos. In one you will see a turtle that appears to have had too close an encounter with a kiteboarder.

Like many of the Windward Islands, there is a steady stream of “boat boys” who ply their wares and services each day. Some of the enterprising men set up BBQ’s on the beach and cook complete 3-course meals for cruisers each night. We bought some tuna from a local vendor. The price was a bit high, but the boat-to-boat service is worth a premium (and we like to support the local entrepreneurs).
The TC’s will be remembered aboard Panache as the place Steve “set the dinghy free.” As he described in his email which was included in last week’s post, a Park Ranger came to the rescue and brought the dinghy (aka “Dogbone”) safely back to us.

The larger Island of Mayreau is about 45 minutes sail west of the TC’s. After 3 days on the windy reef, we headed for the relative calm of Saltwhistle Bay, on the north-west side of Mayreau. There we met up with Windancer again and decided to “walk” with them to the little settlement on the other side of the island. John & Ziggy MacKenzie had John’s brother & sister-in-law on board, Dan and Nancy. So the eight of us started off on what turned out to be a straight up and straight down hike in the sweltering mid-day heat. Fortunately, we found a hide-a-way, treehouse-like platform, from atop of which we inhaled ice cold beers.

Along our trek, we stopped by the village church, met a few of the cloven-hoofed residents and saw the local outdoor movie theater, complete with blue benches and a silver tarpaulin for a screen.
Back in the bay, the girls did a little shopping in the pop-up food and clothing stalls. Seth Sherman, a single-hander aboard Serendipity at Sea, and the boat boys organized an evening meal for us all at a grass hut restaurant named “The Last Bar Before The Jungle”. The local snapper was delicious.

The 3rd installment of Steve McHale’s email chronicles will appear in next week’s post.

Background

The islands of Mayreau and the Tobago Cays were under private ownership from at least the 16th Century up until 1999, when the Cays were purchased after long negotiations by the state of St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

In 1987, the Tobago Cays were designated a conservation area in which spear fishing is prohibited.

The TC’s have no full-time inhabitants. Most of the boat boys come over each day from the larger nearby islands of Mayreau and Union.

Mayreau is the smallest inhabited island of the Grenadines, with a population of about 270. The population is centered in an unnamed village, located on Station Hill, a hilltop in the south-west of the island. It is an isolated community, accessible only by boat. There was no electricity prior to 2002. A single-lane concrete road runs from the wharf on Saline Bay through the village to Saltwhistle Bay. The top of the island is crested with the small elementary school and a brick and stone Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, christened in 1930, and a Pentecostal church. From the crest of the hill there is an overlook of the Tobago Cays, Canouan and Union Island.

The island gets much of its water from three catchments set on the east side of the island. Saline Bay is named for the salt pond just east of the sandy beach. Salt was harvested and exported in times past but is now harvested only for local use. The island is populated mostly by fishermen and supported by tourism. The school has about 50 students from kindergarten to Grades 6. Upon completing their primary/elementary education, students attend secondary schools on neighbouring Union Island or the main island, St. Vincent.

Click on the photos below for a larger view.

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