Monday, February 19th, 2007
Bequia is truly one of the most beautiful islands around, and the Picton Castle has had the pleasure of putting in there twice this winter. We sail into Admiralty Bay and head for our “usual parking spot,” which we have found empty and waiting for us on both visits. Several ferries run between Bequia and St. Vincent, so all vessels must keep the channel clear for them. On either side of the channel there are many vessels anchored, everything from tiny sailboats to ships bigger than we are. On our first visit this winter we happened to anchor next to a yacht flying a Nova Scotia flag, so we had a visit and chat. Bequia attracts sailors from all around the world, and it is often a first port for those making trans-Atlantic passages. As such it has a number of marine chandleries, an excellent sail loft (Aleck’s) and other businesses that cater to people who sail and live on boats. Many a night islanders gather at the beachfront “Frangipani,” where a big three-masted schooner was built, to listen and sway to the excellent and exuberant steel band playing in the evenings from time to time.
The Friendship Rose is a Caribbean schooner that calls Bequia home, and when she’s not out on day sails she moors close to the beach in Admiralty Bay. With a wooden hull painted a vibrant light blue and wooden masts, Friendship Rose stands out from the rest. She used to be the main form of transportation for passengers and cargo between Bequia and St. Vincent in the days before the modern ferries, but now she does lots of charters (particularly weddings) and day sails where the public can buy tickets and sail to Mustique or Tobago Cays for the day. It’s a long, full day leaving at 7 AM and not returning until 5 PM with plenty of sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and gourmet eating. The ship was built as a cargo schooner under the palm trees in Friendship Bay, Bequia, in 1967 by local craftsmen and is a well-kept example of a typical work boat built in the Grenadines with a rounded wooden hull and wide beam.
Bequia has a laid back attitude, but also has enough going on to be interesting and exciting. The main street of Port Elizabeth runs along the water and has two cement lanes divided by colourful tropical gardens. One side is for cars, the other is for pedestrians. There are a number of shops and restaurants along the main street, most of which are multipurpose. There’s the internet-restaurant/laundry-real estate-car and bike rental place, the restaurant-grocery store, the tourist souvenir-clothing-FedEx depot and many more. Browsing in all the shops—especially the book shop, with its interesting titles and beautiful scrimshaw knives—is a good way to spend an hour or two ashore. From the main dock heading left, you reach the two markets. The first is filled with tourist t-shirts that say things like “Sail Fast, Live Slow,” as well as jewelry, local jams, jellies and preserves. The second market has tables laden with delicious-looking produce (mangos, lettuce, pineapples, coconuts, cassava, christophene, yams, onions, potatoes, cabbage, stalks of sugar cane…) and very insistent but cool Rastafarian salesmen. We have learned from experience that it’s best to spread our business around, if possible, and buy a few items from everyone. As soon as they know we’re there to provision for the ship we get almost physically pulled from table to table by each shopkeeper who will try and convince us that everything they have is the best. At the produce market they also sell the bags that so many of our crew have bought and carry regularly; they’re made from grain sacks with a colourful fabric edge on the top and industrial strength straps that are comfortable to carry. They hold all a sailor needs on a day off (bathing suit, towel, change of clothes, snacks, a book, wallet, camera, etc) with room to spare, or are great to take to the grocery store. We bought a few to bring home with us and sell in The Sea Chest, the Picton Castle‘s store in Lunenburg. They will fly off the shelves. All the crew got one.
It is lovely to sail back to places we know; it is sweet to sail back into Port Elizabeth in the sailor’s isle of Bequia.