Bequia (Beck’ way) is one of the Grenadines and is situated just 9 miles south of St. Vincent. The island has a satisfying blend of past and present. There are inconspicuous tourist villas on some of the beaches, but what stands out is evidence of Bequia’s rich history that links it to the sea – fishing, boat-building, and whaling.
Humpback whales head south to mate and bear their young. Between February and April they are heading back to their northern feeding grounds. International regulations allow Bequian whalers to take four whales a year, although some years they don’t get any. The few remaining islanders who have the skills to hunt whales, do so in open, hand-made skiffs, using hand-thrown harpoons. We consider ourselves fortunate to have witnessed a successful ‘take’ – from a distance. Be forewarned that this blog entry ends with pictures of the aftermath of this rare event – the sharing of the whale meat and blubber – a true island celebration.
But I’m getting way ahead of the story.
Back to our arrival in Bequia, the week before Easter.
When we rounded West Cay on the southwest corner of the island, Admiralty Bay loomed far ahead. We could see a cruise ship anchored over a mile away as we entered the bay.
And then from our anchorage off Tony Gibbons Beach ......
...... the ship was as far again behind us. This is a huge anchorage.
Over Easter weekend, Admiralty Bay was home to over three hundred anchored boats. Locals and cruisers alike hop from island to island, from regatta to regatta. Most sailors were here to race in the annual Bequia Regatta.
We were here as spectators and cheerleaders. But we had no idea how much excitement we were going to pack into the two weeks ahead. Not enough days in the week.
Port Elizabeth is the town built around Admiralty Bay. It has many harbourside establishments, many with their own dinghy docks. The racing skippers’ meeting at one these bars was well-attended.
Just how many people can pile into a ten-foot dinghy?
We ran into Lynda and Trevor from Tobago as we’d hoped, but they knew a lot of Caribbean boats and racers from other island regattas. Most of their time was accounted for and they were headed back to Tobago right after Easter. So - sundowners together planned for next time.
Our friends on ‘Alouette’ arrived from Martinique just before the weekend to crew on a J24 from Trinidad.
That’s John in the middle, and his son William is in the red shirt.
'Am Bushe' did well in its class.
There were three days of racing over the four day weekend. Sunday was a lay day for most race classes, so we walked over to Friendship Bay on the south side of the island with the Alouetters. Time for some fun with the kids.
Katie and William won third prize for their Ancient Aztec Castle,
seen here in its early stages of construction.
The other event for the kids was the Krazy Kraft Race. Rules stipulated that the boat must be built from found or recycled items. The theme was Spaceships and the competition was stiff.
But William and Katie on their Krazy Kraft, ‘Explorer’, were first off the start line.
And a clear winner all the way.
Congratulations Katie and William, our favourite happy aliens!
At the other end of Friendship Bay, the local boat races were getting underway.
The scene on the beach looked quite chaotic as the boats were shuffled around to allow each class some room to prepare.
This crew had just received their sponsorship regalia.
Hats, wearable in any direction, t-shirts, and a case of liquid courage.
Every boat needs ballast.
Easy enough to find on the beach.
We located Nerissa J 2 ……
…… one of the boats we saw being prepped in Canouan the previous week.
The local boats are built by eye, using simple hand tools. They have no motors, so the race starts are Le Mans-style off the beach.
The crews walk the boats out to the start line, push off at the starting gun, and scramble aboard.
Our anniversary was the week after Easter. We thought we’d get off ‘Beach House’ for the day, and just for a change, we decided to go somewhere by boat – a cruise to Mustique.
The ‘Friendship Rose’ is a 100-foot classic wooden schooner,
hand-built on Bequia in the late forties.
We boarded at 0800 with a dozen other passengers. The crew greeted us with fresh local juice, croissants, Danish pastries, and excellent coffee. A great start.
As we cleared the coast of Bequia and hit open water, the crew hoisted the sails.
Calvin Lewis has been the captain of the 'Friendship Rose' for three years.
He was one of the original builders of this classic ship, back when he was 17 years old. It’s one of those wonderful full-circle stories.
Mustique is only ten miles southeast of Bequia.
En route, a surprise. The crew was very excited when they spotted a whale about a mile to starboard.
We enjoyed the extra bonus of seeing a humpback whale comparatively close, but at the time, we didn’t realize that this sighting was the first of the season, and more importantly, that there were local whalers nearby. One of the crew members shouted, “Sail down. Sail down.” This is the first indication that they’ve successfully harpooned a whale – they drop the sails and the rig. A harpooned whale can drag their 23-foot wooden skiff for miles.
Not a good time for gear to be in the way.
Shortly after the excitement, we arrived in Britannia Bay, the only anchorage off Mustique, and happily accepted a glass of celebratory champagne.
The crew was probably toasting the whale catch.
We were toasting 31 years together.
Next was a visit ashore to check out exclusive Mustique and all the "No Entry" signs. After our walk along the town road, keeping an eye on the 'Friendship Rose' at anchor ……
…… it was time for the big event.
The world famous Basil’s Bar beckoned.
No sign of Mick, Shania, or royalty – just riff raff.
The mixed drinks were over-priced and delicious.
Back on the ‘Friendship Rose’, we enjoyed an excellent lunch, served up with beer and wine. Then the boys went snorkeling for an hour and the ladies swam around the ship to cool off.
Too soon, it was time to weigh anchor ……
…… and head back to Bequia.
On the way back, we saw the local boats towing their catch home.
Only a whale fin was visible among the buoys.
We saw the Alouetters on our dinghy ride home and mentioned the whale catch. They had an excellent idea. The next day they helped us take ‘Beach House’ around to Semplers Cay to the whaling station.
Islanders of all ages had gathered to celebrate.
We were again reminded that this whale catch was a very rare event.
We had both dinghies with us, so we went separately for a closer look.
Yes, the water is red.
John and Sue managed to get really close and chatted with Alexander, the harpooner.
The only local happier with the event?
Our stay in Bequia this year was truly memorable.
Time with friends, both old and new, racing, a sail to Mustique, and a whaling education.
One last shot of the beach close by our anchorage - Lower Bay – the locals call it Lowby.