The Pleasure of a Steady Nine Knots

Feb 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Rum Runners: sailing near Palm Island

FOR SEASICKNESS, try beer and peanut butter. I hit on this desperation diet my second morning aboard the Boom Shak-A-Lak, a 45-foot Beneteau sloop that three friends and I had chartered for a two-week, early-winter cruise through the Grenadines. As a novice mariner, I'd had visions of a leisurely sail through bathtub-still waters, the moist tranquility of the tropics permeating my vacation-deprived soul. That nonsense was immediately debunked once we left our mooring in Bequia's Port Elizabeth. After passing the lee of the island, we were borne by a stiff wind to port as we sliced through the steely water—nearly perpendicular to it—at a steady nine knots. Then for two nights we were pounded by unseasonal rain and high winds that left us cranky and queasy; surprisingly, a breakfast of Corona and Skippy calmed my churning stomach, and what had started out looking like a two-week ordeal instead became a promising adventure.

Known for their unblemished white-sand beaches, spectacular reefs, and northeasterly trade winds, the Grenadines, a minimally developed archipelago in the eastern Caribbean, are an ideal place to drop off the map for a while, guided by the whims of the wind and the waves. Our loose plan was to sail from north to south, stopping at Mustique, the Tobago Cays, Canouan, and Union before ending the trip in Grenada.

After the initial excitement aboard the Boom Shak-A-Lak, I expected our focus to be the islands, with the sailing merely the means of getting from one to the next. In fact, for all their splendor, the islands—celebrity-clogged Mustique, low-key Canouan, the uninhabited Tobago Cays—began to blur together in my mind, while the time spent under full sail, surfing the swells as the wind howled around us, made me feel most alive. In contrast to the relative sameness of the closely spaced landmasses, the sea was infinitely variable, hypnotizing me with its shifts of color and light.

Quickly, we settled into an unhurried routine of rising late, breakfasting on board, and then sailing from one island to the next, stopping along the way to dive the region's many reefs. Evenings, we went ashore to dine and drink and compare notes with other sailors, most of them French or German. After ten days or so, the land had all but ceased to exist—I didn't care if we ever docked the boat. By the time we anchored in Tyrrell Bay on Carriacou (politically part of Grenada, but geographically a continuation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), we were so attuned to the rhythms of the sea that we now felt queasy only when we ventured onto dry land.

A party at Carriacou's yacht club, the best that we'd found, soon took care of that. In addition to surprisingly good food, something of a rarity in these parts, we were served the most potent rum punch of the trip, heavily laced with Iron Jack, a spirit so strong (190 proof) that its manufacture is banned in most of the Caribbean. Smuggled in from Trinidad, where it's legal, or brewed in clandestine backyard stills, Iron Jack has a reputation for bringing even the most experienced rum-swiller to her knees. Sure enough, halfway through our dinner of roti and french fries we were barely able to remain upright, the conversation degenerating into uproarious laughter over nothing in particular. And that was after only one drink.

Back on board the next morning, we discovered that our dinghy had disappeared, and no one could quite remember who had been designated to tie it up. In fact, we couldn't remember returning to the boat at all. As we prepared, somewhat fuzzily, to sail for Grenada, our final stop, we were a somber bunch. Fortunately, beer and peanut butter works for hangovers, too.

Access + Resources

GETTING THERE: There's no easy way to get to the Grenadines. The most direct route is to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where you can connect to a nonstop flight to St. Vincent on American Eagle ($330). Most of the yacht-charter operations are on St. Vincent or Grenada; Bequia is a nine-mile ferry ride from St. Vincent.

YACHT CHARTERS: We got our boat through Trade Wind Yachts (800-825-7245;, which also handled our airline tickets and hotel reservations in San Juan. A Beneteau 445 like ours, with three cabins and three heads with showers, rents for $2,065 to $3,458 per week, depending on the season.

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