Travel Guide, Winter 1995-1996
If the British Virgin Islands are the junior college of Caribbean sailing, the Grenadines are graduate school: Relatively long stretches of open water between the 30-odd islands south of St. Vincent make for some of the most challenging cruising in the West Indies. When the trade winds blow in from the northeast, sail downwind from St. Vincent to Union Island or Grenada--basically a broad reach for the whole trip. You can leave the boat and fly home from there; there's a drop-off fee (minimum, $700), but it's worth it to avoid the tough upwind beat back to St. Vincent. Book your bareboat through Massachusetts-based Swift Yacht Charters ($2,200-$6,000 per week; 800-866-8340). Crewed charters cost $3,500- $16,000 per week, with boats ranging from 40 to 110 feet.
Some say St. Vincent is the diving sleeper of the Caribbean, with relatively undiscovered reefs and walls on the leeward side. Among the best sites are New Guinea Reef (a wall dive where you see black and soft corals and sea horses), The Forest (look for ten-foot gorgonians) and the Seimstrand (a three-wreck dive). Go with Dive St. Vincent (two-tank dive, $90; ten-dive package, $400; 809-457-4928) or St. Vincent Dive Experience (six-dive package, $195; ten dives, $325; 809-457-5130).
For simple digs, try the Umbrella Beach Hotel (doubles, $48; 809-458-4651), four miles north of Kingstown on small, pleasant Villa Beach, with a great French restaurant next door. Two hundred yards across the water is the deluxe Young Island Resort (doubles, $450, breakfast and dinner included; 809-458-4826), occupying its own 25-acre island. A less expensive alternative is Petit Byahaut (doubles, $125-$145 per person, all meals included; 809-457-7008), with floored tents tucked away in a 50-acre valley on the west side of the island and accessible only by boat.
You won't need a car--you can get just about anywhere on this seven-square-mile island on foot. The walk to Spring and Industry, about 45 minutes from Port Elizabeth, takes you up a small mountain on a rutted road and over to the windward side to a beautiful palm plantation with ruins of a sugar mill. At the end of the beach at Industry, there are cow paths that lead to the grasslands of Bequia Head, a full-day trip.
The best beaches--golden sand, scant development--are at Lower Bay, Industry, and Hope Bay, all of them good sites for diving and boardsailing. Diving is especially good off the west coast; try West Cay Wall, a sheer, 130-footer where you'll see black corals, eagle rays, and nurse sharks, or nearby Devil's Table, a 40- to 90-foot slope. Dive Bequia in Admiralty Bay (two-tank dive, $90; one-week package, $599, including lodging, unlimited dives, and transfers; call 800-327-6709) can take you there. Boardsailors prefer Friendship Bay on the southeast coast, with its steady 15- to 20-knot winds and good rental board selection at Paradise Windsurfing (board rental, $65 per day, $220 per week; 809-457-3142) at the Friendship Bay Resort.
The best places to stay are the aforementioned Frangipani (doubles, $55-$130; 809-458-3255), a 20-minute drive or short water-taxi ride (about $4) from the Lower Bay beaches, and the Plantation House (doubles, $140-$290, breakfast included; 800-223-9832), a more luxurious resort in Admiralty Bay on a small beach.
Stay at the Cotton House (doubles, $325-$550, breakfast and dinner included; 800-223-1108), a converted eighteenth-century stone warehouse with 24 elegant rooms and a private beach. About 45 villas and houses are available to rent through the Mustique Company ($2,500 to $15,000 per week; 800-225-4255). Budget travelers will go for the Firefly Guest House (doubles, $95, breakfast included; 809-456-3414) in a simple villa overlooking Britannia Bay.