2 Feb – Canouan, the haves and have nots


February 6th, 2018


Caribbean – Windward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019

Written by

Richard Farrington

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By Richard. Posted on February 6th, 2018 in Caribbean – Windward Islands, North Atlantic 2017 – 2019.

12:42.45N  061:19.7W

So, with the outboard motor fully serviceable, my back easing gently and enough tuna in the fridge to start a small restaurant, we headed north out of Clifton to the next major island in the Grenadines, Canouan.  I hadn’t even heard of it until quite recently, but there is a good-sized runway, a reasonably well sheltered bay on the west side with a jetty, several beautiful beaches, a spectacular lagoon on the eastern side, a decent hotel (The Tamarind Beach, run by some Italians) and an uber-exclusive resort occupying much of the northern part of the island.  New to the southern island is a very fancy marina, close to the runway and unashamedly aimed at the superyachting fraternity.


Looking back towards Union Island from Canouan

The miserable weather of the last 24 hours had filled Clifton harbour with frustrated floating greenhouse charterers, but Wednesday offered glorious sunshine and a steady 20 knots from just north of east – perfect for our escape. We got underway mid-morning and made good progress past the island of Mayreau, following a similar track to the one we had taken a few weeks earlier with Anna and Lizzie on the way to Tobago Cays.  Mayreau looks very inviting: a fine beach dominating the main anchorage and many fewer yachts than elsewhere – probably due to a lack of facilities ashore.  We were tempted to linger, but the main reason for going to Canouan was to top up with fresh water to give us enough endurance to reach St Lucia a week later.  So we pushed on, with two reefs in the mainsail and genoa, punching through some choppy seas and the Atlantic swell that runs between the islands, bringing a west-running current and forcing us to sail close-hauled.

The entrance to Charlestown Bay at Canouan is very straightforward and we dropped anchor in around 5m of water for lunch and to suss out the water barge situation.  That swell was refracting around the top end of the island though, making us roll quite heavily in the anchorage so when the young boatboy from John’s Marine Services offered us a buoy closer to the beach and out of the swell, we moved.  He brought his water barge alongside and we took 120 gallons, which I calculated would fill the tanks to capacity.  They didn’t, and I wondered whether his gauges or mine were faulty.  Then I remembered that US Gallons are decidedly inferior to Imperial Gallons – to the tune of 20% or so – accounting for the difference.  Suddenly his water looked quite expensive (it comes from a factory in St Vincent) but I think we have enough to last without imposing water rationing!  Perhaps I’ll revert to Submariners’ showers just incase…  He told us that the dinghy dock had a reputation for damaging rubber dinghies in the swell, so we opted to use him as a taxi the following morning to take us ashore.


The anchorage off the Tamarind Beach Hotel at Charlestown Bay, Canouan


Ordinary lives in paradise

On Thursday morning we stepped ashore on Canouan.  Walking into town reminded me of Georgetown, Guyana or Port Victoria in Mauritius: borderline poverty, construction industry predominating (to service the private resort and the new marina) and abandoned vehicles, fridges and machinery in every direction.  No tourists, but plenty of cheerful people going about their business.  Julie went to top up our local SIM Card, whilst I went to hire a golf buggy to enable us to see the island in half a day.  I found the hire shop in the middle of a scrap yard/blacksmith’s forge and had a good chat to the owner, Gazimo, about his lobster pots (made of Chinese steel which lasts two months underwater before it fizzles away – poisoning the fishes, I daresay) and the changes to the island.  He understood the need for development but was very sceptical – even resentful – about the two projects.  They bring some employment for the locals, but the superyacht crews and guests don’t spend any money ashore and the resort clients never stray beyond the security fence.  So what money comes into the local economy?  Not much call for his dilapidated golf buggies or the delicious bread from the bakery next door, I fear (it was still warm and the smell is so intoxicating I had to buy some!).  There seems little doubt that the land was purchased at a very preferential rate for the buyer, with little long-term benefit to the local community – such as a new school, or a health centre, or a new jetty.  Somebody somewhere profited, but the feeling was that they live on St Vincent or in Europe, not Canouan.


A Grenadines supercar

Once I had mastered the agricultural controls of the 2-stroke engine on the golf buggy, we lurched off to explore the island.  Our first stop: the new marina.  There was very little about it in the Pilot Book, so we were curious.  There appeared to be one 150ft yacht in, but not much else.  We were almost put off by the security guards, but it turned out that they had no powers to stop us entering the site, so we did.  It’s built on a really impressive scale and reminded me of the sort of development I saw in the United Arab Emirates a year or so ago.  Plenty of landscape gardening, some impressive looking docks (though many with poorly finished concrete to scratch your pride and joy, silly parking access and no central ‘hub’, so the practicalities look questionable) but not much else just now.  We pulled up outside what looked like the shower block but did not linger (despite the self-imposed water rationing onboard).  We learnt later that this was in fact the bar and restaurant area, complete with a swimming pool for which you have to pay US$50 per person to use for a day, even if your boat is in the marina. Needless to say, it was deserted. 

We drove round towards a building development, all unfinished, which was probably modelled on the facilities at Sotogrande, just east of Gibraltar.  Nothing was finished.  We spotted the marina office, so parked up and went to look.  There was one ordinary yacht alongside: an Oyster 46 flying the Ocean Cruising Club burgee, a red ensign and registered in Southampton.  Encouraged, we approached them.  Carole and Steve Kerswill are on a similar adventure to ourselves, except that this is their second time around – they did the ‘two-year career break’ some years ago and this time they are on a much longer trip.  Their boat ‘Innamorata II’, is quite a bit older than Escapade, but utterly immaculate.  We took tea, exchanged experiences and agreed to meet up in Mustique for the Blues Festival.


An (almost) empty marina

We pushed on in the golf buggy.  Despite the tiny engine, it coped adequately with the steep hills and we found some fine ‘mirador’ locations looking out over the colourful houses, the lagoons and reefs, towards the other islands in the Grenadines chain and St Vincent.  This is a beautiful place: I worry about the potential division between the wealthy visitors and the disenfranchised locals and hope someone with authority, vision and a budget will take an interest before its too late.  The lagoon on the east side of the island is quite spectacular and we descended to the beach for a swim. No flies, no litter.  Pristine white sand, crystal clear water in a dozen colours, the odd frigate bird on combat air patrol.  We had it to ourselves, though when I stood on a sea urchin I guessed why!  The seabed just a few feet from the shore was thick with them – not the back, mega-spiny ones, but the white, more European ones that we get at home.  No damage done – leathery feet these days. We drove on until we reached the perimeter of the exclusive resort, complete with Italianate walls and sunbleached guardhouses.  The (unarmed) security guard was polite but firm: we could not visit the bar!  We wished we had bought a picnic and a cold beer… so reluctantly we headed back to the Tamarind Bay Hotel in search of the necessary ingredients.


The lagoon on the east side


Mysore Bay and the private resort (from a suitable distance!)

A couple of hours later, we were underway again, heading for Mustique and the International Blues Festival at Basil’s Bar in Britannia Bay.