22. November 2022

Sailing Log: Carriacou – Bequia

Only a few nautical miles separate Carriacou from Union Island, somewhere in between, in the middle of the sea, lies the national border of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Early in the morning of November 9, we set sail on a beam reach course directly to Union.

In the bay off Clifton, we round the “round about” reef and anchor in a shallow spot just off a small island where we can see the outline of a man. It’s amazing how the underwater reef keeps out the swells of the Atlantic and how calm we lie. The small harbor is just a short dinghy ride away. At the pier, local fishermen take out their nightly catch: Red snapper, tuna and lobsters. They have been out at sea all night, fishing with a line with a hundred hooks with as many sardines hanging from it, says Adrian, a young fisherman. The lobsters clumsily crawl along the harbor wall trying to escape, but are always brought back by the fishermen. Escape is impossible.

Fishermen at the harbor of Clifton on Union Island process their nightly catch

After we checked in, which is quick and uncomplicated, we explore the small town with its colorful houses. Clifton is clean, tidy and looks like it is ready to receive tourists. The “Tipsy Turtle” bar is still deserted and in the “Lobster” restaurant the last plates of lunch – chicken with plantains and black beans – are being cleared. In a small store, the food is arranged on tables and shelves like jewelry in a boutique. We wonder if the cruise ships are docking here now that the season is starting, or if the little town has dressed up for cruisers like us.

Clifton is a colorful, sleepy little town

In the park at the pier, there is an information board. It commemorates the African slaves who perished on Union Island during the time of slavery. It specifically remembers the 53 slaves who died during the ten months from September 1777 to July 1778 due to the “harsh living conditions and cruel slave drivers of that time” . At that time, cotton production was increased by 120 percent and many buildings and infrastructure projects were underway on the island. The back of the information panel is a memorial plaque to Hugh Mulzac (1886-1971). Captain Hugh N. Mulzac had been born in Union Island and, like many men here, was trained as a sailor. During World War I, he served as a ship’s officer on a British warship, then joined the U.S. Navy. But because of his dark skin, he said, he had to wait twenty years in the U.S., until the outbreak of World War II, to fulfill his dream and become captain of an American ship. Hugh Mulzac, according to the information board, became the first black captain on a Liberty ship of the US Merchant Marine. But no sooner was the war over than skin color again decided the fate of millions. Mulzac had to wait until 1960, when he turned 74, to gain the position of “night mate” on a U.S. ship.

Everywhere in the Caribbean, no matter on which island, we encounter the remnants of colonial and racial politics. It is shocking how willingly the English and French accepted the death of tens of thousands of people just to satisfy their own greed for raw materials, for cotton, spices and sugar cane. And even if skin color no longer seems to play a role on the Caribbean islands today, in other countries of this world, it still determines the lives of many today due to discrimination and prejudice.

On a small island in the bay lives Russell Douglas, called “the crazy guy” by the islanders.

After the walk through the small town we return to Mabul. Adrian, the fisherman, drives by and I ask him who lives on the tiny island a few meters off our ship’s bow. “The crazy guy,” Adrian says, and offers to accompany me to the island. So I hop in the dinghy and we head to the tiny island. The “madman’s” name is Russell Douglas, he has big bloated hands and says, “Hello, I wish you had come in the morning, I would have had time for you then, now I’m very busy. I’m cooking.” Over an open, smoky fire in the center of the island stands a sooty kettle in which Russell is just preparing his lunch. He leads me once around the island, which takes less than a minute. At the back of the island, he has piled shells and snail shells, which he has neatly washed and cleaned, on an old boat and arranged them by size and type.

Russell Douglas, “the crazy guy” with the most beautiful collection of shells.

Russell wades into the shallow water behind the island and takes more shells from the sea, then points to the wall of dead coral and shells that protects his island from the oncoming waves and says, “All this has been here since the last big cyclone. Did it all wash up.” Russell has been master of this tiny island for twenty years. He says it used to be full of cacti, then he started planting trees and taking care of the island. There are still some cacti, but also trees, shrubs, an unused outhouse and a shed made of wood and plastic next to Russell’s open fire. The big old man lifts a few clean shells from the sea and then wades back to his island. He has to cook now, he says, and turns away. Only when we cast off does he raise his head again and wave goodbye. He may be crazy, I think, but the dedication with which he cleans, cares for and guards his shells and snail shells is impressive.

“Happy Island” – once just a small pile of shells, now an island with a bar.

Over the bay, whose waters shine clear and turquoise in the sunshine, dark clouds are brewing in the early afternoon. But in the late afternoon, the sky cracks open again and a few rays of sunshine shine on another small island offshore. This is the bar island or “Happy Island” as it is called here. There is nothing more than a bar on it, not a simple beach bar made of boards, but the island resembles a kind of fort with whitewashed concrete walls, a few palm trees and a bright white, round building that has a wide opening at the front through which you can see the many alcohol bottles and the mixer in which bar owner Jaunti mixes his drinks.

Jaunti started Happy Island twenty years ago from shells, now here he mixes the best painkillers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Jaunti has his dreadlocks piled high on his head. He used to be a businessman, he says, but then twenty years ago, when the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was filmed here in St. Vincent, he entered a nationwide village contest. Who has the most beautiful village and best village project? was the simple question, and Jaunti began planting trees and painting walls with the young people of his village – and won. But that was not the end. After the victory, they began to build an island in the bay using the large shells from the sea snails. What was at first just a small collection of shells soon grew into an island on which they could build a bar with a canopy. Now, twenty years later, no one would guess that this large walled island and its rooms, adorned with rugs, flowers and pictures, had once started as a small clam pile. The painkillers Jaunti makes here from fresh fruit and grated nutmeg are the best we’ve ever had.

After a quiet, restful night, we set sail the next morning and head for Bequia. I cast the fishing line, but change the bait beforehand. With the green squid lure I had caught only seaweed so far, now I try it with the red-silver glittering diving lure. Mabul sails calmly, the winds are still constant at about fifteen knots. Suddenly Alex points over the stern to the sea. “I think you have a fish on your hook.” Indeed! Again and again a long, silver fish body becomes visible on the water surface. A fish!!! After countless failed fishing attempts, the first fish since we’ve been on Mabul. We get a rag ready to put over the fish’s eyes, a tip from sailor friends who said that the fish then immediately calm down and stop wriggling. A bucket and a knife are also ready and I slowly start winding up the fishing line.

Karin and her first catch – a barracuda

The fish hardly fights back. I wonder how long it has been hanging on the line. Then we see it: a large, shiny silver barracuda. We are still in the south of the Caribbean, where the barracudas – at least that’s what fishermen and sailors alike assured us – do not yet carry the danger of ciguatera and thus possible fish poisoning. We pull the fish on deck, Alex covers his eyes, and I stab him in the brain first with a knife, apparently the quickest way to kill him. Then I cut his gills and sever the main artery between his gills. The blood runs thickly over the teak deck, so I quickly put the fish head first into a bucket. What now? The fish is big, almost a meter long, it won’t fit in our small refrigerator or on the grill. After it’s bled out, I take out the guts, then take it below deck and cut it into smaller fillet pieces. From a part of the white fish meat I prepare ceviche with coriander, parsley, onions and chili, the rest I will put on the grill later. I don’t yet suspect that the barracuda will determine my menu plan for the next three days. Alex doesn’t eat fish and we don’t have a freezer….

After the fish is gutted, the next rain front comes

No sooner have I stowed the fish in the freezer than a black cloud front approaches us and fierce winds tear at the sails. While Alex keeps Mabul on course, I hook on to the safety line to put the second reef in the mainsail on the mast. Violent gusts shoot into the sail and shortly afterwards the rain begins to pelt down on us. A month ago such a storm would have upset us, but slowly we are a well-rehearsed team, know what to do and who takes over which task. Alex is the better and stronger helmsman, but soon it is also too wet for him and we let the autopilot do its job and sit out the storm in the companionway. Half an hour later the rain has moved on and we can already see the outline of Bequia Island, our destination for the day, ahead of us.

We head for Admiralty Bay, a large, elongated and well-protected bay on the west side of the island, but before we round the southern cliff to enter the bay, we see a sailing yacht apparently lying abandoned, the tip of the mainsail flapping in the breeze, run aground on the reef. Only days later we learn from the islanders that the captain had sailed up from Trinidad and must have fallen asleep shortly before Bequia. His yacht was heading straight for the cliffs….

Arrival in Bequia. Here we are anchored in Admiralty Bay for two weeks. The island is known for its traditional shipbuilding and whaling.

After five and a half hours and 32 nautical miles, we reach Bequia and drop anchor off Princess Margaret Beach in crystal clear waters. Behind the beach rises dense forest and on the slopes smaller and larger houses glow in pink, yellow and green colors.

Bequia is known for its long tradition of shipbuilding and whaling. Even today, the International Whaling Commission allows the people of Bequia to catch four humpback whales per year. In the coming days we will learn more about the background of these ancient traditions….

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