I first met Nat and Betsy last year when they were vacationing on Bequia. Robin Coles, an author I promoted on my blog Reading Recommendation, had put us together on Facebook, so I invited Nat and Betsy to visit my house when they arrived on the island and we have been in contact since that time. Nat posts many photos to Facebook and that’s what led me to ask if he’d like to write about Bequia in this series of guest posts. Besides, he also brought a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to reread – definitely an author serious about his writing!
Reflections on Messing About In Boats
Bequia holds a special spot in our hearts. It’s the point on earth where we crossed our outgoing path in March of 2011 as we returned to the Caribbean after completing a 5 year circumnavigation aboard our 43’ South African-built cutter, Bahati.
We remember well our first visit to Bequia in January 2007 as we prepared to head west to transit the Panama Canal then cross the Pacific. Returning to Bequia and realizing we’d actually “tied the knot” here, “closed the loop”, now truly heading home to Maine at last, a bittersweet moment for sure.
Our then 25-year-old son, Josh, had been aboard with us in 2007. He and his friend, Gareth Weiss, another able twenty-something from South Africa, carried their surfboards up the long hill to Hope then surfed the Hope Bay waves while we cheered them on from the beach. Josh had also taken photos of the baby leatherbacks at Brother King’s Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary and one of those pictures became the cover image for our boat card which we passed out in every port we visited right the way round the world.
Bequia clearly has become a touchstone for us and we’ve been returning every year, now by air and ferry rather than our own boat, since we last sailed here in 2011 to relive some of those precious memories and create new ones as well.
One of those memories includes the moment we first saw the grand old Caribbean trading schooner Friendship Rose as she lay moored just off the town dock in Port Elizabeth. I remember Gareth exclaiming, “Now there’s a real boat!” She reminded us of the coasting schooners we love and know so well from sailing along our own Coast of Maine. Those relics of Maine’s maritime history now carry tourists on day and week-long cruises up and down Maine’s rock and seaweed bound island-studded coastline, much as the Friendship Rose does in SVG. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until this trip that we learned how she’d been the first ferry boat carrying freight and passengers between St Vincent and Bequia. My knowledgeable “sand bakery guide” explained to me how she’d brought the first car to the island after she was launched in 1969 off the same beach where I met the boy and his sister. 1969, nearly the same year I first landed in this neighborhood after crossing the Atlantic as a deckhand aboard the 70’ staysail ketch, Rakassa. We’d departed from the island of Ibiza in the Mediterranean and forty-plus days later landed on the “Spice Island”, Grenada. That had been my first visit to this part of the world and I’ll never forget smelling the scent of nutmeg and cinnamon from far off shore in the dawn even before we could see the island itself. True magic and a great welcome home.
This visit, for the first time, with guests arriving from Toronto and Maine, we decide to take a day trip aboard the Friendship Rose and pay a return visit to another favorite stop from our world-girdling tour, the Tobago Cays, just off Union Island. We read that the Rose takes sailing/snorkeling trips down there twice a week and nothing about being here could get us more excited than imagining boarding the Rose with a good stiff sea breeze blowing her south with us along for the ride. No worries about navigation, sail handling, or weather watching this time around like we experienced 9 years ago. This time her able crew of 6 will take care of those details while we put our feet up or our heads down and schoon along carefree riding a natural sailing high.
Friendship Rose was built by Captain Calvin Lewis and Henry, Eric, and Ernest Adams. The story goes that she was the last of an historic fleet created in Bequia using nothing but hand tools. It took the men four years to finish her and the 100’ schooner-rigged vessel is framed with native Bequia white and Guyana green cedar. She was launched in 1969 without an engine but, according to Capt. Lewis, “After drifting for eight days with no wind on a trip to St Lucia, we added the diesel.” She is still driven by this original “iron mainsail” but her current crew tells me they are getting ready to set her up with a new and more modern power train. This is only one of many upgrades her current owners, Alan and Meg Whitaker, are offering the old girl to keep her up to snuff so she can continue sailing these waters with the kind of grandeur she is accustomed to. (Video: Weighing Anchor)
Capt. Lewis retired 4 years ago, in his mid-80’s, though he still sails an occasional daytrip to keep his hand in. The current crew consists of a capable young British captain assisted by four stalwart deckhands, one of whom looks like he could’ve been part of her original crew, and one who is deaf. It’s a real treat to watch them work her sails and mooring gear as seamlessly as if they’ve been a team for 50 years, communicating mostly in sign language, sideways glances, and simple smiles and nods. (Video: Hoisting sails)
We are welcomed aboard and our every need is answered by the delightful galley crew and dive guides, one of whom is French, arriving here by boat four years ago, and the other a student on holiday from a UK university. The food is delicious, plentiful, and local, prepared on-board by our talented ship’s chef and served on white bone china with beverages offered in actual glassware including champagne flutes brought out on the ride home to help celebrate the marriage of a young American couple who had been hitched on Princess Margaret Beach the day before.
We hoist all sails as we round the wreck at Moonhole and Friendship Rose quickly finds her natural rhythm filling her canvas and gently rolling her way toward the Tobago Cays. Her skipper tells me it takes a good 30 knots of breeze to get her truly up and running like the capable old girl she was built to be but this pace and pitch is fine by us on our sweet day of Grenadine maritime sightseeing. As far as I care we could just keep on sailing into the night until we land in Grenada or Trinidad! For me, this feeling is the essence of why I love being on the water, here or anywhere.
To quote Ratty in Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing, absolute nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing – about – in – boats – or with boats. In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.” (Video: Crew at work)
After a perfect day of snorkeling with rays and turtles and drift diving along the reef that surrounds the pristine waters off the Tobago Cays, we head slowly toward home, occasionally napping in the shade of the giant gaff-rigged mainsail, sipping rum punch, and chilled white wine. Then we’re served tea and warm banana bread fresh from the galley cooker. What more could we ask? This is clearly life on Bequia and around St Vincent and the Grenadines as it was cut-out to be! (Video: Heading Home)
Click here for more information about The Friendship Rose, Bequia.
Nat Warren-White is an actor, drama therapist, writer, and executive coach who first fell in love with Bequia when he and his wife, Betsy, landed there in 2006 at the beginning of a circumnavigation aboard their 43′ South African-built cutter, BAHATI that you may read about here. In 2011, they stopped there again on their way home to Maine and, in fact, Bequia is the spot on earth where they “closed the loop/tied the knot” – joyfully completing their sailing journey round the world. Since then they have been returning every year and are learning to love and understand this special dot in the ocean more and more!