For most sailors a rally across the Atlantic is just the start – the real goal is a cruise in the Caribbean. We round up our own and readers’ picks of the best sights, bars, restaurants and regattas to visit during your season in the sun
Most transatlantic rally sailors end their voyage at the excellent new Rodney Bay Marina before heading somewhere quieter for Christmas. The temptation is to move on from Saint Lucia in one go, but don’t rush it; the island is stunning and there are lots of places to visit.
The best anchorages round the island are: at Marigot Bay or alongside at Discovery Hotel, Marigot, which is great for swimming, snorkelling and relaxing ashore; at Soufrière, the perfect place to see the amazing Pitons; and at Vieux Fort, which is a good spot to call in at if you’re picking up someone from the international airport.
Don’t leave without…
- Sipping sundowners at Spinnaker’s Bar, Rodney Bay, to look for the green flash at sunset.
- A rainforest walk or zip-wire ride through the canopy.
- A hike up Petit Piton – the views are amazing, but make an early start to ensure cooler temperatures.
- The Sunday lunch buffet with Saint Lucia specialities at Ladera Resort, with stunning views over the Pitons.
This is the finish point for the Christmas Caribbean Rally and many independent crossings. The former finishes at Jolly Harbour on the west coast. As with Saint Lucia, there’s quite a lot to explore in Antigua – on the south coast there’s English and Falmouth Harbours, and on the south-east corner a beautiful anchorage behind coral reefs close to Green Island.
Don’t leave without…
- Exploring the shops and market stalls in St Johns.
- Lunch and a swim at the sublimely peaceful Harmony Hall.
- Touring English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard, a historic treat.
- The Sunday party at Shirley Heights.
Grenada is the conclusion of one of the Atlantic Odyssey rallies and one of the most beautiful and friendliest islands in the Caribbean. The best places to explore round the island are concentrated on the south coast – don’t miss pottering to True Blue Bay, Prickly Bay, Mount Hartman Bay and Hog Island.
Don’t leave without…
- Wandering around St George’s, the beautiful and interesting capital.
- Visiting the nutmeg factory and hiking up to some waterfalls.
- Visiting the River Antoine Rum Factory to see rum being produced as it was over a century ago.
- Diving down to see the underwater sculptures.
- Taking a tour of the island and visiting Belmont Estate to discover how chocolate is made.
- Having a swim and a relaxed Sunday lunch at the Aquarium Restaurant at Pink Gin Beach.
The southern islands
From Saint Lucia, most boats head south to St Vincent and onwards to the Grenadines. This is not an area to rush; you could spend weeks in this 30-mile group of islands, reefs and cays.
Admiralty Bay, Bequia, is a popular stop, with lots of options for eating, provisioning and yacht services. From here you can daysail down the Grenadines, checking into Union Island to clear out in preparation for going to Grenada.
The next fascinating stop south is Carriacou, very much a local island and one of the few places where you can see traditional wooden sloops being built. Most cruisers hang out in Tyrrel Bay on the south coast, where there is free wi-fi in the anchorage, a selection of restaurants, yacht services and a good, small boatyard that can tackle most jobs.
South to Grenada, it’s a romping sail across to Kick ’Em Jenny and Ronde Island before you scoot under the lee of this island to visit St George’s and the relaxed south coast anchorages. Marina facilities are at Port Louis in St George’s, and are good along the south coast, notably Spice Island Marine, with a few places like Le Phare Bleu Marina in Calvigny Bay offering alongside berths.
From here, a smaller number of cruisers opt to continue westward to Trinidad, Venezuela or the Dutch Antilles – Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, aka the ABCs – for summer.
Only 20 miles north of Saint Lucia, the French island of Martinique is, famously, the place to stock up on fine French food and cheese. It’s not cheap but there are good yacht services and facilities and the anchorage at Ste Anne is perfect for swimming and trying Creole cuisine.
Working up along some fine overnight anchorages on Martinique you can daysail to the town of Roseau on Dominica. Must-dos include to visit Dominica’s rainforest, see the boiling lake, explore the Carib Reserve and Fort Shirley, and take a boat up the Indian River. From Dominica you can sail north again and hit the relative metropolis of Guadeloupe’s capital city, Pointe-à-Pitre, 20 miles from Les Saintes, where you can find almost anything, including a full-service marina.
After that you can either cruise to Antigua by transiting the Rivière Salée canal or by sailing up Guadeloupe’s west coast. English Harbour is synonymous with Antigua because of its Georgian-era naval dockyard, and it’s another must-see. However, Falmouth Harbour, on the other side, has more room for yachts to anchor plus truly world-class yacht services.
From Antigua, you can hop over to tiny St Kitts and Nevis or over to Barbuda for some beachcombing and to see the amazing frigate bird colonies.
After that, plan your passage back to Europe or the US by hopping north to the Virgin Islands, themselves a wonderful protected cruising area for a week or two. With good timing, this is the perfect plan to join up with, say, ARC Europe, which departs in May.
The rush of regattas in the sun while it’s freezing at home keeps events rocking throughout the season. Top dates are:
- RORC Caribbean 600, February, starting in Antigua and racing over a 600-mile offshore course.
- St Maarten Heineken Regatta, March.
- Antigua Sailing Week, April
More informal and probably more fun for most cruisers are:
- Grenada Sailing Week, late January-early Feburary
- Bequia Easter Regatta, April, which has a round Bequia single-handers’ race plus an event for local craft
- Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, April, if only for the glorious spectacle of the most interesting and finest classics;
- St Barths Bucket, March. The big superyacht contest – only for you if your yacht is over 100ft!
- West Indies Regatta, St Barths, late-April. This is the regatta for Caribbean-built sloops and schooners.
Best music events
The music and spirit of some festivals are worth the sail in their own right:
- Mustique Blues Festival, last week of January. For the rich, the famous and the wannabes. Mick Jagger has been known to attend and even play;
- BVI Music Festival, Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, throughout May. Anchor right off and cruise round to Trellis Bay for their zany Fireball Full Moon Parties;
- Barbados Reggae Festival, April. Beach parties, shows and dance – skank!
- Carriacou Maroon Festival, April. Music, dance and drums showcasing African heritage and folk customs;
- Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, each year in the week before Lent. As the Trinis say: “Fête till you sweat!”
Food and drink highlights
- Stop in at Anguilla for Roy’s Bayside Grill and the Barrel Stay.
- Eat Ital food out of a calabash, sitting on a log in the wilds of Dominica with Rasta brothers Moses and Rafael, and combine that with a hiking tour to Victoria Falls.
- Have lunch at Les Canon de la Baie, Guadeloupe, and visit Deshaies Botanical Garden.
- Local restaurants do not get smaller nor cuter than Little Dipper, Grenada, with its four tables on the balcony and superb views of Hog Island.
- In Nevis, visit the friendly beach bar Gallipot at Tamarind Bay. Owners Julian and Tracy Rigby run a fishing operation and catch their own fish.
- Eat simple but good French food in Martinique at Le Ponton in Anse Mitan.
- In Saint Lucia, the Dasheene Restaurant at Ladera Resort has gorgeous views down between the Pitons.
- Have a beach barbecue with Shark Attack in Chatham Bay, Union Island. Shark Attack, a local man, will come by and invite you ashore. Trust us: accept.
Where to hole up in hurricane season
The question of where to leave a boat at the end of the Caribbean season for your return later in the year is a serious issue. Insurance companies take a firm view of where – and often how – yachts should be stored. Some of the more popular places from north to south are:
- in the British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour uses keel holes and Nanny Cay in Tortola uses cradles
- on St Martin, Bobby’s Boatyard in Simpson Bay nails up wooden stands and Jolly Harbour Marina has a concrete surface, tie-downs, and can weld stands
- in Antigua, Bailey’s Boatyard in Falmouth Harbour has concrete keel holes and steel cradles, and IGY in Rodney Bay Marina in St Lucia has tie-downs.
The hurricane risk diminishes further south. Grenada has averaged one hurricane every 50 years, so was unprepared for Ivan in 2004. Now, Spice Island Marine Services and Grenada Marine are among the best-prepared in the Caribbean, with tie-downs and steel cradles.
Trinidad is deemed below the hurricane belt. Consequently, this is a choice place to leave a boat – some insurance companies insist yachts spend the hurricane season here. Generally, no special precautions are taken and there have been no problems. Two of the biggest yards are Peake Yacht Services and Power Boats, and there is a wide range of yacht services here.
This is an extract from a feature in the November 2013 issue of Yachting World