Kitesurfari Grenadines 2010
Barbados - St. Vincent
I was charged. Sitting in the departure lounge in Barbados with Kevin, we were well on our way to a life changing kite trip to the Grenadines. I had never been on any kind of safari and was ready to take full advantage of seven days kiting in what I had heard was one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The flight was slightly delayed which put me on edge but Kevin who travels the islands often assured me that we would get there and that the boat would be waiting.
He was right. We landed in St. Vincent forty-five minutes late, cleared customs and hopped a cab to a well-used jetty just outside of Kingstown. We piled our equipment on the narrow wooden planking and looked out into the bay at the flotilla of boats gently rocking in the stiffening off shore wind. The high pitched sound of an outboard became apparent. It was this sound that we would learn to love later on in the trip. It was the sound of rescue. From behind the bow of a tall masted mono hull, bursed a small inflatable dingy doing formula one speed with a small Frenchman crouched low at the controls. Almost slamming into the jetty the Frenchman jumped onto the dock and as if allergic to terra firma he quickly introduced himself as the captain, threw the gear into the dingy and we were blazing thru the crowded bay in the direction of a beautiful 51 foot cat’ named Jade. Once on board the furious pace of our journey seemed to stop. We sat around a table filled with cold cuts, cheeses, pastries and fresh juices. It was around this table that we would have the most memorable times of the trip.
Franco, the captain was a French Olympic sailor who made his way to the Caribbean, married a beautiful girl from Trinidad and operated a sailing charter from Tobago. His warm and welcoming nature set me at ease immediately. His crew was a first mate called Smurf from Bequia. He was the junior on the boat but would prove to be the most mature. Susan was the chef and was responsible for the wonderful meals that we enjoyed three times a day. She was also the only lady on board and received much attention. Then there was an attorney from Trinidad called Danny Solomon. Danny was a big man with a clean shaven head. He was sleeping in the shade of the sails when we came aboard and seemed to make very little effort to greet us. He was recovering from over indulgence the night before and with blood shot eyes quietly introduced himself and lay back down in on the shaded mat that would be reserved for him for the duration of the trip. I knew that he looked familiar and it turns out that we knew each other fifteen years ago in London, partying and studying. Except for his hair deficiency, Danny had not changed a bit and as luck would have it nether had I. Kevin Talma, my travel companion from Barbados is a true waterman. The older brother of Brian Talma the famed windsurfer, Kevin is a master of all water sports. Everything seems to come naturally for him. A charging long boarder, windsurfer, paddle boarder and kiter, Kevin has worked life out and it is reflected in his mellow personality.
Setting sail after breakfast we spotted a peeling left break wrapping around the bay. The excitement of the adventure ahead overwhelmed us and we opted to ignore its call and sailed out into the Caribbean Sea.
2 hours sail took us past Bequia and on to Mustique where we anchored in a little bay, woke the attorney, packed our gear into the dingy and motored ashore. The Island is infested with tortoise. We hired a Mule (golf cart) and a map to get to the windward side and after a few wrong turns and loosing some gear we reached Macaroni Beach. The excitement of our first session took over and we pumped up and launched without looking at the conditions. The wind was full onshore with a heavy dumping beach break to punch thru. Trying hard to impress, Kevin, Danny and I went straight at it. In the onshore wind and the beach break were merciless. A squall moved in and all attempts to charge the solid overhead waves resulted in a smack down. Lucky for us the rain came down and put an end to our efforts. Franco, who was still on the beach noted that it was not that good. We sat on the beach waiting for the wind to return and making plans for the trip. The waves looked rideable so I grabbed a surfboard to see if I could pull in. I could not. The first wave sent me into a freefall onto the flats where I tumbled head over heels and washed up onto the beach after my board. We packed up the gear, loaded the mule and explored the island. Mustique is the playground of the rich and famous. There were large mansions tucked into the hill sides, some nice some not so nice. Near to the home of Tommy Hilfiger was a flat water lagoon with a low groin keeping the swell from the bay. It looked ideal and the wind direction was good but it was not yet strong enough to give it a try. I wondered if Tommy knew that he was sitting on a little piece of heaven.
We headed back to the boat, stopping in town for some supplies and a few cocktails at the beach bar overlooking the bay. Back on board for dinner, Susan had prepared a delicious curried chicken pasta salad which was washed down with ice cold beer of which there was an endless supply. We exchanged stories and laughed late into the night. Our attorney was the first to pack it in and on by one we made our way to our cabins. Sitting alone on the back of the boat looking at the phosperesence dancing in the water and the stars hanging from the mast I felt that I had made it. The next morning we were up at dawn. Kevin and I loosened the paddle boards, dropped them off the bow and headed out to a point break as the sun was rising. I struggled to keep up but Kevin was patient and we slowly made our way along the sweeping bay. Below us turtles hurried to get out of the way and fish darted in and out of the bright coral. When we reached the break the waves were not as good as they looked from the boat. There was a cross swell that made it difficult to line up and the water was so clear that you could see fingers of fire coral lurking just inches below the surface. Kevin caught a few waves and decided to move on when his fin clipped the reef. Around the corner was a larger bay. The water was about knee high and completely still. The bottom was sea grass and sand and I could see large Jacks spinning around below. It was an easy paddle with the slight wind in our backs and we were quickly at the end of the bay. Turning around we spotted a wave peeling on the outside. It did not look like much but as we got closer the sets started to show some potential. Kevin was straight on it, carving and styling with ease on the waist high waves. My few attempts will not be mentioned but it was fun. After about an hour the little dingy came screaming sideways around the point with Franco and Danny aboard. I do not think that they noticed the waves either as they sped into the impact zone and had to run for the safety of the lagoon. With a little caution they slowly motored out to where we were and began to take pictures. I paddled over to the dingy and jumped in. Danny, an accomplished paddle boarder himself took off to the break. We got some great shots as we kept the dingy as close to the shoulder as possible while the boys performed for the camera. Franco had a turn and we ha a few laughs at his expense. Then we headed back to Jade for a big breakfast.
We sailed for about 3 hours, dragging lines passed Canowan plotting a course for Salt Whistle Bay in Myro. Arriving at Salt Whistle with 2 large tuna, Franco maneuvered Jade between the anchored yachts to a spot just meters from the beach. On the windward side of Salt Whistle Bay there is a lagoon with a shallow fringing reef. Inside the lagoon is relatively flat with a sand bar producing some nice knee high kickers away from the jagged coral. Within minuets we had the kites up and were charging into the waves peeling across the reef. Kevin was killing it as usual. His wave riding skill were well practiced on the out side reef at Silver Sands. I kind of felt sorry for the little waves as they were blasted to pieces. The Attorney was launching skyward into some big transitions, hooting and hollering at the top of his lungs. Franco was cruising up and down the lagoon trying to keep pace with the others but it was pointless. He had set some animals loose on the quiet bay and they were tearing it apart. I had a few runs with my surfboard in the waves and quickly broke a fin out. Grabbing my twin tip I took advantage of the sand bar and let loose with a session of flat 3s occasionally crashing out and standing in the ankle deep crystal clear water to relaunch. It was magic. After a 2 hour session we left the gear on the beach and made our way back to the boat for fresh tuna steaks, pasta, salad and some of Franco's home made hot pepper sauce. After lunch it was siesta time so while the gang slept I grabbed my shoes and headed out to the reef to find my fin. Two hours later I returned to the boat with no fin and bad sunburn. I was just in time to catch the evening session. Even with the sun set low in the sky I lathered up with sun block and we sailed in the golden light. Franco stayed on the beach to take photos and Smurf headed inland in search of some coconuts. The wind had dropped off a little and so had the waves so we enjoyed the sunset and cruised the shallow lagoon until dark.
That night back on Jade with savichi and drinks we made light sport of our lives and laughed.
Tobago Keys (Wow Factor)
Franco had delayed our arrival to the Keys because of the cloudy conditions of the last two days. He said that he wanted the wow factor. I have traveled the Caribbean once or twice and have seen some remarkable places. I also saw some photos of the keys on the web and was looking forward to getting there but I was in for a treat. Pulling into the keys, the small low lying islands fell away and miles of clear flat water over shallow white sand dominated the scenery. It was heaven. We took the gear to a small spit of sand and launched. The wind was around 12 knots and it was a struggle for Kevin and me to keep up wind on our elevens. Danny went charging up wind on his 14, Slingshot Glide combo which we would all have a try on later. After being rescued by the formula one dingy a few times we packed it in and went back to the boat to watch Danny come steaming past the bow, out to the horizon and back again. He was having a blast. After lunch we headed in the direction of World’s End Reef. It looked as if it had a swell but the closer we got the less inviting it looked. Turning around we headed to the Island where Captain Jack Sparrow buried his rum. The lagoon out front was narrow, shallow and full of large coral heads but I launched anyway. Trying my best, I had a few runs pulling some light wind F16 on the way downwind. As we headed back to the boat we were approached by a drunken sailor in a rowboat asking for garbage bags which we handed over. He then invited us for rum punch on his boat which was anchored downwind of us in the bay. Kevin grabbed a paddle board and took off and Danny, Smurf and I jumped in and drifted down. As we got closer we could see that the deck was littered with dancing girls and drunken sailors so we climbed aboard to join the party. The rum punch was fueling the festivities and we had a lot of catching up to do. Before we knew it the bikini clad girls were slipping on and off the paddleboards with squeals of delight. We had only been at sea for a short time but they were a sight for sore eyes. Later that afternoon we said our good byes and motored back to the keys. With a few rum punches under my belt I rigged up on deck and dropped the 14 off the back of the boat. After a few snags the kite was in the air and I was playning across a beautiful playground. Franco went up to the bow to take some video as I, with a little Dutch courage went into some big forward kite loops just inches from the mast. Kevin and Danny grabbed the paddle boards and took off to explore the keys while I went as far as my legs could bear in one direction and then the other. Ahead in the distance I spotted a small dingy full of people and as I drew closer I could make out a few of the revelers that we had met earlier with the captain at the bow paddling for one of the islands. I pulled up next to them to see if they were ok and as it turns out, they were out of gas and cigarettes and were slowly making their way to the pass to buy more. The captain grabbed my harness and I pulled them as close as I could to the safety of the channel and wished them luck. It was now twilight and the wind had picked up a bit. Racing across the flats I could see the lights of Canouan in the distance and felt that I could go on forever.
Back at the boat Kevin and Danny arrived in the darkness. Their adventure had brought the across the six drunken seafarers stuck on an island with no gas or cigarettes. The rescue boat was launched and they were towed back to their boat. We were given 2 bottles of Pastis in exchange for our services and headed back to Jade. On board that night after a few beers we dug into the Pastis. It is French liquor whose sickly sweet flavor masks the poison that makes up about 53% of it. The next day on deck I woke with my head over the side and instantly chummed the water. My mouth felt like a cat took a crap in it and that demon liquor was standing on my stomach while it tried to rip a hole in the top of my head. I could not handle the rocking of the boat so Danny motored me over to the nearest island where I collapsed on the beach. I had never felt so ill. I spent the next two hours vomiting and feeling abandoned. Every now and again a giant brown iguana would come close and I would startle him with some dry heaving. I awoke to the high pitched scream of the dingy and made my way back to the boat for a late breakfast. After a few laughs, Danny and Kevin took the Boards on a 5 mile paddle across the channel to Mayreau. We watched them paddle out of the keys, then hauled anchor and followed. We were headed to a lagoon around the corner from Salt Whistle Bay. We could see the paddlers downwind from the island and driving through some heavy chop and current. Keeping an eye on them as we sailed, we entered a large lagoon through a narrow reef pass and anchored about 200 meters from the shore. After an hour we could see Danny and Kevin riding waves on the point. As soon as they arrived back at the boat the wind picked up and we started packing the dingy. Before we could get all of the gear in the wind began to howl. On the beach we rigged up and were blasting. Kevin was strapped into his fat chick surfboard, I was on a twin tip and Danny who had forgotten his twin on board was riding strapless on a 6”0’. Franco was taking photos in the waist high water. On the flat water Danny was racing and carving out massive turns with rooster tails flying. His preference for strapless riding was showing as he popped some quick reverse transitions before heading back to the point break where they had been paddling. From a distance we could see him going top to bottom killing it on the chest high waves. Kevin was boosting some massive jumps over Franco’s head just feet from the beach. With each run he was becoming more and more aggressive, launching higher and higher into down looped front roles. His timing was perfect as he landed inches away from the camera smoothly plaining into a hard carve away from the beach. At times I felt that his beloved board would break under the pressure but it was not to be. After about 45 minuets of being a photo slut he steamed down wind to join Danny in the waves. I was sailing a little closer to the boat to avoid the melee that was erupting around Franco and his camera. It paid off as Susan was sitting in the bow with a cell phone taking shots and screaming with delight every time that I was within ear shot. I pulled out all the stops, digging out everything in my arsenal. Even a few dead men. After an hour we were joined by Franco who made up for lost time by going for it. Putting down a solid edge and sending the kite backwards in the kicking wind, Franco was launching almost to the top of Jades sails and landing cleanly in the flat water. When he was tired of boosting he swapped boards with Danny and went off on a first time strapless session. He was soon in need of a rescue as he had slowly made his way down to the end of the massive lagoon. Back on board with big smiles, Franco announced that he was not ready to invest in anything other than a twin tip. Later that night around the dinner table, Susan admitted that I was the best and that she was in love. There was some small protest but we will not speak of that now.
Kevin and Danny were contemplating a paddle to union from the lagoon but were dissuaded by the captain on the grounds that he had had a long day and that he would not provide rescue. It was a wise call because even though Union was clearly visible among the cluster of islands down wind, the current and the wind would have made it extremely challenging. We pulled into the little crowded bay next to Union airport. It was the first glimpse of civilization since we had left St. Vincent. Kevin and Danny paddled off to a break that was wrapping around the end of the runway and I went for a snorkel on the edge of the fringing reef. The water was alive with coral and fish and after an hour I returned to the boat to excitedly tell Franco what I had seen. You could spend a week under water in the Grenadines. The boys were still out on the point and we watched them pull in wave after wave through the telescopic lens of the camera. As we watched a small airplane came over the hill that rose above the town and went into an almost vertical dive. I felt for the poor souls aboard as the pilot pulled the nose up just in time and slammed on the breaks to avoid going into the sea.
After lunch the night came quickly. We awoke as the sun was going down and the lights of Union were slowly being switched on. Tonight was the night that we took the captain and his crew ashore for dinner and drinks. Franco and Smurf new the Island well and we headed directly to a rum shop in the town square where we enjoyed warm cocktails heavily laced with rum. After a few drinks we made our way to a quaint French restaurant on the sea and ate a succulent fresh grilled fish. This was probably the liveliest night of the trip as we made our drunken way through the streets laughing and joking loudly about our adventure. We stopped for a pizza to tale back to Jade and Smurf suggested a club where he could find female companionship. Walking along the well lit roads we came to a small two story building with an open balcony on the outskirts of town. It was in complete darkness and the music was popping eardrums loud. We climbed the stairs and went in, looking for some kind of space to hang out. It was packed and a thick cannabis smoke filled the room. We soon lost each other and I made my way to the exit apologizing for bumping people with my Pizza box. I found a space by the door where I no longer had to excuse my self and looked around for my companions. After a few minuets I recognized that the person standing next to me was Danny. We decided to make our way back to Jade to enjoy a few beers to the soothing sounds of Franco’s I pod.
The next morning we headed back to town for supplies and on our return we hauled anchor and took off in the direction of Horny Bay. Kevin and Danny decided to paddle the 2 miles down wind and almost beat us to the anchor. Franco and Danny had been describing the spot earlier in the trip and were anxious to get there. The set up is man made. Rumor has it that the Italian mafia had a contract with the government of Union to build a massive marina. To do this they connected a small offshore island to the mainland by a low lying spit of sand. Once that was done they constructed one jetty, pocketed the government’s money and abandoned the project. As terrible as it was they did create one of the best flat-water kite spots in the Caribbean. The wind blows undisturbed down the coast of Union, over the small sand bar and onto the butter flat water of the marina. I had learnt to kite the waves in Barbados and was keen to try out some flat. So far we had ridden in bumpy flat water but this was like the dance floor of a roller disco. The clarity of the water made it feel like you were riding on glass. We tore up and down the marina going for miles in each direction. Launching big and landing clean. In these conditions everything was simple. There was total control of power and timing. We could have spent the rest of the trip there tweaking and experimenting with different moves. Maybe I will go back for a week. That was not all the marina had to offer. Way down wind was a sand bar with kickers for some clean flat 3 launching and around the point we found the best wave of the trip. A perfect and consistent, chest high left break. Kevin and Danny got into it late in the afternoon while Franco and I took pictures from the dingy. Smurf was pulling in on a kayak and styling for the camera. He pulled off some really good rides, even hitting some lips on a few. Danny, feeling a little encouraged by the hooting from the dingy decided to challenge Kevin to a competition. This was a mistake because as soon as Kevin heard the word competition he turned it all the way up. Carving, fanning, arching and styling, Kevin blew Danny out of the water. Danny paddled over to the dingy complaining of an ass cramp that seemed to be affecting his bottom turn. He is my hero. As the sun set we headed back to Jade and in the failing light I rigged up and had a kite in the darkness. Peeling across the glass in the pitch black I could make out the silhouette of the mountain dotted with small points of light. On what should have been my last run I fell into a wind shadow and the kite slowly went down. It was dark and the water was deep. I had made my way to the channel at the edge of the marina. The kite was not in a position to relaunch and I sat quietly in the water with the theme song from Jaws playing in my head. Hearing the dingy start up was the most beautiful sound that I had ever heard.
Petit St Vincent
The next morning the wind was kicking up. I was keen to stay but the vote was to head on, passing Palm Island and on to St Vincent. We anchored at the tip of the island and motored ashore. The wind was now about 20knts. Franco, once again was taking pictures as we played not far from shore. As usual, the water was crystal clear with small waves on the inside and a larger swell on the outside reef. After a few pictures Danny and Kevin went to the outside to explore the reef. They had found a few solid breaks where the coral was flattened from wave action. After an hour of spanking the waves the decision was made to head down wind to a little sand bar called Morpion. There is so much space in the grenadines. The reefs go on for miles and hold many little jewels. Morpion is one. It was way out in the channel and the water was as clear as I had ever seen. It was a perfect backdrop for the sport. Jumping and looping, we energized the tiny island. Standing on Morpion with the kites in the air we decided to make a run across the channel to Cariacou. It did not look to difficult and the wind was favorable so we set out on the 8 mile haul to the island. Things were going great but as the water became darker and the currents took effect we started to second guess our decision. Half way across we fell into the shadow of Petite St. Vincent and the wind dropped to about 7 knots. Soon it was every man for himself as we struggled to keep from falling into the dark, churning sea. Danny was the first to go down in the darkest deepest part. I did feel sorry for him but I was looking after No.1 Kevin who was a little ahead of me was next. As I passed I wished him luck and hoped the big sharks were asleep. Looping the kite furiously, I was determined not to be eaten this trip and soon made my way out of the shadow and on to Carriacou.
Kevin and Danny were being rescued by the dingy as I was pulling into a large bay at the tip of the island. The island was littered with shipwrecks and we were to find out why later that evening (Jack Iron).Back on board Franco told stories of the large fish he had seen on these island crossings. I wished he had told us before we went. We cleared customs and settled in the bay among the yachts for the night. We motored ashore as the sun was setting to take advantage of any nightlife that the island had to offer. There was not much going on and were not expecting more than a quiet beer when we heard some shouting behind us. It was coming from Klaus, a wild eyed South African who appeared to be a victim of a shipwreck. He was an old friend of Franco’s and as he introduced us to his wife, he sat us down and ordered a small bottle of Jack Iron. This stuff is lethal. It can kill you so follow these directions given by Klaus: pour a little less than one ounce, Pour yourself a glass of water, take a deep breath, Shoot it quick and follow with a good few ounces of water, exhale. Repeat this no more than 8 times (3 times if you are a beginner). It was nice to have met the man.
The next morning we motored around the island to the windward side, looking for some promising set ups. Cautiously Franco approached a small island that seemed ideal. On the first run off of the island we were uncomfortable. The water went from 10 feet to 500 feet in just a few meters. After the disastrous channel crossing we were not too keen to hang around.
We packed up and made the decision to move on to our last stop, Grenada. Franco gave me the wheel and I pointed Jades bow toward the northern tip Of Grenada. Sensing that our fellowship was coming to an end, we sat quietly as if sulking on the 3 hour trip. A large tuna and a rainbow cavallie snapped us out of our misery. At the sound of the spinning reel, Danny was into position. I had never seen him move quickly unless it was to hold on to a rod. I think that he caught 90% of the fish. The first fish fought and fought and Danny was up to the challenge. After about 20 minuets of grunting and sweating the small tuna was pulled on board. He did put much effort into the one little fish and was thankful that it was no bigger. On arrival, Franco took command and sailed us to rock off the northern tip called Sandy Island.
The island is quite large and fringed with palm trees. On the leeward side there is a beautiful lagoon protected by a reef that wraps almost all the way around. Because of this the waves could peel both left and right. Kevin and Danny were paddling again into some small waves on the inside of the lagoon and I rigged up and joined them. The wave riding was fun but it was more fun to launch over the two paddlers as I went in and out. After a great evening session we came back to Jade to find cocktails a la Franco waiting for us. Sitting on deck discussing the trip we chose our favorite spots. Sandy Island was great and very beautiful but Horney Bay was the winner hands down. Every thing we had seen and done was magical and it was making it very difficult to leave but the time had come. The next morning, as the sun rose we hauled anchor and headed to St. Georges to get our flights back home.
At the dock in Grenada we said our good byes and Kevin and I left Franco, Danny, Smurf and Susan standing teary eyed on deck. Turning our backs to Jade was one of the most difficult things I have ever done but one thing is for certain. Next year I will be standing on a well used jetty outside of Kingstown listening for the high pitched scream of the dingy's outboard engine and ready for a new adventure.