Tobago Cays and Union Island

Tobago Cays
(posted from Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou)

June 12.  Bequia was fun, but it was finally time to leave.  It that past leaving meant that we would raise anchor alone or in company with one other boat.  The exit from Bequia was more like the fleet leaving England on D-Day.  Sereno 55, Nauti Nauti, and Don’t Look Back all headed out together.  They were joined by Salacious, who had anchored the day before in a cove south of the island.  We finally got our act together and left about an hour later.  Our destination was the Tobago Cays.  Reach left even later, but they were going to explore the cove Salacious left.

We had a very pleasant sail and took the opportunity to do a little fishing.  I took two of the squid that landed on deck and rigged them on hooks.  This was our first experiment using real bait.  We trolled for quite some time before we heard the telltale buzz of one of the lines spooling from a fish strike.  I got to the rod quickly, tightened the drag, and started to crank in the line.  I could feel a fish on the other end, then he was gone.  I pulled in the line and found that the fish had stolen the squid without getting hooked.  We finished the trip with no other strikes.  (Reach made the trip the next day with similar results – the fish went for the real squid rather than the lures).

Entering the Tobago Cays is interesting.  From Bequia you go west of Canouan and aim at Mayreau.  Turn left before you reach the island and go between it and Baleine Rocks heading for Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau, which look like one island from that angle.  Other than these islands all you see around you is open water.  Much of this water covers reefs, so you need to take care in your navigation.  We rounded the north side of Petit Rameau and could now see the anchorage.  There were quite a few boats anchored or moored between Baradal and Jamesby Islands.  A few hundred yards ahead we could see water breaking on the reef that protects the anchorage.  We found a mooring near Baradal Island and settled in.

The thing that tends to define an anchorage is having land to windward to block wind – and more importantly – waves.  It takes a little bit to get used to looking to windward and not seeing land, but the reef stopped most of the wave action and made for a pleasant anchorage.

Waves breaking on the barrier reef

Tobago Cays is a national park and all fish and wildlife are protected.  There is a park entrance fee and also a fee if you use their moorings.  Anchoring is free.  We weren’t there very long before the ranger boat arrived and we paid the park admission and mooring fees for one day.  They never came back.  We talked to friends on other boats and they had a similar experience.

The anchorage - Baradal beach in foreground

Boatboys - they're everywhere

The Reef

We spent our time in Tobago Cays snorkeling on the reef and exploring the islands.  The reef that protects the anchorage has quite a few mooring balls for dinghies.  We visited different areas of the reef and found an abundance of fish including butterfly fish and a large school of Blue Tang. 

There was a fair current from the reef back to the anchorage, so when we were done on the reef we would hang onto the dinghy line and drift back.  We saw a large Eagle Ray and later a different ray being followed by a box fish – a funny pair in that the ray is so sleek and the box fish looks so…. well so boxy.  We also saw a Searobin.  The SeaRobin almost looks like an insect.  It has a couple appendages that it uses like hands to look for food on the ocean floor.  It also has a pair of fins that fold up to look like wasp wings and open up to look like an oriental fan.

Baradal Island

The south side of Baradal Island is cordoned off with floats, but a gap is left so you can dinghy in to the beach.  We went in one day, looked around a little and spotted one of the iguanas that live on the island.  We came back the next day and explored the whole island.  It is filled with iguanas.  All you have to do is look in the tree branches and there they are.  We saw what appeared to be two, and maybe three different kinds of iguanas.

Iguana tracks - footprints and dragging tail

Iguanas in trees

Ain't he cute?

There are more than iguanas on Baradal Island

We also spent some time swimming in the area inside the floats.  This area is protected because there is grass and algae on the bottom that the turtles love to eat.  We left the dinghy on the beach and slowley snorkeled around.  We found three different turtles feeding and had great fun just floating a few feet over them and watching them eat.  They would feed for a little while, surface for air, and go back down to feed.  The whole area was like their giant all-you-can-eat buffet.

Jamesby Island

We made two trips to Jamesby Island, the smallest island in the cays.  The first was just to stop and look around, but there were some interesting birds, so we had to come back the next day with binoculars and a camera.  The bird that caught our eye was a Brown Noddy.  Pretty birds – dark and sleek.  We found them on the rocky cliffs next to the beach. 

Brown Noddy

Birds can be quite elusive

We then spotted a rather beautiful tern and then began to see many more.  We later identified them as Bridled Terns.  They were fun to watch as they hovered on the wind blowing up over the cliffs.  The noddys and terns are “life birds for us – we had never seen these particular species before.

Bridled Tern

Whoopee! Hovering in the wind over the cliffs

Farther down the beach we saw an iguana in a tree.  All of a sudden a Bridled Tern swooped down and began hovering over the iguana and darting back and forth.  The tern had a nest in the tree and it appeared that the iguana was trying to get to the eggs.  The iguana climbed down a branch and was trapped at the end until if finally dropped down onto the bushes below.

Dink on the beach - Jamesby Island

Union Island

June 15.  We left Tobago Cays and made the short trip to Union Island.  It was a little more relaxing leaving the Cays as the path out was shorter and we had scoped it out from the top of Petit Bateau.  Our destination was Clifton, one of the two settlements on Union Island and the location of the Customs and Immigration offices where we would clear out of St. Vincent/Grenadines.

Clifton harbor is also protected by a reef, so as you approach you see boat seemingly anchored out in the ocean.  It’s not until you get close that you see the reef.  Just to add some fun, there is a second reef that divides the harbor into two areas. 

Approaching Clifton, Union Island

Some of our friends had sailed there the previous day and it sounded to us like holding was poor, so we planned to take a mooring.  As we expected, we no sooner had our sails down than a boat boy approached us and led us all the way through the harbor to a mooring.

We were travelling between the reef and a lot of boats, so we really didn’t look at the mooring – just the boat boy’s yellow boat.  As we got close a catamaran raised anchor and started out between a couple boats that we had to go between.  They politely held back until we passed through and moments later we were on the mooring.  It wasn’t until I had the boat stopped and went forward to make sure Jackie could handle the mooring line (some are very heavy) that I saw the mooring float was just a plastic bottle.  Jackie didn’t see it until just before the boat boy passed her the mooring line so there was no time for her to let me know the mooring looked suspect.  The line itself looked OK, so we took the mooring.  I later dove on it to make sure it was good and it looked OK.  It held fine for the night we spent there.

Clifton is another of the Caribbean towns that relies a lot on tourist trade.  Lots of little restaurants, but we were a little late so  few were open.  We finally found one on the water next to a pier.  All they had were burgers, but we were hungry so we stayed and ate.  We were entertained by a couple local boys fishing off the pier with a net.  The nets are circular and there is a bit of technique required to cast one properly.  The boy would find the center and stretch it up with one hand.  Then he would smooth the rest of the net and spread – almost wrap – part of it around his legs.  Then with a twisting motion he would cast it out over the water.  It would spread to a full circle and spin like a slow frisbee as it dropped into the water.  He waited a few moments to let it drop over the fish and then coaxed it up with the center line that drew then net up around the fish.  It was quite a show.

Next: Carriacou

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