St. Vincent came drifting out of clouds heavy with rain in the evening sun. Long rays of light, golden and late, hit the mists and splashed rainbows all about – each turn of the head revealing a new technicolor shimmer hanging in the air. The golden hour brought other tidings as well, we wouldn’t make it to Bequia that night. We decided to stop in a harbor about halfway down the leeward side of St. Vincent called Cumberland Bay. A man named Maurice met us in an up-cycled dinghy as we approached the mouth of the bay, the last light of day fading. He told us that he would help us anchor when we got in and not to listen to others offering assistance. We accepted his demands without much option. The depth of Cumberland Bay and its relatively small footprint called for a more involved type of anchoring, tying your stern to a coconut palm. It’s helpful to have a smaller boat pull your stern line to shore while the anchor is being set off the bow. We were grateful for the help if not a little wary of the compulsory commitment. It adds up though, many of the residents of these smaller harbors have few other prospects for income so they offer “cruiser services” in a highly competitive environment with too many people vying for too few boats. With the help of Maurice the anchoring was a bit of a fiasco – lots of yelling, miscommunication, and questionable ability. But we paid Maurice nonetheless and accepted his offer to place an order for us at the one restaurant that occupied Cumberland, DJ20’s Grill. He told us he got a cut if he placed the order instead of us doing it ourselves and that the cost was the same for us both ways. If that was in fact the truth we’d have to be pretty cold to not partake. After a shower we went to DJ20’s to meet Maurice and the eponymous owner and head chef – DJ20 himself. The two turned out to be gracious hosts and DJ20 grilled fish with the best of them. DJ had inherited the business from his father and spent the last few years rebranding as an entertainment and catering company that also had a restaurant. Because of these business moves he had an impressive PA system that he used for DJ gigs and after dinner we had an impromptu dance party right there at the restaurant (we were the only patrons after all). That anchoring, turned dinner, turned dance party then gave way to another permutation as tambourines and drums were pulled out and I grabbed my harmonica from the boat. The resulting jam session wasn’t the most polished. I question how it would’ve sounded if there were any other ears than ours in that small harbor, but it was music to my ears and to my heart. Playing music with someone opens an accelerated path for a relationship and we took that road less traveled with joy. We left in the morning with different goodbyes than the ones that would’ve been exchanged if we had left after dinner. There was a knowing grin and an appreciation of the other present as our fists met knuckle to knuckle and we waved goodbye. We were off to Bequia to check in with customs and enjoy the first of the Grenadines that we had heard so much about. Or so we thought.
Suffice to say that Bequia didn’t go as planned. The island is known as being one of the last true gems of the Caribbean. Its a perfect blend of true island culture and amenities that tourists and cruisers want, like upscale restaurants and beautiful beaches. It manages to do both without creating a divided world — one for locals and one for tourists. Or so we hear. We arrived eager to explore and reached for our passports and boat papers. Only then did we realize that those documents – so essential, so valuable, so hard to replace – hadn’t made the trip to Bequia with us. While we searched, increasingly frantic, it began to dawn on me that I had slipped those documents under our table in St. Lucia and subsequently slipped into engaging conversation. The enjoyment of that evening was so absorbing that those papers were left behind, casualties of great company. After pinpointing their likely resting place I called Twin Peaks restaurant in La Soufriere, St. Lucia and before I’d gotten “did I leave…” out of my mouth the woman on the other end of the line said “a very important folder?” I thanked them for being good stewards and took a miniature sigh of relief that our documents had at least been located. Now the question reuniting with them and how we would check in to Bequia with out a shred of documentation. The answer to the former was immediately apparent, I had to call Brian. I dialed his WhatsApp number and told him the situation. He stopped what he was doing that moment, drove to the restaurant and retrieved the folder. He gave me an inventory of everything inside and all documents were present. He sent me photos of our documents to present to customs and stood by while we figured out the best way to proceed. Now to deal with customs. I like to think that Tripp and I are generally upstanding young gentlemen. You could chalk it up to good parenting, being raised in the south, or getting all our mild debauchery out while we were younger, but we are far more inclined to choose the right thing to do versus an easier or more beneficial option that isn’t on the level. Because of that impulse, we decided the best route was to head to customs and tell them what happened — honesty is always the best policy. When we got there we were reprimanded for such foolish beliefs. Perhaps our immigration officer was having a bad day, or maybe she is just very good at her job and respects the rule of the law. Whatever the case, she would have no excuses or exceptions and told us to leave immediately. There was no option to have the papers sent to us while we remained quarantined on our boat, pictures of documents meant nothing, she was the Great Wall of Bequia and we were not passing. After every bit of groveling, charming, and haggling we had in us was expended she allowed one option. If we could somehow get the papers from St. Lucia to Bequia by 9 am the next morning we could stay, otherwise Bon Voyage. A trip to the FedEx agent nearby confirmed our suspicions that this was all but impossible, short of hiring a private jet for $1500 US to hand deliver the papers. They also said that we should’ve never gone to customs in the first place. That option had never occurred to us and even at the point of this writing I think ultimately we did the right thing – but for a moment I wished we’d been so dastardly. We were left with two choices, head back to St. Lucia and throw our entire schedule to the breeze or have Brian punt the documents to our next destination and meet them there. We chose option B which exists in a bit of a gray area as far as right or wrong, but it was the only choice that made sense. We had to keep moving forward. The package would be sent to Carriacou and would meet us there in 3 days. Brian sent us confirmation of shipping and we sailed out of Admirality Bay and Bequia unsure of our legal status. If it isn’t obvious already, there is one clear and righteous hero in the saga of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and that is Brian. His graciousness and character ended up reuniting us with our papers, a happy ending to a story that could’ve had a multitude of unhappy endings. If anyone reading this ever finds St. Lucia in their travel plans please reach out to us and we’d be happy to provide his contact info for tours, taxi service, or just a trustworthy friend. We owe Brian quite a lot and are forever grateful to him.
We sailed away from Bequia with another dilemma of law and ethics. We couldn’t arrive in Carriacou before our papers without risking another customs infraction and we couldn’t go back to St. Lucia because our papers were already gone. We had less than a days worth of sailing to Carriacou and three days to kill. I’m bringing you, reader, into the circle of trust. I hope that you can understand the decision we made and that mum is the word when you run into a Vincentian customs officer at your next cocktail party. Tobago Cays is a small cluster of tiny islands and reefs located near the southern tip of the Grenadine archipelago. It is uninhabited save the group of men who take their boats from Union, a nearby island, to sell food, gifts, and host a nightly lobster BBQ on the beach. It is paradise incarnate. We decided that it would be a low key (pun intended) place to lay low while we waited for the cogs of the delivery service machine to churn our documents out. We set anchor and within moments we saw a Green Sea Turtle poke his head up from the waves. The Tobago Cays are know for their sea turtles and that is largely due to the stewardship that the government of St. Vincent has undertaken in the islands. The Cays are a protected marine park and sea grass is regularly planted to provide food and habitat for the endangered Green Sea Turtle. The efforts have paid off and the there is a healthy population of sea turtles, more than I’ve ever seen in one place. The lack of development and disturbance also means that corals are healthy and abundant and the islands themselves are green and vibrant. It is encouraging to see marine protection that works for the environment as well as for locals and tourists. Tobago Cays was one of the better examples of ecotourism that I saw while we were in the Caribbean and is a must see destination. After spending three sun-soaked, turtle filled, incredibly relaxing days there we set sail for Carriacou to meet some old friends, celebrate Christmas, and reunite with our documents.