Candid Cruising: Bequia
If eating in funky cool waterside restaurants while paying premium prices is how you define paradise then Bequia is for you.
Bequia is blessed with a good reputation, and it is partially earned. Someone realized that boat people want to spend money and all they need is a place to anchor, a nice dinghy dock and a sense of security to part with their money in droves.
As you dinghy ashore, you see a nice, first-world quality floating dinghy dock with secure, lockable tie-ups. You step ashore. It's spotlessly clean. After the previous SVG islands, this is standout different. You walk ashore and notice that the entire dinghy dock is behind a fenced area with a uniformed, badged police presence eyeballing everyone who passes in and out. If you don't look like a local, you are cordially greeted.
The guarded dinghy dock on Bequia.
Once past the fence, you still get the sense that the third world has been pushed back into the trees a bit. As it turns out, it hasn't been pushed too far, but Bequia does convey just enough sense of normalcy to the visiting vacationer that they feel at home, safe and ready to spend.
To the right are a string of waterfront establishments catering to every culinary taste, with prices straight from Paris. Euros are accepted and every waiter knows the exchange rate by heart.
To the left, around two gentle corners, or just back a block and a half, and you are back in the "real" Caribbean.; shanty houses, rough roads and goats. We hiked across the island and found it rugged and beautiful on the seaward side.
Like the other islands where tourists are the primary source of income, the average Bequian sees foreigners with dollar signs in his eyes. On our walk back across the spine of the island we passed a hunched over local carrying a load of straw on his back as if from another era. Our friend took a photo, and then the guy followed her around demanding money, beer and cigarettes.
We did find a middle tier, albeit razor thin and not more than a house or two deep. The in between land, where the people who work in the restaurants live, eat and do their laundry. The prices are reasonable, the food is outstanding and the atmosphere is dirt floor, dog-under-the-picnic-table real. The proprieters there will raise an eyebrow to see that you found them, but happily serve you your hot Roti and fresh squeezed Prickly Apple juice with a smile.
Ahh, much better.
Don't take a mooring. This is true, as a rule, throughout the Caribbean with some exceptions. What passes for a mooring in most cases is nothing more than a chunk of chain or cement block. The "boat boys" renting these fake moorings are the pinnacle of their culture: take advantage of these clueless outsiders, they owe you.
Bequia, because it attracts droves of charters, is worse than most when it comes to squatter moorings. We found a spot to anchor and, after dragging back the first night about 20 yards, had a "local" mooring just a 15 feet off our port stern. No one was on it and the guide book was crystal clear: we had a legal right to anchor where we could find space regardless of squatter moorings.
Sometime in the afternoon, a boat "boy" (in his mid-30s) came roaring up in a bright red powerboat named "Burning Flames" and proceeded to gesture wildly and scream at us that we were crowding his mooring. We had to move, he was here first, etc. We just shrugged and said, "Sorry, we're staying". He beat his chest (almost) and screamed some more and finally roared off.
I had snorkeled our gear when we first arrived and also seen that his "mooring" was a length of chain, a small block of concrete, and a cheap anchor which was just lying there, unset, on a washed patch of rock.
We went to explore the beach, and stretch our legs. When we got back, Burning Flames had sold his "mooring" to an unsuspecting French charterer on a small, brand new catamaran. The poor guy was as white as a polar bear with neat trim hair and wireframe glasses; he looked like an architect. I couldn't believe how close he was and gestured over; it felt like I could touch his bow with my boat hook. Of course, he had already paid his money and didn't want to feel silly by abandoning his investment. He returned my incredulous look with a wiry smile, and shrugged.
This is the view from our cockpit upon return.
I put out bumpers on all the potential contact zones and turned in for the night. We even called the port authority to confirm that the mooring was not legitimate and the owner couldn't ask us to leave. Burning Flames wasn't going to get his way by scaring us off.
It blew hard that night, as it had every night that week. First thing I noticed in the morning was that the Frenchman was about 30 yards back, a nice and comfortable distance now. Unwittingly, he had performed us the service of moving the mooring back a bit. I was watching when he popped his head up and looked around curiously at his new locale. I smiled and waved.
Burning Flames and his ilk get away with scams like this because charters have to keep moving. Burning Flames stayed out of sight until about noon knowing that this last guy would be gone and he wouldn't have to hear about the quality of his "mooring". But, by 3pm or so, he had another boat hooked up to it. These folks looked a little more serious. Lisa asked if we didn't have a sailorly duty to give them fair warning. We did and so she motored over and discussed with the group of Kiwis aboard what had just happened the night before. They thanked her, but opted to stay put. It's amazing how much $15 ill spent will blur your judgment.
It blew like snot again that night. I was up about 3am to check on things and saw lights moving behind us. Between blasts of wind you could make out yelling, chain running, anchors clanging, windlasses grinding and other urgent sounds coming from the Kiwis who were now far, far behind us, certainly getting close to their next anchored neighbor.
I wanted to talk to them in the morning, but they were already gone at the crack of dawn. We found that justice, at last, had been served. The "mooring" wasn't just moved, it had completely disappeared.
Check your anchor. Holding is variable and the water is warm, so why not?
Ask the locals where they eat. There are a couple food stands tucked up behind the front line, along a dirt alley that serves outstanding Roti and fresh-squeezed, local fruit juices. Just ask a local where they get lunch.
The holding here was variable, be careful. Once we finally hit a patch of sand deeper than a few inches we held fine through nights of howling wind, but neighbors routinely woke up in different places. South and west nearer the beach yielded better holding. Google Map
The Real Bequia, seaward side.
What to Buy
Reasonable staples are available if you ask around. There are elegant western provisions at not too damaging a price.