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Yo Ho Ho And A Bottle Of Rum On Board – Sailing In The Caribbean

CASTIES, ST. LUCIA (dpa) – Beautiful beaches, impressive sunsets and plenty of sea breezes – the Caribbean is one of the best places in the world for sailing.

Crews can explore a labyrinth of islands which come in all shapes and sizes. There are so many destinations to choose from that selecting a route can be the real problem.

The Virgin Islands, Antigua, Guadeloupe or St. Lucia make excellent starting points for a trip around the Caribbean. The larger charter companies like Moorings or Sunsail have their yards here along with a host of smaller hirers too.

The islands are easy to reach from Europe, with plenty of scheduled flights available and facilities make it easy for sailors to stock up on the rations, water and spirits they’ll need on the ocean wave.

Next to the Virgin Islands, the Windward Islands are a popular sailing area. The route between St. Lucia and Grenada is a favourite. In order to have enough time to enjoy the surroundings as well as the activities on board holidaymakers should plan for a three-week stay or else shorten the distance to be covered.

With the help of the North Eastern Passat winds it’s possible to sail from Gros Islet Bay in St. Lucia past the Pitons – the volcanic cones that are one of the main attractions on the island – in the direction of St. Vincent.

Stopping over in St. Vincent is not very rewarding and it’s better to press on to Bequia. It’s worth noting that this section from St. Vincent to Bequia calls for a good pair of sea legs. Waves and wind are frequently up to between force five and six.

Admiralty Bay in Bequia is ideal for a night in port -as borne out by the numerous yachts always moored here. The island is a meeting place for the like-minded. Skippers and crew members swap experiences in the beachfront bars and Bequia offers a final opportunity to “stock up” before the going gets lonely.

After Bequia come the Tobago Keys, a small group of islands at the centre of the huge Horsehoes Reefs. Entry is through a narrow channel only and since the islands are not inhabited crews have the place to themselves. With a dingy you can head directly for a reef and take a dive to discover the colourful world beneath the waves.

The underwater delights of the Caribbean are what attract many visitors in the first place. Thousands of tiny fish swarm around the reefs along with the occasional barracuda or shark. On a yachting trip it’s essential to have a snorkel and flippers on board.

From the Tobago Keys the route continues via Union Island, Carriacou and Petit Martinique to Grenada. On the way back a stop on Mustique is a must. The tiny territory is a home-from-home for rock stars like Mick Jagger and David Bowie, fashion guru Tommy Hilfinger and Britain’s Prince Margaret. Many of these islands have been left untouched by mass tourism and give an unalloyed impression of what the Caribbean is really like.

The often strong winds and deep water make the Caribbean a challenging place to sail. First time visitors who want to sample the best but do not what to spend most of their time hunched over charts or operating the echo sounder should consider hiring a local skipper to show them around. The numerous reefs and sandbanks make navigation hazardous. Many mooring can also only be reached by negotiating narrow channels.

Almost wherever a skipper drops anchor there are locals around to offer their help and skills. For a quiet life it’s best to do without such assistance. Most of the islanders expect generous tips in exchange for lending a hand and the more you pay out, the more islanders are likely to turn up and want to earn a Caribbean dollar or two.

In less populated areas vessels ply the waves as mobile tuck shops and will even take refuse for a small fee. They tend to sail under names like “James Bond” or “The Fabulous” and for a few dollars they’ll relieve you of those old beer cans and supply fresh bread or ice for the cooler. For fresh lobster or local fish these are also usually the people to talk to.

Before the voyage gets under way it’s a good idea to ensure that enough food, water and fuel is on board. Only a few islands offer the kind of port facilities found in Mediterranean climes. The cheapest and easiest provisions to come by are those grown locally like mangoes, papaya or bananas. Take along some recipes and you can try out some unusual dishes. It’s worth remembering that breadfruit is the Caribbean equivalent of the potato and plentiful with it.

No trip around the Caribbean would be complete without rum. It’s the ideal mixer for a “Sundowner” after a hard day’s sailing and after a few of these the sunset will seem even more vivid. Rum is much cheaper than in Europe and there is a bewildering array of varieties on sale. Be warned that some rums are very potent. Prices vary widely in the Caribbean, with the lonely spots tending to be more expensive.

It’s worth bearing mind that on some islands, like Antigua, the largest of the Leewards, a large percentage of foodstuffs is imported from the United States, even staples like milk.

The high season for sailors is from December to April and at this time of year ocean temperatures are a very pleasant 24 to 27 degrees centigrade. The hurricane season is over and for most of the time you will be sailing under bright blue skies. For details of charter firms the Internet is a great help and there are dozens of companies offering a wide variety of vessels for hire.

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