Friendship Bay is my favourite. The water on this southern side is more theatrical, and the view is of distant Mustique. Fewer boats moor here because of the swell and the sound is of clapping masts and of occasional sailors chucking themselves into the brine and coming up snorting. It rains. Real rain. Hibiscus buds and little lizards spin down guttering until everybody walks for cover and waits… until the rain dies as quickly and astoundingly as it rose.
I collapse back on my towel, eating a handful of fried plantain from Bequia Beach Hotel’s epic breakfast bar. The soft, hot sand is eternally hospitable, the optimism in the rain-sun routine a powerful characteristic of the island. That, and the intensity of its history. I take a drive in the afternoon up into the hills with thirty-something Garvin Ollivierre whose family have been boat builders and whalers since the 1800s – humpbacks are still occasionally caught here. We stop at the cricket pitch, where he plays with the local team, to find it covered in lambs and yellow-green butterflies blowing about like unfolding wads of tissue paper. He talks to me about the names of his teammates, one Cosmos Hackshaw (a moniker straight from Moby-Dick) and a Max Kydd. African, Scottish, Carib, French. Everybody is somebody’s third cousin of a cousin going back centuries. There’s a Napoleon Ollivierre and a Leonora Kydd in the old graveyard near the airport.
“Bequia had the trees and the skill to make boats”, says Captain Lewis. “We were always seafaring people, whalers and fishermen, living on the water’s edge. We don’t build big trading schooners now, but there is an active whaling station with much boating still. The Bequia Easter regatta with the double enders, a whaling boat styled after the Iron Duke, is a big event in the Grenadines. We are all descendants of the Arawaks, Caribs and seafaring people. The sea is in our blood”.
What’s the word for a person who hasn’t visited their place of birth in over thirty years? What am I? I have forgotten.
Rounding West Cay, we head up the southern coast of Bequia until we reach Semple Cay, at the mouth of Friendship Bay, where The Rose was built some 40 years ago. There was much excitement in town the day before – everyone was talking about the whale that had been caught. For well over a century Bequia has been a whaling community and still tries to carry on that tradition. The IWC allows St. Vincent & the Grenadines to take up to four whales a year, but in many years the Bequia whalers catch none. They whale the old way, in 26-foot engineless, open, hand-built sailboats, throwing their harpoons by hand, a very hazardous practice. We could see men working on the remains of the whale as we sailed past. We’re not happy to see it, but can nonetheless respect their long-held traditions.
What’s the word for a person who hasn’t visited their place of birth in over thirty years? What am I? I have forgotten. After reading this I am feeling sadly nostalgic for a life left behind. Tabanca