It would be nothing short of a social crime not to comment on the entrancing island of Barbados. Although tripped over by the Spanish in the late fifteenth Century and visited by the Portuguese half a century later, the island’s first settlers were English in 1627. With James I (James VI of Scotland) on the throne it was soon proclaimed a British possession and remained so until it became an independent state within the Commonwealth in 1966.
In a couple of respects, history and geology make Barbados unique. Firstly, it remained detached from the territorial squabbling of expansion-hungry European powers, all promoting their often conflicting social values further west. As a consequence, say the locals, they have a long history of living cordially together, with fewer social tensions. Now, three weeks isn’t long enough to make profound sociological judgements but Chele and I agree that this is an exceptionally good-natured place.
Secondly, unlike the Windward and Leeward Islands to the west, Barbados isn’t volcanic in origin. Instead it was bulged upwards by – if I could get geological for an instant – a collision between the Caribbean and Atlantic plates. I learned this all took about 500,000 years but I don’t know who was counting. Anyway, with a landscape that’s hilly rather than mountainous, it’s all very easy on the eye.
Barbadians (or Bajans) are justly proud of their beaches – among the finest you will find anywhere. The east coast is exposed to the trades so is great for surfing. The south coast is known as the ‘fun coast’, a title which some might interpret either as a welcome or a warning. This includes Carlisle Bay – some might say the only proper anchorage which is untrue. The whole of the west coast is an almost unbroken stretch of sand where, taking care to avoid the patches of coral, it’s not difficult to find good holding. And since there’s no such thing as private beaches here – meaning the public has access rights to them all – the 10 miles or so stretch north of the capital Bridgetown can almost be thought of as a continuous anchorage.
For over a week, we shared Bridgetown Port with colossal cruise ships and freighters. Indeed, the heading photo shows Chele with a welcoming glass of wine waiting to fend one off. She looked quite dejected when it didn’t come alongside but eventually docked against the wharf to the right.
Marine surveyor and naval architect Martin Smyth also introduced himself. Since he had once lived in Poole, a naval architect with the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, we had much in common. He was extraordinarily generous with his time, acting as adviser and guide in our explorations. We’re much indebted to him.
Fascinating though it was, commercial harbours aren’t really the right environment for small boats, so with some reluctance we slipped our lines and rounded the breakwaters to anchor once more in Carlisle Bay (see previous blog). After just a couple of nights the significance if what was meant by ‘fun coast’ had outrun its novelty value. We decided to escape the cacophony and sail up the west coast to drop the hook off the relatively new marina and yacht club of Port Saint Charles some 9 miles north of Bridgetown.
Again friendliness abounded but this didn’t extend to the weather. It was now past mid-June and the summer heat was bringing the kind of meteorological instabilities that culminate in the hurricanes of late summer and the autumn. Rain squalls were blowing in from the east so we had to wait for lulls before going ashore in the dinghy. Our next stop, Bequia, lay 90 miles to the west – an overnight sail – and it was clearly time to get on with it. So it was farewell to Barbados and our hearty thanks for receiving us so generously. If you get the chance to go there…do!