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Carib connection

2: What has each island to offer?

BVIs

This cruising nirvana is the most popular single charter destination in the Caribbean, with many charterers returning year after year for the islands’ laid back sophistication and first-class sailing. Winds are reliable year-round, navigation is easy and there are numerous safe overnight stops. Stunning volcanic islands, with peaks cloaked in tropical rainforest, fringed both sides of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, giving this 30- mile long stretch of water good protection from Atlantic swells. There are numerous palm-fringed sandy beaches, while spectacular reefs and shipwrecks teeming with life offer some of the best diving and snorkelling in the Caribbean.

In contrast, Anegada 20 miles to the north, is a coral island no more than 30ft above sea level, surrounded by miles of pristine white sand beach and extensive reefs. Once ashore, choose between rustic beach bars or some of the best restaurants in the Caribbean. Just before Easter each year, the BVI Spring Regatta attracts top racers and bareboats alike in one of the Caribbean’s most popular sailing events.

St Martin/St Maarten

St Martin/ St Maarten — dubbed the ‘Friendly Island’ — is 37 square miles of half-Dutch, half- French tropical paradise renowned for international gourmet cuisine, beaches and lively nightlife. It’s a popular tourist destination with a large duty-free shopping area and more on-shore development than many islands, including casinos, numerous restaurants and boutiques. Anguilla, a short distance north, is a lightly populated island surrounded by unspoiled coral reefs offering excellent snorkelling and diving, plus miles of soft white sand beaches.

To the south is St Eustatius (Statia), one of the least developed islands in this part of the Caribbean, with a relaxed, chilled out pace of life. The island’s national parks provide a protected habitat for endangered species including the rare Antillean iguana. Inland there’s spectacular hiking, including a walk-in volcano, which rises in a perfect cone to 700m.

Antigua

There are direct flights from the UK to this longstanding favourite destination with well-developed facilities. With reputedly one beach for every day of the year and numerous safe anchorages, Antigua offers varied itineraries along its rugged coast. Those wanting to explore further afield can head to the comparatively undeveloped island of Barbuda, 20 miles or so to the north, with its low-lying coasts and stunning beaches. The first week of May sees Antigua Race Week, when thousands of competitors from Olympic medallists to bareboat charterers flock to the island to enjoy a carnival atmosphere and serious on-water competition.

Guadeloupe

As with other French West Indian islands, Guadeloupe offers a distinctly Gallic welcome, as well as first-class restaurants and excellent provisioning. It’s in effect two adjacent islands, separated by a narrow mangrove channel. Most of the population is found in the western Basse-Terre, which is dominated by mountain ranges, including the Lesser Antilles’ highest peak, La Soufrière.

The eastern wing is slightly smaller than Basse-Terre, and by comparison very flat. A little to the south is Dominica, one of the most unspoilt islands in the Lesser Antillies, with extensive national and marine parks. Alternatively, you can head north from Guadeloupe for more challenging sailing around Nevis and St Kitts.

Martinique

Martinique is one of the showcases of the French Caribbean, with its main towns displaying an abundance of French culture, style and sophistication. Other parts of this popular destination offer unspoiled fishing villages, flawless beaches — white sand on the south coast, black in the north — as well as secluded coves and reefs for swimming and snorkeling. The five-day Tour des Yoles Rondes in August is a sailing regatta featuring traditional Caribbean sailing boats as used by the local fishermen.

A short sail south from Martinique, St Lucia’s lush natural beauty is home to both British and French cultural traditions – the two countries spent almost two centuries fighting over possession of the island. The twin volcanic peaks provide an opportunity to visit a ‘drive-in’ volcano and take a dip in the therapeutic sulphur springs. The large protected lagoon of Rodney Bay is renowned as the finishing point of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers – more than 200 arrive in the run up to Christmas, having sailed some 2,700 miles from the Canaries.

St Vincent and Grenadines

One of the most popular cruising areas in the Caribbean is the Grenadines, a chain of 32 islands between Grenada and St Vincent. Bequia, Mustique, Union Island and Cannouan are closely spaced and ideal for island-hopping with plenty of time to enjoy the spectacular snorkeling, beaches and laid-back beach bars and restaurants.

The stunning Tobago Cays national marine park consists of four deserted islands that can only be reached by yacht. They are protected by Horseshoe Reef, which offers some of the world’s best snorkelling and diving, while the palm-fringed white sand beaches are equally spectacular.

Grenada

The Grenadines can also be explored by sailing north from Grenada. Even better, perhaps, is to take a one-way charter, noting that St Vincent to Grenada is predominately downwind sailing, especially during the winter months, while the return journey will involve more upwind work. Grenada remains relatively unspoiled with agriculture still playing an important role in the island’s economy — one third of the world’s supply of nutmeg is produced here, along with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric and mace, hence it’s nickname as the Spice Island. The island offers wonderful black and white sand beaches, and a mountainous interior of dense tropical rainforest, with a network of hiking trails.

Cuba

Over the past five or six years Cuba has become an increasingly popular charter destination — and it’s easy to see why. Most charter activity is on the south coast, with a variety of cruising grounds to suit all tastes and moods. Soak up the Latin style in bustling towns and cities, or head to off-lying islands for a quieter interlude. For a real getaway, the Jardines de la Reina marine park is an uninhabited area protected by one of the world’s longest coral reefs. And, what ever you do, don’t forget to stop in Havana for a few days on the way home.


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Picture lying at anchor off miles of palmfringed beaches, enjoying a leisurely breakfast as turtles swim past your boat

Next page:3 Regattas in the sun

Regattas are not solely about racing — the nightlife and entertainment ashore is just as important

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