Yes, This Is Paradise
If you are looking for the
perfect anchorage, complete with crystal clear waters that
radiate a bright turquoise,
deserted beaches, and miles of perfect snorkeling, then look no
further. Not to be confused with
the island of Tobago, part of Trinidad,
the world-renowned Tobago Cays consist of a group of
small uninhabited islands surrounded by a Horseshoe Reef about 2 miles
in diameter. The bright sunshine reflects a kaleidoscope
of gold, brown,
dark blue, emerald, and turquoise that is nothing short of
spectacular. There is no question that this
is one of the finest anchorages in the world.
[Click on photo for
full size image]
Photo by Paul Gravel, SVG Air
There are two approaches to
Tobago Cays, one from the north tip of Mayreau to the west,
and from the south tip of Mayreau to the southwest.
I do not recommend entering by the southwest approach unless you are
very familiar with the location of the three reefs that form a
dangerous chicane. The
safest approach, and the one recommended by most doctors, is the
one from the west. Simply
motor about one quarter mile off the north tip of
Mayreau, then head towards what appears to be one island (itís
actually two, Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau) at approximately
143 degrees. A small cruise ship
is often anchored off Petit Rameau, so that
will help guide you. The
charts show two range markers on the island, however you have to
be practically aground before you see them. Total travel
time from Mayreau is about 45 minutes, and you will most likely
be motoring, as the wind is usually right on the nose.
As you get closer, the water will
turn from dark blue to aquamarine, then almost teal.
Have a look over the side, as you will be able to see
bottom clearly in about 25 feet of water.
Itís spectacular, but quite unnerving at first when you
incorrectly believe that you are going to run aground.
When you arrive at the cut
between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau, you will have to slip
through the gauntlet set up by the Boat
hover here during the day, out of the wind and current, waiting for
the ďcatch of the dayĒ Ė you!
They will follow you in and offer to guide you through
the anchoring process, generally
getting in the way. Ignore
them, stay focused, and concentrate on making the perfect drop.
you screw up, they will step in to help, expecting a big tip of
course. Talk about
You will most likely want to anchor to the
lee of Baradel, on its southwest corner.
Expect the largest concentration of boats at anchor here.
Do not be afraid to get real close to the island, as the
bottom slopes away quite quickly, and you find yourself trying
to anchor in 25 feet of water.
The holding is reasonable, but if you drop the
hook in 10 feet of water and let out about 70 feet of chain, the chain
itself will hold the boat in 25 knots of wind or more without
any difficulty. Be
sure to dive on your anchor to be sure itís aligned properly.
You could also anchor to
windward of Baradel where there is nothing between you and Africa except the Horseshoe Reef.
This places you very close to the snorkeling
area, and away from everybody else.
It will not be crowded there; not a bad idea, as the Cays can become quite
times. The color of the water is absolutely stunning
as a result of the white sandy bottom and shallow depths. Be aware that you are less protected in this
location, and you might find it too windy and rough for your
Some of the finest snorkeling in
the world can be found on Horseshoe Reef.
That is why people come.
The water depth ranges from 3 feet to about 12 feet, so
itís a relatively easy dive. You
will see millions of every colored fish known on earth.
I have seen a barracuda, shark, turtles, parrot fish, as
well as huge brain coral, fan coral Ė itís all
Just to the lee of the coral
heads, blue mooring balls have been
placed for you to tie your dinghy and snorkel from there.
Do not anchor on the coral heads, as this causes
permanent damage to the very attraction you are visiting.
is usually a moderate east to west current, so I recommend
swimming against the current first, then drifting back to the
current also means crystal clear water and unlimited visibility.
The water is only 5
or 6 feet deep over the coral heads to the southeast of Baradel.
Itís easier snorkeling, however there is more coral
damage from humans and pounding waves as a result of the shallow water.
To the northeast of Baradel, the water is 8 to 12 feet deep,
and there is virtually no coral damage.
Here is where the most impressive coral formations are
One very impressive
sight is the coral heads viewed from the ocean side.
This is where the local SCUBA outfits bring their guests,
so if you are a certified diver, itís better to let them do the
driving. The water quickly drops off to 50 or 60 feet, and
turns a very dark blue. The
size, numbers, and types of fish seen here is very impressive.
There is a dinghy pass to the open ocean that you could
take to get there, or you could thread your way through the corals
if you are a strong swimmer.
This is difficult, as there is a very strong current,
breaking waves, and sharp corals. Do
not try this if the current is flowing from west to east, as you
will not be able to get back!
Buzzing around the
islands in your dinghy is another worthwhile experience.
You will see an impressive array of cruising boats, triple-masted
cruise ships, and possibly one or two motor-yachts belonging to
somebody you read about in the news.
The color of the
water on the windward side of Baradel is a brilliant turquoise as
a result of the clear water, white sand bottom, and shallow
depths. The effect of
the colors can only be fully appreciated from up close, so a pass
through by dinghy should be on your list of things to do.
There are four
uninhabited islands within the reef area, and itís fun to
explore each of them. Some
of the elevations offer stunning views of the surrounding
turquoise waters and the Horseshoe Reef.
There are excellent beaches on Baradel, Petit Bateau, and
Jamesby, where you could spend an entire day soaking up the sun
and surf. A picnic basket and cooler full of beverages is a great idea.
The beach on the
north side of Petit Bateau, in the cut, usually has a number of
makeshift beach boutiques, set up for day tourists who arrive on a
number of vessels. They
sell the same T-shirts, shells, and jewelry that the Boat Vendors deliver to your boat. It
can be fun to go ashore and browse.
I have also seen small boutiques and makeshift bars set up
on Jamesby, Baradel, and the southeast beach on Petit Bateau.
Petit Tabac can only be reached
using a substantial speedboat, as you will face significant ocean
swells and current getting there. Hire
a Boat Vendor to take you Ė the experience is well worth it. In
fact, why not make a day of it by having the Boat Vendor throw a
barbecued lobster lunch on the beach?
The island is the most spectacular
of the Tobago Cays, in part because it is not easily accessible to
most visitors. You
might observe the occasional yacht at anchor for the day, or even
a catamaran anchored for the night, but that is rare because of
the lack of protection. As
a result, you are almost guaranteed to have the island to
yourself. This island
was used in the filming of several scenes in the movie Pirates of The
, starring Johnny Depp.
No trip to the
Caribbean is complete without feasting on the local spiny lobster.
In the Tobago Cays, they deliver right to your door. Any Boat Vendor can make the arrangements, however only a few
are actually involved in the delivery (See the Boat
going rate is $20 EC per pound for live ones, and remember, the
season is from October 1 through April 30.
The two pound size is ideal, however they will try to sell
you substantially larger beasts.
Either boil them or
split them in half for barbecuing, remembering of course to remove
the spines first to avoid painful hand lacerations.
If youíre really not up to the task of murdering
crustaceans for personal sustenance, you could arrange for the
Boat Vendor to cook them, for an additional charge. The Yellow
Man, who generally works Mayreau, has a good reputation
for delivering expertly grilled lobsters to your door. He
can be reached on VHF 16. Tuffer,
from the boat Desparado, and Free
Willy, from the boat Arrival, are very reliable.
If you make
arrangements for lobster early in the day, expect that they will
make the actual delivery late in the afternoon.
Be sure you remember who you first dealt with, as another
Boat Vendor may try to scoop a late sale, pretending to be associated
with the first guy you dealt with.
When the first guy finds out, you will not be popular.
Fresh fish is also
very worthwhile and I personally recommend it.
Again, it can be arranged by any Boat Vendor, however I
recommend making the request early, as they have to go and
actually catch the fish (unlike lobster, which they keep alive in
underwater containers). I
personally recommend the Red Hind, which has a firm white flesh
and is a very meaty fish. Red
Snapper is also excellent. Be
aware that you might not be able to get exactly the type or size
of fish requested, and that once you have ordered it, itís
There are no
restaurants in the Tobago Cays, however there is one great Caribbean
Experience that you must try Ė the beach barbecue. Boat
Willy and Tuffer
host beach barbecues on
the deserted island of Baradel.
Dinner consists of grilled lobster or fresh fish and either
is absolutely excellent.
They may arrange a small portable bar and some reggae music,
so you have all the ingredients for a great time.
There, you will dine
under the stars on the beach of a deserted island, lit only by the
warm glow of a nearby campfire and a few torches.
expect fancy linens or white-glove service of the Waldorf-Astoria. They have
been known to forget small details such
as plates and cutlery, but these small bumps in the road add to
the charm of being far away from it all.
The Boat Vendor picks you up from your boat at dusk and delivers you to
the island where you can enjoy a few cocktails while he puts the finishing
touches on your dinner. You sit on the beach around makeshift tables, enjoy a great
dinner, and have a few more beverages as you chat and listen to music.
On a clear night, the Milky Way shines brilliantly overhead.
At the end of the evening, he delivers you
There are often guests from other boats, so this is a great opportunity to meet new
people and practice your storytelling.
All in all, a great experience that I highly recommend!
One word of
caution. The enjoyment of this experience is directly
proportional to the weather. You will not enjoy yourself if
it is extremely windy, or if it is raining. It is often
difficult to make the call early in the day because you never know
the pattern of thundershowers that might form over dinner hour.
it or not, you can shop till you drop, all without leaving the
cockpit! The Boat Vendors will make cleverly-timed strafing
runs of your boat in an effort to separate you from your holiday
money. In addition to the usual - bread, ice, lobster, and
fish - each Boat Vendor specializes in something. Free
Willy has the best selection of tropical-themed sarongs in
the entire Grenadines, including land-based boutiques. We
Quality has the largest selection of T-shirts, but the Sydney
Dallas collection is certainly unique. Larsten
has some great local handmade jewelry. Relax, have a look, you might find that one unique
thing to bring back.
from St. Vincent usually plan to include the Tobago Cays on the
southward leg of the cruise, with Union or Palm Island as the next destination.
You could leave Tobago Cays by the same westerly route you
used to get there, however you would have to go all the way around
Mayreau to reach the next destination.
alternatively leave the Tobago Cays by the southwest exit, despite
what some people may tell you.
You have to be aware of three coral formations that are
easily spotted under the proper light conditions. Simply leave
before 2 PM and post a watch on the foredeck to be sure of the
location of reefs. This
is more difficult at the end of the day because of the angle of
the sun. Total travel time to Union Island or Mayreau is 45
[Click on photo for full
Photo by Paul Gravel, SVG Air
Last Updated: July 1, 2004
Copyright © 2004