Tuesday, April 30

Turtles, Boats and Friends in Bequia

Bequia (pronounced Bekway), Admiralty Bay, to be specific is one of the most protected natural harbors in the Caribbean.  At the back of the bay lies Port Elizabeth,  Bequia's capital.  It is more like a village than a capital.  The island itself is quite small at seven square miles and its 5000 residents.  It is charming with the pastel multi-colored wooden buildings that line the waterside pathway called the Belmont Walkway.  It runs past a string of bars and restaurants that lead to the town's main street lined with souvenir shops and a great little bookstore.  I can not forget to mention the random chickens strutting through town.  The wandering, wild poultry is the icing on the cake as I conjure up a picture in your minds eye.

This is a bustling town of sailors and boats.  Model boat building on Bequia is a specialty and has been for generations.  There are many boat building shops around town and they take great pride in their hand made carvings.  Erica and I visited Mauvin's shop one afternoon and witnessed one gentleman carving a bazillion pieces of wood.  On display in the front room were hundreds of model boats in all shapes and sizes.  Most of them were replicas of the whaling boats painted in bright colors adorned with every detail of a boat.  However, if you wanted them to build you a model of your own boat, they would do that too.

photo courtesy of roma.ws

Playing under the tent while we lock the dinghies to the town dock.

Friendship Bay, home of the whaling museum, is over the hill on the southern part of the island.  It was a hot, hot, sweltering day and we were tired of walking, so we never actually made it Friendship Bay.  We took a picture of the sign though.  As you can see, it's a long walk down the other side of the hill.  And you know what happens when you walk down a hill, you must eventually walk up the hill.  No way were going to convince the kids to do that.  The sun was INTENSE!   Plus, we weren't 100% positive the museum would be open, so we grabbed a taxi back to town - all of 2 miles.  Pathetic, I know.  The island has an active whaling station that is allowed to kill 4 Humpback whales per year.  We were right in the middle of the whaling season, between February and April.  Some years are better than others and when we visited, they had not caught one yet.  There are very few people that actually whale anymore, it is an incredibly hard job.

Feeding Mr. Goat

Rewarded with ice cream at the end of a hot day

Anna and Elias give us a tour of the Harvey Gamage.  

The Harvey Gamage, which is affiliated with the Ocean Classroom Foundation, is a 95 foot schooner.  They offer several curriculums including a semester at sea.  When we met them, they had sailed form Maine and were on their way to Trinidad.  We ran into the ships chef while at the dinghy dock.  He invited us on board for a tour after dinner.  Yes, yes, we didn't want to let that opportunity slip by.  Once on board, we were immediately surrounded by a half dozen high school students wanting to know all about us and what adventure we were on.  No time for that....we wanted to know about their adventure!  We also met the captain and the teachers aboard.  The students have 4 core subjects everyday and then of course, learn everything about the ship and sailing.  There are no electric winches or electric anything for that matter.  Everything is done by hand, even navigation.  We saw the galley and the eating quarters, the separate boys and girls cabins.  Essentially the students are all in one room with a bunch of bunks and one bathroom.  I believe there were 15 girls and 11 boys.  There is stiff competition to be selected for the semester at sea but perhaps our children will have an edge when they come of age.  By the time these students reach the US at the end of their semester, they will have actually sailed Harvey Gamage from Trinidad right into port all by themselves - no assistance from the captain.  Or at least that was the goal.  That's a pretty intense program but what a great experience!  The students are from all over the US and even far away places like Spain.  
I had a chance to steal a few moments of time from both a girl and a boy student, each while doing school work on their bunks when we toured their cabins.  I was most impressed with how well spoken they were and appreciated their candid comments about how hard things were.  They were fairly 'green' in their journey and had a long way to go.  I learned that the boy raced laser sailboats (a small dinghy sized boat) when he was younger and he felt that did nothing to prepare him for this (which is completely opposite of what he thought).  The young girl had cruised with her family as a small child for year and she was ecstatic to be at sea again.  They were all just as interested in us as we were in them and it was a great bonding experience.
Craig and I spent quite a long time talking with the captain about various subjects related to the students and the ship.  But we found it most interesting that he was one of the paratroopers that invaded Grenada back in the 80's.  This trip aboard the Harvey Gamage was going to be his first trip back to Grenada since then.  He was a little apprehensive about it.  We told him that we spoke to a local Grenadian who was grateful for the invasion and he had nothing to worry about.  When we were ready to leave, we found all 3 girls chatting it up with a small circle of high school students around them.  It was definitely a highlight of Bequia for us.

photo courtesy stargazershalo
The Harvey Gamage silhouette at sunset

The Friendship Rose used to be the ferry between islands.  Now it's used for day sails.

The town dock looking at Admiralty Bay anchorage

Our motto exactly!

Going up the hill in the bus looking back at the anchorage

Maggie (not our Maggie) shares with us how she makes  pottery in her "Spring Studios" shop.  She is actually an artist and does a lot of painting as well.  Her husband is responsible for most of the pottery sculptures.  She was just about the sweetest person we have met.  She just took us in, unannounced again, and spoke with such enthusiasm.  It was inspiring!

One of the beautiful creations that I would have loved to buy and bring home.  

Our open air bus

Looking at the windward side of the island

"Brother King", in the red, hat tells us all about his turtles.  We thoroughly enjoyed listening to this retired fisherman explain how he nurtures baby Hawksbill turtles before releasing them.  He was full of great fishing stories from the old days too.  We could have stayed all day, hanging on his every word.  Our small entrance donation goes directly toward the cost of feeding and housing the turtles.  He runs the show pretty much by himself and is trying to teach his grandson so that he has someone to take over when he gets too 'old' to do it anymore.  His words, not mine.

Here are some facts the kids learned:
They have a beak like a hawk
They grow up to be over 100 years old
The babies fight with each other and sometimes eat each other because they are territorial
Some of the bigger ones have been at the sanctuary for 3-5 years.  
He takes them out to the ocean (on a leash) to stay acquainted with ocean life until they are ready to be set free.
They are considered critically endangered 
They used to be killed for their beautiful tortoise shell, but now it's against the law
The female can lay as many as 120 eggs each time and she may nest up to 6 times in a season

A 6 week old baby turtle.  Isn't he just the cutest little thing you have ever seen?!

Watching the bigger turtles swim in their pool.  Some of them are injured or rare, which is another reason they might be in the sanctuary.

Beachcombing for shells

The beautiful east coast of Bequia

Walking towards the small resort to enjoy a beer and meet our bus driver

Enjoying a refreshment as we gaze at the sea

Windjammer cruise all lite up for the night

Sleepover on Anything Goes

Homemade chocolate chip scones and fruit for everyone

Putting up the sails at day break, as we leave Bequia

1 comment:

  1. Good morning! while searching the internet for photos on Harvey Gamage, I came across your blog - and a photo of my daughter, Anna! So glad that she got to meet another cruising family, we had such a great time when we were on our journey several years ago - Bequia was one of our favorite stops. Nice to hear about your good experience on board Harvey Gamage - it's a fantastic program! Enjoy every minute of your journey - it's a gift you are giving to your children! Fair Winds,
    Jen Spring