St. Vincent sat silent, enveloped by the heavy tropical morning haze. A crowing rooster nested in the hills, and a flock of birds sliced through the placid sky. Island peaks tickled the belly of cumulous clouds high above the placid lagoon of Young Island, on St. Vincent's southwestern tip. I whispered a relaxed sigh, took a bite of tropical fruit and sipped fresh-brewed coffee on the afterdeck of the 80-foot Hatteras motoryacht Sweet Harmony, whose captain and crew make charter in the Grenadines a fascinating experience.
Those who have spent a fair amount of time on charter in the easily accessible waters of the Bahamas, Virgins and Leeward islands are likely to find the Grenadines worth the trip. Residents of the outlying islands refer to St. Vincent as "the mainland, but it struck me as being in the midst of a middle-age crisis. The island's history dates back hundreds of years and includes everything from Ciboney rule to the peaceful Arawak tribe to the conquering Caribs. The mountainous terrain and dense jungle allowed the Caribs to resist European rule longer than people on most other Caribbean islands, but the French took possession in the mid-1700s, followed by the British, then the French again, and then the Brits. Today, St. Vincent is a fully independent state within the British Commonwealth.
The many paths this island has known help today's leaders focus on the kind of tourism they want to attract. Yacht charter is high on the list; at the other end are the chain-style resorts and shops that line the streets in St. Thomas and Nassau.
In this simple but elegant environment, Sweet Harmony's crew is right at home. Capt. Jack McKay leaves guests with the impression that he operates the yacht like a bed-and-breakfast: not out of professional obligation, but because he sincerely enjoys sharing the slice of paradise he knows.
The same is true of Cathy Davies, a trained Cordon Bleu chef who got her feet wet working in the Italian Alps and eventually found her way to the Caribbean. She has a talent for plating meals with sauces that enhance the food's natural flavor. Her tender rack of lamb, for example, is lightly bathed in a red wine sauce with a hint of mint. She resists the urge to pile on the kinds of radical sauces and salsas chefs dream up when they need to hide their inability to cook.
She also takes advantage of the local catch, which is one hallmark of a good charter chef. Dug-out canoes approach Sweet Harmony from time to time offering fresh fish, and Davies makes sure to get what she knows her guests will enjoy.
"One fisherman offered us mahi-mahi, but we wanted tuna, she said. "No problem. Off he went, and he came back with fresh tuna. It was marvelous.
Sweet Harmony herself is as accommodating as her crew. She is one of the few boats in her size range available for crewed charter in the area, which also sees its share of larger crewed yachts and smaller bareboats.
Capt. McKay uses the boat's LOA and draft to guests' advantage. A favorite spot to cruise is close to the cliffs in Cumberland Bay, where sweeping valleys flow to black beaches. Cliffs shoot down to the water's edge, and small fishing boats sprinkle the offshore waters. The landscape feels more natural, primitive and appealing than that on some other Caribbean landfalls.
The 9-square-mile island Bequia is another simple, refreshing spot McKay enjoys sharing with charter guests. From the Belmont Walkway bordering Admiralty Bay, you can feel the sleepy trance hovering over the off-season town while Bob Marley's singing pulses out of the New York Sports Bar.
Time on the yacht is just as enjoyable as time spent ashore, again because of the crew. During full charter season, Capt. McKay carries an engineer on board to allow him a little more time to play host. Sweet Harmony is in impeccable condition, but the captain's worrying about small details never ceases. One day, he drove by in the tender, glaring at the grime forming on the waterline, courtesy of the generator.
"Oh look at the dear, Davies said of the captain. "Our Jack is obsessed with that waterline.
It's that kind of obsession that makes the difference for charter guests. Beds are not just turned down; they are left with a piece of chocolate. A stomach merely begins to grumble and food instantly appears. Guests make requests that require the captain and crew to adapt their schedules, and changes are made without fuss.
On a boat this size, it's also important that the crew have enjoyable personalities. From my cabin, I had to walk through the galley each morning on my way to the afterdeck for breakfast. By the middle of the week, I was stopping to stay and chat at the crew mess while enjoying fresh muffins and a cup of coffee.
The end of our charter was spent touring Mustique and the Tobago Cays. Mustique is a private island leased by the Mustique Company from the government of St. Vincent, and it offers some nice spots to relax and have a cocktail. The Tobago Cays are an intriguing chain that left me wanting to return for further exploration.
Perhaps that's why Capt. McKay brought us there last, or perhaps not. Either way, he was working with his chef to ensure guests would have memories long after disembarking Sweet Harmony: I dug into my carry-on bag while en route home to find fresh muffins and cookies, a thoughtful ending to a beautiful vacation.
Contact: Allied Marine, (954) 462-5527; fax (954) 525-0246; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.alliedmarine.com, or any charter broker. Sweet Harmony charters for $21,000 per week for eight guests, $20,000 for six guests and $19,000 for four guests, all inclusive.