Capt. Virginia Wagner is deep in concentration at _Matau’_s helm. The Privilege 75 sailing catamaran is firmly anchored off Petit Bateau in the Tobago Cays, south of St. Vincent in the Grenadines. There’s a bit of wind and a solid current, plus there are at least a dozen bareboats entering the already bustling anchorage. I sit quietly out of the way on the flying bridge, assuming that Wagner is doing careful mental calculations about our scope, our swing and our safety, come sunset.
“Would you just look at the color of this water!” she blurts out. “My God!”
This is a woman who has been cruising the Caribbean, and in particular the Grenadines, for the better part of 20 years. She is a captain so in tune with nature that she has sailed some 120,000 miles by celestial navigation — consistently to within four-tenths of a mile using nothing but stars and sextant. And still, the unspoiled beauty of the Tobago Cays has the power to leave her awestruck in the middle of a random January afternoon.
“It’s just a different kind of charter experience down here,” she says, launching into the best personal campaign for a charter destination that I’ve ever heard. “The Grenadines are still fairly undeveloped compared to the Leewards. You don’t have the big chain resorts. There’s really nothing to buy except fruits and vegetables. The pace here is a lot slower. That’s not to say there aren’t boats, because there certainly are more sailors here. But even the bareboaters are real sailors. Very rarely do you see a muck-up, whereas in the Virgin Islands, you see a muck-up every 20 minutes. People cruising here, they’re not novices. There are very few markers and an awful lot of reefs.”
It’s a soliloquy worthy of Shakespeare, the way Wagner steadies her gaze firmly on the turquoise horizon while letting the words flow. I can’t help but lean over Matau’s upper-deck rail for another glimpse at the water myself. The closest I’ve seen to the colors beneath our hull are not in the rest of the Grenadines, nor even in the South Pacific, but in the Exumas chain within the Bahamas — where it’s darn hard to find a crewed catamaran operating at Matau’s level of luxury.
This 2006 build spent her first two years touring boat shows as hull No. 1 in the Privilege 75 series and became a cruising boat in January 2008, when she got her current owner. The same man owns the 65-foot sailing catamaran True North, which has long been popular on the charter scene, and he applied lessons learned from True North to make Matau one of the top sailing cats available for charter in the Caribbean and Virgin Islands today.
Matau’s sheer interior volume and large guest spaces are worth noting — Wagner refers lovingly to the 36-foot beam by saying “she got hips, mon” — as is the yacht’s four-person crew, which provides more personal attention for eight guests than most sailing cats offer. Small details were also part of the charter plan from day one, specifically the showers in the guest cabins. “The owner’s cabin on True North had a so-so shower that annoyed the owner,” Wagner says. “So on Matau, you can give yourself a full buff-wax-carwash in any cabin.”
I can attest to the myriad knobs and nozzles that helped me clean up after making the most of my days ashore from St. Vincent to Grenada, an itinerary that Wagner says is ideal for a 10-day charter. Some guests squeeze the trip into a week, but that pace can push the pace needle past the relaxation line.
“If you think of the Virgin Islands,” Annapolis-based charter broker Ann-Wallis White explains during lunch on the afterdeck, “they’re a necklace of islands. It’s a little, controlled environment. The Grenadines are that same necklace stretched out and expanded by about 40 percent. You have to accomplish a certain amount of cruising every day or you’re not going to make it to your airplane from Grenada on the last day.”
I’d actually encourage arrival at Grenada two or three days before you plan to fly home, since my single day of touring seemed not nearly enough. Matau works with Henry’s Safari Tours, and I highly recommend driver Vaughn Francis as your guide. (See “Some Like it Hot,” July 2010.) Spend an afternoon in Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, where colorful buildings climb from a natural harbor just as they do on the Riviera. Walk through the Grand Etang rainforest to St. Margaret Falls, where I found the freshwater swim beneath a waterfall as refreshing as it was enchanting. Leave a halfday for Belmont Estate, a cocoa plantation where you can not only buy some of the world’s most intense organic chocolate, but where you can — if you’re a woman willing to go barefoot — “walk the beans” to turn and roast them beneath the afternoon sun. The stickiness between my toes was a sensation as memorable as that which a grape-crusher enjoys during wine-country harvests.
All of this comes at the end of a typical Grenadines charter itinerary, after as many days as you can spare for that stunning water in the Tobago Cays. The reefs are not just full of fish and empty of people, but are chockablock with sea turtles. The two-foot-long specimen that I most fancied during a morning snorkel let me stick with him for a solid 10 minutes, with Matau’s safety-first engineer Jamie Stork in a nearby dinghy all the while, keeping watch.
Also in the Tobago Cays, be sure to request a beach barbecue. I moseyed up the sand during sunset at Petit Bateau, with Matau anchored not 50 yards away, and meandered into a grove of trees where a pair of locals who call themselves Scrappy and Scrum were broiling what they promised would be the best lobster I’d ever tasted. As Scrappy and Scrum showed me their fixings for potatoes, rice and salad, Matau’s crew were back at the beach covering picnic tables with cloth and candles, and making sure our beer and wine were chilled. I tore into my first juicy lobster tail as the stars came out, letting my feet dangle from the picnic bench like a giddy child.
I did take a moment, before leaving, to thank Scrappy and Scrum for the meal. They work with a lot of charter yachts, they tell me, so I ask where Matau falls in their rankings.
“It’s not just the beautiful boat,” Scrappy says, “but Capt. Virginia. She really is the best captain. And I’m not just saying that, mon.”
How precious, I think, to find such mutual admiration in so glorious a charter destination.
Matau is available for charter at a weekly rate of $37,400 for six guests, and $39,000 for eight guests. Contact Ann-Wallis White Yacht Charters, 800-732-3861; awwyachtcharters.com