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Tobago Cays: Jewel of the Grenadines
By Marina Chang
Accessible only by boat, The Tobago Cays consists of five small uninhabited islands surrounded by the infamous Horseshoe Reef. Abundant with beautiful coral formations, tropical fish, and sea turtles, the area offers off-the-hook kiteboarding in crystal clear blue-green waters surrounded by white sandy beaches. With nothing between you and Africa, it is protected as a marine park by the government and possibly soon as a world heritage site by UNESCO.
Its relative remoteness is well known in the sailing world as one of the Caribbean’s best and most beautiful anchorages, but little information can be found on it as a kiting destination. We connected with Susy Scardocchia and Ged Smith, the new owners of Zenith Ocean Voyages, to find out about their new venture and what makes the Tobago Cays worthy of adding it to your kiting dream destination list. Zenith Ocean Voyages sets sail for their first trip this Christmas season. See http://zenithoceanvoyages.com/ for more info.
When did you first discover the Tobago Cays? What kind of riding does it offer?
Ged ran charters to the Tobago Cays back in 2006. He was a fresh kiter back then but recognized its potential for space, flat water, waves, clean wind, and pristine waters. It’s a real trip kiting the Cays — there are good breaks off Horseshoe Reef and at Egg and World’s End Reefs. Behind the two and a half mile main reef, the waters are butter flat for wake and freestyle riding.
With so many options in the Caribbean, what makes it so special and why did you make it a stop on your 2011 itinerary?
The Tobago Cays are rustic and wild and tend to be windier than elsewhere in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. The kite spots are spectacular and the anchorages are stunning. Let’s put it this way: It is Ged’s favorite spot in the Eastern Caribbean and that is why we decided to offer our guests five trips there during our 2011 season.
Petit Tabac is the crescent-shaped island to windward of the main reef. The anchorage there can accommodate only one boat and holding is tough. Kiting there is truly a unique experience. We usually have the island completely to ourselves! We also love the downwinder from Horseshoe Reef to Saltwhistle Bay on the island of Mayreau.
What is the best time of the year to hit this spot? Is it good for riders at all levels?
November to June is the best time to visit. It is windy at other times but not every day. The Cays are not recommended for beginners as you must be able to stay upwind consistently. Wave riding skills would also certainly optimize a visit here.
What gear should I be sure to pack?
The wind tends to blow 18-25 knots, rarely more. The water is warm, so no wetsuits required. Whatever you do, do not forget reef shoes!
What are the launch/landing areas like?
On Petit Tabac you can launch off the beach and there is plenty of room. You can also launch off Petit Bateau and Petit Rameau, but the beaches are tiny. Overall, we have found it to often be easier to launch off the boat. Same applies to landing: If there’s room we land on the beach, if not we land on the water.
I have read that the islands are deserted but that some vendors camp out and sell stuff. What’s the real story?
What happens is that in the middle of anchoring the boat, one or more rasta motorboats approach you and try to sell you stuff. It is not as annoying as it sounds, because they offer you things you actually need! Freshly caught tuna or lobster for the barbecue or even organizing a barbecue on the beach, locally baked banana bread (an absolute must), rum — and if you don’t want anything they go away without a hassle. The scene is very cool.
With no real nightlife to speak of, what is there to do in the evenings?
A lot of people are happy just hanging out on the boat. Alternatively, local fishermen organize barbecues on Petit Bateau and Petit Rameau. They get the fish and provide the local flavor. Just a one hour’s sail away, Happy Island in Clifton, Union Island, is worth a detour. It’s a little island built by the owner, Janti, out of conch shells. He lives on it and runs a bar, the most chilled out bar you will ever encounter. His rum punch is to die for.
What else is there to do if there’s no wind?
The snorkeling is amazing. It’s like swimming in an aquarium. You don’t really need a dive tank because the explosion of life is just a few feet under the surface. Also, there are lots of sea turtles. If you get up early and snorkel in the sea turtle watching reserve just off Baradal, you are guaranteed to have numerous close encounters. It is officially forbidden to ride the turtles though! For hikers, you can climb up to the top of the little islands and enjoy the unforgettable view.
Are there any safety issues or rules I need to know about?
As with a lot of the best kite spots, riders must respect the environment and follow the rules if this superb spot is to be maintained for the future. It is forbidden to launch or land on Baradal because of the turtle reserve. There is also no kiting near the main anchorage in the southwest lee of Baradal (not a great loss as it’s generally full of boats). Don’t worry though; the area is 41 square miles in size and there’s 2.5 miles of Horseshoe Reef alone, so there is plenty of room.
Are there any interesting bits of trivia about this spot?
In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the scene where they are looking for the treasure was shot in Petit Tabac.