TRAVEL DESTINATIONS

Cruising the Windward Islands, West Indies

Charter a Boat in the Lesser Antilles

By
Capt. Jeff
Werner

Just mentioning the Windward Islands to a sailor conjures up romantic visions under sail in the West Indies portrayed in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels. The Windward Islands extend like stepping stones some 170 nautical miles in an arc from north to south in the Lesser Antilles.

My first experience sailing the Windwards was in 1992, and that was a beat from St. Lucia to Martinique, or Matnik as my Lucian friends called it in their creole patois. With 25-knot winds off the bow, under a doublereefed main and genoa, we pounded to windward for three and a half hours in 4- to 6-foot seas. I thought there must be a better way to cruise the Windwards, and there is. With the prevailing northeasterly trade winds, starting a cruise in Martinique and heading south gives spirited broad reaches on the passages between the islands and easy reaches on the protected leeward side of the major volcanic islands in this chain.

The Windward Islands are an ideal charter sailing destination for more experienced sailors, with 7 to 10-day one way charters from Martinique to Grenada being very popular. A one way charter offers the opportunity to expand your cruising range without having to double back to the boat's original departure point at the end of the charter.

Martinique

This French overseas state is the largest island of the Windwards, and its political status is the same as Hawaii is to the continental United States. Fortunately, its links to Paris give it enough of a continental flair to find excellent croissant and cafe au lait when going ashore for breakfast. Special French bread flour is flown in daily via Air France to produce a crusty baguette, which can be tucked nicely under your arm while motoring back in the dinghy to your yacht at anchor.

St. Pierre at the northern end of the island was the hub of culture, commerce and fashion during the French colonial period. Then in May 1902, the nearby volcano Mt. Pelee erupted destroyed the city and its 30,000 inhabitants. Although there are no marinas in St. Pierre, the open roadstead is an excellent anchorage as long as there are no northerly swells.

Sailing south the imposing 17th-century Fort St. Louis protects Fort de France, the island's capital. Across the large bay from the fort is Trois Ilets, the birthplace of Napoleon's Empress Josephine. The Windward Islands have a dearth of marinas, but abound in beautiful anchorages, and Martinique follows that rule. In the waters near Fort de France, transient dock space is available at the Marina de la Pointe du Bout by Anse Mitan. The Marina du Marin farther south at Le Marin is the largest marina on the island and offers extensive services.Before shaping course for St. Lucia, the next island south along the Windward chain, anchoring off the village of Sainte Anne is a must. Visiting this quaint resort town with a square surrounded by small shops and French restaurants with a Caribbean flavor is delightful.

St. Lucia

From the moment that St. Lucia reverted to a French Crown colony during the reign of Louis XIV in 1674 until the end of the Napoleonic era, St. Lucia was declared a neutral territory or changed hands between the British and French no fewer than 11 times. St. Lucia was a pawn in the affairs and wars of the European powers during that period. The treaties that ended the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence all played roles in the ever-changing ownership of St. Lucia. Finally, in 1814, Great Britain gained permanent possession of St. Lucia and didn't relinquish it until 1979, when St. Lucia was granted independence.

Today, St. Lucia is a vibrant island that hosts the St. Lucia Jazz Festival every spring. The northwest corner of this island is home to Island Global Yachting's Rodney Bay Marina, a premier superyacht destination on the island. This well-known marina is complete with restaurants, shops and a full service boatyard.

Sailing south along the leeward side of St. Lucia are the twin Pitons,Gros and Petit, on arguably the most stunning landscape in the Eastern Caribbean. The Pitons are the remains of an eroded ancient caldera, with active sulphur fumaroles and hot springs in between. The nearby village on the bay was named Soufriere, literally meaning sulphur in the air. This town was laid out in classic French European style, with a church adjoining a square, and the square surrounded by homes of the wealthy inhabitants.

St. Vincent

Dinghying ashore at Wallilabou Bay 20 years ago was my first experience with a Rastaman farmer after hiking inland a couple of miles through a landscape of hills and small hummocks covered wish lush tropical plants, palm trees and bamboo. With a mountainous rainforest in the distance, the island appeared to be a film director's version of a proper jungle paradise. When I rounded a bend in the trail, I came across an aging farmer with graying dreadlocks tending his half-acre plot of ganja. For me, St. Vincent has always had an untamed quality with a live-and- let-live attitude. Wallilabou Bay today, is best known for being transformed into the movie set of old Port Royal, Jamaica for the first Pirates of the Caribbean film.

Dotted with a limited number of small anchorages on the Caribbean side of the island, most cruisers sailing to St. Vincent head to Young Island Cut at the southern tip to look for dock space. The Blue Lagoon just east of the cut is home to Lagoon Marina, a pleasant little marina with stern-to dockage.

moorings

The Grenadines

St. Vincent is the seat of government of the country officially known as St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Grenadines constitute a dozen and a half or so small islands with a multitude of anchorages, each of which could easily be dubbed paradise. Choosing a favorite island in the Grenadines depends one's mood, much like selecting flavors to scoop on an ice cream cone.

Mustique is the most well known island of this group, owing to the clever marketing of Lord Glenconner, who developed the island in the 1960s. Princess Margaret of Great Britain and other jet setters of the day made it their winter tropical destination of choice. Just about every sailor you talk to has a story of meeting Mick Jagger in Basil's Bar, the iconic restaurant on the island. And the only anchorageon the island is just off Basil's Bar in Britannia Bay, so you can even enjoy live music from your yacht.

This island is dotted with gorgeous villas like Yemanja House, Plantation House, and Toucan Hill but very few hotels. The most well-known hotel is Cotton House, and Tuesday evening cocktails are an island ritual. Golf carts are the transportation of choice to get to the many beautiful beaches on Mustique.

Mayreau with its sandy beaches and half-moon shaped Salt Whistle Bay at the northern tip of the island is always a popular anchorage. A leisurely hike from the beach up the hill will reward you with spectacular views of the surrounding sea and nearby islands.

Tobago Cays is the reason most sailors cruise the Grenadines. It is a group of four deserted islands, with pristine clear water protected from the Atlantic Ocean swells to windward by Horseshoe Reef.Petit St. Vincent, or PSV for short, is a private island resort with a splendid anchorage. Yachtsmen are welcomed ashore for dinner in a secluded romantic atmosphere.

Carriacou is politically part of Grenada, not St. Vincent, even though geographically it is in the Grenadine chain. Tyrell Bay is a deep and well-protected anchorage with local boat boys who harvest mangrove oysters nearby. Just before sunset, they will come to your boat selling them by the dozen and will shuck them for you. Make sure you have some slices of lime ready!

Grenada

Known as the Isle of Spice, Grenada is famous for its nutmeg, so much so that the nutmeg is depicted on the national flag. This rugged and mountainous island is very picturesque and has a few waterfalls well worth visiting. My favorite Friday night activity is jump-up in Grenville on the windward side of the island. The whole town gets into the spirit of partying with plenty of rum and dancing in the streets.

St. George's is the prettiest capital of any island nation in the eastern Caribbean. The Carenage, St. George's old port, was the destination of inter-island schooners and small cargo vessels. Port Louis Marina near the Carenage is a new facility, which will dock yachts up to 300 feet LOA. Grenada Boatyard/Marine is a one-stop boatyard providing quality services in storage, repair and maintenance. It is located along the southeast coast at St. David's Harbour.

The Moorings - offers charters from their base in Grenada and St. Lucia. Nicknamed The Spice Isle, Grenada is known for its bustling Market Square, historic forts, spice plantations, rum distilleries, and colorful coral gardens. A Grenada charter can also begin from their base in St. Lucia, opening the door to explore other equally enchanting islands along the way. Another jewel of the Windward Islands, St. Lucia boasts a landscape expansive in banana plantations, picturesque hamlets and beautiful harbors reminiscent of an older Caribbean. Opt to sail one of these destinations or do a one-way charter from St. Lucia to Grenada to get the best of both worlds. Marinalife Cruising Club Members receive 5% off charters!

Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht's fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.

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Beyond Disney: 10 Cool Family-Friendly Places to Visit on Florida's Coasts
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OUTER SPACE. RACE CARS. ANIMAL SAFARIS. PIRATES.

These experiences are all part of a dream vacation to one of Florida’s famous theme parks. But the cool thing is that the Sunshine State offers these same topics as real, hands-on, family-friendly adventures. Here’s a Top 10 to try.

1. St. Augustine Alligator Farm & Zoological Park

Kids who love dinosaurs will love this park. Founded in 1893, some of the oldest and largest alligators are in captivity here. Plus, the Land of Crocodiles exhibit features 24 global species including the African dwarf, rare Nile and familiar North American crocodile.

Beyond crocodiles, “Some visitors like the colorful parrots, others prefer our python cave, the nesting wading birds in our rookery, or our wildlife shows,” says John Brueggen, director.“The more adventurous enjoy zip lining over the animals.”

Where to Dock: Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor

2 .Daytona International Speedway

race cars on the Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway | Credit DIS

The NASCAR season kicks off on February 19, 2023, with The Great American Race – the Daytona 500. However, any day is perfect for a speedway tour. The hour-long tram ride hits the highlights from an infield stop at the start/finish line to a view from high atop the tower seating. At a stop at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, kids can enjoy a wow moment looking at Michael McDowell’s 2021 Daytona 500 victory car.

“The Magic of Lights returns to the Speedway’s World Center of Racing in November through Jan. 1. It’s a dazzling display of more than 1 million sparkling lights and magical scenes, all viewed from the comfort of the guest’s vehicles,” says Russell Branham, Southeast Region director of track communications.

Where to Dock: Daytona Beach Marina

3. Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex

Chat with a real astronaut. Train on high-tech simulators inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Go behind the gates of a working spaceflight facility. Experience microgravity like inside the International Space Station. The 42-acre complex on Merritt Island brings to life the U.S. space program’s epic story in an up-close, hands-on way.

“Kennedy Space Center is best known for rocket launches like the historic Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Now, it’s known for the commercial companies with rocket launches happening almost every other week,” says Rebecca Burgman, senior manager for public relations and communications. The Visitors Complex offers some of the closest public launch viewing locations in the area.  

Where to Dock: Titusville Marina

4. Mel Fisher Treasure Museum

Lift a real gold bar at the famed treasure hunter’s museum in Sebastian, on the Indian River waterfront. “Kids especially like to look, touch and feel the weight of a solid gold bar from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, the most famous and valuable shipwreck to ever be recovered,” says Nichole Johanson, the museum’s director and Fisher’s granddaughter.

“The bar weighs about five pounds, and you can still see the markings that tell its story like ownership, tax, purity, assayer and weight.” Kids get a fun and educational treasure hunt game to do while exploring the exhibits, with scavenger hunt items and riddles.  

Where to Dock: Sebastian Inlet Marina

5. Countryside Citrus

Children jumping on a "jumping pillow" on a bright sunny day
Courtesy of Countryside Citrus

Oranges are Florida’s top agricultural product, and its freshly squeezed orange juice, soft-serve orange ice cream and orange slushies are some of the kid-friendly draws at this Vero Beach farm. Another is the Fall Festival and Corn Maze in October.

“There are activities such as a jumping pillow, kiddie zip line and air cannon, not to mention the maze and great food offerings,” says Cheryl Roseland, owner-manager. Kids and parents can U-Pick strawberries from the farm’s patch from December to February. Countryside operates its El Sid Taqueria on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach, a more convenient location to marinas for fresh citrus ice cream and slushies.

Where to Dock: Loggerhead Vero Beach Marina

6. Everglades Safari Park

To ride on the wild side, travel less than an hour west of downtown Miami on Route 41, the Tamiami Trail. The chance to take an airboat tour through the Everglades National Park is well worth the time!

An airboat is a flat-bottomed open-air boat with an aircraft-like propeller in the back and a car engine for power that can glide over the waterways and sawgrass of the glades at speeds up to 40 miles per hour. On a half-hour tour, see wildlife, alligators and anhinga birds. Guides make stops to talk about natural and human history, such as how Native Americans used cat tails to make natural gauze.

Where to Dock: Black Point Park & Marina

7. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

The words “under the sea” have a whole new meaning when sight-seeing America’s first undersea park in Key Largo. At 70 nautical miles, it’s a huge natural water park. You can go canoeing and kayaking, fishing and swimming, or choose a glass bottom boat tour, or a scuba and snorkel tour.

“The snorkel tour is an excellent way for families to experience the Park,” says Tim Linafelt, communications manager for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “After a 10-minute coaching session, swimmers can get up close and personal with coral reefs and marine wildlife.” Plan ahead by checking out the park’s new 360-degree coral cam that streams a live feed. Lemon sharks, parrotfish and angelfish have made on-camera appearances.

Where to Dock: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Marina

children snorkeling the shoreline at the Dry Tortugas with crystal clear blue watersu
Dry Tortugas | Credit Yankee Freedom III

8. Dry Tortugas National Park

Play in a 19th century fort in this seven-island park located in the Gulf of Mexico. To get there, book a ride on the Yankee Freedom III, a high-speed catamaran that departs from Key West for the two-hour, one-way trip. Then, have kids watch for Fort Jefferson on approach.

“The enormity of the fort is indescribable. It’s the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere – made with 16 million bricks. It’s fun to explore with its endless halls,” says Piper Smith, VP of marketing for Historic Tours of America. Beside exploring the fort, it’s fun to swim or snorkel around the outside of the moat. The waters are filled with tropical fish, lobster, turtles and game fish.

Where to Dock: Dry Tortugas National Park

9. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Sharks, sea turtles and manatees, oh my! These sea creatures star in exhibits at this marine research organization’s aquarium in Sarasota. “Our resident turtles and manatees are much loved, each with its own personality, and they also provide valuable educational opportunities.

For example, green sea turtle, Hang Tough, resides in a specialty rounded exhibit after being blinded in a boat strike. Families can see and understand how Mote biologists care for her while also highlighting the negative impacts of unsafe boating,” says Sean Stover, communications coordinator. Make the visit extra special with an Adopt an Animal Program, which includes everything from sea turtles to sea horses plus jellyfish and octopus.

Where to Dock: Longboat Key Club Moorings

10. Air Force Armament Museum

Florida’s northwest panhandle is a national center for military aviation. Pensacola is called the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and is the official home of the Blue Angels. One hour east, this museum sits across from Elgin Air Force Base.

Kids whose favorite toys are airplanes will light up at the number of crafts on display during the drive into the grounds. Look for World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War aircraft, as well as the fastest plane ever built, the SR-71 Blackbird. Inside, please- touch displays include a fighter cockpit simulator.

Where to Dock: Two Georges Marina

THREE MUST-PLAY WATERFRONT PUTT-PUTT GOLF COURSES

palm trees on a minigolf course surrounded by turquoise waters
Courtesy of Fiesta Falls Mini Golf

Playing putt-putt Mini Golf is a ‘must- do’ shore thing on a Florida vacation. Best of all, many courses are near the beach. Lighthouse Cove Mini Golf in Jupiter is one block from the white sands. The two 18-hole courses weave around sea life, waterfalls and boats in a tropical fishing village theme. Play both! A new app lets golfers order drinks without leaving the greens.

Likewise, you can nearly see the sea from Fiesta Falls Mini Golf in St. Augustine. A 60-foot ship is a focal point, plus eight waterfalls make for cool fun. On the west coast near St. Petersburg, the Smugglers Cove Adventure Park in Madeira Beach is 18-holes around a pirate theme. That’s not all. Golf with gators! Win or lose, afterward you can stop to feed live alligators in an educational exhibit.

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Fun at Florida's Boat Shows
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Whether You're Buying a Yacht or Not

Two dark grey mega-yachts docked on the water at the boat show
Credit Informa Markets

The twin sets of upward sloping on the superyacht, Thunder, looked to me like stairways to heaven. To say these were only a small part of the eye-candy features of this 164-foot Oceanfast, one of the largest yachts for sale on display at this year’s Miami International Boat Show, says a lot.

Inside, the master suite boasted a ceiling retractable Smart LG TV, chandeliers in the main salon were part of the $8.8 million asking price, and a 22-foot-long crystal blue pool surrounded by sun loungers on the foredeck proved irresistibly inviting on this warm February day.

Best of all to me was the upper deck dining salon and its floor-to-ceiling windows. I could imagine cruising the world and looking out at breathtaking ports from this perch. And it afforded an incredible view of the enormity of the Miami International Boat Show, which is spread out over six downtown locations. Last year, nearly 100,000 attendees walked the docks, and sales were just shy of $1 billion.

I wasn’t in the market for a new boat. Window shop yes; buy no. Still, I wouldn’t miss visiting the Miami Show and many others held in the Sunshine State each year. That’s because these marine events offer so much more.

“Like a festival for boaters, hundreds of exhibits display a variety of vessels, from kayaks to luxury yachts. Food vendors and entertainment attract audiences of all ages. Several large boat manufacturers or brokers host hospitality events on board luxury yachts or in air-conditioned tents, catering to clientele who love to talk about boats,” says Andrew Doole, president of the U.S. Boat Shows division of UK-headquartered Informa Markets, a leading global exhibitions organizer that owns and operates five major Florida shows. “The shows present a way to see the latest in marine products and how to enjoy life on the water.”

Shows Aplenty

Visitors walking the docks at the boat show surrounded by multiple mega-yachts
Credit Informa Markets

Second to Alaska, Florida boasts the most coastline of any U.S. state at 1,350 miles. Add a year-round climate conducive to boating, and it’s easy to see why the marine scene is big here. Each year, the state hosts close to two dozen boat shows. The calendar runs from September to April, corresponding to the top tourism months for visitors from the north.

In September, there’s the three-day Daytona Beach Boat Show, and the Suncoast Boat Show closes out the season in April. In between, Informa hosts its shows: Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in October, St. Petersburg Power & Sailboat Show and Jacksonville Boat Show in January, the Miami show in February, and Palm Beach International Boat Show in March.

“Record-setting attendance at the St. Petersburg and Sarasota shows in the past year now rivals the big shows in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Miami. In fact, the annual boat show held in downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront is the second largest event in the city, behind the Firestone Grand Prix in terms of attendance, revenue and logistics,” says Cindy Dobyns, president and owner of AboveWater Public Relations & Marketing, who handles press for the show.

What’s Happening under the Tents?

Exhibitor for "Electrosea" discussing the product with a customer

Beyond boats for sale, you can discover so many things to see, do, eat and drink, toe-tap and clap for at Florida’s boat shows.

One of the most fun sights at the Miami Boat Show was watching a professional flyboarder in action at Pride Park in AquaZone. Standing on a skateboard-size board attached by a hose to a jet ski below that powered the water toy, dual jet streams of water propelled the rider some 15 feet in the air above the 40,000-gallon freshwater pool.

Pros also gave the public a wakeboard experience via a simulator. Crystal Kayaks, Seabobs and Hobie Cats were brands featured for a demo at the Fort Lauderdale Show. In Palm Beach, the intercoastal waterway served as the natural aqua zone. eFoil electric surfboards were an especially big hit.

New last year, the St. Petersburg Boat Show partnered with the Annapolis School of Seamanship to offer one-hour on-water training sessions held multiple times daily. Topics included Women at the Wheel, Basic Boat Operator and a Junior Captains Program. All were free. The only catch is buying tickets ahead of time and pre-registering for the sessions.

Seminars are a sought-out reason to attend boat shows. Every show offers them, and many shows invite local celebrity speakers. A good example is the Jacksonville Show, where last year Captain Tim Altman of HooDoo Sportfishing Charters and founder of the Wahoo Junkies brand gave two talks on wahoo trolling with bait and high-speed trolling.

One of the best-known seminar presenters on Florida’s boat show circuit is Captain Don Dingman, star of the Hook the Future TV show. Dingman hosts interactive fishing clinics full of demos for kids ages four to 16. At the Fort Lauderdale Show, each kid received a free Hook the Future/Carolina Skiff custom rod and reel combo. It shows how boat show seminars can hook the whole family.

Fred’s Shed is worth the cost of admission if you’re a DIY fan. Launched over a decade ago by the Chicago- headquartered National Marine Manufacturers Association, this up close and personal educational experience is held at NMMA events like the Miami Boat Show. Topics range from installing marine electronics to detailing and service and maintenance tips.

Food and entertainment make shows extra festive. There’s no need to leave the fun. On-site at the St. Petersburg show, for example, you can gobble up everything from stone crab claws to Greek gyros, street tacos and wood-fired picanha steak.

The Windward VIP Experience at several shows includes an open bar, wine and spirit tastings, gourmet food such as oysters on the half shell, as well as early access to the show and a shady air-conditioned oasis to sit and relax. Most shows feature live bands with oldies, classic rock and top 40 hits on tap.

View the Boats

A center console passing by a big yacht in front of a house on a canal in Florida

Of course, it’s the boats that float these shows. “All types of watercraft are featured, including fishing boats, cruisers, ski boats, pontoons, inflatables, personal watercraft, and more,” says Erin Johnson, administrative director of the North Florida Marine Association that puts on the annual Jacksonville Show.

Vendors, from national brands to local shops, exhibit and sell all the boating go-withs. There are nearly 100 of these at the Suncoast Boat Show, and more than 1,000 at shows such as in Fort Lauderdale.

Mega and superyachts are here too, just like Thunder. You’ll find the bulk of the 100- to 200-foot-plus vessels at the Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami shows. All it takes is the price of a show ticket to walk the docks and dream.

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Florida's Amazing Creatures Challenge
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Sea turtle swimming through coral reef in clear blue waters
Sea Turtle | Credit Matt Botha

“WHAT’S THE DEAL with a flamingo wearing a top hat and puffing on a Cuban cigar or a mustached manatee strumming a guitar at a tiki party?” That’s what many travelers wonder when they come to the Sunshine State.

The answer is rather simple. From beaches and coral reefs to everglades and tropical islands, Florida is home to a diverse array of ecosystems. Toss in a balmy year-round climate, and it’s got habitats that spawn a dazzling display of marine life.

These amazing creatures are so beloved by Floridians that they’ve been integrated into the local pop culture in celebration of the state’s indigenous beasts. Native aquatic creatures are elevated into iconic symbols, reflecting the region’s diversity, unique groove and reverence for the water.

TRACK DOWN ICONIC IMAGES AND FEEL LIKE A FLORIDIAN

close up view of a flamingo
Flamingo | Credit Pixabay

While you roam around Florida this season, you’ll likely visit the state’s many marine sanctuaries, research centers and protected habitats. But Marinalife also challenges you to join the local fun by finding caricatures, logos and iconic symbols that playfully incorporate these unique creatures into images directed at everyday life.

You’ll discover many of them on sports teams’ logos or mascots, bar napkins, restaurant menus, clothing (shirt, hat, etc.), pool floaties, ads for products, road signs, products in stores, souvenir shop merchandise, glassware, food and beverage labels, boats, flags and more.

Read More

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