Bequia is a beautiful, diverse little island, consisting of no more than seven square miles lying nine miles south of St Vincent, north of Mustique. It the northernmost and largest of the Grenadines, a string of islands that stretch for approximately 60 miles between the islands of St Vincent and Grenada in the Caribbean. Bequia is too small for big industry, yet large enough to offer the basic needs. The size of the island has also determined the character of its inhabitants. Since they must acquire commodities from abroad, Bequians have had to look to the sea for their living, working as merchant seamen on freighters, as captains and crews on cargo ships, on yachts and cruise ships, and as fishermen and lobster divers.
The History of Bequia
The first settlers of Bequia were the Arawaks, and later the warlike Caribs1. In 1664, France laid claim to Bequia, but did not establish a permanent settlement there. In 1675, the slave ship Palmyra sank off the Bequia coast. The Africans who managed to swim ashore eventually mixed with the native Caribs to form the 'Black Caribs'. The fighting ability of the Caribs kept Europeans out of St Vincent and the Grenadines, even while they were taking over the rest of the Caribbean.
Between 1719 and 1763, French settlers set up lime, indigo and sugar factories in Bequia. By a treaty between the French and English in 1763, St Vincent and the Grenadines was designated British. The island, now mainly in British hands, began to cultivate cotton and then sugar, and they began to import slaves from Africa to help in the enterprise.
In 1834, the slaves were emancipated, and this caused a decline in the planter economy. Since the Bequians had always depended on the sea for much of their food, and for all their communication with the outside world, there was a surge in whaling, fishing, and trading throughout the islands. Boat building became a large part of the Bequia trade. From the 1840s until very recently almost all the regional trade in the Eastern Caribbean was carried on boats built either in Carriacou or Bequia.
In 1979, the State of St Vincent and the Grenadines achieved independence within the British Commonwealth. Bequians now look for their livelihood to lobster diving, fishing and tourism.
Whaling on Bequia
William Thomas Wallace Jr came from Scotland, and he introduced whaling to Bequia. Having worked on one of the New England whaling ships that came to the Caribbean chasing the humpback whale, Bill Wallace started his own shore whale fishery in the mid 1870s out of Friendship Bay. The Ollivierres from France followed suit in 1876 with a fishery at Petit Nevis (a small off-shore island just south of Bequia). Whale meat was a staple food for the population in those days.
Today only one small whale fishery exists. A crew of six sails out on a 26-foot traditional double-ended whale boat. The design is based on that of the small boats carried aboard the large whaling ships that sailed the Caribbean before the 20th Century. There is great excitement on the rare occasion when a whale is caught. Groups gather on the hills to follow the hunt. The butchering is done on Petit Nevis with a constant stream of small boats carrying loads of people to watch and celebrate.
Over the years Bequia has retained much of its charm. Famed for having that rare combination of hospitable people, colourful heritage and simple lifestyle, but with modern amenities, many visitors have settled and built winter homes, adding to the ambience of Bequia.
Bequia's superb anchorages have brought many visiting yachtsmen to drop anchor in Admiralty Bay to wander along the quaint waterfront at Port Elizabeth, with its bars, cafés and fascinating shops.
There are a few ways to get to Bequia. In 1992, Bequia acquired an airport that can accommodate small aircraft, and there are now charter flights to take passengers to and from St Vincent, Barbados, and other Caribbean islands. There are also ferries running between Port Elizabeth, Bequia and Kingstown, St Vincent. Cruise ships also visit Bequia, and people enjoy day trips to the island.
The beaches of Bequia are white sand, some are secluded, and all are clean and uncrowded. The waters are perfect for swimming, snorkeling, sailing, diving, and other water sports.
Princess Margaret Beach is just down from Port Elizabeth on the leeward side of the island. This beach is a lovely ribbon of golden sand and is so named because Princess Margaret enjoyed a dip there in 1958.
Lower Bay is nearby, and is a popular, expansive beach. There are a number of very good, and reasonably priced, bars and restaurants, making it a favourite venue both during the day and in the evening.
Friendship Bay is a short ride from town, and it is a long, wide sweep of beach, with excellent conditions for diving, sailing and snorkeling. The Friendship Bay Hotel is located there (27 rooms), which has a beach bar and restaurant. Also in Friendship, Herby and Spicy is a delightful beach bar with chair-swings, and weekly jump-ups.
Hope Bay is north of Friendship, and is a remote, picturesque beach. It is difficult to get to, but that makes it all the nicer! There are no hotels or bars nearby, so bring a picnic. It has rather shallow waters and a long line of breakers from the Atlantic Ocean; this makes it ideal for body surfing and windsurfing.
Spring Bay is a bit further north and it is romantic and very secluded. There are acres of tall palm trees, the working plantation and hotel of Spring.
Industry Bay is located just above Spring, and is inaptly named! There is no heavy industry anywhere on the island. Industry has a nice beach and is wonderful for snorkeling.
Park is a short walk around the corner from Industry, and it is another palm-shaded, undeveloped sandy beach. It is also home to the Oldhegg Turtle Sanctuary.
Winter temperatures on Bequia range between 65° and 85°F, summer between 75° and 95°F. Winters are dry, summers are showery. Electricity is 220 volts, 50 cycles AC. Time is GMT -4. Bequia uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar but US dollars are accepted islandwide. Bequia's population is approximately 6000.
Visiting Bequia is taking a step out of the hectic pace of the world, and slowing the pace of life, taking the time to savour this charming island, rich in tranquility and tropical atmosphere.