Two thousand miles south of the nearest snowflake, the island of St. Vincent rises dark and green as a giant breadfruit out of the turquoise Caribbean. A halo of cumulus crowns its peaks, once active volcanoes that now reach harmlessly almost 5,000 feet into the sky. The vegetation is lush and tropical, with bananas, coconut, bamboo, poinsettias, bougainvillaea threatening to choke the valleys and lower slopes, while the cliffs above are overrun with shrubs and flowering vines. Down the mountains and through the forests tumble streams of crystal water to find their way eventually to the coves and bays that indent St. Vincent's shoreline like a knuckled fist.
The water of the coves is as clear as any mountain stream, but here the resemblance abruptly ends. Violent shades of green and blue flash from the surface, and beneath grow the coral reefs, white and orange and mustard, where fantastically colored fish weave in and out among giant sea fans a fathom, two fathoms, 20 fathoms down. At dawn and dusk, feeding schools of bonito and jack crevalle shatter the serenity of the surface, slashing like some Marineland gang at the small citizens who live there, the great flowing schools of finger-long baitfish. Then the bonito and the jack are gone as suddenly as they come, and the water of the cove is broken only by the concentric rings sent shoreward by a rolling tarpon, rings that break gentle as a liquid breeze on the fine white sand of the beach. A shower moves across the mountains, settling the dust on the narrow roads beneath the coconut palms, along which a native woman walks barefoot with a load of bananas on her head. Far out past the protecting headlands, the bamboo mast and flour-sack sail of a fisherman tending his pots make a silhouette on the sea.
Recently, in one such cove named Cumberland Bay, a man lay across the cabin deck of a blue-hulled yacht and observed, in enchantment, the things about him. It was December, but he wore only a pair of swimming trunks. If the sun became too warm, he could always dive into the water, or row the dinghy ashore and lie on the beach beneath the shade of a palm. Or he could simply remain where he was and wait for a shower, as inevitable as the sun itself, to come along and offer relief. So, for a long while, he did nothing. Then he sat up, his arms encircling his legs and his chin on his knees.
"When we get home," he said, "I think I'll sell the house and buy a boat."
"O.K., Sinbad," his wife said, "but before we set out around the world you might take a course in seamanship first."
"Just a short course," the man said. "I'm only going to sail this far. Then I'm going to drop anchor and never move out of this spot for as long as I live."
It is a vision that soon or late infects us all, or at least that portion of mankind beguiled by islands awash in the sun, and although we generally succeed in pushing it away in favor of some such practicality as earning a living, a segment of the dream always remains. Because of this, Nassau and Jamaica and Puerto Rico and St. Thomas have long been overrun, and now the gathering ant trail of tourism is threatening the upper reaches of the Lesser Antilles, too, an army marching down to meet another coming up from Trinidad and Barbados below.
It is almost a miracle that one beautiful group of islands remains relatively untouched, in fact almost unknown to Americans, islands protected somehow by the very barrier of larger, more famous neighbors on their perimeter and the blessing of runways too short for jet aircraft. These are the Windwards, the West Indies islands immediately south of Martinique: St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada and those scattered emeralds in between, the Grenadines.
Lavish resort facilities are the exception here—some of the Grenadines do not even have people—and gourmet dining is almost unknown, but if there exists a spark of romance and adventure inside, this is the place to go. A cruise through the Windwards aboard a comfortable sailing vessel, completely independent of what lies ashore, can be a pure delight. It can be done in 10 days if one is pressed for time and two weeks at leisure. It is not a cheap vacation, but neither is it terribly expensive: $1,500 a couple, perhaps, including air transportation, with three couples sharing the cost of a charter. And, afterwards, what a gasser at a cocktail party: "What were we doing last weekend? Why, skin diving in the Tobago Cays. Wasn't everyone?"
The reason that everyone wasn't is that it isn't exactly easy to get there from here. We left Idlewild on a miserably cold December afternoon, three couples from Long Island sandwiched aboard a British West Indian Airways 707 bearing the Barbados police band home after a five-week engagement at Radio City Music Hall. When we landed at Barbados, only three hours behind schedule, a cheering crowd of thousands was there to meet us. "Radio City Heroes," the signs said. Of our 13 pieces of luggage, five went on to Trinidad.