3) Petit St. Vincent ($100), most remote of the St. Vincent-ruled Grenadines. It is linked to the outside world by its own 35-foot launch, which meets guests at the Palm Island airstrip half an hour away. Owned by Kentucky harness horseman H. Willis Nichols Jr., the island is designed for privacy. The handsome cottages are so widely scattered through dun-colored hills and along empty beaches that getting around at night is a job for Eveready: guests are issued flashlights on arrival. Room service orders go into mailboxes outside each cottage and are collected every half hour or so by car. Petit St. Vincent advertises in The New Yorker and Modern Bride.
Besides the one at Palm Island, there is an airstrip on Mustique, a Grenadine island being developed mainly for retirement homes. Its residents, mostly British, are condemned to look out on the charred hulk of the French cruise ship Antilles, which ran aground in 1971. This example notwithstanding, it is by boat, not plane, that one best gets to know the Grenadines. Passengers are welcome on a twice weekly mail schooner and there is competition in the Grenadines, as elsewhere, between crewed charter boats and bareboats.
The rivalry parallels that between chauffeured limousines and Hertz. At Caribbean Sailing Yachts, whose marina outside Kingstown charters bareboats from 34 to 41 feet, the pitch is that sailors qualified to handle a boat themselves pay less, follow their own itineraries and avoid personality clashes with quirky captains. "That's why we handpick our captains," says Judy Kwaloff, an agent for crewed charter boats in the Grenadines. Kwaloff puts vacationers who prefer leaving the driving to somebody else aboard the likes of the 53-foot Luna Quest, whose skipper, Stan Young, goes to great lengths to ingratiate. "I'd serve you dinosaur eggs on toast today," Young will say, bobbing at anchor off some deserted beach. "Unfortunately, we're out of bread."
The most popular anchorage in the Grenadines is the Tobago Cays, four uninhabited islets surrounded by miles of coral teeming with marine life, a gaudy environment easily transformed, with mask and flipper, into a vast aquarium. For those who find snorkeling lame, and this includes every last scuba diver, the Grenadines abound in sponge reefs, underwater cliffs and at least one worthwhile wreck, a World War I gunboat aslumber in seven fathoms off the island of Mayreau. Hugh Ettles, an ex-Toronto adman who runs a scuba shop in St. Vincent's Mariner's Inn, exudes, "It's 73° at 50 feet in these waters. And there's visibility at 100 feet, where the big fish are."
The center of this waterborne activity is Bequia, whose forested hills are dotted with stucco houses built with wages earned aboard English banana boats and Japanese tankers. Two-thirds of Bequia's men go to sea while those who remain fish or build schooners from native cedar. Bequia also is one of the last places where whales are hunted with hand-held harpoons, although the market for oil is erratic and only three humpbacks were taken all last year. So it was that when the whalers gathered one Sunday for the traditional blessing of the fleet, the island's Anglican priest sprinkled holy water on just two 26-foot double-enders, all that remained of the two dozen or more that once flourished there. On hand was Premier Mitchell, who stood with the priest, the curve of the beach at his back, joining in the hymn:
"O, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea."
Mitchell spends weekends on Bequia relaxing aboard Colibri, which he anchors in Admiralty Bay in front of his Frangipani Hotel, a cheerful little guesthouse of 10 rooms. On weekdays, commanding the ship of state, he lives on St. Vincent, leaving his Canadian-born wife Pat to run the Frangipani. Of this arrangement Mitchell says, "The government and hotel are doing fine, but the family feels the pressure of both."
But some would challenge Mitchell's assessment of how the government is doing. Politics is a heartfelt matter in St. Vincent, the tenor of civic discourse being such that when the volcano erupted in 1971 opponents of the government made the absurd charge that it had diabolically seeded the crater with chemicals. Mitchell belonged to the ruling Labor Party until he resigned early last year. Neither of St. Vincent's parties could form a government after that, leaving Mitchell with the balance of power. This he craftily used by consenting to a coalition with the rival People's Political Party in return for the premiership.
Mitchell belongs today to neither party, assuring him the enmity of both. His tourist policy is unavoidably a political issue. Last year a British research team urged a five-fold increase in St. Vincent's tourism in the next decade, with the main thrust recommended for the Grenadine island of Canouan. The report also called for modernizing St. Vincent's airport, where tricky crosswinds are to blame for many of LIAT's canceled flights. Mitchell generally accepts these recommendations but wants them implemented "in partnership with local investors." What local money there is, however, has not been forthcoming, prompting him to charge that it is largely in the hands of rivals determined to embarrass him. To this Hudson Tannis, an opposition leader, replies: "It's simply that people don't trust the government enough to risk their capital."
As the political maneuvering goes on, it matters little that most outsiders might identify St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a rock group. The task ahead, that of selling St. Vincent without despoiling it, is a delicate one. With the Caribbean alternately subjected to the sunshine of tourist promoters and the thunder of militants, there is an aspect of cautious realism about even so obvious a civic booster as Kingstown merchant Dennis Frank, who also is chairman of the St. Vincent Tourist Board.