Arrival in the Tobago Cays

As you enter the Northern Channel leading into the Tobago Cays, the cruising guides tell you to follow the range markers that will lead you in through the toughest part of the bay. Well, good luck finding these things! Their paint is severely faded, and unless the sun is well behind you, I don’t think you’ll see them. Neither Joy, who has eagle eyes, nor I, saw them until we were right up close. My advice is that you do your charting well ahead, look for the Baleine Rocks, the center of Mayreau, round the rocks, and follow the suggested course lines outlined in both the Doyle and Pavlidis guides. As long as you follow those routes, you’ll be fine, but your heart might race a little if wind is over 20 knots. Once in close you must use your eyes more than the charts as all the reefs and shallow water can easily be seen. The water is as clear as any we’ve ever seen.

Tobago Cays Range Marker
Tobago Cays Range Marker

The only negative aspects about the Tobago Cays are – they are extremely popular, they are very exposed, and the currents are extremely swift. We kept hoping for lighter winds, but we never saw less than 25 knots making it all but impossible for me to get Joy down into the dinghy. We tucked in close to the larger of the two cays, Petit Rameau, but our boat still weaved and swayed like a drunken sailor. The Tobago Cays are a national park and you are subject to a daily parks fee no matter where you anchor. Was it worth it? Sure, and we’ll visit again hopefully in calmer weather so we can anchor comfortably behind the reef and experience all these beautiful cays have to offer. 
Tobago Cays Reef Anchorage
Tobago Cays Reef Anchorage

Obtaining your national parks permit and paying the $15 fee take place all at the same time. The park rangers come right to your boat making it a very simple process. Most boats anchored on the east side of the cays tucked in behind the reefs, but we felt better, given the weather conditions, anchored with no one in front of us. I’d guess there were upwards of 50 boats anchored, some charter boats, a few cats, lots of aluminum hulled boats from the French territories, and an occasional captained day charter. The day after we left, we heard news of a man who had somehow gone overboard during the night. He wasn’t discovered missing until the morning, at least four hours after his partner had last seen him. The park rangers and St Vincent Coast Patrol were called, but they didn’t arrive for another four hours. To our knowledge, the man was never found, a chilling encounter to hear over the VHF.
Heading for Union Island in the Distance
Heading for Union Island in the Distance

The southern passage to Union Island takes you through a tricky reef lined channel, and neither I nor any of the cruising guides would recommend this passage for most folks on a day like this. 

Check out Union Island