For the 50th anniversary of its independence from British rule, the Caribbean island of Barbados is making determined efforts to attract cruisers.
Barbados is one of the most popular tropical islands on the planet, especially with Britons, who flock to its pristine sandy beaches to relax and enjoy the hot Caribbean sun. This year is the 50th anniversary of its independence from British rule, but the island is sometimes still called Little England.
Prosperous, with low crime, it’s a gentle introduction to the West Indies. For sailors the living is easy. Fresh fruit and veg cost very little in the colourful markets and the street food loved by locals is fresh and filling. There are 1,200 ‘rum shops’ (small bars) and the people are famously friendly.
Lying 98 miles east of the Caribbean chain, this is the nearest landfall for yachts crossing the Atlantic from the Canaries or Cape Verdes. Why, then, do many yachts swerve past beautiful Barbados and head for Saint Lucia, Antigua or Grenada instead?
The simple answer is that the yachting and sailing boats who would previously have been content to lie at anchor started to seek marinas where they could plug in electrical devices, walk ashore to showers and shops, and rest at night untroubled by the Atlantic swell.
Other islands were quick to respond by installing pontoons and moorings, leaving Barbados behind. As far back as 1989 Jimmy Cornell cited lack of yacht facilities when he moved the ARC rally finish away from Barbados, a bitter blow for the island and a boost for the new venue, Saint Lucia.
Something must be done
The government and yachting community, remembering the days when hundreds of visiting yachts dotted Carlisle Bay, the island’s main anchorage, knew that something had to be done. Inspired into action, their aim is nothing less than to reinstate Barbados as the Caribbean’s most popular first port of call.
Eager to get the message out to yachtsmen, the tourism authority invited us to look at the work in progress. They’re not hanging about. Building is in full swing at the Shallow Draught dock on the outskirts of the capital, Bridgetown, where there will soon be 40 fully serviced yacht berths. The dock might be renamed to avoid confusion as it is only shallow for ships – in yacht terms it’s plenty deep enough.
The Shallow Draught will also be home to a brand new Customs and Immigration building especially for yachts, proof that the government has taken heed of a major gripe. The current situation where yachts have to negotiate Bridgetown’s huge cruise-ship port to find Customs and Immigration, then struggle to moor on a ship-size dock and visit multiple offices filling in similar paperwork will soon be a thing of the past.