By Mark Ellwood

Writer and erstwhile Vogue staffer Bronwyn Cosgrave had crisscrossed the Caribbean for years, hopscotching around different islands on assignment for the magazine. But when the film producer Christine Vachon invited Cosgrave and her husband to spend the holidays with her family on Bequia, Cosgrave was intrigued—she’d never set foot on the island, even though it’s Mustique’s closest neighbor (save for the private island of Baliceaux, which is currently on the market for $25 million). “On that first trip in 2007, I turned to my husband and said, ‘This is the best Caribbean Island.’ We’ve never been anywhere else at Christmas since then.”

Bequia (say it BECK-way) is the northernmost of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the 32 islands and cays that spill south from Saint Vincent and also includes Mustique. The seven-square-mile squiggle of land has just 5,000 or so residents, and has coasted along for centuries, largely overlooked by tourists. Pirates and navy men used it for revictualing in the 1700s (Blackbeard was a regular) and creatives, like Bob Dylan, came in the 1970s. Indeed, when the whirling parties of Mustique grew too tiring for even Princess Margaret—a woman renowned for her social stamina—HRH would sneak off to Bequia for a dip in the water and the chance to be treated a little more like an everyday woman. (Not every visitor, though, sees their favorite beach named in their honor.)

Aeriel view of Port Elizabeth harbor full of boats

Port Elizabeth welcomes boaters; Photo by Powel Toczynski

Cosgrave says that even today the island retains the same welcoming unfussiness. “There’s a sense of ease that you feel the moment you land at the airport. There’s no ceremony,” she says, noting the island’s Goldilocks size—just big enough to encourage exploring and offer secret beaches and glorious isolation, but small enough to remain socially integrated. “You walk to the shop for groceries with everyone, and we’re in it together.” PR exec Ann Layton is another longtime visitor. “You don’t need to wear diamonds to the pool here, just flip flops,” she laughs, “In our world, it’s increasingly impossible to feel off the grid, but here you can, and it attracts a discreet, creative community—artists, filmmakers, music people. You can start talking to nearly anyone and will find that they have a really cool story.”

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One community that’s been core to Bequia for some time is “yachties.” “At New Year’s, there are at least 200 yachts in the bay, and lots of superyachts,” says Layton. It’s in part thanks to the superb, sheltered natural harbor here, arguably one of the best in the region; that’s the same asset that attracted Blackbeard and co.—and the occasional cruise ship now, though thankfully only operators of smaller vessels, like Silversea. Boat-building was one of the island’s industries in its heyday, and Bob Dylan’s visit was connected to his buying a wooden schooner, Water Pearl, built right on the beach. Today, the focus is more on keepsakes than ketches, especially thanks to Sargeant’s Model Boat Shop, the standout among several such operations here. The namesake brothers hand-carve replicas of boats in the harbor and beyond; half-finished models dangle from the ceiling like decorations. “It started from coconut shells,” says Timothy Sargeant, the youngest of the brothers, “We were making small boats for fun, the ones that children race on the water. Then we started seeing the boats coming into the bay, then yachts, and so we made something that looked like them.” He and his team produce miniature whaling boats, yachts, and catamarans like the Vaan R4 or Privlège 640. They will also work on bespoke commissions, replicas of a given vessel, which will take around eight months to complete and cost between $3,000 and $8,000. “We don’t use machinery. It’s all done by handwork.”

View of beach as seen from the beachfront suite at the Bequia Beach Hotel

A view from the beachfront suite at Bequia Beach Hotel; Image courtesy of Bequia Beach Hotel

The same is true of Jerry Simpson’s operation. The one-time commercial photographer stumbled on Bequia almost 40 years ago when he was hired to come to Mustique for a shoot. Simpson became a regular there but segued to the neighboring island after connecting with its creative vibe. “The people here are so resourceful and so accepting, and the water? It’s uber-clean,” he raves. The cleanliness of that water is essential to the company he established: Grenadine Wild Sea Salt. Simpson recalled how often chefs would emphasize the importance of solar-evaporated sea salt whenever he worked with them on commercials or shoots, sparking him to wonder if he could produce salt here. He began tinkering with his own patented salt pan design: when it’s filled with sea water and placed in the sun, the evaporated water that condenses on the glass lid is set at a specific angle so that it runs off rather than drips back into the pan. What remains: pure Caribbean Sea salt. There are rows of the pans on the grounds, affectionately referred to as The Mill, and Simpson strolls around them, rangily enthusiastic, explaining the key difference between his salt and so much of what’s sold elsewhere. Most producers separate crystals by size, better to sell the most prized—fleur de sel—at a premium, Simpson says. He refuses to do that, explaining that salt with an assortment of crystals of varying sizes seasons food more effectively. “It doesn’t shock your saliva glands by dissolving all at once; different size crystals take longer. It enhances the flavor of the food that way, rather than just giving you a blast of salt in your mouth.” Simpson sells his salt from a small boutique on his property, where the company hosts tours as well as their 6-course sea salt tastings and pairing dinners. Many of the superyachters now book ahead to spend an evening in his company when moored in the bay.

Attraction to purchase Grenadine Wild Sea Salt poured by its founder Jerry Simpson

Grenadine Wild Sea Salt—Caribbean Sea salt, hand-sifted and procured by its founder Jerry Simpson

Cosgrave’s not yet booked a super, but she says the fact that so much of Bequia still remains to be discovered, even after so many visits, is one of its greatest appeals. “It’s a working island, buzzing with lots of activity,” she says, comparing it with its better-known neighbor. “Bequia feels real. Real paradise.”


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