These islands located where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic have long been the place of legend and fable, their sandy beaches and exotic plantations home to many pirate legends but also to an interesting colonial people that today fascinate yacht charters Caribbean enthusiasts with their raggae music and rich cultural live, still deeply influenced by the French.
Sea & Coast
It’s not often islands get named after the prevailing winds but that’s exactly the case with a bunch of islands in the eastern and central Caribbean Sea, also known as the Lesser Antilles. This archipelago is an elongated arc of volcanic islands situated where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. Though a serious trade Mecca in the colonial age, today it’s merely a gathering point for numerous groups of holidaymakers.
Though the definitions differ from culture to culture, the Leeward Islands are generally considered to be the ones located in the western part of the West Indies, while the Windward Islands are the ones in the southeastern part. Their names come from the prevailing winds the sailors encountered when heading to the New World, “leeward” – east and “windward” – west.
Today, regulars know that among the most beautiful islands in the Leeward group are Saint Martin. Barbuda, Antigua and Guadeloupe, while in the Windward group there are Martinique, Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada.
The general geography of these islands is rugged, given the nature of their volcanic descent, with high altitudes in the central regions corresponding to mountainous regions. The coastal regions alternate between low, gentle slopes to steep cliffs, especially on the Atlantic side, which also features rougher winds, an useful piece of information for incoming crews.
The vegetation is that of lush, tropical species. For the most part, the interior of the islands is well forested, though logging and cultured plants have eaten away a great part of the original forests. Today, the islands’ economy relies heavily on the cultivation of introduced plants such as the banana, the lime, the cocoa, as well as various spices. The other important revenue in the budget is tourism, of course, and some of that is based.
The general climate is humid tropical, with an abundance of rain, brought on by the high altitudes on the islands which capture the winds coming from out at sea. Also, this part of the Caribbean is prone to hurricanes, but the good news is that these are only seldom destructive in force and they only occur at certain times in the year. The rest of the time, the islands enjoy a warm climate, with occasional breezes from out at sea, perfect for sailing tourism.
Culture & History
Though the islands came to the attention of the European settlers from the first voyages to the New World by Christopher Columbus, they were left to the native Carib tribes for a long period of time. Only after the beginning of the 17th century did the Europeans active interest in the colonization of this territory. After wiping out most of the natives and introducing slaves from Africa, the British and the French fought over sovereignty, with the first gaining access in the end, though for a long time the French had a strong grasp on the Antilles. This grasp can be seen today by the visitor in the cultural influence on most of the islands, in the language, architecture and general way of life of the natives.
Among the most attractive parts of the islands’ history is the colonial period and that of the pirates, when all the legends we know today, such as Blackbeard were born. Another frequently sought aspect of life from the Antilles is the reggae music and the famous steel drums, which greet the guest right from the harbor shore.
Seamanship & Experience
It’s safe to say that the Windward and Leeward islands are the perfect place for any sailing aficionado. They provide the most desirable qualities of any sailing location: plenty of trade winds to tighten your sails while at the same time providing safe mooring places, away from the aforementioned winds. From that point of view there are plenty of deep, sheltered bays and coves where you can leave your boat.
Another plus of the region is the quality of the infrastructure, with plenty of marinas, fully equipped and offering the best possible conditions to the sailing public. Lots of small islets with wildlife can be found for exploring and daytrips, while the big cities on the major islands offer a look into the lifestyle of an interesting, exotic culture.