the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent
are the odds, I wonder? I am in the company of one Jennifer Sparrow as I tour
the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, where the mega Disney hit motion picture
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was filmed. The lead
character was none other than Captain Jack Sparrow, a pirate rogue brilliantly
portrayed by Johnny Depp.
indefatigable Ms. Sparrow would squire me and four other writers around this Windward
Islands jewel, pointing out all the reasons why it was the ideal location for
Disney’s Buccaneer saga. Not many tourists know about St. Vincent or the
Grenadines, a community of miniature islands with enchanting names such as Bequia
(Beck-way), Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau (My-row), Tobago Cays, Palm and Union islands.
They begin just 21 miles south of St. Lucia and stretch in a half-moon arc to
within a crow’s nest view of Grenada.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines
four times previously, beginning in 1982 and the last time in 1998. On each occasion,
it was via a Moorings yacht charter, which allowed me to linger and explore these
pristine bays and coves that Disney filmmakers found so enticing and so perfect
a locale for their sea epic.
thought of pirates and treasure always fueled my imagination when I sailed these
magnificent waters, and the Curse of the Black Pearl rekindled my fantasies. Disney’s
“Imagineers” transformed portions of St. Vincent into a studio backlot,
with elaborate sets at Wallilabou Bay and Petit Byahaut. I recall visiting Wallilabou
in 1982 when there was little at this anchorage, save one or two small shacks
and an obscure dusty road that led from the black sand beach to a small waterfall
about a mile inland that was a great place to take a natural shower and wash off
the brine of the sea. But now, Wallilabou was made to look like Port Royal, Jamaica,
and the center of activity for most of the film. The set will remain permanently
at Wallilabou. It was here that the rakish Captain Sparrow stepped off his sinking
boat onto the wooden dock and within a few hours, he: bedeviled the British navy,
rescued a drowning damsel (played by Keira Knightley) and engaged in a vigorous
sword fight with Orlando Bloom before finally being imprisoned by the local commandant.
This is one of Depp’s finest roles, but St. Vincent certainly contributes
to the allure.
Petit Byahaut, you won’t recognize the cave where the treasure was hidden,
since it was created through the magic of set design. A natural rock formation
just a hundred yards offshore was the perfect place to construct the cave entrance.
Cables were strung from the rock to the adjacent hillside, which was then covered
by canvas and made to look like the rest of the landscape. It’s one of the
few instances that the island’s natural beauty was altered. We sampled its
many attributes both from land and by sea.
Kingstown, the capital located in the southwestern portion of the center of population,
we drove along the windward coast to the massive volcano of La Soufriere, which
takes up virtually the entire northern one-third of the island. It’s a hiker’s
dream, but no easy task. A climb to the top for a view of the crater is easily
a three-hour trek. Afterwards, we stopped at Owia Salt Pond, a natural pond enclosed
by lava peaks and ridges where the pounding waves of the Atlantic crash into the
barrier then gently settle into the tidewater pools. Owia is a great place to
pause, swim and even have lunch.
the road north, there are small villages and towns that merit a stop, such as
Georgetown and Richmond. Near Georgetown is the former estate of Col. Thomas Browne.
Browne constructed a 350-foot long tunnel through a hill with an opening to the
sea in order to facilitate the transfer of sugar from his plantation to waiting
ships. The Black Point Tunnel is an eerie place and you can almost imagine the
sounds of the workers as they hauled the sugar through the tunnel. It most likely
wasn’t right for the movie because the Atlantic Coast of St. Vincent is
much rougher than the Caribbean side.
One other town worth noting is Barroualie, a small whaling village along the leeward
coast where colorful whaling boats line the beach. Locals occasionally hunt blackfish,
a species of small whale that was once the basis of a thriving 19th-century industry.
Fishing and agriculture are still the main industries in these islands, but tourism
is on the rise.
The movie should spark a great deal of interest in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,
and there are well-established resorts sprinkled throughout the region to accommodate
visitors. They include such notable places as Young Island Resort just 200 yards
off the mainland at Kingstown, which served as the base for the cast and crew
of Pirates. It can only be reached by small ferry and rumor has it that the ferry
was busy transferring Depp and his entourage nightly to the Ocean Allegro restaurant
and pub on the mainland. In honor of their patronage, the restaurant features
a “Black Pearl Martini” that was reportedly quite popular with the
I could have spent the entire time on St. Vincent, the Grenadines have some incredible
vistas to explore. There are inter-island flights to most of the Grenadines, but
there’s also a ferry service and private boats that can get to the popular
resorts. Of course, charter yachts such as the ones offered by Trade Winds Cruise
Club, are another alternative. Fantasea Tours and Captain Yannis Catamarans have
scheduled daytrips throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Princess Cruises
also sails these waters.
We managed to use a combination of boats and planes to capture the essence of
these prized islands. A powerboat excursion with Fantasea Tours along the western
coast of St. Vincent brought us to Petit Byahaut, Wallilabou and the Falls of
Baleine. To see the falls requires being put ashore at a jetty and then carefully
picking one’s way over large volcanic boulders to reach the base of the
falls. The reward is well worth the effort.
The famed Tobago Cays, a cluster of small, uninhabited islands protected by an
outer horseshoe-shaped reef, must also be reached by boat. The turquoise water
is smooth and the reefs harbor spadefish, parrotfish, starfish, eels and more.
The variety is almost as diverse as the islands themselves.
close by Tobago Cays is Petit Tabac where the dastardly Captain Barbossa (played
by Geoffrey Rush) marooned Sparrow and the demure Ms. Knightley. Nothing to see
there, but there’s plenty of attractions at Bequia, a former whaling center
in the Grenadines, Palm Island—which is privately owned—and Union
That was no time to visit Mustique, where the rich and famous own villas and where
you can sometimes hob-nob with celebrities such as Mick Jagger at Basil’s
Bar on the beach. Then there is Canouan, Petit St. Vincent and Mayreau to consider.
You can see the movie and catch of glimpse of each of these rare jewels, but do
yourself a favor and visit St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They are, after all,
not make believe.