The Lesser Antilles form an arc stretching from Puerto Rico to Venezuela which is a sailor's paradise: distances from one island to the next never exceed a day's sailing, the climate (from November to May) guarantees safe conditions, the wind is regular, anchorages are many, harbours and marinas are easy to access and charming.
Most of the islands have regular and charter airline connections with the United States and Europe, and a number of charter companies operate from bases on almost all the islands.
The languages spoken by the local population are English and/or French with their own exotic flavour, the aboriginal inhabitants having been virtually exterminated (with the exception of Dominica) and replaced by African slaves and European settlers.
Navigation in the Lesser Antilles is straightforward: good visibility, no tides, weak currents, regular winds and coasts are generally clear of dangers.
- Variation: Magnetic variation is +/-14° W, which you'll need to add to the true heading to instruct the helmsman.
- Buoyage: Virtually inexistent, it conforms with the Region B convention relative to lateral marks. I.e. red to your right when returning to the harbour. Cardinal marks are the same in both Region A and B.
Lights are rare and their functioning is haphazard. It is not advisable to sail at night as unlit fishing boats may also be encountered. However, around the French islands such as Guadeloupe and Martinique, the navigational lights are reliable.
- Sails: The islands are oriented in such a way that you'll be sailing mostly close hauled or abeam with a moderate to fresh breeze (5 Beaufort). A symmetrical spinnaker is rarely of use. A gennaker or a small genoa are the ideal foresails.
- Anchorage: Ports and marinas are rare and most boats will be anchoring in one of the numerous natural harbours of the western coasts of the islands. There are also a few on the East coasts that are protected by coral reefs, such as Tobago Cays, some harbours of Martinique and Non Such Bay on Antigua.
These anchorages should always be approached by good visibility with the sun high in the sky and behind you (preferably before 4 o'clock). They are generally quite deep and require that you pay out a lot of chain. In some cases Bermudian anchorage is recommended, and in others a land line is required.
- Tide and currents: Tides are slight, similar to the Mediterranean. But beware of tides and currents in the South of the Grenadines.
The current is usually west-oriented and goes from 0 to 2 knots in the channels between islands.
Winds and waves: In the trade wind belt, the wind is 4 to 6 Beaufort ENE to ESE the year round. It is more irregular from June to November which is also the hurricane season.
The sea is slight to moderate leeward of the islands and rough to very rough in the channels between the islands.
Swell from the East is frequent, but slight during the good season. A northern swell may be quite strong and make many anchorages uncomfortable or even unsafe.
- Hurricanes: The hurricane season is from June to November with August to October being the most dangerous months. There's an average of 7 hurricanes or tropical storms a year and many web sites will provide information as to their route and strength.
- Marine charts: Admiralty, Imray and US, as well as French (Shom) editors supply good charts of the area.