Changing winds and glistening waters — making the most of Tobago’s beaches

This beach-ringed island is an ideal spot for watersports. There’s enough wind to surf year-round, and hop in a canoe on a clear night and you could be in for another spectacle — bioluminescence.Monday, 6 January 2020

I’m coasting across calm, pellucid waters beside a dazzling beach, empty but for a few palm trees and beanbags. A gentle breeze pushes at my sail as I rebalance my weight along the deck and lean back, pitting the heft of my body against the elemental power of the wind. Windsurfing isn’t so hard, I think to myself. Perhaps it’s hubris or maybe it’s the gust I fail to react to, but the next moment I find myself sitting in the shallows wiping saltwater from my eyes. “That was great!” Josh, my instructor shouts, wading up to the tangled rig and righting it. “But the wind changed direction. Did you feel it?” I look out across the turquoise bay to where waves are breaking in the distance, trying to sense the source of the air. I take a punt and point northwards. “Not quite,” he laughs, correcting my hand by about 30 degrees. “OK, get on the board. Now tune into the wind.’

Back on land I get a chance to chat to the Trinidadian owner of the hire shop, Brett Kenny. We’re sat on the shaded wooden deck of the office-cum-store house, watching the colourful sails of kitesurfers and windsurfers move across the bay. “It’s a beautiful spot, isn’t it? You know, at low tide you can walk out almost a kilometre.” Brett took over Radical Sports in Pigeon Point Heritage Park nine years ago, chucking in a city job in the States to live in this slice of paradise. “We’re a business powered by nature. There’s nothing better than something that doesn’t require engines or fuel. No noise or pollution, you know. That’s the way. Josh windsurfed right up to a pod of dolphins yesterday.” He breaks off his story to call out to a kitesurfer coming ashore: “Good vibes! Good job!” Wind is a commonsense investment, he tells me: there’s enough here to teach beginners year-round, while peak conditions between November to July attract seasoned pros.

Under Brett, the company has expanded its remit, too. Colourful painted signs on slats of driftwood advertise pizza parties, pilates, turtle safaris and a bioluminescence tour. It’s the latter that catches my eye. I meet the tour leader, Brett’s brother, Duane, at sunset. We throw on life jackets, pull kayaks into the sea and paddle into the wind with the dying embers of the sun at our backs. It’s tough going but the spectacle of the stars overhead and the thrill of the mangrove swamps propels me forward. “We discovered the bioluminesce here about seven years ago,” Duane explains to me. “On a clear, dark night like this, we should be in for a show.”

Tobago: full of life
Surrounded by ocean, ringed with beaches and with a thick forested interior, Tobago is a little slice of Caribbean paradise. But from party-loving people to white-tailed hummingbirds, it’s the life bursting from every corner that makes it unforgettable.

I feel my kayak hit land: we’ve reached a sandbank called No Man’s Land, a perfect place to catch our breath and name some constellations. Then Duane helps me drag my kayak across the little island and into the lagoon on the other side. I follow the sound of his voice through the darkness until the tall, shadowy forms of red mangrove trees appear ahead, blocking out the starlight. “Get as close as you can,” he says, lifting low branches out of the way to make space for me. In the primordial blackness among the boughs and roots, I see the water is full of flecks of light. I cup handfuls of the stuff and watch the particles dance. I dip in my arm and when I raise it out, my skin flashes momentarily like I’ve been doused with glitter. And when Duane finds a good place to swim, I splash around like a child.

We paddle along the mangrove, spotting nestling birds and timid fish, looking out for turtles and sea cucumbers, until it’s time to head back. Duane paddles back to Pigeon Point with a flashlight in his hand, probing the water until he finds an old friend: “It’s a spotted eagle ray,” he says, “quite rare and beautiful. She’s often here when we come through.” The ray pulses near the surface in the circle of light for a few moments before shooting off with remarkable speed. Paddling home is easier; we’re propelled by the tide. And this time, I have the wind on my side.

For more information visit radicalsportstobago.com

Two more sea adventures to try

Castara Bay
I meet the exceptionally cheerful tour outfit owner Ali Baba at his hilltop home in Castara overlooking Little Bay. While he gathers up our snorkeling gear, I stand on his balcony spotting manta rays swimming in the surf below. Out on the water in his motor boat, we pass empty beaches with evocative names — Emerald Bay, Bolthole, Empty Beach — and admire the pelicans perched on the pitted rocks. Our destination is the broad, isolated shore of Cotton Bay. The sand here has been raked into patterns overnight by the flippers of nesting leatherbacks, and in the centre looms an elegant manchineel tree, whose toxic leaves burn and blister human skin. It’s an exotic scene that hints of nature’s infinite curiosities; and the perfect spot to wile away hours snorkeling, fishing and grilling on a makeshift beach bbq.

Pigeon Point
“When the sun shines brightly, you can sometimes spot mermaids,” Alex of Waterholics Tours tells me with mock earnesty as our glass-bottomed boat sets sail from the wooden jetty in Pigeon Point Heritage Park, “but it’s a little overcast today so we may have to settle for a turtle or barracuda.” We head out into Buccoo Reef, a 45,000-year old, six-kilometre arc of coral just off the coast, passing over shoals of fish as bright as jewels. The boat stops at an elevation in the reef where we disembark and paddle, seemingly in the middle of the ocean. The water is pellucid and the sand is pale underfoot. “It’s crushed coral,” Alex says, throwing out another local legend: “we say if you exfoliate with it here in Nylon Pool you come out looking 10 years younger.”

For more information visit visittobago.gov.tt

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