Chasing Pirate History: St. Vincent and The Grenadines
The nerd life continues.
In case you missed it, last year I began an epic quest to take some amazing adventure vacations while seeing some of the spots that were historical pirate strongholds and/or featured in my favorite movie franchise: Pirates of the Caribbean.
I've been so privileged in life to get to experience a lot of amazing countries- and my excursion to The Bahamas two years ago was my first trip to a historically third-world country. But this was the first time I've ever visited somewhere that actually counts as a third world country under the modern definition. Or, rather, a "developing country."
While that may freak a lot of people out ("Are there going to be modern conveniences?" "Am I going to have to bring extra stuff?" "What if I need an ATM?"), I was thrilled. Beginning last year, I've devoted one vacation a year to visiting somewhere remote, stunning, and culturally rich. There is nothing I need in life more than a true vacation every year- somewhere that has enough to see to keep things interesting, but that is easily doable so I can spend the majority of the time lying on pristine beaches and not worrying about what I've missed out on. So thank you to the location scouts who did the work for me, but this was NOT a vacation. This was a full-on adventure. I would need another 5 posts to go into that and will not be writing those unless they are requested. So let me know if you'd like to hear more about the adventure and I'll get started on that- lol!
St. Vincent and The Grenadines was actually supposed to be the first of my pirate adventures, but COVID restrictions were in place at the time of planning and it was just too difficult to make it work. So as soon as the world opened up again, I couldn't wait to go explore, experience the culture, and contribute to the economy of this special and growing country.
It was super important for me to get to St. Vincent as soon as I could, before hurricanes or tourism destroyed what remains of the set from the movies. You heard me right. More on that later.
It's not The Bahamas, okay. The historical pirate lore of St. Vincent and the Grenadines isn't as well-documented or rich as Nassau- but it was the setting of at least one really important event in pirate history.
St. Vincent is where the most famous pirate ship of all time was born.
Let me give you a little context.
Blackbeard's legend has done nothing but multiply since his death in 1718. Until Baylus Brooks shed a ton of light on his true origin with his 2015 book Blackbeard Reconsidered, all we knew about the man who came to be known as Blackbeard is that we first see him in 1702, working as a British privateer sailing out of Jamaica during Queen Anne's War.
Given authority from the British government, privateers were permitted to take French and Spanish ships and keep a percentage of the plunder they came across (of course, the rest went to the government). After the war, many privateers had fallen in love with their occupation and decided to continue plundering, even without the government's authority. Many formed fleets to capture merchant ships, as was the case for Edward Teach in October 1717, when he commanded two or three sloops.
On November 28th, 1717, the French crew of La Concorde were "attacked by two boats of English pirates, one of 12 and the other of 8 guns armed with 250 men controlled by Edouard Titche." You can read the depositions of two of the witnesses thanks to Baylus Brooks, and you can read everything you could want to know about the ship they captured here.
The successful pirates gave the French crew one of their smaller sloops, which the French renamed Mauvaise Rencontre (which translates to "Bad Encounter"). That made me laugh so hard.
La Concorde was renamed Queen Anne's Revenge and outfitted with as many as 40 guns (which was a lot), and the ship became synonymous with Teach himself until it was run aground less than a year later off the coast of North Carolina.
Want to read about what became of the Queen Anne's Revenge? (It's FASCINATING and happened really recently!) Click here.
Want to read more about its glory days? Check out Baylus Brooks' blog here.
The Historical Version:
I know you've come to expect crazy things from me because that's totally a reasonable expectation, but there wasn't much we could see in this nation that relates to the history of pirates. While we could have sailed to the exact spot where Blackbeard captured his famous ship, I honestly didn't see the point of that. To see what he saw when he came across it? Meh. This time, we went straight for the Hollywood pirate history, because St. Vincent is rich in that.
The Hollywood Version:
It's been almost 20 years since Black Pearl hit movie screens everywhere, and nothing has been the same since. And while it may not look exactly the same as it did then, the set at Wallilabou Anchorage has weathered the time pretty well- and I couldn't wait to get there to see it myself.
Time and the elements have weathered what remains of the set, but it's still amazing to walk inside the façade and see how this totally-legitimate-looking-building is just decorated scaffolding. Inside you'll find some of the call cards, pictures from filming, the mast from Captain Jack Sparrow's arrival into Port Royal as he sailed past the arch, and more!
Side Note: The Arch
For $20 USD, you can ask Smiley to have his brother-in-law, Ashley, row you out to see the arch up close and personal. It's so worth it not just for the close up view, but for the view on the way back, as you get to see Wallilabou Bay from the water just as you do in the movie.
The arch is an amazing feat of geology, being completely freestanding and with its rocks jutting out like gems in the wall of a mine. We didn't get the perfect angle, but it's close enough, and I'm not redoing it, lol!
Rum Runner's Isle
The location that has become known as "Rum Runner's Isle" to fans sits way out in The Grenadines, on an island known at Petit Tabac. You'll remember this setting as the one where Jack and Elizabeth got stranded in the first movie (and the one Jack talks about escaping using sea turtles). It's also where Elizabeth teaches Jack some legendary lyrics ("Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a Pirate's Life For Me") and lights Jack's rum on fire ("but WHY is the rum gone?!").
This little island is part of the Tobago Cays, and it's in one hell of a spot to try to film on. Literally the only thing going through my mind the entire time was "why would you choose this?!". It is surrounded on almost all borders by reefs and rocks that won't even allow for a dinghy to get all the way to shore (we had to jump out in about 4 feet of water and arrange for a pickup later). Once you get to the sand on the western edge of the island, a "washing machine" current creates a dangerous environment. This is one place I would actually advise you wear water shoes, because pieces of rock and shell are literally everywhere. Where there used to be a sandy shore, there is now just a dropoff into the water- I would probably say this would be a better place to visit during low tide- but even then, it's in a pretty rough little patch of ocean where it is constantly getting beat around- so it's no surprise that it doesn't look the same as it did 20 years ago.
That being said, it is still a fun little cay to visit- the sand is soft (where there is sand), and the locals have a super cute tradition because of the movie, where they now hide a bottle of rum somewhere on the island. If you find a bottle, you replace it with a full bottle of your own, and it's a little scavenger hunt that keeps on giving.
Black Point Beach
A ton of sources (including ones I deemed to be super legit beforehand) claimed that the scene where Jack outruns the cannibals in Dead Man's Chest was filmed on the black sand beach in St. Vincent (Black Point Beach). That scene was actually filmed on a black sand beach in Dominica if you review the footage and compare it to the geography.
There was a Pirates scene filmed here- but it was actually in a completely different movie. In At World's End, this is the spot where the crew stops to get fresh water after escaping Davy Jones' Locker.
In real life, this beach is stunning. Of every black sand beach I've ever been to, the sand here is the blackest I've seen. It's a pure charcoal color with almost no other grains of color, and it sits next to a cliff of stunning black rocks and green foliage. It's a spot I could have stayed all day were it not drizzling on and off. Two hours was not enough.
Honorable Mention: Young Island Hotel
While it wasn't in the movie, the Young Island Hotel was the place some of the Pirates of the Caribbean cast and crew called home during their time on St. Vincent, so, like a true psycho, I rented out one of the exact units that was used.
It's one of the most luxurious accommodations on the island- with its numerous thatched tropical huts that make for the perfect setting for meals (dinner, we were told, was a 3-hour, multiple course extravaganza). Breakfast was the only mean we had while there, but it was amazing and some of the best food we had on the entire trip. The French Toast with the cinnamon bread was recommended to us by the absolutely adorable and sweet and amazing woman working the front desk, and she was definitely right. But also, order the plain old toast and an extra side of the Guava jelly. It was so amazing I had to ask, and it turns out that they stock Mama's Guava Jelly that is made locally in Bequia. I've hunted it down ever since.
There's a ferry available to take you back to the mainland for dinner, and it's super easy to catch a water taxi to the Rock Fort behind the hotel for a spectacular (albeit, exhausting) hike and view.
Overall, this trip proved to be a full adventure (not really a vacation). In a place like this, that's just inevitable. But the people were as kind as humans get, the culture was so warm and welcoming, and it's definitely going down in history as the trip of a lifetime. Want to know more about the adventures? Just let me know which part and I'll write up another post. Till next year!