MY HIGH-SEAS ADVENTURE had all the drama and excitement of a treasure hunt. Here I was, following in the footsteps of Captain Jack Sparrow himself. But instead of searching for gold doubloons and rum, I was on the lookout for hawksbill turtles.
I set sail from St Vincent bound for the Tobago Cays. Kay Wilson, the owner of the Indigo Dive Centre, had joined up with John West of TMM Yacht Charters to organise the first-ever Dive n Sail package holiday to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Our vessel was far more luxurious and accommodating than the privateer Black Pearl. John had chartered Allicat, a Privilege 465, 14m French-built catamaran fitted with twin Volvo Pentas.
During our voyage we would stop at Bequia, Mustique and Union islands. Its about 35 nautical miles to the Cays, our skipper Seymour told us.
The itinerary/packages offered are very flexible, with plenty of different options. John said that the biggest catamaran he had would comfortably carry 8-12 divers, and these arent basic yachts but are extremely roomy and comfortable, with air-con and en-suites.
Ive got sunshine on a cloudy day, the Temptations used to sing, and this became my anthem throughout the week. Kay explains that the locals, or Vincys, called rain liquid sunshine. Ive kept records for the past five years, she had told me. July is the best time to visit, for weather and underwater visibility.
So perhaps I should blame this slight blip on good old global warming. Instead of clear blue, there seemed to be a distinctly murky tint to the sea. The green water comes from the Orinoco Flow, said Kay.
Kay had arranged rendezvous dives at every island, which meant that the local dive centres picked us up from the cat, took us diving and brought us back again. What could be better No worries about having to organise extra transport, or getting lost along the way.
Bequia, our first port of call, worked out to be around an hours sailing time from St Vincent. The beachfront setting was brimming with overhanging palms, interlaced with some pretty-looking bars and restaurants.
John said the local provisions store was worth visiting, just to catch sight of patron Doriss hairy armpits!
We had enough time between dives to visit Orton Kings turtle sanctuary.
He has more than 50 mainly green and hawksbill turtles. In the past five years Ive put more than 860 back into the sea, he said.
Orton waits for the turtles to lay their eggs, then covers all traces of the nest so that no-one will steal them.
When theyre ready to hatch, he puts a tyre over the top of the nest. The babies get caught inside it, and he then hand-rears them at his sanctuary, setting them free within three years. Seymour had promised me turtle sightings, but this wasnt exactly what I had expected.

THE ISLAND HAS TWO MAIN dive centres about 30m apart, with some 25-30 dive sites on offer within 15 minutes boat ride.
Bequia Island Adventures was owned by a right pair of characters, Larry and Ron. We left promptly at 9am, which surprised me, as I had factored in some ECT (Extra Caribbean Time). But within moments of leaving the shallows, one of the Yamaha 85hp engines conked out.
Larry flattened the battery trying to get the engine started, and spent the next five minutes staring at it. Was he using positive brain power to get it going
De ting aint gonna start, he declared in the end. We managed to hobble out to Boulders on the one good engine and do a shallow reef dive. Larry was an excellent guide, and managed to find us a seahorse. The soft corals were prolific, but there wasnt much else in the way of marine life.
Dive Bequia, owned by Bob and Cathy, was established in 1984. Bobs opening line was: We dont do groups. Most of the clientele came from on-island repeat business, with some passing trade. I did a couple of dives with Bob, at Moon Hole and Cathedral Rock. Moon Hole had plenty of current, green water and low visibility. Cathedral Rock was much better. There were a lot more fish, nice corals and rare black gorgonians.
Seymour upped anchor and set a new course for Mustique. At 10 knots, we would arrive in about two hours.
The island, made famous by Princess Margarets exploits, measures about a mile long by a mile and a half wide, with Macaroni its best sandy beach.
You have to keep an eye on the waves, otherwise theyll crash over you, said John, as he recounted an embarrassing moment. He had been playing in the surf when Pierce Brosnans wife walked past, displaying her new boob job. As he was taking in an eyeful, a huge wave crashed over his head and spat him out right at her feet. Im sure theres a moral to this story.
Mustique Watersports was being temporarily managed by Yorkshire lass Jan Smith, whose most recent celeb had been Prince William.
Hes a nice guy - he even carried his own kit, she said. Rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous is an everyday occurrence on Mustique. I took Shania Twain for a Discover Scuba a few weeks ago, and Mick Jagger is always borrowing the canoes, said Jan.

WE WERE STILL DODGING rain clouds on the way out to Dry Rock. The conditions arent brilliant, but its worth giving it a go, said Jan. We found some nice overhangs and caves, and spotted a big sting ray half-buried in the sand.
Overall, the marine life here was much better. On our second dive, at Pillories, we did a fast drift in once-again reduced visibility, but the site had plenty of fish to show us, including green moray eels, turtles and big sting rays.
The weather was far more settled as we sailed through to the Tobago Cays, the only official marine park in the Grenadines. There are regular patrols in the area to ensure that fishermen dont take the conch, turtles or anything else that moves.
The Cays are made up of five attractively palm-fringed islands, including Petit Tabac, where Jack Sparrow was marooned in Pirates of the Caribbean. Central to the group of islands is a shallow sandy/grassy area fitted with permanent moorings.
The turtle area had been roped off to stop any passing boats getting too close.
I counted only 12 other boats inside the reef, but in the winter months there can be as many as 100 yachts, Seymour told me. The white beaches were deserted - I really was experiencing an unspoilt Caribbean.
Seymour had promised me turtles, but after two fruitless morning dives, the stress was starting to show. Snorkelling was my last resort, and to my surprise this did the trick.
These turtles obviously werent partial to noisy scuba bubbles, but now I had more than a dozen less than an arms-length from of me. As Seymour excitedly shouted: Were jammin! Grenadine Dive Centre picked us up from the catamaran and took us to the outer perimeter of Horse Shoe Reef, where we found plenty of marine life, including barracuda, sting rays and assorted reef fish.
On our second dive we saw triggerfish and a huge shoal of creole wrasse.
I asked whether we could visit nearby Sail Rock, but the wind had picked up, making this exposed site difficult to reach. This was frustrating, because both Kay and Seymour had commented that this was the best site for big fish, including sharks.

WE STOPPED OFF AT Happy Island, wned by Rastaman Janty Ramage. Janty had hand-built the island himself, and what had started off as a dumping-ground for old conch shells is now a popular drinking, smoking and all-round party venue. In high season, more than 60 people stay on his island.
Considering the effort involved, its comparable to building the pyramids! was the comment of visiting Frank from Croydon.
Even the Grenadines Prime Minister had visited Jantys amazing island. Whether the whole story is built around rum and wacky baccy, Im not sure. I just want people to have a fun time, maintains Janty.
To complete our week, Kay had arranged a days diving around St Vincent. Right by the cruise-liner dock are three wrecks, and she showed me around the site.
The adorning soft corals were in excellent condition, with impressive oranges, yellows and purples on display. I was hoping to get a picture of two resident angelfish, but they scarpered as soon as they saw me.
The cruise-liner dock itself was a superb site for wide-angle photos, its long legs swathed in giant gorgonian seafans. When the suns rays are at the right angle, they create extremely photogenic silhouettes and shadows.
The Grenadines has to be the soft-coral capital of the world. All the reefs I saw were thriving, with beautifully coloured corals of all shapes and sizes.
Marine life was a bit sporadic, however, especially the larger species. The Grenadines are known for small critters, said Kay, and shes right.
The Tobago Cays in particular represent unspoilt Caribbean at its best, and for me the addition of sailing provided a new and exciting context for diving.
I even picked up a few nautical tips from Seymour, and discovered the extent to which anchoring or mooring the boat is a skippers most stressful time - especially at night.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly to St Vincent via Grenada, Barbados or St Lucia with BA or Virgin Atlantic. There are also connections through Miami.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Bequia Dive Adventures, www.bequiadiveadventures.com. Dive Bequia, www.dive-bequia.com. Grenadines Dive, www.grenadinesdive.com. Indigo Dive, www.indigodive.com. Mustique Watersports, www.mustique-island.com. TMM Yacht Charters, www.sailtmm.com
MONEY: Eastern Caribbean dollar (EC$)
HEALTH: Hepatitis A inoculation needed.
WHEN TO GO: The weather is warm most of the year. May to October is the rainy season, but Indigo Dive recommends July as the best diving month.
FOR NON-DIVERS: Sailing, sightseeing, snorkelling, sunbathing.
PRICES: Contact Indigo Divers about the Dive n Sail option. The Allicat sleeps eight, and a one-week mid-season trip with skipper/dive guide, air and weights costs US $1060 per head, but other options are the Amarilis ($735) and Navillus ($635) catamarans. Cruising taxes, fuel, provisioning and marine park fees are not included. Rendezvous dives start at $55. Return flights start from around £500.
TOURIST INFORMATION: www.svgtourism.com