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Good-bye, `real world,' Hello, Mayreau. Eating, snorkeling, sailing in the glorious Grenadines

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THERE are three ways to get to Canouan, the glimmering gold and green gem of the Grenadines. One way is to hitch a ride on the twice weekly inter-island mailboat. The second is to scare up a small plane. The third, and certainly the most pleasant, is by private yacht. We chose the third - a comfortably outfitted 43-foot, sloop-rigged Beneteau. In our case, the yacht was merely ours for a 10-day charter, long enough to sail to Canouan and the other islands, between St. Vincent and Grenada, that make up the Grenadines (geographically a part of the Windward Islands). Aboard our boat, the Zachari, we leapfrogged from island to island.

And while the three-dozen islands are clustered together in a 50-mile string, they often seem worlds apart. There's Mustique, peopled by the jet set; Mayreau, undiscovered and native; and the Tobago Cays - inhabited only by brilliantly colored fish.

We chartered our boat from the Moorings, one of half a dozen charter boat companies in the Windwards. We opted for a bare boat, which meant that the six of us - three couples - captained and crewed the vessel ourselves. But for those who don't know port from starboard, the charter companies will provide a captain and crew.

Sailing in the Grenadines is not for everyone. If you embrace the Holiday Inn's concept of ``no surprises,'' or seek glitter and gourmet restaurants, go elsewhere. But if you've lamented that you got to Hawaii after James Michener, try the Grenadines.

We had our share of surprises. The Moorings boasts of weather that's 80 degrees and sunny. But we left on our first sail from St. Lucia's Marigot Bay in the rain. Trapped by the tall volcanic mountains, the Pitons, rain dogged us for much of ``the long passage'' - 55 miles down the coast of St. Lucia, past St. Vincent to Bequia. But when we'd navigated it successfully, we congratulated ourselves on having accomplished the sailing equivalent of a triathlon.

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