January 31st ,1997
Prickly Bay, Grenada
Pirate Jenny and crew are once again at anchor in Grenada after a month of exploring this beautiful string of pearls (with a few diamonds and one lump of coal) called the Grenadines. Mom left yesterday to return to Winnipeg with spring a little closer at hand and we are waiting for the weather to settle a bit before leaving for Trinidad. The weather in the past few days has been a bit odd; cloudy, rainy, windy and well, though I know this is a relative term, cold. Today is much nicer, about 29 degrees Celsius, sunny, winds 15 to 18 knots from the east and seas 7 to 9 feet. We will probably wait a day for the seas to calm a bit then head out at 6:00 PM tomorrow to arrive about 10:00 am Sunday.
In all we have spent about seven weeks in the Grenadines and have, for the most part, enjoyed our visit. Our impressions in general; clean, colourful, crowded and expensive. Our cruise of the Grenadines started and ended in Grenada. Grenada and St. Vincent are at opposite ends of the string of Islands collectively known as the Grenadines. Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique are a part of the country of Grenada and St. Vincent and the rest of the islands in the group form the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Both Grenada and St. Vincent have large airports and easy access to international flights. We chose to have our visitors fly in and out of Grenada in part due to our plans to return to Trinidad and also due the fact that we will not take the boat to the island of St. Vincent for reasons I'll explain later.
We started 1997 in Grenada, literally with a bang. We attended the island's biggest New Years Eve party at the Rex Grenadian Hotel. This hotel is the biggest and most expensive on the island and the place to be in Grenada on New Years Eve. Finally we had an excuse to haul out the 'dressy' clothes that have taken up space in the locker these past nine months. We started the evening with a very good dinner at Joe's Steakhouse then headed to the hotel for the party where we danced to a live calypso band till 3 the next morning. The highlight of the night was an impressive fireworks display at midnight; with balloons floating through the air, a warm tropical breeze and a thousand locals and visitors holding hands and singing Auld Lang Sine, all under the sparkling, colourful overhead display. It was a wonderful way to start the year!
On the island of Grenada there are three main anchorages, two are Prickly Bay and Mount Hartman Bay, amongst the many long fingered bays of the south coast and the third in the lagoon in St. George's harbour. There are a few other anchorages along the west coast of the island but these are generally quite small and often rolly and thus seldom used. One of the better protected of these bays is Halifax Harbour which aside from a pleasant palm fringed beach offers an unobstructed view (and aroma) of the island garbage dump. We chose to do our sightseeing of Grenada by taxi, leaving the boat safely anchored in the Lagoon. Our very informative taxi driver took us around the island returning to St. George's in time for happy hour at a total cost of $50. US. One of our first stops was at Concord falls, a pretty mountain stream cascading into a clear pool of inviting, fresh, cool water. The road through the countryside is lined with nutmeg and cinnamon trees, two of the country's main exports. The island produces several spices along with chocolate and sugar cane; their sweet aroma fills the air. During our day tour we also saw a rum factory that is still powered by the water from a nearby stream, the black volcanic sand beaches of the eastern side of the island and the dense vegetation of the interior, tropical rain forest.
Taxi tour of Grenada
Concord Falls, Grenada
Grenada - 'Isle of Spice'
Water powered rum factory
Most of our provisioning had to be done in St. George's which meant stops at the three area grocery stores and the market. As all the other islands we planned to visit are much smaller by comparison we wanted to purchase the bulk of our non-perishable supplies in Grenada. Selection is often a problem in the islands. You will find only a few of the things you want in each store and prices may vary considerably on a given item. So, provisioning took a full day to complete, traveling several miles by foot, dinghy and local bus.
We left the lagoon early the next morning and motor sailed along the 20 mile western coast of the island admiring from a few miles offshore the beautiful countryside and green towering peaks we had driven through two day before. Traveling north through the islands, each new island lay to the northeast of the previous. In the winter months the wind generally blows from the north east so it is a struggle against the wind with strong currents and very steep seas in the short hops between islands. We hugged the shore of Grenada for some protection then headed out, skirting the active underwater volcano three miles to the north, and dropped anchor for the night in a small bay on the west side of Isle de Ronde. We shared the rolly anchorage off a black sand beach with four other boats.
We continued on the remaining 6 miles to Carriacou the next morning, rounding the small, 670 foot high island called Kick em Jenny. The two miles north of the island were the worst seas we encountered; 8 to 10 feet high and it seemed a similar distance between crests. Fortunately the rest of the distance was in the lee of Carriacou and much more comfortable. We settled in Tyrrel Bay for the next two days to explore this well know anchorage. Tyrrel bay is a large well protected bay on the south west side of Carriacou. The shore is lined with small shops and restaurants that are a pleasure to visit. We walked along the road to the south and were treated to a spectacular view of the bay with it's white sand and coral bottom and white palm lined crescent beach. Tyrrel bay was also our first encounter with the 'boat boys'. "Hey skip, you want lobster?" "Nice grapefruit and oranges?" "Fresh bread?" "Need any ice, captain?" "Take the trash for you?" "I watch the dinghy captain? Just two EC? Your face gets tired from smiling and saying "No thanks, not today thanks". I applaud the initiative of these young men and prefer this to thefts in the night but the constant flow of boat-to-boat salesmen can be annoying.
Our next stop was a day at the beach. Sand Island is just that, a crescent shaped sand bar with tall coconut palms at one end and a coral reef all along its north shore. The soft, white sand made walking around the island a treat for both feet and eyes, while the gentle slope of the inside crescent with it's clean, clear waters makes the perfect beach. Sand Island is situated at the southern end of Hillsborough Bay and is well protected from both wind and current. Though the holding in the sand bottom of the crescent seemed good, the cruising guide suggests it as a day anchorage and many of the captained charter boats head off to either Tyrrel Bay or Hillsborough Bay by 5:00 pm. We did not stay overnight either and traveled the short distance to Hillsborough that evening.
View from Sand Island looking north to Union Island
Hillsborough is the small but busy port town on Carriacou. As with all the islands, Saturday morning is the time to visit the town. The local market, though much smaller than St. George's, is very colourful and offers nicer produce at better prices. We spent the weekend anchored here and enjoyed several walks through town poking into the small shops and chatting with the very friendly island folk. Hillsborough is also a port of entry for Grenada and our departure point for the upper portion of the Grenadines belonging to St. Vincent. Monday morning I made my visit to customs, immigration and the harbour master to check out. After another brief stop in the market for more fresh fruits and vegetables we lifted anchor and motored along the west coast of the island and then east a few miles to windward to one of our favorite anchorages.
There are two much smaller islands to the east of Carriacou; Petite Martinique, belonging to Grenada, and Petite St. Vincent (PSV), belonging to St. Vincent. The two islands are protected from the north and east by a large reef and the anchorage between the two islands, just off PSV, is one of the most comfortable in the Grenadines. In all we spent several days in this anchorage. The Island of PSV is privately owned and is home to the quite unique PSV Resort. The resort was the dream of two Air Force buddies who, after a short stint of chartering their old, wooden yacht in the late 50's bought the island to build a resort. The result is a very exclusive and expensive ($750US/night) group of 'cottages' placed in secluded spots around the island. The cottages are connected by narrow double track paths that serve as the roadways. When a guest wants room service he need only raise a pennant to bring the prompt attention of resort staff driving a somewhat overgrown golf cart known as a Mini Mock. Cruisers are invited ashore to enjoy parts of the island including some of the beach area, the bar, restaurant and boutique, but the cottage areas are restricted to resort guests. We were also able to buy fresh baked bread and ice from the restaurant. The anchorage itself has excellent holding in deep sand. The almost transparent water flows over the reef and between the two islands in strong currents. During our stay we dinghied around the island for a peek at the cottages from the reef protected lagoon on the windward side, explored parts of the healthy, colourful reef and dinghied over to Petite Martinique for lunch in a more affordable beach front restaurant. PSV also gave us our first look at some of the 'mega yachts' that sail the Caribbean this time of year. Pirate Jenny is often one of the smallest boats in a harbour but we really feel like a dinghy alongside some of these spectacular 100 foot plus sailing and motor yachts.
One of the truly nice things about long-term cruising is that you can, and do, wait for the weather, or change your plans to take advantage of the conditions you have. When chartering or even in your own boat on a tight schedule you are faced with fewer options and at times must sail in conditions that can be very unpleasant or even somewhat dangerous. The 25 and 30 knot winds that can make for an exciting and challenging afternoon sail on the Ottawa River or in the 1000 islands are a very different kettle of fish in the Caribbean. The distances, large seas, strong currents and coral reefs can, at best, put a lot of very costly 'wear and tear' on the boat not to mention the crew. We either wait for another day or go somewhere else. So, when we left PSV for Union Island and found a light but more south easterly wind blowing, we decided to take advantage of our good fortune and sailed all the way to Bequia.
I had expected to find Bequia a much quieter place after Christmas and was a bit surprised to find well over a hundred boats still at anchor in Admiralty Bay. Bequia seems to have become a popular destination. The Island itself is, like most others in the Grenadines, beautiful, lush, green with palm fringed shores and with souvenir tee shirts displayed for sale everywhere. Port Elizabeth is a quaint, small town that lines the shore of Admiralty Bay. There is a local market manned by the most persistent vendors we have met. As soon as you approach the market you are surrounded by 4 to 8 young men with hands filled with fruits and vegetables who literally fill your arms with their produce before you even have a chance to look at the tables. It is quite an experience! There are numerous shops that cater to the cruisers, selling marine supplies and otherwise hard to find north American products. The bay is lined with waterfront restaurants and resorts. The main road passes in front of the commercial and ferry dock, customs house and police station. Beyond that, the sidewalk, which is often awash with the wake from the constant dinghy traffic, continues along the water's edge.
Print of the painting "Friendship Rose" by Bequia artist Sam McDowell
There is no real marina in Port Elizabeth, only a few med style moorings at the fuel dock but all manner of services are available right at anchor. A radio call will get fuel, water or ice delivered, laundry picked up or a water taxi ride into town. Many of the stores and restaurants also have dinghy docks which you use free of charge for any trip into town. Of course, on most docks you will be greeted by a young 'boat boy' who will offer to help you tie up, take your garbage to the container 10 feet away and "Captain, I watch the dinghy only 2 EC?". At anchor their older brothers offer bread, fruit, vegetables, fish and lobster in a constant parade of small, open fishing boats. Sometimes we appreciate these services I had managed to get some water in the fuel line of the outboard motor and after correcting the problem attempted to start the motor. I must have pulled the starter rope 50 times, choke in, choke out all to no avail. Finally I gave up and we hailed a water taxi to take us to shore with the dinghy in tow. We left it tied to the dock and went off to do our grocery shopping. On our return a couple of hour later I tried again to start the motor. After several pulls on the cord a young fellow, probably all of 8 years old, came over to talk. "Captain, I tell you how to start the motor, you have to pull out the choke and pump the gas and then pull the rope Captain." He repeated his instructions several times while I tried to ignore him. I had of course already done all these things. Finally, just to get rid of him I said " I know how to start the motor, I've already tried that, LOOK..". I pulled out the choke, pumped the gas and pulled the rope. Naturally, the motor roared to life. I quietly gave him 2EC and suggested he had a great future in the small marine engine business.
Bequia was as far north as we would travel at this time. Most cruisers do not visit St. Vincent with their boats but choose instead to visit by ferry from Bequia or skip the island all together. The capital of St. Vincent, Kingstown, is the largest city in the Grenadines and has many shops and services. The port, however, does not offer a good anchorage for cruising boats and is quite dirty. The island is, I understand, very pretty and has some interesting sights but there have been several problems reported over the last few years. I understand the boat boys on St. Vincent are very aggressive and can be somewhat intimidating if you refuse their services. There was a boat boarded and a cruiser murdered earlier this year. Allegations were made of botched investigation, evidence destroyed, and large bribes demanded by local officials. In the end no one was charged and the case largely ignored. At Christmas we visited by ferry and spent a morning looking through town. Aside from a couple of very old churches that were interesting , I saw no reason to return.
We left Bequia looking forward to the return trip to Grenada with the wind and waves on our aft quarter which would make for good sailing. We stopped one night in Friendship bay on the south coast of Bequia, a pretty bay surrounded by agricultural land, then sailed to the Island of Mustique. Mustique is another unique island in the group. It is owned by a private company that has sold property to the rich and famous. A list of land owners includes Mick Jagger and Princess Margret. The homes along the island's coast are spectacular to say the least. The whole island is almost manicured. We sailed along the coast in awe of the beautiful homes and properties finally taking a mooring in Britannia Bay. We went for a long walk along the island's winding road in hopes of seeing more of the homes. In fact the best view was from the water but our pleasant walk offered several wonderful views of the anchorage and surrounding reefs and islands. There is a restaurant and bar on the island along with two boutiques, an ice cream stand and very well stocked grocery store. We visited all but purchased very little. If there was some food item that you were 'dying for' and were willing to pay most any price, you could probably get it on Mustique. The island was very picturesque and is a good example of what lots of money can do.
Pirate Jenny at anchor at Mustique
Pink House and Purple House boutiques on Mustique
From Mustique we sailed to Canouan and spent a night in the rather rolly anchorage at Rameau Bay and then sailed early the next morning to Salt Whistle Bay on Mayreau. Mayreau is a very small but very beautiful island on the western edge of the Tobago Keys. Salt Whistle Bay is at the northern end of the island and is as pretty an anchorage as you could imagine. The beach wraps around you with white sand and palm trees. What is so special about the anchorage is that there is only a narrow spit of land between the main island and the hill at the northern tip. The view from the anchorage is marvelous; turquoise waters, white sand, swaying green palms with deeper blue water, white surf then the lighter blue reefs and green islands of the Tobago Keys just beyond. Needless to say such beauty is appreciated by many and the anchorage is one of the most crowded in the Grenadines.
View from the masthead in Salt Whistle Bay
The only roads on the island run from the main anchorage at Saline Bay up the hill to the small collection of homes and three tiny shops that constitute the town. From Salt Whistle Bay you can walk to town on a trail that leads you through the palms, twisting and climbing up to the top of the hill to meet the paved road from the town on the other side. The climb is a long trek on a hot day but the views are worth the effort. At the top of the hill the Island Paradise Restaurant has ice cold beer to wash the dust from your throat while you rest and enjoy the panoramic view from the highest point on the island. On a clear day you will see the entire island chain from the Northern shores of Grenada to the southern shore of St. Vincent.
Now, for those diamonds I mentioned, the Tobago Keys. The keys are a group of five deserted islands lying to the east of Mayreau. Surrounded by a reef the islands are well protected from every direction. The large anchorage in the center of the islands offers some protection from winds as well. The volcanic islands each have numerous small to tiny beaches along their shoreline. The reef protects even the windward side of four of the islands and it is possible to anchor between the reef and the islands. The water is clear and the reef alive and colourful. The keys are a very popular spot and during our visit, there were just over 60 boats anchored around the islands. Fortunately there is ample space and a bit more seclusion can be found to windward of the main island group or behind the reef off Petit Tabac which is a bit more challenging to navigate to through the reefs. We anchored in the main anchorage and used the dinghy to explore each of the islands and the reef itself. I found the most interesting snorkeling to be on the windward side of the reef where there is a 30 to 60 foot drop and an amazing assortment of fan corals waving slowly in the current. While on the island beaches the coconut palms and souvenir tee shirts waved slowly in the breeze.
During our explorations we counted nine Canadian boats including Pirate Jenny. After visiting two charter boats with a lively group, "The Sail-Away Gang" from Ontario who were thoroughly enjoying their three weeks in paradise, a group decision was made to make use of our Sheila Flags and claim one of the islands for Canada, at least temporarily. The word was passed and watches synchronized. At the appointed hour we converged on the prettiest of beaches. The invasion was successful, the only casualties due to the potency of the rum punch. We planted our flag and toasted Canada, the Grenadines, the warm tropic air, lack of snow, soft sand, our friends back home and of course the wonderful quality and flavour of the rum. Our celebrations run well into the night.
Canadian invasion force in Tabago Keys
With Captain and crew a bit blurry eyed the next morning we lifted anchor and sailed the short distance through the reef passage to Union Island. We did some additional provisioning in the small but adequate grocery on the island and then cleared customs and immigration for our return to Grenada the next morning. We stopped at nearby Palm Island to spend the night but soon were driven off to PSV by a very uncomfortable roll. The next morning with a clear blue sky and a fresh breeze from the north east we began what turned out to be a glorious day of sailing, arriving just after sunset at the lagoon in St. George's. After clearing in the next morning and a little more shopping we motored in rain and haze around Point Saline to spend Mom's last few days of holiday in Prickly Bay, along the south shore.
During our cruise up island Grenada had been transformed. It's lofty peaks and shoreline was ablaze in a riot of orange, red, pink and purple. The Immortelle trees were in bloom. We walked along the road toward the end of the peninsula beneath overhanging branches thick the bright flowers. The colour and scent of this 'Isle of Spice' gave the country roads an almost Disneyland sense of magic and perfection. We visited the Moorings facility in Mount Hartman Bay called Secret Harbour and were very impressed. Certainly a beautiful place to start or end a charter.
Pirate Jenny under sail (August 96)
As I end this letter we are once again in Trinidad. We made our passage three days later than planned as the strange weather refused to move off and take the strong south west winds and 10 foot seas with it. We managed to sneak across in a weather window only a few hours longer than our passage. We left at 6:30 am in light easterly breezes and 3 to 5 foot seas and arrived at 8:00pm in building winds and seas. Those who followed us that same evening experienced numerous squalls with 30 knot winds and uncomfortable seas. Well, I guess I owe Neptune another drop of rum. We are checked in and anchored at the Trinidad and Tobago Yachting Association sipping a cold Carib beer and, I have to admit, very excited about Carnival. The whole island is tingling with energy and excitement. Trinidad is the only place to be in February!
Best wishes to all.