The Grenadines (31st December - 28th January 2009)

We left Barbados at noon on the 30th December, the intention being to spend New Year in Bequia in the Grenadines. After 10 days in one place and after so much moving in the previous month we were all ready for the little voyage of 100 miles or so. Having just read about 24 days of tradewind sailing we will not bore you with another 24 hour account. Suffice it to say that the weather was largely fine, the stars absolutely magnificent and the paassage fairly fast despite a strangely adverse current for the early part of the trip. As intended we arrived in sight of the north coast of Bequia at dawn and sailed up to the island through the morning. An otherwise peaceful trip was spiced up, for Selma at least, by a real cracker of a wind and rain squall which sneaked up and whacked us as we sailed between the islands of St Vincent and Bequia. No harm done but a bit of excitement and some fresh water.

We anchored off the capital Port Elizabeth in Admiralty Bay at 1100 in about 4.6 metres. Admiralty Bay is a massive natural harbour that runs east-west becoming narrower as you reach the eastern end. This means that as you sail further into the bay you become increasingly sheltered from both the predominant ENE trades as well as the significant swell that they inevitably create. Not only does the bay provide great shelter but it’s also a really quite beautiful natural harbour. A sort of Caribbean version of Newton Ferrers. Hills look down on the bay which are covered with thick woods running down to the sandy beach that lines the majority of the sea shore; the shallow water of under 10 metres ensures the presence of the turquoise sea which nicely finishes the picture off . Snugged up right at the end of the bay is Port Elizabeth, a large town by Grenadines standards, made up of a handful of bars, supermarkets and restaurants with even a chandlery.

We dropped anchor, dug in, tidied up and Jack and I went ashore to clear Customs and Immigration which is a real magical Caribbean experience. The people in the West Indies are on the whole incredibly friendly. The only time we have dealt with an angry local was in Bridgetown; we were rushing to buy some food for Christmas Day and a local man shouted at the top of his voice ‘hey mon, slow down, you makin’ de locals nervous’. Other than this everyone has been incredibly friendly. The possible exception are the Customs and Immigration officials. This special race of West Indians (Barbados excluded) are not exactly unfriendly just incredibly officious and this coupled with a paperwork process which would have Holger in tears creates a memorable experience. Carbon paper flies around like no tomorrow, passports and forms are enthusiastically and apparently randomly stamped, initialled and then stamped again and to complete the excitement the clearance forms include a series of trick questions. When we hand ours over I await the disdainful look as the official rings, crosses and underlines the mistakes that I inevitably make; what you mustn‘t do at this stage is argue, frown, challenge or in anyway question the usefulness or clarity of the form but look pained and concerned at your own stupidity - I do this well and Jack is now able to look at me as if amazed that he has been spawned by a man of such limited intelligence. One thing that does make me feel marginally better is that you invariably see numerous forms in the ‘processed’ pile which have exactly the same mistakes! All data provided in triplicate is subsequently recorded in magnificent ‘Dickensian’ leather bound ledgers, this ensures that no information will ever be lost but equally that it will never be found! Once the rules are understood the process is relatively straightforward and usually lightly entertaining such that when time is not against you the whole experience is just that, an experience. This is not the case when you're on holiday and time matters, when this is the case tempers can fray providing even more entertainment for those lucky ones amongst us who are not against the clock. The American who shouted ’I know it’s your lunch break but just give me the god dam forms’ is probably still waiting.

New Years Eve was great fun for all bar Jack who had a bit of a cold and a temperature of 104. He made it to the beach but laid off the rum punch because it wouldn’t have mixed well with the Calpol. Despite Jack being poorly, we had a great barbecue with some now good friends, Jim, Jo, Josie and Clemmie (The Blazers) who we met first in Porto Santo. Jack and Selma went back to the GSB at about 8 00pm whilst Ella and I stayed on the beach for just a little longer with Jim, Jo and family … this was a mistake. The intervening hours were spent drinking rum punch and playing a variety of violent contact sports including British Bulldog, Sharky Sharky and a violent form of Stuck in the Mud. My recollection of most of the evening beyond this point is somewhat blurred; Ella said we spent a long time going round in circles on our way back to the boat and was apparently worried as to whether we would ever get there; this statement has not been corroborated, but Selma did say I kept falling over as I walked along the deck just before midnight. I also, sadly missed the fireworks display which Selma and the kids enjoyed looking out of the forepeak hatch, whilst standing on top of me asleep on the bunk below.

We stayed in Bequia for 6 days in truth not doing too much other than swimming and a bit of exploring ashore and generally enjoying ourselves. On the 6th of January we sailed 16 miles down to Canouan. En route we caught our first Barracuda - these are the hunters of the Caribbean and have the teeth to prove it. They sometimes attack swimmers when seriously annoyed and this one definitely looked upset. Selma and I discussed how we could humanely kill it without losing a finger and decided that this was almost impossible so we did the inhumane thing and towed it behind the boat until it was really quiet and then chopped it‘s head off. The lucky chap was BBQ'd that night. The anchorage at Canouan is largely taken up by mooring bouys which are available at a price and generate their own business by limiting safe places to anchor. This said we managed to find a spot to anchor but were warned by the local Boat Boy that we would need to move if he filled the moorings up - we were fairly relaxed about this as there were tens of moorings and virtually no boats! Apart from the routine but still delicious process of diving down to check the anchor is well set, the inevitable chicken/fish BBQ on the beach and plenty of swimming, our stay in Canouan was very typical of stops in most of the islands. Ashore, Canouan is much more like the Caribbean was when we were here last. Goats, dogs and the odd pig roaming around the place, most people in bare feet, loads of rubbish scattered everywhere and really friendly people. Canouan will be particularly remembered by Selma and I as the place we encountered the masturbating man. As we walked up the main (only) road, Selma said ‘I think that mans having a ****'. I looked across and whilst I cannot absolutely confirm or deny the physiological process, if he wasn’t actually doing it he was giving a bloody good impersonation. Either way we beat a hasty retreat just in case he made eye contact and wanted to shake hands with us. At Canouan Jack and I continued our quest to get our hair cut. This had started in Barbados where it became apparent that Barbers, even more so than in the UK, are the social centre of the community. This means that the average queue for a quick trim is a couple of hours which is not surprising because a quick trim takes about the same time. In Canouan we did find a barbershop that was empty but the reason was that the music being played was so loud that it would have made your ears bleed if you had gone into the shop. We never found out whether the barber was stone deaf or just really cool (but shortly to become stone deaf) because the safety zone was several hundred meters from the front of the shop.

A day or so later we were ready to move again and made another short hop to Salt Whistle bay in Mayreau, an anchorage which is the archetypal Caribbean. Pinky white beach, crystal clear sea, and the odd palm tree … look at the photo below which does not do it justice! As it happened the anchorage which although quite spectacular is not well protected was quite rolly and busy so we moved onto another classic Grenadines spot, the Tobago Cays.

Tobago Cays are a National Park comprising of five tiny islands and an immense horseshoe reef. As you lie at anchor you face straight out into the Atlantic. With no land between you and Africa massive waves breaks just a few metres away on the reef producing a constant din as monster waves are reduced to no more than you would find on a calm day in the Solent. The snorkelling was quite spectacular and we had the delightful experience of swimming for half an hour or so with 3 or 4 Hawksbill turtles, an endangered species; adults and children were suitably spell bound. Later on the same day Ella and I were swimming round the boat and came across a large Eagle Ray (type of stingray) with perhaps a 2 m wing span snuffling away just below us looking for shell fish on the sea bed … quite amazing. After a memorable day in the Cays we moved further south to Union Island where we anchored in the capital Clifton.

As with most of the southern Caribbean as you approach any harbour you are greeted by any number of Boat Boys selling moorings, diesel, water, bread, advice on how to anchor, a taxi service, trash disposal, fish, lobster, barbecues … in fact anything you want. The boats they speed round in are home built, have substantial outboard motors and invariably flamboyant names: De Black Knight, De Fresh Prince, Knight Rider, Bay Watch, Destiny, No Problemo, Desperado, Kamakaze and Jacks favourite … the somewhat mundane Caribbean Diesel.
My personal favourite is undoubtedly ‘Phat Shag’ from Bequia; whether this boat is named in tribute to the owners wife or girlfriend or is a somewhat confusing colloquialism remains so far a mystery to us because the boat has always been anchored in the bay and haven‘t been able to ask, but we are ever watchful. We will update you should an explanation be forthcoming …

After we victualled in Clifton we rendezvoused with The Blazers and agreed to move round the island to Frigate Bay. We knew we would split up shortly as they headed south and we north so agreed to sail together for a week or two, so the kids would have company; it was not so hard for the adults either.

The weather over this period although lovely and warm had been very windy and squally with winds typically between 20 and 30 knots and up to 40 knots in the squalls. This meant that even the best protected anchorages were rolly and when we went ashore you invariably arrived soaked to the skin - not a big deal when it’s so hot but a bit frustrating if you’ve used valuable fresh water on a shower or on the way back to the boat in the evening. We hoped that Frigate Bay would provide slightly more shelter and would also be a little quieter than the busy anchorages we had visited so far in the Caribbean - this proved to be true on both counts. There were only 4 of us in the anchorage which was well sheltered by the remains of a sea wall that had been built when a marina was planned in the bay but which had then been abandoned when the Company went bankrupt. The wall, coupled with a natural reef upwind acted as a natural trap for all sorts of interesting debris with vast numbers of conch shells and a variety of natural and man made debris. Our usual beachside BBQ was finished with a great fire as we worked our way through the many piles of driftwood and rubbish. Ashore from Frigate Bay was a lovely village called Ashton which being off the beaten path was inhabited with just the local people who had no great interest in tourism or removing money from yachties.
Frigate Bay was a lovely spot and thought unbeatable until we sailed a mile or so round the coast to another bay called Chatham. As we entered Chatham Bay (only very loosely connected with Chatham, England, Alison) we were greeted by Sekie and Vanessa inviting us to a BBQ at their place, then Shark Attack invited us to a barbeque at his ‘shack’ and so it went on. The great thing with these guys is they tell you what the deal is and then go; there’s no pushiness or hard sell probably because this is the Caribbean and anything resembling hard work is avoided at all cost even if required for business survival.

In Chatham we anchored next to Tyche, a lovely steel sloop, owned by Robin and Sita with their two children. For a moment we thought our record for the smallest boat was broken but subtle enquiries revealed that Tyche was a grand 31 ft. Our small boat status has proved useful in many ways so far - lobster prices are reduced, water has been given free and other yachties seem to know us even when we don’t know them presumably because they have discussed the mad family on the tiny boat. This can be very confusing for me as I desperately try and remember people who come up to talk to us that I have never met!

The Brimblettes, Blazers and Tyches BBQ’d on the beach and then Jim and I went to test out the local bars. Sekie’s was the only one open, primarily, because Sekie and his partner sleep on the beach so as they put it ’as they’re there they may as well be open‘. Both Sekie and Vanessa were sober but were seriously relaxed from chain smoking the local grass; further investigation revealed that they like to light up at breakfast and then chain smoke through the day until bedtime; this seemed to be the Chatham way of living and perhaps explains in part why ‘hard sell’ is not part of their vocabulary … ‘what’s de point mon’. Jim and I had a pleasant evening drinking beer and rum and inhaling the residue of Sekie and Vanessa’s smoke and generally putting the world to right which we did or would have done if we had the faintest idea what was going on in the world outside Chatham Bay. Notwithstanding their apparent calm I did hear two fisherman having a brief argument about where they could land their catch which culminated in the classic retort by one of them ’get your own f***ing island mon’; what a great line. Chatham Bay can also claim to be the place where I nearly lost Selma and the family. Hanging out on the beach was Alvin of no fixed abode; Alvin was a muscular and fairly hairy 6ft 3”and was the Chatham Bay gigolo. As luck would have it he took a bit of a shine to Selma and after a brief courtship proposed to Selma by saying ‘don’t take dis de wrong way, but I want to throw me cards your way’. Selma, beat a hasty retreat but Alvin was not easily deterred and decided to try to befriend the children in the hope presumably that the mother would follow; it was only at this stage that I discovered the truth and having carefully considered the risk to myself of defending the family honour told Selma and the kids to go off with their new dad; they unfortunately refused but by this point Alvin had gone off for a quick nap. I therefore allowed the family back to the GSB. It transpired that Alvin’s attention had not been entirely genuine because in the gaps between chatting Selma up he had been making a move on a number of other female yachties.

We enjoyed Chatham Bay enormously and so far it is our favourite spot but even so we moved on after a couple of days to two tiny islands called Petit St Vincent and Petit Martinique. These were memorable from our lat trip because it was here we rendezvoused with Chris and Viv on Gypsy Madonna. The islands were reputed to have the cheapest fuel, water and beer around but it transpired that this was a myth and so after a quick night stop we moved on to a new country in the shape of Carriacou.

We anchored in Hillsborough, the capital town and because Carriacou is part of Grenada we had to clear customs and immigration. During this process I made the mistake of honesty having said we stopped at Petit Martinique (also part of Grenada but not a port of clearance) something the pilot says is acceptable to do. The enthusiastic Immigration Officer then advised us that we had entered the country illegally and showed us the law book that proves it - for a second I thought we were going to be deported again but after a while he lost interest, wished us a good day and off we went.

At Hillsborough we enjoyed our last few days with The Blazers as well as meeting up with Derek and Sue on Hunros who we had last seen in Barbados.

On the 24th January we turned northwards for the first time since leaving the UK and in some ways started the journey home. We briefly stopped in Union Island and Mayreau before returning to Bequia where we are currently writing this update. Next stop St Vincent, the capital of the Grenadines and then Northwards.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

All I can say is - how on earth did you know it was going to be the worst time to live on land since 1929 and pick this year to be living the life of sandy beaches and aqua blue seas????!!!

Sailing Sarah xxx