In the wake of the hurricanes that devastated the Virgin Islands last year many charterers ended up going farther south to Grenada and the Grenadines where Į Į p
For Paul Gelder, a bareboat charter to the Grenadines results in both some magnificent sailing and a trip down memory lane
We kept a close eye on the depth as we made our way into the Tobago Cays
G“God must have been a sailor when he created the Caribbean,” a friend once told me. “How else could he have so perfectly aligned the crescent of West Indian islands running north to south with tradewinds blowing from the east at about Force 4-5 almost every day of the year?”
I could see God’s perfect work for myself as I looked out the window of the plane taking me to Grenada. The Grenadines are as close to sailing paradise as you’ll find in the Caribbean and the islands are as lush as they come.
It was November, and it was a case of three men on a boat looking for an early winter escape. My friends Pete and Ralph flew down from Boston, and we met at a bar called the Dodgy Dock in True Blue Bay, right next door to the Horizon Yacht Charters base. True Blue Bay Resort is a great place to relax and spend the first and last nights of your charter. I couldn’t wait to get afloat, and a day later I was helming our well-named Bavaria 45, Dream Maker, north on the sparkling azure seas toward Carriacou, our first island stop.
Three hours out from the bay we passed the northern tip of Grenada, emerging from the island’s lee into a slight ocean swell speckled with a few whitecaps. “Keep your easting,” was the sage advice from Earl, who gave us a chart briefing before we left Horizon Yachts. The Equatorial current that sweeps across the Atlantic, driven by the tradewinds, is squeezed between the islands, accelerating your leeway.
We gave a wide berth to “Kick ‘em Jenny,” an underwater volcano that last erupted in December 2001. In 1939 it broke the surface of the sea with a cloud of debris, generating a series of mini-tsunamis, one of which reached Barbados. The last “orange alert,” however, was in 2015. Passing Diamond
Rock, we eased sheets to bear away for Tyrrell Bay on the southwest tip of Carriacou, often the first stop for charter yachts coming out of Grenada.
Motoring through the popular anchorage past bluewater yachts flying flags from all corners of the world we avoided a submerged pinnacle rock that some local wit had named “Bareboat Bounce,” and picked up a mooring off the gently curving sandy beach.
It had been almost 27 years to the day since my first Caribbean sailing trip to the Grenadines, and Tyrell Bay hasn’t changed that much (yet), though work had just started on a new port facility and marina at the north end of the bay. The rest of bay still has echoes of a sleepy Carib- bean back in the 1970s and 1980s.
We took the dinghy ashore to Carriacou Marine, a small, friendly boatyard at the southern end of the bay where a handful of snowbird cruisers were busy working on their yachts, getting ready to re-launch. It seems to be true that cruising is boat maintenance in exotic locations.
The main drag running along the shoreline has a few simple shops, shacks, bars and eating places. Nothing fancy or flashy. Menus offer lobster, lambi (conch) or fish any way you like—fried, baked, curried or stewed. We had a beer in the Lazy Turtle pizzeria and bar, where our sassy waitress Melissa gave free life-coaching advice. “Relax, you’re in de islands, mon!”
Next morning Pete and I walked to Hillsborough, Carriacou’s capital, on a nostalgic tour. Like me, Pete had been here 27 years ago, but time and memory decided to play tricks on us, and what we thought was a stroll to town turned into a four-mile hike. We amused ourselves by counting the numerous rum shops along the way, some no bigger than a front room—indeed, perhaps they were someone’s front room. Carriacou folks like their rum, but we resisted temptation, as we were on our way to get our papers stamped at immigration and customs. Red tape and cruising go together here. Some islands are countries, “each with a flag, a capital and bored customs officials,” someone once told me, and we needed to clear out from Grenada to sail in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with lots of paperwork, rubber stamps and forms to sign. After a cool drink we caught the minibus back to Tyrell Bay for 3.50 EC (East Caribbean) dollars ($1.20 US).
We set sail and less than three hours later, anchored in the translucent emerald waters of Clifton Harbor, Union Island, and took the dinghy ashore to “clear in” and go through the whole rigmarole again. Twenty years ago my passport was stamped in a straw hut by a landing strip as cattle grazed around the runway. Today there’s a purpose-built airport terminal funded by the Chinese Government.
Our next island stop was Mayreau. Its spectacular half-moon beach at Salt Whistle Bay was crowded, so we spent the night in Saline Bay. Ralph grilled pork chops, and we dined under the stars as a cool tradewind breeze floated through the cockpit. The exertions of sailing, hiking, hot sun and rum meant bedtime was at “cruiser’s midnight”—2100. Ralph slept in the cockpit, taking advantage of the breeze, and 11 hours went by before we stirred for breakfast.
Taking the dinghy ashore we walked up the main street, a steep hill, passing bars and cafes, one blasting out reggae. It’s something of a breathless pilgrimage to get to the Catholic church at the top of the hill and enjoy the spectacular, panoramic views of the Tobago Cays, our next stop. The Tobago Cays is one of the Caribbean’s most spectacular, exotic (and usually crowded) anchorages, visited by sailors from all over the world. Ralph and I were on the bow looking down into the iridescent depths as we motored slowly through a narrow passage between the islands of Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau, and Pete manned the helm, calling out the depths. At one anxious point the depthsounder indicated 1ft of water under our deep keel, though, with the usual charter company fudge factor taken into account, Pete guessed it was more like 3ft.
The cays are a protected marine park with five small, uninhabited islands lying behind Horseshoe Reef and the aptly named World’s End Reef. Beyond, across thousands of miles of empty ocean, lies Africa. We dropped the hook east of Jamesby Island. If you want convenience, you can pick up a mooring buoy for 10 EC dollars per person a day. To our east lay Petit Tabac island, where they filmed Johnny Depp and Keira Knightly marooned and discovering a stash of rum in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film.
With 14 beaches on the islands, the cays are a popular nesting site for Hawksbill turtles. They swim by, popping their inquisitive heads above water to check out the new visitors. It’s a great snorkelling spot, but on the day of our visit a strong breeze and currents made it untenable. At the cays I had a reunion with 54-year-old “boat boy” Sydney Dallas (see sidebar) who had sold me a T-shirt 27 years ago. Yes, I bought another.
From left: Ralph enjoys another excellent day’s sailing; Bequia is famous for its model whaleboats; looking forward to a very merry Christmas; the beauty of Carriacou’s Tyrell Bay