Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Spicey Green Island of Grenada ….. February 2012

P2270003 14 – 27 February 2012

We might have been behind Cuttyhunk on the race from Carriacou down to Grenada but we all shared the prize of a bottle of rum in true kiwi style.  Our stopover here in Prickly Bay on the southern coast of Grenada seems to have been one big social whirlwind.  Never before, well possibly back in Musket Cove, Fiji (our first stop after leaving Auckland in May 2004), have we had 5 New Zealand yachts in one anchorage.  We are the A, B’s & C’s of Kiwi cruisers, Awaroa with John & Helen, Balvenie with Mark & Amanda, Bandit with David & Brenda, Cuttyhunk with Chris & Irene and Chinook Wind with Dick & Ann - now where else in the world would you find that but in a little bay in Grenada in the Southern Caribbean.P2180057

The social engagements began the night of our arrival, we had caught up again with Bandit and they had booked a table ashore at the local cruisers hangout De Big Fish for their live music night. The table of 6 quickly turned into 13 with more and more boats we knew popping up, more hellos, more salty seadog stories were told, we heard all about the fish that got away, the best anchorages – all the usual cruiser yarns, but we fitted in time for a few dances, it was, after all, Valentines Day!P2180042

We have filled our days here easily.  Grenada is a beautiful lush green island covering 133 square miles. Much of it very hilly with dense tropical rain forest. The hundred thousand or so locals live mainly on wooden pole houses, perched on the side of hills and in valleys, there isn’t much flat land here so the houses are dotted everywhere in amongst the bush.

We spent a full day on an island tour.  11 of us set out at 9.30am in a minibus with driver and explored the island, and gosh there was lots to see.  We took in the gated “Beverley Hills” type suburb where the expat community live in their large houses overlooking many of the small bays on the southern coast.  Certainly a different lifestyle to many of the locals but it all seems to mingle ok.P2180051

We headed north past the main town of St George’s on the east coast, just one cruise ship docked….a quiet day.  We stopped at a small spice garden, Grenada is known as the spice island and it seems they can grow anything here (except an abundance of fresh green vegetables - maybe they just don’t like their greens!!)  All manner of plants grow side by side, coco, bananas, pawpaw, guava, turmeric, nutmeg, plantain, jackfruit, breadfruit, citrus, sugarcane, taro, passionfruit and many many more.  The different sizes and shapes of trees work well together, the larger ones providing a canopy and shelter for the smaller.  P2180062

However on September 7th 2004 no amount of shelter could save Grenada’s main export crops of coco and nutmeg, or 90% of its buildings.  Hurricane Ivan struck with tremendous force and ripped through the small island, leaving a lasting path of destruction.  It has taken time but Grenada does seem to have bounced back as best they can. The nutmeg, coco and banana export businesses were devastated – replanting and rebuilding takes time and most say it will never return to pre hurricane levels but they sure seem to be making a huge effort to get the economy going again.  

We visited the Nutmeg Factory, where all the nutmeg is dried, sorted, graded and bagged up for exporting. They now export less than a quarter of the volume of nutmeg post ‘Ivan’.  There was no automated machinery in the factory, labour is cheap, everything is done manually.  After the nutmeg factory we headed for the hills to enjoy the cooler air and a chance for the braver of us to cool off in some crystal clear waterfalls.P2180058  Then it was time to take in some of Grenada’s history.  We stopped at the northern town of Sauteurs for an excellent lunch in a local restaurant with an amazing view, then a walk up the hill to the local church and cemetery.  At the end of the cemetery perched on the edge of a high cliff is a memorial  named Carib’s Leap . A reminder of a terrible event that took place back in 1651.  The local Carib families leaped from the cliff to their certain deaths 130 feet below rather than be taken as slaves by the invading French. A grim piece of history and another fine example of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. We don’t seem to be learning do we !!!.  

It was mid afternoon and still so much to see on this little island.  We went barrelling down the runway at the old airport, whizzing past a couple of wrecked Cuban planes, left over from the 1979 Revolution – quite a chequered history for such a small island.  Then it was time for a sweetener, the Chocolate Factory.2012 Grenada Our tour guide was outstanding, very informative and lots of fun.  He explained several of the local fruits (photo above) and how you prepare them, opened a coco pod for us and had us all trying the thick creamy substance that covers the coco beans, we saw the beans draining and then had the pleasure of walking backwards and forwards over the drying coco beans in the sun to turn them over and loosen the shells.  But the best was saved till last, Hot Chocolate and Pure Grenada Chocolate tasting – yummy!!!  We missed the video on the making of the chocolate process (housed in a different location) so we could get to our next stop of the Rum Factory before closing time, but alas there was to be no rum tasting today, despite a valiant effort we were too late.  P2240089

We meandered back down the island, stopping at Great Etang Lake on one of the highest peaks, then we weaved our weary way back to Prickly Bay arriving not long before dark.  It had been a long hot day and there was nothing for it but to relax at De Big Fish Cafe for a couple of refreshments.

The evenings have been busy with regular live entertainment ashore in the shacky beach bars. Anything from solo sax players to rock bands to steel drums bands, all providing great music. Our friends Phil and Monica on their lovely catamaran Miss Molly hosted a crowd of us for  our own music night, great fun!  Musicians missing from the photo below were Chris from Indy Plus on lead guitar and vocals, his wife Sue on pennywhistle and their twin boys on percussion.

P2270008However life on a cruising yacht is not all bikinis and martinis and in between all the fun there are always the ongoing “boat jobs”. Skipper spends many hours on the blue jobs….oil changes, filter changes, ferrying fuel, servicing the watermaker…… the list never ends. Meanwhile the pink jobs are equally demanding with the deployment of the sewing machine to whip up national courtesy flags for Venezuela, Bonaire, Curacao, Aruba, Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala in preparation for the next few months cruising itinerary.  I am now an ace at cutting out stars and sewing them on - imagine my distress when I realised I had sewn 14 stars on the Venezuelan flag upside down. Bugger!!  More fishing lines have been rigged in the hope that we might catch dinner every now and again, the food lockers are bulging at the seams again and the fridge is stocked full of fresh produce.

Grenada would prove to be the parting of the ways for the mini kiwi flotilla. Chinook Wind was the first to break ranks and leave a couple of days ago  heading for Panama, and now Awaroa and Cuttyhunk are on their way too , they are stopping in the Venezuelan Islands as we will but then will also be heading towards Panama.  So for now it’s just the 2 kiwi B’s left in Prickly Bay, Bandit and Balvenie.  We will leave when the rain stops!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Chilling out in Carriacou ….. February 2012

P2130025 08 – 14 February 2012
P2090011 We managed to dodge all the squalls around us while enroute from Clifton on Union Island to Hillsborough on Carriacou.   We anchored off the town and main dock in this big bay, there isn’t much of a headland to protect it from the swell but luck was finally with us and the winds were starting to abate, consequently the swells were dropping – at last!   We sat and waited out more downpours before making a run for it ashore in the dinghy, another island, another country, another check in!

After just coming from multi coloured Clifton, Hillsborough was looking somewhat on the drab and shabby side, most of the main street sure could do with a lick of paint to brighten things up but in fairness grey skies and drizzle never makes anywhere look its best.  It was clean though and the locals friendly. P2090015 We did the rounds of immigration, customs and harbour master to check in.  We almost didn’t do customs, at that point it was raining hard and very dark, the little customs booth had no lighting in it and Skipper didn’t actually see the customs lady sitting at her desk against the dark background and behind the glass window - whoops!!!

We stayed just the one night then moved over to Sandy Island just a mile or so offshore.  It’s a marine reserve and there are several moorings which appeared to be free.  We packed a picnic lunch and dinghied ashore.  P2090013It’s a tiny island with the most beautiful soft white sand, just a delight to squish your toes into and even when you sit down it doesn’t stick to you, lovely.  We snorkelled off the eastern point, the coral wasn’t great but it was the best we have seen so far in the Caribbean and there was plenty of fish around.  Unfortunately it was quite choppy so our snorkels kept filling with water, never a good thing.  We tried the other end of the island but it was worse, so sat and enjoyed our picnic lunch on our own little deserted Caribbean island, magic!

We had planned to stay the night but the wind was up to 20 knots again and coming out of the east so the closest protection was over a mile away, it was getting rather bumpy in there.  The protected anchorage of Tyrell Bay was only another couple of miles away so off we went to our next new home.  P2120021

Tyrell Bay is a popular spot as it has a “hurricane hole” an almost totally enclosed shallow lagoon surrounded by mangroves.  Although this area was thought to be outside the hurricane belt for many years, Hurricane Ivan dispelled that theory when he ripped through a few years ago, causing major damage to these southern Caribbean Islands, the two boats in the photo must have been causalities  There is not much ashore in Tyrell Bay, part of its beauty, there were no “boat boys” trying to sell us lobster, fish, bread, fruit and veges (at the regular twice market value price – hey but it is delivered!), no loud music at night, not even street lights so it was all starlight and birdsong – just wonderful.

P2130026 Irene and Chris on Cuttyhunk popped up again so we spent a day with them exploring.  We caught a local minibus into Hillsborough then squashed into another and headed for Windward, a village, not surprisingly on the windward side of the island.  Poor Irene had the pleasure of sitting next to the local nutter, there seems to be one on most of these buses, of course the rest of the locals just ignore them, Irene was way too polite for that and made herself a friend for life! 

Windward is known for its small wooden boat building industry, and I can confirm that there is little else there!  We could hear some hammering going on so asked a local if we could find a boat under construction and gained permission to enter through the Private Property fence and along the beach.  P2130022 There were 3 boats under construction and we were invited onboard one for a look around.  It is nearing completion and now really only needs the engine to be installed and final touches made.  The gentleman has been building it for the last 18 months in his spare time and will give it to his sons who will use it for tuna fishing, the tuna is sold to the American market, by product caught is sold to the local market.  He was amazed  and impressed that we had all sailed all the way here from New Zealand, don’t think he had received any kiwi visitors before. 

We caught another minibus back to Hillsborough, admiring the lush countryside enroute, as with most of these islands it all seems so green and fertile yet they grow very little produce, seems such a waste. P2130029 We sniffed out some excellent chicken rotis for lunch at a local cafe just by the town dock, did a little produce provisioning then made our way back to Tyrell Bay, it was a great excursion – the bus ride alone in all these islands has provided much entertainment!

We whiled away a few more days then left with Cuttyhunk to do the day sail south down to Prickly Bay in Grenada.  I was foolish enough to suggest a race, and wagered a bottle of rum, sadly their Farr 44 raceboat slipped through the water just a little quicker than beautiful Balvenie, Skipper always says it’s the two sewing machines we have onboard that slow us down, I say it's all the bottles of rum - they were 2.83 miles ahead at the finish line after 35 miles, a good effort and a great days sailing in relatively flat waters and azure seas – now do we have any of those little airline miniature rum bottles onboard???????

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Colourful Clifton at Union Island ..... February 2012

05 – 08 February 2012

With a stiff breeze behind us we rolled out the head sail, wove through the reefs and headed the short distance from the Tobago Cays across to Palm Island.  We were hopeful that it might just be protected enough with the reefs at both ends to be comfortable to anchor for the night.  With our sails rolled in we motored close into shore our saw our friends on Miss Molly rocking from hull to hull on their catamaran – no chance for a flat night there for us!  P2070004

We carried on the extra half a mile across to Union Island and the main town anchorage at Clifton.  With the wind steady at 25 knots, gusting 30 knots we gingerly nosed our way into this extremely busy reef anchorage, aptly named Roundabout Reef as there is a circular crunchy patch right in the middle.   Space was extremely tight especially with the strong winds so we carried on to our third option for the night.  Just 2 more miles west we tucked up with plenty of room but in very shallow water behind the isthmus on Frigate Island.  The wind still howled through the rigging but the land was just high enough to protect us at deck level, it was almost calm and we were in flat water – good things come to those that wait (and persevere).

Unfortunately there was just nothing there though, and walking into Clifton didn’t even look like an option so after a decent nights sleep we lifted anchor and headed back to Clifton.  The winds had at last eased to a manageable 15 knots, positively calm after what we had been experiencing, and the Roundabout Reef anchorage had emptied P2070006out considerably.  We tucked into a sandy spot behind the reef with the Happy Island Bar right on our doorstep.

Ashore was an absolute delight, the buildings were freshly painted in an assortment of bright colours.  The town square, not wanting to be outdone, had joined the bandwagon and painted everything they could find in candy colours too.  It was all very cute.
Colourful fruit and vegetable huts intermingled with tiny souvenir shacks, all run by the local ladies who happily sat back under the trees in shade, discussing whatever today's subject may be.  They would wander over eventually if they thought you wanted to buy something, but it certainly didn’t feel like they were trying to meet any sales targets.  Pace of life here is slow, and what a great thing that is!!P2070007

Cuttyhunk rejoined us, so the four of us enjoyed a very economical meal out at the Big City, rather an interesting name for this little place, what a great find it was, good local food at cheap prices – sure beats sitting onboard and cooking.
This was our last stop in the St Vincent and Grenadines Group, it was time to move on to the next country of Grenada and the Grenadines.  It seems someone chopped the Grenadines in half, so some islands belong to one, some to the other – makes it a little tricky when you are island hopping and they are different countries!  We had hoped to move to Petit St Vincent, recommended as quite possibly the most beautiful island in the Caribbean chain, sadly not when enveloped in heavy grey cloud and bombarded by rain squalls.  Instead we sailed south to Hillsborough on Carriacou, dodging squalls along the way, Balvenie was already nice and clean we didn't’ need any more rain!

For all the info on our anchorage waypoints, where everything is ashore, where to check in etc click here for our other blog

Monday, 13 February 2012

Turtle Time at the Tobago Cays ….. February 2012

30 January – 05 February 2012

We had sampled all on offer at Bequia, enjoyed our stay but it was time to move on.  On yet another very windy morning it was time to shake the cobwebs out of the mainsail (last used with 3 reefs enroute from the Canary Islands to Cape Verde Islands) and head south.  It’s 23 miles down to the next island of Canouan and we had a good race with Cuttyhunk, we did have the advantage of having a double reefed main, whereas they went for the much more leisurely option of headsail only, and although we arrived before them, by the time we had stopped to drop the main we had been caught (note to Skipper – we don’t need the main!!!!!).P2010037

The anchorage at Canouan had beautiful white sand and turquoise waters, it was just stunning.  Ashore there is a huge resort complex that encompasses over half the island. In fairness it had been designed to blend in with the environment and was hidden amongst the swaying palms.  These tiny islands are situated in the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean so even the most sheltered bays experience some ocean swell sneaking around the corner and over the shallow reef. One night of gentle rolling was enough for us.

We had a very leisurely short sail down the Grenadine chain to the next island of Mayreau.  The tiny and picturesque Saltwhistle Bay came highly recommended, however 10 Catamarans and 2 yachts had it bulging at the seams, not even room for a lunchtime stop, oh well.  We carried on to the larger Saline Bay, tucked in around the headland, managed to find a sandy spot for the anchor on our second attempt then sat back and admired our surroundings.

There was a postcard perfect white sandy beach ashore and an almost deserted foreshore.  Sun loungers were stacked in piles, there were a couple of cute thatched drinks bars that were empty, hmmmm.   The “settlement” was up an extremely steep hill, a handful of shacky bars, a minimarket, internet cafe and a wonderful stone church (with best view in town) were about all Mayreau had on offer, it was just great!   The next morning we awoke to find a cruise ship anchored outside the bay. The sun loungers lined the beach, the tee-shirt sellers lined the dock, and little orange life rafts continuously dropped droves of passengers ashore, ready to spend their day lying on the beach in paradise (it was highly unlikely any on them made it up the hill).

But of course we are lucky, we get to spend the night at paradise too.  We enticed Bandit  to retrace their steps 4 miles by suggesting a kiwi potluck dinner.  What good sports they were and they joined us and Cuttyhunk on the beach for a great evening.  The cruise ship and its passengers were gone. The beach was once again deserted. We had the place to ourselves again. We hung torches in the trees – ate, drank and talked. However, we have learnt by now there is no such thing as paradise and sure enough the persistent strong winds and squally skies meant another restless night at anchor. What do the locals and cruisers that have been here before say  ??…….. you guessed it …….. Its not normally like this !!!. Yeah right.


All advice concurs, you should try to visit the Tobago Cays in calm conditions.  All weather sources concurred, there was to be no calm weather in the foreseeable future!! P2030004 With winds gusting over 25 knots we headed west the few miles out to the Cays,  it really didn’t seem like a sensible idea but we could easily see the reefs in the bright sun, it was just very windy.  We tucked in behind Petit Rameau, one of the small islands as advised by Bandit, we had much less wind but it was a bit wobbly. However, a stunning setting none the less.The photos really say more than words can, the water colours were outstanding.P2040022
We took the dinghy ashore to Petit Bateau and did the walk to the summit (just 45 metres but what great views), enroute we encountered a local iguana, he was in no hurry to get out of our way as he relaxed in the sun. 

Next morning we moved around to the main Horseshoe Reef anchorage, the wind still howled but it was a much shorter dinghy ride from there to the reef, and although the water was choppy there was no roll.  However we didn’t end up going out to the outer reef to snorkel, the surf was breaking over it – it just didn’t look like an enjoyable option.  There is an inner reef area inside it but there were about 20 kite surfers, zooming backwards and forwards along it in the relatively flat water.  Another time maybe.P2030002

We swam with the turtles, they have a cordoned off area, because of the chop the water was murky and to be honest, after swimming with turtles in some of the remote places we have been this was similar to seeing them in an aquarium, it didn’t actually feel that “natural”.  There are hundreds of boats visiting the cays every week, if you haven’t been to reef areas or swam with turtles before it would be wonderful but we have been extremely fortunate to visit some outstanding locations, sometimes being the only boat in the anchorage – you can’t compare.P2030008   P2030015

For all the info on our anchorage waypoints, where everything is ashore, where to check in etc click here for our other blog 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Beautiful but Busy Bequia ….. January 2012

2012 Bequia
19 – 30 January 2012

Our overnight trip from Barbados to Bequia was uneventful and quite pleasant.  We had actually picked one of the best nights with around 15 knots of wind from behind, some moonlight to start with then a brilliant display of stars littering the sky.  However that very uncomfortable rolly lurch we had for all of our Atlantic Crossing just wanted to stay with us, right till the end!

We had heard how beautiful the small island of Bequia was and how popular the anchorage is with visiting yachts and sure enough, as we came around the headland into Admiralty Bay at Port Elizabeth, we were met with a very busy harbour full of yachts flying flags from all corners of the world … some swinging on moorings … many at anchor. Our depth sounder picked a very bad time to have a brain failure with lots of shallow spots but we nudged our way in slowly and after a couple of attempts had anchor down.  Not good odds so far on anchoring first time, where is all this lovely white Caribbean sand for us to dig into?  P1220010

Bequia is a gorgeous little spot, the quintessential Caribbean island.  Several dinghy docks for all their floating visitors to tie up to. One road running along the waterfront for about a kilometre with life's basic needs – all lined up in a row.  There’s a walkway (under very much needed repair) that goes in front of several waterfront cafes and bars along the foreshore, the turquoise waters lap in, the coconut palms wave in the wind (note wind NOT breeze!!!) and it all has a laid back cruisy feel to it, just wonderful.

The days passed and more of our friends arrived.  We hired a “taxi” one afternoon (open top truck with bench seats down each side) and along with Alan and Jean off Tuatara (NZ), David and Brenda off Bandit (NZ) and Andrew, Clare and Bronwyn off Eye Candy (Australia) set off to explore Bequia.   It’s a small island so all the “highlights” can be taken in within a couple of hours.P1230018

It all looks green and fertile, and trust me they do get rain – even in the dry season, but it seems hardly anything is grown here and all produce is shipped in daily from neighbouring St Vincent, the locals say its too rocky but there is plenty of vegetation.

More kiwis arrived, Irene and Chris off Cuttyhunk brought the kiwi fleet up to 4 yachts, not a bad effort for a tiny island in the Caribbean.  Cuttyhunk became very well known a few years ago as one of two Farr 44s (the other being Blizzard) that sailed from New Zealand to the America’s Cup in Valencia back in 2007.  They crossed the Pacific, went through the Panama Canal, sailed the Caribbean Sea, bashed across the Northern Atlantic to the Azores then headed into the Mediterranean and up to Valencia, all in just 4 months - phew!!!  Their return journey so far has been a little more relaxed with plenty of time for rum punches on soft white sandy beaches while the sun dips in the western sky.2012 Bequia-1

It really was time to move on, but more reasons to stay kept popping up .  The Annual Bequia Music Festival was kicking off with a 13 piece Elite Steel Orchestra to play at one of the waterfront restaurants.  It was a rainy, squally, windy night but everyone came out in force to see this amazing teenage Steel Band. Mt Gay were excellent sponsors providing free rum for quite some time….always a bonus….can’t think of a better reason to support such events.   I don’t know how many hours these young musicians spend practicing but they were truly amazing.  They played nonstop for over 2 hours, without music and conductor, they just seemed to live the music and had it in their bones and certainly their soul. The young base drummer ‘steeled’ the show… maybe 13 years old, big smile… an absolute natural performer.   It was an excellent night, they truly were talented young musicians.

P1120057-1 There was one more reason to stay another night.  American friends Rob and Dee off Ventana had just completed their circumnavigation having left the Caribbean 12 years ago. Truly a cause for celebration.  Also Tony off Tactical Directions arrived that day on his way north.  We met both of them back in Darwin in 2006 and have seen them on and off over the years but this was the final parting of the ways as they are both now heading north as we go south - more goodbyes were in order.

For Cruising and Touristy info for Bequia on our other blog click here