We’ve had a busy week, trying to enjoy as much of the Eastern Caribbean as possible, while getting to Antigua in time for Harry’s departure and Hallie’s arrival — both today.
From Barbados we sailed overnight to Prickly Bay, Grenada. I was a bit taken aback by the crowd of boats in the bay. But we found an empty mooring. And clearing in was pleasant, and there was good pizza and draft beer and showers and music and great internet. What’s not to like!? Next day we met a taxi driver who put together an island tour for us. The first stop was the Spice and Herb Garden, with a guide and straight-from-the-plant samples of everything — nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, clove, tamarind, cacao, and plenty more that I can’t remember. Loved it! Then a hearty lunch where the locals eat, followed by a hike to a waterfall for a refreshing dip. On the way back we passed through the old downtown of St George. Everywhere we saw fresh red, yellow and green paint — the colors of Grenada — in preparation for Independence Day approaching.
The island was much prettier than Barbados, the sights more interesting, the prices lower, and my sense was that the people were more “real.” Would be nice to linger, but no time for that. In the morning we began our trek north.
Carriacou is only 30 miles away, but it was a beat to windward. It took us longer than expected, and we arrived at Tyrell Bay after dark. It looked like an easy approach on the chart, but again we were surprised by the number of boats in the anchorage. We had to thread our way among them in the moonlight to find a parking space.
In the morning we went ashore and the others found some fruit and veggies while I waited in line to clear out. Then we had another breezy beat to windward to Union Island, just 9 miles away. We enjoyed sailing past several other boats, and we enjoyed watching a much larger and very sleek boat zoom past us.
An interesting thing happened along the way. Another sailboat hailed us on the VHF radio distress channel. They had engine problems, they said, and they were having trouble sailing into the strong wind, and they asked if we would give them a tow. A tow?? This got me angry, and it took me a while to sort out why. I stayed off the radio, while Bill talked with them and basically said it wasn’t feasible for us to tow them. But if I had been clear about my reaction, I would have said this: I will of course provide whatever assistance I can in an emergency; but this is not an emergency. You are sailing okay even though you are making limited headway; you can turn downwind and head for an alternate anchorage; you can turn back to Carriacou. Trying to take you in tow is risky, and likely to turn a challenging situation into a dangerous one.
What made me angry was their putting me in the position of making a judgment call about their level of “distress,” which they should have made on their own. In the end, they turned back toward Carriacou.
We arrived at Clifton, on Union Island, late in the day, and took a mooring in the crowded harbor. Ashore I got to wait in a long line for the second time that day, to clear into St Vincent and the Grenadines. The cumbersome formalities plus the substantial fees are annoying; add a long wait and it gets old fast!
Next morning we are off to the fabled Tobago Cays — a maze of reefs and tiny islands that are (or at least were) remote and unspoiled and beautiful. Unlike 30 years ago, when Hallie and I visited, the anchorages behind the islands were packed. But there was plenty of open space on the windward side of the islands, protected only by the reef. I love behind-the-reef anchorages, and I liked this one, but it was very windy and rather bouncy.
The snorkeling here has a great reputation, but it was a bit rough to appreciate it. The more intrepid of the crew swam out to the coral heads by the reef. The rest of us still got to watch sea turtles feeding. A local came by in a boat selling T-shirts, which didn’t grab me. But he got my attention when he said he also had banana bread, which we bought. Then I asked if he couldn’t bring us a lobster dinner, too, and he said he would contact his buddy Free Willy, who would provide this service. The price tag was high, but we decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Willy came by later to confirm our reservation. But when our scheduled 6pm came around, no Willy. As 7pm approached, I started water for pasta, but just then a boat approached. Let’s just say that it was worth the wait, as well as the cost. Big lobsters, somehow still hot, plus baked potatoes and veggies and rice. A feast!
It would have been nice to stay in the area longer, but we had no time to spare. In the morning it was on to Bequia, where we could clear out of the Grenadines. Bequia has a huge and beautiful yacht anchorage, and yachts seem to be the primary business (only the occasional relatively small cruise ship). Easy anchoring, easy dinghying ashore, a nice boardwalk into town, the best burger I’ve had outside the USA, and excellent smoothies. The woman doing smoothies gave me a long stare. She said I look so much like her father that she thought I was him. (I have a tan, but not close to her skin color, but who knows what color her father is?) I asked about the white hair and beard. Yup, the same as her father. I didn’t think to ask her if she had a photo; I wish I had.
As dusk set in we were off again, for an overnight to Martinique. Another hard slog to windward, but at least we could make it on a single tack. We found a nice anchorage off of downtown Fort de France, and headed ashore to clear in and find croissants. Clearing in was a pleasure! You go to the marine supply store, they point you to a computer kiosk, you fill in the info, they print it out and sign it, and you’re done. No cost! No passport stamps (which I appreciated because I’m out of room in my passport)!
In the bakery a man gave me the hearty hello of an old friend. I gave him a blank stare back…and asked if he was on a yacht. No, he lives in Martinique…and he continued to insist that he knows me. Instead of walking off mystified, I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask if he also knows my daughter who makes smoothies in Bequia!
I enjoyed being in the French city, and would have liked to spend a week there. But we had six hours only, before embarking on another overnight to Antigua.
We made it late the next day, and anchored in spacious Falmouth Harbour. And then we had a full day to check in, explore ashore, gawk at the many superyachts and superduperyachts, get Harry removed from our crew list, and Skype with Hallie. There have been some stresses back home, plus a snowstorm threatening her flight out, and Hallie was looking for some understanding and support from me. But I had no space for hearing about her concerns, and I went into a rant about the crazy stresses I’d been through for the past week. I hadn’t realized how much the constant moving and dealing with the formalities and trying to keep to the schedule had got me wound tight, until I lost it on that call. And Hallie of course had no idea that I hadn’t spent the week enjoying rum punches in the sunshine by the beach. My rant was cathartic, and luckily Hallie was understanding. All ended well.
In the evening we took the long walk up to Shirley Heights. We had been told there would be music and a big barbecue there, but we were a day early. Arriving just after sunset, almost everyone else had left, and we were the only ones dining there. This worked out just fine. We enjoyed chatting with Danny, the bartender/server, and Harry treated the rest of us to a delightful celebratory meal. Beautiful view of the superyachts in the harbor below. And a pleasant walk back down to sea level after our feast.
A little story about Shirley Heights… When Hallie and I sailed to Antigua 30 years ago, before navigation was revolutionized by GPS, we approached the island in the dark. We were sailing in tandem with another boat that had radar, and they thought with radar they would be able to find the entrance to English Harbour. But the entrance was not discernible on radar, so we had a problem! The other boat made a call on the VHF radio distress channel, asking for help identifying the entrance. To my surprise the call was answered by the bar/restaurant atop Shirley Heights, adjacent to the harbour. They said they would flash the lights of the restaurant to help us locate the entrance. They did, and we got in okay. Apparently they have done this for other boats needing help as well. No longer though, as the bar no longer monitors the VHF distress channel. Of course, with GPS and a chart plotter there is no longer the need, as boats know exactly where they are (assuming the electronics are working).
Harry got to the airport; Hallie arrived on time despite the snowstorm in the Northeast, and she still loves me. The crew (now Bill, Nora, Hallie and me) had another fine dinner ashore. Tomorrow we need to make a plan to do some (relaxed) cruising!