Cruising World MagazineIt was the last day on our chartered catamaran in Grenada. Moana Rua lay calmly at anchor just off the palm-fringed beach of Petit Bacaye, and we were sitting among the hibiscus in the garden of this tiny hotel, indulging in the most popular local pastime: doing nothing much in particular. After a week’s energetic navigation around the southern Grenadines, we’d gone local and were simply liming.

Cruising World MagazineBut Jacqui, our host at Horizon Yacht Charters, might not have been so relaxed about the scene. Although the south coast of Grenada consists of a string of wonderful bays, largely protected from the prevailing wind and sea, they are also protected by a labyrinth of unmarked coral reefs. Although these are generally quite easy to see in the right light, in bad weather some of the bays can be quite dangerous to enter, and charterers are generally only allowed to venture in after a detailed briefing from an experienced skipper. Our weather, however, had been almost perfect throughout the week. In late November the rainy season still wasn’t completely over, but we’d had only a few heavy showers, and otherwise the wind had stayed between 10 and 15 knots with a calm sea to match. The strong winds of late December (the so-called Christmas Winds) had yet to arrive, but the breeze was sufficient to keep us comfortable in spite of temperatures of around 30ºC.

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Cruising World MagazineJacqui and her husband James established the Horizon operation in Grenada just 5 years ago. Working with the new owners of a small hotel in True Blue Bay, they built a dock with access to the floating pontoons directly from the hotel restaurant. Their initial fleet of three boats has now grown to fifteen, ranging from 38-foot Bavarias to 42-foot Fountaine Pajot catamarans. The setting is exceptional. True Blue resort is located in what used to be the mangrove swamps fringing the old sheep farms which made up Grenada’s south west tip where the international airport on Point Salines is now situated. A night in this peaceful hotel allowed us to recover from the flight before moving onto the boat the next day. Moana Rua is a Venezia 42 catamaran with generous accommodation for six in three cabins. It was the first time we’d been on a catamaran and we became increasingly impressed with her as the week wore on. But first: the briefing.

Horizon takes this aspect of chartering very seriously: filling in a sheaf of forms recording previous experience, along with a detailed summary of the boat’s condition. After the paperwork is completed, a briefing on the cruising area can either be given while still moored, or for a supplemental charge, they offer what they call an express check-out service where a local skipper carries out the briefing while underway to Carriacou (pronounced Ka-ra-coo) – a day-long sail north to Grenada’s second island. Our skipper, George, was not only highly knowledgeable about the local waters, which he had sailed from childhood, but had extensive experience throughout the Caribbean as well as having a number of transatlantic crossings to his credit. To comply with the increasing trend to formalised qualifications, three years ago he’d passed a Yachtmaster course, which, rather perversely, I thought, he took in the Solent. He told us that he’d only recently warmed up again.

Cruising World MagazineGeorge was also experienced in knowing how to leave the charterer in charge, while at the same time keeping control over the boat. At no time did I feel that I wasn’t participating fully, and was allowed to choose my own inshore route so that we could inspect Grenada’s west coast from closer to. With the prevailing winds between north and east, this offers the island’s longest and most protected beaches, including Grand Anse Bay, just south of the capital St. George’s. The centre of St. George’s is the Carenage, a wonderful Georgian waterfront surrounding a protected basin which is sadly underused. There were plans at one stage to turn this into a Caribbean St. Tropez, allowing boats to moor stern-to the quayside with associated waterside bars, restaurants and shops. Sadly nothing came of this, and the main anchorage for visiting yachts is the adjacent lagoon beyond the commercial shop dock. This is the home of the Grenada Yacht Club, which welcomes visitors, although dock space is limited and most boats anchor off. The Lagoon has a rather run-down feel, although this is likely to change if plans to redevelop the site and build a full-service marina are approved. Certainly the area has great potential to become an international yachting centre of considerable charm.

Cruising World MagazineOverlooking both bays is Fort George, established initially in the seventeenth century, it changed hands several times between the French and the British until the end of the Napoleonic wars. It also played its part in Grenada’s more recent history. Following Maurice Bishop’s Marxist coup in 1979, it became the headquarters of the People’s Revolutionary Army. Four years later, Bishop himself was overthrown and put under house arrest by factions of his own government, but a popular uprising stormed his house and freed him. Later, Bishop was recaptured and taken back into the Fort’s central citadel where, along with half his cabinet colleagues, they were lined up against the wall and shot. For those with an interest in the macabre, the bullet holes can still be clearly seen below the plaque commemorating the event. This led directly to the US invasion which restored Grenada to democracy, but the people still remember Bishop with fondness and respect, and are grateful for the significant improvements he made to the country’s educational and health systems, which still endure. Ironically on top of Richmond Hill, facing the fort, is the jail which houses the 17 revolutionaries convicted of murdering Bishop and his cabinet colleagues.

Cruising World MagazineThe prisoners were amongst the few for whom Hurricane Ivan in 2004 appeared as a good thing. In common with 90% of Grenada’s buildings, the prison roof blew off, allowing nearly half of the inmates to escape. Although Ivan devastated the island at a time when the country was slowly starting to recover, Grenadians have fought back with remarkable resilience, but after 49 hurricane-free years, there is no doubting the trauma that Ivan and this year’s smaller hurricane, Emily, caused. The more optimistic say that it was just the jolt that the country needed, and that it has emerged the stronger for it, although nutmeg production, which gives Grenada its soubriquet, Spice Island, will take several more years to recover, as will much of the local agriculture. Fresh fruit is still difficult to find.

Cruising World MagazineGeorge warned us to expect a lively passage as we left the shelter of Grenada heading for Carriacou, the country’s second island 30 miles away. First we had to pass ‘Kick ‘em Jenny’ where the combination of wind and tide can get up a particularly nasty sea, of which the locals are justly proud. So much so, in fact, that when recent volcanic activity produced an underwater eruption just to the west, they also named it ‘Kick ‘em Jenny’ and placed a 1.5 mile exclusion zone around it. Our own passage northwards, however, was uneventful as we grew accustomed to the easy movement of the boat, astonished that George made little effort at stowage. “It’s a catamaran,” he explained insouciantly.

The main anchorage in Carriacou is Tyrrel Bay, where dozens of boats were anchored for stays of varying durations. The bay is very sheltered and a new US$ 14 million marina developed is being built on the north shore. This will have space for 150 boats and associated facilities, and developers estimate that it will eventually provide jobs for over 100 people. The bay already has a small haul-out facility with a substantial 50 tonne travel lift on its southern end, with space for about 17 boats. The local yacht club is next door, and has an all-day restaurant, as well as a small shop, and it was in provisioning that we faced our first test. We had read so many reports about the nuisance of boat-boys that, as the brightly-coloured local boats approached, we were anxious that we would soon feel under siege. We need not have worried. The first offered ice and drinks, but we were well supplied with both and our refusal didn’t put him out at all, and he went away with a cheery wave. The second offered to catch a lobster for us the next morning. After a brief haggle we agreed a price and after that we were more or less left in peace. George’s favourite restaurant was shut for the day, but we were happy to eat on board, relishing the warm, starlit night.

Although the country always used to be known as Grenada and the Grenadines, perversely most of the Grenadine islands actually belong to neighbouring St Vincent. When planning for independence, the British bureaucrats simply drew a line along the top of Carriacou which still leaves some of the island in St. Vincent’s territory. The problem, if you’re on a boat, is that the officials’ love of paperwork is indulged at considerable inconvenience to a speedy passage between the two, and separate forms are required for clearing both in and out. The Grenadian Marine and Yachting Association has been lobbying the governments, and have now persuaded the authorities to accept a single form, which should be introduced shortly. As it was, we needed to call in to the adjacent Hillsborough Bay to clear out, but were glad we did so. It’s a genuine Caribbean town, with a leisurely pace and few concessions to holidaymakers, apart from a small tourist office. Dexter Lendore who runs it, made a particular point of asking me to mention the island’s annual regatta held at the end of July (www.carriacouregatta.com) which is an important and eagerly anticipated local event. The large wide bay is considerably more attractive than Tyrrel, but offers less shelter, which is a shame since it has a much greater feeling of community.

Cruising World MagazineArmed with our departure papers from Grenada, we headed off for Clifton Harbour on Union Island where George was to clear us into St Vincent and then make his own way home. Having anchored in the small bay, we took the dinghy to the Anchorage Yacht Club next to the island’s airport. With commendable pragmatism, the Customs and Immigration offices, situated just at the end of the runway, deal with both boats and planes. Afterwards we sat at the Cub’s terrace and enjoyed our first fresh-fruit punch, before heading off for an anchorage by Petit St. Vincent, one of the many private islands of the Grenadines – Mustique being the best-known example. Rather than creating resentment among the locals, the visitors to these high-priced resort islands are seen as a source of employment and are made welcome. Their exclusivity is fortunately diluted by laws in both countries that permit public access to beaches up to a chain above the high water mark. This allows complete access to what must be one of the smallest islands, also owned by Petit St Vincent: a tiny area of sand looking like an upturned saucer, with nothing on it apart from a small thatched umbrella. We were told it had once been the location for an early Bounty Bar advertisement, and if it hadn’t, then it should have been.

Cruising World MagazineOur anchorage was next door to Petite Martinique and George had reserved a table for us at the Palm Island, a family-run restaurant on the island’s sandy beach. Theoretically this involved going back into Grenada, but it appears that the position of Petite Martinique makes it an exception to the normal immigration requirements. Although the restaurant was easily accessible by dinghy, Brian, one of the owner’s sons, collected us in their locally-built speedboat. I imagine that the journey back to the boat has claimed a number of victims – if not of the reef in the middle of the channel, then of too many rum punches. Brian’s wife also works in the restaurant and he was obviously very proud of the family involvement and still had fresh memories of their wedding reception. “Here on Petite Martinique you don’t send out wedding invitations,” he told us. “Everyone on the island considers they’re invited and so we had several hundred people to feed.” His main preparation consisted of bringing a cow in on his boat from the Grenada. “It took me nearly four hours just to get her out of the boat and up the beach.”

We were now heading for the jewel of the Grenadines: the Tobago Cays. A horseshoe arrangement of coral reefs, several miles across, they lie just to the windward side of Mayreau Island. Mayreau itself is renown amongst cruisers for its extraordinary Saltwhistle Bay where the row of palms fringing the narrow isthmus at its head are seen in relief against the deep blue sky, and once through the reefs, the clear sandy bottom is lit up as though by aquamarine floodlighting. If you aren’t at anchor by lunchtime, there won’t be any room left to enjoy it. We were anxious to get to the Cays as soon as we could and skirted around Mayreau to enter the reefs from the north – the recommended passage. In fact we found pilotage very easy, not just because of the good light, but mainly because George had left us a palm-top chart plotter, which might have taken away some of the fun, but also made it much less likely that we’d have to fill in a damage report upon our return. Although there were dozens of boats, the anchorage was by no means full and we found a place just inside the horseshoe reef to windward. Having secured the anchor in the sand, we immediately jumped into the water while still putting on our snorkelling gear, and what a transformation! What from above the water appeared as rather muddy-green patches, was transformed into a luminous seascape of fantastic coral heads teeming with the most extraordinarily diverse marine life. We lost track of time until the light started to fade and we had to return reluctantly to the boat. Later that evening, with no land between us and Africa, we ate our lobster dinner under a star-filled sky of incomparable brilliance.

Just outside the horseshoe reef, we had admired what looked like God’s model for a desert island: Tabac Island; protected by its own boomerang-shaped reef, it appeared irresistible. The next morning, with one eye scanning the reefs and another the chart plotter, we edged our way carefully out through the south entrance to the Cays and turned towards the most pristine beach I’d ever seen. A narrow passage through the coral led us into a small sandy lagoon where we anchored in luminous water. We had not just the lagoon, but the whole island entirely to ourselves and if we hadn’t had a deadline for this article, I’d be there still.

Sadly, though, it was time to head back to our Grenadian base and we retraced our passage back to Union to clear out of St Vincent. After nosing around a while looking for a suitable anchorage, we spent the night just off Petite Martinique. Like Hillsborough on Carriacou, the island makes few concessions to tourism; the people here live and work on the sea: fishing, boat building, and – who knows? – even smuggling. Douglas Rourke is one of the island’s boat builders and the frame of a substantial boat is now almost complete, propped up literally yards from the beach. He told us that he’d only just started building when Ivan hit and blew all his timber out to sea. He then had to spend nearly a year mending his house before re-ordering all the timber and starting again this year. Just a few days later the second hurricane – Emily – once again blew away all his wood and he’d had to start again for the third time. He told us all this with a smile – it was just one of those things.

Cruising World MagazineWe returned to the boat and headed back south towards Grenada’s eastern coast. This was a run almost dead downwind, something catamarans don’t appear particularly fond of, but we were in no particular hurry and we treated it as a lazy day, reading and watching the mountains and rainforests of Grenada pass us by. By evening, we pulled into St. David’s Harbour, a protected anchorage on the island’s southern coast, we were had arranged to visit the customs and immigration office in the morning.

The Grenada south coast is a wonderful micro-cruising ground, with two bays, Port Egmont and Calvigny harbour, offering secure shelter and a hurricane hole in the mangroves. George told us that he and James brought the Horizon fleet here just before Ivan hit. Most of the bays were empty, although development increased as we approached Prickly Bay, which offers easy access to Grenada’s facilities, and has now become the island’s yachting centre, and base for the dozens of boats anchored here.

Following our explorations of the bays, we couldn’t resist spending our final few hours at the entrancing cove of Petit Bacaye. As we sat doing nothing on the beach, breathing in the rnage of scents and perfumes which pervade the island, we wondered for how long this string of glorious southern islands would remain so unspoilt and friendly. Grenada is the Caribbean as it used to be.