We departed St. Lucia with Anne aboard to sail south to Grenada. Almost exactly a year ago, our sailing instructor, “Irish Mike”, had taken us around these islands and taught us the fundamentals of sailing. We lived aboard a catamaran with him and another couple for 10 intense days after having already completed an initial sailing class. Now, we had made it back to where we had first learned, seeing the same sights and even encountering some of the same wildlife. And we got to share this with our daughter. Exhilarating!
Bequia (beck-way) was the first familiar stop for us. It is full of picturesque beaches and reefs, and the streets are lined with colorful shops. It’s also, surprisingly, an aboriginal whaling community that takes (legally) up to four humpback whales each year. They pride themselves in doing this the same way they have for hundreds of years with wooden boats, oars, and harpoons. They don’t get a whale very often, but when they do they are known to use every single bit, from the meat to the oil to the bones. We anchored outside of Port Elizabeth and took Patience (our dinghy) ashore to explore.
We have been working on the main sail rigging since Puerto Rico, but it failed each time – while we were underway, of course. The main sail comes under tremendous pressure when it’s hoisted, and the line we had rigged to take the strain off the outhaul at the clew was not holding. Every time it would fail in a new and spectacular way, usually sounding like a gunshot (sometimes like a canon) and resulting in the main sail coming loose at the back and, quite literally, flapping in the breeze. Finally, Karen gave me an ultimatum: either our next fix works, or we hire a professional sail rigger to come and fix this. She does know how to motivate me! I was up top at 3:00 a.m. studying the problem with a flashlight. I attached the clew by wrapping a piece of Spectra line around the boom several times in a new spot and tying a very secure bowline knot to hold it in place, and… it held perfectly! The Spectra line is amazing stuff. It’s very light and thin, but it’s super-strong, made of woven carbon fiber. The fix makes me very happy. We are able sail with just the jib, but when we deploy both sails, the boat performs like it should.
We took off and headed south, and the boat was happy (and so were we).
That night, we anchored in the Tobago Cays and went snorkeling in the Baradal Turtle Sanctuary. Then, we went to explore the small adjacent island. It’s amazing because it’s a tiny desert in the middle of the tropics, replete with cacti, tortoises, nesting birds, iguanas, and crabs. There are winding trails that let you explore this very cool little place.
While we were at anchor, we celebrated Anne’s upcoming birthday by finding Romeo’s Beach BBQ. This was no small feat. It’s more of an event than a place, held on an otherwise deserted cay that is nearly impossible to find if you don’t already know where to look for it. We had been there a year ago in sailing school, but this time my confidence in finding it was pretty low. It works like this: you beach your dinghy on this uninhabited isle and wade ashore. Assuming you’re at the right spot, you’re greeted with some delicious rum punch, and you sit at one of the picnic tables in the sand. Romeo’s team cooks over an open pit, and they start bringing you food, family-style: platters of grilled fish, lambi (conch), chicken, bowls of rice, fried plantains, stuffed baked potatoes, salad, and a plate of delicious, assorted local fruits for dessert. Lobster was not in season this time, but it will be September 1 (and we’ll go back). We left with enough food in boxes for another entire dinner for the three of us.
After that, we continued pressing south. We stopped briefly at Union Island and then on to nearby Tyrell Bay in Carriacou, where we anchored for the night. Sometime around 1:00 a.m., a serious squall blew in with rain and intense wind that rocked the boat, and the unmistakable sound of our anchor alarm went off. I bounded up the stairs and looked, but it didn’t seem that we were dragging. It’s unsettling, but not completely unusual. For the next hour-and-a-half or so, I sat close by the helm, ready to fire up the engines and move us if need be.
At first light on Saturday, we hoisted the sails to make the 35-nautical-mile sail to Grenada, and it was a beautiful trip. At this point, we’re enjoying the beam winds and ideal conditions. When we arrived at the main Island of Grenada, we anchored in the (very) large St. George’s Harbor. Several weeks ago, I had shipped our KVH satellite radio out for repair (see The Accursed Power Event, below), and it had been fixed and shipped back here by the manufacturer – free of charge, I might add! In retrospect, having it sent to Grenada might not have have been such a smart move. Getting it out of customs required patience (think Job in the Old Testament). It went like this: the FedEx agent here would request a document. I would supply said document by email, and it would magically get rejected by customs the next day with no clear explanation as to why, even though I provided exactly the information they asked for. Lather, rinse, repeat. After several rounds of this, I wrote and inquired if I could pay to have the device forwarded to St. Lucia, and I would just sail up there to retrieve it. St. Lucia doesn’t pull this nonsense. Amazingly, they released it the next day, but that was only after making me jump through lots of unnecessary hoops – each requiring a separate trip to FedEx. This entire process took several weeks, but it only delayed our departure from St. George’s by about a week. I’m fine. Really.
Shortly after we arrived, and fresh from our congratulatory mutual pats on the back for escaping the hurricane belt, we received an email from our meteorologist about a storm called Invest 99 that had developed east of us. This was the first we had heard of it. By later that afternoon, it had been upgraded to Tropical Storm Dorian, and there was a good chance it was going to hit us, despite our being out of the hurricane belt.
I was interested in sailing south to Trinidad to escape it (and here, Karen must interject that I WAS NOT). Trinidad is right next to Venezuela, and it has had problems with piracy lately, due to the fact that Venezuela has imploded. We decided to stay put and ride out the storm, mostly because of the attitude and advice of our fellow sailors. So, we filled our fuel tanks with diesel. In case the worst happened and we couldn’t get any fuel for a while, we’d be able to motor quite a long way and to run our generator. Then we took precautions and tied up to a dock in the local marina. We ran several extra lines and hung out all of our fenders, battened the hatches, and moved the loose things inside. Dorian was predicted to swipe us about 2:00 a.m., and I was up most of the night, sitting in the aft cockpit, awaiting its arrival. But… it turned out to be a non-event for Grenada. The storm skirted north of us by a whisker before strengthening into a hurricane. We received no rain. No wind. No storm surge. Nothing. We were most relieved! As I write this, I’ll note that Dorian has since strengthened and is poised to slam into The Bahamas coast as a monster category 5 hurricane this weekend.
We’ve said, a few times, that we are now “below the hurricane belt.” What the means is that we are south of the 12th north latitude. Atlantic hurricanes form off the west coast of Africa and then almost always (eventually) bend gently north as they travel west, but they still can hit this island. Hurricane Ivan body-slammed Grenada on September 7, 2004, and signs of the devastation from that storm are still as unsettling as they are evident. Prior to that, the most recent hurricane to hit Grenada was Janet, 64 years ago, in 1955. It’s rare here, but they do happen.
While we were here, it seemed like a good opportunity to catch up on some maintenance. I think we must have been on the business end of a lightning strike or at least a near-strike sometime in June. Whatever the source of The Accursed Power Event was, lots of Gratitude’s components were fried around the same time, so I have been regularly climbing into the wiring closet to diagnose and fix things. Squeezing/contorting in there is no fun for me, and it’s sweltering once I get in. Picture an Indian sweat lodge, only not nearly as roomy. Still, I’m making steady progress toward getting everything back to spec.
Grenada is known as The Spice Island. Everything grows here. It is literally an edible landscape. If you drive down the main road, you will see all kinds of food growing: star fruit, guava, banana, breadfruit, papaya, cacao, sugar cane, bamboo, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, soursop, cloves, and other spices. Something is always in season here, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that people pull their cars off the side of the road just to pick fruit. I’ve never seen anything like it. The Grenadians are very proud that no one goes hungry on their island, and rightly so. With the sea providing on one side and the rich soil on the other, there is always an abundance of food.
We took a tour of a nutmeg-processing plant. Grenada took a devastating hit when they went from exporting six million pounds of nutmeg to their current annual export of six hundred thousand pounds solely due to hurricane Ivan in 2004. They are slowly clawing their way back, but most of the nutmeg trees were damaged in that storm, and it takes years for new ones to mature and bear fruit.
After getting our radio out of customs, we escaped St. George’s to get to the southern end of the island, which is a a more cruiser-centric area. It’s officially below the 12th parallel and every mile makes a difference when it comes to hurricanes. We are now settling into the cruising life, meeting people, making friends, and immersing ourselves in the social scene here. It’s a tight and active community. A lot of people came to Grenada to wait out hurricane season, and more than a few of them never seem to get around to leaving.