Getting There

It was a long travel day to get to Grenada – up at 4am in Havana to catch the flight to Panama City, then on to Port-of-Spain in Trinidad for a 4 hour lay-over, before a final 40 minute island hop brought us to Grenada just before 10 pm - four countries in one day. It was good to get to bed again.

The mountains of Trinidad - from the airport (a been there, done that moment)

Morning view from our apartment in St George, Grenada

The next morning we slept in for the first time in a long while before having breakfast with views out across the scattered house on the slopes of Grenada's mountainous interior. It was to be a relaxing day getting our bearings and checking out the location of the Port Louis Marina – tomorrow we would be returning here to board our catamaran and begin our Caribbean sailing adventure.

Old centre of St George

Port Louis Marina

The following day was preparation day – doing a big shop for a week at sea, sorting out paperwork and having briefings on the boat and the route, as the full crew slowly arrived. First Russell and Jacqui late morning and then Dianne and Kathy, late evening. Our first night on board would be in Port Louis Harbour, swaying gently at our pier.

Grenadan sunset

The "Mwah" berthed in Port Louis Marina

Not far away, a string of super-yachts towered above the marina, lit up at night like the Battlestar Galactica, as truckload after truckload of marine diesel was pumped into their fuel-thirsty tanks. I was glad to be aboard our comfortable 13m long, 8-berth catamaran. Our Leopard 444, quaintly named "Mwah" (think the sound the French make when they kiss each other on the cheek) is a very nice boat in which to spend a week with all mod cons and the latest in electronics and gear.

Port Louis Marina to Carriacou Island (64 km)

Finally, the next morning, we set sail. The sun shone brightly as we motored out of Saint George's Harbour with Mike at the helm, passing beneath the old fort and turning north ….. into the face of the wind. There would be no sailing today – the wind was blowing strongly from the north and to sail to our destination on Carriacou island would take many hours of continuous tacking.

Motoring north along the mountainous
west coastline of Grenada

Crossing the open waters between Grenada and Carricou
- Diamond Island in the background

Dark clouds over Grenada

With the twin diesel motors fired up we pushed along at 8 knots, following the west coast of Grenada with its green-clad mountain range and coastal settlements. Passing Moliniere Point the northerly wind was already blowing twenty knots with occasional squalls sweeping in from the island.

By the time we passed Gros Point and the town of Victoria, they had picked up to twenty five knots. The sea was becoming lumpy and white-capped.

Passing The Sisters in the sun

After almost two hours, I relieved Mike at the helm and we began to leave Grenada behind, heading out across the open water between the triangular pyramid of Diamond Island and an underwater volcano, known as Kick 'em Jenny. In the far distance the hazy profile of Carriacou began to appear on the horizon. The wind was getting even stronger and at times we were punching in to a 35 knot headwind with a 3m swell. The catamaran was rocking and rolling with plumes of water spraying in over the top as we crashed through the waves – it may not have been sailing but it was heady stuff. We were grateful for the autopilot … fighting this big swell and wind with manual steering would have been hard work.

Another squall in the open sea

View from the helm of "Mwah"

Rounding Jack Iron Point, Carriacou Island

Eventually, the waters began to calm as we entered the wind-shadow of Carriacou to cruise past Tyrrel Bay, round Jack Iron Point and enter the relatively calm waters of L'Esterre Bay. It had taken five hours to cross the big seas and it was good to safely moor alongside the sandy shore of Sandy Island (what else would you expect).

Sandy Island

Afternoon sunlight

Even though we were in a sheltered spot, there was still quite a bit of swell. We launched the zodiac to head over to the island for a bit of snorkelling, but the water was too rough – we abandoned and headed back to the boat for drinks as sun and rain squalls competed for the sky. There will be plenty of time for underwater exploration and the forecast is for a gradual amelioration of wind.

The narrow strip of sand on Sandy Island

Calmer waters in L'Esterre Bay

Swinging gently on our mooring, looking across the dark water to the lights of Hillsborough Town beneath the hills of Carriacou with a glass of red in hand, it was hard to believe that here we were, on board our catamaran in the Caribbean Sea.

Carriacou Island to Mayreau Island (24 km)

A few rain squalls passed by overnight, but by morning the sun was shining again and the wind was blowing … still a strong north-easter. It was still too rough for snorkelling, so we ate our breakfast and set off for Union Island. The wind was still head-on, so we continued under motor, rising and falling in the white-capped swells. As we crossed the open water of Martinique Channel, the wind speed topped 30 knots, sending the odd sprays of salty foam over the helm … not as big as yesterday, but still an exciting crossing.

The silvery surface of the Caribbean

View across the open waters to Union Island

Inter island freighter

On reaching Union Island, we pulled into Ashton Harbour all ready to check into customs …. Not only were we on a new island in the Caribbean, we were in a new country – St Vincent. The problem was that customs was at Clifton Harbour, a few km around the point, not at Ashton. To solve this, Captain Mike caught a ride with a local boat boy (NB that's what they call themselves) to Clifton to clear customs, while a few of us did some food-shopping in Ashton (strictly speaking, we were still illegal aliens at the time).

It serendipitously saved us a bit of time, as Clifton Harbour was choc-a-bloc with boats and crews waiting to enter St Vincent waters. The boat boys all have their nicknames, and the one who helped Mike went by the name of "EL Presidente". He also booked us in for a beach barbecue at Saltwhistle Bay, where we were headed for the night (call it "win-win").

Approaching Ashton Harbour - out of Grenada and into St Vincent

Calm waters of Ashton Harbour

Rounding the point on Mayreau Island

Ashton village on Union Island

So, cleared into St Vincent, we set off for our last leg, still heading north in winds up to 30 knots and still under motor. We rounded the point to pass between Clifton Harbour and Palm Island, before crossing the South Mayreau Channel to head up along the west coast of Mayreau Island, passing the yacht-filled Saline Bay to reach the sheltered anchorage of Saltwhistle Bay.


Zodiac ride back to the catamaran

Windward coastline on Mayreau Island

Saltwhistle is a lovely bay. The fringe of palm-lined golden sand was backed by the green hills of Mayreau to the south and a narrow sand spit leading out to a small promontory to the north – good shelter from the north-easterly swell. That meant that, as we rounded the point, we were greeted with the sight of lots yachts, and finding an anchorage proved a bit tricky. Nonetheless, with the aid of the local boat boy, we managed to settle in. Boat boys are a feature of all the yacht hotspots here, zipping around in their needle-nosed outboard boats, guiding yachts in and finding them moorings or anchorages, selling food and drink, touting for beach restaurants etc.

Beachside stalls at Saltwhistle Bay

Saltwhistle sunset

After a brief explore of the bay on foot and swim in the warm waters, we were picked up by El Presidente and taken in to shore for a feast of barbecued lobster – the biggest and freshest that we have eaten, to the rhythmic beat of reggae as a crescent moon shone down – a superb evening. Then, after dropping us back on board the "Mwah", El Presidente, sped off in his little wooden boat, around the bend and across the 12 km of dark, wind-lumpy and reef-lined waters to his home in Ashton. These guys are good boatmen.

Mayreau Island to Tobago Cays (6 km)

After another tranquil night of gently rocking on our anchorage, we set out early for the short trip across to Tobago Cays. The early start was to oblige a couple of Americans, who could not pull their anchor with us in place in this tight anchorage. Again, serendipity had worked in our favour, as the early start meant that we arrived in time to pick up a mooring just as another yacht was leaving.

Tobago Cays comprise a cluster of four islets surrounded by a horseshoe reef and is reknowned for its marine life, coral and turtles. In fact it is a Marine National Park. Moorings are thus in high demand and many a late arrival has to turn and anchor elsewhere.

Looking east into the early morning sun

View of Canoaun Island from the Tobago Cays

Carlos the mooring man

All this was done with the help of Carlos, who zoomed up beside us in his small wooden boat, as we were passing the narrow channel between Petit Rameau and Petit Bateau Islets to enter the protected waters of the reef. He found the mooring for us and guided us in – before selling us another beach barbecue. That's the way things work here and it was worth it for Carlos got us a front-line mooring very close to Baradel Island and its leeward fringe of white sand and seagrass – a favoured haunt for turtles.

Welcome to Tobago Cays Marine Park.

View over the lagoon from Baradel Cay

Cactus above the lagoon

Baradel iguana

The arid scrub of Baradel

The sandspit at Baradel Cay - where sea turtles swim and graze on the sea-grass beds

Diving in off the boat for our first Caribbean snorkel, it didn't take long to find them to and admire the slow elegance of these creatures underwater. The colours of the water were brilliant shades of blue – postcard stuff – though it was a pity that we couldn't get out to the outer reef fringe and snorkel over coral. The strong wind stream had abated somewhat, but was still strong enough to make snorkelling over a shallow reef a bad option.

Classic Caribbean sea and sky

Instead, we - Odile, Dianne, Kathie, Nello and I - took the zodiac over to the sandy eastern shore of Petit Rameau. After a quick climb to the top of the islet for the grand panorama of Tobago Cays (memo to self: take your sandals next time to plan to climb a sharp rocky path lined with cacti and burrs), we crossed the islet for a quick snorkel above the sea-grass beds of the channel. The reward was a large turtle grazing on the sea-grass. The price was getting caught in a short, sharp downpour.

Then we returned to the eastern shore, with its small reef of broken coral. Although the reef itself was not very exciting, the many species of small tropical fish made it worthwhile.

View over Tobago Cays from the top of Petit Rameau

The fair Nello relaxing on Petit Rameau Cay

A faint rainbow after the squall

Beach BBQ at Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays sunset

The day was completed when Carlos arrived at the boat to take us all to his beach barbecue beneath lights strung between the trees on a sheltered stretch of sand in the channel … this time we had a mix of lobster and fish, all grilled to perfection, finished with Carlos' special rum punch. Yet another great day in the Caribbean was over.

Tobago Cays to Chatham Bay (32 km)

It was time to start the homeward journey ….. southwards. At last this meant that we would be running with the prevailing winds and could finally do a bit of sailing. Clearing the reefs that guard the Southern Approach of Tobago Cays, Mike unfurled the jib and switched off the motors. A strange silence pervaded as we ran before the wind across South Mayreau Channel the towards Union island and Clifton Harbour.

At last the jib and mainsail can be set

Old wooden-hulled sailing ship

Flaoting mat of sargasso

Passing large patches of floating Sargasso, we turned to cruise past Red Island Point and Thomson Reef, before finally motoring into Clifton Harbour to moor. Apart from needing to do a bit of shopping in this lively little town, Clifton has the customs station and we needed to clear our papers to leave St Vincent and return to Grenada.

Sargasso near Union Island

Rounding the rocks to Clifton Harbour, Union Island

Streets of Clifton

It was pleasant to stroll through the streets of Clifton and stretch our legs like landlubbers again. It is a colourful little town and the red, orange and yellow displays of local fruits at the stalls added to this. We stopped to buy some of these and some home-baked bread, while Captain Mike cleared us out of St Vincent.

Business and shopping sorted, it was back out into the Caribbean, heading south on a broad reach under jib to reach a point where we could gybe and clear Miss Irene Point.

Colourful fruit shop displays

Islet at the entry to Clifton Harbour

Farewell to Clifton

On a long fast reach

Once past the point, Mike pointed the boat head to wind so we could raise the mainsail and sail under full power. With 16-20 knot winds, I took over from Mike at the helm and, chased by a series of rain squalls, we headed out into the Caribbean on a broad reach to reach a sailing speed of 8.3 knots – our record from the Whitsundays a few years earlier had been smashed.

The lovely setting of Chatham Bay

I then handed the wheel back to Mike so we could tack and head back toward Union Island and Chatham Bay. Surrounded by high tree-clad hills on the leeward side of the island, Chatham was our calmest anchorage to date. We took the zodiac in to shore and, while the snorkelling was not brilliant due to sand being stirred up, it was really nice to just stretch our legs and stroll up and back the sandy strip that lines the bay.

Beach stalls at Chatham Bay

The landing at Chatham Bay


Tonight, we managed to escape the beach barbecuers touting their lobster banquets and settle for a simpler fare on board. It was a pleasant way to end the day, swinging slowly on the anchor chain, sipping home-made pina coladas, surrounded by the turquoise waters and steep green hills of Chatham Bay.

Chatham Bay to Tyrrel Bay (54 km)

Today was meant to be snorkelling day – the weather forecast had been for less wind and more sun. It couldn't have been more wrong, as we woke to stronger winds and a grey cloudy sky. Still, stronger winds meant more sailing, so after breakfast, we motored out of the harbour, Mike set the jib and we sailed out into the white-capped Caribbean, driven by 25 knot winds and a 2m swell. On a very broad reach as we headed out to sea for several kilometres, we were surfing the waves and a new speed record of 9.4 knots (on jib alone) was reached on one big surf.

Out on the grey Caribbean Sea

Yachts moored in the shelter of Tyrrel Bay

Still, our destination wasn't South America, so it was time to gybe and head back in towards the island of Carriacou. Somewhere on that reach we left the waters of St Vincent and returned to those of Grenada. With a faint hope of some snorkelling, we cruised by the little bay of Anse La Roche, recommended for its coral heads. The big surf crashing on to the rocks at the southern end of the bay quickly dashed that hope.

There was nothing left but to tack and head back out to sea for two more long reaches of sailing that brought us past Mabouya Islet and into the sheltered waters of Tyrrel Bay. There is something very mind-calming as you push across the swells of a white-capped sea, rising and falling, surging and slowing to the rhythms of wind and water, with nothing but the sound of the wind and the splash of waves on the hull.

Tyrrel Bay is large harbour and a favoured stay for many yachts. Once arrived, we were lucky to find a free mooring buoy (free in the sense of not being occupied, as the local buoy owners tend to charge lots of East Caribbean dollars for them – it's a form of market economy).

Slopes above Tyrrel Bay

One of many pastel-shaded houses

Soon after we arrived the rain set in – all very unusual weather for this time of year we were told, normally it is dry with lighter easterly trade winds. So, what to do on a wet, grey day in the Windward Isles? Five of us opted to do some land-lubbering and go for a walk from Tyrrel Bay to the aptly named Paradise Beach. It was a nice change to stretch our legs on land and get a better feel for island life and housing.

A resident of Carriacou

Carriacou landscape

Egret and friend

Grey day at Paradise Beach

There must be an election here soon – as we walked by the ferry terminal, a ferry was disgorging large numbers of green T-shirted activist for the NPC, one of the political parties in Grenada – they had come to work up the votes in Carriacou and, as I write, the thumping beat of reggae music drifts across the water from their island rally. There may have been no snorkelling today, but this is indeed an interesting part of the world.

Tyrrel Bay to Grand Mal Bay (81 km)

Finally, the weather returned to "normal". We awoke to blue sky with some puffy white cloud and a much gentler 15 knot trade wind blowing from the north-east. However, we had a long way to sail to reach the main island of Grenada. Untying our mooring, we motored out of the harbour, raised the mainsail, unfurled the jib and set course for Grenada.

Relaxing on a long reach

Approaching Diamond Rock

With the wind at our backs, our course comprised a series of broad reaches to go that little bit faster and work our way across the open waters of the Carriacou Channel, then thread our way between Diamond Rock and the underwater volcano exclusion zone. It was pleasant sailing, with a 2m swell pushing us forward and the odd schools of flying fish, passing gannets, and lobster fishermen in their tiny bobbing boats etc to entertain.

Nearing the northern tip of Grenada, we gybed to head deep out into the Caribbean, before gybing once more for the final run in – a chance to take advantage of the stronger winds that whip around the islands tip. "Mwah" took up the challenge and, with a surging swell behind and 16 knot wind in the sails, we raced down towards the coast, setting a new maximum speed of 9.8 knots on the way. It was a great last sail.

East coast of Grenada

Blue skies over the Grenada hinterland

Calypso Island

On reaching the coastline, the winds dropped off in the lee of the islands mountain chain. It was time to switch over to the motor and head the short distance down to Halifax Harbour and Calypso Island – a good snorkelling spot according to our guide book. However, the harbour was a deep and tricky anchorage and visibility in the water was still very poor after the strong winds. We settled for lunch in the bay, before motoring on to the first safe anchorage at the northern tip of Grand Mal Bay.

Just around the corner, between Miliniere and Long Points, lies an underwater sculpture park, where works of art have been placed amongst the rocks, sandy hollows and coral. We puttered around in the zodiac to have a look, but, as before, visibility was poor with the water still stirred up from the heavy weather of the previous few days. While the sailing on this trip has been very good, the snorkelling has been disappointing.

Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park

Final anchorage at Grand Mal Bay

Our last Caribbean sunset

Our last night aboard meant trying to eat up as much of the food and drink as much of the remaining drinks as possible. Our anchorage was a pleasant place to spend a last night of sailing – the wind had dropped right away, leaving us to swing gently on the anchor and change our views from the silvery late evening seas to the lights of houses on the steep tree-clad hills of the island. We toasted Grenada with another G and T.

Grand Mal Bay to Port Louis Marina (6 km)

All that remained the following morning was to motor a short distance back to Port Louis Marina and check the good ship "Mwah" back in, before the crew of the last week headed off on their separate ways. For Mike, Odile, Nello and myself, our great Central American / Caribbean adventure was now over. We left at an early hour the follow morning for another four country plane trip – Grenada to Trinidad to Miami USA to Cancun, Mexico. In the tourist hotspot of Cancun we had a day and half to relax before the long flight home – a swim in the pool or in the translucent blue waters of the Caribbean, and a last margarita or two.

Magazine Beach

Memorial to Cubans who died in the 1983 invasion of Grenada

Farewell to Grenada

Then one more 24 hour flight as the many highlights of the past two months slipped back into long-term memory and the reality of the routines of home life took over. Such is the lot of the traveller.