Friday, July 26, 2013

Grenada I: Grand Mal & St. George's Anchorages

Monday, July 15 - Saturday, July 20, 2013
Yes, we're finally in Grenada! This gorgeous island, full of friendly locals and cruisers alike, will be our home for the next three-plus months while we hide out from hurricanes. We've heard great things about it from other cruising friends, and have been looking forward to experiencing the island for ourselves.

After leaving Carriacou with JoHo, we decided to stop in Grand Mal Bay (just north of St. George's) to snorkel the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park at Moliniere Point. The park has a number of statues and carvings lying in the sand 15-20' below the surface, the signature piece being "Vicissitudes" (a.k.a. "Circle of Children"). At first we couldn't find a single piece given the poor visibility, but Rene suddenly spotted a woman's figure lying prone on the bottom. (Now THAT's disturbing!) We continued on towards the north end of the park, and soon came upon the main attraction. It's a bit eerie swimming through the murky water, only to discover a ring of 28 faces staring up at you!

We enjoyed dinner on JoHo followed by a great night's sleep in Grand Mal's non-rolly anchorage. (Who knew how much we'd miss it a few days later...) The next morning, we motored the entire two miles down to Grenada's capital of St. George's. We dropped the hook in clear blue water and dinghied in to the Grenada Yacht Club to meet up with Anne Bonny and talk to the dockmaster. Sadly, our plans to be dock bunnies went by the wayside; GYC's shore power couldn't meet our needs, and Port Louis Marina's prices couldn't meet our budget! To be fair, the two marinas were similar in price. The only problem? The yacht club's prices were quoted in East Caribbean dollars, while the marina's prices were in US$. $1US = 2.67EC. Get the math? Cha-ching!

We spent the next few nights anchored off St. George's, loving the convenience of being a quick dinghy ride from numerous grocery stores, St. George's Carenage, happy hours at Port Louis, downtown shopping, and an incredible farmer's market. We got to spend a lot of time with Chris and Denise while their son attended the yacht club's sailing school, along with JoHo and Dave and Lisa from Ke 'Ola Kai. We hadn't seen Dave and Lisa since St. Martin, and had a terrific time hearing the latest crazy stories from their trip back to the States. The only mar on the week was the anchorage itself: we had a few so-so to comfy nights, followed by two nights of absolute HELL. It may not have been quite as bad as fall-out-of-bed, dishes-crashing-to-the-floor St. Eustatius, but we basically got no sleep for two days. (How long does it take for hallucinations to begin?? Even the cats took more catch-up naps than usual!) We spent Ke 'Ola Kai's last night in Grenada having dinner aboard Anne Bonny, and left first thing the next morning for Prickly Bay. We'd been warned that it, too, could be rolly, but it couldn't possibly be as bad as St. George's!

Rumor has it that the cruising grounds on the south end of Grenada - True Blue Bay, Prickly Bay, Mt. Hartman Bay, Hog Island, and Woburn Bay - rival Georgetown in the Bahamas (a.k.a. "Cruiser Summer Camp") in terms of cruiser events. That in itself probably warrants a whole new blog chapter...til next time!

Please enjoy more pictures here.

Cruisers heading to Grenada: there's more info out there on Grenada than we could possibly offer, but here are a few of our food/shopping/tourist highlights:
- Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park: it was interesting, but the water was extremely cloudy and there was little coral or fish life. We've talked to a few others who've also done this, and everyone agrees: it's worth a stop if you feel like breaking up the trip between Carriacou and Grenada's south end, but don't bother making a special trip.
- St. George's Farmer's Market: covering a square city block, the market offers every fruit, veggie, and spice you can imagine. Most things seem to be $5EC, whether for a half-dozen luscious Sealawn mangoes (our new favorite), a monster bag of passion fruit (make your own juice!), vine-ripened tomatoes, or an arm-full of fig bananas. Don't forget to grab a spice necklace (made famous by "An Embarrassment of Mangoes") to make your boat smell incredible! From St. George's, dock the dinghy at the Carenage, walk through the Sendall Tunnel to "downtown", and the market is a block off the main street at Hillsborough and Halifax. If you're in one of Grenada's southern bays, you can take a bus into downtown St. George's and walk from there.
- The Schnitzel Haus: who would've guessed you could get great German food in Grenada? Bratwurst, schnitzels, Gulasch, and more, all on a balcony overlooking St. George's Carenage.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

Monday, July 8 - Sunday, July 14, 2013
Welcome to our first stop in what is officially "Carriacou & Grenada"! And what a welcome it was. First we found ourselves running south from Tropical Storm Chantal. Then we arrived in Hillsborough, Carriacou, only to be warned that Stacy might not be let into the country because she'd (just) run out of empty pages in her passport. (But I still have three more years before it what?!) The customs guy finally caved in and stamped us through, but we definitely have a new item on our to-do list: find an American consulate in Grenada!

After a four-stop run from Chatham Bay, Union Island, we finally reached Tyrell Bay and were thrilled to see that Anne Bonny was still there. We'd expected them to be long gone to Grenada by now, and were happy to have some catch-up time. Had it really only been five days since we'd last seen them? When you travel together for months at a time and see each other daily, even a short absence seems like forever. (I hope Storyville's ears are burning!) JoHo had also arrived in the bay a few hours before us, so we all met up for a visit to "The Olde Rum Shop" and dinner at Miss Lucky's. We even got an after-dinner surprise at the Lambi Queen bar: the mini-Windjammer we'd been seeing since Bequia stopped at Tyrell Bay to wait out the weather. They arranged for a steel-drum band to entertain their guests that night, so we all got to enjoy the music. Party!

Our real focus for the first couple of days was Tropical Storm Chantal. We felt pretty safe ourselves, given that the track had continued to shift northwards. We'd expected to see heavy winds Tuesday morning, but the opposite ended up being true; apparently Chantal sucked all of the wind out of our area, because the bay was a lake for most of the day. Other than an ominous grey sky and very little rain, we had no ill effects. There wasn't even enough wind to keep us on the boat, so we enjoyed dinner aboard the catamaran, Stingo, with JoHo and Anne Bonny. (Thanks, John!)

Wednesday was Stacy's grandpa's 91st birthday (happy birthday, Papa!), so we wandered into town for some internet and Skype. The next few days were spent walking around the village, swimming at the postcard-stamp-sized beach in front of the supermarket, and doing a few small boat projects (mostly reading) on Pipe. One beach day resulted in us buying fresh conch (four cleaned conch for 10 EC - quite a bargain), so Stacy even tried her hand at conch fritters. They disappeared quickly enough at the happy hour aboard Yachtsman's Dream, but we doubt conch will become a staple on the Pipe; those nasty buggers stick to EVERYTHING!

We can't say we've done much exploring of Carriacou, but we've enjoyed the laid-back feel of the island. Next up, we're sailing down to Grenada, where we'll spend the bulk of the hurricane season. We may even take a dock for a month if we can get into the more affordable Grenada Yacht Club, where Anne Bonny is staying while Christian enjoys sailing school. We haven't stayed in a marina in over a year, and haven't been dock royalty (what cruisers call themselves when staying on a dock for more than a day or two at a time) since we left Kemah. This could be fun! We'll see if it happens...GYC is all first-come, first-served, so no guarantees. If not, we've got the entire south coast of Grenada to explore. Til next time...

Fellow cruisers, a few things to look for if you come through Tyrell Bay:

- Great rotis are available from the green shack across the street from "In Stitches"; you can get boneless if you order a day in advance.
- A "bread van" stops at the roti shack every other day at 3pm (rumor has it the bread is still warm when it arrives)
- If you like rum, do it like the locals do. Buy "a quarter" (we think it's a quarter of a liter) of local rum for 10-12EC. The bartender will pour home-made rum from a large bottle into a glass soda bottle for you. You can buy a mixer from the bar or bring your own. Good spots are the Olde Rum Shop or the Lambi Queen.
- For the best dinner deal on the island, go to Miss Lucky's for 12EC fried chicken and chips; better yet, be there on a Saturday when she barbecues chicken and ribs.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

One Last Jaunt through the Grenadines

Friday, July 5 - Monday, July 8, 2013

It doesn't quite seem possible, but we're getting close to reaching the end of the group of islands known as the Grenadines. We've been here for two weeks already, but it seems like our stay has flown by.

We left the Tobago Cays Friday morning for the five-mile trip to Chatham Bay, on the northwest side of Union Island. We'd said a temporary good-bye to JoHo early that morning, and headed for what was supposed to be a more secluded anchorge than Union's main port of Clifton. We had some major boat cleaning to do thanks to the reddish "Sahara Sand" (yes, it really is carried on the wind from Africa) that had coated the boat during countless rainstorms in Guadeloupe and Dominica; we were hoping we'd be more motivated in a quieter environment since...surprise, surprise...we tend to be easily distracted when we have great friends and good shoreside attractions. :-)

It took us all of an hour to reach Chatham Bay, and the one boat that shared the anchorage with us departed after 30 minutes. We got a quick start on boat cleaning and maintenance jobs, and spent the next five hours prettying up the Pipe. A few local dinghies approached us trying to get us ashore for happy hour, dinner, internet, etc., but most got the hint from Stacy's yellow rubber gloves (and Rene's boxers, of course!). Stacy got all those pesky rust stains and sandy bits off the top deck, while Rene played maintenance man checking fluid levels in the engine and generator. Thanks to a quiet (read: not rolly) night in the anchorage, we even decided to stay an extra day to tackle the ground-in dirt in the cockpit.

Saturday morning we got a great surprise when JoHo pulled in and dropped the hook behind us. They'd been in Clifton Harbor, but decided to stick around for a few extra days before heading to Carriacou. We agreed to meet up for happy hour and internet ashore, followed by a home-cooked Indian meal aboard Pipe. The only problem with that scenario? It meant Rene was stuck cleaning the cockpit on his own while Stacy played master chef down below. (Yep, I definitely got the better end of that deal. Thanks, hon!)

Our internet fix ashore highlighted our first weather concern of the season: a system was developing to the southeast of us, and had a 30% chance of developing into a tropical depression. (By Sunday, the probability had increased to 60%.) As of Saturday afternoon, the system was already expected to bring 35-50 knot winds to either Martinique or St. Lucia by Tuesday or Wednesday. That was over 100 miles from us, but we couldn't help but think of our friends on Island Dream, Blues Breaker, and Another Way, who were scattered between Guadeloupe and St. Vincent. We also knew how changeable these storms could be, which meant we had to keep a close eye on it ourselves in case a quick move became necessary. We joined JoHo for one last happy hour at Vanessa's beach bar Sunday afternoon, and prepared the boat for the trip to Carriacou.

Chantal officially became a tropical storm early Monday morning. The track continued to stay north of us, but we wanted to get ourselves tucked into a more protected anchorage to get away from the swells. We left Chatham Bay early Monday morning for the short trip to Clifton, where Rene officially checked us out of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. From there, we rocked and rolled (yep, sea conditions were already getting ugly) four more miles to Petit Martinique for a quick fuel-up and, rumor has it, the best diesel prices in the Windwards.
Next it was a seven-mile jaunt to Hillsborough, Carriacou, where Rene had to make three separate visits to immigration, customs, and the port authority to clear us into the country of Carriacou & Grenada. FINALLY...we were able to finish the last four miles around the corner from Hillsborough to Tyrell Bay. Whew - we don't usually move this much in one day!

Now we hunker down and wait for the effects of Chantal. As always, our thoughts are with everyone in the storm's path. We have cruising friends in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas, and all of them have been warned to keep an eye on Chantal. Stay safe, guys!

 Enjoy more pictures here.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tobago Cays, the Grenadines

Tuesday, July 2 - Thursday, July 4, 2013

Welcome to the site of the hands-down, most spectacular sunset we've ever seen! Okay, so it was six years ago when we first visited the Grenadines on a charter boat with friends John and Bonnie. We'd come through a hellish rainstorm to get here, but were rewarded with a purple sky that we've yet to encounter again.

There were no purple skies this time, but the Tobago Cays still offer some of the most gorgeous cruising grounds in the Caribbean. Made up of the five uninhabited islands of Baradel, Petit Bateau, Petit Rameau, Jamesby, and Petit Tabac, the Cays are sheltered to the east by the massive Horseshoe Reef.
You can anchor inside the reef, and look out at the open ocean with nothing between you and the African coast. The cays plus four surrounding islands are now protected under the Tobago Cays Marine Park, offering plenty of snorkeling, diving, bird watching, and LOTS of turtle sightings.

After anchoring off Baradel at noon, we wasted no time jumping into the water. We swam towards the roped-off turtle viewing area, but saw even more turtles in the deeper grassy areas around the anchorage. We finally stopped counting at 15 turtles, and also saw two stingrays and a dozen trunk fish. Incredible!
We also had plenty of evening entertainment, thanks to a happy hour aboard Yachtsman's Dream with Lela & John, plus Harry & Melinda from Sea Schell and Polly & Mo from Motivator. John & Lela have a beautiful catamaran, and Lela's a fantastic cook. They REALLY made us want to switch to a cat. Thanks, guys!

Wednesday and Thursday offered more of the same...gorgeous snorkeling and turtle encounters by day, happy hours with other cruisers by night. Wednesday we hiked up Petit Bateau to enjoy fantastic views of the reefs surrounding the Cays and Petit Tabac to the east, and Mayreau and Union Island to the west. That night, we hosted a happy hour/barbecue on Pipe Muh Bligh.
Between JoHo's kebabs, our chicken wings, Trudy May's breadfruit "potato" salad, It's Perfect's awesome dip, and Motivator's tuna ceviche, we had more food than we knew what to do with. (Did we mention we eat really well on this boat??) Polly & Mo also brought makings for 'Ti Punch, a Caribbean specialty that involves fresh-squeezed limes, sugar cane syrup, and just a wee bit (yeah, right) of rum. Rene mixed it up with our favorite sipping rum, Zaya (Storyville & Alternate Latitude, we were thinking of you!), and a grand time was had by all.

Thursday was a final snorkel with JoHo, followed by yet another happy hour aboard Motivator. Polly & Mo were terrific hosts, but we found ourselves with a new dilemma: do we trade Pipe in for a catamaran or a motor cruiser??? (Kidding...we love our Winnebago of a boat!)

It was a short stay in the Tobago Cays, but a memorable one. We LOVE this place! It's time to continue south towards Grenada, but we know we'll be back. Till next time...

 For more Tobago Cays pictures, click here.

Fellow cruisers, FYI: it costs $10 EC (about $4 US) per person per day to stay in the Tobago Cays park. We figure that's about 25 cents per turtle...well worth it!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Bequia, the Grenadines

Friday, June 21 - Monday, July 1, 2013

Woo hoo - we've finally made it to the Grenadines! For those of you who aren't familiar with the area, the Grenadines are a group of 30 islands and cays located south of St. Vincent, and help to make up the country of...what else?...St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Bequia (pronounced "BEK-way") is the most northerly of the Grenadines, lying just eight miles south of St. Vincent.
The seven-square-mile island's roots are steeped in boat-building and whaling, and Bequia has been granted international whaling rights that allow its people to harpoon up to four whales per year. Bequia also happens to be the last island we visited when we chartered a boat with Houston friends, John and Bonnie, six years ago. Just like the BVIs, the Grenadines have held a special place in our hearts, and we've been anxious to return to explore these beautiful islands at our own pace.

We left the Pitons at 6:30am for the 50nm trip to Admiralty Bay, Bequia. We were expecting somewhat rough conditions, and were thrilled to find the seas even calmer than predicted. What a change from last time! We crossed the 20-mile open-water passage between St. Lucia and St. Vincent with no problems (even Tux didn't complain too much), and were soon in calm waters in the lee of St. Vincent's west coast.
Half-way down the coast, we spotted four dolphins leaping through the water towards us. Before we knew it, they were joined by 20 of their closest friends. Incredible! The only problem? Our camera battery died! We both stood on the bow watching the show, debating whether they'd be gone by the time one of us went downstairs to get the replacement battery. Surprisingly, the pod danced around our boat for at least 10-15 minutes...plenty of time to change the dead battery in our camera.

After an easy check-in Saturday morning, we stopped by the tourist office to get more info on Bequia and the weekend's Carnival festivities. Talk about a great coincidence - we had no idea we'd arrived just in time for Bequia's Carnival until we listened to the VHF cruiser's net that morning. There would be parties on Saturday and Sunday nights, followed by a big street party "jump-up" Monday afternoon. We were in!

We spent the next couple of days wandering through town, snorkeling the reef between Princess Margaret Beach and Lower Beach (three morays and a spotted eel!), and exploring the interior of the island. We joined Out of Africa, Sea Schell, Trudy May, Crazy Cricket, Banjo, and Exit Strategy on Monday for a hike up to Peggy's Rock, which was said to offer phenomenal views of the anchorage and the rest of Bequia.
Kudos to Rene for making it all the way to the top and getting our photos. Stacy made it up the first few rocky inclines, but didn't quite have enough of the billy goat gene to finish the last peak. (Did I mention I have some training to do before we get to Grenada?)

After a cool-down swim and a nap, we heard someone call our boat name over the VHF; JoHo was here! We hadn't seen John and Jolanda since we'd left them in Guadaloupe nearly two months prior, and were excited to catch up with them. Even though John and Jolanda had been up since 3 a.m. for the trip down, they were troopers and joined us for the jump-up that afternoon.
The festivities had actually started at 4am Monday morning (or to be honest, they continued on from Sunday night - trust us, we heard Soca music ALL night). Whether the party-goers stopped for a nap or kept going, we have no idea. All we know is that as "Cruiser Midnight" (a.k.a. 9:30pm) approached, JoHo and Trudy May were the only ones heading back to Carnival. We're not worthy!

As always, our lives are dictated by the weather. We'd seen a strong wave forecasted to come through Friday and Saturday, bringing 30+ knot winds and 9' seas to the area. We spent a solid 20 hours thinking we'd head to the next island before the bad weather arrived. Surprise, surprise, being surrounded by such a great (and social) group of people convinced us to stay.
With talks of more hikes, beach barbecues, and island tours, how could we leave?? Although we skipped the group ferry ride to St. Vincent (the group's verdict? Not worth the trip), we joined everyone for a walk to the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. "Brother" Hegg raises turtles from their eggs until they're old enough to have a better chance of survival on their own, typically 3-4 years.
For a small fee (15 EC) that goes towards the care of the turtles, you can see 6-month old hatchlings, 3-year olds nearing their release date, and a 15-year old behomoth who's kept separate from the others due to a shell defect that would make her a target. (But she LOVES to be scratched along her side and flaps her flippers like a dog!) The walk to the sanctuary took us past the Firefly plantation, along flower-lined roads, and within sight of Bequia's east coast. It was 2.5-3 miles each way, and well worth the trip.

As for our dining options? Yes, we managed to find a few favorites. Mac's Pizzeria is a Caribbean favorite and a legend of sorts, having been in business for the past 30 years. The Port Hole had fantastic rotis for lunch, and the Fig Tree hosted a "Fish Friday" where we had the option of grilled or fried mahi mahi, tuna, or kingfish plus sides for $25EC.
We also had some terrific meals of our own, thanks (again) to Out of Africa John's organizing a few afternoon potluck-BBQs on Princess Margaret Beach.

It's just about time to leave beautiful Bequia...but not before a final visit to Mac's! From here, we're heading south to the spectacular Tobago Cays. The cays are part of a marine park that offers some of the best snorkeling around, and we're anxious to have a few "gold star" (read: no money spent) days. Bequia has been a lot more affordable than you might expect, but we haven't been as...ummm...fiscally responsible? Tight fisted? we could be. Cheers!

Please enjoy more pictures here.

Fellow cruisers: if you're heading to Bequia, try to be here on a Saturday. A butcher from St. Vincent comes to Bequia every Saturday and offers fresh meats for terrific prices. Anne Bonny got a 4-5lb beef tenderloin for about $17US!

St. Lucia

Friday, June 7 - Thursday, June 20, 2013
If you hear "Caribbean" and think of white sand beaches, crystal blue water, and fancy resorts with umbrella drinks, then St. Lucia definitely fits the bill. Our temporary home in Rodney Bay was within sight of the Sandals Grande and Landings complexes to the north, and the Bay Gardens Beach Resort and Royal St. Lucien to the south. Miles of soft golden sand ringed the bay, and beach chairs and sun umbrellas were everywhere. Throw in some jet skis, a few Hobie cats, and the para-sailors, and you had the carnival that was Rodney Bay. It was completely different from our last few islands, but the party atmosphere quickly sucked us in.

We arrived late Friday afternoon after a messy motor-sail from Martinique. We got pounded by 6-8' seas (the forecast said 4'...who are these guys?), and even had a couple of ten-footers. It was one of those days where we kept the motor on even though we could've sailed, simply because the winds were too light to give us any real speed. 3.5-4.0 knots without the motor vs. 5.5-6.0 knots with the motor...hmmm, let me think. Yep, we wanted to get out of those waves as quickly as possible! We anchored off the village of Gros Islet, just north of the entrance to Rodney Bay Marina. Talk about a boater's paradise! The marina and its lagoon are home to a dozen little bars and restaurants, laundromats, grocery stores, bakeries, souvenir shops, etc. If you dinghy a little farther into the lagoon, you reach the dock that opens out onto TWO malls. A lot of the shops were geared towards vacationers and second homeowners (think high-end clothing, jewelry, art, etc.), but we also found some great restaurants, a hardware store, and a beautifully-stocked supermarket. Yes, we cruisers really do get excited about a good meat and cheese section. :-)

We knew we'd be spending some quality time in Rodney Bay, thanks to a weather forecast that predicted high winds and 8-10' seas until sometime into the next century (or at least more than a week out). Hearing that a buoy 4 miles north had registered a 16' wave one morning really didn't give us a warm fuzzy feeling! What do cruisers do when they're stuck somewhere for weather? Plan get-togethers! Many of the boats around us had been to St. Lucia before, having done the St. Martin to Grenada shuffle a number of times.
Harry and Melinda on Sea Schell organized a gam (a.k.a. happy hour) at the marina one night, and John on Out of Africa spearheaded a BBQ/potluck another night. Friday was the big street party "jump-up" in Gros Islet, and Saturday was another BBQ/rum punch party at the yacht club. Calls soon went out announcing water aerobics, dominoes tournaments, and ladies' lunches, and we knew our cruiser family was beginning to get antsy.

Having so many creature comforts at our disposal made us a bit lazy, but we did manage to spend an afternoon hiking around Pigeon Island. Pigeon Island was once a separate island just off St. Lucia, but someone decided it would be a good idea to fill in the space between the two land masses.
It certainly generated some income for the island, as the new property became home to the Sandals Grande Resort. Pigeon Island is now a national park, complete with an old fort, military artifacts, and ruins. We hiked up to Signal Peak for some spectacular 360-degree views, followed by a hike to the old fort at the opposite end of the island. We all had jelly-legs by the end of the day, but the scenery made it all worthwhile.

We finally got a short weather window at the end of week #2. After a final Rodney Bay BBQ (thanks again to Out of Africa John and Joanne for organizing!), we made the 18-mile jump to the southern end of St. Lucia. We picked up a mooring between the twin peaks known as the Pitons, and enjoyed our first mostly-clear night in weeks. We were two days shy of the full moon, and had heard that seeing the moon come up between the Pitons was a sight not to be missed. Anne Bonny invited us over to enjoy a glass of wine for the moonrise, but the moon decided to rise in full daylight. We still managed to have a gorgeous night with great friends. That's what cruising is all about!

From here, we'll skip St. Vincent and go straight to Bequia. We're excited to re-visit the Grenadines, where we chartered with our Houston friends, John and Bonnie, a few years ago. The islands that make up the Grenadines are typically 5-20 miles apart, so we'll have some easy hops on our way down to Grenada. Cheers!

For more pictures of St. Lucia, please click here.
(Thanks to Jolanda on JoHo for the great shot of Pipe Muh Bligh!)

A few comments for our sailing friends headed to St. Lucia: First, if an official in Rodney Bay tells you that you can purchase a mooring permit for the Pitons in advance, do NOT do it! SMMA (the organization that manages the Soufriere and Pitons moorings) doesn't recognize Rodney Bay's permit and will ask you to pay AGAIN. Second, beware of petty thievery near Soufriere and the Pitons. Our friends had some items stolen off the back of their boat overnight. It might be time for us to replace our broken motion-sensor light...