After a month in Grenada, we took advantage of some nice weather to travel north a bit and visit some nearby places we skipped coming south. The Grenadines are a handful of beautiful islands stretching over about 40 miles between St. Vincent in the north and Grenada in the south, with the northernmost (and greatest number) being part of the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the southernmost being part of the country of Grenada. Several islands are inhabited, but there are some unsettled gems where anchoring for a night or two or more means gorgeous starry skies and peaceful daytime relaxation without the lure of on-shore shopping or errand-running.
We departed Grenada on July 25th for a 7 hour, 40+ mile sail and motorsail to Carriacou, the northernmost island of Grenada. This passage took us past Kick 'em Jenny, an undersea volcano that has been active in recent decades and is marked on the charts in an exclusion zone intended to prevent the loss of vessels in the event of a volcanic event. We sailed for a while up Grenada's west (lee) coast, but at the top of Grenada we found ourselves swept west by a strong current and winds close to the nose. We ended up nearly 8 miles west of Carriacou, with a long motorsail nearly dead into the wind to make Tyrell Bay, our intended anchorage. The highlight of the trip was spotting and passing close to two big pilot whales!
Tyrell Bay is a fairly large bay, and the hurricane season home to many boats that choose the smaller island, slower lifestyle found on Carriacou over the more bustling, larger islands of Grenada and Trinidad. On the advice of friends, after we got the anchor set we headed to shore to find a local barbecue stand on the beach. The offering of the day was a choice of barbecued chicken or pigtails. Dave immediately decided to try the pigtails, but the girl running the stand could read the skepticism on Nancy's face so she offered a trial sample. They both enjoyed the flavor immensely - it tasted just like a pork rib - and we went for the pigtails. The boys chose the more predictable chicken leg quarters, and we all enjoyed our local beach barbecue. Another highlight on Carriacou was the conquering of the highest peak by Dave and Chris. They set out initially on roads leading to trails, but after losing the trail they decided to just beat through the brush uphill until they reached the top of Chappeau Carre hill, altitude 945 feet. Although they found a sort of trail at the top, they couldn't figure out how it would get them down the hill, so they scrambled back down the hillside through the forest until they ran into a road that took them back to the beach. It was a good hike.
After a couple of days in Carriacou, we left Tyrell Bay and sailed around the corner to the main town of Hillsborough to clear out of Grenada, bound for Union Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A nice jib sail brought us across the five mile channel to the town of Clifton. Nancy and Chris went to shore to clear us in, and we immediately raised anchor to motor four miles to the Tobago Cays.
The Tobago Cays are a square mile of shallow water surrounded by fringing reefs and containing five beautiful little islands. This shallow bank with patchy coral stands is unique to the Eastern Caribbean and reminded us of the Bahamas but with dry, mountainous islands instead of flat scrub. A climb to the top of each little island is rewarded by gorgeous views of the water, reefs and beaches below, and sea turtles swim lazily around, feeding on the grasses that grow there. We anchored Liberty in the very front of the pack of boats, closet to the reef, in 6' of gin clear water over bright white sand. Our friends Valentin and Tor on the catamaran Yum Yum also came to the Tobago Cays at the same time, and we spent lots of time together, snorkeling on the reefs and with the turtles, enjoying happy hours and dinners together, and eventually watching the weather together, as a tropical wave crossed the Atlantic, spinning into Tropical Storm Ernesto. Before his arrival, however, we took time to bring Liberty and Yum Yum outside the reef and around to the island of Petit Tabac. This little gem with its beautiful sandy spit and palm trees is easily recognizable as the island on which Captain Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth were marooned in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. We anchored Liberty just inside the reef at Petit Tabac and explored the little island.
With Tropical Storm Ernesto looming in the forecast, we had to cut short our time in the Tobago Cays. A quick 5 mile sail brought us to the little private island resort of Petit St. Vincent, where we went ashore to look around and have a cocktail that proved too expensive for our budget. After a pleasant night at anchor, we were on the fuel dock at Petit Martinique early (only ½ mile away from PSV, but part of the country of Grenada, not St. Vincent), topping up before the weather came. During the night Ernesto decided to turn on a more westerly course, and he looked like he was going to come right to our part of the Caribbean. A long discussion ensued, with options including sailing south to Grenada or riding it out at Carriacou. In addition to being a full day's sail south, the anchorages on Grenada's southern coast would be open to swells that could build from the south, so we decided to go to Carriacou where we could go into a fully enclosed, protected mangrove lagoon. The lagoon is a marine preserve, open to anchoring only during tropical storms and hurricanes. It is probably the best hurricane hole in the eastern Caribbean, and with our shallow draft we could easily go all the way into the lagoon with lots of room to either anchor or tie to mangroves, or both.
There's only so much calm beauty one can take, - well, not really - so eventually we slipped our mooring lines for a nice sail southwest to Isle de Ronde, an uninhabited little island just north of Grenada. Although our cruising guide rates the anchorage as only fair, we had heard from a big (105') sailing yacht whose crew we had met that Ronde was a quite calm anchorage unless the winds and swells were strongly out of the north. We popped in, nudged close to shore, set the hook in sand, and stayed for two days, enjoying the solitude. Great snorkeling and only one other boat, and no lights (except a few on Grenada's north shore several miles away), and bliss - more enjoying the cruising life! When we just couldn't take it anymore (actually, we probably could have, indefinitely), we raised anchor for a nice sail southwest along Grenada's lee coast to St. George's and Port Louis Marina - and Carnival!
We didn't find Jack Sparrow's rum stash, but we did find a piece of space junk that washed ashore from a Russian satellite that came down in the Atlantic east of the Tobago Cays.
View of Tobago Cays from atop Jamesby Cay
View of Carriacou, looking south from atop Chappeau Carre
Pilot Whales spotted near Liberty
It was from this BBQ stand that we tried pigtails
Land Tortoise, native to the Grenadines
Josh & Chris atop Petit Bateau in the Tobago Cays
Petit Tabac, seen in Pirates of the Caribbbean
Hawksbill turtles feed on the grass at the Tobago Cays
Russian space junk washed ashore at Petit Tabac
Hawksbill turtle - such a graceful swimmer
Petit St. Vincent (left) and Petit Martinique (right) belong to two different countries.
The finger of water surrounded by land is the mangrove swamp of Tyrell Bay
Tropical Storm Ernesto's projected path
Boats tucked into the mangroves to be safe from the storm
With her shallow draft, we anchored Liberty deep in the mangrove swamp
Sandy Island is a beautiful strip of sand in the shadow of Carriacou
Local wooden sailboat racing in the Carriacou Regatta
Sandy Island with Union Island in the background
We snorkeled amongst this beautiful sea fan garden at Sandy Island
This flying gurnard is one of the most unusual fish we have seen. They live in the sand shallows.
Fishermen at Isle de Ronde coming home at sunset
Liberty at anchored in the clear waters of the Tobago Cays
With our decision to ride out Ernesto in Carriacou, we had only one problem - Carriacou is part of Grenada, but we were in St. Vincent and the Grenadines! To clear out through Customs and Immigration, we would have to sail 5 miles north to Union Island, clear out, then sail 5 more miles south to Carriacou, clear in, and then go to Tyrell Bay (where the lagoon is). That entire process offered a number of opportunities for delay, and with the current forecast putting Ernesto right on top of us, possibly as a Cat I hurricane, we decided to forego clearing out of St. Vincent and sail 5 miles west to Carriacou. Furthermore, we decided to head straight for Tyrell Bay instead of stopping in Hillsborough to clear in, figuring that after we got Liberty situated in the mangrove lagoon we could take a bus in to town to go through the clearance procedure.
We anchored in Tyrell Bay so we could scope out the lagoon by dinghy. With Ernesto's track still not set, the powers that be had not made a decision to "open" the marine preserve lagoon yet to anchoring. This wouldn't come until the next morning, (still a day before Ernesto was supposed to hit. We ended up not making it in to Immigration and Customs until the next morning around 11 am. Some friendly bantering and an explanation of decisions got us through Immigration with ease, but the Customs officer was less than impressed - in her opinion, the weather outside was beautiful, Ernesto wasn't here yet, and the safe thing to do would have been for us to clear St. Vincent properly. And, by the way, there's a potential fine up to $500 for violating the rules! This was delivered, of course, with much anger and gesticulation, but in the end we were cleared in with no fines, and we could focus on watching Ernesto and preparing Liberty.
By the afternoon it was clear that Tropical Storm Ernesto was taking a turn to the northwest and was not going to strengthen to hurricane status, so our hurricane prep experience became more of an experience than actual preparation for nasty weather. In any case, the tropical storm would still bring nasty wind and westerly swells into Tyrell Bay (that would have made it uncomfortable, if not untenable), so with the lagoon now open for anchoring, about 40 boats decided to head in. Those with deeper drafts, over 5 feet or so, could only go as far as the first section of the lagoon (protected, but crowded), and they had to nose (or stern) into the mangroves and tie to the trees. Shallow draft boats like Liberty could go much farther in, and many of us were able to drop anchor in the open pond. In the lagoon we didn't see wind over about 25 to 30 knots, and we didn't have to deal with any swells from the west). We ended up spending 3 days in the lagoon, hanging out with Yum Yum and getting to know other cruisers.
After Ernesto passed well to our north (between St. Lucia and Martinique) and the wind died down, we left the mangrove lagoon and motored around the corner to beautiful Sandy Island on the west side of Carriacou, north of Tyrell Bay. Sandy Island is just like it sounds - really a couple hundred yard long sandbar with a few palm trees and scrubby bushes, and a dozen mooring balls just to the south, protected from pretty much all swells and waves. It is an idyllic spot, and also a marine preserve. With good snorkeling on the little reef that extends to the east, soft white sand, and clear clean water, what better spot to spent four days just hanging out? That's what we did, enjoying Sandy Island and the cruising life to the max.