Monday, September 9, 2013

Grenada (2013)

Early on June 8th, we left Union Island in the Grenadines and made the eight mile sail to Carriacou, the northernmost island in the country of Grenada.  Our first stop was in the main port of Hillsborough on the west coast to complete clearance formalities.  This was a rolly anchorage, so once we had our papers in hand, we sailed on to the southwest side of the island to the popular Tyrrel Bay.

Tyrrel Bay provides great protection from the wind and swell and has a lot of services for cruising boats, so it was not surprising to find another 50 or so boats anchored there.  Fortunately it is a fairly large bay, and there was plenty of room for us to find a nice spot in 12 feet to drop the hook.  The water was calm and clear over a white sand bottom with no coral heads to foul our chain.  This was our kind of anchorage and a place we could have easily spent a week.  As with many of the Windward Islands, locals would come out the boat to sell produce and drinks and even the mangrove oysters, which are harvested in the bay.   

Unfortunately, it was already a week into the Caribbean hurricane season, and we were really feeling the pressure to get even further south.  The island of Grenada is a safer place to be during this time of year, as it is just outside the official hurricane belt and there are quite a few very well protected bays on its south coast.  There were already some recent disturbances just off Guyana on the South American coast that had the potential for development, and although they never materialized, it was enough to make us want to keep moving.  So after only one night in Carriacou, we sailed 42 miles to the south side of Grenada.  

As soon as we weighed anchor at 6 am, a squall rolled through with heavy rain and strong winds. Once it passed, the weather that day was very nice with sunshine and a 15 knot easterly breeze.  We didn’t take a direct path, but had to go around an active underwater volcano called Kick ‘em Jenny that erupted in both 1988 and 1989.  There is an exclusion zone of 1.5 km around the volcano, but if it is rumbling, the exclusion zone increases to 5 km.  We checked the status before leaving Tyrrel Bay and were glad to find it was still sleeping.  It was quite obvious when we approached it, as the water flowing over the large underwater mass created some choppy seas.

By 11 am, we were in the lee of Grenada, another lush green mountainous volcanic island.  For the next 17 miles, we had amazing sailing, moving along at 6-7 knots in calm seas.  As we rounded the southwest point of the island, the ride became a bash for the last five miles.  No longer in the lee, The E winds shifted to SE and increased to 20 knots, right on our nose.  We were sailing directly into five foot short period seas and had two knots of current against us to boot.  We tried short tacking for about 15 minutes, but just couldn’t make much headway.  We turned the engine on and motored sailed into the swell, making only two knots per hour.   

On the south side of Grenada, there are eight large and deep bays that have great protection from wind and swell.  Clarkes Court Bay was our choice because it was less crowded, and we could anchor right at the head of the bay next to a small marina, making it easy to get to shore.  It was a relief to reach the protection of Clarkes Court Bay and out of the wind and swell, but it was disappointing to find this was a muddy bay with no visibility in the water.  We longed for the clear waters we had grown accustomed to over the last couple months. 

By anchoring so close to the marina, it was easy to take advantage of some of the facilities.  We could fill our tanks with fresh water very cheaply, and they arranged busses that brought cruisers into town with stops at the grocery store, bank, hardware store and chandleries for just a few bucks.  This was a big relief because the bay is quite isolated and several miles from any towns. 

Grenada is very popular with cruisers during hurricane season.  Many leave their boats there and return home for the summer.  Others just hang out for the season, keeping a close eye on the weather and hoping this isn’t the year a hurricane strays to the south.  Although the island is technically out of the hurricane belt, it has been hit in recent years.  Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004, causing major damage on the island, and then a year later Hurricane Emily struck again.  Before that, it had been 49 years since the last one.  We were diligent about checking weather every day, but early in the season the risk is less.  Our plan was to put some more distance between us and the hurricane belt and head to the Dutch Caribbean shortly.    

Other cruisers we met had good things to say about Grenada and plenty of recommendations of places to see, but we were starting to lose interest after two months in the Windward Islands.  Although the islands are beautiful and the cruising was really easy and relaxing, most were just too touristy for us, and we were starting to get bored.  It was time for something new, so we decided to leave when the first nice weather window appeared.

While we waited, it seemed we should at least take a trip into St. George’s, which is the capital and biggest city in the country where a third of the total population of 110,000 live.  This is a horseshoe shaped city built on the hillside of what remains from an old volcanic crater.  In the middle of the horseshoe is the careenage, where many of the local fishing boats are moored.  Old brick buildings line the streets around the water, with several old churches perched on the hills.  It was definitely worth the visit, and we found a big market downtown with all sorts of produce, spices and crafts for sale. 

around St. George's
The most interesting place we visited was Fort George, which has played an important part in the history of this island.  It sits atop a hill overlooking the sea and the entrance to the careenage.  It was built by the French between 1705 and 1710 and was used for defense of the city during the 115 years they ruled the island.  After the British took control in 1763, it was used to defend against the French, although not always successfully. 

There was quite a bit of political turmoil in Grenada during their first decade of independence, which started in 1974.  Fort George was used as the headquarters for the People’s Revolutionary Army, formed after the first government was overthrown following a paramilitary attack.  That government was ousted several years later during a coup, and the Prime Minister and several members of his cabinet were executed in the fort.  It was even occupied by the US Marines for a short time when they intervened after the coup, concerned with the new communist government that was aligned with Cuban and Soviet interests.  Fortunately, 30 years later the government is stable, and the country is doing well. 

From our vantage point at the fort, we could see that many of the surrounding buildings had suffered damage in the recent hurricanes.  Some were still missing roofs and walls, another reminder that it was probably time to get moving.  After only two weeks in Grenada, it looked like a good weather window for heading west.

In order to clear out of the country and top off our fuel and water, we made the short trip into neighboring Phare Bleu Bay.   Saviah’s decks were covered with mud from weighing anchor in Clarkes Court Bay, so it was nice to have water at the fuel dock to give her a rinse before passage.  Customs and immigration officers were stationed at the marina, which made checking out a breeze.  We spent the last of our Eastern Caribbean Dollars at the little store there, and then moved to a mooring in the bay for our last night before making the 400 mile sail west to Bonaire.