On our meander down the Caribbean island chain we were originally unsure how far south we would sail until we read about Grenada in the guide books. “Spice Island” as it is nicknamed, was reputed to be stunning, “some people’s idea of an unspoiled Garden of Eden” according to Doyle’s guide. On closer inspection of the map of the island it appeared to have some intriguing frilly bits on the bottom; a series of coves which looked like Norwegian fjiords and seemed to offer anchorage space galore. Added to the other apparent charms of Grenada was Palm Tree Marine, a mechanic who was an authorised Westerbeke agent. We had an urgent problem with the coolant pipe on our Westerbeke generator that needed replacing. We upped anchor and left without delay.
The bays don’t look like Norewegian fjiords, however, but are rather a network of anchorages full of liveaboard yachties with hardly a charter boat to be seen. On arrival we were surprised at how many boats there were in the southern bays. Prickly bay seemed jam packed and the anchorage by Hog Island seemed full, too. Every space seemed to consist of a mooring buoy. We have since discovered that these are unofficial buoys which anyone can take for free, set up by resident live aboard yachties who will only ask a visitor to move if they turn up. The Palm Tree Marine operation was based in a boat yard behind Clarkes’ Court marina in the bay of the same name. We anchored within metres of the marina and boat yard, cheekily close. At first, we were concerned that a massive rusting ferry docked at the boat yard and which seemed to be a floating workshop of some kind would not be able to pass between us and the marina. Luckily the pilots seem to be accustomed to squeezing past tight spaces! We could not have been closer to the marina without actually being in it.
When we first put down the anchor, we were planning to stay for a few days but didn’t imagine that it would become our home for three weeks! We quickly discovered that Grenada is extremely seductive to live aboard yachties. A quick whizz around the extended bay showed us a surprising sight; boats which were floating homes which had apparently not left their mooring for months or years. There are some boats which are fastened firmly in the mangroves and in the process of being reclaimed by nature, some obviously abandoned, some still afloat and inhabited but covered in marine life. The Clarkes Court connected bays as they are called, are beautifully sheltered, especially by Hog Island, and as the island is out of the hurricane zone, many people return here year after year and some never leave.
We soon discovered how friendly the island is. A day in the marina and both marina manager, Richard and Chandlery owner, Alan had spent a couple of hours chatting away with us, telling us why they loved the island, how welcoming and safe it is to live here, giving us all sorts of practical advice and letting us know about the local watering holes and bus services. There is a daily radio net on channel 68 every morning at 7.30am which gives details of social events going on every day along with services and “treasures of the bilge”. Far from being pestered by pushy vendors harassing us to buy overpriced fish and bread, here there is a little infrastructure of services organised by the yachtie community themselves. Everybody we met in the boat yard lived on a boat. After chatting a little to folk in the marina we got a glowing reference for Driftwood, a carpentry and general boat maintenance service. We had some water damage to the bottom of our fridge that we had always intended to have fixed. Meeting Stefan and Remi from Driftwood we were quickly impressed by them. They both lived on board a boat themselves and were passionate about sailing and boat building. We had to extend our stay to get them to do work on the Princess as we had arrived just before the annual Sailing week, and the whole Driftwood team were sailing for most of that week on board a beautiful 1920s Swedish boat, Galatea, a metre style boat which was the pride and joy of the Driftwood co-founder, Judd. We had a ring side seat watching them get Galatea up to speed in the days leading up to sailing week.
So, we had time to roam the island while waiting for our slots with the Clarkes’ Court craftsmen. The advantage of staying a while in one place is that you find out how to get around and become a dab hand at taking public transport. The number 2 bus into the capital, St George, leaves from just opposite our anchorage, a two-minute dinghy ride away, and costs less than a pound a ticket. If only British buses were so affordable and convenient! We never had to wait more than five minutes for a bus and they always found room for us, even when carrying bags of shopping, sometimes reshuffling passengers in an
ingenious way. The buses here are enterprising and conductors hustle for passengers, stop to let people pop out and pick up a barbecue or stop other buses in mid road when you need a connection. Part of the fun of the spectacular journey is listening to the music or radio chat. Every bus had a different vibe with different music which varied from mellow to high energy. One bus driver had a fondness for Abba and played their greatest hits every day, which made me slightly tearful, thinking of my late great friend Christian, who loved Abba so much. The buses varied in speed from a crawl to hurtling at break neck speed around corners, depending on whether they had a full or empty cargo of passengers.
Of all the islands we have visited so far, Grenada has the best standard of living and the smallest contrast between touristic rich and local poor. There seems to be a pretty decent standard of living here for local people with good schools and a decent health service. St George’s, the capital, has some real beauty spots; the Carenage, a working bay ringed with historic and well-maintained buildings, is beautiful. The Fort overlooks the town and offers lovely views across the bay. The town itself has a great buzz with its market and vendors selling local spices, fruit and coconut milk and the fish market offers real bargains. In the run up to Grenada independence day everybody wears the Grenadian colours, yellow, red and green, and the whole town was decorated with flags of those colours. Overlooked by a granite brick Catholic church on top of the hill, the Carenage always oddly reminded me of a Welsh sea-side town on the most brilliantly sunny summer’s day. Certainly the prettiest town in the Caribbean that we have visited to date.
The touristy development is mostly restricted to Grande Anse, the two-mile-long white sand beach along which it is forbidden to anchor. Walking along Grande Anse is the only place on Grenada which feels like a massive resort. Even here, there is only one restaurant along the whole of the beach which is surprisingly affordable. Having been accustomed to a wall of overpriced restaurants all along the shoreline in places like Bequia, we were surprised. This makes for the charm of Grenada as well.
The hikes and visits are similarly unexploited. We visited two stunning places; Mount Carmel falls and the Grand Etang National Park, and in both places were able to visit at our leisure. At Mount Carmel we had an unofficial guide who accompanied us around the falls, but entrance was a mere 2 EC dollars, about 80p. The falls themselves were a delight, one icy cold and vertiginous and one tailor made for swimming and having fun in. You can stand underneath it and have a back massage as the water pummels your shoulders. We were there at the same time as a friendly American tourist and a small group of German students who, under Hakim’s tutelage, daringly slid down the whole length of the falls. We wished we had taken a picnic, as it is the kind of place where you can stay for hours.
The Grand Etang National Park is a rainforest area with a lake which is an old volcano crater. We walked around the lake shore side walk and I attempted to walk to Mount Qua Qua. Both walks were extremely muddy however, and in the case of Mount Qua Qua, the mix of slippy clay and quagmires and slopes were too much for me. However, it was worth getting muddy to walk in such virgin rainforest, hearing some incredible bird cries which I just failed to record. Some of the birds seemed to have imitated the noise of a car alarm. We were lucky enough to see a Mona monkey, tempted down for a photo opportunity by one of the rangers equipped with a banana.
My favourite place on Grenada however, has to be Hog’s island, the little island on our doorstep. Previously bought by the Chinese who went so far as to build a bridge between the mainland and the island, the development was apparently abandoned for some reason, leaving the huge bridge equipped for traffic, unused except for the occasional visiting yachtie like myself. The island has been left absolutely pristine. There are no buildings or signs of habitation except for a wooden bar and beach side barbecue run by a local, Roger and much beloved by visiting yachties who can dinghy straight onto the beach and watch
the sun set. Visiting Hog island is like going into the tardis, it is much larger than it seems from the outside, and it takes almost an hour to walk around. The views around the bay are of course, wonderful and the landscape itself is very different to the usual Caribbean lush rainforest, consisting of long grass and boulders. The only inhabitants of the island are goats and cows which roam at liberty until they end up on the barbecue! I found my own private beach and went for a swim there undisturbed only to return and to find a small herd of cows grazing around where I had left my bag. I was a little nervous to pick it back up again as some of the cows were bulls, but in true Grenadian style they were very tolerant of visitors.
At the time of writing we are waiting for the Driftwood carpenter, Remi, to add the finishing touches to the woodwork that we have commissioned and then will up anchor and leave for the hard beat north, back to Saint Lucia and on to Martinique to pick up our friends, Rob and Sally. We will have many fond memories of Grenada, the place where we had enough time to really start to feel at home and a place where we could well imagine spending even longer. However, the mangroves are approaching…. We had better leave soon! We leave with the feeling that we may well return…