Wandering the Grenadines – 1

Sandy Island

Since we checked out at Tyrrel Bay on 24 March, the penultimate day of our month long Grenadian cruising permit, Temptress has been exploring the Grenadines though we have yet to reach either St Vincent or the world famous Tobago Cays. First off we intended to spend a final night in Grenada at anchor off Sandy Island, a tiny palm tree covered islet just round the corner from Tyrrel Bay. Unfortunately the wind was such that the reef locked anchorage was a bumpy lee shore making it a place to visit when we return to Grenada which we surely will. Temptress carried on to Union Island, making our day sail some seven or eight miles rather than the barely two we’d planned.

Clifton Bay across Newlands Reef –
the red building is the bar on an artificial island

On arrival it took us a while to get the hook down in the crowded doughnut shaped space that is Clifton Bay. The centre is occupied by a shallow reef appropriately nicknamed the roundabout, the west-most side by the ferry channel. The left or east side has the wide protective Newlands Reef and top part is off the town and airport an both are crowded with over a hundred yachts and catamarans big and small either on moorings or at anchor. On our first attempt we ended up with no room to swing. We headed out again to enter via the ferry channel as we’d spied a spot close to the roundabout next to two large fishing boats. Another failure as the nearest trawler was moored to two blocks forward (a typical hurricane proof method used here) and swung oddly in the gusting breeze. Then a boat “boy” beckoned us to follow him, his first offering was a bit too shallow for our two point one metre draft but as we were hanging around trying to decided what to do next a French yacht behind us upped anchor. The boat boy manoeuvred his wooden day boat to protect the spot for us and we dropped back into it our hook safely dug in – eight metres of water but so clear we could see the anchor lying on the sand! We then sat back to watch the fun as others attempted to squeeze themselves in. One US flagged boat took five goes at getting their hook to hold just abeam of us! We’d last met them crew in Tyrrel Bay’s Lazy Turtle on St Patricks Night. Most of the boats here are on a stopover going or coming from the Tobago Cays as Clifton offers the nearest shops and restaurants.

View across Clifton towards the airport

Twin prop aircraft land frequently so the smell of aviation fuel drifted the couple of hundred metres across to Temptress’ cockpit. Ashore Clifton is geared up for holiday makers who arrive either by tiny plane or by charter boat. We checked into SVG after a short walk to the airport rather than the equally short stroll to the fishing port in the other direction! Customs and Immigration were welcoming, whilst we were bemused at being directed through the “No Authorised Access” doors into the arrivals hall, it would never happen at LHR or DXB!

Along the seafront a narrow concrete walkway leads from the dinghy docks of the two main yachtie restaurants to the town petering out across the messy fishing slipway before reaching the main square. Lots of gaily painted wooden buildings; some tiny huts, others someone’s front room selling fresh veg, sarongs and local crafts in varying combinations. We are now used to bars that sell tourist tat and veg shops that sell rum or fresh chicken,  Ireland does not have a monopoly on bar cum grocers or hardware stores!

The following afternoon, unable to safely swim off the boat (kite surfers and boat boys dodge around the anchorage at high speed) we dinghied over to Newlands Reef on the eastern side of the bay, all that stands between the boats and Africa for a spot of snorkelling. In the clear aquamarine coloured waters stand one natural and one manmade tiny islands. Russell has lived on the rocky natural one for over thirty years so has squatters rights. Once a fisherman, this tall thin elderly gent smiles and chats to anyone who comes by. He loves to acquire reading material in English, old magazines, books anything and in return will sell you some cleaned up conch shells for a few pence. Russell also loves to talk sport or probe you about where you come from and where you have sailed, a simple life style with a sun lounger for a bed and a ramshackle collection of tarpaulins to cover his belongings when it rains. The other island was built from conch shells so is in part a sort of recycling experiment. It is round like one of the Solent forts but low surrounded by sufficient water to make boat access easy. The only building almost completely covers it; a small bar cum café, an ideal place to fleece those wanting an unusual spot for a sun downer – a small beer here at $10EC (£2.50) cost twice as much as elsewhere!

Two nights in the hustle and bustle of Clifton was enough, though strangely when we ate ashore on the Tuesday night we were the only people in Bougainvillea. A short distance away Saline Bay on Mayreau was a complete contrast when we first arrived – one large sailing cruise ship and four other yachts. Late afternoon Temptress literally was rammed by a small model sailing boat that was being hotly pursued across the bay by a local guy in a kayak! The little boat bobbled down our hull towards the stern and we learnt from the owner that the model yacht was all his own handiwork. Many of the men on the island build and race them as a hobby. Up in the village we came across an older guy working on several of various sizes either for himself or for friends. Close examination showed that the sails could be trimmed by simple controls running up the back stay or shrouds and the bright paintwork was carefully finished. The materials are reclaimed bits and pieces – old bits of spinnaker cloth for sails, fishing rods for masts, and electrical wire for rigging.

Wattle & daub hut in the church yard, Mareau

The tiny village sprawls up a steep hill above the electrical plant to the left and to the right is a low sweep of palm fringed golden sand, behind which is the salt pond that gives the bay its name. Sun loungers are stacked under the palms. Sun loungers?  We referred to our Chris Doyle pilot guide; apparently cruise ships anchor in the bay and bring their passengers ashore for a BBQ and beach day, bringing everything; food, bar, waiters from the ship. Pre-warned by the owner of one of the two beach bars nearby we left quickly the following morning when one such showed up at 7am, we had no intention of sharing Mayreau with a thousand or so elderly Americans.

Model boat maker, Mayreau

View across to Tobago Cays from the churchyard, Mayreau

It was a fast downwind sail under jib back to Union. Less than an hour later we dropped the hook off Frigate Island in two point five metres close by the town of Ashton just to the west of Clifton. Frigate Island is a tall tree covered lump with a long tail that separates busy Clifton Bay from the shallow lagoon below the island. The only other occupant was a kite surfing safari catamaran plus its clientele who were busy strutting their stuff on the water and kept us entertained for a while. Snorkelling off the boat, the lagoon bottom was sandy with big patches of eel grass and snuggled in the short grass were many, many starfish each with completely different markings from the next one – amazing. Kevin showing off dived down and retrieved one for closer examination. These weren’t the leggy kind but chubby with the merest implication of a star shape, brown or cream in colour with knobbly lines radiating out to the tips in a different hue. Very pretty.