When preparing for this trip, whenever anybody asked how far south we were planning to go, we’d always respond that we’d be super happy if we were to make it to the Virgin Islands. In the back of our minds, however, we really wanted to make it all the way down to Grenada.
Guess what? We did it! Since we last checked in, S/V Delancey has ventured through the Windward Islands, to N 11°59.98’, W 061°46.17’, also known as True Blue Bay on the south coast of Grenada; 3,679 miles of water under our keel, 40 degrees of latitude south of home, and it only took 16 months.
This is the end of the line for the crew of S/V Delancey. As low as we go. When we last touched base, we were about to make our third attempt at the passage from Dominica to Martinique. The weather off the southwest point of Dominica, which punched us in the face on the first two attempts, had moderated a bit and S/V Delancey made around in tolerable fettle. Once clear of land we were joined by a pod of dolphins which we took as a good omen for the rest of the passage.
We spent the evening off St. Pierre, in Martinique’s northwest corner, before moving on to the capital, Fort de France. Once anchored in the lee of the fort, we dropped the dink to explore the city. Fort de France, the largest city in the Windward Islands, knows how to accommodate cruising boats. At the end of the anchorage is a low quay dedicated to visiting dinghies. From this dinghy dock, one walks into a verdant urban park lined with vendors before entering the grid of city blocks.
We took in the sights, sipped espresso in an outdoor café, checked out the markets, and wandered around the city like the tourists we were.
Although we were enjoying Fort de France and would have gladly stayed longer, we elected to head south Le Marin to wait for weather and connect with cruising friends Crystal and Rob (and their lovable dogs Baxter and Jaela) of S/V Kairos. We first connected with S/V Kairos in Turks and Caicos, then again in the Dominican Republic where we continued in company across the Mona Passage and the west coast of Puerto Rico.
Le Marin is a huge full-service marina facility with moorings, a chandlery, shops, and markets. As the southernmost of the French islands, we took the opportunity to load up on baguettes before leaving.
After a farewell evening in the cockpit of S/V Delancey, we parted ways with S/V Kairos, they to return north, us to press on southward. We’d enjoyed a relatively slow and social January bouncing through the Leeward Islands and began to fear that our leisurely pace could put us too far south come next hurricane season. For this reason, we elected to hightail it down to Grenada as fast as comfortably possible. We considered a straight two-day run, but the weather window looked to last all week, so instead we hopped our way down.
St. Lucia, Bequia (pronounced “Bek-way”), Union Island; anchoring each night, off again first thing each morning. In St. Lucia, we tucked in between the Gros and Petite Pitons, towering mountains framing a protected bay (complete with beach resort, natch). In Bequia, we purchased Deb a St. Valentine’s Day lobster from one of the passing boat vendors. In Union Island, we watched sharply delineated storms darken the horizon and swallow the sunset. All the while, we never stepped off the boat; our Q-flag flying the entire time.
Wait, what’s a Q-flag, you ask? It’s a small signal flag hoisted in the rigging, this one is solid yellow and stands for the letter Q in flag signal code. In this case, the “Q” stands for “Quarrantine”, and signals that you have not yet cleared into the country. Here’s how it works: You enter a new country flying your Q-flag. You gather up your passports, boat documentation, and last country’s clearance papers (you keep all this in a folder). The captain (or, in the case of a two-person crew, everybody) goes ashore to Customs and Immigration where you fill out more papers, pay a small fee, and “clear-in” to the country. Then you go back to your boat, take down the Q-flag, and hoist up a small national flag (a “courtesy flag”) of the visited country in its place. You do it all again when it’s time to “clear-out”. Each country has its own minor variations (the French islands have self-service terminals that make it very easy), but that’s the basic process. So, by Q-flagging our way down, we were technically never “in” St. Lucia or St. Vincent and the Grenadines (the country of Bequia and Union Island).
Our last southerly leg was one of the pleasantest sails we’ve had this trip: an easy six-hour beam reach down the lee coast of Grenada.
We turned east around the southwest corner of the island, the full force of the trade winds directly on our nose, and picked up a mooring at True Blue Bay Resort Marina, our home base for the next week.
We cleared in, hoisted our Grenada courtesy flag, and broke out the champagne, hardly believing we’d made it this far south.
Showers, restaurant meals, and a little pool time behind us, we caught a bus into St. Georges, Grenada’s capital and largest city.
We walked all over St. Georges’ San Francisco-like hills and around the entire perimeter of its double-lobed harbor.
Of course, we visited the vegetable, fish, and meat markets…
… and climbed to the top of the fort (there’s always a fort).
As much as we enjoyed our thigh-toning amble around eminently livable St. George, the highlight of our Grenada visit was to come. The following Monday, joined a mini-busload of other tourists on a tour of the island. We were happy to see aboard fellow cruisers Deb and Scott of S/V Expedition. We first met these affable Aussies in St. Martin and cemented the bond when they ran through the streets of Deshais, Guadeloupe, finding and warning us of our dragging anchor.
Our guide, Cutty, took us all over; from more popular sights, like Annendale falls (a gauntlet of vendors lining the approach) and the crater lake at Grand Etang National Park, to more exclusive tours of a 1907 nutmeg processing facility. (The facility is the ancestral home of Dennis Noel, its walls lined with pictures of his achievements: being named Grenada Foreign Secretary, posing with Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush, receiving the OBE from Prince Charles, and addressing the United Nations.) We stopped at the Grenada Chocolate Company factory, where we learned about and (surprise!) bought chocolate.
Our tour also took us to the River Rum Distillery, constructed in 1785 and still employing its original technology to produce 500 bottles every day. Naturally we purchased a bottle of its not-allowed-on-airplanes 97-proof white rum. This potent stuff permeated our plastic glassware such that its smell persisted after several washings.
But the highlight of our tour was Cutty, or rather his fund of knowledge about the flora of Grenada. We’d be pleasantly jouncing along the road to our next stop when Cutty would pull over and beckon us all from the mini-bus. He’d scramble into the brush to point out a pod, scrape a bit of bark, or pull a root. Cutty would then hand us the bounty to pass around and smell or taste. After the first couple stops, Deb and I started taking notes to keep up. Here’s a partial list of the treasures uncovered by Cutty during our day together: In addition to relatively pedestrian grapefruit, mango, pineapple, bananas, papaya, and avocado, Cutty also uncovered callaloo (leafy green), dasheen (callao root), cilantro-like shadowbenny, sopradillo, almond , star fruit, coca, coffee, cinnamon, turmeric (known as Grenadian saffron), lemongrass, clove, cashew (with edible, though sour, fruit as well as nut), pigeon peas, ginger, West Indian sorrel, loofa (the land version, which grows in pods on trees), and soursop (sought after by US drug companies for cancer treatments). It’s no coincidence Grenada calls itself the Spice Island.
Cutty showed us nutmeg on the tree, pointing out how the fruit splits open when it’s ready for harvest. Inside we could see the brown nutmeg seed surrounded by crimson mace, described as “the lady in the boat with the red petticoat.”
And then we were off again! This time pointing north. After a month of sailing south, we’d secured everything below for a port tack (the easterly wind blowing over the port side of the boat, heeling her to starboard). Now, as we set off on a starboard tack for the first time in ages, all the books, maps, glasses, pillows, pens, cellphone adaptors, and other detritus stored on that side of the boat dumped from its lazily-placed location onto the floor.
No matter. Our short sail took us to the island of Carriacou (pronounced Carra-cow) a northern outpost of the nation of Grenada, where we strolled the bar-shack-lined beach of Tyrell Bay.
We checked out of Grenada and made next for Union Island, the southernmost of the Grenadines. On the way, we made a detour to anchor near Petite St. Vincent. We skipped the exclusive boutique hotel of Petite St. Vincent for a dink ride over to miniscule Mopion. Just a dot of sand in the sea, Mopion’s only attraction is a stunted palm umbrella (one must duck to enter) that itself is occasionally washed away by storms. But for the missing coconut palm, it is the quintessential cartoon deserted island.
After snorkeling the reef and walking the entire perimeter of the island, it was back to the boat and on to Union Island, the southernmost of the Grenadines. We took a mooring in Clifton Harbor, checked into country, and walked around Clifton’s short main street, provisioning from the stalls of local vegetables.
Back in the dink, we buzzed over to our second tiny island, albeit one of a very different vibe. Happy Island was built and named by a man named Janti. Its footprint a perfect square on the nautical charts, Janti built the island from discarded conch shells and concrete as a platform for his bar. It is indeed a happy island.
The forecast was calling for increasing trades and corresponding seas during the next week, so rather than get pinned down in provincial Union Island, we jumped up to relatively bustling Bequia. We’ve been here, anchored in Admiralty Bay off the town of Port Elizabeth for five nights now, hiking, eating, and fixing boat stuff. This morning we attended our first yoga class in over a year (we’re a little stiff).
Right now, the wind is blowing 25 knots sustained with whitecaps here in the bay (and 7-10 foot seas outside), but our anchor is well dug in. It looks like we’ve got at least four more days of this before we can get moving again.
If you’re feeling like these posts are beginning to get a little repetitious (beach, market, fort, bar, repeat), you’re not alone. As much as we can’t believe the amazing good fortune of this trip, we’re also looking forward to getting back home. We even skipped a couple must-see stops in the Grenadines (turns out it is possible to O.D. on snorkeling). Once the weather window opens up, we’ll jump back up to the Leeward Islands, visiting a few we missed on the way down. We’re looking forward to a visit from Deb’s sister Kim when we get to St. Martin. After that, we’re considering some longer passages to hasten our trip back to the states. In the meantime, we’re living each day, appreciating everything we’re experiencing, until we return.