I have often sailed in the swath of more accessible West Indian islands that lie between Antigua and Puerto Rico. But I had never before cruised around any of the islands south of Antigua, so I jumped at the chance last April to step aboard a Lagoon 380 catamaran from Horizon Yacht Charters for a jaunt out of Grenada. I had no trouble getting others to jump with me. My friend and neighbor, Charles Lassen, who had previously cruised with me out of St. Martin, and my old college buddy Seth Lapidow and his son, Daniel, who both have cruised with me in Maine, eagerly signed articles to join in this arduous venture.
I was looking forward to exploring Grenada, and thus was perplexed when our briefing at the Horizon base in True Blue Bay focused mainly on how to sail to St. Vincent. Apparently, snorkeling with turtles in the Tobago Cays is the Holy Grail sought by most who charter out of Grenada. Horizon therefore had already prepared for us complete crew lists and immigration paperwork for booking out of Grenada, into St. Vincent, out of St. Vincent and back into Grenada again.
This was extremely thoughtful of them. But my personal goal, whenever I sail in the Caribbean, is to avoid stress as much as possible. I expected that having to make four different visits to immigration offices within a week would be nothing but stressful, so we cheerfully threw out all the paperwork and resolved to stay in Grenadian waters for the duration.
The first leg of our vacation was a short motorsailing jaunt from True Blue Bay around to the capital of St. George’s, which is ranged around a fine natural harbor on the southwest coast. The town has a dramatic topography, as it is cradled by the arm of an old volcano crater, and boasts lots of Old World colonial charm. We found it was easy to score provisions right on the waterfront, and though I was eager to eat local food that night, my crew perversely insisted that we dine at Der Schnitzel Haus, a German beer garden run by a couple of ex-pats.
“Do you have any goat schnitzel?” I asked, hoping some of this Teutonic fare might have some local flavor.
“Yah, yah,” answered the owner, looking a bit insulted. “Of course we have good schnitzel.”
But no goat, as it turned out.
The next day we enjoyed a vigorous sail up the west coast of the main island, then across about 20 miles of open water to the lesser island of Carriacou. Our Lagoon 380, Tiando, did surprisingly well, particularly as we were closehauled bucking into steep tradewind seas much of time. At Carriacou we anchored in scenic Tyrrel Bay, on the island’s southwest corner. I was intrigued to see that our guidebook’s sketch chart showed a wreck in shallow water right in the middle of the bay, so Daniel, Seth and I quickly donned snorkeling gear and went looking for it. We employed a fairly methodical search pattern, but found nothing.
Next morning we hired a car and driver and explored the island in detail. First we rattled and bumped our way up to the tiny village of Windward, on the northeast coast, where Charles and I hoped to find some local boatwrights hard at work building Grenadian racing sloops. We did find some interesting works in progress and saw some completed boats on moorings just offshore, but otherwise things were quiet, this being a Saturday.
For lunch, we rolled back across the island to Hillsborough, the island’s major community. Here the local wharf was bustling with activity as small trading vessels, all of which carried sailing rigs, off-loaded their surprisingly varied cargos. Sated and intrigued by what we’d seen, we arrived back at the boat late that afternoon and resumed snorkeling, but again found no sign of the wreck.
The next day we took a short sail over to the tiny island of Petit Martinique. The pious residents of this sleepy community were all out for a stroll, looking quite prim and proper in their Sunday best. On the beach, however, we found a tiny open hut inhabited by an elderly American couple who looked as ragged and primitive as Robinson Crusoe. They seemed quite happy and blissfully idle, and I couldn’t help envying them a bit.
“Exactly how long have you been living here?” I asked in amazement.
“I don’t know, but it’s been a few years now,” the gentleman answered.
And I envied them all the more.
The following day we had another boisterous sail, mostly on a roaring broad reach, as we made it all the way—nearly 50 miles—back to St. George’s in one fell swoop. We dropped anchor outside the harbor just in time to see the blood-red sun dip below the horizon behind us. Next morning we hired another car and embarked on what was really the highlight of the entire trip, a tour of the big island of Grenada.
This really is the best argument for not going to St. Vincent. Not only is the interior of Grenada fantastically beautiful, but the people are fantastically friendly, particularly toward Americans. Most everyone is very grateful for the 1983 U.S. invasion that ousted the Cuban-backed Communists who murdered Maurice Bishop, the popular socialist leader, and they are not afraid to show it. I have to say is it’s refreshing to visit a country where people who have benefited from the deployment of American military power don’t feel obliged to resent it.
During our all-too-brief day trip to the interior we visited monkeys and bold cliff-jumpers in the depths of the lush rain forest. We also toured the Clarke’s Court rum distillery in the south part of the island, where we inhaled fumes of fermenting molasses and imbibed intoxicating spirits. The high point of our trip was a tour of a nutmeg “factory,” where the island’s biggest cash crop is received from local farmers and processed for export.
Grenada’s nutmeg trees, like much of the island’s foliage, were decimated by Hurricane Ivan back in 2004 and, unlike the rest of the foliage, are still struggling to recover. Production at the factory we visited was apparently well below what it once was, although there still seemed to be an awful lot of nutmegs lying around. The smell of the place was thoroughly mesmerizing: a heady mix of old hardwood and spice. I was amazed by all the different nutmeg products that were available—jams, liquors, syrups, oils and medicines.
At the end of our excursion, we rolled happily back into St. George’s looking forward to getting a bite to eat. I was especially looking forward to feasting on some seriously local fare—maybe something with both nutmeg and goat in it. But no! The crew once again insisted we eat at Der Schnitzel Haus. (Don’t ask me why.)
And again, I found der schnitzel there is good, but not goat.
WHERE TO SAIL: The best cruising ground in this area is the Grenadine archipelago, which is politically divided between Saint Vincent and Grenada. If visiting Petit Martinique, you can get away with paying a visit to neighboring Petit Saint Vincent without clearing in, and vice versa, but otherwise you must observe formalities. If you have only a week to spend and are determined to book in and out of St. Vincent from Grenada, be sure the middle of your charter is filled with weekdays so that offices are open. The best plan would be to allow enough time (10 to 14 days) so you can both sail in all the Grenadines and tour the big island of Grenada by car.
WHEN TO SAIL: As with any Caribbean destination, the best sailing is in the winter and spring, when the weather is drier and more stable and the easterly tradewinds are well established. Rates are cheaper in the summer, when hurricanes are a threat. Hurricanes are unusual in Grenada (Ivan was a very rare exception), so this is a good destination to consider if you’re looking to charter a boat in the off-season.
CONTACT: Horizon Yacht Charters
Photos by Charles J. Doane