Windward Islands

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GRENADA I

Grenada, is 90 miles just about due north of Trinidad, so with easterly trades blowing looks on paper a great sail with the wind just forward of the beam.  Unfortunately, life's never quite like that and the strong west setting current that had made our life so easy all the way from Natal, now turned this trip into a hard slog against the wind.  It gradually got better as we got further north, which is just as well as the first 20 miles where pretty horrid.  At 0900 we dropped anchor in Prickly Bay.

Prickly is a great meeting place.  Boats heading south or west typically make this their jumping off point and boats that have sailed down the chain and plan to head back north make this their turning point.  As well as boats we'd been anchored with on our way north, we met Lycka and Penguin II who we hadn't seen since Brazil and more surprisingly Chautauqua and Bloom, who we hadn't seen since 3 or 4 years ago in the Med!

We quite liked Grenada.  It's safe, the people are friendly and it doesn't yet seem to have become dominated by tourism.  It hasn't got the spectacular beauty of some of the other islands, but it doesn't have some of their problems either.  So we stayed about a month, explored some of the bays along the south coast, toured the island, etc.  And then set sail to explore some of the other Windward islands.

A little slice of paradise?

Now, I know this is going to sound very jaded, but after a while some of these bays with sandy palm fringed beaches do start to blur into one.  The same local boat boys selling the same cheap jewellery or undersized spiny lobster - Incidentally as an aside the spiny lobster isn't a lobster and is probably more closely related to a woodlouse than to the things we call lobsters in Europe.  I don't know where I read that, it might not even be true, but I like to believe it. And it might also explain why they're so chewy.

Anyway the point is that we're not going to bore you with a travelogue of all the places we dropped anchor.  We'll just try and pick out a few of the places that seemed special to us.

 

Negotiating for the shirt!

Plantain

Nutmeg

Booze!

 

 

THE GRENADINES

Our first port of call (sic) in the Grenadines was Union Island.  It's a tiny place and it's hard to see why anyone would live there if it wasn't for tourism and there isn't actually all that much of that.  The biggest plane that the local airport can handle is a twin engine Otter and the only alternative is a long ferry trip down from St Vincent.  So yachts probably account for a sizeable proportion of the island's income.  Clifton is the main bay - many of the towns in St Vincent and the grenadines are named after areas of my home town of Bristol in the UK, which often gives me a slightly odd feeling.

With a rocky reef running down the centre there's not much room to anchor and the best part of the bay is full of moorings.  So without much room to swing if we dropped our own anchor, we picked up one of these.  The bay is protected by an extensive reef, which stops the swell, but completely open to the trades and it's a slightly spooky feeling to be anchored on what is effectively a lee shore facing the trade winds with the Atlantic rollers clearly visible less than a hundred yards in front of you while you sit in flat turquoise water.

 

 

But this fades into insignificance - just 4 miles north east you anchor behind the Horseshoe Reef at Tobago Cays.  A small cluster of 4 tiny islands in shallow water behind a 3 mile crescent of submerged reef.  The reef stops (nearly) all of the swell, but again you're fully exposed to the trades and you're very aware that apart from that thin stand of reef there's absolutely nothing between you and Africa.  At night there's just the wind and the stars.  During the day there's the fish and the coral on the reef and so many turtles it's possible to believe that one could step ashore on their backs!

From there a short sail back to Mayreau. 1 road, 2 cars, just acquired electricity, 5 bar restaurants to service tourists (mostly empty) and internet available if you sit on the porch of the sister of the lady who owns the village store.   But the spectacular view of the Horseshoe reef from the top of the island is the main reason for going.

 

 

Next stop of interest Bequia, the northernmost of the Grenadines.  Admiralty Bay is the main anchorage and the centre of yachting in the Grenadines.  It's a nice place.  A little more touristy that some of the other islands, but only in a dusty kind of way.  And the upside of this commercialism is that you can get stuff you want to buy, like chicken breasts for example.  Another aside:  did you ever wonder what happens to all the backs of all those chickens whose breasts you buy in Sainsbury's?  Did you even know that chickens have backs?  Did you like me, think they all ended up in pet food?  Not so.  They end up in the Caribbean islands.  In many places it's impossible to buy any other part of the chicken other than the backs.  No, I exaggerate, You can often buy large bags of frozen chicken feet and for that special occasion you can from time to time find wings.  You can also buy large plastic containers of salted pig snouts - loverly!
Back to Bequia.  We have to mention Daffodil Marine Services & Laundry.  They have a fleet of boats providing diesel, water (and of course laundry services) to the yachts anchored in the bay.  As you might expect there is a small premium for having the fuel delivered to your boat and rightly so.   It's almost exactly 300%.  That's right the diesel is 3 times the price that it is in the filling station which backs on to the dinghy dock!  And their water is only marginally less expensive than buying bottled mineral water in the supermarket.   These are the sort of mark ups more normally associated with narcotics and they get away with charging these prices because we pay them.  Well actually, we didn't, we went ashore with some jerry cans, where for 5 EC (US$2) there are several local guys who will happily carry your jerry cans from your dinghy to and from the pumps.  If we all did the same, not only would we provide a little work for the unemployed of the island, but we'd pretty soon see the Daffodil price start to reduce - I'm a passionate fan of free market economics, and they work in both directions.  of course the vast majority of Daffodil's customers are charter boats here for two weeks holiday, who don't care about the price, so in reality not much is likely to change. I feel much better now though!

 

THE TV REPAIR MAN

We have a small flat screen TV/DVD player, which had gone the way of most electronic equipment in a salty atmosphere and someone had recommended us a TV repair man - Winston in Kingstown, St Vincent.  Now Kingstown is only about 10 miles from our anchorage in Admiralty Bay, Bequia and the channel between the two islands is less than 10 miles wide, but the channel can be a very unpleasant, rolly place and the anchorages in St Vincent are some way from Kingstown so we made the trip across on the ferry.  Actually, as we were to discover, the Bequia Channel can be a very rolly unpleasant place, even in a large RoRo ferry.

First challenge, naturally, was to locate Winston's repair shop.  Up the stairway between the printers and the Roti shop.  No sign - of course.  Upstairs there are a handful of shops and offices, and there, next to the nail extension salon and opposite a small shop selling almost everything that nobody had ever wanted, was the Hollywood Emporium.  Floor to ceiling decrepit, dusty electrical equipment marked it out as the place we were looking for.  Winston was a quietly spoken, dusty guy of about 60, sporting a pair of illuminated magnifying glasses on top of his head, which made him look a little like an extra from Blade Runner.  He slowly wrote us a receipt and we agreed I would call him tomorrow to find out his diagnosis.

Fine.  I called.  The DVD player needed a new motor, and he had one.  It would be ready for collection on Friday (today was Wednesday).   Friday I reminded him was a holiday. Ah.  Well he could possibly come in on Saturday.  Not to worry I said.  Monday will be fine.

Monday, rollier than usual ferry ride.  Arrive at Winston's.  It's not ready.  In fact it's a pile of components sharing his desk, with several other piles of components.  "Couldn't get the screws out - corroded in.  Have it ready by 4.00" (Just in time for the penultimate ferry back to Bequia.)  Well, Kingstown's attractions are not considerable, but there is a hardware store so I would just have to have some lunch and buy some screws or something.

Back to Winston.  The shop is closed!  A hastily scrawled note in the window says something about a family emergency.  On the desk, in the darkness, I can just make out the supine form of our disembowelled TV set.  Long sigh......

I call Winston the next day.  I'm (I think understandably) not happy.  Why didn't he call me? He left in a hurry, he doesn't have a phone at home, he doesn't have a cell-phone.  "So, when will it be ready?" I demand.  "Oh man, I can't work under pressure" he wails.

Try a different approach.  Try to befriend him.  Try to understand what's going on.  Turns out he needs to drill a hole, but he's lent someone his drill and they haven't brought it back.  A friend is going to bring him a drill and then he will have the whole thing fixed in a jiffy.  "So shall I call you this evening?" -  I'm walking on eggshells here, don't want to be applying "pressure".   Don't want him to crack and run amuck with a machete - at least not until I've got my TV back.

I call.  It's not ready.  The drill has arrived, but it's too big for the 1mm drill he needs to use.  "OK" I say  "I have a drill" (and, avoiding, of course any indication of pressure) "How about I come over tomorrow, with my drill and we work on the TV together."

So early ferry to Kingstown again and I'm in the Hollywood Emporium sitting opposite Winston as I hold and he drills, then he holds and I solder, etc etc.  I very soon begin to understand why Winston never gets anything done.  There is a constant stream of people coming in to enquire about their overdue repairs.  Each of them requires him to stop work, exchange pleasantries, or insults, possibly have an argument, threaten violence, possibly offer to return the unrepaired piece, etc.  For some reason none of this appears to constitute pressure!  During all of this, I just keep on soldering.  One guy who is desperately trying to pin Winston down, turns to me and with a glimmer of hope in his eyes asks  "Are you working here now?"  "Only on my own TV."  I growl.

A well dressed lady arrives, complaining about her no good worthless boy, who brought her TV to be repaired, but she hasn't been able to get him to come back to collect it - this is a highly compressed version of a very long tirade.  "Do you have a receipt?"  "I do.  I knew you would want a receipt but, that no good boy"..... further vilification of her worthless son.  Winston shuffles around the shop peering at bits of equipment with dusty labels, whilst the lady continues listing the inadequacies of her son.  He can't find it.  "What was it like?" He asks her.  "It was black."  I (who have during all this time had my head buried in the TV)  explode with laughter.  Almost every piece of equipment in the shop is black.  The irony of this is obviously lost on the other two, who turn slowly to stare at me as if inspecting something unpleasant.  I rebury myself in the TV.  Winston scrutinises the receipt again - "This is over a year old!" exclaims Winston.  "Exactly!  I told you how no good that boy was."  Winston interrupts her with a story of having taken his shoes to be repaired and on returning to collect them 3 months and 1 day later he found that they had been disposed of.  He points out that there is a similar condition on the back of his receipt.  The lady sets off on another litany of the faults of her no good boy.  Even Winston now wants to bring this to a close and suggests that if the lady were to come back in "a week or two" he would have had chance to check his garage for the missing piece.

We finally get the motor fitted.  Now it has to be adjusted for focus and Winston will do that whilst I go for lunch and take another stroll around the hardware store.  I am to return at 4.00.  Having been caught by that one before, I return at 3.30.   There has of course been zero progress.  However, since the store normally closes at 4.00 the stream of unhappy customers has just about dried up.  Winston and I sit ourselves once again either side of his work bench.  Now I assume that in the factory, adjusting the motor spindle so that the laser which reads the disk is in focus, is performed by a precision, computer controlled machine without human intervention.  In Winston's shop, it's done by levering the motor up and down the spindle with a screwdriver or the occasional tap with a hammer.  A disc is then inserted to see if it plays.  Four hands are hardly adequate for this so it's hard to imagine how Winston ever does this on his own.  Perhaps he doesn't.  Perhaps he's never done it before.  Because after an hour and much levering and tapping, we haven't managed to play even one second of DVD.

I pick up the disc he's using and look at the playing surface.  It looks as if it's been used as an ashtray for several years.  I can't see any way that it would play in any machine.  I point this out to Winston, who grudgingly agrees that I may have a point and disappears across the corridor to the shop with everything nobody would ever want.  He returns proudly clutching a DVD which contains the first 6 episodes of the Lone Ranger!  Excellent!  If only we can get the machine working I may have chance to watch an episode before I have to catch the last ferry at 6.00pm.

Well after much more levering and tapping, we finally get the thing to play.  It's nearly 5.30, so I have to settle for 5 minutes of episode 2 and then I have to run for the ferry.

As a footnote.  We didn't use the DVD in anger until we were in Grenada several months later.  You can guess the rest.  It managed to play the first 80% of Babel and then died completely.  Just as well we'd seen the film before!

 

CIVILISATION

After Bequia, we skipped St Vincent and St Lucia and headed straight for Martinique.  Civilisation!  Martinique is part of France and thus part of the EU.  It has an infrastructure very similar to the south of France.  Almost everything is available.  The supermarkets are full of French cheese, and wine, and sausages, and bread, and pate, and, and, and.  It is also horribly expensive - of course.  But we liked it.

It's also a very beautiful island.  We hired a car for a couple of days with Len & Janna.  We packed a picnic and headed off for the mountains.  We didn't actually get to the mountains, but it didn't matter.  Where we did get was the Clément rum estate.  The old factory, now a museum, sits in beautifully manicured botanical gardens.  We learn that Martinique Rhum Agricole is completely different from the rum made in the rest of the Caribbean.  It's fermented from raw cane sugar whereas the other rums are fermented from molasses, which is a by-product of the sugar refining process.  Once the Rhum Agricole has been aged in oak casks it has a flavour much closer to Armagnac than to the rum we are used to.

The estate was the family home of the Clément family and their house is now a museum.  It was also the location of a summit meeting between President Bush (senior) and President Mitterrand at the time of the first gulf war.

So it was under the gazebo, on the terrace where the two presidents sipped an antique Rhum Agricole, that we sat down to our slightly less exotic picnic.  As Len said, it was almost a perfect day.

 

 

Well the year was progressing and after Martinique it was time to start heading south so as to be closer to safety as the hurricane season approached.  We stopped briefly at St Lucia and anchored (or rather picked up a buoy) between the majestic volcanic outcrops of the Pitons.  And also took a flying tour of the volcanic landscape and bubbling mud pools, ending up luxuriating in volcanic pools under steaming waterfalls.

 

             

After that, it was a parting of the ways for us and Len & Janna - at least for a while.  They would spend some more time diving at the Horseshoe Reef whilst we with deteriorating batteries, failing water maker (again) and with pressure from our insurers to be further south before the onset of the hurricane season, would head back to Grenada. 

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Last updated 5th June 2017