The Grenadine islands are all close together, so no more than a few miles to sail between different anchorages. From the Cays we sailed to Union Island, where we were able to update the last edition of the blog and catch up on emails at Clifton, an anchorage and bustling little port with a cosmopolitan atmosphere and a small airport only a few yards from the waterfront. It is on the windward side of the island, but protected by a large reef, with a smaller one in the centre or the harbour making the outlook scenic once more.
To the west is Mount Taboi, which rises to 1000 ft, and provides excellent shelter to Chatham Bay, which to date is the nicest anchorage we have visited.
The water in the bay is clean and clear, the northern side providing good diving, humans competing with local ever hungry pelicans. We were anchored close to the rocks, and were entertained daily by dozens of these birds diving for their food. Alongside the boat we were entertained by large fish chasing ‘small fry’ similar to whitebait, with complete shoals jumping clear of the water to escape their predators.
We were joined here by Urs and Doris, our Swiss friends, and enjoyed excellent tuna steaks BBQ’d ashore in a the Bollhead Bar beachside restaurant, and were entertained by a local singer and guitarist, who had made the journey specially when the restaurant manager learned that we were leaving the following day.
We then made our way to anchor off Petit St Vincent, known as PSV, a private island with an exclusive hotel where the guests get pampered in secluded stone cottages. They hoist a flag when they require room service, and a buggy arrives!
Note not only the palm trees in the background, but the wind generator, which also doubles as a water generator, hoisted over Pipistrelle’s foredeck. Whenever we are anchored in the same spot for 48 hours or longer, we now set up the wind generator which runs in addition to the solar panels. The intention is that once anchored we are independent of the power generator. Alas, due to the inefficiency of the deep freeze seals, we still have to run the temperamental Fischer Panda daily (a very long ongoing saga) but hopefully in the next few weeks we will solve the freezer issue and reduce the need to run the FPanda to a minimum.
With a German couple, Herbie and Renate, we had first met in La Gomera (the Canaries) and who happened to be anchored near us on PSV, we enjoyed luxurious sundowners (reflected in the price!) relaxing in easy chairs in the most superb bar/restaurant built on the top of a hill overlooking the channel that divides PSV and Petit Martinique (PM). This is all part of the exclusive and discreet hotel mentioned earlier.
The following day we strolled along the sandy beach to the west of the island and were struck by the remarkable azures, turquoises, aquamarines and dark blues of the sea shimmering in the sunlight.
We took the opportunity to dinghy over to PM and visit Mathews Supermarket, where we were able to stock up on Gordon’s Gin, at the equivalent of £6 per litre! Strangely tonic water is far harder to come by! Fresh apples and oranges were also on sale, a rarity and the first we had seen since arriving in the Caribbean.
Provisioning over here is somewhat different from what we have been used to in Europe. Apart from Rodney Bay in St Lucia, and Marin in Martinique where there are supermarkets, we buy food at small stores or the local market, and fresh fish from the boat boys, who in turn get it from the fishermen. Negotiating a suitable price is always interesting and generally we finish up paying about 50% of what we are asked for but everyone is happy. Grapefruit are deliciously sweet and in preparing them Bob generally extracts a standard 50 or so pips! Bananas which are always in season it seems on any island, we buy green in small numbers, and ripen them on board. Elaine is currently baking her first banana cake using some of the surplus!
Our final stop before heading north again was Mayreau, an island just west of the Tobago Cays with a beautiful if very crowded bay, and excellent beach.
To meet our friends who are coming to Antigua in February, it was time to head north, via the same islands. Mustique was still impossible to lay without spending a lot of time tacking or motoring, so has been put off until later in the year. We had an excellent sail from St Vincent to St Lucia, having now learnt that it is essential to keep to windward of the rhumb line. We have also learnt that most charter catamarans which are a common sight around the Caribbean because of the comfort they afford for downwind sailing, invariably motor to windward as they are not good at heading into the wind, giving their crews an extremely bumpy ride. Generally both their sailing and anchoring skills need to be treated with some caution!
Rodney Bay was an essential stopover, to pick up chandlery, and also to checkout before proceeding to Martinique. It also provided us with the opportunity to meet up again with Phil and Di, Australians who have been living on Matira for about 20 years.
We took the opportunity to climb to the top of Pigeon Island, which was a British fort in Napoloeon’s day. From here Admiral Rodney could view the French stronghold of Martinique, just over 20 miles away, and it also affords excellent views to the south.
Martinique was our next stop, where we checked in at Marin, but before we could do that we had a steep learning curve in how not to anchor where plastic bottles float!
As we came close to the anchorage that we had used before, and spotted a large area that would be safe to anchor in, we both saw a small white plastic bottle, of the kind that fishermen use to mark a lobster pot but did not appear to be attached to anything. So we dropped the anchor short of it, dropped back, and Murphy being alive and well, found ourselves too close to another yacht. So up came the anchor, and with it the anchor chain belonging to a catamaran a considerable distance behind us. It was blowing hard, and the anchor chain rapidly turned into the catamaran’s anchor!
In a tight anchorage it was an interesting experience to ensure that we did not collide with any other yachts, whilst at the same time disentangling our anchor from his chain. The solo French yachtsman was most understanding and delightful company when we invited him on board Pipistrelle for an aperitif. Hopefully he will have now invested in a proper anchor buoy!
We visited Anse St Anne outside Marin, and then on to St Pierre in the north of the island where we caught up again with Ceres, a Wauquiez Centurion owned by Thierry and Barbara. Nightsong with Andrew and crew on board was also at anchor, so we invited everyone on board Pipistrelle for sundowners to swap more mariners’ tales.
St Pierre was originally the capital of country, until the Soufriere volcano erupted in May 1902, and the ensuing fireball incinerated the town, and all but two of its 27000 inhabitants perished, a cobbler whose workshop was in a basement, and a prisoner in his cell. There had been many warnings that the volcano was becoming active, but the town was so successful, the Mayor ignored the warnings, with tragic consequences.
The museum dedicated to the disaster is worth a visit, as it not only shows before and after photographs, but also artefacts that survived the heat, albeit fusing ceramic plates and glassware together, and welding nails together. The ruins of the brick and stone theatre were also interesting. A miniature version of the theatre in Bordeaux, in its heyday lavish productions were staged, but it closed through financial failure a year before the disaster.
The molten lava also set on fire all the sailing ships that were in port loading cargo for Europe, and all but one sank, creating a great modern opportunity for the local dive shop, as most are within 60-80 feet of water close to the shore.
Once we were finally able to obtain clearance from Martinique – customs are closed on a Monday – we headed for Dominica, and Prince Rupert Bay. This island is spectacular with towering mountains, rain forests, and abundant wildlife. Showers over the mountains are frequent affording spectacular double and triple rainbows on the west of the island in the afternoons.
We have decided to post this blog now, and provide a separate article on Dominica along with our encounter with a sperm whale and other events shortly.