Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Eastern Caribbean: St Lucia to Grenada

It was great to see everyone at home over Christmas. On  3 January I took the big bird back from Gatwick and arrived at St Lucia that had suffered a tropical downpour on Christmas Eve. The flash floods had caused landslides with 5 people losing their lives. Colin said it was just like standing in a waterfall. The dinghy completely filled with water in 15 minutes. The main road back from the airport was full of diversions around river beds that had completely swept whole sections of road away.

When it rains it pours!

We spent a couple of days installing the water maker , new regulator and getting water out of the outboard carburettor before we were joined by Andrew and Deidre Wiggin and my old school pal Malcomb Waite. We sailed up to Rodney Bay the next day. Re provisioned and said good bye to Clive and Judith and family . Grandson Luke now 6 months old and a bonny lad had come out with Carina and David on the same flight and had been a star.

Our first night was spent anchored at Soufriere where we cleared customs , and marvelled at the Piton Mountains towering above us. 

Soufriere Bay, under the Pitons

Deidre and Malcolm give sailing the thumbs up

We set off for Bequia at first light and once we were out of the lee of St Lucia got the full force of a 25 knot breeze and Atlantic swell. There were a few queasy stomachs on passage. But we made good time and arrived in Admiralty Bay , port Elizabeth , Bequia as dusk fell.  The anchorage was prone to marked shoaling and we almost ran aground at one point but settled down for dinner on board.

Bequia is a lovely island the locals have mixed with Scottish émigrés , Whalers from New Bedford , and retired sailors who have swallowed the hook and decided to settle there. Everyone is cheerful and there was a distinct lack of hustling as with no International Airport the islanders just got on with their lives. 

There is a strong boatbuilding and whaling tradition here. The islanders are still allowed a quota of four whales a year but rarely reach it. Spotters on the mountain see whales and VHF radio the boats which are traditional skiffs. The whale has to be harpooned by hand and the harpoonist aims for the heart at which time the boat is at considerable risk. If the whale dives he can take a boat with him unless they are fast enough to cut the line. If a whale is landed he is towed to a small island where there is general rejoicing. I felt quite relieved that the great humpback whales we saw on passage to Bequia were well out of range of the spotters.
We went around the island in a  converted pickup where our friend  and taxi driver Steve pointed out sweet pea trees , golden apples , mangos , grape fruits all of which we scrumped as we went round . The breadfruit trees were bought back from polynesia by Captain Bligh of the Bounty .The beaches were beautiful and everyone would have been quite happy to have stayed for longer.  On Thursday 9th we said goodbye to Deidre who set off on the ferry for the delights of a good bed and sauna back in Rodney bay before flying home. 

Kika at anchor, Admiralty Bay, Bequia

With Admiralty Bay in the background

Our driver Steve adds to the windfalls. We live off  grapefruit for the week.

The east coast of Bequia

We sailed for Tobago Cays a beautiful reef where you are surrounded by ocean. It's no wonder one of the anchorages was called "worlds end". It was quite windy so we anchored up between two small islands, went snorkelling off the beach which was just like being in an aquarium and eschewed the delights of fried lobster on the island for a delicious stir fry aboard cooked by Andrew .

At anchor Tobago Cays

Tobago Cays
On Saturday we sailed into Clifton on Union Island so we could clear out at the airport and then set off for Grenada in very pleasant 15 -20 knot trade winds. 

Going ashore, Union Island

We stock up with fruit from Jenny's and she gives us a bottle of her homemade spicy hot sauce 

and relax over a breakfast in style

We arrived at St George's harbour as the light faded and were guided to our stern to mooring at the Grenada yacht club by a gentleman called Godfrey who appeared out of nowhere. The yacht club was half the price of the expensive new Camper and Nicholson marina just built across the bay , with a well appointed bar and excellent pool table. Who could ask for more!
Sunday saw Kikas crew at the Anglican Church at 7.30 am in town. The original cathedral had blown down in hurricane Ivan in 2004 so the congregation had taken over a local school. All the ladies were beautifully turned out in bonnets and blue capes for the mothers union . The altar was decorated with Bouganvillias and other colourful Grenadian flowers . The vicar , choir and congregation set about the service with gusto. The singing was marvellous and two hours later after having shaken everyone's hand we emerged into the morning sunshine.

We repaired to the boat where we have been gradually whitling down the snag list. Andrew and Malcolm found a snapped off connection in the innards of the Duogen which is now charging - hurrah! Colin  repaired a broken chain on the auto helm , we cleared the bilge pump , got the fridge controller going thanks to a phone call with my pal Gareth Davies at home and patched up the dinghy.

We took a taxi tour of the island on Monday. Grenada has a fairly turbulent recent political past. In the early eighties the prime minister Maurice Bishop gave Ronald Reagan nightmares by inviting in the Cubans and extending the islands runways.  He was replaced in a coup by a hard line deputy and a bloodthirsty militia called the people's liberation army(PLA). When the people heard about it they walked up en masse to Fort George overlooking the city together with Maurice Bishop who had told them to come unarmed. They were attacked by an armoured car surrounded in the fort and then systematically executed together with Maurice Bishop. Our taxi driver Edgar was there and managed to escape by jumping off the castle walls and into some rubbish.  He was very lucky that day.  The whole island was held under curfew on pain of death for the next 5 days , so when the Americans invaded they were welcomed with open arms by the Grenadians. The ringleaders were rounded up,  "tied up like crabs" and tried , and a more conservative democratic president was installed with American approval. If only Afghanistan had gone so well . 
Edgar showing his escape from death

Our tour of the island took us through the great tropical forest of the grand etang where we saw every type of tree imaginable and enjoyed the humid cool air at 2000 feet above sea level where there were large fresh water lakes created by the craters of extinct volcanoes.  We also worked out how nutmeg,mace, chocolate ,cinnamon and coffee arrived from tree to kitchen shelf

Spice Girl ! the secrets of the spice islands explained

We visited the River Antoine Estate where they make 80% rum too powerful to take on any aeroplane. Sugar cane is harvested by hand and then fed into great crushing rollers powered by a huge waterwheel built in 1785 . The liquor is drained off, heated , fermented and then distilled to make rum. These days the estate is owned by a consortium of local Grenadians and cane harvesters work from 6am to 11 am when they stop because of the heat. However in the days of slavery things were very different. Slaves worked all day in backbreaking heat, when they became too old they moved into the masters house to serve, but when they were really old they were thrown out onto the street with no support as they had no economic value. Women who became pregnant we beaten often to death and if any man or woman appeared to develop a close relationship one of them was transferred to another plantation. Sometimes people escaped into the interior but were often hunted down and there is a cliff on the North of the island called Sauteurs Bay where the Caribs jumped off the edge of a cliff rather than face re-enslavement.

We are now planning to sail straight to Bonaire in the Dutch ABC islands. The situation regarding drug trafficking and piracy has got worse in Venezuela which has become the new Columbia. Apparently even off duty members of the Guardia National are involved so the advice is to by pass it and go to Columbia instead.

River Antoine Rum, made the traditional way

Water wheel, installed 1785

crushing the sugar cane

Sugar cane lifted by belt to the press

Andrew rebalances after a dose of 80% proof

After our visit the bottles look a bit tired