Sugar and Spice

Follow link to read the published article: Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

When the end of the cruising season in the southern Caribbean was upon us, we did what a majority of Caribbean cruisers do: We sailed south for Grenada. We delayed as long as we could, knowing the hurricane season was upon us but not wanting to be forced south. I had but one impression of Grenada, and that was of rotting boats and retired sailors. It was a cruisers graveyard, or so I thought, and I was far from accepting an end to our sailing days.

Grenada is the southernmost group of islands in the Lesser Antilles archipelago as well as the name of the main island within a cluster of eight smaller islands and about a dozen smaller islets and cays. The only thing I knew of its geography prior to arriving was that it was one of the few island groups in the Caribbean far enough south to be considered out of the hurricane belt. It was with supreme irony, therefore, that we had to shelter in the mangroves on our first day in country from a category 1 storm. As we lashed Ātea’s bow to densely-bound tree roots and secured lines to the cleats of yachts on either side of us, our small unit became a part of the larger, unified collective. Little did we realise that this interconnection would be representative of our Grenadian experience.

Safely through the storm, we disbanded and spread out to explore our new surroundings. We completed our clearance in Carriacou, Grenada’s northern sister island, and we were amazed to see a hundred or so yachts anchored in Tyrell Bay, Carriacou’s main harbour. I knew Grenada was popular, but if the numbers of boats in Carriacou were anything to judge by, I’d have to cope with much larger numbers when we travelled further south. The south coast of Granada not only provides the most settled weather, it is riddled with about a dozen safe harbours from the dominant easterly swell. It the reason why cruisers gather on Grenada’s south coast, and it is also the reason why cruisers remain. Some stay for hurricane season, some use the island as a base for a few years, some retire from active cruising and either settle or sell. One thing was certain, though: Grenada was far more than the end of the line.

Before making the journey south, however, we wanted to stretch out the season by adding in a short circumnavigation around Carriacou, known to the Kalinago (the original Island Caribs) as “The Isle of Reefs.” Given name and reputation, we would spend our time dodging bommies and soaking up the tropical island experience with our feet in the sand, our bellies in the water and our hands on a bottle of rum. We stopped at Petite Martinique, the third and smallest of the three main islands, and enjoyed the rugged, rocky beaches, side-stepping clusters of goat grazing the green rolling hills as we hiked up Mount Piton for panoramic views of the surrounding islands, and climbed down into the Darant Bay Cave for framed views of the same islands at sea level. Of course, we couldn’t miss a few sundowners on Mopion, a tiny sand mound rising amid expansive coral reef with a single beach umbrella perched in the centre. While technically a part of the Grenadines, its proximity to Petite Martinique made a quick dash across the border for a sip in the shade of this unique little spot a worthwhile experience. Living up to its name, Carriacou was an island surrounded by unspoiled reef, and it did not disappoint. A quick tour of her perimeter was the perfect way to salute the end of an amazing Caribbean season.

With a quick stop-over in Ronde Island, a beautiful private island that lay half way between Carriacou and Grenada, we continued our transit south. Again, of things unexpected, I’d not prepared myself for the wild beauty of Grenada’s west coast. Mile after mile of dense, lush forest cascade down the leeward side of the island from peak to sea. We hugged the coastline as we sailed the 13 miles down the west coast, looking up at 2,700 feet of volcanic rock and shear waterfalls that fed the small rivers that ran down the slopes of the mountainous interior to the coast. While Grenada is well reputed as a tourist destination for holiday-makers seeking either a sun-drenched party or quiet refuge on one of its 45 beaches, I knew from sailing down the coast that my preferences would draw me inland.

Grenada’s coastline contains many large bays, but the majority of yachts head for safe anchorage behind one of the many narrow peninsulas that spit up the southern coastline. As we pulled into Prickly Bay, the first of Grenada’s southern harbours, I knew from the crowd of yachts that I would be escaping to the interior as soon as possible. As it turned out, I didn’t get that chance. As soon as we dropped anchor we were invited ashore for a cruiser’s jam session, reconnecting with friends from past seasons. The following day we found ourselves crammed into the back seat of a taxi on our way to an event for the annual Chocolate Festival, and our schedule quickly filled after that: Tours of cocoa plantations, cocoa grinding competitions, chocolate tastings and chocolate drawing contests. In additional to the island’s cultural events, we were also immediately drawn into the cruiser’s social scene. On our first week of arrival our mornings were already booked into early morning yoga and bootcamp on the beach, and the kids joined a cruiser’s homeschooling collective and regular extracurricular activities that were held under the shade of the trees. If we weren’t listening to live music or joining the beach barbecues put on by the locals in the evenings, we were sitting poolside and sipping beers from a $5 bucket with a crowd of other cruisers at Le Phare Bleu, a boutique hotel who’d opened their amenities and their services to cruisers during the pandemic. Every morning there was an activity and every evening there was a social get-together, and the weeks flew by in a social extravaganza unlike any we’d experienced. As yachts gather in Grenada every year for the hurricane season, it was clear that the regularity of this influx of boats had resulted in a solid cruising community and a variety of services and events that have arisen from it. Far more than a collection of retired boats and sunburnt seamen, my preconceived notions of Grenada didn’t come close to the reality of the vibrant cruising network that existed on this popular island.

As we made new friends and reconnected with old ones, we found that we really enjoyed the buzz that the tight community offered. Pulling myself out of the continuous activity took a concerted effort, but I eventually dragged the family off the beach and up the mountains. After our trip into the interior, I knew I had a new passion for my time in Granada: Exploring waterfalls. A short bus journey followed by a hike into the forest would lead us to one of Granada’s many waterfalls, and unlike other tourist destinations where fees were handed over and you’d stand under falls next to groups of other tourists, we had the rivers free of cost and all to ourselves. Some of the trails were a short distance from the road, and we’d hop on and off a bus to walk the short distance to the falls. Others, such as Seven Sisters and the Concord Falls, required planning as it took a full day to hike in and out of the forest, clambering up steep banks and criss-crossing the river to wind through deep forest to get a view from the top. Each part of the river that ran down from one of the six inland lakes had its own magic and I was enthusiastic to see what each had to offer. It was only later it that I really appreciated all that I’d gotten in terms of Grenada’s inland beauty. As I paid $20 per person to stand in crowd under cascading water in Costa Rica’s most popular waterfalls, I couldn’t help but compare it to all that I’d been able to see and experience in Grenada’s secluded, remote interior.

In additional to nature, we explored some of the historical roots of Grenada’s past. Grenada’s original economy was based on sugar cane and indigo, and with that came the importation of slaves in the mid-seventeenth century to work and harvest the crops. We set out to search for some of the old plantation houses and slave pens that remained from that period, which took us on a wild tramp through the the backstreets of quiet neighbourhoods and into unmarked bush to find these lost relics. It was quite the education for our children to see the small, dank, windowless stone slave quarters set behind grand old houses, a potent reminder of darker times in this beautiful and vibrant country. We also smelled and sampled some of Grenada’s more current crops, nutmeg, mace and cocoa at the top of the list of exports, and enjoyed local culinary treats such as oil down, a vegetable stew that is the country’s national dish. Thanks to these excursions we can say that Grenada is, both figuratively and literally, full of sugar and spice.

Cruising often leaves you tied to the boat and, therefore, the sea. Grenada was a wonderful period of enjoying the most of both land and sea in equal balance, and in doing so we were able to get the most of what the country has to offer. To see the beaches but not the forest, lakes and rivers is to get only half the experience; likewise to spend time inland but not explore the coast leaves only half an impression. As Grenada offers safe anchorage throughout the hurricane season, cruisers remain in close proximity for an extended period of time, sharing experiences and building friendships. This is unique for a community that is typically very transient, and offers plenty of opportunity to create a home away from home atmosphere. In addition, there are suitable yacht services available so that the period of time spent waiting for the next season gives everyone a chance to get much needed repair work done. Far from being the end of the line, Grenada offers an interim rest stop where friendships are forged and yachts are restored on an island that offers a wide range of activities and opportunities both on and above the waterline.

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