We arrived on the ‘Spice Island’ in the dead of night with computer charts that decided to fail as we made our final approaches. Luckily (fastidiously) Will had made some thorough hand written pilotage notes and with a ‘Gross Act of Seamanship’ (to quote Eddie Murray, an old friend and Naval Officer who historically has had a big influence on our sailing odyssey’s), we crept in, following the twenty meter (depth) contour line as it wiggled around the southern edge of the island, using the hand bearing compass, leading lights and lighthouses to keep us safe off the rocks and reefs.
The champagne had been chilling in our ‘fridge’ for several hours in anticipation of our arrival and it was with a great relief and exhaustion that the cork was popped as the anchor went down – we’d survived 14 days at sea with our now slightly ferrel boat children, without any major falling out, illness or injury or anyone jumping ship (there were one or two threats of sending them home to the grandparents on our arrival!).
The champagne slipped down far too easily after a ‘dry’ fortnight at sea and coupled with tiredness made the world quite nicely blurred around the edges…just as well because our notoriously nocturnal middle child was up and adamant she was not going to bed and missing the party, vocally questioning why after recently reaching the ripe old age of eight she too couldn’t have a glass of champagne at 2am! As exhaustion and alcohol threatened to wear our patients far too thin we gave in and gave her a sip…’Yuk!’ (Thank goodness it wasn’t Yum!), that sorted as she still refused to go to bed I put on a film for her on the DVD player and William and I went to bed, leaving her to it – Goodness only knows when she decided to go to sleep!
The first few days were spent recovering between Port Luis marina (complete with swimming pool much to the girls delight) and at anchor off Grand Anse beach – a mile or so long white sandy beach fringed with coconut palms, little beach side bars and hotels, and locals walking the length of the beach selling shells and spices, Grenada’s relaxed ‘sunset strip’ and a welcome stopping point to recharge our batteries within easy reach of St George’s, the main town on the island and beaches and swimming, rowing for the girls.
It’s amazing that with a little down time and civilisation how quickly the hard won ocean miles, sleep deprivation and hardships are cast aside, a distant memory, forgotten…until the next time.
St George’s is a small but busy and bustling colourful town with 19th century colonial architecture and a British history being an ex Crown Colony and member of the Commonwealth . Now independent since the mid 1970’s (the smallest of the independent Caribbean islands at 12 miles wide and 21 miles long) it thankfully retains English as its official language, giving William and I a rest from our terrible linguistic skills which have plagued us ever since we crossed the English Channel six months ago. Although on the street you’d be hard pushed to realise on first hearing that it is in fact English – the speed, dialect and distinctive Caribbean twang need some tuning into. The people are smiley, happy to chat and offer help and advice and greet you with ‘good morning / afternoon, or how are you today?’ wherever you go.
At regular intervals throughout the week, this small island town is invaded by huge cruise ships, the largest of which is like a horizontal tower block and houses 4000 people who descend upon the town and island at large for a ten hour run ashore. On cruise ship days the prices around the market stalls and waterfront seem higher and in fact on one occasion in a little rough and ready cafe we were charged in US Dollars – when we said we only had EC (Eastern Caribbean Dollars) we were told we would be charged as ‘a local’ – which was half what it would have been in US!
It is hot and temperate here – we are in the tropics, and the humidity from the rain forest and heat takes some getting used to. The north east trade winds that blew us here across the Atlantic offer a welcome relief from its intensity, although with them they bring short sharp warm tropical downpours at regular intervals throughout the day, making us time our dinghy rides ashore carefully – often mistiming it and arriving completely drenched. It doesn’t really matter, you dry within minutes once the sun comes out again. This is apparently unusual for this time of year, this is not the rainy season and the rain was meant to have stopped back in November.
After a few days, we relocated the boat to one of the many deep bays on the southern coastline of the island. Perfect for some initial reef snorkelling, dingy sailing, meeting other cruisers and generally chilling out, taking a dip off the back of the boat or a dinghy ride ashore to a beach or little cafe-bar – not so much for the drink but more to get some WiFi!
It was after a reef snorkelling Expedition at one of these bars that we met the Dutch family on board Yacht Tije – their two boys the same age and our two big girls. The kids and parents got on great – obviously the Dutch have fantastic English language skills so there was no problem for the adults (again William and I were embarrassed at our lack of language skills). The children did not have a common language apart from ‘play’ – which worked fine, they were soon communicating well enough and having a hoot, to the extent that we were asked to leave the (slightly too posh for us) bar with its attached pool because the children were being too noisy and disturbing the other customers (with no children)!! We had two or three days together having some light relief from being ‘just us’.
Having heard of a cruisers social get together on the morning radio net (a channel we can tune into on the VHF radio, to see what other cruisers are up to, what’s going on or get help and advice if needed), we decided to join them and celebrated together Grenada’s Independence Day on February 7th.
We went with the crew from Yacht Tije to a nearshore island where an ‘Oil Down’ had been organised. As we approached the shore in the dinghy we could smell the food cooking. The traditional Grenadian island dish – a huge cauldron like pot full of chicken, pork, dumplings, breadfruit, spinach and lots of coconut milk and coconut oil, cooked for hours and hours on a wood fire on the beach – so delicious, even the children asked for second helpings!
A lot of the cruisers we met there live on their boats here all year round, some fly back and forth from the USA, Canada or the UK and a few were doing the island chain like us, but there was a lot of experience and knowledge there and it was good to chat to others to share tips and advice on the best places to visit.
Later that evening we took a bus organised by ‘Shade Man’, a local Grenadian who has become the cruising community’s right hand man with a van, organising trips to grocery stores, marine shops, tours – pretty much whatever is in demand…a for a fee for convenience. The older generation cruising community here do seem to rely on him heavily to make outings ashore easy and stress free and he in turn makes a good living out of the cruisers, so everyone is happy. We got into his crowded van with two of the children on our laps headed for the national stadium, a bumpy, pot holed 30 minute ride through lanes and roads lined with an eclectic ramshackle mixture of small basic shacks, larger smarter looking houses with gardens and little road side stores and bars all jumbled up together, back into St George’s for the annual Independence Day parade along with thirteen other cruisers. Sat up in the gods of the national stadium we were in the minority as white Europeans. All the locals were dressed in the national colours, red, yellow and green along with their wide and easy welcoming smiles that broke into ‘whoop whoops’ of pure delight as the national police band leader broke into moments of moon walking and funky dance moves whilst out on parade in front of the Prime Minister and other dignitaries! Having in a past life spent some time in the Royal Naval Reserves in the UK and and very familiar to being out on parade, I can’t imagine this ever happening at home! Parades at home are serious affairs, and really quite dull…the entertainment being who’s going to feint next! The Grenadian’s sense of fun and light heart is infectious.
*See Video of funky parade dance moves on our Twitter feed @kidsincockpit *
The rain forest is the first thing the girls noticed when they woke on our first morning here in Grenada – ‘wow it’s so green!’. Coming from the lush green of the English West-country they suddenly realised how much they had missed the vegetation. They had gotten used to the brown, dusty, arid desert of the Canaries and Sao Vicent in the Cape Verde over the past couple of months, but immediately announced they preferred this!
Top of their list was visiting one of the islands many waterfalls in the rain forest. There are obviously tours for all the attractions on the island which makes life simple, but we are on a very tight budget and whenever we can, we opt for the local bus to get us around the islands. They are usually, cheap, efficient, allows us a flavour of local life and gives more of a sense of adventure having to work it out for ourselves. This is how our waterfall trip started, on a number one bus from Prickly Bay back round to ‘Town’ – St George’s, however on route the ever entrepreneurial Grenadian bus driver cut us deal for him to be our driver for the day.
So abandoning his bus route, our first stop was a street side van selling huge and delicious ‘Roti’- ever partial to trying the local street food, we happily bought enough to feed at least two families and started munching away in the back of the van on mildly spiced chicken and potato, yellow from the spice in colour and wrapped in a thin tortilla like bread. We then bumped along in the rickety old minibus out of St George’s and into the rain forest which starts immediately as the ‘Town’ ends – as does the increase in gradient, we drove up at a 45 degree angle through the rain forest, passing fewer and fewer shack-like houses, on potholed roads for probably about 40 minutes before we reached the drop off point for the Seven Sisters Waterfall. With the promise that our newly acquired driver would wait for us (busses whilst travelling up here had been few and far between and it was a long, long walk home again) and reassured by the fact that we hadn’t paid him a single Eastern Caribbean Dollar yet, we picked up the roughly cut bamboo sticks left there for the purpose of borrowing for the hike to the waterfalls and set off…with a ten year old, eight year old and four year old and actually no idea how far away the waterfall was. It turned out that we needed to hike (no not walk, it was definitely a hike!) downhill at about another 45 degree angle, through thick and humid rain forest, with a well worn but muddy and slippery path beneath our feet clad in Crocs – not the ideal hiking shoe and not for the first time on this trip, I longed for my stout, well worn hiking boots left in the garden shed at home!
If I ignored the heat and didn’t look up, the terrain could almost pass as the Tamar Valley aka Home and my usual stomping and trail running ground – it was as muddy, and rocky and steep and had a sense of familiarity about it. Likewise could be said about forty minutes later, once we’d reached the river bed – the geology of the river and the large, well rounded boulders in it made me think of Dartmoor, back home with the powerful River Dart and in particular Spichwick, part of the Dart river on the Moor where I grew up as a child… But then you look up, and nothing is familiar and you remember that you are in a jungle rainforest far away from home. Grace the ten year old had been scampering ahead like a mountain goat, very shore on her feet all the way down to the river bed, often disappearing out of sight, waiting for us and scampering on again. After we’d been hiking up stream of the river for ten minutes or so we spotted her ahead waiting for us with the biggest, most excited grin on her face – she’d found the waterfall! As we rounded the corner, a double waterfall, one above the other came into view, with a deep fresh water pool beneath each one. We traversed the river, hopping from water rounded rock to water rounded rock, climbed up and were confronted with a noisy 15 meter drop, beautiful, rain forest waterfall!
The children were so excited, they got into their swimmers and were straight in the water – fresh water swimming for the first time since leaving home. The current that the waterfall created in the pool was ferocious – none of us could actually make it right underneath the fall and we either had to swim with Nancy on our back or pushing her ahead of us – she was missing the extra buoyancy of salt water sea swimming! But it was so refreshing after our long and slippery decent, well worth the effort.
My mind was turning to the long, slow uphill struggle that it would be to get the girls up to where we’d left the bus, but I’d come prepared with some candy lollipops and a packed of Polo’s! As the girls were changing after our prolonged dip in the deep pool, I was filling them with sugar treats that usually they wouldn’t be allowed ( or not in such quantity) – and they milked me for all I was worth! I didn’t actually see the ten year old or the four year old on the uphill hike – they disappeared as soon as we’d traversed across the river and were gone, William following on behind them, catching a glimpse before they rounded the next corner and Connie and I holding hands, Bringing up the rear singing Row, row, row your boat endlessly, stomping to the rhythm – the sugar had backfired on her and she got her sugar crash about half way up the hill!! It was with huge relief that we spotted our bus and driver waiting for us as promised and with gratitude and exhaustion that we lazed in the back of his bus, not having to worry about how we were getting home – and gave a lift back down the hill to another cruising family that we’d met on the hike. We retired back to Moonlighting, satisfied with our days endeavours, and slept soundly after our physical exertions of the day.