If I close my eyes and focus for just a moment, I can feel the ocean swaying gently underneath me, smell the salt in the air, and see the endless field of stars shining through the porthole. Lying in bed each night drifting to sleep in the oh-so compact cabin of our four berth catamaran, the Queen Anne, while watching this amazing show was one of the best, most unexpected pleasures of this trip – even for a claustrophobe like me.
When I set my mind to a small boat sailing trip as the next must-do thing on our adventure list, I have to admit I knew virtually zero about what the experience might be. Still I managed to convince my husband and four trusting friends that this would be a “once in a lifetime” trip. And so it was.
For seven days on a thirty-eight foot cat we plied the waters between Grenada and St. Vincent learning the basics of sailing with Captain Chris – professional instructor, bartender extraordinaire, and all-around nice guy. It was truly an unforgettable adventure filled with all of the things you’d expect: stunning, undeveloped islands; knock-your-bikini-off grade snorkeling; colorful and interesting locals with entertaining, yet questionable stories (that strangely always seemed to involve the police;) fresh caught 5-minutes-ago fish on your plate; rhythmically hypnotic local music and dance, and a vibe so low key you have no choice but to reset to island time.
Those are the elements that drew us to the Caribbean and sailing from the get-go. It’s what we found along the way, the unexpected, that made this experience so amazing.
It became apparent rather quickly that for the most part my mates and I had all been a little naive in our thoughts of what a sailing trip would be. To put it simply, we were looking at the boat as basically floating accommodation. For me, I know that I had visions of waking up each day and taking a short sail to a new island to explore. I imagined mornings spent hiking green hills and afternoons lazying on the lush white sand.
Those of you with sailing experience are smiling now because you know this isn’t how it works. As someone very succinctly explained it during our trip: sailors want to sail.
And so we did day after day, hour after hour. We jibed, we tacked, we mixed cocktails, we jibed, we tacked again.
On Day 3, I found myself getting antsy and feeling confined. I was looking at Union Island in the distance and wondering what was on that island, feeling desperate to go hiking and explore it. At this point, I knew I needed a reset so I went on the deck, closed my eyes, and had a little talk with myself. I came to the realization that I had hiked a fair amount of islands in my life. Goodness knows, I’ve sunned on a quite a few beaches too. This was its own unique experience and I told myself I might not have this opportunity again…to experience life on a sailboat, to be a sailor, and to embrace it. To celebrate it.
For the next 4 days, we swam the warmest and most clear waters, we snorkeled with giant turtles, we cooked grand meals in our tiny kitchen, and yes, we jibed and tacked some more. It was glorious because it was special and unique. We were sailors.
Our group fully embraced life on the sea and had a ridiculously good time in the process. Still, when it came to the last afternoon on the boat and Captain Chris gave us the choice of practicing wind and man overboard drills – almost assuring we would get ASA certification – or swimming to a stunning beach to spend the afternoon…well, you’ve never seen girls abandon ship so swiftly.
Wanna Go for a Sail? Below are a few tips and recommendations. Also, see my feature article about sailing adventures in Paste magazine.
Boat size – This is a tough one for most people…how big of a boat do we need to be comfortable? Your answer may not be the same as ours, but we all decided that in this case bigger would not have been better or worth the additional expense. The only time we were inside was when sleeping, preparing meals, or mixing drinks. Other than that, we spent all of our time on the deck or in the water. We even took our showers on the deck.
Don’t be a hero. This isn’t the time to prove how tough you are. Nothing is worse than spending your day or, watching your mate spend his, hurling off the side of the boat. Take the dramamine, daily and early.
Grenada is a magical island with much to do, see, and experience including nutmeg and rum plantations, historic architecture, crazy fun local buses, and a popular locals and tourists Friday Fish Fry. And, it makes a great base for beginning a sailing trip because you get to experience several diverse islands in a relatively short period of time and sailing distance. As for destinations when sailing, Bequia is stunning and filled with interesting locals and fun nightlife. Union Island and its famous rum-punch themed neighbor right off the harbor, Happy Island, make for a great stop along the way. I actually wish we had anchored here a day or two longer.
One of the area’s most special attractions is located on Grenada, just north of St. Georges. It’s the world’s first Underwater Sculpture Park and it is amazing. We moored a few bays away and swam to the park, then snorkeled around the incredible sculptures. It is other worldly and quite an artistic feat. http://grenadaunderwatersculpture.com
I can’t say enough good things about our experience with Captain Chris. He’s an American ex-pat with a fascinating backstory including quitting his job pf twenty+ years in the prison system to live the dream of teaching people to sail the Caribbean. He’s a patient and professional instructor, but also incredibly laid back and a lot of fun. Within a day, it wasn’t like having a stranger on board our boat, it was a having a friend. Chris has his own company, LTD Sailing, and he also contracts through Horizon Yachts. www.ltdsailing.com
A locally owned and run company, Horizon Yachts, is who we hired for our grand adventure. They were great from beginning to end. Since we were novices they patiently answered all of our questions and helped us every step along the way. When I mentioned that we planned to do our own provisioning (arranging the provisioning for you is a lucrative service they offer on their own), they were quick to give me tips and advice including this key gem: Buy much less than you think you need. Almost all boats come back into port still stocked with food that didn’t get consumed. Each of the smaller islands have shops with the basics, as long as you consider Prinkles, water, and beer basics – which for a trip like this, you should. www.horionyachtcharters.com
Nutmeg Restaurant – On the harbor, St. Georges. We heard mixed reviews about this place. It’s been around forever and is an institution but apparently it’s now under new ownership. We ate there twice and loved it both times, esp. their nutmeg punch. Must eats: lambi fritters and fish or veggie roti. Great views of the harbor. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g147295-d1046202-Reviews-Nutmeg-Grenada.html
Dodgy Dock – This place is located next door to Horizon Yacht Charters so we had lunch there both on our charter departure and return. It’s definitely a charter / tourist crowd but the food is pretty good as are the drinks and the people are incredibly nice. For a peek at the true yachtie crowd, be sure and stop by De Big Fish just down the road. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g147296-d1116567-Reviews-Dodgy_Dock_Restaurant_and_Lounge_Bar-St_George_s_Saint_George_Parish_Grenada.html
Provisioning – Bypass Food Land in the Carenage and head straight to Real Value Supermarket, located in Grand Anse and the biggest supermarket in Grenada.