Return to The West Indies, part 1
Cruising Down Memory Lane - Windward Islands

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(We have included some photos from the earlier trips, but, if nothing else is indicated, all other photos are from 2013)

Our first visit to The West Indies was in 1992. Since then we have on various occations spent a total of about half a dozen years criss-crossing the area and Scorpio has at some point visited all major islands or island groups in The West Indies and the rest of the Caribbean Sea, except St Croix, Aruba, the Cayman Islands and the island of Saba.

What is the 'West Indies'? In short, it can be defined as an archipelago in the Nort Atlantic between North and South America, comprising the Bahamas (including the Turks & Caicos), the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles (including Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the ABC islands).

West Indies

The Lesser Antilles can be divided into two island groups, the Windward and the Leeward islands. Trinidad and Tobago are not considered part of the Windward islands, but are well within the West Indies, as is Barbados, the most easterly island, and the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) off the coast of Venezuela. Our fist visit to the Lesser Antilles ended in 1994 and we did not visit again until the end of 2000, when we, after an Atlantic crossing, sailed along the entire island chain, including Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, all the way to Florida. Now in 2013 we are back again after 13 years - and 21 years after our first visit. Our first visit took place long before this web site was established (in 1997), but the second cruise is briefly covered in one of our first reports (look here).

The plan for November-December 2013

In this report from November to December 2013 we try to describe how we feel about the changes that have taken place in 21 years.

We left Chaguaramas in Trinidad on the 5th of November and sailed over night to Prickly Bay on the south coast of Grenada - a trip of about 80 nautical miles.

Prickly Bay 1993 Carenage
Prickly Bay today At Prickly Point 1993 The Carenage, St Georges, 1993
Fort George Concord Falls 1993 Another shitty day
At Fort George in 1993 Jens & Tomas at Concord Falls, 1993 Another shitty day in paradise, 1993

Prickly Bay used to be one of our favourite anchorages on our previous visits to the Lesser Antilles. Between our visits in 1994 and 2000 there had been very little change in the bay and in the country as a whole. Prickly Bay was still one of the prettiest spots in the West Indies, with usually less than a dozen yachts at anchor and a cozy little restaurant and boatyard.

Today, 13 years later, the small, informal, charming marina, with fresh green lawns, dotted with palms and almond trees is gone and instead of the dozen yachts of yesterday there are probably a hundred now at anchor, with an additional two hundred on the hard. However, there is a new marina, with better docks, a good dinghy dock and probably a much more efficient shipyard and better services for yachts over all, including a Budget Marine chandlery. The surroundings, in general, also looked better maintained than before - no potholes in the road from Prickly to the Capital St Georges anymore.

Unfortunately, I much preferred the old days. I fear what more changes I will discover when we move further north through the islands.

The sub-title of this report is Cruising Down Memory Lane, but it sure feels as we would be cruising uphill.

Tight reach 1993 First of all, we are heading north (which is 'up' on the compass) and, as the winds have had a surprisingly strong northern component, it has been harder than expected to increase the north latitude. Particularly the part between Grenada and Carriacou was difficult with 30 knots of NE winds and very confused, short and steep waves right on the nose. This was the fifth time I did this trip northbound, and I don't remember having any problems before. On the photo left, from November 1993, we are close-hauled between Grenada (in the background) and Carriacou with 3 old buddies. But the waves look benign and the dodger is folded down, which would have been impossible now, in November 2013.

Probably we just had bad luck with the weather this time and I hope this had nothing to do with global warming or climate change in general.

Free Wifi Tyrrel Bay anchorage Dinghy dock
Free WiFi at all beer sheds Scorpio at anchor in Tyrrel Bay Tyrrel Bay dinghy dock

Tyrrel Bay at the Grenadian island of Carriacou hasn't changed much since the early 1990s. Here time still seems to stand still. The biggest visual change is probably the numerous 'Free Wifi'-signs nailed to every beer shed and rhum shop. One great improvement for cruisers is the new customs and immigration office, which opened in 2013. In the old days one had to do the paper work at Hillsborough.

Grenadian fisherman
Carriacouan fisherman

Just around the corner from Tyrrel Bay lies Sandy Island. This sand strip changes appearence with every passing hurricane. Sometimes it suffers such degradation that the beach is washed away and all trees and brush die, but then the next hurricane may throw up coral crap and sand, leaving tide pools and the vegetation starts growing again. Locals assist by planting palm trees.

1993 2013 Local yacht race 1993
Sandy Island 1993 - one palm tree.
In the background Union Island.
Sandy Island 2013
Carriacou in the background
Locals racing at Sandy Island, 1993
These boats are built here on the beach.

Just around the corner from Tyrrel Bay lies Sandy Island. This sand strip changes appearence with every passing hurricane. Sometimes it suffers such degradation that the beach is washed away and all trees and brush die, but then the next hurricane may throw up coral crap and sand, leaving tide pools and the vegetation starts growing again. Locals assist by planting palm trees.

Clifton harbour Newlands reef Clifton anchorage
Clifton harbour, Union Island Restaurant at the reef in Clifton Scorpio at anchor in Clifton

Clifton harbour at Union Island, just a few miles north of Carriacou is the hub of the Grenadines. This is where one clears in with immigration and customs to the republic of St Vincent & The Grenadines. Yachts are constantly coming and going, small airplanes taking of and landing. It is at the same time a charming place and bustling of energy and action. On the satellite image above you can see the anchorage protected by a reef. It also shows the airstrip. On the right is Scorpio anchored in the spot marked with a red dot in the satellite image.

Clifton is another of our favourite anchorages, although it is crowded and sometimes tricky to find a spot to drop the hook, with enough swinging room. But it is fun to sit and watch all the action taking place around you. Here are some photos from our latest visit (and there are still sharks in the pool at Anchorage Hotel):

Life's good Bob Drunken Sailor
Lawfirm Romeo Sharks
Being a lawyer I couldn't resist including the photo above, left. Click on it for details.
And before anyone tries to get smart: No the pool on the right is not for lawyers either.

Next stop after Clifton was naturally in the Tobago Cays, probably the best known sailing destination in all of the Caribbean. Surprisingly there were less yachts than we have been used to, perhaps two dozen, half of which were Sunsail charter boats. On our last visit we celebrated new year 2001 in this anchorage in company with well over 50 other yachts. There are still some boat vendors, but they are not as persistent as they used to be in the old days. A great change here.

Tobago Cays
The fleet anchored behind Horseshoe Reef in the Tobago Cays
Tobago Cays Vendors Dragging
Tobago Cays (source unknown) Boat vendors visiting Charter boats dragging their anchors

Again one of our favourites, Bequia, is an island of sailors and boats, connected to the rest of the world mainly by the sea. On our first visited there was no airfield, but later in the 1990s a new airport was built on the south coast. Ashore in Port Elisabeth we didn't discover much change since january 2001 and the summer of 1993. The photos below should be proof enough. However, from a cruising point of view, the harbour is now crowded with mooring buoys, which make it impossible to anchor close to town. Holding is not good in the few light spots left over and we had to anchor at Tony Gibbons Beach, also known as Pricess Margareth Beach, (in the left front corner of the photo below, left). Problem with that anchorage is the swell and we spent a couple of rolly nights. The moorings occupying the inner bay are rediculous, as they are almost all vacant; cruisers do not trust West Indian moorings in general as they are usually not maintained and often break.

Apart from the stupid moorings, our conclusion was that Bequia has retained her charm, and the number of yachts has not increased significantly.

Admiralty Bay 1993 2013
Admiralty Bay, Bequia, 1993 Port Elisabeth, Bequia, 1993 Port Elisabeth, Bequia, 2013
1993 2013 stylist
Malla and the boys, Bequia 1993 A sail bum in the same spot, 2013 A local modist
Residence Le Mans start Sunshine Bar
Prime waterfront residence Le Mans-type start from the beach Sunshine bar
Fucking retired On November 16, 2013, I spent my first day as a senior citizen in Admiralty Bay (see the blog here). Next day, on a sunny, windless Sunday, we pulled up the anchor and motored accross the Bequia Channel strait to Blue Lagoon on the island of St Vincent.

At Blue Lagoon, on the south coast of St Vincent and not far from the Capital Kingstown, time had stood still indeed. We rented a mooring from TMM Charters for two nights. This is a good stop if you would like to do trips to the interior of the island, particularly as the anchorages on the west coast are considered unsafe from thievs.

Evening view from the boat in Blue Lagoon, with evidence of a past storm

The next day we motored north along the west coast of St Vincent with no wind. Apparently there was a tropical storm forming (several hundred miles away) to the NE, sucking up all wind. Therefore, for a change, we had an easy passage between St Vincent and St Lucia, but we had to motor-sail - it is always a compromise.


Far left: The Pitons in sight,
approaching St Lucia.

Left: This Photo is from January 2001 in
Rodney Bay, St Lucia, but the guy was
still there in 2013.

We anchored, as usual, outside the lagoon, in Rodney Bay itsef. The boating fruit vendor was still there, but his boat was pretty much dilapidated. The Rodney Bay area had changed tremendously. The marina had expanded and there are at least two shopping malls south of the lagoon.

The close-hauled passage across the St Lucia Channel to Martinique was again an uncomfortable battle. The wind was ENE and, as our destination was Le Marin on the SE coast, our course was almost NE. As earlier, between Grenada and Carriacou, the problem wasn't the 25-30 knot wind, but the tightly packed waves. When we were less than a mile from the first marker indicating the entrance to Cul de Sac du Marin we were run down by a particularly heavy squall. Usually they are gone within 5 minutes, but this one, of course, lasted much longer. The visibility was zero, we were close to land, reefs on all sides and potentially a lot of traffic going in and out in the channel to Le Marin. Sometimes in conditions like this, near shore, we just drop the anchor and wait. The narrow Passe du Marin, however, is too deep; up to 50 metres boarded by shallow reefs and I had to use the chartplotter on the Mac to locate a way to a 5 metres deep spot were we finally could drop the hook. (The new Raymarine e7 multifunction display was waiting to be replaced on warranty - more about this matter in a separate account). Unfortunatelly, in the process the Mac's keyboard got wet from rain water dripping from my clothes and refused to work anymoore on this trip.

fish head squid Rasmus
A fisherman selling his catch at La Marin A good sized squid jumped up on deck,
squid on the right.

Le Marin and it's surroundings hasn't changed very much on the surface, even though there is a new marina. There appears to be a million yachts on moorings and at anchor - just like before. In Le Marin we welcomed visitors; our son Jens and granson Rasmus joined us for ten days. The plan was to explore the sheltered west coast all the way up to St Pierre.

fishing owner of yacht? look

Our first stop after La Marin was just 4 nautical miles away, at the little village of Ste Anne, where we found a well protected anchorage in front of a perfect sandy beach. The objective for the week ahead was to find sandy beaches - one of the crew was learning to swim. Also our second stop, at Anse d'Arlet was approved by our guests. Both these anchorages were new to Scorpio.

Anse d'Arlet
Anse d'Arlet at sunset

Our next anchorage was at Anse Mitan, near the Capital Fort de France. We took the ferry across to the big city and visited the green market. Both Anse Mitan and Fort de Franc showed little change since our previous visits.

At Ste Anne Shore party getting ready St Pierre roads, Scorpio on the left
quick bite burden bottles
When traveling with children there may
come a need for a quick bite.
Fort de Franc street view At the green market at F de F

We couldn't really detect any changes at St Pierre either. This is the town, where all but one of the almost 30,000 inhabitants were killed in the eruption of Mont Pele in 1902. St Pierre was the terminal of our visitors cruise this time. We stayed here for 4 days. One day we rented a car and drove up to Rouge Morne and as high up on Mont Pele as a car can get, about 850 metres above sea level.

martiniquan fishermen mt_pele
Fishermen working at St Pierre

Laying a fishing net next to our boat

Mount Pele in sight

One day we visited the Depaz distillery, located a couple of kilometres higher up on the slopes of Montagne Pelée. The views are magnificent and in combination with the peacefulness of the location they are almost breathtaking.

destillery with a view
A plantation with a view
Rhum tanks at Despaz distillery The plantation mansion with Mt Pele in the clouds behind

Our next stop after Martinique was the one-island nation of Dominica. Probably the least spoilt island of the Lesser Antilles. Our crossing between Martinique and Dominica was, again, an uncomfortable affair - the foul and unusual weather appeard to get even worse. We dropped our anchor at Prince Rupert Bay in torrential rain and almost no visibility, and then the raining continued more or less constantly for 24 hours with winds gusting to 40 knots.

lizzy lizzy leaving roual clipper
Lizzy is a sistership of Scorpio Lizzy is the second Nautor 43 built Royal Clipper leaving Prince Rupert Bay

In Prince Rupert Bay we spotted one of Scorpio's sisterships, Lizzy. However, the weather was so miserable I didn't get the dinghy in the water in time before they left, so we never got a chance to introduce ourselves.

Some include Dominica among the Windward Islands and others count it as one of the Leeward Islands. Without taking a position in this matter we will include Dominica in this report - next report will cover the Leeward Islands, starting with Guadeloupe.

Our conclusions of our return to the Caribbean are, so far - after the Windward Islands, very mixed. Some places have changed a lot, particularly in Grenada and St Lucia - but not necessarily to the worse (although I liked the old Prickly Bay better). The weather has been a huge disappointment. During the past 21 years we have spent maybe 6 years in the Caribbean and we have never experienced so much cloud and rain, fierce winds and unfavourable waves as this time. However, the biggest change appears to have happened with the locals. Contrary to our previous experiences everybody has been extremely friendly. Almost as if they would have all attended courses in customer care.

My earlier opinion, based genuinly on several years of personal experience, was that, on one hand, the Lesser Antilles is the best cruising ground in the world - as the islands are lined up on a north-south axis and the wind was reliably blowing constantly from the east at a comfortable velocity - the perfect set-up for beam reaches and sheltered anchorages; but on the other hand -the negative side - this is the area of the world where people are most unfriendly (plus it is expesive and over crowded).

So, apparently there has been a tremendous change in the Windward Islands: The locals are friendly and fun but the sailing conditions suck. Lets hope the locals stay friendly and that the foul weather this autumn has been only a coincidence and not caused by climate change. After several years in South East Asia and other lower cost countries we feel that The Leeward Islands are still expensive, but at least not too over-crowded.

Let's see what we find in the Leeward Islands.

Unfortunately there is yet no newer report. There are several reasons for this. We hope to resume the reports before the end of 2014.