Beauty and Challenge: Sailing in the Grenadines

When experienced sailor John Burke and new sailor Haley Varner chartered out of Grenada March 5-12 through Dream Yacht Charter (booked through the discounted, last-minute service LateSail), they knew it would be an adventure. Here’s what they had to say about their trip:

What made you decide on the Grenadines? We wanted to go somewhere neither one of us had been to and with more challenging conditions than other Caribbean destinations. There are direct flights to Grenada without having to take a puddle jumper. We considered visiting the Leeward Islands, but flying in and out is more complicated. Also, the Windward Islands offer more of a variety of smaller islands than the Leeward. And chartering out of Grenada allowed us to grab passport stamps from two countries!

Describe a bit about each of your sailing and charter experiences before the trip.

John: I have more than 5000 blue water miles and became a shellback last year when sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti. I keep a 40-foot O’Day in Annapolis and introduced Haley to sailing last summer. I’ve also done several Caribbean and Chesapeake Bay charters but none as the skipper.

Haley: Before Grenada I’ve only done Junior Varsity trips with John. Sailing last summer on the Chesapeake, I became an expert in three-mile-per-hour winds. My only charter memory sailing from the Florida Keys to Bahamas was hazy at best, as it was a spring break trip in college.

Itinerary? We assumed that we might not be back in this area again and so wanted to incorporate as many different anchorages as possible. Rather than settling in at a couple of coves, we hit seven different anchorages and covered more than 250 miles.

Saturday kicked off the trip with a mid-day arrival in Grenada. The charter company had instructed that we would check out the boat but would have to remain in the marina that evening. Given the ground we hoped to cover, we lobbied to take off for a quiet harbor only a few miles away (Dragon Bay). In our haste to depart and stow belongings, we missed our target harbor and in the last speck of sunlight, stressfully set anchor in 70 feet of water between jagged cliffs, low hanging power lines, and a rowdy night club at Halifax Bay. Welcome to Grenada!

Sunday Day 2 was a 25-mile jaunt up the leeward coast of Grenada to Carriacou. We decided on the picturesque Sandy Island in St. Louis Bay. This bay offered great snorkeling, white sandy beaches, and a blessedly quieter anchorage than the night before. Locals were enjoying their Sunday playing cricket and drinking rum punch on the public beach.

Monday Day 3, we woke and hopped up to Mayreau, which was one of our favorite stops. Saltwhistle Bay is cozy, and with mooring balls taken, “boat boys” guided us into very tight quarters. We crossed our fingers that prevailing winds didn’t shift. With the anchor set, we took a short walk over the island peak to Saline Bay and stopped at Dennis’s Hideaway, a must for his famous rum drinks and margaritas. Saline Bay has a nightly beach barbeque serving grilled fresh fish and vegetables at a little tiki hut.

Tuesday Day 4, we motored only a couple of miles to what the cruising guides suggested would be our favorite anchorage at Tabago Cays. This stop is known for sea turtles, shallow turquoise water, and beaches worthy of filming Pirates of the Caribbean. We grabbed one of the plentiful mooring balls and enjoyed our night there, with boat boys bringing over fresh fish to grill for dinner.

Wednesday Day 5, we sailed to Mustique, our northernmost destination and our favorite. Mustique is known for its elite residents, grand estates, and Basil’s bar, which hosts the rich and famous. We grabbed one of the few mooring balls (anchoring is not allowed) and walked across the island to the most beautiful beach at Macaroni.

Haley: I beached myself by the water to work on the tan while John hid in the shade of the palm trees, only stepping into the light to bring me rum punch refills. Given the lumpy anchorage, we woke up “green” and in a hurry to leave, not even bringing the dinghy back on board before evacuating.

Thursday Day 6: leaving Mustique and turning south, we had been looking forward to having the wind at our backs after a five-day day beat north. Conditions offered the challenge we were after with eight-foot swells and 25-plus mile per hour winds in a storm that accompanied us all the way to Petit St Vincent. This anchorage was not as protected as we had hoped, and we had to make several attempts at dropping the hook before setting.One of our favorite experiences was a dinghy ride over to Mopian, a surreal desert island the size of a small raft up with a few boats on the Chesapeake, with only a single tiki offering a bottle opener for its visitors. Beware of the narrow runway through the surrounding reefs to get ashore and allow for plenty of sunlight to see shallow water. Goaties Beach Bar is quite civilized with tasty drinks and gorgeous views of Petit Martinique across the bay.

Friday Day 7, we sailed down the windward side of Grenada on our last full day with a stop at the top at Sandy Island for a lunch time anchor, grill and swim. A 12-pack of Carib took us all the way to Hog Island at the southernmost tip of Grenada. This is a fantastic anchorage with tons of protection, making it a favorite among cruisers. Anchoring was a cinch as was the dinghy ride to a shack where Roger may or may not show up at 6 p.m. to serve cold beer at his famous beach bar.

Saturday Day 8, we sailed a short leg back to St. George’s and the marina. Checking back in was quick and painless thanks to the friendly and competent staff at Dream Yacht, and we were off to the airport within one hour of docking.

We heard you had one rough day. Can you tell us about it? At Mustique, morning anchorage conditions coupled with our Basil Bar hangover didn’t set us up for success as we departed for our biggest day of wind. We hadn’t finished our first cup of coffee before dark clouds and high seas rolled in. Too queasy to get the dinghy aboard at the harbor, it trailed behind us for over 25 miles, making every effort to join us in the cockpit.

What was your favorite part of the trip? Haley’s fresh nutmeg rum punch recipe! And a week of unrivaled sunrises and sunsets.

How was the boat and what boat type was she? French built Harmony 38 (monohull). The three-cabin layout provided more than enough space for two. With the boat being in charter for six years, she was certainly showing signs of wear. However, all systems on Chopin were well-serviced, and we had no cause for complaint other than poorly run reefing lines and the need for a hoisting strap for the outboard.

Would you recommend this charter destination to a friend? Absolutely! We want to go back! Charterers with more time might want to do a point-to-point from north to south in order to take advantage of the prevailing E/NE wind.