Our “Best Of” tour of the Grenadines

After leaving Dominica, we had to come to grips with the fact that our cruising season on Sanitas is almost at an end. Hurricane season is right around the corner, and it’s time to head south to Grenada to get ready. The country of St Vincent and the Grenadines still requires a COVID test and expensive health check fee to enter, so we almost skipped it. But…we had so much fun in SVG last winter, we couldn’t imagine heading south without stopping at our favorite anchorages. So here’s a glimpse of our favorite places south of St Vincent and north of Grenada 😎

We sailed Sanitas past St Lucia, admiring the stunning beauty of the pitons. And we had a salty sail down the coast on St Vincent before dropping anchor in what feels like our winter home of Bequia.

Our favorite things to do in Bequia are to hike to beautiful viewpoints, enjoy the fish chowder at Coco’s, to lime on Princess Margaret beach, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones.  This year, we also had the privilege of participating in the naming ceremony for Popeye and Lisa’s beautiful homemade wooden sailing dinghy Velocette.

We tore ourselves away from bustling, exciting Bequia and headed south to the paradise of the Tobago Cays Marine Park. There’s nothing here but nature, but wow is it beautiful. we snorkeled with turtles and rays, climbed to gorgeous viewpoints, and ate a delicious barbecue on the beach cooked by our friends Romeo and Juliette ❤️ If you’re ever in the area, Tobago Cays can’t be missed!

Our next little downwind hop to Union Island was a short, sweet sail. We nestled Sanitas right into our favorite anchor spot behind the reef in Clifton and went ashore to look around. Clifton looks great! Perhaps the number of tourists who are returning now as COVID restrictions ease is bringing valuable money back to the island. Lots of buildings have had a new coat of bright colored paint, and there are some cute new bars and restaurants. We made the 30-minute trek over the hill to the most beautiful beach on Union and spent the afternoon at Sparrows Beach Club. I warned you that this would be our “best of” reel, didn’t I? Lunch at Sparrows really did feel like a vacation from our vacation.

After another easy downwind sail, we cleared into the country of Grenada on sleepy Carriacou. We hiked with baby goats, got our Pfizer booster shots, and reconnected with a friend we hadn’t seen since Grenada. Every Wednesday afternoon is Paint and Sip at Allison’s Paradise Beach Club. It’s a great chance to meet other sailors, enjoy a delicious cocktail, and eat a wonderful meal. Our boat name sign that we painted in November 2020 is still there – along with a couple hundred newer works of art!

Sanitas will be pointing her bow south again in a few days, enjoying her last sail of the season. Soon, we’ll be back in her summer home in Prickly Bay, and Capt. Mike and I will be working our butts off to get her ready for hurricane season storage. Yikes. Until then, we’ll enjoy every sunset we can experience on the water 🌅

Dominica, the Nature Island

We’ve been trying to make it to Dominica since before COVID. Everyone told us we’d love it – the hikes, the rainforest, the waterfalls, the mountains! Finally, this April, Dominica eased their COVID entry requirements, and Sanitas pointed her bow toward Portsmouth harbor. From sea level, Dominica looks like Jurassic park. Verdant green mountains soar toward the sky with peaks wreathed in clouds, sparkling waterfalls flowing into one of the 365 rivers, crossing black sand beaches to rejoin the ocean. We dusted off our hiking shoes, and set out to explore.

To warm up, we hiked Cabrits National Park and historic 18th century Fort Shirley. Great views from both peaks, and we pretended the harbor was filled with tall ships and Buccaneers instead of cruising sailboats.

Curious about the gorgeous tropical vegetation all around us, we took a tour up Indian River with Titus, who knows the name and medicinal or cooking purpose of every plant or flower we passed. Titus taught us about the birds, snakes, and crabs that live along the river banks, and sent us home with a bouquet of tropical flowers and a big bag of cooking herbs.

Seven volcanos make up Dominica, and there are signs of geothermal activity everywhere. At Cold Soutrière, we dipped our fingers into the bubbly, sulphuric-smelling mud pools and got up close and personal with the first volcano. It was the first stop on a tour of the northern part of the island where our guide, Winston, told us every stop would be “a surprise.” Personally, I prefer the joy of anticipation…and knowing whether I need to wear hiking shoes or flip flops for each walk. 🤣 It was a easy walk to our first Dominican waterfall of Bwa Nef, but not all of them would be so easy to find no conquer!

Red Rock looks a bit like the Flinstone’s town of bedrock. The iron in this soft, crumbly rock turns it a distinctive orange-red and allows the rain to crumble and carve it away, constantly changing the shape of the coast over time.

Capt. Mike was in heaven when we finally stopped at Pointe Baptiste Chocolate Factory. This small family business produces gourmet chocolate from organic cacao beans and cane sugar and local spices into chocolate bars and rum truffles. Oh my gosh, delicious!

A hike where the sea meets the sand

We’ve made it a goal to hike as many trails as possible during our long stay here in Martinique. If you follow me on Instagram @jennbsmiles, you’ll know we ticked quite a few off our list when we shared a rental car with friends on SV Aphrodite. But with our engine problems and getting sick and all, we kind of fell off the fitness wagon. So, over the past ten days or so, we built up our strength with 3-mile road walks around the marina, and with climbs up the local viewpoint of Creve Coeur, and finally this weekend with a big adventure on the Sentier Trace des Caps (Trail of the Capes). We’d hiked the southern leg of this epic hike when we were anchored in Ste Anne. In fact, we hiked the three-mile section from town to gorgeous Plages des Salinas frequently. But, as you get farther north, it gets more complicated to get to the trail without a car. We persevered though!

We packed our bags the night before, and for the first time in ages, set an alarm for 6am. We dinghied to shore, walked three quarters of a mile to the bus stop, and crossed our fingers. The #27 bus arrived and for €1.50 per person, we were off! However…. I didn’t exactly know which stop we wanted on this winding rural loop. And I don’t know enough French to have a conversation along the lines of “We want to hike the Sentier Trace des Caps. I know the bus doesn’t go all the way to the start of the trail. But could you let me know when you stop as close as possible to the coast and we’ll walk from there?” Somehow we managed. I showed the young lady checking tickets my map and she and the driver had a long back and forth in French. I think he actually went out of his way and took us a bit off the official bus route to drop us off on a road that ends at the trail head. People are so nice!

French hiking trails are amazing! They are well maintained, with water bars, steps, and sometimes even boardwalks. They are marked with signposts about every half-kilometer and with very clear paint marks on trees and rocks. This trail isn’t very technically difficult. It follows the coastline closely, sometimes along sandy beaches and sometimes through mangrove forests. At the end of each beach, you climb a headland for wonderful views of where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Much of the hike is exposed and very hot (as you can tell by the photos of happy little cacti) We wore our broad-brimmed sun hats and even a long sleeved sun shirt at times and we drank A LOT of water. About halfway through the hike, we came upon an oasis. After a couple hours of seeing almost no one in the beautiful wilderness, we stepped out onto a beach with a road and a parking lot nearby. Being a Saturday, we were suddenly surrounded by sun bathers, selfie takers, wind surfers, and …. beach bars! I ordered “beaucoup de boissons”: a coffee for each of us for that caffeine boost, a planteur for each of us with its refreshing ice cubes and fruit juice sugar for energy, and a small Didier to share – because you can never have too much water! I had to force us to start walking again before we got too comfortable and started ordering ti punches and gave up on the hike all together.

A couple more hours of hiking and we reached massive Baie d’Anglais. I’ve read that you can bring your sail boat here in settled weather but, boy! I didn’t see a gap in the reef big enough that I’d feel comfortable sailing through. This is where we ended our hike on the southern segment of the Trace des Caps. Hooray! Mission accomplished! However, choosing to end your hike in a mangrove swamp far from civilization means there’s still a long road walk ahead of you to get back home. We continued on through green farm fields and past huge white cows until we finally reached the main road between Sainte Anne and Le Marin…and learned that we had missed the bus by about 15 minutes. Darn beach bar oasis!

We used the French version of a hitchhiking signal (one hand out, index finger pointing down toward the pavement) and hoped for the best. Wonder of wonders! An English speaking French woman from St Barts stopped to pick us up and dropped us off right at the marina. And she also gave a ride to a local Martinique man who had done the Camino de Santiago across Spain the year before we did! Crazy cooincidence. All in all, we walked about 12 miles with tired feet, but no blisters. Capt. Mike definitely earned his rhum raisin and almond ice cream sundae.

A quick spin through the southern Grenadines

Phew! We finally finished all of our boat maintenance and received all of our parts and packages and untied the lines from our mooring in Grenada. Hooray!!!

We picked a tight little weather window in the heavy Christmas winds and headed north with the goal of making it to Bequia in time for Christmas. First stop, Carriacou – the little sister island to Grenada with a much more laid back, island time feel. With only a couple nights in Tyrell Bay, we made sure to hit our favorite spots. Paradise Beach Club is absolutely amazing. It’s owner, Allison, remembered our names and Sanitas’s name, even though we last visited almost a year ago 😲 We spent a wonderful afternoon on the beach during Paint and Sip, admiring the wall of boat signs and enjoying delicious seared tuna Greek salad and fresh lime margaritas.

We were among the first to paint a sign. Now the entire wall is full!
Doesn’t this look amazing?

Well fortified with that delicious meal, I prepared for our first international border crossing of the cruising season. I don’t know about you, but I sure never thought we would still be dealing with border closures and COVID restrictions at the dawn of 2022. This year, things are honestly a bit easier for fully vaccinated travelers – there are fewer requirements for long quarantines, for example. To travel by sea from Grenada to St Vincent and the Grenadines Team Sanitas took the following steps:

  • Submit an on-line pre-arrival form for each passenger
  • Submit a “Request for entry and quarantine aboard” form
  • Create a SailClear departure declaration for Grenada
  • Create a SailClear arrival form for SVG
  • Submit digital vaccination certificates
  • Document recent travel history
  • Get a PCR test at the clinic where swabs are sent the Grenada’s main island for processing. Wait impatiently for results
  • Wait for permission to enter SVG on our desired day
  • Upon arrival at Union Island, grab a quarantine mooring and dinghy ashore for health checks and processing

Processing at Clifton, Unions Island went quite smoothly, although it was slow and expensive. We joke that they slow-rolled the paperwork so that the Bougainvillea restaurant would get more of our tourist dollars as we sat at the bar waiting for nearly two hours. Hmmm, maybe it’s not a joke 😜 By contrast, friends who cleared into SVG at Bequia found a somewhat chaotic process and were required to stay in quarantine for over 24 hours. Pandemic travel is still not easy!

We’re not afraid of these tests anymore but they still aren’t fun!
Ouch! It all adds up!
Leaving Tyrell Bay and getting sails up
Celebrating a successful entry to SVG

If you ever visit The Grenadines, you must, must, must visit the Tobago Cays Marine Park. It’s a little slice of paradise on earth, with a cluster of small uninhabited islands nestled within a protective coral reef. Even with our high wind conditions, we were able to squeeze Sanitas right in between the two largest islands and picked up a park mooring ball. We were snug as a bug up close to the beach, where we could swim with turtles, linger on the white sand beach, and climb to the top of the island for stunning views. Last year, we and our sailing buddies had the park almost completely to ourselves. This year, tourism has picked up slightly. The number of French charter boats has increased quite a bit, and there are definitely more huge mega yachts in the grenadine waters. On the beach where we used to cook casual beach barbecues, there are now catered lunches for wealthy clients, complete with a steel pan band! We sunned ourselves on the small beach next to passengers from a French cruise ship where champagne corks were popped and everyone received a chilled glass before tenders fought them back to the ship. Too bad my French isn’t good enough yet for me to fit right in and sneak a glass! Of course, we met back up with our favorite hustler Romeo for a delightful lobster dinner on the beach. This is one of my favorite experiences in the islands – toes in the sand, sunset over the water, fairy lights, and an absolutely delicious feast of grilled Carribean spiny lobster, seasoned rice, veggies, garlic potatoes, and fruit. If you go, tell Romeo that Mike and Jenn of Sanitas say hello!

View from our cockpit
Palm beach selfie
Best lobster in the Caribbean
Turtle Sanctuary beach

All too soon, we had to leave this paradise to continue our sail north to Bequia just to make sure we’d get there in time for the holidays. Winds were still quite fresh and between 30-50 degrees from the north, and seas about two meters high, but consistent. We kept the main double-reefed, and Capt. Mike chose a sail plan that kept us in deep water and sailing as close to the wind as Sanitas can manage. It was an exhilarating salty sail, and we arrived in Bequia just before sunset, ready to settle in for a month in our favorite grenadine island.

Highlights of a month in Grenada

It has come to my attention that my last two blog posts about COVID travel and boat maintenance were a bit of a … well … downer. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not complaining. (Well, I am complaining just a little bit about the cost of a brand new water maker 😲) We also managed to fit in a lot of fun in the sun with friends from the tight knit sailing community.

I love me a tropical birthday celebration! And with this year being a biggie, I decided it was perfectly acceptable to celebrate all month long. A beach day at Le Phare Bleu with Karen and Steve on Soulshine, Sunday barbecue with live music at Aquarium with Music and Virtual Reality, and then the party-to-end-all-parties at Dave and Michelle’s gorgeous pool.

Toes in the sand
Love Aquarium on Sunday afternoons

Dave and Michelle are sailors, usually living on a Catalina 42 sailboat named Half Baked. But this fall, they’ve had a sweet gig house sitting for friends stuck in the UK. They got permission to throw a massive pool party to celebrate Michelle’s birthday, and we decided to join forces and wallets to throw the party together and to celebrate both of us. What a blast! By the time we hired a bartender and a band, and spent a few days shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating, we had pretty much guaranteed that a good time would be had by all. Including the birthday girls! We’re so grateful for good friends and for their generosity. ♥️♥️♥️

Each time we visit Grenada, we try to explore a different corner of this beautiful country with its gorgeous mountains, rain forests, and waterfalls. This time, Steve and Karen drove us the Grand Etang national park and to Seven Sisters waterfalls. Pro tip: Even if you’ve recently hiked across the entire state of Vermont, and you’re feeling kind of cocky, you should still accept the offer of a bamboo walking stick when offered one. That jungle mud is slick! There’s nothing like a swim in the pool under a beautiful waterfall! Especially when you can end the day by celebrating your exertions with jerk chicken on a beach.

And even though the holidays look a little different here in the islands, we still celebrate them! We had a fabulous time attending our first Christmas party of the festive season with Petit Calvigny Yacht Club. Yes, Capt. Mike is now a member, how posh! Christina did a fabulous job with the holiday decorations and we all got into the spirit!

So, see? No need to worry about me. We’ve managed to balance the nasty boat yard repairs with friends, fun, and sun. And after all that, we even managed to provision Sanitas and to get her ready to start sailing again. ‘Cause that’s why we’re here, after all. Next blog post, we’re heading north! But for now, I’ll leave you with yet another beautiful sunset. 🌅

Goodnight world