Lights Out!

"Pèlerin" on her way to another season's adventures

“Pèlerin” on her way to another season’s adventures

There’s nothing like a departure that has been long anticipated to get the adrenaline flowing. Add to the risks inherent with going to sea the possibility, however slim, of a possible attack and boarding by pirates, and you’ll be wide-awake, I can assure you. As indeed we were as we set off on our first leg north from Trinidad to Grenada.

Objectively speaking, the risks are very small, but the proximity (you can see it) of the lawless state of Venezuela as you leave the Boca de Monos is a constant reminder that they are very real. So we gleaned as much information as possible about ways to diminish the risks in the days before departure. The word on the dock seemed to be:

  • to leave at sunset, preferably on a moonless night,
  • with a strong breeze to deter pirogue activity,
  • hug the coast of Trinidad until well to the east before heading offshore,
  • sail in company,
  • keep radio contact to a minimum,
  • and, most controversially of all, keep your navigation lights off.

So we picked a dark night with a fresh breeze and motor sailed east for as long as we could endure it (there were plenty of overfalls off the headlands) before turning north for Grenada. Personally, I’ve never liked sailing in company, as it always seems to be the case that the boats are hopelessly matched and one or the other always holds up progress. But that couldn’t be helped in this case, at least at first, as there were four other yachts near us, all with the same idea. As we didn’t recognize any of them, it wasn’t hard to maintain radio silence, but what about the lights?

Night fell, and not one of them switched on their lights. We had debated what we would do ourselves until that moment, and at that time it seemed that the best policy would be if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, especially as to do otherwise would have meant that we were the only boat lit.

In any case, we’d just lost our port bow navigation light to the overfalls, so it wasn’t that hard a decision. It did mean, however, an even more vigilant watch than we might have imagined, with the radar working much of the time. Once when a ship was crossing our path we lit up at two miles distance with our masthead tricolor in case they hadn’t seen us on their radar or AIS.

It was a long night, and I can’t say I enjoyed it, or that it sat right with us to go without lights.

Entering Grenadan waters

Entering Grenadan waters

The Spice Island

We’d long been looking forward to visiting Grenada, having heard great things about the island from friends who had spent time there, so entering Prickly Bay on a fine morning was a real pleasure, as was being greeted by the friendliest, most laid-back Customs and Immigration team we’ve ever encountered.

And a completely new world to any we’ve encountered before. A morning radio net to keep everyone up to date with the latest goings-on in the local cruising world, organized water fitness and Tai Chi classes, taxi excursions to the local supermarket—it all seemed extraordinarily first world to us. Gone was the solitary cruising life we’d lived most recently in Brazil; this was something totally different and strange, but with a lot of practical attractions, too.

Nature’s beautiful boatyard

With various jobs still to finish, we shifted round to the well-sheltered anchorage at Hog Island and settled down to spanners and paintbrushes. During the first week or so it blew quite hard as the ‘Christmas trades’ kicked in, but Hog Island is so sheltered that you’d be hard pushed to drag your anchor—any anchor.

For a couple of days when the wind was at its peak we set a second anchor out towards the north, to hold us well clear of the other boats on moorings as the wind oscillated between east and north around the island. That’s the first time I’ve done that in years, and in Lou’s case the first time ever—such is the confidence we have in our Rocna anchor and gear, and our preference for empty anchorages.

Hog Island anchorage from Roger’s beach bar

Hog Island anchorage from Roger’s beach bar

Quite a few boats seem to have ‘moved in’, and it’s not hard to see why, as it’s a lovely spot. But more than a few moorings have been installed, and that’s something that I always feel ambivalent about. On the one hand, if local people benefit from an income from them, then maybe that’s a good thing—as long as they maintain them.

On the other hand, the installation of moorings has ruined many a fine anchorage, as it’s usual to pick all the best spots to put the moorings in, right where you’d want to anchor, instead of off to one side where the relatively limited swinging room of a mooring can be used to advantage. And, as anyone who has anchored in a mooring field knows only too well, the difference in swinging room between an anchored and a moored boat is highly significant, and has caused many comings together on dark nights. It would be in everyone’s interest that some form of planning should be used to create mooring or anchoring zones in these valuable places, and so keep the two types apart—but it seldom seems to happen, does it?

The sweet life

A good friend recently remarked to me that his impression of sailing in the Caribbean was of one waterfront bar after another, each with a picture postcard view. Whether that is all he actually saw, or is all he can remember, I’ll leave up to you, but there’s more than a grain of truth in his comment.

And right there on Hog Island is one of the best of them all: Roger’s legendary beach bar. This is the simplest of places, with a fine dress code (optional), the warmest of welcomes, and where at the end of the evening your tab is reckoned by the number of bottle caps Roger has kept from your beers.

And if that’s a little too basic for your tastes, then there’s the excellent restaurant and delicatessen just across the bay at Whisper Cove Marina, where you can order wonderful fresh bread by VHF each morning and feast on an extraordinary range of fine foods—the choice is yours, but how wonderful it is to have such a choice.

A marina on a human scale, Whisper Cove, Grenada

A marina on a human scale, Whisper Cove, Grenada

Cruisers welcome

Grenada is one of the first countries we have visited that really seems to recognize the financial value of the cruising community to the local economy, and they have made real efforts to reduce bureaucracy and smooth the passage for visiting crews.Of course, this is helped by the fact that the Grenadians seem to be an outgoing and friendly people, who made us welcome at all times.

But having witnessed places where yachts and their crews are viewed as a nuisance at best, this has been a really welcome discovery. That’s not to gloss over the fact that this remains a relatively poor nation, and petty crime still exists, so you still need to keep your wits about you. But in comparison with some of the other places we’ve been recently, it has been a pleasant and relaxing stop—we hope the islands further north will all be like this.

Further Reading

For more of Colin’s lyrical writing about voyaging and destinations see his Online Book A Transatlantic On Pèlerin.

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Dick Stevenson January 31, 2014, 4:40 am

    Colin, Always a pleasure to see one of your reports light up the computer screen and this was no exception.
    Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie January 31, 2014, 12:43 pm

      Hi Dick

      Thanks – it’s a pleasure for me, too.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • paul shard January 31, 2014, 10:50 am

    Hi Colin and Welcome to the Caribbean! The crew on Distant Shores II has been enjoying the warm hospitality in Grenada for the last few months and you are in one of our favourite Caribbean Islands! Do not miss Carriacou – another warm welcome favourite. And while in Grenada why not try “hashing”? Great way to meet people and see the island. There is one tomorrow afternoon. Here is a link to our experience…
    http://www.distantshores.ca/news_files/hashhouseharriers.html

    I am interested in your decision to leave your AIS switched on during your recent transit through an area where you were worried about pirates and turned your lights off. Why not go into “silent mode”?

    Fair winds,

    Paul Shard
    http://www.distantshores.ca

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie January 31, 2014, 12:50 pm

      Hi Paul

      A pity we didn’t know that, as we’d have looked you up. as there’s a time lag with these posts, we’re now much farther north, just about to up anchor and leave Dominica for Guadeloupe.

      As for hashing, you’ve got to be joking – my knees are knocking at the thought of it! Too many old injuries to abuse my body in that way.

      And it will be interesting to hear how the way we see the islands chimes or diverges from your own view and experience, which is far greater than ours, so I hope you’ll read my future posts and feel free to comment.

      As far as the AIS is concerned, Lou tells me that it was, in fact, off, except when we had the ship visual, so I stand corrected. But I’d doubt very much if the pirogues that are implicated in attacks are equipped with AIS, in any case. It would seem that most incidents have been opportunistic, and I’d doubt they’d have more than a GPS – certainly the ones I’ve looked at didn’t seem to be that sophisticated. But who knows?

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
      • paul shard February 1, 2014, 9:50 am

        Hi Colin,

        We have been home in Canada for the past couple of weeks speaking at the Toronto & Chicago Boat Shows. We return to the boat in St Martin tomorrow… perhaps we will meet up along the way… we will follow your progress here.

        Fair winds

        Paul

        Reply
  • Sid Shaw January 31, 2014, 10:54 am

    Colin,
    Did you not feel that you were defeating the purpose of running without lights by leaving your AIS transmitting? AIS receivers are now so inexpensive that I would expect dedicated pirates to be employing them.

    Sid

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie January 31, 2014, 12:53 pm

      Hi Sid

      please see my response to Paul above.

      Most of the pirogues are operated by poor people, and if there’s money to be spent, they seem to spend it on big outboards. The exception might be some of the bigger boats we’ve seen farther north which, judging by their condition, might be involved in more lucrative forms of trade, perhaps involving more combustible materials than fish.

      Kind regards

      Colin

      Reply
  • richard e. stanard (s/v lakota) January 31, 2014, 11:14 am

    doubtless displaying my ignorance here, but why is this the first reference i’ve ever seen to pirates in this part of the world ? in fact, everything i’ve seen up till now with this post says that the caribbean is one of the safest areas of all…is this something new ? piracy dimenishes just north of trinidad ? thanks

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie January 31, 2014, 12:57 pm

      Hi Richard

      I wish that were the case. The leg between Trinidad has seen boardings and attempted boardings in recent years, so it’s prudent to take sensible precautions.

      In terms of violent crime, much of the Caribbean ranks below many US and EU capitals, but attacks on cruising yachts are by no me ands unknown – witness the tragic event in St Lucia in the last couple of weeks, Union Island last year etc. It’s important to keep things in perspective, though, but at the same time be on your guard.

      I’ll be covering our views on this subject in more detail in a future post, which I hope you’ll find interesting.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • B.J. Porter January 31, 2014, 1:59 pm

    Grenada is definitely someplace that “gets it” in terms of welcoming cruisers in with open arms. We had a very nice stay there last hurricane season and found the facilities and resources to be quite satisfactory.

    We we sailed from Trinidad across to Aruba (en route to Panama) we were concerned about security and sailed well North before turning West. The day after we passed through there was another incident in Venezeulan waters where a boat was boarded and robbed and the owner injured.

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie February 1, 2014, 10:18 am

      Hi BJ

      Grenada certainly is a welcoming place for cruisers, which is good to be able to report.

      Lou and I always discuss places that we don’t consider safe, and bear in mind that we’ve been to quite a few where others were very concerned for our safety, but I’d have to say that Venezuela is off limits for us until the safety situation changes dramatically, and I know we’re not alone. Which is in itself a great pity, because friends of ours cruised and over-wintered there not so many years ago and loved the place and the people.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • Orlando January 31, 2014, 2:09 pm

    At Union Island check the “self-made island” restaurant – I wonder if the town fathers have figured out yet how to tax him?

    If you get as far as Nevis, do stop & I hope the people there are still as nice as when I was last there!

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie February 1, 2014, 10:20 am

      Hi Orlando

      We were only very briefly in Union Island, partly because we found some of the boat boys surly.

      For the most part we prefer the smaller islands, and places were we can get away from crowds, so Nevis may well be on our route later – we’ll tell you what we thought then.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • Chris January 31, 2014, 3:13 pm

    Colin,
    As I was taught in “Escape and Evade” training: If you must radiate on any frequency [in this case, VHF, AIS, radar, etc], keep it very short, use double mike clicks to indicate “affirmative, ” don’t report position information in other than pre-agreed relative terms*, and change course sharply thereafter.

    A fisherman is not always after fish nor is he always a fisherman. It’s not a new problem, the technologies just cut both ways.

    * Select an agreed to GPS waypoint of no geographic significance. Put it in a hand held GPS in nav mode. This will allow you to instantly give range and bearing information that is useless to others not having the waypoint.

    If you have a cockpit chart plotter turn the screen brilliance as low as it will go, and cover it when it’s not being used. Night adapted eyes can see these from more than a mile off. We have tracked racing competitors out to the horizon by their plotter glow. This is also where interior lights that cannot accidentally be switched to white vs red are a good idea. Use the weakest red lens flashlight you can work with. We have seen boats with running lights on that we didn’t realize were there until we saw the flare of a mishandled flashlight.

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie February 1, 2014, 10:28 am

      Hi Chris

      thanks for the useful comments (as usual).

      We always switch all of our instruments on to night mode, and turn them down as low as is possible to see them effectively. We also keep the curtains closed and minimise the use of lighting (we have a lot of very small output individual lights), red light at the chart table and red lenses for reading lights etc., as much to sustain the night vision of on-watch crew as security, though, as you point out, that’s worth bearing in mind.

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
  • Patrice Venne February 1, 2014, 4:10 am

    Thanks Colin, great piece.
    You mention Grenada as one of the few cruiser friendly places, I’d be interested to sea your list of not so friendly places. I have very limited experience of the Caribbean; in 2004-05, I cruised the BVIs and USVIs for a year before leaving for the Med. My experience was very positive although one could sense a speck of racism once in a while.

    Reply
    • Colin Speedie February 1, 2014, 10:35 am

      Hi Patrice

      I’ll be posting my impressions of the islands we’ve visited in future posts, so I hope you won’t mind if I keep this brief to keep the future posts fresh.

      Most of the islands seem to be interested in tapping the cruiser market, but some approach it with a joined up view, and have a natural advantage (the people) both of which are in evidence in Grenada. In some of the other islands, the people are perhaps less outgoing…..

      And I’d be interested to know in which direction you felt the speck of racism was heading in the VI’s!

      Best wishes

      Colin

      Reply
      • Patrice Venne February 1, 2014, 2:42 pm

        Hi Colin,
        First, my comment was more specifically related to the BVI’s where I spent most of my year. Nothing big just the insidious little differences; in the price of products and services, the line between Belongers and the rest of us. A few situations with some officials, again it was never clear but one could feel a certain unease. Like I said it’s no big deal it’s just something I encountered in my 1 year cruising the BVI’s. I had a wonderful time and great friends all locals. I’ll certainly go back in the coming years.
        Great sailing!

        Reply
        • Colin Speedie February 1, 2014, 8:56 pm

          Hi Patrice

          it was ever thus – I grew up in a seaside community, and there was always a degree of ‘one price for the locals, and another for the visitors’.

          And I think it’s inevitable that there will always be some kind of barrier between us and them – the differences in income and expectations being so extreme.

          And we haven’t got there yet – but plan to – so we”ll let you know what we find when we get there.

          Best wishes

          Colin

          Reply
  • FAIVET DANIEL February 4, 2014, 7:44 am

    Bonjour
    J ai travaille 2 ans dans les caraibes et navigue aussi ( martinique, guadeloupe, ste Lucie, st Martin etc) les sites de mouillages sont magnifiques toutefois il faut etre prudent dans la navigation y compris avec les passagers de rencontre que l on peut embarquer notement dans les parties francaises ou sevit d importants traffics et des problemes d insecurite ? …..
    Cordialement
    D Faivet

    Reply

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