Saturday, 29 December 2012

Christmas in Grenada

‘Line!’ a loud shout from the back of the bar and a delighted figure bounds up to the stage. It is Bingo night at the Tiki Bar in Prickly Bay and about four hundred locals and a smattering of cruisers sit at trestle tables around an open air bar in a mood of noisy, happy laughter. A modern stage gleams incongruously under a chain of white Christmas lights where Coogi, a large Grenadian who happily announces that he is also the local mortician, holds court, calling out numbers in a deep lilting bass that is further amplified by the sound system.

Encouraged by shouts of ‘Ticket!’ from the crowd, he thrusts a large paw into a red Christmas stocking and produces a small piece of paper which he holds at arm’s length to read ‘tree, tree, tree, one, four, nine’.  Everyone scrutinises their raffle tickets while Coogi whips up the crowd by counting down ‘five, four, tree, two …..’.  ‘Ticket!’ shrieks an over excited woman who disengages herself from a table crammed with noisy supporters and bounces up to the stage, her ample figure barely contained by a tiny dress striped in green, yellow and red, the distinctive colours of Grenada.  Coogi reaches into his lucky dip bag, rummages around for theatrical effect, and then holds the prize aloft, a shiny hurricane lamp which delights the crowd who clap and shout as the winner undulates back towards her table, smiling and waving her trophy above her head. To our surprise, later in the evening, Jamie wins at Bingo and Tom Oxenham goes up on stage to collect his prize and to do the mandatory bingo dance along with the other winners.


We are on the island of Grenada with Tom and Jamie and our friends the Oxenhams. The Oxenhams are a large clan, comprising patriarch Kim, who sailed with me across the Atlantic, Tina his wife who has suffered long periods of his absence as a result, and their children Tom (23), Rory (21), Fi (18) and Zela (14), all charming and engaging.  We are staying in a villa owned by Will King, who I met sailing in the ARC in 2005 and who owns the eponymous King of Shaves company, a shaving products business which is challenging the supremacy of Gillette and Wilkinson Sword.  Kingfisher Villa is a large single storey building constructed from Venezuelan timber stained Malteser brown, with whitewashed walls and capped with a terracotta tiled roof. It sits in lush tropical gardens of exotic local palms, plumbago bushes and cerise bougainvillea around a deeply cushioned lawn which runs down to a pagoda and to the beach beyond.  Kingfisher is on the western side of Hartman Bay, a deeply indented natural harbour in dense jungle on the South coast of Grenada, protected from the Atlantic by a reef which is broken only by a narrow channel leading into the lagoon and up to the marina at Secret Harbour where Juno is docked, a stone’s throw away from the villa.

Christmas on Grenada is determinedly English, with Turkey, roast potatoes cooked on the barbecue, carrots, peas and bread sauce, topped off with apple crumble and custard. Obtaining these ingredients means raiding the larder on Juno and scouring the local supermarket on Christmas Eve, just like so many other families the world over. To our surprise Grenada is a very poor country, with few goods available in the shops and lacking the sophistication of the wealthier Caribbean islands. It seems curious to me that in this lush and fertile land even local fruits and simple staples such as eggs are in short supply, whereas more profitable produce are abundant and when I ask for limes at a roadside stall, the vendor shakes his head but offers me an ounce of ganja instead. I can’t help thinking that an entrepreneurial Grenadian with a country garden and few chickens could clean up.

The weather on Christmas morning is apocalyptic and we are awoken at 6am as a huge squall thunders overhead and the heavens open, releasing a deluge of rain and wind that hammers down on the roof and against the windows of our bedroom, overwhelming the hum of the air conditioner. We join Kim and Tina in the drawing room overlooking the pool and watch as the thunderstorm swirls around us whipping up the sea and tugging at the palms which simply bow in the gusts and then return to their languorous, graceful state having witnessed these angry attacks many times before. Even the water in the pool has breaking crests as the gusts streak across the lawn.  This is a full monsoon downpour and by the time it is over the lawn is covered in pools of standing water, unable to absorb the quantity of rain that has fallen in the past hour, the swimming pool is overflowing and cushions and sunbeds lie strewn around the terrace. The noise of the storm even penetrates the deep sleep of teenagers and slowly, one by one, the children emerge, sleepy eyed but with the excitement that only Christmas morning can bring. 

On Boxing Day we decide on a dinghy expedition so we fill up the tanks on Juno’s rib and the smaller rib from the villa, and we set off around the headland. One of the books that inspired me to visit Grenada was An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof, who sailed with her husband from the Great Lakes down the Intercoastal Waterway to the Caribbean and raptured about Hog Island in the neighbouring bay so I am keen to see some of the places she mentions. Our two heavily laden ribs bounce around in the stiff breeze spraying us all in warm sea water as we round the headland inside the reef and into the calmer waters of Clarkes Court Bay. All the bays here are thickly wooded down to the water’s edge where the mangroves reign, their roots woven into a giant interconnected system under the surface of the water. I always find it delightful that insurance companies, when specifying the acceptable methods of securing a yacht against the ravages of a hurricane, alongside steel cradles and sophisticated marinas, are quite happy for yachtsmen to sail their boats into the mangroves and make a spiders web of lines attached to the mangrove stems which are fiercely strong yet they bend and sway like natural shock absorbers, protecting their charges with ease from the howling gales which rip man’s sophisticated artificial defences out of the water and dash them against the shore.

Passing the anchorage behind Hog Island we continue under the causeway towards the village of Woburn where we tie up in the little marina at Whisper Cove. Doyle’s cruising guide, the bible for all cruisers in the Eastern Caribbean, tells us that the owners, Gilles and Marie, butcher their own meat so we have home-made beef burgers and chicken salad in the shade watching the to-ing and fro-ing of other cruisers with babies, laptop computers and shopping baskets filled with bread and meat from the local stalls. The Whisper Cove taxi has a flat battery so we all help to push as the local driver, with nerves of steel, bump starts the engine within inches of the edge of the water. ‘Starter motor’ he says with a smile and shrug and we wonder if the broken component failed this year or last year, not critical to be replaced as long as he can park on a hill or engage other volunteers to assist. The scene at Whisper Cove is delightful and exactly as I had imagined; a heron is perched on the mangroves, seemingly too indecisive to catch any of the many fish that jump and splash under its beak. A few live-aboard boats are tied up to the small dock, their owners ‘liming’ in the shade as the afternoon sun burns down on their faded canopies. 

Juno is docked in a small and very well protected marina at Secret Cove, at the head of the bay behind a headland, surrounded by mangroves and inside the lagoon, protected by the reef system.  Each day I go and check that her mooring lines are secure and that the gusting squalls have done no harm. Today as I fiddle with the lines I start to think about Juno’s exit from the marina and how best to leave as she is pinned hard onto the dock by the trade winds. Unlike the Mediterranean where the winds in the summer are mostly thermal breezes created by the difference in temperature between the sea and the land, the Caribbean is continuously washed by the trade winds, caused by air from high pressure belts in the horse latitudes being drawn into the lower pressure area around the equator and then deflected towards the west by the Coriolis effect of the earth spinning in an easterly direction. As a result there is no period of flat calm in the early morning as seen in the Mediterranean when one can dry out sails or climb a mast while the sea is like glass. Here, the Christmas winds are a fact of life, their cooling breeze keeping the temperature at a constant 80 degrees Fahrenheit, day and night and pinning Juno to the dock 24 hours a day. 

The traditional way to prise a boat off a lee dock is to use a line connected to the shore amidships and attached to the stern of the yacht. By reversing hard against this lever it has the effect of pushing the stern onto the dock and swinging the bows out into the wind, but it does require lots of fenders around the stern quarter to protect the topsides from the dock.  When space allows, I prefer to use a different technique: by turning the wheel towards land on full lock, the rudder blade is angled under water towards the dock. When the prop starts to turn it washes water against the ruder blade pushing the stern out and with a quick squirt from the bow thruster Juno magically moves out sideways from the dock in a very satisfying manner. It is however important to spin the wheel rapidly in the other direction when underway because once we have steerage, the rudder will steer the boat back straight back onto the dock. It sounds completely unintuitive but with a bit of practice it’s a simple way to leave the dock and one that I will employ when I leave Hartman Bay on Sunday. Fatty is returning to the UK with the boys and the Oxenhams while I take Juno to Port Louis, the marina in St Georges, to do some much needed maintenance.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and I wish you a Happy New Year and thank you for all the comments on the blog from Kerry, Caspar, Oults, C, Consuelo, Paul, Rich, Andrew, Jeannette, Ruth and the anonymous Australian who has asked for Fatty to be sent to his cave in Sydney.


  1. Happy New Year and happy sailing in 2013, Fatty & Frewie. Much love from 'Suelo and the other Windsors xx

  2. there is one mystery - 'while I take Juno to Port Louis, the marina in St Georges, to do some much needed maintenance.' - single handed?

  3. In fact we are thinking of going for a day sail and snorkelling today on Juno so we will probably deliver Juno back to Port Louis this afternoon so i will have lots of help - but thanks for the offer!

  4. Happy new year from a very stormy and blustery Cornwall-spectacular tides and extra water hazards all over the golf course!
    Loads of love Naylors xxxxx

  5. Happy New Year Katie from a hot and sunny Grenada. Love to everyone.