“another sailor passed close by on his dinghy. “Look up!” he said.”
We are now in Carriacou, one of the three inhabited islands that make up the nation of Grenada. We are anchored in Tyrell Bay in the south of the island. Just opposite the boatyard is a mangrove forest that we have paddleboarded to in the evenings while anchored here. Entering the mangrove forest is to experience a sudden stillness and peace. There is no wind, the water is flat and shimmering as a mirror and nothing stirs. Mangrove forests are what many boat owners use as a hurricane bolt hole instead of hauling their boat out. Sure enough, as we paddled through the forest we saw one or two abandoned boats, cast in mud, sails ripped to shreds. A sad end to what was once someone’s home; their tortoise shell; their floating nest; their transportation to see the wonders of the world. We took our snorkels with us and peeked into the crystal clear water. The roots floated, suspended in the water, pink corals clinging to these life sources. We followed the winding watery path through the trees until the end and then headed back to the bobbing waves and the myriad of aeolian sounds.
One morning, while having our breakfast, another sailor passed close by on his dinghy. “Look up!” he said. We clambered outside the cockpit tent. High above our heads the white sun was surrounded by a rainbow halo. We squinted, afraid to look for long. Luciano got it on camera, a safer way to observe it; for us, if not for the camera lens. These haloes are caused by the refraction of light from ice crystals, usually from cirrus clouds; so high up, they are frozen. The most common type of halo is caused by refraction at 22 degrees because most ice crystals are hexagonal. This refraction of the light causes the halo to be coloured. If the light is just reflected on the ice crystals and not refracted then the halo will be white.* This is one of the great benefits of sailing and living on a boat, you are often outside looking at the sky and you see not only beautiful sunsets, but also other astral phenomena as well. The appearance of haloes was used in early weather forecasting, as it may signify a weather front moving through and our witness to these features of the sky in conjunction with the constant need to check the weather when sailing is making us more aware of the interconnectedness of the cosmos. There’s so much to see up there, so much to learn and it’s all part of the human story. So, go camping, wrap up warm and at night, look up!
Just off the coast of L’Esterre Bay lies Sandy Island, a strip of purest white and pink sand fringed with palm trees. With a drop in the wind forecast for a couple of days, we took advantage to visit this stereotype of a desert island. We took a mooring buoy as it is a marine park with lots of turtles in the bay. On our first day we paddleboarded over to the island. Grenada and Carriacou were rocked by hurricanes back in 2004 and 2005. This ripped out the trees and caused large amounts of coral to be washed onto the island. The island is a popular getaway for locals and they replanted the palm trees which help maintain that gorgeous strip of sand in place. The dead coral is curious. It gives you the feeling of being in a giant elephant graveyard on the windward shore of the island, overlooking the waves lashing the coral rubble. However, the human touch is in evidence if you walk a little further, with stacks of coral arranged in little tors in places; elsewhere the coral forms low walls which have been used to form shallow mini lagoons, a warm place to wallow and lounge like a hippo. Then back over to the sandy leeward side you can enter the water and snorkel. We found some amazing coral formations, what I can only describe as lanterns of coral arranged in tiers, like Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club under the water. Look closely and fish are swimming, hiding in the lampshades. We swam round to the windward side and saw a small grey stingray hovering in the water before moving like a spaceship through the water at the speed of light.
The next day we visited the adjacent island of Mabouya. Also uninhabited, it has no visiting boats and we had the island to ourselves while we were there. A narrow sandy beach gives way to a densely vegetated and steep interior. While Luciano stayed down below to snorkel, I fought my way up to the top, clutching black pockmarked rocks and hearing the constant calling of the birds, who were no doubt nesting in the holes. The soil was dry and loose; branches dead and rocks giving way on touch in the light soil, I had to be careful to test each hand and foothold as I climbed higher, the birds calling constantly and alarmingly. At last, on the top, was a plateau and a clearing to walk through. Several of the trees had dark muddy nests, the presumed home of termites. Through a gap in the trees far below, I could see the whole of Sandy Island. I walked on, rustling noisily through the floor thickly and evenly carpeted with dead leaves. At the windward edge of the island was a ravine where two black headed laughing gulls perched, looking at each other. I stepped nearer to look over the edge and a sudden yellow streak ran out in front of me down into the ravine. It was an iguana, yellow skinned, with a coral coloured mohawk all the way down its spine. I peered into the ravine and it made another dash for it and that was the last time I saw it. I carried on round the island, eventually disturbing another iguana, just as speedy and nervous as the last one. I made my way back down to the bottom and climbed through the dense trees and over dead grey coral to meet Luciano on the beach.
The wind was due to pick up, so it was time to head back to the more sheltered Tyrell Bay. We were keen to visit more of Carriacou and so took our bikes and cycled up to the north of the island. We found our way off road, cycling through trees uphill in the heat of the day. Sweating and knackered we had to stop and push in places. Eventually we were rewarded with amazing views out over the sea and a smooth concrete road again. We carried on and stopped off at a turtle sanctuary. We pushed our bikes along a little dirt trail lined with conch shells until we reached the sand and the water’s edge and swam in the sea to cool off. But our target was the town of Windward, further round the coast. Putting our clothes back over our wet salty swimwear, we pedalled on around the northern coast to the windward side of the island, the namesake of the town. Windward has a long tradition of boatbuilding and we stopped to admire the work. We stopped at a little shop with a few wooden tables outside in the shade to have a rest and drink a cold refreshing drink. We met two brothers there. One, Tony, owned the shop and was a former sailor on cargo ships and has sailed all over the Caribbean Sea. His brother, John, was a former administrator of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, the smallest of the inhabited Grenadian islands. We got talking to them. John expounding on how the revolution changed the island for the better. Tony talked to us about the Grenadians’ pride in their African rooted traditions, such as offering libations to the ancestors when they construct a new building and urged us to visit a Maroon ceremony in the village of Bogles on Friday. We will write about this traditional African-rooted ceremony next week.
From Windward we cycled south to a village called Limlair. Limlair has the dubious honour of containing the largest well in Carriacou and dates from the 1740s. It is called the Ningo Well; Its large size was due to the processing of indigo at the plantation. This processing was done by slaves, many of whom were killed by the release of poisonous fumes during the transition from plant to dye. The name of the well - “Ningo,” derives from the word “indigo.” The indigo, cotton and sugar plantation was in use from 1750 until 1832. In 1835 the following sum in ‘compensation’ was paid to the slave owners of 279 slaves - £7186 12 shillings and six pence.** That’s close to a million pounds in today’s money. The nearby Tibeau Cemetery, still in use by the local community on a seafront site still bears the names of the slave owners. However, the slaves themselves do not not have the honour of their names etched into memorial stones. However, the site of the ruins of the plantation house has reproduced the hand written ledger of the slaves on the Limlair estate in 1835 and so some of these slaves at least have their names remembered and seen.
The next afternoon we decided to go for a relaxing walk. We walked from Tyrell Bay round the southern headland overlooking the uninhabited Mushroom, Little Mushroom, White and Saline islands. We passed by dry fields of goats and houses being constructed with lovely views of the windswept coast. Here in the Caribbean the prevailing wind comes from the east and so, on the windward sides of the island you will see the shapes of the trees blown exaggeratedly towards the west. This effect can also be seen to a lesser extent in the UK, where the prevailing wind is from the southwest (although far more changeable than here in the Caribbean.) Look out for it while walking, the excellent and readable books by Tristan Gooley, such as The Natural Navigator are a treasure trove of insight into natural signs you can observe while enjoying the outdoors. We followed the track right down to the shoreline. Here we saw a wondrous yet mysterious sight. The trees were covered in huge orange drapes, thick curtains of swathes of some sort of thin orange vine. Each tree looked like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family or Ludo from Labyrinth, with its gingery long hair lifting in the breeze as if it had a life of its own. Many of the dead tree stumps were covered in circular holes in the bark and into the branches themselves, no doubt caused by some insect. Crabs poked their heads out of little sandhole burrows. We walked up a hill to see over the land, a couple of sweet little houses on stilts guarded by barking dogs. Then back we walked, goats running excitedly before us back to our own little home on the water with two friendly furballs waiting for us.
* Met Office. 2022. Haloes and Coronas. [online] Available at: <https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/optical-effects/haloes-and-coronas> [Accessed 14 May 2022].
** Information displayed at the site, extracted from the book Martin, J., 2022. A~Z of Grenada heritage, New and Revised Edition. Oxford: Macmillan Caribbean.
This week's Vlog.