Grenada's South Coast:
Yacht Services on a Rising Tide
The south coast of the Spice Isle of the Caribbean is indented with bays and coves which have long made the area a gunk-holer's heaven. Stimulated by the "gold platers" heyday of the 1960s, when Grenada's capital, St. George's, was the southern turn-around point for the big crewed charter yachts plying up and down the Windwards, yacht facilities spread to the island's southern shores in the late 1960s and early '70s, starting with the Lance Boatyard and Spice Island Charters at Prickly Bay.
These was a brief downturn in yachting activity while the People's Revolutionary Government was briefly in power (1979 to '83), as yachts were subject to search by soldiers looking for "counter-revolutionaries" and Grenada's best hurricane hole, Port Egmont, was officially off limits and rumored to be a secret Russian submarine base. But the boating business in the Spice Isle soon regained buoyancy with the south coast in a starring role, as evidenced by The Moorings charter company's placement of a new Caribbean charter base marina at Mount Hartman Bay (a.k.a. Secret Harbour) in the late '80s.
By early 1998, demand for haulout facilities had grown at such a rate that Grenada Marine, with services and hand-stand space for some 200 boats, was established in St. David's Harbour and quickly filled. Horizon Yacht Charters was established in 1996 in Tortola, BVI, and in 2000 opened a Grenada charter base marina at True Blue Bay. Meanwhile, Spice Island Charters had become Spice Island Marine Services, which soon outgrew the original site and in 2003 completed a move across Prickly Bay to become a spacious, full-service boatyard. For dockage, Clarke's Court Bay Marina was developed in the bay of the same name with 56 slips. The various marinas and boatyards attracted ancillary services (such as chandleries, sail lofts, laundries, guardianage, etcetera) like iron filings to a magnet, and The Moorings' Rum Squall Bar helped make Mount Hartman Bay a popular cruisers' anchorage. When The Moorings moved its Southern Caribbean base to Canouan in 2003, the Mount Hartman Bay premises were taken over by Martin's Marina which continues to provide slips and services to both charter and private yachts.
Nobody would wish a hurricane on any island, but as Jol Byerly wrote in Hart and Stone's 1976 A Cruising Guide to the Caribbean and the Bahamas about 1974's independence-related civil unrest temporarily driving yachts away from Grenada, "As my Auntie Mabel used to say, 'Nothing beats a nice good cleanout,' and now, with everyone a little wiser, things are looking up once more."
Well, things are again looking up in Grenada since Hurricane Ivan's mean sweep in 2004, or as Grenadians themselves say, "We've built back better." And more.
On a visit in August 2007, just shy of three years after Ivan, we found, in addition to new developments elsewhere on the island, that Grenada's south coast yacht facilities continue to expand. Long-established businesses offer more services and locations, new facilities are springing up, and amenities undreamed of in the old days - such as free WiFi - are widely available.
Join us on our recent week's tour along Grenada's south coast, from east to west.
We arrived at True Blue Bay just in time for sundowners at the open-air Dodgy Dock bar and restaurant, standing out over the water. The location formerly sported a friendly but slightly scruffy little joint where you fetched your own drinks from the bar and sat on those generic plastic chairs under a seagrape tree. But on this afternoon, we were reminded of the old Monty Python "torture" routine ("Not the comfy chair!") as we sank into overstuffed rattan furniture under a rather majestic sail-like awning and were brought drinks by attentive bar staff as lights blinked on aboard the yachts in the anchorage. At the foot of the dock, pretty True Blue Bay Resort and Marina appeared to be putting on its final polish for the coming high season. Horizon Yacht Charters, located here (see cover photo), is run by active sailors James and Jacqui Pascall and launched a new private yacht management program in May of this year.
Yes, we thought, there have been changes. And yes, it felt good to be back.
Around the headland in the western arm of Prickly Bay the next day, the boatyard at Spice Island Marine Services (SIMS) was comfortably full of yachts hauled out for the summer. Manager Justin Evans welcomed us into his office and outlined the yard's state-of-the-art storage methods, range of available services and plans (stay tuned!) for future developments. After lunch at the on-site, waterside restaurant, De Big Fish, sailmaker Richard Szyjan showed us around his large Turbulence loft which is capable of making and repairing the biggest sails and tackling all sorts of rigging jobs. Richard admits that although the house he'd been living in was totaled in Ivan, the storm brought a silver lining: lots of sail repair and rigging work for his team.
Out in Prickly Bay, dozens of yachts were anchored, enjoying life on the hook within easy dinghy reach of SIMS, the pretty beach at the head of the bay, a handful of hotels and restaurants including the immortal Red Crab (a short stroll), and the fuel dock and Essentials mini-market at Prickly Bay Marina on the east shore. Customs and Immigration is here, too. The area where boats used to haul out on the east side of the bay is now sprouting some oddly Dubai-esque condos, but the wide boardwalk in front of them is a big improvement over (literally) what was at one time a slimy concrete seawall.
Time constraints prevented visits to Mount Hartman Bay and Hog Island this trip, but in our search for the latest developments for yachts we forged eastward to the new Whisper Cove Marina in Clarke's Court Bay. Unfortunately, it was closed when we arrived unannounced, the manager being away on vacation, but this looks like a little gem of a place with a tiny restaurant and well-sheltered dockage for a small handful of boats in a location that's within easy dinghy distance of the village of Lower Woburn (via the Island View dock), Clarke's Court Bay Marina, the Hog Island anchorage, a proposed new marina in the next cove to the east (Petit Calivigny), and the new Le Phare Bleu Marina around the next point.
Speaking of which, Le Phare Bleu Marina, situated about mid-way between Grenada's two main haulout yards, is currently the most ambitious new yachting facility on Grenada's south coast. Although the floating docks were still being completed, many of the eventual complement of 60 slips were already occupied, and yacht owners, crews and service personnel were in busy evidence. And although construction was still in progress on the buildings ashore, well-established ancillary businesses such as The Canvas Shop and Island Dreams Yacht Services had already relocated here. Dieter and Jana from Switzerland are the masterminds behind the project, and we couldn't help but think of well-oiled clockwork as Dieter spoke precisely and knowledgeably about the overall project and proudly showed us around the century-old lightship that is the marina's centerpiece. The lightship's bridge is now a cozy restaurant, and on the main deck are immaculate toilet and shower facilities (plumbed to a sewage system to protect the bay) for the marina's clients. Although this bay is protected from nearly all directions, we wondered what conditions might be like in the event of heavy weather from the southeast. Dieter noted that during the most of the year the prevailing tradewinds are from the northeast, and the occasional southerly breeze in the heat of summer is actually welcome. Nevertheless, some moorings have already been placed and space is also available to anchor off in case conditions at the floating docks should ever become uncomfortable. And if worse comes to worst, the hurricane hole of Port Egmont is just around the next headland.
Proceeding ever eastward, Port Egmont and Calivigny Harbours provided peaceful and as yet undeveloped anchorages for a few self-sufficient liveaboards, although we heard - and at this point, were not surprised - that a new marina is being planned for Egmont. At the nearby picturesque cove of Petit Bacaye, only a couple of small open fishingboats graced the water off a little thatched-hut resort and restaurant, although Doyle's guide says it's a possible anchorage in settled weather.
Around Little Bacolet Point, we arrived at Grenada Marine in St. David's Harbour and took the opportunity for a good look at the wide variety of vessels hauled out and well strapped down for the off season, before tucking into a generous West Indian Saturday lunch of barbecued ribs with rice and peas, macaroni pie, ground provisions and salad at the boatyard's beach-side bar/restaurant. It felt indulgent to linger, swigging an icy Carib or two, while a boatowner worked on his hull nearby in the noonday sun, apparently unaware, or uncaring, that this was the Emancipation holiday weekend. Several cruising boats were anchored out, and another sailed in (yes, sailed, not motored) as we watched. Dinghies and fishingboats came and went from the dock; children played in the sand; a puppy wobbled up the restaurant steps. In addition to the other on-site workshops, Turbulence has just opened a new sail loft and rigging shop here, which should generate additional activity - when the long weekend is over, of course.
The next day, Grenada Marine's owner/operators Jason and Laura Fletcher popped over to the next bay, La Sagesse, to join us for lunch and show us that their business is not the only thing in their lives that's been growing since the last time we were in Grenada: they've got 18-month-old twins! Although the bay itself is a bit shallow and sometimes rolly as an anchorage, La Sagesse Resort, like Bel Air Plantation at St. David's Harbour, provides a serene escape for those in search of an antidote to drudgery in the boatyard. From Grenada Marine, you can take a footpath over the hill and walk to the far end of the unspoiled La Sagesse beach for drinks, lunch and a swim at the small resort, and dinner and a few nights ashore if the boatwork is all too much. (Or you can request free transportation from the boatyard when making your meal or room reservation.) La Sagesse Resort, with the only buildings on the entire shoreline and proudly free of motorized watersports, was originally the estate of the sixth Lord Brownlow. Since our last visit, just a few simple, new rooms have been added and the lobby and excellent restaurant are now in a beautifully designed, airy wood-and-stone structure right on the sand.
And here we ended our tour of Grenada's south coast. If we went any farther east, we'd be in one of Don Street's secret anchorages. But that's another story.
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