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Tales of Carriacou Slooping in the Leeward Isles

By Tammy Sharp

Editor’s Note: In Antigua we met many skippers of these wonderful wooden sloops built in Carriacou, an island just north of and part of the country of Grenada. They needed crew to help get these sloops to St Barts for the West Indies Regatta. Our crew were ready for the task and did a great seamanlike job of it. This was part of their ‘final exam’ at the tail end of this excellent voyage around the world. The rest of us sailed onward in Picton Castle.

I stood alone on the pier at the low sandy island of Anguilla, feeling kinda emotional, as I watched my home for the past year sail away with all sails set – a beautiful and stirring sight! Picton Castle was on her way to St. Martin for fuel and some provisioning and she was leaving without me. My only company was Ragamuffin Jim (funky hand gesture included), a 62 year old Anguillian man who was fascinated by our ship and life on board, and who peppered me with a multitude of questions. He seemed nice enough, despite the fact he wasn’t wearing any pants, just a long t-shirt. I was later told he often doesn’t wear pants…

No, I hadn’t been left behind by mistake – I was about to embark on my own adventure, and although I was somewhat sad about watching Picton Castle leave, I was excited about the days ahead. I was going to be sailing in a Carriacou Sloop called Tradition from St. Martin to St. Barts for the upcoming West Indies Regatta, a regatta devoted to West Indian-built sailing vessels including many Carriacou-built wooden sloops.

A Carriacou sloop is a single-masted wooden boat that has been built on the beaches of Carriacou, a small Caribbean island in the Grenadines. Most were used for fishing, cargo hauling but also for smuggling, back in the day, (Ed note: back in the day?) between the islands. There are some small variances, some have tillers, others a wheel, some have winches, others block and tackle, but for the most part the design is unmistakable. Tradition carried cargo for many years and maybe just once in a while, maybe smuggled a little bit of rum.

My adventure had actually begun a few days prior in Antigua, when we were in attendence for the Antigua Classic Regatta – a regatta celebrating classic boats of all sizes and types, from smaller wooden sloops, medium sized schooners to the large and impressive J-boats with their massive sails and streamlined hulls. We as crew were encouraged to try and get on a boat to help crew for the days of the race. I managed to make it aboard a couple of schooners and had an blast! When we were about to leave I was asked if I wanted to sail from Antigua to Anguilla, our next stop, aboard a smaller, 40 foot Carriacou sloop. Her owners, Deb and Laurie, had just purchased her and needed some help sailing her home. Deb had sailed on Picton Castle on a previous voyage and had met Laurie two years prior at the same regatta. Of course I said “yes!” jumping at the chance for some more small boat sailing and so myself and Josh, one of my shipmates joined them aboard Pipe Dream.

As luck would have it, after we sailed from Falmouth, the winds died down completely – I mean not so much as a puff – and so after a night of bobbing around (at times it seemed like we were moving backwards) Picton Castle came to our rescue and offered us a tow. So much for my big experience of sailing a Carriacou sloop! But we still had a great time! It was a lot like camping – just on a boat. One day they sent lunch and cold drinks back to us from the Picton Castle. I should mention that Pipe Dream doesn’t have a motor – hence the need for a tow, nor does she have any bunks or cooking facilities, nor does she have a head per se – your only option is to position your backside off the stern. Not so bad, really, once you get the hang of it! 26 hours later Picton Castle cut us loose and we used the dingy to push ourselves into Road Harbor, Anguilla.

After a few days of fun and relaxation in Anguilla, I was once again given a chance to sail in a Carriacou sloop. This time it would be on Tradition, Deb and Laurie’s 50 foot sloop also built for cargo and smuggling aournd the islands, which was in St. Martin in dry dock getting an overhaul. As I watched my ship sail away, I texted Deb and said “I guess you’re stuck with me, let the adventure begin!” A few hours later we were also in St. Martin, setting to work getting the boat ready to hit the water, but it was not to be without challenges. Rain squalls prevented the bottom paint from going on and so it was delayed by a day. We cleared out eveything below decks in order to clean and properly restow, but we couldn’t restow until all the ballast was in. We enlisted the help of a local man who helped to move in all the lead “pigs” (really lead bricks but I have to sound “salty”, according to our second mate, Paul), then we needed to find sand to bag and use as extra ballast. I spent the day vacuuming below decks and cleaning out the main chart house area and restowing items there. Our hired man said he’d take care of the sand.

Day 2 found Deb and I taking the ferry to St. Martin, while Laurie, his son, Noah and their deck hand, Brennan, sailed Pipe Dream. They were bringing her over so that some of our crew could sail her to St. Barts to participate in the regatta. Once again, squalls and high seas, along with some other misfortunes, prevented them from making it in good time. The sand hadn’t shown up and it was just Deb and I. It was looking as if Tradition would not make it into the water in time to make it to St. Barts. Thankfully, Mate Mike, Paula, Dapper Dan and Robert showed up from Picton Castle and set to work on the rigging, the sand, and other jobs that needed doing. I caulked the deck where some of the boards had been replaced on the main deck. We were finally seeing progress! Laurie and the boys showed up just as Deb and I had leave for the last ferry back to Anguilla.

Day 3 found us meeting up with Laurie’s sister, Catherine and her husband, Gareth and another deck hand, Rumple, as we caught the first ferry over. Adrienne, another Picton Castle crew member also joined us. There was a flurry of activity as we set to getting the boat in order, hoping to make one of the draw bridge times. With the ballast in we could finally restow, but there were still delays. We still didn’t have any navigation lights. The bilge pump wasn’t working properly. A mishap with my swedish fid (basically a long, hollowed out metal spike) sent me to the emergency room with a gash in my chin. Not to worry, nothing a little super glue and a bandage couldn’t fix. After all was said and done, it was 4:30 pm by the time we hit the water. The only problem was, we had missed the outgoing bridge opening – would they allow us to leave through the 5:30 pm incoming bridge opening? The answer? No problem, mon! Gotta love the Caribbean and it’s laid back ways! Such wonderful people!

Soon we were out and on our way! We motor sailed out but without navigation lights we couldn’t sail in the dark so we put into Phillipsburg Harbor for the night. We would leave at first light. I had joked that instead of provisioning for a 6-8 hour sail it was more like for 8 days – now I was thankful we had!
At 6am the next morning we set sail and were on our way to St. Barts. We decided to motor sail in order to make it in good time since we were already a day behind and because we thought the race was to start that day. As it turned out it didn’t start until the next day so we had some time to finish various projects and do some socializing.

The next two days were full of fun and excitement as we raced. The winds were favorable, the seas not too big. It was fun to feel the boat heeling at some pretty steep angles – almost like being on a roller coaster! There was some competetiveness, a lot of camaraderie, and a bit of drama as we lost our engine one day and almost ended up on the rocks! All in all, an amazing time! I met some wonderful people and know that I have made some great friends. It was also a great feeling to put into practice a lot of what I’ve learned aboard Picton Castle. My adventure was so much more than sailing a boat and racing, it was the process of working together to make it happen – literally with blood, sweat and tears (yeah, I KNOW, there’s no crying in sailing, but that fid to the face did smart a bit!). My Carriacou sloop adventure was everything I’d hoped for and more. Can’t wait to do it again!

Lashing on a nav light box
PC and Good Expectation
Tammy and Adrienne with Deb on Tradition
Tammy caulking the deck
Tradition sails ahead

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