Sailing from St. Barths on May 3, 2011, the Picton Castle made her way to the south, bound for the Grenadines in the Windward Isles of the Eastern Caribbean. On the morning of May 7th, she dropped anchor in the harbour outside the peaceful port town of Hillsborough, Carriacou. While a part of the nation of Grenada, Carriacou in unique unto itself.
We had arrived in Carriacou at the very end of the Caribbean tourist season and found ourselves among just a handful of visitors to the island. As continued to be a regular occurrence, the Captain was greeted by several friends as we arrived by skiff to clear in with Customs and Immigration. During his days on the Romance the Captain was then just a young deckhand newly establishing himself as a mariner and gaining skills as he could. It was the talented shipwrights he met in these islands – in particular Carriacou and mainland Grenada – that taught him the finer skills of wooden ship-building and repair.
Dunstin Bristol met us by the dock in his taxi-bus, ‘My Apology’. During the next few days, as he took the crew on tours around the island, we learned that he had known the Captain since they were both teenagers. It was his father, Mathias, who had taught the Captain how to caulk and shape timbers and planks. The Captain used to stay with Dunstin’s family while in Carriacou, sleeping on the floor next to them and sharing their world as few foreigners do. Dunstin told me the story of how his mother, wishing the Captain to feel at home, made him a very western influenced meal one night. The Captain ate the meal politely, but afterward expressed his desire to eat what the rest of the family was eating, the local fare; fish, chicken, peas & rice. It was one of many insights into the man we call Captain and only reinforced why we choose to travel the world on the Picton Castle with him.
As I was sitting by the beach one day a man approached me. He was also from North America and we got to talking, as you do, when someone says hello. After talking to me for a while, he asked what I thought of the island. I told him that I loved it, that I felt so at home here, that I did not yet wish to leave, and that I was already planning my next visit – perhaps during the Carriacou Regatta next summer. He looked surprised by my answer and he told me that Carriacou was just not for him and that other (touristy, westernized, ‘developed’) islands were more his style. And in that moment a part of me wished that this man could experience what we were experiencing. That is, the opportunity to sail around the world; stay in home-stays; meet, live, sail, dance and work with the locals. It opens your eyes as much as it opens your heart to travel in this way… but each to his own.
For it is the people, even more than the breathtaking interior, stunning white sand beaches and healthy untouched reefs, that makes this island truly remarkable. On the first day ten of us piled into ‘My Apology’ and went for a cross island tour with Dunstin. Speeding across the hilly island, we got our first glimpse of its beauty. Largely untouched by building development – pastures yield to verdant forest which cede to community gardens which surrender to sloping cliffs overlooking stunning bays and natural harbours. The blossoming fertility of the island, carried by a soft breeze, entered through the windows and mesmerized us. As we barrelled down the road, Dunstin honked his horn in greeting as we passed by his friends, family and neighbours, and in warning at the wandering goats or chickens that frequented the middle of the roads.
Stopping at Paradise Bay we met with Joy and Joseph, who own a little restaurant right on the beach called the Hardwood Bar at Paradise Beach. On display at the bar, was a picture of the Picton Castle, given to them on a previous visit. We happily played in the water and picked up a few souvenirs from Fidel Productions – a little seaside shop run by Sandra and Luca. (Luca and his brother Kyle both sailed on the Picton Castle in the past and their father, Dave Westergard, is building two schooners at the Lunenburg Dory Shop). Then we continued on our tour.
During the late afternoon we ended up in Windward, where the Carriacou sloops are built, a cool breezy community on the windward side of the island. Stopping at one of the boat yards we walked among the frame that had built at least one Carriacou sloop we knew, Alexis’s Genesis, but undoubtedly many others too. Moored out in the harbour we could see the Maghita, a 40 footer with no engine used for fishing and owned by a lovely man named Uncle C, and New Moon, owned by Dave Goldhill, which some of us had sailed in the West Indies Regatta. As the sun swooped toward the horizon, we made our way to Bernard and Laura’s rum shop (editors note: a “rum shop” is just a name for an informal plywood built outdoor pub; rum consumption is not required), where we reunited with some familiar faces. Chinton and Carl (Windward boat builders) were both in St. Barths and sailed with us during the Regatta, and Dave. We also met Uncle C, Bernard and Laura and their children and grandchildren and many other local boat builders. As we sat on wooden benches overlooking the water it was hard not to feel completely content. These men and women worked incredibly hard, and possibly as a consequence, also knew how to relax. With the exception of the rowdy games of dominos on the front stoop, almost a contact sport hereabouts, everybody just chilled out. There was some conversation, but there was also a lot of comfortable silence.
The next few days carried on in a similar fashion. Dunstin continued to take the crew on tours of the island, several of the crew hiked into the hills, many hung out at Paradise beach and the crew inevitably frequented Laura and Bernard’s rum shack. On the second night a fish fry was organized. When the entire off-watch crew showed up for the fish fry Laura was a little overwhelmed by the numbers. Paula and I volunteered to help in the kitchen and spent the next hour or two frying French fries and fish and learning some Carriacou cooking techniques.
On our last night in Carriacou Dave invited the crew to his place for a celebratory gathering. Overlooking Windward, high on a cliff, Dave’s place was quite spectacular and a fantastic spot to spend our last evening. He cooked up a gigantic cauldron of fish soup and as we ate we mingled with our new-found friends, making promises to come back to Carriacou. The genuine warmth of everyone we met was something we will not soon forget. If you ever want to stay in sweet Caribbean cottages overlooking the sea in the West Indies, you must check out: www.carriacoucottages.com.
As we sailed out of Hillsborough on the morning of May 10th, we took a few guests with us. Uncle C and his son; Dave and his daughter and a guest of Dave’s who goes by the name of ‘Button’ sailed with us to Mainland Grenada.
Until the next time Carriacou!!! Thank you!!!
(PS – In the photo labelled “Brad and an abandoned boat” that is the 50 foot gaff rigged sloop Vaeta which used to carry the mail back and forth from Grenada. Capt Horace Martineau and our Captain sailed in her many times.)