By Kate “Bob” Addison
As crew on Picton Castle you get pretty familiar with long ocean passages, two or three thousand nautical miles, maybe a month or so out of sight of land and often whole oceans between port visits – all pretty standard, pretty cool but no big deal. But it’s pretty novel to be here island hopping in the gorgeous Caribbean, where you can often see your next destination before you’ve even left the last.
Navigating is fun amongst these islands too – no need for celestial navigation here where it’s all about visual pilotage, but you can still pull out a sextant to measure the height of hills or radio towers on nearby islands to work out your distance off and get a position fix – surprisingly accurate this.
All hands were called early on Wednesday morning to get underway from Grenada, bound for Mayreau, where the Captain promised us there would be almost nothing to do except sail our small boats about – ideal. Nicole made good, hot coffee before wake-ups, so caffeine fuelled we turned to in the lovely morning light, hoisted the skiff, heaved up the anchor, and got underway. We arrived at Union Island by noon, dropped the hook and launched the skiff to go ashore to clear in. Mayreau is part of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and there’s no port of entry (or airport, or bank) on the tiny island, so we had to make a short call at Union to clear in first.
We anchored off the town of Ashton in the lee of Union Island, and made the hot and hilly, but short cross-island hike to Clifton to visit Customs and Immigration. Clifton is a bright and cheerful town, seeming to cater pretty well to visitors in boats, with upmarket resort wear and souvenir stores and several fancy places eager to part you with your dollars in exchange for delicious-looking cool drinks, plates of grilled lobster or enormous ice-cream creations. There is a stone wall running the length of the waterfront, dividing a sort of moat from the sea beyond, and little stone arched bridges that people can run their dinghies under to tie them up at the sheltered docks inside. The fruit and vegetable stands in the market looked particularly beautiful here with their bright, shiny produce stacked up in the painted wooden stalls.
But we were headed for Mayreau and the stunning Tobago Cays on the other side of the island, so we hopped in a mini bus to take us back to Ashton and the ship; we had the anchor at the rail again by 4pm. It is not far at all from Union to Mayreau, but the wind was fair so we set all sail – and then took it all in again just half an hour later when we reached our anchorage at pretty Saline Bay on the west side of Mayreau.
We launched all three of the ship’s sailing boats: Cutter Sydney, Dory Sea Never Dry and the long boat monomoy, first thing in the morning and towed all three near the beach to anchor where we could rig them up ready to go sailing. Proceedings were delayed slightly by a broken main-boom, but a quick fix with epoxy and wood screws was plenty strong enough for sailing and was done before we’d finished stepping her mast and rigging the other boats. So then masts stepped, bow sprits run out, all shrouds and stays tensioned; spars and sheets lashed in place and sails bent; rudders and tillers fitted; check the centreboard (Sea Never Dry) and leeboard (the monomoy) – Sydney has a keel instead. Then checked we have all the required gear: life jackets, bailers, extra bits of string, anchors, oars and a waterproof chart and we’re ready to go sailing! And we had a bright blue-sky sunny wind buffeted day for it too.
The gang piled aboard from the skiff with snorkelling gear, cameras, bottles of water and sunscreen and stash everything between and below the thwarts, trying to keep the boat balanced with all those people moving about doing last minute jobs. Then with everything stowed and ready we set sail with head to wind, heaved up the tiny anchors, beared away and we were off, water creaming up in the bow wave, sails filling and masts and spars creaking gently as they take up the strain. The crew have to move quickly from inboard to the rail and back again to balance the boats as the gusts fill the sails and then ease off just as abruptly. We take turns steering with the tiller or looking after the sheets to pull the sails in and out depending on where the wind is coming from. Small boat sailing really does help teach seamanship, as the effects of an unbalanced boat, carrying too much sail or steering too close to the wind are pretty obvious when your lee rail ducks under and the boat starts filling up with water, or the sails luff up. But mostly it’s just such good fun!
Ashore in Mayreau was chilled out and pretty, with a few informal beach bars and places to buy colourful t-shirts and sarongs. The only road on the island leads up the hill to the only village but there are a couple of restaurants perched on the hill with tables outside and gorgeous views.
We could have happily stayed much longer here, but we have plenty of other places to go, so early on Friday morning we hoisted all three boats back aboard and got ready to sail for Bequia all of 22 miles away.