After four days in the Tobago Cays, the anchor is up for the short downwind run to Chatham Bay on the west coast of Union Island. Chatham Bay is a large, wide-open anchorage surrounded by steep hills. It is appropriate for cruisers seeking protection from the easterly trades and entertainment at the half dozen beach bars that dot the shore.
Other than a few fishermen shacks, there are no dwellings here. Recently, the government constructed a dirt road that connects Chatham Bay to other areas of Union Island. As a result, the number of beach bars increased from one to six. With the sudden increase in competition and the relatively small numbers of cruising boats calling here, these establishments are apparently struggling economically to survive.
Soon after the anchor is set, Cutter Loose is approached by a parade of small boats. After two seasons in the Eastern Caribbean, we have grown accustomed to visits from all manner of salesmen. Typically, they offer fish, lobster, fruits, vegetables, T-shirts and taxi services. Today, our visitors are beach restaurateurs offering information about their lunch and dinner specials. They urge us to make a menu selection and a reservation so that they can prepare adequately.
Our lunch of grilled tuna, fried plantain, rice and slaw at Jerry’s Palm Leaf Bar is delicious and the staff is attentive and engaging. After lunch, we learn about the underhanded tactics used by some of the Chatham Bay restaurant owners to attract business. One owner informs us that his outboard motor has been stolen by a competitor, preventing his marketing outreach to incoming yachts. Another owner allegedly informs visitors that her competitors have recently closed their restaurants for the season.
Everyone seems to agree that there are fewer yachts visiting Union Island these days. At least in part, this is the result of a 2013 incident at the Frigate Island anchorage a few miles south of here in which a cruising boat was boarded by would-be thieves brandishing machetes. Cutter Loose is one of a dozen cruising boats anchored in Chatham Bay tonight. Although Chatham Bay has not heretofore been unsafe in any way, safety in numbers is comforting.
Truthfully, we have been uncomfortable with Union Island ever since an aggressive boat boy by the name of Tiger harassed us in Clifton Harbor in April, 2013. The boat boys here rent moorings, some of which do not belong to them and others of which have been known to go adrift. There is very limited space to anchor in Clifton Harbor given the preponderance of local boats, an abundance of visiting yachts, an increasing number of moorings and the narrowness of the channel between the reefs. The boat boys hover near the entrance to the harbor, knowing full well that many skippers will relent and agree to a mooring after several unsuccessful attempts at anchoring. Ashore, Clifton seems to attract an element of substance abusers and persons with mental disabilities. To be certain, this element is a small percentage of the population, but sufficient to inspire caution when walking the streets of Clifton.
Why would one choose to visit Clifton Harbor? It is an outpost in the wilderness, the southernmost community in the Grenadines and an official port of entry to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Yachts call here to fulfill clearance responsibilities at the Customs office. It is the price to be paid for the privilege of visiting the Tobago Cays.
On Tuesday, 4/1, the anchor is up in Chatham Bay. Cutter Loose is underway, motoring into the wind and leaving the reef surrounding Frigate Island to port en route to Clifton Harbor. The harbor is crowded with visiting yachts, as usual. Waving off the solicitations of local boat boys, we proceed quickly to a small opening inside the reef where the hook grabs solidly on the sandy bottom. Because the anchorage is crowded, Cutter Loose is on a short 3:1 scope…not ideal, but hopefully sufficient given the short duration of our stay.
We are greeted at the dinghy dock by a topless woman of African descent wearing what initially appears to be a diaper but turns out to be an over-sized pair of men’s briefs. She is screaming angrily at nobody in particular. Presumably, this is the official Chamber of Commerce welcome to Clifton.
Officers at the harborfront Customs office inform us that instead of working at their office in the village, Immigration officials are working at the airport today. They instruct us to proceed to the airport where both Customs and Immigration can be accomplished simultaneously. Thankfully, the airport is but a 20 minute walk from the harbor. The Immigration officer at the airport cannot understand why we have been instructed to clear here rather than at the village office. After several minutes of confusion and indecision, both Customs and Immigration officers agree to process our paperwork. We are officially cleared for departure from SVG.
Mission accomplished, it is a brief stop at the bakery and a visit to the friendly ladies at the fruit stand before returning to Cutter Loose. The total elapsed time of our visit is less than two hours. The anchor is up and we are underway from Clifton Harbor without incident or negative encounter of any kind, notwithstanding the fact that our visit here is unsettling.
Our destination of Petit St. Vincent is only five miles southeast from Clifton Harbor. Unfortunately, a passing squall increases the wind speed to 20+ knots from the direction of our destination. Rather than motor into six foot frothy seas, we opt instead for a comfortable broad reach to Tyrrel Bay on the island of Carriacou.
Tyrrel Bay is a large protected body of water nearly surrounded by a semi-circular beach. It is an official port of entry to the nation of Grenada and Carriacou. The harbor is filled with work boats and cruising yachts. There is a small community of liveaboards that spend the entire year in Tyrrel Bay. Since the Customs office at the boatyard remains open until 4:30 PM, there is plenty of time to clear in before quitting time. This is our final clearance of the season, since Cutter Loose will remain in Grenada again during the forthcoming Atlantic hurricane season.
To our surprise and delight, cruising friends Paula and Scott are sanding and painting the hull of Scherzo in the yard. We enjoy a barbeque chicken dinner together at the boatyard restaurant. On Wednesday 4/2, we join in an afternoon cruiser’s game of Mexican Train dominoes where we learn some new twists that add interest and intrigue to the game. Tomorrow, it is on to Grenada in what will be our final open-water sail of the season.