Hurricane Season Cruising
June and July were gentle months weatherwise with no significant depressions to worry about. Then, on 1 August, the switch for the hurricane season was flicked on.
We were in Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou, when The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) started to give warnings about a depression that turned into Hurricane Ernesto.
Initial tracking forecasts showed Ernesto going through the Grenadines which meant that Carriacou was not a good place to be. As it was the Carriacou Regatta, we were reluctant to leave but forecasts continued to show Ernesto coming our way. We decided to sail south to Greneda, and if necessary, keep going towards Trinidad.
As we sailed down the western coast of Grenada, we checked the NHC forecast again. This showed Ernesto tracking slightly further north to go over St Lucia which, for us anyway, was good news. We opted to pull into Prickly Bay in the south of Grenada for the night but with the intention of checking the 0400 forecast and then head out south towards Trinidad, if Ernesto was not going further north.
Prickly Bay is normally a crowded anchorage but we were surprised to find it relatively empty as we dropped anchor. Had we read the weather wrong? Soon after anchoring, a South African from a catamaran came over in his dinghy for a chat and told us that many boats had gone to Port Egmont (a mangrove lagoon) to hole up for the storm. However, he had heard on the VHF radio that Egmont lagoon was so crowded with boats that it was chaos; he reckoned where we were in Prickly was probably safer. At this stage I just wanted my Mummy!
Up at 0400, ready to go to sea again, we checked the forecast. Ernesto was now tracking north of St Lucia. The trend was looking better for us; with an easier mind we went back to bed. In the end, Ernesto went north of Martinique. We stayed in Prickly Bay and had an uncomfortable 12 hours of swell as the tail end of Ernesto affected Grenada but we had no more than 25kts of wind.
After a few days, we sailed north again to the Grenadines but before leaving Grenada we celebrated Chris's big 50th birthday. I searched high and low and went to great expense to get her a surprise big birthday card:
For those of you who haven't been on board, or don't recognize it, the 'card' is the back of the loo door. Fortunately, for me, Chris appeared to like it! The door is back on again, still wishing her a happy 50th. Being keen on recycling, I have a germ of an idea for her 51st..............
For the next 2 weeks we sailed around Carriacou, Petite Martinique and Petit St Vincent enjoying the virtually empty anchorages. We anchored off the tiny island of Mopian (about the size of a tennis court) which is picture postcard stuff of the Caribbean. In the high season this idyll is a mass of bodies but we had it to ourselves.
Cruising in the hurricane season can be stressfull but there can be moments of pure bliss: Mopian Island was magic.
With the NHC forecasting another deep depression that could affect us, we sailed back to Tyrrel Bay, Carriacou, to watch the development of the depression. The 4 day grib forecast looked particuarly nasty:
Sat at the nav table, looking at the above forecast, I felt, for the second time in 3 weeks, that I wanted my Mummy - and that shopping in Tescos on a rainy day in Plymouth was an attractive option.
Not convinced that heading south would be a good idea, we decided to stay put in Carriacou and hole up in Tyrrel Bay mangrove lagoon if needed. With a draft of less than a metre with the centreboard/rudder up we could enter the large inner lagoon. Boats with a draft of more than around 1.3m can only enter the far smaller outer lagoon which meant that the inner lagoon would have plenty of space for us if we had to seek protection and prepare for a hammering.
Two days later NHC was forecasting that the depression, which developed into Hurricane Isaac, was turning further north. The sky took on a menacing look but we started to relax a little as the forecasted track continued to the north.
Isaac passed over the Lesser Antilles about 200 miles north of us. Although we had escaped the worst, we knew that Isaac was an intense depression and that, as he went west, we would start to get some westerly winds and swell that would make Tyrrel Bay a lee shore and consequently open to the weather. The forecast was for only a few hours of unfavourable conditions so, along with everybody else, we stayed put. Not a good decision. Just before dusk, and in the space of 40 minutes, Tyrrel Bay became a dangerous lee shore as the swell rapidly increased and the wind started gusting over 25 knots from the open sea to the west.
The anchorage was crowded: definitely not a good place to be. As it grew dark, we made the decision to put out to sea for the night. After a struggle recovering the anchor in the bucking conditions that had our bow taking green water, we motored out of the bay relieved to be away. We saw one other boat leave with us; the rest stayed. We went 5 miles offshore. Then under staysail only we reached up and down the Carriacou coast for the night in very confused seas and winds gusting 40+ kts. For the whole night we had spectacular thunder and lightning, accompanied by torrential rain that made it difficult to see the front of the boat. Doing one hour stints at the wheel, the night passed quickly. The VHF radio was constantly live with chatter of boats dragging back in the bay.
At dawn, with the seas abating and the wind backing to the south - making Tyrrel protected - we crept back into Tyrrel Bay, totally exhausted but feeling sure that we had made a good decision to put to sea for the night. As we motored in and saw the damage to some of the boats that had stayed, we knew that we had done the right thing. A better decision would have been to go into the mangrove lagoon before the swell arrived. If there is a next time, we will go into the lagoon earlier. Still, all ended well for us and safely back in the bay, with the hook down, we were asleep within seconds.
As we enjoy the mellow atmosphere of Carriacou, we stayed another 4 weeks but this time explored White Island and Saline Island to the south of Carriacou. The small anchorage at Saline is a dream for shallow draft boats:
At White Island, in company with Sally and Dylan (S/V Orion) and Kevin (S/V Vagabundo), we had a superb beach bbq thanks to Dylan's skill at lobster catching.
On White Island, as we were preparing the bbq and dusk fell, we started to feel things running over our feet. Looking down, we saw the culprits: hermit crabs - hundreds of them. With so many willing volunteers, why not have a hermit crab race? Select your crab, put him/her in the middle of a circle drawn in the sand, switch the torch off - and off they go. First to reach the outside of the circle wins. Top tip here: small is fast - see the winner top right of this picture:
Note: No Hermit crabs were harmed in this event
With our cooking gas supply starting to run low, we relunctantly left Saline Island to head for Grenada and fresh supplies.
Not having been in a marina for 6 months, we are now treating ourselves to the luxury of mains power, running water and swimming pool at the fabulous Port Louis Marina. With a heat index constantly in the high 30sC, we are revelling in the luxury of unlimited fresh water showers; we are very easily pleased nowadays...........
Only another 6 weeks of the official hurricane season left. Fingers crossed that we don't have any late comers to quicken our heart rates again.
Tropical Storm Isaac
White Island BBQ