After a brief lunchtime stop at the very beautiful Palm Island, we entered the chaos of Clifton on Union Island so that we could clear out St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Newlands Reef is the only feature keeping the sea reasonably flat in Clifton Harbour, but it delivers no protection from the wind. Blasting through the bay at anywhere between 14 and 35 knots, it can make things lively in here. That’s why Clifton is so popular with kite surfers. As a place for yachtsman, however, being battered by the wind and having to hunt for a patch of sand in which to anchor, amongst all the weed and mooring balls, makes it far from ideal.
After a long search, we managed to drop our anchor in one of the few sandy spots around, but the trade-off for secure holding was that Lady Jane was very close to a shoal area. So, when a catamaran came along and anchored behind us I thought he was pushing it a bit. And sure enough, after a few minutes, I heard the rattle of chain as the catamaran skipper shortened anchor scope to bring the boat forward, shouting across to me that he is in too-shallow water. He ended up about four metres from the back of us and, seemingly happy with that, he went ashore. We didn’t think much of it. Although the catamaran was close, it wasn’t at risk of hitting us. So we continued getting along with our jobs on the boat.
Then when I turned around again, the catamaran had gone. His anchor was dragging.
The wind blew the catamaran across the bay, over the shallow area and the inner reef, narrowly missing boats on the way. There was nothing we could do. Our hope was that his anchor would reset in the shallows. It didn’t. The catamaran continued its slow but uncontrolled journey until it came to rest on a boat anchored just off the fishing dock about 200 metres behind us. Fortunately the owner of the anchored boat saw it coming and was ready to fend the catamaran off.
The skipper, now alerted to what was happening, was sprinting back to the dinghy dock. By this time, the catamaran had been pushed free of the anchored boat and was continuing its drift towards the fishing dock. One of the boat taxis saw what was unfolding and got to the catamaran at the same time as the skipper. Between them they managed to get the boat under control and tied to a mooring ball. And the next day we saw it tied to a pontoon, fortunately still afloat.
This nightmare scenario helps explain why we are so conservative about anchoring. Our chain is heavy and good quality, and our anchor is probably the best on the market today. We put more chain out than is strictly necessary and make sure the anchor is well dug in to the sea bed by reversing the boat under power. I then snorkel over it to make sure all is well. Despite all that, given our proximity to the shallows and because the wind was forecast to increase during the night, we decided to take a mooring ball near to Happy Island.
Before we moved, a windsurfer came along and stopped at our dinghy. A long squinty look revealed it to be Jeremy, who we met at Bequia one n New Years Eve. He invited us to join him and his girlfriend for drinks later, but it became clear that we didn’t hear him properly when we turned up at Happy Island and they didn’t. We caught up with them later on their boat and found out they were waiting for us at a bar in town. At least we had the time right, so we did have drinks together – but not necessarily at the same place.
Happy island is an interesting spot. It’s an unusual bar built on Newlands Reef that acts as a magnet for people near sundown because of the entertainment provided by the local kite surfers, whose stunts need to be seen to be believed.
He’s got skills…
After what must have been the sixth visit from a vendor on a boat, we bought a tuna from one of the fishermen. But only after a Maria had knocked him down to nearly half price. Because Clifton is a yacht charter base, I suspect these guys are used to wide-open wallets. So it was possibly a shock to him having to deal with a cost-conscious Northern lass. Even so we paid over the odds, even Mustique was cheaper.
Although the boat guys in the bay are a bit full on, in that there’s a near constant procession of vendors trying to sell you stuff, Clifton town is a charming place. It’s colourful, the people are friendly, there are lots of restaurants and bars, and the main shop is well stocked and reasonably priced. One of the restaurants we blundered into, the Barracuda, is owned by an Italian guy who retired here from the construction industry four years ago. With no experience of restaurants, other than eating in them, he came here because of the water and the diving opportunities. Good on him – he’s learned a lot – the food and service are excellent. On the other end of the scale is the Local restaurant, where it’s possible to buy a burger and fries for just $10 EC – around £2.70 at today’s exchange rate. What a bargain. And it was good.
Clearing out in Clifton is an easy affair. Customs and Immigration are in the same building near to the fish dock. The form filling isn’t too onerous – it’s the same one used to clear in – and there are no exit fees. After you’ve cleared out you have 24 hours to get out of town, so we spent the last evening on Lady Jane quietly watching the ebb and flow of boats and those talented kite surfers leaping over Happy Island.
It’s Carriacou next.