The Carriacou Sloop

… we sailed there on Savvy. Photography by Sharon Matthews-Stevens
… we sailed there on Savvy. Photography by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

We cast off from the dock at Grenada’s Port Louis Marina and ease into the channel leading to the Carenage at St. George’s.

The sun shimmers on the water as we glide past a parade of majestic Georgian buildings made from ballast brick, a postcard-worthy view of one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful harbours. Behind this timeless cityscape green hills reach skyward, decorated by rainbow-painted houses scattered across their slopes like children’s building blocks. A colonial fort squats atop one hill off our starboard bow.

I’m preparing to set sail with Savvy Grenada Sailing Charters.

My friends and I have booked one of their signature tours: we’ll sail north in Grenada’s lee, making for Molinere, a unique underwater sculpture park lazing in protected waters. Proprietor Danny Donelan, along with ‘The Captain’ and first mate Timmy, will lash us to a mooring ball and we’ll snorkel this surreal seascape before heading south under sail, past beaches so beautiful they could make a power boater cry.

Great adventure all round. But the appeal for me is here on the deck of Free in St. Barth.  Feels like a piece of history: taming the tiller, a carved wooden monstrosity, raising the sail, or working the sheets.

For in casting off and sailing this 40-foot-plus vessel, we’re doing more than just experiencing an excellent tourist excursion (though Savvy Grenada Sailing Charters is one of Grenada’s premier attractions).

We’re part of a Grenadian nautical tradition, plying the Caribbean in a Carriacou sloop.

That tradition of shipbuilding that once dominated Grenada’s sister islands, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, lives on today.

Up at Windward on Carriacou, McLawrence Antony works on a vessel at water’s edge. Last time we were in Petit Martinique we stopped to admire a masterpiece-in-progress (we’d actually sailed there on Savvy, a sloop built on that very spot).

Keeping traditions alive. Photography by Sharon Matthews-Stevens
Keeping traditions alive. Photography by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

It all began in the 18th century with the arrival of Scottish immigrants who brought their boatbuilding skills with them.

Settling in Windward on Carriacou, they hand-built the vessels, choosing the materials carefully. The ribs are white cedar with silver bali planks, built up from a greenheart keel.

As time passed the Scots intermarried with locals and now the tradition is truly Grenadian.

Built as fast sloops, their chief cargo was livestock and salt but sometimes their manifest included smuggled booze from St. Barth.

Nowadays the remaining boats are primarily tourist attractions and participants in regattas across the Antilles. ‘Savvy’ boats have raced in Grenada Sailing Week, Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, Bequia Easter Regatta and Carriacou Regatta, and thanks to tourists who are looking for a more authentic experience there’s been a rebirth in that boat-building tradition.

“I’m proud to be part of this,” says Donelan, as we chat on our course back to St. George’s. “We offer that experience at Savvy Grenada Sailing Charters. Here’s one example: all our captains are also boat-builders. This gives our guests the chance to experience that history up close and personal. Book a private charter with us and connect with the people of Grenada and our vibrant boat-building culture.”

He outlines all the sailing options they offer: the half-day sail including snorkeling that we’ve experienced, a full-day sail; a sunset cruise.

“Or,” he adds, standing as he nods at Timmy, “book the two-day adventure up to the Grenadines and lose yourself in time and history.”

Unfortunately we don’t have that luxury today.  On the upside, Timmy acknowledges Donelan’s gesture and dives into a big cooler, re-appearing with a generous jug of another Grenadian tradition – rum punch.

We’re all looking longingly at the proffered libation, even though everybody’s downright soporific by now. Some of our party lounge on the foredeck; others recline on the transom waiting for their turn at the helm. “Highlight of my Grenada trip so far,” someone says.

“Can’t believe how relaxing this is,” another remarks.

Now Timmy does the rounds, apportioning the spirits (another appeal of this excursion: everything – including this dastardly rum – is locally sourced).

Danny takes a glass and raises it in a toast.

Everyone joins the celebration.

Getting ready for a celebration up on Carriacou too. McLawrence Antony works busily on final preparations for his launch.

“Whole community get in on it,” he says, pausing to survey his progress beside a dilapidated jetty and a mound of conch shells. “Ladies start to cooking food. The priest blesses the boat. We name a child as ‘godfather’. Might be they sacrifice an animal on the deck – the blood sanctifies her. Then everyone gets on the rollers.”

Then there’s rum, for how could it be any other way?

On Carriacou, perfect partner to our own afternoon festivities courtesy of Savvy Grenada Sailing Charters, it’s time for a fete, Caribbean-style.

It’s almost time for launch.

The launch of one more Carriacou sloop.

 

SHIP’S LOG:
For a complete list of adventures on one of their traditional Carriacou sloops, Zemi, Free in St. Barths, New Moon, and Savvy (including a multi-day voyage to the Grenadines), log on to sailingsavvy.com or check them out on Instagram at #savvysailing.

To find your way to Savvy Grenada Sailing Charters (or to find a place to stay, a place to eat or a multitude of other great experiences), visit: www.grenadagrenadines.com

 

Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating. 

Sharon Matthews-Stevens is a professional travel photographer, visit [email protected]

Mark_Stevens
Mark Stevens is an award-winning travel writer whose specialties include Canada, the Caribbean and boating. Credits range from Sailing magazine and Canadian Yachting to the Washington Post.