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St. Lucia

St. Lucia is a steep-sided volcanic island similar to Dominica in having recent volcanic activity and a high mountain peak of 3,120 feet in its Soufriere volcano. But what is so noticeable is the profusion of obvious small and large volcanic cones scattered all over the island, weathered into a mass of steep, meandering river valleys leading to the sea in small bays and coves. Other features, such as the Pitons which are lava plugs left over from the erosion of two volcanic cones, are quite spectacular.


However, this all leads to a deficit in usable harbors, for city commerce as well as yachting anchorages—my particular interest.

The biggest yachting center, because of its very large bay for anchoring, is Rodney Bay at the north end of the island where Nikki and I first landed. We cleared in with Customs and Immigration there and set about restocking our grocery supply. It was a good place to settle in for a couple of days after our crossing from Martinique.


The next city south of any size is Castries, the nation’s capital, commercial center, and cruise ship port—blessed by the only large, protected harbor on the island. Every place after that southward down the island has no such geographical feature—just small bays and limited level waterfront land is what is available. There isn’t much of interest for the sailing cruiser there.


Of course, the jungle-covered peaks and valleys make for the stuff of great touristic appeal, and the national government is working hard to exploit that potential, especially by protecting its forests and sea beds and the plants and animals within each of those. One result of that effort that affects yacht cruising is the restriction of where we can anchor. In the more sensitive, and most beautiful, areas, anchoring is banned and one is required to take a mooring buoy—for a fee, of course.


However, the fee does go to the support of seafloor protection from any damage done by anchoring and supports rehabilitation efforts. So, I don’t mind paying $20 a night for the cause; they just need to have buoys available and well-maintained, both of which are problematic in some places. There are just some limitations on the control I would prefer to have and am used to, but I can adapt as needed. I can stay warm and have a nice abode to live in—my primary goals for cruising— regardless.


One outstanding example of tourism and environmental protection is Marigot Bay, where we moored for two nights. It’s a small, steep-sided cove with great wind protection and just very pretty.

It has a few private homes on the hillside (including one of Oprah Winfry’s), but most of the waterfront and adjacent hillside are occupied by resorts, very expensive ones I should add. And very expensive motor yachts, 100+ feet long, like to come and squeeze their way into a berth at the marina. The place just drips with money.


However, the mooring is $30 per night, but the marina staff is very nice. They also have a connection with the 5-star Zoetry Marigot Bay resort to offer all-inclusive half-day passes to their facilities: pool with an in-water bar, another pool, breakfast and lunch at restaurants, spa, gym, etc.

We figured that the price of $70 each wasn’t too bad, considering the all-you-can-eat-and-drink part would lessen the impact of the price. Moreover, since this would be a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we are out here to experience the varieties of the island, it would be our duty to do it.


So, we did… and we had a good time eating breakfast at one restaurant, swimming in the pool, lounging on the poolside chairs for a while, and then spending the rest of the day (about 3-4 hrs.) at the in-pool bar eating lunch several times and drinking various combinations that the bar had available—alcoholic and non.

There were two groups of people, tourists from the US celebrating a birthday and crew members from one of the megayachts, that we had a good time talking with—all in their 20s and 30s but intelligent and enthusiastic. Having fulfilled our duty as curious sailors, we retired to our little boat and smiled in satisfaction with our little adventure.


About an hour’s sail further south is the town of Soufriere and the Pitons. Since Piton Bay is smaller and has fewer mooring buoys, we went there first and managed to get a buoy. As you can see from the photos, the Petit Piton and Gros Piton are quite spectacular.

Mooring there was a nice setting to be in, but the gusting winds coming down the hills made it a little bouncy with the boat pivoting around in all directions. However, the wind usually abated at night to smooth things out, but the pivoting continued and the mooring ball would bounce around between our two hulls, frequently announcing its position by tapping against a hull. Just something else to adapt to.


Soufriere is a large town, once the capital of St. Vincent, and pretty much the center from which to travel inland to see any sights. It is located just to the north of Petit Piton so it has that spectacular landmark for beauty. There is no anchoring in the bay and you must use one of the Marine Park moorings, for $20 per night.

There are usually enough moorings to supply the need, but in late afternoon and evening, some sailboats can find none and have to look elsewhere in nearby harbors—which also require mooring and may already be full. It’s a bit of a problem, as finding an allowed anchoring spot may be miles away. So, I always plan for an early arrival to avoid this situation.


While we spent nearly a week in Soufriere, we did some diving,

hiking to vista points,

and visited some falls and hot water baths—heated from springs emanating deep beneath the remnants of the Soufriere Volcano that makes up most of the southern part of the island.

Two of the falls and baths were fine, and we could spend our time soaking in relative peace.

However, another waterfall was so crowded with 25-30 people waiting to have their picture taken of them standing underneath the waterfall as it blasted them that we took a quick look and left. Visiting these places early in the morning or late afternoon is a necessity to avoid the tour and cruise ship groups that inundate them. It’s a problem that I’m not sure the national government has a plan for solving—if it’s even possible. Already I get a sense that the proliferation of resorts and mass tourism is taking a toll on the tropical idealism of visiting the island and that it will only get worse. As I cruise onward south to other islands, I wonder what I’ll run into regarding that problem.


After spending February with Nikki aboard, she returned home to Montana, and I spent just under three weeks alone aboard anchored at the small village of Laborie—doing small projects, lazing around, and taking resupply trips to Vieux Fort, a city just south. It’s definitely a fishing village and not touristic at all. There is a mixture of small shacks and basic housing mixed with houses of the local income basis and some tourist rentals, quite typical of the island.


The village is situated around a small, bay bounded by beach ashore and scattered reefs in the bay. Open fishing boats are anchored just out from the beach and stern-tied ashore to keep them headed into the ocean swells that curl ashore, somewhat diminished by the shallow reefs.

Early in the morning and throughout the day, the open outboard-powered skiffs head out 3-6 miles offshore to set nets for small tuna or whatever is found that day. After they return and are ready to sell their catch, a conch shell horn is blown announcing it’s available. Consequently, conch calls can be heard at any time of the day.


As with most other Caribbean villages, towns, and cities, there is a lot of music being played, loud and frequently. Most of the day and especially at night, there is some source of music, with beachfront bars particularly for seaside ones, such as Laborie, providing both volume and frequency. The odd thing is that in this fishing town, half the time it’s the usual Caribbean styles, and the other half it’s American country western! The only other place we heard any c/w was in Soufriere, and only a little bit. Here it’s big time, seamlessly taking turns with Caribbean. Not a clue as to why or when.


Not only do the ocean swells affect how the fishermen keep their boats, but they also cause visiting yachts a problem too. Since there are lots of shallow reefs, anchoring is limited to sandy channels between them—just where those swells find a passage to continue rolling in, So, anchoring in the sandy channels means your boat has to roll with the swells, which isn’t so bad if the wind coming over the hills surrounding the bay are steady enough to keep your bow into the wind and your stern into the swells.

It’s when the wind isn’t strong enough, such as in the evening and through the night, that your boat is broadside to the swells and… well, it can be rather uncomfortable unless the swell also diminishes then too, which they frequently do. But if the wind and swells come from the same direction—as they did about a third of the time—then it’s, hang on and hope to fall asleep quickly, which, believe it or not, usually happens.


Now, this problem, combined with the limited anchoring space, is probably what has kept this village from having more tourism opportunities for visitors—for better or worse. The money would help a lot with the obvious consequences of poverty, but on the other hand, the changes wouldn’t all be desirable, just as any kind of influx of money can be anywhere else in the world. If planned for, I’m a firm believer that any new source of income can aid in improving someone’s life; it’s just that planning is hard, for individuals and social institutions alike. Both can easily get caught up in trying to control more than is sensible or possible. But planned change or not, many tourist situations don’t have the control needed—as I’ve suggested St. Lucia government may not—and changes will happen regardless. Maybe Nature has solved the control situation in Laborie for its residents because of its particular bay structure. Who knows?


Anyway, I spent my days in the village, and then Jo joined me in the middle of March.

She’s from Wales, U.K., and will be my sailing buddy until the first part of May when I haul the boat out for storage ashore in Grenada during hurricane season. We spent a week back up in Soufriere doing some hikes, hot springs, and SCUBA diving. We also rented a car for a day, which was a bit of a hassle since no one wanted to rent for less than three days, but we found one and set out to see back areas of the island and some waterfalls off the tourist track.


We did manage to accomplish the first and did a lot of driving—that is, Jo did since I was over the maximum rental agency age of 65, and she’s still under that. And, being from the U.K., she was used to driving on the left side of the road, as they do in most English-speaking former colony islands down here. So off we went.


The second goal of finding waterfalls didn’t happen. Although the government is working to control its crime problem related to tourism, it’s still a concern to cruisers in particular because our boats are our homes and we are rich, relative to much of the population, and are more exposed to predation because we aren’t cocooned in resorts, etc. So our little backroads jaunt took us well outside the tourist-traveled areas. It was interesting, but the contrast with just the more wealthy St. Lucians was tremendous.


When it came to locating the waterfalls, we managed to find the road that took us to where five falls were supposed to be. The road wandered along a ridgeback, scattered with occasional homes, and steeply descending sides to the river where the falls were supposed to be. Of course, we were waved to and hailed often, and we waved back. A few men wanted to talk, and we did, asking about the waterfalls. One was rather insistent on us parking the car at his brother’s house and going with him to the falls—a rather unsteady man, from who knows what.


Another man came up wanting us to go with him and not the other guy. They got into a big argument, even blows at one point. Three women more or less came to the rescue by arguing with the men that it was too physically dangerous a trek to make—and perhaps a subtle suggestion that these guys weren’t to be trusted. We gave the ladies some big smiles and thumbs-ups and made our way out of the situation. After a nice sail two days later, we were anchored on the island of St. Vincent.

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