St Lucia (31st January - 9th February 2009)

The sail from St Vincent to St Lucia is predicted as a tough one. Steering east of north you are typically hard on the wind which is locally accelerated by the hills on the north coast of St Vincent. This, coupled with large Atlantic swells of 3-4 m can make for a spicy little outing. We weren’t disappointed. We sailed at 0630 in the morning and for the first couple of hours motored along the coast staying close into the shore and well in the calm of the wind shadow. At 0830 we reached the northern tip of St Vincent and the wind started to pick up in fits and starts. Within half an hour we were triple reefed with a rag of jib and sailing close hauled with gusts in excess of 45 knots. The good ship sailed like a witch making between 5 and 6 knots and showing her pedigree as a great upwind sailor albeit a semi-submerged one; in fact once the wind settled down to a steady Force 5-6 the sailing was just great, with big seas and fast sailing on a very fine reach. We arrived in the south coast of St Lucia at 1300 and an hour or so later were moored up in Soufriere Bay in the middle of the National Park (anchoring is prohibited) and just north of the famous Pitons.

We tidied the boat up in what is now a well practiced routine but were all unspokenly disturbed by an intermittent smell of rotten eggs. Accusative looks were exchanged between captain and crew as we tried to identify and eliminate the guilty culprit; at one stage even the Good Ship herself was accused (the drains in the cockpit have on occasion been slightly offensive due to showering in the cockpit and not rinsing out after). Perhaps the name Soufriere, French for Sulphur in the air, should have given us a clue as to the true source but finally we realised that the sulphur smell was coming from the nearby volcano!

We cleared customs and immigration who, for some unique reason, were noticeably pleasant and explored the town which was the first large town we had visited since Barbados. While we were walking round the fishing boats came in who had unusually sailed through a shoal of tuna. So, instead of a handful of fish there were hundreds. The harbour exploded with people as the tuna were rapidly sold off and then literally seconds later wheel barrow stalls were set up in the main street as the tuna were chopped up into steaks and sold off again.

Just up from the anchorage were the botanical gardens, volcano and hot springs all of which we visited. Badged as a drive-in volcano the Soufriere volcano is active and the active crater includes the bay in which we were moored, so in fact it should be a sail-in volcano. We toured up to the ’visibly’ active part of Mount Soufriere, where sulphur and steam bubble out of the ground in a moderately spectacular fashion. After we had convinced Jack that it wasn’t about to explode we all enjoyed a hot mud bath which guarantees to knock 10 years off your life - not great for Jack who is now minus 3 years old but certainly Selma and I felt good for our first bath in 6 months. Rather sad though that we smelt worse when we got out than when we got in but still, a change is as good as a rest to a blind donkey … as they say.

From Soufriere we sailed north along the coast of St Lucia to Marigot Bay. A French named bay but made famous by Admiral Rodney who, during the Napoleonic Wars, concealed his ships in the bay by tying palm trees to the masts and then once the French had sailed past he nipped out behind them and blew them up. This is a prĂ©cised account and whilst perhaps not historically exact does reflect how well hidden Marigot Bay is, indeed even knowing it’s there you still can’t see the entrance until you’re just metres away or a boat comes out. Somewhat disappointingly we found anchoring in the bay was no longer allowed and anchoring outside had been made difficult due to the number of mooring buoys. We managed to negotiate a reasonable price in the end but to begin with it was going to cost us £50 a night! We didn’t stay long in Marigot, partly because of the mooring but more because the St Lucian fly population had chosen Marigot Bay as this years holiday destination and the whole area was literally buzzing. Selma set upon an immediate campaign to rid the harbour of all small flying objects and left piles of dead flies all round the boat to try and warn-off friends and relatives from visiting but neither this nor the constant hiss of the fly swatter made an impression on the little chaps who were no doubt attracted to the boat by a weak but distinctive smell of rotten eggs.

Our next destination was to the North of the island in Rodney Bay where we were going to spend a couple of days in the marina. The Good Ship B needed an engine service, some varnishing work and a few other bits and bobs doing all of which could best be done tied up to the shore. The trip northwards (towing dinghy)was uneventful and after only 3 hours out from Marigot we were tied up in marina berth J16. This was the first marina we had been in since Santa Cruz in Tenerife and it really felt quite strange to step off the boat straight onto dry land. The price for the marina berth, which was more than double the length of the boat was surprisingly reasonable and our generous Danish next door neighbours donated power and water so all in all we had a good deal for the few days we stayed.

The boat next door, Avalanche, had just arrived from the Canary’s having taken only 18 days to cross the Atlantic. The boat, an oldish (same age as Brimble), 42ft, Van De Statt racing boat was sailed by a Danish family who had bought the boat in the summer in England last year, sailed her home to Denmark, refurbished her and then sailed down to the Canaries in the winter - quite a trip. Their original plan was to sail round the world but this plan has been slightly affected by an unscheduled conception - the baby is due middle of June. We enjoyed several great evenings with Mads and his family, who swapped me a really great survival suit in exchange for a bottle of port and rum - nice people.

Whilst here we bussed into the capital city, Castries, which was a bargain at $2.50 EC (less than £1) and entertainment in its own right. The buses are in fact minibuses; the drivers job is to cram as many people and items (no animals seen yet but…) into the bus as is inhumanely possible and to pick cargo up and drop off at maximum speed. Age, sex or disability makes no difference as more and more people squeeze into the ever-reducing space - world records for endurance and physical dexterity are regularly broken as the bus hurtles towards its destination.

Castries, was worth the visit if for nothing else but to see the capital. Smelly, hot, dirty and for the most part relatively poor the capital is a hotch potch of the old wooden houses and shops with new concrete buildings gradually emerging and taking over. The cruise ship docks and markets sit incongruously in the middle of the town. A startling environment designed to abstract maximum money from the thousands of people that visit each day. The cruise ship tourists represent an essential part of the economy of St Lucia and many of the neighbouring islands. In Dominica, for example, the population is 70,000 and they are visited by 750,000 cruise ship people a year, so it’s understandable why so much effort is made to create a welcoming and comforting environment for visitors. The downsides of this economic lifeline are inflated prices and an artificial environment in and around the docks all of which we avoid like the plague. Whilst in Castries and at one of the local markets we bought a handmade nutmeg grater; we haggled the lady down from $15EC to $2EC but in hindsight were probably still ripped off because the unidentifiable metal from which the grater has been made is actually softer than nutmeg. Guests visiting the good ship are often surprised when they spot the sprinkling of what appears to be metal on the top of their sun-downer rum cocktail where the undamaged nutmeg has worn the grater away!

After a couple of days we moved out of the marina and anchored under Pigeon Point which was a great spot in the north of the 2 mile wide Rodney bay. From here we walked up to the inevitable gun battery and Fort which were built by French and British alike in the high points pretty much across all the islands.


Brimble said...


Sarah said...

Do you - I get dreams about you every time you enter a new entry - it's as if I know when you've just entered a new update....last night's dream was fantastic - it was as I was there with you all on the boat....

I do miss you and can't wait to meet up again....I'll read the entry now....! xxx