St. Lucia

 

December 29, 2008

Yesterday's crossing of the Bequia channel was an exciting sail, close hauled in big seas but with blue skies, the sun shining and DoodleBug hitting speeds of 9 knots in the stronger gusts. The crossing to St. Lucia promised to be quite different. To begin, the channel between the two islands was four times wider and the course some 30 degrees closer to the wind. The wind forecast had slid from promised lighter winds to match all of the previous forecasts and now indicated 20 to 25 knots of near headwinds. The guidebook indicated a traditionally "rough passage" and suggested hugging the coast of St. Vincent until near the most northerly point but to make sure that you do not arrive there with "too much canvas up". You then head across the channel, pointing as high as possible to offset the leeway and westerly going current and "do the best you can".

At the first glimmer of dawn I cast off any attempt at sleep at the pitching Wallilabou mooring and meticulously checked DoodleBug for sea, both above deck and below. We dropped our mooring at 0715 hours local time (position N 13 14.8' W 061 16.3') and headed up the coast in heavy rain and 6 foot choppy seas, with the winds already gusting at over 30 knots.

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We motor-sailed of course, with some mainsail sheeted hard to the centerline and the mizzen similarly rigged. The autopilot was set to 25 degrees from the apparent wind and this seemed to work reasonably well. The engine was running at a fast cruising speed of 2400 RPM and this combo was moving us at around 5 knots towards St. Lucia. Once we had cleared the northern tip of St. Vincent we had the benefit of getting out from under the St. Vincent rain shadow but this was offset by the seas which increased to the 10 to 12 foot range. And so we struggled onwards. Although we were pointing at the middle of St. Lucia's southern coast, the GPS indicated that we would in fact 

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head up the west side of the island and were staying close to our desired rhumb line course. Over the next seven and a half hours we were to see only one other set of northbound sails, struggling to make headway as we were and pitching in the heavy seas as we too were pitching. In the opposite direction were seeming showers of southbound vessels. They slid by us effortlessly on their broad reaches. The crews looked relaxed and happy. They had bathing beauties sunning in skimpy bikinis on the foredeck. By contrast, DoodleBug's first mate was laying below and clutching a bucket, dreaming of coconut palms and airline terminals.

Our original plan was to meet SV Cetacea at Harmony Beach, St. Vincent but they were an hour behind us and had been driven further to the west (SV Cetacea is a Cheung Lee motor-sailor suffering from a problem with one of her two folding

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propellers). Tony called us on the VHF to say that Harmony Beach was reported as very rolly and suggested Marigot Bay instead. By now we were under the lee of St. Lucia and although the wind had not dropped appreciably, the wave action was down to a 4 foot chop and Marigot Bay sounded much more attractive than another rolly night.

At 1455 hours we slid into Marigot Bay and picked up a mooring at position N 13 57.9' W 061 01.6'

Marigot Bay is a fjord like enclosed body of water and pond like compared to the seas outside. We launched our dinghy and the first mate was rapidly reviving with the proximity of restaurants and gift shops. Our first stop ashore was at an ATM where our card was firmly rejected. I still had a couple of hundred East Caribbean Dollars in my wallet, so perhaps we had enough cash to "check in" with Customs and Immigration. The Customs experience was reasonably smooth and yes, we did have enough cash to cover the fee. At immigration however, we found ourselves in line behind a Russian couple who claimed to have arrived on a French yacht from Martinique. They had met the French skipper in a bar and he had offered them a ride between the islands. No, they did not know the name of the vessel, nor the name of the Captain. The St. Lucian policeman lectured them on their having broken the law, talked about deportation and the like and this looked like being a long drawn out affair. I personably would have ditched the Russian guy because he looked like a mafia pimp but the little girl was really pretty and well worth making an exception for.

That evening we joined Cetacea for supper at Doolittle's restaurant and bar where it was "ladies night"; free supper for 

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ladies accompanied by their sailor "mate". Thank goodness we are back in dollar country and greenbacks are acceptable currency!

 

December 30, 2008

We slipped our mooring in Marigot Bay this morning at 0915 hours and by 1050 hours were tied up at a slip at Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia: Position N 14 04.5' W 060 56.9'.

We motor-sailed the 10 miles or so with headwinds in the 14 knot range but with no more than a 4 foot wave chop. Rodney Bay Marina is so wonderful and falls in the category of a "real" marina. The yachts are tied to floating docks that have "finger piers" and the slip spaces are sized for catamarans. The floating docks themselves are wide enough to drive a bus upon, level, with no missing boards or sections, gaps to jump, or similar hazards. The Wifi works and is both high speed and "free". The ATM provided us cash and there are a slew of restaurants that meet my "International Chili's Standard" (ICS). Chili's is a burger joint in Houston where you can sit down and get a reasonably edible burger and fries, plus beer and without the benefits of either a second mortgage or a government bailout. Chili's in Houston is not exactly gourmet dining but I do require that so called gourmet restaurants do at least match the ICS quality standard, regardless of their esoteric prices. Many experienced have not. The power at the docks in Rodney Bay is a good approximation of the stated voltage and the water supply is both drinkable and has line pressure. This sailor's heaven costs us US$34 per night versus the US$208 per night that we paid in Malta - Wifi extra; although the Maltese Wifi didn't actually work. (Didn't stop the marina from billing me twice for the non-working Wifi of course). Over the past twelve months I see that the only other marina that came close to meeting these strict standards was Ashkelon in Israel and the latter would probably receive at least 4 stars in Ed's travel guide (assuming it hasn't been blown up by now) with Rodney Bay as a 5 star operation. I may publish a full star rating list of Marinas later, together with my review of "Fish and Chips of the World" (Best so far: Denerau Marina, Fiji).

 

December 31, 2008

We hung around DoodleBug today waiting for a refrigeration repair man to show up who never did. This is familiar repairman behavior across the planet and it matters little that he has your cell-phone number. The mistake we made was that we did not have his.

In the evening we met with the crew of SV Cetacea to celebrate New Year's Eve together. We headed out to a nearby restaurant and followed this up with drinks at the St. Lucia "Yacht Club". As midnight approached, the density of revelers in the streets began to increase significantly and we jointly agreed that a retreat to the Rodney Bay marina was in order, while there was still an opportunity to find a taxi. This would likely prove impossible after midnight. Tony used his cell-phone to call the local taxi driver who had earlier insisted he would pick us up. After a prolonged wait, I re-called the man on our cell-phone and he now insisted that he was sending another cab to get us. Another prolonged wait and we finally gave up, to begin walking for perhaps a quarter mile through the throng of revelers, in the direction of the marina and towards another taxi stand.

The street was filled with moving, jostling people. The guys were typically not sartorially enhanced (i.e. scruffy) and those found clutching brown paper bags were often staggering. The girls however were stunning. This island is populated by tall, leggy and beautiful black women and they were wearing some of their best. I enjoyed seeing mini-skirts as short as I have ever seen them and these girls wore their clingy and shiny party dresses extremely well. We did find a taxi to transport us back to the marina but mid-night passed while under passage, as the taxi crept through the crowd. Nevertheless 2009 arrived and back at Rodney Bay, we witnessed a fine fireworks display.

Happy New Year!

 

January 1, 2009
New Year's Day began a four day holiday for the island. Surprisingly, the marina restaurants and bars were closed all day even though they would have had a near monopoly on business. Annette and I walked to the nearby shopping mall and although it too was closed, KFC was open and this fine eating establishment is one of Annette's favorites.

 

January 2, 2009
Our refrigeration man continued to torture us with another appointment for around noon. He actually showed up an hour later than scheduled and without either tools or gas bottles. Tomorrow at 1030 hours! He seemed a little wobbly on his legs and I am sure we must have passed him in the street the other night. He would have been one of those with a brown paper bag.

Gail's brothers Dennis and Bruce flew home yesterday and Gail and Tony leave tomorrow. We made up a quieter foursome as we used Cetacea's dinghy to travel to the restaurant strip by water. This solved the problem of waiting on taxis but it bucketed with rain on the return journey and Annette's single tiny umbrella did not do a great job of sheltering the two of us. Tony and Gail had the luxury of wearing waterproofs but our raingear is still safely on their hangers in Santa Fe. Fortunately tropical rain is not cold and the return journey was short. The hazards of cruising and a small price to pay for the great steak I ate.

 

January 3, 2009

This morning I swapped out the macerator pump in the forward head. It had been leaking seawater at a slow drip from a worn seal and the time had finally arrived to make a repair. The appointed hour for our refrigerator repair man to call with his tools came and went but without him. We were not entirely surprised and determined to make no further efforts to contact him. The refrigerator in question is low on Freon but is not needed as we are not undergoing extended passages. We will get it fixed somewhere down the trail.

 

January 4, 2009

This morning we attacked the dishwasher that has been inoperable for the past several years. I am not talking about Annette now, the dishwasher in question is an Austrian made unit that has been out of manufacture for a while. Steve the electrician is to examine it on Monday morning and we will set it up in the cockpit with power, water and drain attached. Removal of the dishwasher is not trivial and we first had to remove the gimbaled cook-stove. Next we removed kitchen cabinetry, until we were finally able to extract the defective device and haul it into the cockpit. There is little clearance for these units and the trick is not to scratch the fine varnish of the interior wood work. Once this task was accomplished, there was no cooking to be done aboard and we walked back to restaurant row. Again the KFC was amongst the few establishments open. Annette was quite happy with this.

 

January 5, 2009

A day of accomplishments! Steve the electrician arrived as promised and was surely impressed to find the dishwasher set up and ready to run in the cockpit. The problem was soon isolated to the main pump circulation motor that was not running. A check of the windings and the motor itself seemed OK. The motor start capacitor did not look so good and I dug through my onboard spares to find a replacement. Fortunately, I had purchased "correct" parts for the water maker after repairing the latter with some junk parts in Fiji. One of the water maker capacitors was installed in the dishwasher and the unit fired up immediately. While the dishwasher was occupying the cockpit and being worked on, "Prudent" the refrigeration man arrived, again without tools. This time he was just checking to see if we still needed our refrigerator fixed before he hauled his gas bottles down the dock. We affirmed that we did and twenty minutes later, he had topped up the errant appliance with Freon and it is cooling again.

The next job was to reinstall the dishwasher and cook stove, again without tearing up the woodwork. A delicate job but once completed, the interior of our boat again began to resemble living space rather than a junkyard.

 

January 6, 2009

Since the dishwasher was no longer occupying center stage in the cockpit, we could access the engine room and wrap up the remainder of minor boat chores. The hot water heater has a one-way and overflow valve that has been leaking for some months. I finally replaced it with the new valve that I have been carrying on board for almost as long as the defective valve has been leaking. We are set! Chores done! Tourist time is here! We walked over to the marina central and rented a car for tomorrow.

 

January 7, 2009

This morning we began our circumnavigation of St. Lucia by auto. We began by searching for "Ebenezer's Foam factory" where we hoped to find, well, foam. Annette has another project in hand and wanted to purchase a small piece of upholstery foam. Ebenezer's was without signage but obvious by the huge blocks of plastic foam in front of the building. When we entered the establishment there were a dozen or so employees building stuffed armchairs as furniture, despite swarming

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mosquitoes. The design seemed to be based upon a single plywood frame and the prefabricated frames were also stacked in front of the building. I was distressed to notice that many of these frames were already broken and or covered in mud but were nevertheless being used to make furniture without repair efforts. The plywood frames were first covered in cardboard and on top of this was stapled plastic foam and then an upholstery fabric. The finished product looked OK but could never have withstood any kind of weight or abuse. I was distressed because this furniture was obviously targeted at the bottom end of the financial spectrum and these people would be least able to bear loss.

As we drove south along the west coast of St. Lucia, the two lane road twisted and dived around steep hairpin bends. The road surface was occasionally potholed by truly axle breaking hazards and what little traffic there was, would either come to a dead crawl, or divert off-road to avoid the pits. The roadsides were thick with jungle like vegetation, giant ferns, creepers, and exotic plants of every kind imaginable. Occasionally we could glimpse the startling blue of the Caribbean Sea through the trees but even the sign posted "View Points" were near completely obscured by the density of new growth. After an hour of this type of driving, Annette needed a break to calm her motion queasiness. We found a conveniently located "art studio" just north of the town of Soufriere and pulled over to check it out. Annette was delighted to find her sought after "clay coal pot", a carved window stick (to hold your window open of course), as well as a pair of "Boley's". The latter are traditional bowls made from the seed pod of a particular "Boley" tree. We loaded our purchases into the rental 

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car, which by now was beginning to sink at the stern and headed south to locate the Harmony Breach Resort, just below the Petit Piton mountain peak. We were directed to a single lane dirt road that soon deteriorated into giant pot holes, with a steep drop off on one side. There was no place to turn around and the holes just got worse and worse. The car had four wheel drive but also had a stupid plastic "air dam" tacked onto the front, to make it look like it could go fast. What we needed instead was pick-up truck ground clearance. We gently eased this vehicle along the impossible road until we came to one trench that defeated us. Here we parked the car and walked a hundred yards or so to our destination. We had a necessary beer at the resort before hitting the road again. We managed to turn the car around and after backtracking about a hundred yards, there was a steep section of concrete that turned up to the right. Another ten yards and we discovered a fine, surfaced, two lane road that completely bypassed the horror we had just driven along. So much for local information.

We reached the southern end of St. Lucia near the International Airport and grabbed a sandwich at a bar / restaurant catering to the windsurfing crowd. Lots of wind available. The road that continued up the east side of St. Lucia was more traveled and although the traffic was heavier, the driving speeds were also considerably faster. The east of the Island shows much more agriculture and the road wound through banana plantations and small villages. By now the schools were dismissing their students and we needed to slow to avoid the throngs of children in their colorful uniforms. A beautiful drive on an enchanting island.

 

January 15, 2009

The day has finally arrived! This morning we rented a car and set of to the south of St. Lucia to pick up daughter Marian and her friend Mike from the International airport. We arrived at the airport in good time and noted that the flight arrival display showed that although a "West Air" flight was to be delayed, the American Airlines flight from Miami was exactly on time. We were a little puzzled when the West Air flight landed on time, even though the board still showed it delayed. We were so excited when we saw an aircraft on approach at exactly the expected time. Annette had taken about twenty pictures of the plane before we realized that it was a British Airways flight, not due for another twenty minutes. I wandered over to the American Airlines check in desk and asked for the e.t.a. on the Miami flight. "Oh that one is running an hour late!".

We wandered the airport grounds and carefully inspected very tree. There was one in particular that looked like someone had grafted lumps of cactus onto a dead tree. The cactus limbs obviously didn't belong but where were the original leaves? The tree really does exist and if I find out what it is called, I will post this vital info. We found the mystery tree full of nesting grackles. With some loss of blood, Annette was able to poke a camera into one of the nests and get a picture of three small eggs, whilst the angry parents scolded her from a nearby branch. Thus we passed the time whilst the hordes of security people scowled at us suspiciously.

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The American Airlines flight did finally arrive and Marian and Mike collected all of their luggage and we collected them. They are here, safe and sound! DoodleBug sails on the morn.

 

January 16, 2009

This morning we rushed around getting DoodleBug ready for sea. The wind has been blowing at 25 plus knots since before Christmas and today was the first day that the marina lay like a mill pond. Of course everyone else also thought today would be a great day for cruising and there were several vessels ahead of us at the fueling dock. By 1100 hours we had taken on diesel and set sail for Harmony Bay on the southwest coast of St. Lucia. St. Lucia has two striking volcanic outcrops called "The Pitons". Besides providing a name for the national beer, their distinctive silhouette also adorns most of the tourist brochures and postage stamps. Our destination lay at the foot of "Petit Piton". For at least an hour we experienced up to 15 knots of wind on the beam and were under full sail, somewhere between a close reach and a broad reach. The prevailing wind is on the east side of the island, so the wind we were getting on the west coast was fickle and would be deflected by the island valleys and headlands as we passed. Eventually it veered so that it was "on the nose" and we motored the last few miles past the town of Soufriere, picking up a mooring near the Harmony Bay Resort at position N 13 50.5' W 061 03.8' at 1345 hours.

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Our location is a marine park and the water is crystal clear and blue. We are moored some 50 yards or so off a boulder studded, grey lava sand beach, with coconut palms and dense jungle vegetation. Behind the line of coconut trees, the Pitons soar, providing an almost vertical route to the summit. We have been told that there is a single difficult trail that does climb the peak but it must climb the side we cannot see. The cliffs we view would defeat a mountain goat. We spent the balance of the afternoon snorkeling at the foot of Petit Piton where debris from the peak has formed a sub-sea boulder field. On this were large corals, a profusion of fish, sea urchins and the like. Annette spotted a snake as well as an eel of some kind. There were bizarre shaped trumpet fish everywhere and shoals of needle fish. An excellent place to just drift and observe the action.

Marian and Mike were still jet-lagged and missed a rare "green-flash" sunset. As compensation, for supper we were all ferried ashore by "water-taxi" for a fine meal at the Harmony Beach Resort. The resort has a patio overlooking the beach and the views are superb. This part of the Caribbean has a tiny whistling tree frog and Annette and Marian thoroughly photographed the unfortunate individual that was simply trying to eat a few bugs on the post near our table, while Mike and I debated much more important things, like whether Lance is too old to do another Tour de France.

 

January 17, 2009

Today we traveled by water taxi to the town of Soufriere and then switched from water to land taxi. Soufriere is an unlucky kind of town that every few years has been destroyed by hurricanes, earthquakes or fires. One of

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the oldest surviving buildings we drove past was the Lady of Assumption Catholic Church on the main square but we were disappointed that the guillotine that used to occupy the opposite side of the square had been removed following the Gallic departure.


Our first stop of the day was to visit a beautiful 50 foot waterfall called Toraille falls set in a tropical garden. At the entrance to the gardens we spotted the biggest hummingbird we have ever seen. The bird looked totally black. This was the largest of the three St. Lucian species and is actually purple.

We next visited and received a guided tour of the Diamond Botanical Gardens. This place was definitely cool and had been part of an 18th. century sugar plantation. Our guide was very knowledgeable and knew the common name, local name and Latin name of just about every plant or shrub on the island, although he did seem unfamiliar with "Wingardium Leviosa". The park had mineral baths that had been destroyed by conquest and rebuilt a couple 

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of times since the 18th. century. I was having a difficult time imagining what kind of military target a bath might be when we arrived upon an extant and occupied bath. The water was clear and when Annette dipped her fingers it was pleasantly warm. The bath was occupied by a couple at the time and they good naturedly shook off claims they were animatronics dummies.

As the road climbed higher, we could see that the twin peaks of "The Pitons" were actually remnants of the rim of a caldera. Our next stop was inside the volcanic crater at "La Soufriere Sulphur Springs". This is a gash in the earth with pools of what looks like boiling mud and a strong acrid "rotten egg" smell of sulphur and hydrogen sulphide. Our guide assured us that the boiling mud gushing from the bowels of the earth quickly separates into clear water and sediment. The river that flows from this area looked like dirty cocoa and of course nothing lived in the stream because of the heat.

A few miles from the Sulphur Springs was "Warm Mineral Waterfalls". Here we bathed in the pools that were filled from a waterfall tumbling 30 feet or so down a cliff face. The waterfall temperature was shower warm and then the series of pools below ranged from warm to tepid in temperature. A refreshing dip to end an exciting tour.

That evening we were back aboard DB and noticed an acrid smell in the wind blowing from the island. We were directly downwind of the volcanic sulphur springs we had visited earlier and could now identify the peculiar smell. After beachcombing and generally lazing around, we managed to find enough energy to drag the barbeque out of its locker and barbequed steaks for supper. Great day!

 

January 18, 2009

We dropped our mooring at 0905 hours and set sail for Marigot Bay. The wind was light, on the nose and we motored the ten miles or so to the north. The coast here is steep, verdant and lightly populated, with lots of indentations and bays. We were headed for Marigot Bay where supposedly a British Admiral once hid his ships from a pursuing French squadron by tying coconut fronds to the masts. This is also the location where the movie Dr. Doolittle was filmed. We picked up a mooring at position N 13 57.9' W 061 01.6' at 1030 hours.

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Mike needed to use the internet and although Marigot Bay has a strong Wifi signal, there was no computer on the other end of the signal. We had forgotten that it was now Sunday and the internet cafes were also closed. While Annette and Marian browsed the gift shops, Mike and I were directed to "JJ's", a hotel buried deep inside a mangrove swamp and where we finally found working internet access.

Marian and Mike have now both discovered that when you swim, you really shouldn't drink the sea water. As compensation, we ate a memorable supper at the Rainforest Hideaway, one of St. Lucia's top gourmet restaurants.

 

January 19, 2009

We had big plans today to visit and tour the island's only rum distillery. Unfortunately, when I called to make reservations, I was informed that the distillery had, "no molasses". This meant that there was no distillation running and therefore no tours. What a let-down! We dried our eyes and decided that maybe we should head further north where there were liquor stores and open bars. We dropped our mooring at 1050 hours and motored into light headwinds along the west coast of St. Lucia. At 1240 hours we were tied up in Rodney Bay Marina at position N 14 04.4' W 060 56.9'.

 

January 20, 2009

We have been experiencing daytime temperatures in the mid 80's with night-time lows of 79F and the forecast for today was for "light showers". The sun was shining brightly as we launched our dinghy for an expedition to nearby Pigeon Island, loaded down with a backpack full of raingear and umbrellas. All around us we could see rain cells but we nevertheless managed to stay dry as they passed us by. As we headed across Rodney Bay, we saw Johnny Depp's former command, the "Black Pearl", drifting off the point of Pigeon Island and we made a sweep to pass her close by. A few pudgy tourists aboard but no pirates or monkey skeletons. We made our landing from the sea and assaulted the

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twin peaks of Fort Rodney and Signal Peak. The view from the summits was fabulous and we could see the scattering of sails en route to and from the island of Martinique, although the latter remained shrouded in haze. We could also see some serious clouds heading our way and descended to the "famous" Jambe de Bois restaurant to take shelter. The rain cell passed close by the restaurant and we should have also. Truly glacial service eventually produced the worst meal we have had on St. Lucia. The ambience of the moment was further enhanced by a pile driver extending the pier where we had left our dinghy and a nearby rock group tuning up their sound system for an afternoon concert. A hasty retreat from Ft. Rodney's defenses was called for. Back to the marina and the ice cream shop.

 

January 21, 2009

Our first visit of the day was to the Customs and Immigration offices where we filled out all of the paperwork for our departure on the morrow. A relatively painless procedure and we were soon loaded into the dinghy and motoring through the marina towards a landing near the shopping mall. We had discovered this landing earlier and although it was possible to walk to the mall along the highway, the latter has no sidewalk and the experience is of dodging either mud filled potholes or taxis as one walks. By using the dinghy to make the trip, the major hazard was being overcome with marijuana fumes while tying the dinghy up at the dock. For some reason or other, this tucked away landing is the prime location for local gentlemen to take their work-break and enjoy some of the local agricultural products called "shags". We shopped the mall and then wandered down to Rodney Bay's beach to seek lunch. The beach boasts a row of large hotels plus several bars and restaurants, interspersed with local craft shops. We settled on "Spinnaker's" for lunch and I ordered "liver and onions" from the "specials" menu. From the waitress' reaction we supposed that this was not ordered very often and I suggested that my order was in fact the first in 8 months. The food was delivered and the liver and onions was quite tasty. However, mid way through our meal, the waitress took an eraser and removed the "liver and onions" from the menu chalkboard at the restaurant entrance. She could have waited until we left.