07/08/2007, Saint Lucia
Fred and Cindy were enjoying the Marina for a couple of days before we arrived. Unfortunately they had seen Jill off to her home in San Francisco before we had a chance to say goodbye. Goodbye Jill!
Fred had met a Rasta Saint Lucian on the docks named Vision who had done a great job waxing their boat. Vision was also in the business of doing island tours, so we signed up. Fred, Cindy the five MacKenzies along with Hideko and I piled into the van with our driver Ital and Vision, and we set off to explore.
If you just consider an island's interior I would have to say Dominica is the most beautiful island in the Caribbean. If you consider the whole island, coastline/beaches/harbors and interior, then Saint Lucia is the hands down champ. Saint Lucia is covered in rain forest with fruit, nut and spice trees growing everywhere. There are dramatic mountains and waterfalls, botanical gardens, steaming volcano cauldrons and quaint villages. The coastline is remarkable as well with Rodney Bay and the lagoon, Castries Bay, Marigot Bay, Soufriere and the Pitons. This does not account for the doubtless hundreds of beautiful sights we did not see. I'm sure the Atlantic side of the island is full of rugged beauty.
Our day trip back into the mountains to visit a waterfall. Compared to what we had seen in Dominica, it was a cute waterfall. The hike back to the waterfall was quite nice and gave the kids a chance to see all of the natural bounty of the rain forest. Vision picked us some mango, coconut and sour orange to eat along the trail. As we arrived at the water fall we ran across another group that was preparing to repel down the waterfall. Sounded like fun.
We had lunch at the Ladera Resort's restaurant overlooking the Pitons. The restaurant is named Dasheen after the root of a local plant who's leaves are called Callaloo and used like spinach. It was a Sunday buffet and not bad for the islands but not up to the expectations set by the references we had received for the place. Perhaps ordering off of the menu would provide a different perspective. The view was another story. You have to visit this place if even just for a beer. The restaurant overlooks the bar which over looks the pool which overlooks the entire Piton anchorage. You are up in the clouds.
We visited the Soufriere Volcano and hot springs after lunch. What a smell. Everyone was in nose holding mode and Maddy protested entering the area with some fervor. It was amazing to see the steaming, hissing, bubbling vats of sulfur all over such a huge area. The rangers give you a little tour and there is apparently no concern for any activity other than the standard caldron heating going on presently. After Montserrat where we had to stand off in the distance to look at the volcano it was interesting to see one up close.
Back on the road we stopped at various vista points and some road side stands for tastes of local cuisine. We also took a private walk through the botanical gardens. They were closed but Vision talked the guard into letting us see the place. There is another "cute" waterfall in the gardens and a wonderful variety of indigenous and imported flora. It is really a huge place; you could easily spend an entire day there.
Most of the E ticket attractions on our tour were on the south end of the island, and we of course were staying in the north. It had rained on and off, like it is supposed to do in a rain forest, but on the way home it really started coming down. Boxed up in a van on the winding mountain roads took its toll on some of the tourists and a few stops for lunch dispersal were called for.
We arrived back at Rodney Bay late in the day. It was a spectacular run about Saint Lucia and about as much touring as one could safely pack into a day. Everyone was pretty beat so we let Scuttlebutts cook dinner. Shortly thereafter the group was sleeping the sleep of the just, or at least the really tired.
07/07/2007, Saint Lucia
Weather this morning indicated a strong wave would pass in the afternoon but nothing much to worry about. We decided to head into the marina anyway though so that we would have an easy base for sending the Mac clan off to the airport. We set about getting the boat ready for the dock after breakfast. Stowing the bongo took some time. Kelp Fiction had made it to the marina while we were out. I talked to Fred on the VHF and we decided to do a group tour of the island tomorrow.
We parked Swingin' on a Star stern to in one of the slips on the A dock and immediately set about trying to find a dive shop that would take us out for a two tank dive in the afternoon. Kory had aces his knowledge reviews and quizzes and only needed two open water dives to complete his Junior SCUBA Diver rating. Having limited local communications capabilities we enlisted one of the Rodney Bay Marina guards to help us. An unlikely concierge perhaps, but many phone calls and false starts later, he got the job done and we had a ride to the Smugglers Cove reef around the north point of the bay.
While Maddy busied herself by giving Hideko an alien hair do and fashion overhaul, Kory Thomas and I got ready for a late afternoon dive. It turned out to be a nice little excursion around the north side of Pigeon Island. I hadn't realized that the bay up there was so picturesque. There were a couple of nice spa type hotels and a little beach, not to mention great snorkeling and shallow water diving.
We had to make quick work of our dives because it was fairly late in the day. Kory performed like a champ and completed all of his final skills. We spent the balance of the dives looking around the very lively rocks and reefs. The sun was setting as we returned to the boat. Upon arrival everyone congratulated Kory on his achievement and we had a nice dinner. The girls had made Kory a cake but he was so tired from his busy day that he crashed without even trying a bite of it. Feeling bad, I ate a piece for me and also one for Kory.
07/06/2007, Saint Lucia
When you live on a boat you investigate the weather with interest each day. We listen to Chris Parker on the SSB (8.127MHz in these parts) at 7AM and pull down NOAA reports and spot forecasts pretty much every day. Especially during hurricane season. Extra-especially when we're in the corridor. Super-extra-especially when we have friends aboard. Way-super-extra-especially when there's a closed low pressure system east of us. The day the MacKenzies landed was the day we had our first concerning low pressure system of the season. Odds are good that anything looking ominous will not develop. Odds are also good that if it does develop it will go north of the area. Even though the chances of a problem developing are slim, the consequences are significant. Given the situation we decided to stay within a short sail of Rodney Bay until the wave coming our way gave up its formation or passed. The Rodney Bay lagoon is about as protected as you can get.
After a quick morning update it looked like the low pressure system in the coming wave was likely to flatten out but it was still possible for us to end up with gale or storm force winds. The crew discussed matters and decided to return to Rodney Bay and monitor the situation. We could then stay in the beautiful bay or pop into the marina is things were looking messy.
I had really wanted to sit in between the two Pitons if just for a moment before we left. Everyone was up for a little tour so we cruised through the Jalousie Cove area. The anchorage here is a bit open but there's a very nice beach and the views are spectacular. After motoring about a bit we set the sails and prepared to beat our way up the coast to Rodney Bay.
There are two pirate (type) ships based in Rodney Bay that do day charters. The kids, Sammy especially, were really interested in them. On the way up the coast we passed by one of them underway. It was fun to see and old square rigger sailing down the coast of Saint Lucia.
Things were not particularly smooth on the way back north. The wind was up and so were the seas. A green tint began to appear on some of the complexions aboard. Hideko had a line out to break things up and all of the kids were very excited to catch a fish. It was slow going up the coast and I was trying not to get too carried away due to the tender crew. Hideko was getting depressed as we closed on Rodney Bay because she hadn't even gotten a nibble on her line.
Then, almost on cue, Kory chummed the waters. Moments later, with Kory now sound and hale, Hideko's line started to run. Hideko and the kids reeled in a feisty Little Tunny. Regardless of the name it was pretty good sized. We'd never caught one of these before and we had to use the fish ID card to figure out if we should eat it or throw it back. It wasn't on the excellent list but it was on the eat-it list so we did.
Fishing was all well and good but catching a fish seemed to be a bit less popular. Thinking it was tuna family I tried to cook it like tuna. Turns out is was mackerel family and not amiable to being cooked like a tuna. It wasn't bad but not great either.
We anchored off the main beach in Rodney Bay a bit south of the primary anchorage. After lunch we got out the bongo (10 foot diameter inner-tube with a big trampoline on top) and tied it to the boat on a long painter. The kids went nuts, bouncing and diving for a while. Kory finished his third confined water SCUBA dive later in the afternoon while the girls went to the beach for a snorkel. Sammy seemed to be very happy playing at the water margin and Maddy was doing some impressive snorkeling. We all stayed out on the beach until the sun was going down to make the most of our last day outside the marina.
07/05/2007, Saint Lucia
Our next anchorage was tentatively Anse Chastanet at the north end of the Soufriere area. Soufriere is the name of the town on the north side of Petite Piton. Soufriere means volcano, more or less, and many of the islands out here have a peak named Soufriere or an area where volcanoes live (or lived) called Soufriere. In fact there's a Marigot on almost all of the French islands, and an Anse Mitan. The British had the same affection, you will not no less than four Georgetowns in the Caribbean. The early explorers weren't too creative.
Petite Piton is the northern Piton and it rises over 2,400 feet to a point summit. Jalousie cove lies between Petite Piton and Gros Piton which is over 2,600 feet in height. The amazing thing about the Pitons is that they rise straight up out of the ocean. The scenery in the entire Soufriere area is dramatic.
It was blowing today. We motored a couple miles down to Anse Chastanet and the anchorage looked nice but the beach wasn't up to snuff and the calm waters needed for confined water diving weren't in place so we moved on. As we came around Caille Point into the Soufriere Bay the wind was channeling down the draw and hitting us on the nose at 30 knots.
We cruised by the moorings at the cliff caves at the north end of the bay but they were right out in the howling wind. We moved on to Hummingbird beach to check things out there but stern to the beach didn't seem fun in these conditions. We continued on all through the bay vetoing anchorage after anchorage. This had incensed the swarm of boat boys trying to find something to charge us $10 EC for.
Just as the various pirogues zipped off giving up on us we came upon Anse Mitan. The beach was ok but the moorings there were park service maintained and very close to shore. Thomas and Kory jumped in the dinghy and tied us up to the ring at the top of the mooring float and we were home for the night.
As recommended by the cruising guide you would normally need to tie your stern to the beach here. This would eliminate the roll for some boats but also would be required to avoid collisions if boats were on all of the moorings. It was very tightly packed. As it turned out there was only one other boat in the anchorage at the end of the day so we swung free over night. We did tie up to a tree just for fun during the day. It made a nice transit line for the kids to go back and forth on.
Boat boys hassled us throughout the day and even the kids that, unsolicited, helped haul the line onto the beach hit us up for payment. This is probably the worst area in the Caribbean in that regard.
We paid the park service for the mooring and gained permission to do a training dive near the boat. Though severe in upholding their charge, the park service people were very reasonable and informative. Kory completed his second training dive and Hideko and Thomas joined us for fun. Thomas has an interesting diving technique involving wearing a hat underwater which was entertaining.
Fred had told us about the Bat Cave on the North side of the Bay. The Bat Cave is a large vertical crack in the shear cliff wall of Soufriere Bay. Inside this cave thousands of bats make their home. As darkness was falling Thomas, Kory, Maddy and I motored over in Little Star to see if we could catch the bats. As the sun faded away the bats began to squeak in a deafening chorus that we could hear even over the wind as we approached. We idled about the entrance to the cave waiting for the mass exodus. The bat chatter was running at a fevered pitch but we only saw one or two flying around.
After sitting on a mooring for fifteen minutes or so we decided to give up. Darkness was here and the bats were not cooperating. It was great just to hear all of them going nuts in there. As were motored back it became apparent that the flashlight responsibility had been neglected. We made our way carefully back to Swingin on a Star due to the danger of high speed skiffs blasting about with no lights either.
Hideko had made us a nice pasta dinner which was ready when we returned. After dinner we all enjoyed the beautiful evening out on deck amongst the towering Pitons.
07/04/2007, Saint Lucia
Hideko, Thomas, Kory and Maddy dinghied over to the Moorings Marina this morning to get pastries and fresh baguettes. I'm not sure but I suspect that there is a French based pastry franchise operating in the Caribbean. I have noticed an almost identical set of pastries acquired here, in the other French islands, and also in the train stations in Paris. The products are all great and cooked in proper pastry ovens and all that, but with a McDonalds like consistency. This standardization and quality control is a good thing because I have not found any other good Caribbean bakeries. This bakery alone makes me want to come back to Marigot.
Thomas selected our next stop, Anse Cachon. We motored the short 3 miles around Point De La Ville. Anse Cachon marks the north end of the prime diving territory in Saint Lucia. We picked up a mooring to protect the coral there abouts.
Cachon has a nice sized dive shop and a pretty beach. The big attraction is the snorkeling and diving however. This suited us well because Thomas had recently been certified for SCUBA and Kory was hoping to get certified as a Junior diver on this trip.
Saint Lucia has a law restricting all diving, except diving involved with working on your boat, to registered dive shops. This allows marine park fees to be collected and ensures that the park is protected by the designated dive operations. From Anse Cachon down to Soufriere the park rangers are out in force.
This was a predicament. Diving in Saint Lucia is about as expensive as it gets in the Caribbean. We also like to dive without the crowds. I do respect what they are trying to do however. I wanted to take Kory out for his first confined water dive in the shallows of the protected bay, but I didn't want a $5,000 fine.
I decided to talk with the Island Divers dive shop to figure out the best course of action. Thomas, Kory and I snorkeled over from Swingin' on a Star. The manager of Island Divers was a friendly guy. I showed him my instructor card and explained the situation. We both agreed that the diving restrictions were designed to manage reef diving, which was not what we were about. The letter of the law was not clear here though. I asked them to supervise us which would certainly cover things. He was not sure he wanted to do that. I finally offered to pay for a one tank dive and have him just sit in the sand for an hour and watch us do regulator recovery and other skills, sure to be exciting to a 10 year dive instructor. That got him, he said, "Go ahead I'll just keep an eye on you from here but stay off of the reef" Perfect!
The whole area is beautiful and filled with lots of fish. You couldn't go from A to B without seeing something beautiful or interesting. Thomas joined Kory and I as we ran through the dive skills. We took a leisurely surface swim back to the boat with our dive flag in tow and enjoyed all of the sights on the way. Once on board we refilled the tanks with the Brownie compressor and rinsed off all of our gear. Kory completed his first SCUBA session with ease and we had a great time in the water.
The Sand Crabs (in this incarnation, Em, Maddy and Sammy), were, however, nonplussed. The sand was not very white and there were too many rocks. We'd be moving on tomorrow.
All of the MacKenzie kids are great swimmers. Kory is as strong as most adults at age 10 and Maddy does very well also. Sammy can't quite swim solo yet but will happily jump into any body of water with no concern for personal safety. Swimming lessons are proceeding at a rapid clip.
When everyone was back aboard we fired up the barbeque and grilled some hamburgers and hot dogs. It was July 4th after all. There were British, French and of course Saint Lucians about but not too many folks flying Old Glory. We did our best to celebrate in the traditional 4th barbeque fashion. I could almost see the fireworks in the starry night sky.
07/03/2007, Saint Lucia
After a bit of cereal and OJ for breakfast we started to get the boat ready for a sail. We put PFDs on all of the kids and gave some basic instruction for being on a sailboat underway. I was not sure what we were in for at this point. We should see 15 knots of wind from the east right? I mean this is the Caribbean. The forecast also predicted 15 knots from the east. I have learned to distrust all expectations over the past few months. We always find things stronger than predicted in crossings and more or less random on the back side of a mountainous island.
You also never know how people are going to react to sailing until you sail with them. You could have a friend with the hardiest constitution on the planet, bites the heads off of nails, eats food that would make a normal person ill and then rides the big five roller coasters at Magic Mountain, double daring the Colossus backwards twice, with no problem. Put them on a sailboat and they become a quivering, hurling mess. Other people who can't ride in the back seat of a car without turning green are fine on boats. Usually motion sickness is universal but not always.
As it turned out we couldn't have asked for a better break-in day. It was 13 knots on the beam with lake like seas. I couldn't believe it. It was what it was supposed to be! We skated across the flat leeward water at 9 knots as if we were on rails. Kory took the helm and steered the boat for a good part of the trip. Much better than an auto pilot. It was a beautiful sail and everyone had a great time. The only bad part was that with only 8 miles to sail it was over quickly.
Off season in Saint Lucia is a mixed bag with the boat boys. There are fewer of them plying the waters because there are fewer boats, but because there are fewer boats you tend to attract all of them when you show up. Marigot is not as bad as many other spots, I think there's a union or something. We only had one guy pester us as we tried to motor into the harbor. People come to the islands with their boats to enjoy sailing and everything that goes with it. Tying up, mooring, anchoring, running a line to a coconut tree, it is all part of the dream. It is a real downer when someone tries to foist help upon you that you don't want and then tries to force you to pay for the service.
The moorings in Marigot (as in most of the boat boy locales) don't have painters. This makes it convenient to have someone in a dinghy unless you have a small amount of freeboard (by design I'm sure, although this does reduce the charter boat prop wraps I suppose). The guy who was running along side us told me the mooring was $30 and that we didn't have to pay him anything extra, so I said ok, just to have him on his way as quickly as possible. I later found out that if you call the Discovery Hotel, which manages the moorings, the actual mooring fee is only $15. Typical. Being obnoxious for financial gain is forgivable, but deceiving for financial gain is pretty despicable.
Marigot is a very protected harbor and easy to sail right by if you're not looking for it. The tale told by all the tour boats (and me I guess...) is that the British fleet hid in the inner harbor with palm fronds tied to the masts allowing them to escape the French fleet. I could certainly believe it. It is a Mangrove shoreline and so the water is murky with a muddy bottom. Some obstinate people anchor inside but there's really no room with the Moorings Charter base there and all of the moorings out in the lagoon. You can anchor outside but all of the shops and restaurants are in the inner lagoon.
It could be blowing a gale outside and it would still be flat in Marigot. Perfect conditions for dinghy training. We dropped Little Star into the lagoon and Thomas set about taking the kids on a tour. Maddy and Kory did pretty good with the 8hp outboard but they were a little rough on the docking procedures. After careful consideration they were granted open water dinghy licenses but kindly asked to surrender the helm when in the proximity of fixed objects.
Late in the afternoon we all decided to relax on the trampolines to enjoy the cooling end of the day. There had been a lot of discussion of poo going on as Roq was just starting to get the hang of going to the restroom on the boat. Emily was sitting with Sammy near Maddy on the Port trampoline, Hideko and I were sitting on the old people's tramp (as designated by Maddy) to Starboard, Thomas was sitting on the bow seat to port and Kory was sitting on the Port bridge deck. Abruptly Kory said, "What's that smell?" The adults said, "What smell?" "Something stinks", came the response. Then Maddy said, "it smells like poop" Everyone began looking around with concerned expressions and then after a brief pause, like a diesel engine starting up, the truth was exposed. Sammy burst out bawling. Not only was it a poo accident but there was a tidy little pile of brown pudding right smack in the middle of the kids trampoline.
Clouds broke over Thomas and Emily's faces. The kids made bee lines for the farthest point on the fore deck from the smoking gun. Hideko and I simply burst into laughter. We told Maddy that she wasn't allowed on the old people tramp but she quickly changed the age limit. Em took Sammy inside to clean up and Thomas got the enviable task of tramp clean up. Roq seemed confused by the entire incident.
That night we went ashore for dinner at a really neat place called Mygo. Mygo has various parts but the Soggy Dollar Bar and Grill and Pizza Kitchen are right across from the only sandy spot in Marigot, with a great dinghy dock. They advertise Pizza but the pizza is not really very good IMHO. Everything else was great though. It was barbeque night so they were grilling right on the dock.
The sandy spot in Marigot is more of a water sports depot and Palm tree hammock haven than a beach. We really enjoyed the peace and serenity of Marigot (perhaps only available in the off season) but the Sand Crabs are tough customers when it comes to substandard beach facilities. We would be moving on tomorrow.
07/02/2007, Saint Lucia
We cleared customs this morning. The office is right upstairs in the Marina building. We had to wait a half hour after the office was supposed to open for someone to show up but that is sort of standard in these parts.
We left the lagoon and turned to starboard to explore the north side of the bay. Most boats anchor off of Reduit Beach on the south side of the bay. This is a beautiful spot but somewhat crowded. We always try the path less traveled if possible. This behavior has allowed us to discover some amazing places with no one around for miles and it has also caused us to say, "no wonder no one comes here", from time to time. The adventure is worth the few zingers we get ourselves into.
We anchored by ourselves in a shallow spot near an empty beach. There were a few boats all the way up by the fort but we had the central bay to ourselves. The kids made for the beach as soon as we were settled. Thomas calls them his Sand Crabs. The kids gave the beach a thumbs down because it wasn't sandy enough. So much for this anchorage experiment.