St. Lucia: May 31-June 12, 2007

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period

There are acceptable winds on the last day of May, and so we haul anchor and head south, hugging the lee shore to minimize the waves.  Oops.  We are in the Windwards now, and so the islands no longer lie along a south-southeasterly line, but rather in a south-southwesterly direction.  Chuck realizes this as soon as he zooms out with the navigational computer and does a "Go To" Rodney Bay in St. Lucia.  Gotta swing away from the protection of Martinique, unless we want to add considerable distance in order to continue to stay close to the protected shore.  Nah, it won't be that bad out there.  And it isn't.  Not even after we are past the island altogether, and are in the open water between Martinique and St. Lucia.  We arrive at the broad and anchor-friendly Rodney Bay just after noon, and nestle up fairly close to the shore, but still a respectable distance away from the strip being used by swimmers, snorkelers, jet skiers, and water skiers.  Close enough, we are elated to learn, to be able to get free wi-fi.

We enjoy Rodney Bay.  Chuck runs every morning, and Barb takes long walks.  Steve and Linda (Seaman's Elixir) are anchored nearby, and they introduce us to Paul and Maggy on Island Time.  There are some very good restaurants in the area, and we all gather one night for dinner at the Chart House, where the ribs are to die for, and on another night at the Edge, where Chuck orders a sushi dinner for two and then consumes the whole thing himself.  The plan had been to eat at the Edge and then retire to Tusen Takk II for cards, but the elegant meal is far too good to rush, and so the cards are postponed until the following night.  If fish is "brain food", then raw fish must be even better.  Chuck kicks butt in the card game, even after the twenty-hour delay.

We have been on a quest to find the best thin-crust pizza in the Caribbean, and are inclined to declare an early victor even before sampling further down the chain:  it seems certain that Key Largo in Rodney Bay will garner the top prize.  We each order a medium, thinking that one would suffice but two will give us a handsome amount to take back for later snacks.  Oops.  Before either of us can gain the requisite self-control, both pizzas are gone, but we are grinning like Cheshire cats.

On one of her extended walks, Barb discovers at Pigeon Island the entrance to the Ft. Rodney Park, and so one day we take the dinghy over to their modest dock, pay the modest entrance fee, and visit yet another Caribbean fort, this one fairly modest.  Way back at Iles de Saintes in Ft. Napoleon we had struggled to make sense of the extended coverage of the apparently-famous and apparently-important naval battle between the French and the British in the Battle of the Saints, but everything was in French and we couldn't even decipher who had won or when.  What a pleasure to discover at the Orientation Center of Ft. Rodney an equally extended treatment of the battle, but this time in English.  Why at Ft. Rodney?  Because the British occupied the fort at the time, and from it were able to monitor the movements of the French in Martinique.  When British Admiral George Rodney observed the massive French armada, he departed from Pigeon Island in order to engage it.  The opposing forces were configured in the conventional two long parallel lines -- the better to fire broadsides at each other -- when Rodney invented the new naval battle technique of sending some of his ships into the French line, dividing it into separate segments and making it possible to fire onto the French ships from both sides.  French confusion ensued, and the British won the battle, marking what is now considered the beginning of the end of French domination in the Caribbean.

On June 6 we somewhat reluctantly move on down a scant 9 miles to Marigot Bay.  One of our guidebooks features a picture of the bay with the heading "It doesn't get any better than this...".  But will they have wi-fi?  Nope.  Just one dimension of our disappointment in the place.  The guidebooks talk about anchoring in the tiny bay, but since that was written the small harbor has been totally filled with too-closely-packed mooring buoys.  There are some interesting shops ashore, and some interesting-sounding restaurants, but the music is too loud at night.  The pizza at one of the waterfront restaurants is a severe disappointment, and the always-happy-hour-two-for-one drinks turn out to be half the normal size.  We only stay one night.  Your mileage may vary.

The next morning as we travel south we pass the massive Hess Oil Terminal.  No distillery here.  Just a bunch of big tanks; a place where oil tankers drop off their oil and other oil tankers pick up oil.  We saw a similar installation in Statia several weeks earlier.  That was initially described as a petroleum mixing station, which we thought we understood until a cruising companion booked a land tour of Statia and got a somewhat more interesting version from the driver.  It seems that at least one function of the "mixing" facility is to hide the origin of the oil, so that officially unfriendly nations can buy and sell from and to one another, with the mixing facility making a handsome profit as middle-men.  USA citizens, the gas you burn today may have come from a black-listed nation yesterday!

We arrive at the Pitons shortly before noon, just in time for another lesson in humility.  Some background: many of the "anchorages" in the Windwards are actually too deep to anchor.  Instead, one uses the mooring buoys that have been placed very close to shore.  For some reason, many of these mooring fields feature buoys that have no painter:  a line permanently attached to the top of the buoy on one end and with a large loop on the other end; the painter can be snatched up to the bow of the boat with a boat hook, lines from the boat run through the loop, and then cast back over the bow.  We are pretty darn good at this maneuver, and feel pretty proud about it, considering the height of the bow of Tusen Takk II, the amount of momentum possessed by a boat as large as Tusen Takk II, and the elaborate signals that are required to guide the captain -- who cannot see the buoy for the last twenty yards -- to the right spot and have him stop at the right time.  The Admiral snatches up the painter with the boat hook and then sends the appropriate body language, whereupon the Captain abandons the controls and rushes forward to help haul the frequently-heavy painter aboard and help quickly feed not one but two lines -- in order to make a halter -- from the boat through the loop at the end of the painter.  All the while, the boat is moving away from the buoy, since the wind and/or current is never still when one is attaching to a buoy.  We think we are pretty good at this maneuver, especially when other cruisers tell us about having started out with four boat hooks and having lost all but one.

More background:  if a buoy lacks the painter, it features just a metal "D" at the top.  A buoy (and its line to the bottom) is far too heavy to hoist up to the bow for the threading operation.  What do do?  One method is to put the dinghy down and use that to park on the buoy.  The captain approaches the buoy, trying not to run over the dinghy and/or the Admiral.  The captain runs out and throws a line to the dinghy.  The line is passed through the "D" ring and thrown back up to the bow.  The captain secures the line, and if desired, throws another from the other side of the bow in order to effect the halter.  We have never employed this method, and we hope that we never will.

A second method is similar to the first, but has the advantage of keeping the Admiral at the bow and the captain at the controls.  As the captain approaches the mooring field, he says "hocus-pocus", whereupon a boat boy magically appears.  The boat boy assumes the role of the Admiral in Method Number One, and then, having rendered a service, pretty much can name his price for that already-rendered service.  In the Windwards, where the painter-less buoys abound, this method is remarkably effective.  We think it might even work without the "hocus-pocus".

A third method employs a piece of hardware manufactured in Switzerland, by a company called "Swisstech", with all that implies in terms of workmanship and price.  Steve, of Seaman's Elixir, had just purchased one, and he told us about it and where in Marin, Martinique, it could be purchased.  As soon as we could we popped over and bought one -- the last in stock for the season, the charming French proprietress said.  Conceptualize a stainless steel hook that can be latched onto the "D" ring, and to which is attached a heavy line and a light line -- or see the photos, below.  The heavy line will hold the boat in place until a halter can be leisurely installed using a modification of Method Number One.  The light line can be used to unlatch the hook -- hereafter referred to as the Swisstech hook -- should it become desirable to disengage it from the buoy without leaving the bow.  But how does the Swisstech hook get down to the "D" ring?  More Swiss ingenuity.  The Swisstech hook can engage/disengage to/from a special attachment that can be affixed to a boat hook.  Alternatively, a special boat hook head can replace the "normal" head on a boat hook.  So, to recap:  the Swisstech hook  is attached to the boat hook.  The Admiral is poised at the bow, sending body language signals.  The captain deftly maneuvers the vessel to the buoy, whereupon the Admiral sends the appropriate signals and simultaneously extends the boat hook down and engages the Swisstech hook through the "D" ring, and then performs the tricky maneuver that disengages the boat hook from the Swisstech hook,  just in time to bring the boat hook back aboard before the boat has drifted so far back as to wrench the boat hook out of the Admiral's grip.

When we arrived in Marigot, we found buoys without painters, but forgot all about the Swisstech hook.  So we employed Method Number Two, and thereby greatly enriched the life of a boat boy who appeared just as we approached the entrance to the bay, even before the captain uttered "hocus-pocus", although he might have inadvertently let the word appear in his thoughts.

So as we approach the mooring field between the Pitons, we are ready.  The Admiral has practiced holding the lines tightly, with no slack, along the shaft of the boat hook, and has practiced removing the boat hook from the Swisstech hook.  The captain inadvertently thinks the magic word, and a boat boy appears.  The Admiral waves him off, ever so graciously, but perhaps with a trace of pride as she says "We can manage ourselves, thank you!"  And then, a moment of confusion as the captain zeroes in on the buoy he has chosen to receive our graceful mating of vessel to mooring.  The Admiral reports with more than a little concern in her voice that there doesn't seem to be a metal ring on the top of the buoy.  Rather, it looks as if there might be a painter.  "Nonsense", says the captain.  "It must be just a rope loop instead of a metal ring.  Go ahead and hook to it."  (Of course, the captain does not really say "nonsense", and the Admiral really has a retort, but that is not the point of this account.)  So, the Admiral sends out the appropriate signals and extends the boat hook and attempts to hook onto the rope loop, which quickly reveals itself to be the attachment of a painter to the buoy.  The Admiral does her best to get the hook over the loop, but reports that the line of the loop is too thick for the hook to fully clasp.  Meanwhile her body signals indicate that the captain is to bring the boat forward.  Oops, miscommunication.  The Admiral is requesting that the captain come forward, and quickly, because the boat hook has released from the Swisstech hook, and the Admiral has attempted to grab the painter with the boat hook.  But the end of the new boat hook is narrower than that of the old, and won't slide on the painter.  So the boat hook, instead of sliding up the painter to the end, giving enough line to be lifted to the bow, is now stuck and is about to either pull the Admiral into the water or pull out of the Admiral's hands.  The captain runs forward and grabs the very end of the boat hook handle.  The boat continues to move backwards, and the captain shouts an urgent request to the Admiral to quickly get to the controls and move the boat forward.  Just as the hook is about to pull free from his hand, the boat hook bursts free from the painter, and simultaneously, the Swisstech hook comes free from the buoy loop -- it really didn't fit on the loop -- and Tusen Takk II is blown away from the buoy by the strong wind that whistles down between the Pitons, blown away while trailing in the water the Swisstech hook with its two lines: the sturdy blue one still attached to the bow cleat, and the red tripping line floating dangerously free.  The boat boy must have heard someone in the anchorage say "hocus-pocus", because his body language asks if he should help.  The Admiral's body language indicates an emphatic "yes".  But do you know what?  The boat boy was selling fruits and vegetables, and when later asked how much we owe him for the help with the mooring, he says "whatever you think is right".  We buy a bunch of fruit, and pay 10 Eastern Caribbean dollars extra, perhaps a small price to pay for a little humility.

After we get settled in and have rehashed the mayhem of the mooring attachment episode, we look around us and exchange smiles of delight.  The Pitons are dramatic, and we are moored right between them.  Petit Piton, which isn't so very petit, lies to the northeast of us, and Gros Piton, which is huge, lies to the southwest.  One of the most "ritzy" of Caribbean resorts, the Jalousie Hilton, lies at the foot of Petit Piton, and they are "cruiser friendly", meaning one can use their dinghy dock and lounge in their beach chairs and order drinks in their outdoor bars and eat in any of their many restaurants and catch their on-grounds shuttle up to their gate high up the ridge connecting the two Pitons.  They can also arrange for a taxi to come to their reception area, and the taxi can be taken, for a not-inconsiderable sum, to the independently-owned  Dasheene restaurant, which lies on the very edge of the ridge and offers a spectacular view of the Pitons.  Steve and Linda join us for a Sunday buffet at Dasheene's.  We stuff ourselves, and take lots of pictures.  The restaurant is "open" in the sense that it is covered but there are no exterior walls.  Linda tells us about a cruising acquaintance of hers who, at a similar restaurant, was in the process of lifting a French fry to her mouth when a bird flew by and snatched the fry, nicking her lip in the process and drawing blood.  The restaurant staff was extremely solicitous, and after apologizing, asked her if she wanted a gun.  "A gun?", she stammered.  Seeing her confusion, the waitress disappeared for a moment and returned with a gun.  "For the birds", she said, offering a water pistol.  Dasheenes, a much classier place, doesn't wait for blood to be drawn before making available the "guns".  Each table comes equipped with its very own water pistol.

Among the many pictures taken at Dasheene's are several of Barbara.  Take a close look at them, if you will.  Notice that Barbara's hair is no longer auburn.  Nor red.  Nor dark blonde.  None of those colors.  Yes, folks, the tendency experienced by so many cruisers to simplify their lives has had its effect on Barbara, and after some thirty years of coloring her hair, she -- after considerable encouragement from Chuck -- consented to let it "go natural".  Her fear was that it would grow out to be a mousy mixture of grey and brown, in which case she fully resolved to reinstate the coloring regimen.  But we are both delighted to see that she now sports a lovely head of silver grey, and so the nasty chemicals have been moth-balled.  Hurray!

We are moored in the Saint Lucia Marine Management Area (SMMA), which means that every morning at 7 am a park ranger boats through on patrol.  He returns at about 6:30 pm in order to collect fees for mooring in the the SMMA.  As we pay our fee the first night, Barb asks him about securing a dive guide, knowing that St. Lucia requires that all dives be accompanied by a local guide.  The ranger determines that we have all of our own diving gear, and promises to send a guide over at our desired time.  The next morning we are surprised to see that the guide is another ranger -- one who had also been present when we did the original booking.  No matter.  We are taken to the base of Gros Piton, and the three of us perform a marvelous drift dive while the ranger's companion mans the boat up top.  Good water clarity.  Vibrant colors and very healthy coral -- mostly soft but some hard.  Scads of fish.  A large crab.  Gobs of fish.  A large hawkbill turtle.  Oodles of fish.  Many varieties of eels.  Tons of fish.  A number of lobster.  Actually, um, schools of fish.  We dive for four consecutive mornings.  Each day at 6:30 pm the ranger picks up the our tanks for filling at a very nominal price.  Each morning at 7 am he leaves them in our dinghy.  Each day at about 9 am he comes back with the ranger/guide, and we take another drift through another stretch of enchanted underwater landscape.  On each dive, Barb takes her water-proof fish book along and revels in the opportunity to reestablish with the inhabitants of the reef her acquaintanceships on a first-name basis.

We are having such a good time between the Pitons that we don't really give much thought to when we should leave.  Then, a casual comment by some other cruiser about the weather turning windy rouses us from our indifference, and we hastily consult the weather forecasts.  Oops.   Tomorrow is our last chance to get down to the next set of islands, unless we are willing to linger here indefinitely until a later weather window.  So we cancel our plans to go diving for the fifth consecutive morning, and instead depart early on the morning of June 12 for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  But for the story of that trip, and island visits that followed, faithful readers must tune in to the next exciting episode of "Chuck and Barb Go Cruising".

Pigeon Island, site of Ft. Rodney

Boat Boy (selling fruits and veggies) at Rodney Bay

Troop barracks at Rodney Bay

More troop barracks

View of peak east of the upper fort

View of the upper fort from the peak

Looking down at Sandal's Resort from the peak

Barb at the peak

At the peak w/ upper fort in background

Entrance to Marigot Bay

Looking back toward the entrance

Marigot Bay

Tusen Takk II in Marigot Bay

Marigot Bay

Playing Progressive Rummy w/ Seaman's Elixir (Steve & Linda) and Island Time (Paul and Maggy)

Steve and Chuck

Hess Oil tanks north of the Pitons

Approaching the Pitons

Petit Piton

Gros Piton

Gros Piton in the rain

Fishermen in the rain at the Pitons

Petit Piton from Dasheene Restaurant

Sunday brunch at Dasheene

Steve and Chuck in conversation

Squirt gun on each table to chase the birds away

Band at Dasheene

Infinity pool at Dasheene

Barb exploring at Dasheene

Gros Piton making a cloud

Petit Piton from the restaurant

Hilton hotel at the base of Petit Piton

Sunny Petit Piton from TT II

The Pitons from the south as we leave

Swisstech "Mooring Buoy Hook and Retriever"

Swisstech hook attached to the special boat hook head

Flag courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.