St Lucia: Touching the Pitons

Having spent far too long in Rodney Bay, we set out to see more of the island. St Lucia has a very pretty coastline, with lush hills rolling up to green mountains, and stark cliffs mixed in. And for a lot of the same reasons, the wind changes frequently as you pass from one mountain to the next, making it a little fiddly to sail. Still, I’m going to pretend like we were always sailing, even if there was a lot of motoring involved.

There are always oddities as you sail down the coast, like the sharp line between clear water and muddy rain runoff, or the innumerable fish traps marked with old floating bottles.

Our first stop was Anse de Canaries, where we’d intended to hike, but were unable to beach the dinghy due to some swell. Still, it was a pretty overnight anchorage, marred only by the over-eager salesmen who kept coming by in their kayaks and fishing boats. (“Do you want to buy something? Well then you can just give me something. …What do you mean, no?”) Note also the fish farm behind the passing fishing boat; these are incredibly common here, always held up with a long string of those same old assorted plastic bottles.

But the highlight of the St Lucian coast has to be the Pitons. They start to loom at you as you approach, and then continue to dominate the landscape as you get closer.

The surrounding waters are managed by the Soufriere Marine Management Agency, which requires you to use their mooring balls, and that suited us just fine: it protects the coral, and it keeps the crowds down. Not that crowds are a huge issue during the COVID era. We started out in the Rachette area, on the north side of the mountains and with a good view of the town. You’ll be shocked to hear this, but Captain was unimpressed.

There’s also a bat cave right near by, and as you pass in your dinghy you can hear them chittering away.

Approaching a ball generally means fending off an enterprising boat boy who would like to “help you with your lines” aka get their boat between you and the ball to extract a ransom. Kraken had gotten Jazz a pink megaphone, and she used this freely.

Our first pass through town brought us to the Diamond Botanical Gardens, where we were informed that there was currently a group of resort-quarantine guests was inside, and we would have to wait until they left. St Lucia’s COVID-tourism compromise, it seemed, would be to keep the local and CARICOM-bubble populations isolated from resort guests, and attractions would be open to only one type at a time. So we took a walk up the road, and were rewarded with lots of jungle life and some nice mountain views. At one point a rain shower passed by, and we took shelter under one of the many cocoa trees.

When we got back to the gardens, we were allowed in, after a temperature check and contact log. And we were treated to a lovely walk among the labeled tropical plants. Note (above and below) the color of the river: it’s not mud, it’s just chock full of dissolved minerals from its volcano of origin.

We’d actually just been expecting hot mineral baths and a waterfall, so the botanical gardens were a nice bonus. We paid the extra ten EC for the private baths, which turned out to be much more private than we’d expected: we needn’t have worn swimsuits all day, and we should have brought soap. Still, we had a lovely soak in comfortably hot mineral water. And after turning the corner to see the public baths, we were glad we’d upgraded.

Also there was a waterfall.

We passed back through town to our dinghy, just ahead of another tiny rainstorm. We were briefly interrupted on our way into the dock with an offer of unspecified drugs, breaking our previous record for closest solicitation to a police station.

Whenever we go to a new country, we look up lists of what to do. Cross reference a few different sources, and you find the things that you really shouldn’t miss. In St Lucia, everyone recommends you take a boat trip along the coast, and try to see the Pitons from the water. We took that advice, and moved our boat to the SMMA moorings between the Pitons, where we were the only boat for most of a couple of days.

Of course, it’s St Lucia, and the whole park is still a “fishing priority area”, so we were still passed every morning by several groups of fishermen, always with at least several standing in the front of the boat.

This is another place where there are nice hikes that are theoretically reachable from the boat, so we tried to go to shore. The SMMA people told us we could use the resort’s dinghy dock. The resort, however, had no interest in letting us do that, because they are a quarantine facility (OK, fair enough). The dock guard sent us down to the beach. As we tried to puzzle out the best way to get Dinkus far enough up the beach to lock, we were approached by another guard, who told us that we were not welcome there either, as it was resort property. This is false as we understand the law around beaches, and moreover the fishermen seemed to be welcome. Still, we figured it was better not to have the fight, and retreated back to the boat.

So, instead of hiking, we did a chore, because no visit to a beautiful place would be complete without some boat maintenance. Our anchor chain is two years old, and we mostly use the bottom half of the 235 feet. So to even the wear out a little, we took it out and reversed it. We usually anchor, so the chain’s in use, but SMMA requires that we use their mooring balls, and that provided a nice opportunity. While we were at it, we took stock of all the lost chain markers, and came up with a different marking system which we immediately failed to commit to memory.

And then it came time to go to our dentist appointment back in Rodney Bay, which was one of our major reasons for visiting the island. But we would be back; it’s simply too pretty not to.