Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Northbound Again

When Mark, Darwin and I left the Tobago Cays, we wanted to make a quick stopover in St. Vincent before spending some time in the next island, St. Lucia. On the way south, we had spent the night in Chateaubelair Bay without any problems, even though a boat boy had told us about a robbery not too long before. We didn’t sleep very well, but it was the most convenient stop for us. This time, we planned on doing the same, since Chateaubelair is the best jump off point for St Lucia from St. Vincent. So, we motor sailed all along the wind free west coast of the country, to arrive in our bay of choice, despite other cruisers’ warnings it wasn’t safe there.

In some Caribbean islands, boat boys welcome you to the anchorage. They sell all kinds of things from fruit to fish to handmade souvenirs, want to hand you the line to a mooring ball or help you tie up to shore when needed. All in return for some money, of course. When we arrived in Chateaubelair this time, however, a boy that recognized us (or was it Darwin he recognized?), paddled out on his surf board and didn’t want to sell anything. Instead, he warned us not to anchor at this spot anymore. He mentioned something about another robbery that happened recently (and which we read about later in the Caribbean Compass newspaper) and about the police not wanting boats to anchor this far away from town anymore. Mark and I were contemplating. Do we believe him? Does he just want us closer to town so all his friends can try to sell us things? We were tired, didn’t feel like motoring back south to the previous anchorage and wanted an early start the next morning. We did know ourselves enough to realize we wouldn’t sleep in this place, dog or no dog, and we would be happier in a safe bay. So, we picked up our anchor and took Irie back to Cumberland Bay.

Cumberland Bay in St. Vincent is a very deep bay where one needs some boat driving skills. Since it was getting later in the day, more boats had taken a spot than we had seen before and we had to maneuver Irie backwards between two monohulls, towards shore. At the right moment to give us enough scope (length of anchor chain), Mark had to drop the anchor in more than 40 feet of water and then I had to drive backwards between the two parked boats until we were close to shore, where a boat boy tied our stern line to a palm tree for the equivalent of $ 4. It only took us two tries, while all the other boaters, mostly charterers, bluntly watched.

Cumberland is an interesting place. It is very small and cozy and even though the locals look a bit out of place, they are very friendly. There is a small shack on the black beach and a fresh river to rinse off the salt water. A lot of people just hang around and some of the boys show how brave and cool they are by hanging on your lines and anchor chain. We didn’t have to put our outboard back on the dinghy during this short stop (we always haul it on deck on crossings between islands), because we could just pull ourselves ashore with our stern line to let Darwin out. When we inquired about the situation in Chateaubelair, the police ordinance was confirmed and the bay is openly called unsafe. We were glad about our decision to move for the night and slept well as a result.

The sail to St. Lucia was gorgeous and to top it all off, we were welcomed to the country by a huge pod of dolphins. They played in front of our bow for 15 minutes and we thoroughly enjoyed their beautiful presence. I filmed part of their activity. You might have seen it in the right column of this page! The sight of the Pitons is always breathtaking and we could see them from pretty far away. That in combination with the dolphins created a truly magical moment. This is a very scenic region in St. Lucia and we hoped to spend some time in the National Park.

We stopped in St. Lucia on the way south to Grenada and were very pleased with the country and its officials. We had no problem checking Darwin in and that was one of the reasons we wanted to come back. This time, things went a bit differently, though. The captain, Mark, went to shore in Soufriere and checked us in. A guy from the agriculture department would arrive an hour later and Mark would have to pick him up, which he did. This “official” came to the boat to “inspect” Darwin, but, instead of scanning his microchip, giving him a quick exam and looking through his vaccination records and handing us a permit for EC$ 45 (US$ 18) like the vet on our southbound trip had done, this guy just looked at Darwin, briefly scanned our paperwork and wrote something on it. All for the round amount of EC$ 150 (US$ 60!). Luckily, Mark could “bargain” this “government fee” down to EC 95 (US$ 38), still a lot of money for us, but what are you gonna do? It sure put a sour taste in our mouth about this visit to St. Lucia. One would wonder why we still go through all the effort, time, hassle and money to check our dog into every country along the way… Do you know anybody else who does? And, just for the record, all this happened after we tried to contact the agriculture department for two weeks about checking Darwin in in Soufriere and hearing nothing back. We also wrote them about this last experience to no avail.

Soufriere is not a place we recommend for cruisers. Checking in is easy, but other than that, the people are very aggressive and unfriendly and boat boys abound wherever you anchor in the bay. The mooring balls which you are obliged to moor on and pay for (they are part of the National Park fee) are very close together, making it very tricky NOT to hit another boat. We managed for one night and then moved to Anse des Pitons, the favorite of many cruisers.

This anchorage is located between the two Pitons and is scenic indeed. On shore, a big resort owns the grounds, but boaters have permission to land their dinghy and walk around. Dogs, however, are not allowed on the private property. They are welcome on the beach, but since that’s where a lot of hotel guests hang out, we didn’t feel very comfortable walking Darwin around, even though we “pick up” after him. So, after one night, we left there as well.

Our next stop was called Anse Mamin, near Anse Chastanet. We were the only boat on the moorings and enjoyed the quiet bay and nice black beach with palm trees. This area is part of another resort, but beaches are public in St. Lucia and we didn’t feel unwelcome here. We discovered a maze of trails in the jungle behind the beach and enjoyed a few walks there. Nice place!

We hoped to spend a few nights in Anse de Canaries, but the fishermen removed all the mooring balls, so we had no way of telling where to put the boat. Instead, we spent the remainder of our park days in Anse Cochon, a pleasant enough bay with a nice beach. Because of its popularity, all the cruise ship passengers taking catamaran tours end up here as well.

To finish up our visit to St. Lucia, we anchored over a week in Rodney Bay, the most comfortable anchorage in the country. The bay is huge and there are different areas to drop the hook. The north side and the south side are very busy with vacationers on the beaches and in the water on jetskis, waterskis or Hoby Cats (little sailing catamarans). We started in the northern part of the bay to have a wonderful meal and evening in Jambe du Bois restaurant and to visit Pigeon Island National Park. Dogs are not allowed on the “island” which is now a peninsula, so I explored the park by myself. There are nice walks to the top of two hills which offer fantastic views, and many ruins dot the property.

The south side of the bay is very convenient to go ashore in the marina, walk long and nice Reduit beach or do some grocery shopping via the lagoon. After we did all that, bounced up and down during the day because of all the water sports commotion, lied awake all night because of loud music on shore and had a Hoby Cat run into Irie twice, it was time to move to the middle part of the bay. And there we stayed until the weather improved and it was time to sail to Martinique.

(For many more pictures, see itsirie.shutterfly.com)

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