The harbor was abuzz when we pulled up after an overnight sail from Dominica. We opted to skip Martinique in favor of more time in the Nature Isle, a decision that was surely influenced by our lack-of-language-induced PTSD from Guadeloupe. But the allure of Dominica was an even bigger force and no matter how many words I could spew about the country, there is no way with my limited writing acumen to truly articulate my love for that small island. So much so that I’m here writing about it when I should be writing about St. Lucia. That could be due to my less than stellar introduction to the island via Rodney Bay. Since the start of our journey we had not been anywhere this geared toward tourists. Even in Antigua, which some consider a tourist trap, we were away from most of that hubbub in English Harbor. A Sandals on one side and three other might-as-well-be-Sandals on the other welcomed us in to a Caribbean Disneyland. The harbor was replete with jet skis, white guys on Hobie Cats, and horses on the beach. I understand that some people may want these things, and in and of themselves they aren’t bad, but when you travel to a place in search of new experiences and local flavor this isn’t what you hope for. Places that give themselves over entirely to the pleasure of visitors end up losing their appeal in the process (see Myrtle Beach [I’m sorry MB]) and Rodney Bay seemed to be one of those places. Growing up in a tourism based economy on Hilton Head, I was shown the other side of the equation and for better or worse there is often resentment focused at tourists. I think its a local’s way of expressing ownership and solidarity, but it can be poisonous and I saw some of that more insidious resentment here — enough to remark on it. The caveat to this rant is that we only spent two nights here and that by the end of my time in St. Lucia my opinion of the island had been entirely and irrevocably reversed. After leaving Rodney Bay we headed to La Soufriere Bay on the south end of the island, directly in the shadow of the picturesque Piton mountains. We were back in the less polished Caribbean, greeted by friendly but hustling “boat boys” and their persistent assistance. We took the dinghy in and checked out with customs in anticipation of leaving St. Lucia early the next morning. We talked with some locals at a bar near customs and soon were in a cab on our way to the best view in St. Lucia. The journey started as we talked with a guy named Darren, he was the type who loved to let you know that he had “everything you need.” The truth of the matter is that as a young white guy in the Caribbean the “everything” that this brand of hustler assumes you need is often a handful of drugs. Purportedly his marijuana was grown on the peak of Petit Piton and was meticulously cared for via a daily hike to the top with buckets of water. Everything about this story was laughably hyperbolic and clearly untrue and we assured him that we weren’t interested anyway. We were looking for a cab ride to our vista though and Darren knew just the guy. He hooked us up with a driver named Brian after we negotiated a reasonable price of $60 Eastern Caribbean Dollars round trip (roughly $20 US). Brian was charming and kind and talkative. His car was spotless and his music was great, it was the most you could ever hope for out of a cab ride. We got to our spot and Brian promised to be back in a bit to pick us up. After enjoying one of the most breathtaking sunsets I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, Brian called and told us he was here to pick us up. As we drove back to town it became clear that Darren told us one price and Brian another. In fact, he promised Brian that we would be paying double for our trip. We told Brian what happened and apologized but we really didn’t have the money to spare and had no cash left. Brian said not to worry about it, one of the first indications of his nature. He noted that Darren had a bit of a reputation and that he wasn’t surprised about his double dealing. The confusion and the resolution was the perfect foundation for a bit deeper of a relationship and we ended up going to dinner with Brian, our treat and the least we could do. We had a great time with Brian learning about his family, St. Lucian food, and customs. It was one of those travel experiences that you can’t orchestrate, chance meetings that end up sparking lasting relationships — the best kind of travel experiences. We had such a good time that I ended up leaving the bag with our passports under our dinner table, a realization that wasn’t made until we were headed in to customs in Bequia, nearly 50 nautical miles away.
In the morning we woke up and got the boat ready to head to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we were shown more St. Lucian hospitality when we tried to start the boat and realized that the batteries had died at anchor overnight. A local boat came over and unhooked their own battery, letting us use it to get our engine and battery charger started, all at no cost. Well delayed at that point we left the anchorage headed for Bequia. As we rounded Petit Piton back into the Caribbean we met our first williwaw. Not as fun as they sound, a williwaw is a sudden vicious off shore wind that descends down mountains in to the sea. We had just raised the sails and were working on breakfast when the entire boat heaved to starboard in a swift and sudden cacophony. Drawers launched from their tracks, spices, crackers, and oils leapt from the pantry, knives flew through the air. I rushed up top to help trim the sail, the rail was buried deep into the Caribbean and the wind was howling. After pulling in nearly all of the jib, J. Henry assumed a more upright position and we took stock of our surroundings with the wind still screaming. The twin peaks of the Pitons that had provided such a picturesque back drop to our anchorage were now making us pay the toll. Wind swept over the ridge line in the middle of St. Lucia and funneled down the valley between the Pitons and picking up velocity and blasting out to sea between Gran and Petit Piton. We were the beneficiaries of that blast and its one we won’t soon forget. We battled those gusts for the next 45 mins, the bravado that was our full genoa clearly diminished as we flew only a sliver of sail. We forged on to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, less sure that we’d be able to make Bequia by sunset.