St Lucia - update

Mike and Liz Downing
Tue 24 Feb 2009 02:35
St Lucia was very much as we remembered it - very hot (30 degrees by day in the boat and 27 at night), very windy, very green and very tropical with birds singing during the day and cicadas and tree frogs by night. The buildings at Rodney Bay marina were just as we left them 13 years ago, with the same bars, restaurants and shops, but the marina pontoons were very different, now taking up 3 or more times as much space in the lagoon. The gaps between the finger pontoons will take at least 3 boats of our size and the finger pontoon themselves are 60ft or more long. It's a delight to get into and out of. The main pontoon that others come off is so wide that you could easily get 3 golf carts side by side - we called it the motorway! They have also built a super-yacht harbour next to the marina to attract the big motor yachts (100+ft) and mega sailing yachts. All this was carried out in 2008, so quite an achievement. The only problem with the marina is that being in a lagoon, the water does not change very quickly which results in a lot of marine life attaching itself to the boats very fast. We spent a couple of longish periods in the marina and after each time had to spend a day or more anchored out in the bay cleaning the bottom with mask and snorkel and scuba gear. We get our 2 tanks filled by the local Dive operator, which is only a dingy ride away in the corner of the lagoon.
The dingy is very much our car. We go most places using it, particularly shopping at the supermarket. It's located in a shopping Mall across the other side of the lagoon and has a dingy dock just round the corner.
When not in the marina, we have been anchored out in the bay. There is loads of space (see the photos) , but to avoid the swell that can find its way into the bay, we, along with a lot of other boats, prefer to be tucked under the lee of Pigeon Island in the north of the bay. We have spent several weeks anchored out and much prefer it to the marina. There's a lot more wind to keep the boat cool, the water is very blue and very clear so we can swim off the back of the boat, the outlook is fantastic, especially the sunsets as we look out to the horizon in the west, and there's a lot to see as boats come and go (including the occasional cruise ship, anchoring quite close behind us!) There have been a lot more boats anchored in the bay than usual (100+) due to the general strikes taking place in the French Islands. The strikes have been going on for 6 weeks and there's been quite a bit of unrest in Guadeloupe and Martinique (just north of St Lucia). French boats and charter boats have been coming down to get fuel and food. Other boats have been waiting in the bay to go north, hoping the strikes will end soon. Whether anchored in the bay or tied up in the marina, Gregory sells fruit and veg from his little dory, covered in flags to protect the fruit and veg from the sun, and Sparkle Laundry come round in their boat to pick up or bring back washing.
We have had a lot more rain than we, and the locals, expected, but generally it's all over in 10 minutes and everything is dry within 30 minutes. The winds have been quite strong a lot of the time, which we were expecting. We have had 15 to 25kts most of the time and higher in squalls. When particularly strong winds were forecast (up to 40kts) we had 180ft of chain out when lying in 35ft of water, and a second anchor out with 30ft of chain and 120ft of rope. We didn't move! But the gusts did break our wind generator blades - they bent the carbon fibre blades so they hit a support bracket, breaking the blade tips off. The wind generator had run continuously for 18 months in the UK without any problems. So some redesign work is necessary to cope with the Caribbean squalls.
We are glad that we decided to spend a year in the Caribbean and not rush straight for the Pacific as it has given us the chance to sort things like this out. We have had quite a lot of failures, particularly in new electronic gear, e.g. the autopilot and it has taken a lot of time to diagnose the problems and then arrange to get spare parts flown in. Luckily most of it has still been under guarantee, so we haven't had to pay for it. We have spent quite a lot of time reorganising the boat gear and stowage, and are a lot happier that we now have most things in their right place, but there is still more to do.
It would be quite easy to spend all our time working on the boat, but we have got out and about, particularly when Brenda and David came and then Jonathan and Louise. We hired cars to pick Jonathan and Louise up from the airport (at the opposite end of St Lucia) and take them back and for a sightseeing tour of the Island. The west coast is very picturesque, with rain forest and dominated by the two Pitons - two cone shaped mountains rising out of the water to 2600 and 2900ft. We stopped at the Ladera resort, located facing the Pitons and sea between them, for lunch and it really is quite spectacular - an open sided dining room overlooking the bay with a piton on either side. The cost of lunch was quite reasonable, but if you wanted to stay there, it's $650 - $1000 US per night depending on the room, and that's room only! We have a picture or two on the blog.
When Jonathan and Louise returned to the UK at the end of the first week in February, we had to wait for a week in the marina to get the warranty work done and then a week in the bay to clean the bottom and wait for the weather. (While waiting for the weather the scuba gear came in handy again as Michael changed the anodes on the prop of a fellow yacthie's boat.) We had 5 days of strong winds and relatively high swells - 10 to 16 ft. The passages between islands are not long, only about 40 miles and of that only about 25 miles is open sea (i.e. not protected by the islands), but that 25 miles can be rough and very uncomfortable. So unless you have time pressures, most people wait for these spells to pass and get back to the more normal 15 to 25kts and swells of 6 to 10ft. So we waited for the weather. While waiting we discovered the fault with the wind generator support bracket, but decided we would head north to Antigua to sort it out. If they can repair super yachts (150+ft and worth millions), they should be able to help us overcome our problem! Antigua is just over 200 miles north, but as the advice here is not to sail at night, it will be 4 day hops to get there- St Lucia to Martinique, Martinique to Dominica, Dominica to Guadeloupe and Guadeloupe to Antigua. Due to the strikes we will only anchor off the French Islands over night and be on our way again first thing in the morning.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: