Chilling in St. Lucia
Ironically, many who sail to St. Lucia do so by default, as it has long been the final destination for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Every year the ARC brings well over 200 yachts en masse from the Canary Islands off Africa straight to Rodney Bay, on the northwest end of the island. From there the ARC fleet quickly disperses across the West Indies for a winter of Caribbean cruising. Likewise, many who come to St. Lucia to charter quickly leapfrog south to explore St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Still, St. Lucia is an exceptional destination in itself and more than worthy of exploration in detail, particularly if you’ve come for a weeklong bareboat charter. There are plenty of anchorages that provide a varied palette of places to visit, starting with Rodney Bay and Marigot Bay, which is where the major charter operations are based.
Inside the lagoon at Rodney Bay you’ll find Rodney Bay Marina, the best protected and best equipped marina in the Windward Islands (which is why the ARC comes here) complete with a full range of facilities, including many shops and some outstanding restaurants. Outside, in the bay proper, you’ll not only find lots of room to anchor out, but you’ll have direct access to Reduit Beach, one of the best on the island. At the north end of the bay, you can anchor hard by Pigeon Island, a former British Royal Navy base now maintained as a historic park by the St. Lucia National Trust. Be sure to check out the Captain’s Cellar, which features live entertainment, including jazz and classical music, in a warren of ancient cellars.
A few miles down the coast is Marigot Bay, one of the most beautiful anchorages in all the West Indies. It was here that Rex Harrison cavorted about as Dr. Dolittle in the 1967 musical film of the same name. Once ashore be sure to explore the Marigot Beach Club on the north shore, where the movie was made. If you enjoy gourmet French food, be sure to make time to sample the escargot at the club’s Café Paradis.
En route between Rodney Bay and Marigot you can stop in at Castries, the island’s capital. There’s lots of old-style colonial architecture here, particularly around Derek Walcott Square, which is named after one of St. Lucia’s two Nobel Prize winners. (The island nation has the largest number of Nobel prize winners per capita in the world.) On the north side of the harbor you’ll want to check out Vigie, which has a nicer anchorage than downtown, with some marine facilities and Jimmie’s Restaurant, reputed to serve the best fish on the island.
The other big attraction, of course, is Soufriere, where you can anchor (or better yet, pick up a mooring) in sight of the famous Pitons—Gros and Petit—a result of the island’s volcanic past. If you’re feeling energetic, you can hire a National Trust guide to hike the Pitons with you and look down on your vessel from on high. There are also two other lesser anchorages, Anse Cochon, which is midway down the island, and Vieux Fort on the island’s southernmost tip, where you can enjoy some decent snorkeling and another fantastic beach.
Inland, St. Lucia boasts 19,000 acres of lush rainforest and is home to several unique species of plants and animals. The National Trust offers several different excursions that will afford you some very special opportunities to experience Caribbean nature. One popular activity is watching leatherback turtles come ashore to lay eggs at Grand Anse (March through July).
If you don’t want to mess with any guides, it’s worthwhile to rent a car and touring the island yourself, where you can easily get lost in the patchwork maze of lush banana plantations. You can also visit what is billed as the world’s only “drive-through” volcano. No, it is not active, but it is sulfurous and stinky and is as other-worldly as any place you’re apt to find in the Caribbean basin.