St. Lucia, the “Helen of the West Indies”
You can tell a lot about a place by how the natives regard it. Ask any local on St. Lucia how they feel about their island nation, and they’ll inevitably flash a grin before answering: they are proud of their place in history as the “Helen of the West Indies,” fought over 14 times—seven victories to the English, seven to the French. They are proud of their two Nobel Laureates—Sir Arthur Lewis (Economics, 1979) and Derek Walcott (Literature, 1992). They are proud of how their renowned cuisine combines the riches of the sea with the riches of the soil. And they’re proud of their landscape: the towering Pitons are one of the most recognizable and magnificent views in the Caribbean. After even a brief conversation with a local, it’s easy to see how you could spend a week on charter in St. Lucia, splitting your time between land and water.
An ideal itinerary
Pick up your boat from Sunsail Charters (sunsail.com) in Rodney Bay Marina, one of the best supplied marinas in the Windward Islands, where you’ll find a well-stocked mall and grocery store for provisioning. After that, take the dinghy to the docks near Spice of India for dinner. Some websites call this restaurant “The Best in St. Lucia,” others “The Best in the Caribbean,” and I can attest it was one of the best Caribbean meals I’ve ever had with—hands down—the best service. (Which is saying something when you’re on island time!) Typical St. Lucian fare includes locally raised pork and chicken, fresh-caught snapper and swordfish, abundant vegetables—plantains, coconuts, yams—and plentiful herbs, such as nutmeg, basil and coriander.
Fueled and fed, cast off the next morning and head the short distance to the northern tip of St. Lucia, Pigeon Island. This is the first landmark that comes into view for many sailors when following the trade wind route across the Atlantic. Anchor near the tip of the island to avoid the adjacent Sandals Resort water traffic, and dinghy to the modest dock ashore.
From there, you can go for a stroll to the top of an 18th-century British fort, or try out the more strenuous excursion to the top of the island. Both afford excellent views of St. Lucia, the Caribbean Sea to the south and west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Pigeon Island is also home to the annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival. It’s easy to imagine the grassy grounds coming alive with the music of local and international musicians.
While you still have daylight, sail south to Marigot, one of the Caribbean’s best hurricane holes, protected by high hills to the east and coral reefs extending to either side of the entrance to the west, breaking waves that come in from that direction. In fact, Marigot is so protected that during Hurricane Omar (2008), the 16-foot waves offshore were mere one-footers in the marina. It’s also a “green” harbor, with the only on-water blackwater pumpout station in the Caribbean, as well as recycling facilities for oil, batteries and plastics. Marigot has only 20 mooring balls ($30/night) so arrive early.
Once there, treat yourself to dinner ashore at one of six restaurants that range from the touristy (Doolittle’s, named in honor of the movie, which was filmed here) to the refined (Boudreau, named for the sailing captain who founded Marigot). If you’re feeling adventurous, trek up the main road to JJ’s Plaza, where you’ll find authentic Caribbean jump-up parties on Saturdays and crab cookouts on Wednesdays.
After that, leave your boat on its mooring and spend the following day ashore partaking in land-based activities. As guests of the marina, you’re welcome to use the swimming pool, bars and restaurants of Marigot Hotel. Or you can rent a taxi and start exploring farther afield. A heritage tour (heritagetoursstlucia.org) will show you how the ancient Lucians lived, with lessons in cassava making and crayfish catching, while an adventure tour (adventuretourstlucia.com) includes everything from zip-lining through the canopy to cycling through the forest and hiking to a waterfall.
There’s also a nature tour through botanical gardens, the Sulphur springs with their relaxing natural mud baths, and the Tet Paul Nature Trail, where you can stroll through six acres of organic farming set against the unbeatable backdrop of the Pitons.
Next, head south again and moor near Soufriere, a small town nestled between the towering peaks. Though they look like volcanoes, the Pitons are actually volcanic plugs, peaks of built-up magma that escaped through vents in the volcano resting beneath the sulphur springs. The views from your boat will be spectacular, and you can easily spend the afternoon snorkeling along the rocky coastline and sipping on the local beer, Piton. You could also hike a Piton (stluciasguidedtours.com), a four- to five-hour hike that’s not for the faint-of-heart, but well worth the bragging rights once you’ve done it.
After that, the adventure is up to you. You could put in for a big sail (approximately 30 miles) to Martinique, known for its thriving sailing culture and multiple excellent harbors. Or if you’ve got two weeks to burn, continue south to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with stops at Bequia, Mayreau, Mustique, Carriacou and of course, the storied Tobago Cays.
When all is said and done, though, there will be nothing so sweet as sailing past Pigeon Island back to beautiful St. Lucia—just ask the locals!
Photo courtesy of St. Lucia Tourism Board (top); and by Meredith Laitos