Wednesday 19 December 2012

St Lucia

The finish of the ARC in St Lucia was the most amazing experience. As we rounded Pigeon Island a small boat headed out towards us and to our delight we realised that the girls had come out to meet us in. After two weeks at sea it was a great sight to see Fatty, Consuelo, Jeanette and Saz beaming up at us, cheering and waving. We blasted across the line to the sound of a loud fog horn and the ARC photographer darting under our bows in a rib recording our arrival. The picture on everyone’s face shows the elation that we all felt.

Motoring into the lagoon and Rodney Bay marina, crews on other boats came out to wave and cheer and as we arrived at the dock the ARC team welcomed us with cold rum punch and a big basket of fruit. Among those on the dock were Mervyn and Amanda from Aztec Dream who had left their boat in the Caribbean over the summer and had sailed up to meet the ARC boats arriving in St Lucia.  Everyone clambered on board and we had celebratory drinks in the cockpit and then adjourned to one of the restaurants around the marina. The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur but I do remember dozing off in the shower in the villa before falling into a blissful sleep.

The following morning we awake to see the most glorious view from the villa. Saz had hired a house up in the hills above Rodney Bay, with a panoramic view stretching all the way from the Atlantic on the northern horizon to Pigeon Island in the east and the masts in Rodney Bar marina to the west. The rooms are clustered around a swimming pool with a covered central seating area with cane furniture and large comfortable cushions. A hammock hanging on the veranda has become Oxie’s sleeping quarters, close to the pool where he takes regular dips. We can see ARC boats in the distance as they approach  St Lucia from the East and we can imagine the scenes of excitement and relief on board each of these yachts as they approach the end of their journey in the same way that we had only the day before.

Our week in St Lucia was a non-stop round of lunches and parties with one of the highlights being the jump-up. A jump-up is the Caribbean term for a street party and this one is held every Friday on the main street of a local village called Gros Islet. We arrive shortly after dark and the preparations are well underway with stalls of food and drink set out along the street in front of very modest houses made of timber and corrugated iron. Spicy jerk chicken on skewers, fish kebabs and roti filled with hot spicy meat are on sale arranged on wooden tables attended by large St Lucian women. The men run the drinks stalls offering bottle of cold beer and the ubiquitous rum punch, made with a slug of rum, fresh fruit juice and a sprinkling of cinnamon. We have booked a table at the Golden Taste restaurant, a wooden shack on the street and we sit on long wooden benches eating supper while the street in front of us comes to life. A loud sound system thumps out a reggae beat and by the time we have finished supper the whole street is pulsing with wining bodies. Wining is the Caribbean term for shuffling your body in time to the rhythm of the music with a bit of suggestive hip movement and a serene smile on your face.    As the evening wears on more and more people pack into the street and the wining becomes more energetic and wilder as the rum punch takes effect inspiring even the most leaden-footed reveller into a reggae dancer.We round up our party at around 11 and head back to the villa where our new found wining skills continue on the veranda until the rum wears off and we retire exhausted to our air conditioned rooms.

The new few days pass quickly; in the marina more boats arrive and we discover that we came 22nd in the cruising division out of about 200 boats. The more surprising fact is that we are one of the very few boats who suffered no gear failure at all. There are broken booms, generators, water makers, ripped sails and stories of tough crossings by exhausted crews. We feel quite embarrassed to admit that we had a comfortable trip with no issues, great food and hot showers. 

Our last day in St Lucia is Fatty’s birthday and we have booked a table for dinner in one of the neighbouring hotels.   Before supper we toast Fatty and the crew with a bottle of champagne and I hand out some awards:

Most Improved Sailor goes to Steven, the least experienced member of the crew who, within days of the start, was helming Juno in 35 knots of wind in a big sea at night, reefing the sails on his own and enjoying every minute. I recall the moment when he and I stood in the cockpit early one morning laughing out loud as a torrential downpour engulfed us.

Most Enthusiastic Crew Member goes to Paul, my loyal 1st mate and second in command who has sailed with me on all my long passages. He cooked the best dinner of the trip when he served up freshly caught Mahi Mahi fried in butter with sauté potatoes and carrots while being thrown around the galley. But his abiding characteristic is his enthusiasm for every aspect of the trip and how much he clearly enjoyed every moment.

Andrew gets the award for the Most Unassuming Sailor. Working with Consuelo and Fatty, Andrew had provisioned Juno for a delicious crossing and ensured that we were fed and watered in style, a vital component for a happy trip. But what I hadn’t realised is that Andrew is also a great helmsman who guides Juno skilfully through big seas with a light touch and I think he and I both underestimated his talents.

Finally the award for the Thinking Sailor goes to Kim. I realised early on that Kim’s strategy for the trip was to keep me alive so that I could get everyone else across in safety, and he did this very well, particularly tending to my head wound when I was struck by the spinnaker pole. However the reason that Kim will make a great yachtsman is because he is always thinking ahead, and it was his daily attention to our gooseneck fitting that ensured that our boom stayed firmly on the mast.

The crew had very generously clubbed together to buy me the most amazing gift of a new fishing reel to replace the recalcitrant Mitchel. But this isn’t just any fishing reel. Ever since I can remember I have wanted a Penn International trolling reel and as I heft the heavy reel in its distinctive gold livery I am hugely grateful for such a generous gift which will serve as a great memento of this marvellous trip. 

The next day Paul and Consuelo cast off our lines at the dock before they leave for Barbados where they plan to spend a few days before returning to the UK. We say our farewells and set off on Juno with Steven, Saz, Andrew and Jeanette to the south of the island, near the airport where they catch their flight home later in the day. We pick up a mooring buoy in the shadow of the Pitons and after lunch and a swim a water-taxi makes the trip to the airport leaving Fatty, Kim and Me on board where we swim and have a quiet supper in the most dramatic setting.

1 comment:

  1. A terrific final posting to bring our adventure to a close. I am reading it in London having run in from a torrential wonderful to have shared the trip with you and how lucky you are to still be there!
    Happy Christmas to the Frews.