Candid Cruising: St. Lucia
We had heard that St. Lucia was the first real "civilization" up the chain and set our expectations accordingly. The winds were contrary at times, so we ducked into Vieux Fort where we knew the security situation was less than ideal. We found some hard core cruisers there and decided to stick it out with them for a bit. We met some locals, made visiting calls, walked the back streets and alleys and came to see a St. Lucia of which the touristas never get a glimpse.
The fishing pier, Vieux Fort, St. Lucia, a "gift" from the people of Japan. St. Lucia has a seat on the whaling commission and amazingly voted to allow Japanese whaling activity.
The Roti was cheap, the fresh tuna were $5EC a pound ($2 USD) and most of the people we met were too astonished to see us there to have any other reaction, hostile or otherwise. It was real and it was refreshing, if not a bit scary. We learned that law enforcement works hand in glove with the gangi business, that the few local politicians who try to clean things up get threatened into compliance. The cops go home at 5pm and everyone knows it.
When two boats on the other side of the anchorage were broken into and another cruiser was mugged, it was time to move on.
Sailing northward, we enjoyed the majestic Pitons, but only after being bullied and threatened for not paying a "boat boy" to pick up the mooring for us. "Sleep well tonight" were his parting words. We took it with a grain of salt, but learned later that another boat we met in Martinique had in fact been cut free in the middle of the night, then "rescued" a couple of miles out and expected to pay a premium for the "service".
Sailing north, the scenery was incredible. Little homes were perched on rolling lush hillsides with unbelievable storybook vistas. But now we saw it all through a filter. The undercurrent of drug trafficking, lawlessness and fear gave the golden views an invisible razor's edge.
Dan and I discussed the contrasts; a perfect island, perfect climate, majestic peaks and corrupt government. The idea of buying a little plot and building a retirement home looked so good on the surface and so unwise in reality. Everything would be fine until you unknowingly crossed a local with connections. You'd have no choice but to face the entire corrupt scheme, play by their corrupt rules, or leave.
Rodney Bay is the traditional cruiser hang out. Geographically, it's a decent anchorage, rolly at times and subject to constant traffic and wakes. Holding is mixed and dragging boats are not uncommon. The fort at the north end is well worth seeing, fees and all. The IGA grocery is decent; there are a couple of great restaurants and a flashy marina. The arrangement is such that if you are careful, you can keep mostly to the secure areas, behind the fences that keep the real St. Lucia at bay. This is the cruise ship passenger experience; if that's what you want, it's possible.
But when you step outside the fences, go to dinner after dark and walk back to your dinghy in the conical glow of a small flashlight past empty doorways, deserted buildings and dark alleys, you realize that St. Lucia is far, far from civilized. The rule of law is a distant idea and you are the interloper – tolerated by some, resented by most, reviled by many.
Avoid Vieux Fort. If you have kids and something to lose.
Go to Vieux Fort. If you don't have much to lose and want to see the real Caribbean, this is as real as it gets. Also a great place to anchor while picking up or dropping off people at the airport. Most flights from the US arrive here. Walking to the airport is possible, but difficult, as you have to go all the way around the eastern end of the runway. On the other hand, it's a $10US taxi ride or $2EC bus ride.
Taxis are incredibly expensive. It's far cheaper to sail places than to actually see them. Prices are in US dollars and are roughly equal to what you would pay in Boston or New York.
The Pitons are incredible. The moorings under the shadow of the Pitons are decent and it's worth a couple of nights there to check things out. Just pay the $10 or $15EC extortion money to the first boat boy that approaches and sleep easy.
Bring your own tanks. It's illegal to dive in St. Lucia without a "guide" and they get you when you go to fill tanks or rent equipment. Not being prepared, we hired a "guide", and he sat in the boat eating his lunch, texting and reading while "watching the bubbles". Actually, he just drifted around waiting for us to come up. If anything had happened, we were on our own. Granted, we negotiated a better rental rate with the park ranger who moonlights as a guide and taxi/tour driver.
Skip Soufrière. Our worst experience by far, this town is as bad as it gets. The resentment is palpable, the evil looks are around every corner. If your skin is the wrong color your number just never comes up at the deli.
Nerville is the Man. If you need a taxi, Nerville is the guy to call. I had several long conversations with him and found a man of depth and reason who understands and laments his country's condition, while hoping and praying for a new dawn. Cell: 758-716-1893 Phone: 758-454-5268
Vieux Fort -- Decent holding, questionable water quality, multiple undersea obstructions, rain water only. Dinghy to the commercial dock, tie carefully and walk from there. You can also dinghy to the fishing dock and walk to town, but your dink is at risk. Google Maps
The Pitons -- Moorings are good commercial quality. The Jalousie Plantation at the head of the bay has internet and a restaurant. Hiking out to see more is not really practical unless you are of Himalayan descent. Rain water only. Google Maps
Anse Cochon -- Exposed moorage in the park, decent snorkeling nearby, beautiful hills rolling down to the water. Google Maps
Rodney Bay -- The primary anchorage in St. Lucia. Holding is mixed, rolly with wakes and somewhat exposed. Good services, hardware store, Island Water World, IGA grocery, etc. The fort at the north end of the bay is well worth the cost. Dinghy through the cut, past the Marina, hang right into the inner pond, continue to the far southern end to the dinghy dock. IGA is a short walk from there. Google Maps
What to Buy
Locally grown chicken is tasty and as cheap as you'll ever find. In Vieux Fort, local tuna right off the boats is as cheap and fresh as you'll find anywhere. Local produce is good as well, but you'll have to go out into the real St. Lucia to find it from street vendors, otherwise you'll be stuck with the typical American fair.