In the pre-dawn darkness on Friday, January 3rd, we emerge from the cabin to begin our pre-departure routine. To our surprise and dismay, there is a catamaran anchored less than a boat length away on our port side. This charter vessel arrived after dark and dropped its anchor with apparent disregard for its proximity to our well-illuminated boat. A sleepy crew member appears on the deck of the catamaran, obviously startled by the sound of our engine. It quickly becomes obvious that the language barrier will forever prevent us from understanding his anchoring rationale. It is a miracle that our two boats did not collide in the middle of the night.
After this frightening start to the day, the anchor is up in Admiralty Bay, Bequia at 6:20 AM for the 63 nautical mile sail to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. Passing Devil’s Table to starboard, the wind is fresh and on the beam. Approaching the northern headland of the island, the notorious “Bequia Blast” sends Cutter Loose scampering on a beam reach in 27 knots of wind through Bequia Channel towards the west coast of St. Vincent.
Our rapid progress northward diminishes as we fall into the lee of St. Vincent. As in the past, we opt not to visit the island of St. Vincent for safety and security reasons. Pressing on, our boat speed rebounds as we enter the open water between St. Vincent and St. Lucia. At 4 PM, the majestic Pitons of St. Lucia pass to starboard. It is clear that we will not be able to make Rodney Bay before dark. We decide instead to anchor in Marigot Harbor under a yellow quarantine flag. We will clear Customs at Rodney Bay in the morning. In the meantime, it feels good to relax and enjoy a quiet evening and a good night’s rest in this protected harbor.
On Saturday morning, the anchor is up at 9 AM for the short 9 mile sail from Marigot Harbor to Rodney Bay. With the anchor down in the outer harbor, it is a short dinghy ride to Rodney Bay Marina in the inner harbor. Conveniently located in the marina complex is the St. Lucia Customs office. Our inbound clearance is granted with no delay or problems.
The marina is filled with ARC boats that have recently completed their trans- Atlantic crossing from the Canary Islands. Many of these boats chill here for several months after this difficult passage. The arrival of more than 200 ARC boats from Europe overlaps with 40 additional World ARC boats staged here in anticipation of next Saturday’s departure for Panama on the initial leg of their global circumnavigation. Boats from almost every European nation are represented in this marina.
In addition to the various ARC boats, Rodney Bay Marina is also home to a fleet of some 20 Sunsail and Moorings charter boats. This marina is also a popular destination for island-hopping cruising yachts transiting the Windward Islands, including charter boats from Martinique bound for the Pitons. In light of this convergence of traffic, slips in the marina are scarce this weekend. Cutter Loose remains anchored in the outer harbor at Rodney Bay on Saturday night with the hope of securing a slip at Rodney Bay Marina on Sunday morning.
At noon on Sunday, Gary the dock master informs us that a temporary slip is available for Cutter Loose on the ultra-secure and well-illuminated mega yacht dock. It seems that the marina has an oversupply of slips for 125+ foot mega yachts in anticipation of business in this size range that never quite materialized. The marina’s practice is to fill the surplus slips on the mega yacht dock with smaller cruising boats when the demand for conventional slips on the floating docks exceeds supply. Our dock neighbors include 60+ foot cruising catamarans, 70+ foot immaculate Oysters (high end sailing yachts built in England) and a handful of 100+ foot motor yachts. Cutter Loose appears pathetically miniscule on this 125 foot fixed dock. However, any slip in the marina is an entrée to the services of Alwin, the local diesel mechanic. As the saying goes, any port in the storm. In the comfort of our slip, it feels good to thoroughly wash the salt from the decks of Cutter Loose.
Quite by accident, we learn that the public water supply in St. Lucia has been compromised by severe storms that occurred here on Christmas Eve. These downpours caused widespread flooding and mudslides that led to several deaths. Reservoirs high in the mountainous inland area of the island were infiltrated by runoff, causing local officials to declare the public water supply unsafe for human consumption. In a third world country such as St. Lucia, this advisory is not effectively communicated to the public. Marina staff connects our fresh water hose to the water supply on the dock without warning us about the risks of drinking the water. After requesting tap water at a local restaurant, we are informed that only bottled water is being served until the quality of the public water supply improves. It suddenly dawns on us that the water on the dock is unfit for consumption. Our practice now is to boil water for washing dishes and purchase bottled water for consumption.
Alwin arrives early on Monday morning to diagnose our diesel ailment. All symptoms point to a problem with the fuel injection pump. But when Alwin installs a spare pump from an identical engine, the problem persists. The diagnosis and solution remain elusive for the balance of the week as Alwin attends to previous commitments on other projects. Undeterred by this setback, we settle into the comfortable social scene at Rodney Bay Marina. The restaurants and shops in the marina are filled to overflowing with customers conversing in a wide variety of languages. The longer one remains at this marina, the more likely it is to cross paths with a cruising acquaintance.
For example, Caribbean 1500 participants Jeremy and Jaime aboard Miramar are here at Rodney Bay Marina. Cruising friends Cary and Tom of Dragon’s Toy have recently downloaded the new season premiere of Downton Abbey. The cabin of Cutter Loose becomes our theater for this presentation. Several Island Packets are docked at Rodney Bay Marina this week, including two boats that have recently completed circumnavigations. Happy hour at The Boardwalk permits an opportunity to become acquainted with new Island Packet friends while reconnecting with long term cruising buddies.
Pittsburgh friends and sailing mentors Chuck and Jeanne arrive in St. Lucia on Saturday, January 11th, only to learn that Cutter Loose is dead in the water. This is not exactly the sailing vacation they had anticipated. They transited these waters aboard IP 40 Relationship in 1996 and were keen to see how St. Lucia had changed since that time. However, being former cruising sailors, they understand our boat demon predicament and vow to enjoy their vacation despite the disappointing news. In their honor, a group of Island Packet sailors gathers in the cockpit of Cutter Loose to welcome Chuck and Jeanne to Rodney Bay.
During our touristy visit to nearby Pigeon Island on Tuesday the 14th, Alwin telephones with good news. He succeeds in coaxing the engine to rev to 3500 RPMs by making a series of adjustments to the spare fuel pump. Furthermore, he permits us to use his spare pump while a new pump is being delivered to Rodney Bay Marina from Mastry Marine in Florida. Our spirits are lifted as this will permit us to explore the west coast of St. Lucia with Chuck and Jeanne during the remainder of their time aboard Cutter Loose.
After a relaxed sail and an overnight stop in Marigot Harbor on Wednesday, we continue on to the southeast coast of St. Lucia to visit the Pitons on Thursday the 16th. The Pitons are two volcanic plugs rising sharply from the sea to a height of 2300 feet. This area has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We arrive in time to secure a mooring at the base of these incredible outcroppings. The waters in the vicinity of the Pitons are part of a National Marine Park. In order to protect the coral, no anchoring is permitted here. The Park Ranger stops by in the afternoon to collect the mooring fee. Proceeds are used to maintain the moorings and to carry out other preservation activities.
After dark, the full moon rises between the peaks of the Pitons, backlighting the stage for one of the most incredible performances of nature we have witnessed in the Caribbean since our arrival in November of 2012.
After a leisurely morning lounging in the cockpit to soak in our surroundings, it is time to return to Rodney Bay in order to position Chuck and Jeanne for their return flight to the U.S. on Saturday morning. We are rewarded with a steady 20 knots of wind for the 19 mile close reach to Rodney Bay. This provides our guests with the lively sailing experience they anticipated.
On Saturday afternoon, a cruiser’s potluck is held on board the Brig Unicorn, docked at Rodney Bay Marina. She is a 138 foot two masted square rigged sailing vessel that was built in Finland in 1946 as a replica of an 1850 sailing vessel. The Unicorn previously served as the slave ship in the movie Roots. More recently, she was used in the filming of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean as a sister ship to the Black Pearl. She now serves as a cocktail lounge…the perfect setting for a cruiser’s get-together.
The buzz at the potluck focused on Friday night’s tragic death of an English sailor in the town of Vieux Fort, an industrial harbor located on the south coast of St. Lucia. Apparently, the boat was boarded by three young men whose motive was robbery. After an altercation, the skipper fell into the water while his wife suffered serious wounds which required medical treatment. Three suspects have been jailed, but details of the investigation and the results of the autopsy have not yet been released. News of this event was particularly frightening to us because we anchored in the harbor at Vieux Fort on April 20, 2013 during an overnight stop on our journey from Rodney Bay to Bequia.
Rampant progress is being made aboard Cutter Loose on the mechanical front. The new fuel pump has arrived from the U.S. and is installed by Alwin on Monday, 1/20. The diesel engine now appears to be in good running order. The mechanic and the skipper are all smiles.
The one remaining gremlin of which we are aware involves refrigeration. Our refrigeration technician (the third since we arrived in December) is Prudent. He installs a new thermostat on Tuesday, 1/21. At first, the fix seems to be working. Then, the temperature of the freezer gradually begins to climb. To add insult to injury, the temperature of the refrigerator box also begins to climb. These units seem to have a mind of their own, intermittently ignoring messages from the thermostat. We will continue to keep a watchful eye on the refrigeration system
On Wednesday, 1/21, we depart St. Lucia en route to Martinique, the land of croissants, baguettes and delicious cheese. Hopefully, the refrigeration system on board Cutter Loose will be capable of keeping the Brie (and the wine) chilled.