At 5 AM, the intrusive bedside alarm announces the start of a brand new day in Bequia. Without even the slightest hint of light in the morning sky, preparations are underway aboard Cutter Loose for the long, 75-mile day sail to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. Even under the best of circumstances, the Bequia to Rodney Bay run is a sunup to sundown experience.
The anchor is up at first light. Under a deeply reefed mainsail, the Devil’s Table lighted buoy passes to starboard as Cutter Loose pokes her nose into the eight-mile channel between the northern shore of Bequia and the southern shore of St. Vincent. Here, the easterly trade winds become compressed between the two islands, creating a funnel of intensified wind known as the “Bequia Blast”. The strategy here is to remain under-canvassed until well into the channel where actual wind speed and sea conditions can be sampled first hand. This morning, the maximum wind speed is relatively benign at 25 knots, sending Cutter Loose scampering across the Bequia Channel towards the lee of St. Vincent.
Once in the lee of St. Vincent, the wind becomes fluky. This is a signal to restart the engine and motor/ sail to Baliene Point at the very northern tip of the island of St. Vincent. Here, the process of putting one’s toe in the water to test wind speed and sea conditions begins all over again. It is important to maintain boat speed today in order to arrive at Rodney Bay before dark.
Today’s goal of reaching Rodney Bay is, in part, a defensive measure aimed at avoiding potential “hot spots” in St. Vincent and St. Lucia where personal safety and security is questionable. The cruiser’s coconut telegraph is ripe with tales of aggressive boat boys, theft and injury in this neck of the woods. While it is unfair to paint an entire island as a potential threat to personal safety, it is just plain easier to follow the path of least resistance by being careful and stopping only at places we know from experience to be cruiser-friendly destinations.
The 30-mile leg of today’s journey between the northern tip of St. Vincent and the southern cape of St. Lucia is yet another Windward Island washing-machine experience. Today, this passage is hard on the wind, in eight-foot seas. Our old nemesis, the adverse current, is back at work today. It is setting us to the west at 2.5 knots. The foredeck is submerged at times in green water as Cutter Loose plows her way to weather in 20 to 25-knot winds. Though still twenty miles south of St. Lucia, the tips of the mountainous Pitons become clearly visible, providing a convenient steering target on the horizon.
More motorsailing in the lee of St. Lucia takes us past the magnificent Pitons, Soufriere Bay and Marigot Harbor. Further north, the Queen Mary 2 is anchored in the coastal waters west of Castries. At more than 1,000 feet in length, the cruise ship dock in Castries is of insufficient length to accommodate this massive vessel.
At sunset, the landmark cone-shape of Pigeon Island at Rodney Bay lies just over three miles to our north. With only 30 minutes of remaining daylight, the throttle is increased to boost our speed. The anchor is down in Rodney Bay in darkness at 6:20 PM…a 12.5-hour day on the water. Tired but satisfied with our progress for the day, we celebrate with a simple dinner of leftover pizza, a fresh salad and a glass of red wine.
On Tuesday morning, December 29th, the anchor is up in Rodney Bay for the short trip inside the lagoon to our assigned slip at Rodney Bay Marina. Last year at about this time, we were placed on a waiting list for a slip because the marina was filled to overflowing with ARC trans-Atlantic boats and other visitors. This year, there are many vacant slips at the marina. Local tradesmen who provide services to visiting yachts are despondent due to the lack of opportunity for work. St. Lucia’s tourist-based economy is fragile, and there is an expression of desperation on the faces of semi-skilled workers that ply the docks in search of work.
At the opposite end of the economic spectrum, the local marine electronics technician cannot allocate time to repair the ailing radar system on Cutter Loose because of his backlog of unfinished work. The holiday work schedule also contributes to his backlog with most businesses being closed on the day before the holiday, the holiday itself and the day after the holiday.
Our two night stay at the marina provides an opportunity to thoroughly clean the accumulation of salt from the deck and to purchase provisions for the galley at the local grocery stores. There is even surplus time at the end of the day to socialize with Canadian friends Chris and Fran aboard s/v Changes, including a delightful meal at Razzmatazz, a local Indian restaurant.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve (aka here in the islands as “last year’s day”), our visit to Rodney Bay comes to an end. The time has come to move on to the next stepping stone of Martinique, the northernmost island in the Windward Island chain.