St. Lucia - Carnival
We had spent over 3 weeks cruising around the French island of Martinique and were now looking forward to a return visit to St. Lucia, the next island to the south. Carnival festivities would be starting in St. Lucia in a few days so it was a perfect time to be there.
We raised anchor in Marin at 0730 on July 12 and as we did a dinghy shot out towards us from across the anchorage. It was our French sailing friends, Jean-Noel and Babette from SY Julie Premiere who we had first met 6 months earlier in Morocco, coming to say goodbye. Babette passed us a bottle of excellent French wine with instructions to open it later and remember the happy times we had all spent together. Our friends are staying in Martinique to work for a while so we won’t be meeting up with them on the cruising circuit for another couple of seasons.
To reach St. Lucia we had only to sail 25 nm across the St. Lucia Channel to Rodney Bay, our destination on the northwest corner of the island. It was nice that the winds were light since we'd just re-rigged the sails after taking them down during Tropical Storm Chantal a week ago. it was a good opportunity to make sure that everything was as it should be in gentle conditions.
Dolphins came to play at the bow of the boat as we sailed along adding further to the sense of contentment we were feeling this day.
Pigeon Island, which protects the north side of Rodney Bay, soon appeared on the horizon. The last time we had sailed past Pigeon Island had been in December when after 15 days at sea sailing from the Canary Islands of Spain we had crossed the finish line for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) completing our 5th transatlantic crossing.
Clearing-in at St. Lucia
To clear-in we went into the Rodney Bay Marina, one of the IGY group of marinas found throughout the Caribbean which are all lovely and well equipped.
Customs, Immigration and Port Authority officials are all in one office right in the marina found upstairs next to the marina office. Information on clearing in with your boat can be found here.
We liked the saying that the port authority officer had painted on the wall behind his desk: "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."
Rodney Bay Marina has every type of yacht service and facility you can imagine along with restaurants, boutiques, ATM and bank, laundry services, a swimming pool, a florist and a couple of nice spas. Following 15 “fast and furious” days at sea on our transatlantic crossing in December, I visited one of the spas and the ladies there gave me a morning of pampering which completely restored my sense of well-being. So naturally I had to go and say hello and have a pedicure on this visit. It's good to treat yourself to pampering every once and a while.
When Paul and I had been at the marina following the ARC, we'd had some sail repair work done by the local sailmaker, Kenny Abernaty of Rodney Bay Sails (Mobile: +1 (758) 584-0291 or firstname.lastname@example.org) Kenny had done an excellent job at very reasonable rates so while we were there on this visit we took in our mainsail cover to have the zippers re-stitched. After 3 years of exposure to the sun and wind some of the stitching was disintegrating. We dropped off the sail first thing in the morning and Kenny had it done before lunchtime.
Saturday is market day at Rodney Bay Marina. It's such a treat to be able to buy fresh locally grown produce right in the marina and have a chat with the friendly vendors that run the market.
We also caught up with local friends including Sean Compton, a Lucian architect and owner of Melon Design, who serves on the ARC Planning Committee. We'd met Sean through the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) and when after the rally we’d sailed north from St. Lucia up through the islands to St. Maarten to meet the family for New Years, Sean and his girlfriend, Vern, had joined us for a fun-fllled week of sailing and lessons in local cuisine.
With our chores done and water tanks topped up we left the marina to anchor outside in Rodney Bay where we could swim and enjoy the festive beach atmosphere. Sheryl’s auburn hair is going strawberry blonde in the tropical sun!
The marina offered good wi-fi. Out at anchor we used our cell phone with a local sim card as a modem using a plan through Digicel that made our iPhone a personal hot spot. This was good since it meant we can be online while walking around allowing us to update our social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) with photos of events when they actually happen. The Digicel office is across the street from the Rodney Bay marina. In the Rodney Bay anchorage we were also able to pick up free wi-fi from one of the beach bars at the south end of the beach but it was a very weak signal so we prefered to use our phone to get internet access on board.
Monday July 15 was the Lucian Carnival so we hopped on one of the local buses that stop in front of the marina and headed into Castries, the capital city where the parade was to end in front of the city market. We’d been told that the parade started at 9 a.m. and would arrive in Castries at about 11 a.m. so we got there about 10 a.m. to get a shady spot along the route. However, for most of the morning we saw costumed dancers strolling casually around town and the parade didn’t actually get to Castries until about 1:00 p.m. (You may recall that the same thing happened to us the day we went into Phillipsburg to see the St. Maarten Carnival!)
Well at least we had a good spot to watch the parade. While we waited we watched this woman and her friend prepare fresh food before our eyes for their street food stand.
They did it all by hand and right at the roadside – chopping and grating salads and vegetables...
...boiling potatoes and roasting bread fruit, BBQ’ing chicken, frying fish and making sauces in pots and pressure cookers on traditional charcoal stoves set up on the sidewalk.
We got so hungry sitting there watching them all morning we were first in line when everything was finished! It was noon and still the Carnival Parade hadn’t arrived. However the local Piton beer being served had a special Carnival label on it so we knew we had the right day.
Finally the large floats and bands of dancers began to arrive about 1:00 p.m.
We were impressed with this band who walked the whole parade route on stilts!
It was a hot day and the dancers were out in the blazing sun so this water truck shadowed the parade and offered the participants refreshing showers of fresh water to keep them cool.
There were large gaps in the parade, sometimes of almost half an hour, while the group arriving had their costumes judged in front of the market. Lots of rum was being consumed and everyone was having good silly fun.
Here the parade spectators - both on the roadside and on boats out in the Castries anchorage - wait for the next band to arrive. The boats in the anchorage had a front row seat.
It was actually kind of fun because with the large gaps in the parade the spectators created an on-going street party to keep themselves amused. Families brought chairs and picnics plus there were lots of vendors selling interesting street food.
The parade actually became background to the local party. In the photo above, the women is BBQ’ing chicken and fish as well as grilling "bakes" a type of local bread that is baked, grilled, or fried. It’s a bit like an English muffin.
It seemed as if everyone was cooking. One of the popular local foods was grilled kidneys.
It was all really fun but by 3:00 p.m. our shady spot had become too sunny so we didn’t stay to the end (finish time was 7:00 p.m.!) but we had a great day, met a lot of great people, and got to experience a local event. Since it’s off-season this is not an event for tourists. It’s a day when the people of the island relax, kick pack, and just enjoy each others company. We felt privileged to be there and to be included.
Wishing you all a good week,
Sheryl and Paul Shard
Aboard SV Distant Shores II
Rodney Bay, St. Lucia
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