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In the shadow of the Pitons

Updated: May 29


”sulphurous boiling pools of grey water bubbling away .”


We didn’t expect to spend a whole week in Rodney Bay in the north of St Lucia and in fact we only spent one day sightseeing there on Pigeon Island, although we did do several snorkelling outings. This is travelling by sailing boat for you. Our watermaker had stopped working again after a stiff sail into the wind on the way south from St Pierre to Fort de France. Previously we had managed to fix it ourselves. This time, Luciano had tried five times to replumb the entire system using three different sealants, but we were still unable to get the water intake to work. However, the pilot book said some watermaker gurus were based in the area. On visiting, we were told that one of the technicians was off sick and the other was away and not back until the following week. We decided we would go to Soufrière in the south and then come back the following week. In the meantime we got our gas bottle refilled, I finished making the three courtesy flags for St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. And we visited the refuelling station on several occasions to buy water to fill our empty tank via containers. On the offchance, we visited the shipyard to see what they would charge to manufacture a new steering wheel bolt. Without this we cannot really use our Hydrovane. In Martinique we were quoted €300 euros which we thought was unreasonable for what is essentially a bolt. So we were resigned to thinking we would have to wait to go back to England and see if we could find a Moody one in a secondhand chandlery. However, in St Lucia they quoted us €60 to make it, so we decided to get it made here. They also knew of a plumber that could look at our water intake.


The next morning Luciano collected the plumber and brought him on the dinghy to have a look. He diagnosed that the intake pressure was ok at the level of the seacock, but the water was not reaching as high as the intake for the prefilter. He solved the problem by removing our strainer altogether and lowering the prefilter to the bottom of the hull. A Brazilian boater later suggested that a further issue could have been that we didn’t paint antifouling paint inside our seacocks. Antifouling paint prevents the build up of marine life on the underside of your boat. This is done when you take your boat out of the water each year, but we hadn’t thought to paint inside the seacocks, so perhaps we had some marine life partially clogging up the holes and weakening the water pressure. This would explain why the watermaker had previously been working even with the strainer and prefilter in place. We were a bit annoyed that after the fact he told us that he had quoted us the price in US dollars rather than the local currency unlike his co worker who had made the steering bolt, but this was outweighed by our relief that it was finally fixed and we also had a better understanding of how the system works.


We had just arrived back at the boat when we were approached by a couple on a huge dinghy, almost the same size as our boat, complete with steering wheel, fixed lights and its own flag. This was the Brazilian flag and they had come from a large Brazilian motoryacht that we had previously spotted in the marina. They were very excited to see our Brazilian flag, which flies on the left hand side of our mast, showing that there is a Brazilian citizen on board. They got chatting to Luciano. Beto was the skipper and he and his wife Fabi make up two of the four crew on the yacht. The owner was away and it was their day off. On hearing about our watermaker they said they were going to get us some water. Even though our watermaker was now working, they were shocked to hear that it only makes five litres of water an hour; theirs makes 500 litres per hour. They offered us ice too, but as we have to turn off our fridge every night, we said this would be a waste. We passed over our water containers for them to fill up and they whizzed off back to the superyacht. They came back with our containers full of water plus presents of books, including a beautiful photobook of the marina where their boat comes from, Ilha Bela on the coast of São Paulo State, plus a bigger brighter Brazilian flag. To say a modest thank you, we invited them over for sunset cocktails on our boat. We had a lovely evening, enjoying the rums we had picked up in Barbados and Martinique with the passion fruit syrup that we had got at the rum distillery in Martinique.


The next morning we went over to have a tour of the yacht Thalassa. At 28 metres long with three storeys, it is huge! The control room would be at home in a star wars film. The engine room is about the same size as our entire boat. And they have all the conveniences of being at home. Living on board our boat can feel a bit like camping in that you lack certain efficiencies that you take for granted at home. For example, you have to spend time filling up water containers and decant them into the tank, dinghy your laundry to shore to find a laundrette; find somewhere to fill up your gas bottle so you can cook; wash in the sea in swimwear on the back of the boat with a quick final rinse from the outdoor shower that has been filled with discharge water from the watermaker; turn off the fridge at night to save our battery when the solar panels have stopped charging it; flush the toilet manually by pumping it. In contrast, they have multiple washing machines and driers, ice machines, microwaves, coffee machines, huge fridge freezers and indoor proper showers. The crew area alone has three floor to ceiling fridges and freezers and diesel powered generators to power everything. To be clear, we are not complaining, the warm weather and outdoor lifestyle means none of this is a hardship, but this is just to illustrate the contrast between feeling like living on a boat and the lifestyle of a large yacht that has the same level of conveniences as you have at home. Lots of catamarans and larger monohulls also have similar conveniences, although maybe fewer of them! The only issue on any kind of boat is the more conveniences you have, the more maintenance work you have to do (as demonstrated by our watermaker!) This is why many sailors keep things as simple as possible. Obviously this is less of an issue when the boat is crewed. Beto and Fabi have spent thirteen years working on this particular boat, ten of them in Brazil and we are excited to sail there in the future.


After our tour of the boat and some delicious Brazilian coffee, we said our farewells and set sail for Soufrière in the south of St Lucia, determined to spend some time actually seeing St Lucia rather than boat problem solving! It was a beautiful sail and we could finally use the Hydrovane again now that we could lock the steering wheel. The good thing about using the Hydrovane is that it forces you to become a better sailor. For one, it will only steer correctly if the headsail and mainsail are in balance. On this sail we had the added challenge of big gusts and drops in wind strength as we sailed along the mountainous coast. This meant that our course was changing quite starkly as the wind strength can also change your direction when steering with a wind vane. The coastline was quite busy with other sailing boats. Under sailing collision regulations, one boat has to hold its course and the other boat has to change course where there is a risk of collision. Which boat is which depends on a number of factors. One of these determining factors is whether you are on port tack or starboard tack (if the wind is coming from your left or right). Sailing south, we were under port tack, while most boats coming towards us were under starboard tack. This means we were responsible to stay clear of them. Rather than constantly moving the line that changes the Hydrovane course, we learned that we could easily manage our course by easing out or bringing in the mainsheet. By easing out the mainsheet we would be depowering the headsail as the mainsail would get most of the wind. This would steer us in a more windward direction. By bringing in the mainsail towards the centre of the boat, we would be allowing the headsail a greater share of the available wind which would steer the boat in a more downwind direction.


We really enjoyed our sail and arrived in Soufrière late afternoon. The area of Soufrière and the Pitons is a protected marine park and you are not permitted to anchor; you must pay to use a mooring ball. Soufrière is the most attractive of all the Caribbean towns we have visited so far. Gorgeous brightly coloured buildings nestled in the bay at the foot of the iconic Piton mountains. Soufrière means ‘sulphur’ in French and the whole area benefits from warm mineral springs fed directly from the volcano. We walked from the town to the Sulphur Springs AKA the ‘Drive In Volcano’. It is called this because the volcano blew its own top off and covers a huge area so you can drive right into the middle of the crater. We took a tour, gagging at the sulphurous boiling pools of grey water bubbling away and then walked down to cover ourselves in mud and sit in the warm muddy baths heated directly from the volcano. We thought we had washed off the mud, but as we walked back, ashen grey drips appeared on our calves. We walked back into town to pick up a cheap vegan roti from a rastafarian café and as we went back to eat it in the town square, the church which faces onto the square started to fill up with dozens of people for a rastafarian funeral. Many people wore bright red, yellow or green; or a black outfit with a striped red, yellow and green scarf, sash or hairtie. Later we saw the same group congregating in the cemetery. Rastafarians vary in how they mark the death of a person; some rastas do not hold funerals at all as they believe in reincarnation. We walked to the Diamond botanical gardens, enjoying the huge tropical flowers and trees of all kinds, passing hummingbirds feeding from them and arriving at a beautiful waterfall. Then we luxuriated in the mineral baths, heated from the volcano, watching the tropical flora all around us and looking in wonderment at the daytime pale half moon.


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