Pigeon Island (it's nicer than it sounds!)
”It looked like a gigantic moth with a long black skinny tail and ‘wings’ that it flapped to move through the water.”
We spent some time in Fort de France during our last days in Martinique visiting the excellent chandleries, doing our laundry and stocking up with lots of food. We cleared out - very easily done in Martinique, as clearing in had been, on a computer. Then we had to get a Covid test to enter St Lucia. Thankfully they have reduced the requirements and expense to an antigen rather than PCR test. Although we had mostly been doing these administrative tasks, we did get a little bit of a feel for Fort de France. The anchorage is right under the fort itself which makes it very scenic. The fort is still in use by the navy today. You are very close to the town, it’s the least far we’ve had to dinghy of any of the anchorages so far. The dinghy dock has a very nice atmosphere, especially at night when lots of young families congregate. There is a children’s playground right opposite and people playing bowls. As we tied up our dinghy there we saw a German sailing couple we had first met in Lanzarote and then in Cape Verde and we went for a drink with them. One of them speaks French very well and had had some interesting conversations with Martiniquans, something that we hadn’t managed to do because our French isn’t good enough. It’s also a warning of the assumptions you can so easily make when travelling and you don’t actually speak to local people. For instance, he said that Victor Schoelcher, who we had imagined to be some kind of national hero for his role in the abolition of slavery in France in 1848, with a town named after him, many streets and a gorgeous library in Fort de France; is actually resented because of the compensation paid to slave owners and not to slaves. Indeed, two statues of Schoelcher were torn down or defaced in May 2020 and a third in March 2021. According to the National Front for the Liberation of Martinique, this is in opposition to ‘colonial memory’.* It is true that Schoelcher was a tireless campaigner for the immediate abolition of slavery, but this complete domination by the nineteenth century white ‘saviour’ in the urban geography of Martinique must be pretty tiresome for a modern country that has plenty of homegrown heroes; some Martiniquan men, such as Aimé Cesaire and Frantz Fanon have some streets named after them, but I am yet to come across Paulette or Jeanne Nardal Street. However, in May 2020 a school in Martinique was named after Paulette, so it seems that the protests inspired by the Black Lives Matters movement has been having an impact on who is recognised as significant here.
We got up very early on Wednesday morning for our sail to St Lucia as we knew we would be heading into the wind. At 5.00am when we left, it was still almost dark, but beautiful all the same. The lights onshore glittered against the black background of the shore. The charcoal coloured clouds formed a gorgeous contrast against the brightening pink-peach-babyblue sky. The moon was the merest sliver. We headed on a close reach at 60 degrees to the wind pretty much all the way. The wind was consistent between 15 to 20 knots. Heading into the wind is never as smooth as downwind sailing, which is what we’ve mostly been doing since we rounded the northwestern corner of Spain and I started to feel a bit seasick when I went inside to make the breakfast. Time outside in the cockpit soon cured me of this as I stared hard at the horizon, hair swirling in the bracing wind. As we neared St Lucia we saw a whirling seabird floating past, before diving into the water for a fish. It did this several times; on one occasion we saw a flying fish jump out and flap its wings to fly safely away from its diving predator. By noon we had arrived and we are now anchored off the inaptly named Pigeon Island in Rodney Bay in the northwest of St Lucia. Technically it’s no longer an island as a causeway was built to connect it to the rest of the bay in 1972 from the waste material excavated from the building of the marina. There are still pigeons there though, we saw one feasting on a coconut on the beach, so it’s half accurate. We cleared in at the marina, involving a visit to four different officials and celebrated our arrival in a new country with a coffee in the marina.
The next day we visited Pigeon Island. Pigeon Island is owned and managed by the National Trust, with an entry fee of US$10. This was a fee that we were more than happy to pay as the government pettily withdrew funding from the National Trust due to their opposition to a dolphin interaction centre, which would have involved captive dolphins being forced to be trained to ‘interact’ at the whim of humans.** The Prime minister at the time, Allen Chastanet had a special interest in this as his businessman father had previously tried and failed to set up his own dolphin centre in St Lucia.*** Thankfully his government was voted out in the 2021 election. The National Trust maintains Pigeon Island, preserving its hilltop forts which you can walk up to with an amazing view of the bay and providing interesting historical context both in plaques along the different fortifications and in a small museum. Fort Rodney (and Rodney Bay) were named after Admiral Rodney, and its location was selected for its view of French Martinique, only 25 miles to the north when the French sided with the Americans during the War of American Independence. As we all know the Americans were victorious in gaining independence, but Pigeon Island was decisive in Admiral Rodney’s smaller and very short lived victory in 1782. St Lucia changed hands 14 times between the British and the French between the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. During World War II, the fortifications were developed and used as a US naval signal station.**** After our walk up and down the two peaks, we were ready for a nice cold drink in the little café overlooking the water, with the most extensive book swap we have seen so far. I hadn’t brought any books with me so dinghied back to the boat to grab a few I had already read.
In the afternoon we grabbed our snorkelling gear and went back to the little beaches on Pigeon Island where they have amazing snorkelling with huge numbers of fish gathered in schools around the rocks and a lone elongated trumpetfish. One of the sustainable ways in which Pigeon island is allowed to be used is through diving and snorkelling. We can’t afford to dive everywhere we go, but we did swim over to snorkel in the place where the divers are taken to. They have sunk a couple of cars plus some tables and chairs and glass bottles to help create a marine habitat for fish. As I was about to swim back to the beach, I gasped! There in the sandy clearing was a huge black stingray with white leopard type spots, which I later identified as a Spotted Eagle Ray. It looked like a gigantic moth with a long black skinny tail and ‘wings’ that it flapped to move through the water. I followed it as far as I could, it swimming deep underwater, me flapping my flippers on the water’s surface, amazed at what I was seeing. We went snorkelling again the next day with the GoPro, but unfortunately didn’t see the Spotted Eagle Ray again.
The St Lucia National Trust is focused on preserving the nature and culture of St Lucia and are undertaking important projects across the island, including a rainwater harvesting project in collaboration with the island of Grenada, in response to the impact that climate change is having on Caribbean Islands. If you do have any spare cash left over from your energy bills this month and would be interested in making a small donation, or even becoming a member, I am sure they would appreciate it. You can find out more information about their projects and donating on their website https://www.slunatrust.org/
* The Art Newspaper - International art news and events. 2022. 'Proud to be colonised?': statue of French politician torn down in Martinique. [online] Available at: <https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/03/10/proud-to-be-colonised-statue-of-french-politician-torn-down-in-martinique> [Accessed 2 April 2022].
** THE STAR - St Lucia. 2022. National Trust Stands Against Dolphin Park Development - THE STAR - St Lucia. [online] Available at: <https://stluciastar.com/national-trust-stands-dolphin-park-development/> [Accessed 2 April 2022].
*** Kelly, S., 2022. St Lucia PM cuts funding to island's National Trust - WIC News. [online] WIC News. Available at: <https://wicnews.com/caribbean/st-lucia-pm-cuts-funding-to-islands-national-trust-3752789/> [Accessed 2 April 2022].
**** All information from plaques and museum by St Lucia National Trust, Pigeon Island
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