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Disaster Day in Marigot Bay

Less than 20 hours on our sailboat and we’re faced with possibly having to abandon ship in Marigot Bay, but we’ll get to that…

Marigot Bay, St. Lucia is beautiful, sheltered, safe, calm and romantic. It is so sheltered that many boats come here when there are hurricane warnings. It’s so pretty that land tours of St. Lucia usually feature a stop at a scenic overlook of this narrow bay. In fact, much of the 1967 version of Dr. Doolittle was filmed here.

Truly, it’s one of the most idyllic sailing anchorages in all of the Caribbean.

Marigot Bay was the first scheduled overnight stop of our 10 day group bareboat sailing adventure with four catamarans that started in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia with plans to sail to Soufriere, The Pitons and on to St. Vincent & The Grenadines, ending in Grenada.

As usual for sailing charters, by the time we had loaded the boat with provisions and luggage, then went through the boat checkout procedures, we left the marina with just a couple of hours of daylight remaining. A late afternoon rainbow promised good fortune and the first of many spectacular sunsets awaited us as we arrived in Marigot Bay. We grabbed a mooring ball and a Piton, the local beer.

As the light faded, the sounds of a talented saxophonist made their way across the water to our flotilla. We were all in the mood for a good meal and fortunately we had made a group reservation at the Rainforest Hideaway months in advance (smart thing to do when there are 35 sailors in your group).  A colorful water taxi collected us. The food, service, setting, atmosphere, and of course the background sax music made for a beautiful evening. Even though most of us had spent a few days together in St. Lucia before sailing, this evening was the first true night of the sailing trip. Any flight delays, jet lag, mad scrambles for coolers and provisions, concerns about boats that hadn’t arrived yet…all forgotten as our adventure was now real.

Even in such a lively group setting, several couples were inspired to slow dance on the dock, including us.

The Rainforest Hideaway boasts lionfish on their menu!

This is important because lionfish are not native to the Caribbean and since they have no natural enemies here, they are multiplying at an unnatural rate. They quickly consume local reef fish and even small lobster. Lionfish are beautiful to look at but deadly poison to other fish. They are also poisonous to humans if you happen to touch one while snorkeling or diving – resulting in severe pain, convulsions, and more.

The local government encourages spearfishing and promotes lionfish as a viable food source. Restaurants have tried hard in recent years to find appealing recipes. It’s difficult, since they have to train the chefs to properly prepare the fish so as not to poison their patrons (generally thought of as bad for business).

 

Lionfish sure are pretty!

We saw lionfish on nearly every dive and found it interesting that they were often lounging with lobsters. Check out these beauties, plus Tom giving the universal diver’s sign for lionfish.

Tom and several others from our group ordered the lionfish (coconut crusted with yummy sauce) and found it tasty with no unusual side effects (so far). Oh yeah, dessert was yummy too.

After a clear night full of stars, we awoke to a calm morning.  Sheila and the girls were chauffeured to shore by dinghy to enjoy breakfast and some shopping. We said goodbye to picturesque Marigot Bay – next stops Soufriere, the famous Pitons of St. Lucia, and the resort at Sugar Beach.

But wait, where’s the disaster our title promised?

It was time to raise the sails and see what this charter cat could really do. No problem getting the sails up!

Yet when we tried to steer the boat with the wheel rather than the engines, there were strange grinding noises and no response. Steering is a fairly important element to sailing, so we were justifiably concerned. Could we have gotten entangled in some rope? We lowered the sail, stopped the engines and snorkeled under the stern looking for obstructions on the rudder – Nope! Our captain is a very experienced sailor with a crew of problem solvers and we were all stumped. Fortunately, we were still within cell phone range. The charter sailboat base of operations made several suggestions to diagnose the issue – no success. Finally, they told us to go back to Marigot Bay and the local mechanic would have a look. Sooooo…back to Marigot Bay we motored (steering with engines). Now, as disasters go, this was not life threatening. But it was jeopardizing a group vacation that we had planned for over a year.

The downside of “island time” mentality…

Several hours passed with no sign of the mechanics and no hint of urgency from the charter base. Once they arrived could they find the problem? Could they fix it? How long will it take? Can we get a replacement boat on short notice? Should we start repacking the boat we just settled into? If there was no other boat, would we fly to the next stop and hope our other boats would take us in? Maybe stay in hotels? Could our diving reservations be rescheduled? What to do?

Marigot Bay is a pretty place to be stuck for repairs, but we just stayed aboard waiting and crossing our fingers that they’d fix us quickly and we’d be on our way.  This is a situation in which you have the opportunity to really learn about folks’ dark side (if they have one). Fortunately, our boatmates had a very positive, yet realistic, attitude as we considered the options and the potential loss of our sailing trip.

Sadly, when mechanics arrived they weren’t very reassuring.

They discovered the root of the problem after a couple hours of head scratching, but the various options to fix it included words like “try”, “maybe tomorrow afternoon”, “if this works”, “we know a guy who might be able to…”, “I think he has a blow torch” and the like! We tried to stay positive and cheer them on.

The possibility of leaving Marigot Bay that night had long passed so our amazing boatmates served up the first of many fine dining experiences on our boat, Mediterranean chicken and pasta, with a side of sunset.

We hoped the mechanics didn’t mistake our friendly good-naturedness to mean that we’re so laid back we wouldn’t care if the problem didn’t get resolved for a week!

They came up with a temporary fix. Our cat had two steering wheels, one on each side of the stern. Only one wheel was truly locked up, but the wheels are linked together. If they could decouple the wheels (but not the two rudders) and disable the port wheel, would we mind sailing with just the starboard wheel? “No problem” says our skipper – “Do it”. Two hours later, after holding our collective breath, they had worked in the dark with flashlights and announced a completely successful “repair”. They also fixed our generator which had been randomly puttering out, so we were doubly relieved. We happily paid them a hefty sum and several beers (all but the beer was later reimbursed by the charter company) and enjoyed a few laughs with them.

The next day, we awoke PSF since we had lots of miles to sail to catch up with the rest of the group. What is PSF you ask? Our Kiwi skipper says that’s “Pre-Sparrow Fart” – very early in the morning – in our case we left our anchorage at 5:30am, before sunrise, blazed past the rest of beautiful St. Lucia and sailed for about 10 hours. We caught up with our group in the next country, St. Vincent & The Grenadines (in Bequia) and we didn’t have to miss our SCUBA diving reservation (which was a highlight of the trip!), so we only missed one day of fun and had to be content with our view of the famous Pitons from a mile or so offshore.

After Marigot Bay, St. Lucia

We thoroughly enjoyed all the sailing and island stops – Bequia, Mayreau, the Tobago Cays and Union Island – then on to Carriacou and Grenada. More about these West Indies island stops soon. On St. Lucia, don’t miss the Jump Up! We also found excellent SCUBA diving in Bequia, the Tobago Cays, and Grenada and snorkeled with squid! Can’t wait to show you those videos! As fantastic as all of this was, the most spectacular part of the trip was enjoying our boatmates, the perfect blend from New Zealand, California, Texas and Colorado with smarts, humor, culinary skills and a love for sailing. We stand by our #1 bareboating tip: Choose your boatmates wisely. 🙂

Read more of our Bareboat Sailing stories.

RTG Helpful Hints

Money – St. Lucia and 7 other members of the OECS – Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States use the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$) depicting Queen Elizabeth II. The exchange rate is fixed at US$1 = EC$2.70. Many businesses accept credit cards or US$, but have enough EC$ on hand for those that don’t. ATMs are available and issue only EC$.

Safety – Tourism has become key to the economy so services, taxis, restaurants, shops, etc. all welcome you. There are some locals that see all tourists as having money to burn, so use caution and have a general idea of how much you should be paying. The lovely people we encountered cautioned us to be very aware for fairness and for safety. They don’t want the bad guys to keep tourists away…which is exactly what’s happening now on the island of St. Vincent. Everyone is discouraged from stopping there until they reign in the criminal element that has escalated beyond theft. Sadly, we sailed on by several beautiful, but empty anchorages.

 

? What surprises or disasters have nearly (or actually – ouch!) derailed your travel plans?

 

4 Comments

  1. May 28, 2016 at 11:33 AM — Reply

    Haha I know I shouldn’t laugh but I just love how the mechanics think that you’ve all the time in the world with nothing for doing. Glad you didn’t miss your scuba diving reservation 🙂

    • Tom and Sheila
      May 29, 2016 at 9:27 PM — Reply

      Hey Marteen! I know what you mean. We found ourselves thinking that maybe we shouldn’t say things like “Well, at least it’s a beautiful place to be stranded” or they’d REALLY think we didn’t mind missing the rest of our plans.

  2. May 28, 2016 at 9:27 AM — Reply

    One time in europe I had a flat wheel on a plane that they replaced while we were on it. Just a little bump. Haha But on the same trip our bus went through tunnel without enough clearance scraping and damaging the top and THEN I was in a minor accident on the autobahn when a spare tire fell off a truck and crashed through our windshield.

    • Tom and Sheila
      May 31, 2016 at 10:26 AM — Reply

      Wow Stephanie! Sounds like scenes straight out of the movie Pure Luck. Have you seen it? Hilarious! I’ll bet you could relate.

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