St. Lucia Sea Fever

What a life... Chris Huxley in St. Lucia can’t decide whether to paraglide or windsurf, scuba or waterski

Turtle Reef, off Anse Chastenet. Photograph by Chris HuxleyWindsurfing lesson. Photograph by Chris Huxley

Surf, paraglide, dive, fish, ski, or just keep on tanning? Chris Huxley looks at the tough choices that face the watersports addict in St Lucia

I lie in a warm cradle of sand on Reduit Beach, and the seascape asks me questions. Mask and fins, windsurfer, or paraglider? Acres of pristine coral, a ballroom dance with the Trade Winds, or the island spread beneath me like a map? A yacht can take me to the island’s farthest corners, or to other islands nearby; or I can go looking for a monstrous blue marlin. Questions, questions. For once, all the answers are good. I’ll just lie here a little longer and think about them.

Cruising

Before we get into the action, it’s worth remembering that you can lie back and let a professional crew do the work for you if you prefer a really relaxed approach to the water. The comfortable 56-foot Endless Summer offers day and sunset cruises down the west coast from Rodney Bay, and provides snorkelling equipment, a bathing ladder and fresh-water showers for those who can stir themselves from the sundeck and the bar.

Deep sea fishing

St. Lucia is becoming a favorite spot for deep-sea fishermen. Here, you’ll find marlin, sailfish, tuna and many other species. The annual Billfish Tournament brings competitors from all around the Caribbean and the United States. You can hire anything from rudimentary fishing canoes to comfortable sport fishing boats of 50 feet or more. Not only might you catch a record breaker, but you can spot whales and dolphin near the coastline.

Jet skiing

Most of the northern hotels offer jet skiing — a pool of jet ski operators visits the hotels on a rotating basis. The calm waters are perfect for full-throttle skiing, carving impossibly tight turns and curving back across your own wake, a rooster tail of spray high behind you as you head for the horizon.

Kayaking, pedalos & waterbikes

Almost every hotel can provide water craft of some sort. The beautiful coastline provides a perfect backdrop. Kayaks have become very popular: they are very stable and many provide watertight compartments where you can store a picnic, camera, shoes and spare clothing.

Paragliding

Paragliding is offered on Reduit Beach. A water taxi will pick you up from your hotel in the area. Your ride starts on a pontoon in the bay and takes you on a magnificent tour along the beach, with great views of Pigeon Island, the Causeway, Reduit Beach and Rodney Bay, even Mount Pinnard in the south. It’s a safe, fun way to see a whole lot in a short time.

Sailing

Almost all the waterfront hotels offer Sunfish or Aquafins, small one- or two-person sailboats of simple design; most non-sailors can handle them a few minutes after boarding. If you know a bit more about sailing, Hobie Cats and Aquacats can be found at some hotels. These are trickier to sail but they are exhilarating; some are large enough for a local skipper to take charge, which can make for an exciting ride — the upwind hull flying high out of the water as you lean far out to balance it. Decide how adventurous you want to be, and go for it.If you are thinking big, there are yachts available for day charter or longer periods, with or without a skipper and crew. From the north you can get to the Pitons and back in a day; in two to three days you can get to Martinique and back, and if you have a week you can make a return journey to the Tobago Cays. The winds in the lee of the islands are fickle, and most sailors motor through them until they reach the channels, where the trade winds are strong enough for most to have plenty of fun and a fast passage. The slow time in the lee of the islands isn’t wasted, though: you’ll pass the finest scenery you can imagine, and there’s no better setting for a leisurely lunch. There are some conditions for entering and mooring in certain areas around Soufrière (check with your operator for details).

Scuba diving & snorkelling

St Lucia is one of the best Caribbean islands for scuba diving and snorkelling, with several spectacular reefs. Around Soufrière and the Pitons there is an incredible range of sites; the Anse Cochon area is also very rewarding.

North of Soufrière, at the Anse Chastanet Reef, is possibly the finest short dive to be found anywhere in the Caribbean. It’s also a superb area for snorkelling — the coral starts in just a few feet of water and extends well beyond scuba diving range. The reef runs from the southern end of the beach around the headland called Grand Caille and then back almost to Soufrière. This area provides something for everyone: gentle dives in shallow water with little current, dramatic drop-offs and walls, caverns and small caves all densely covered with coral, and innumerable reef fish.

South of Soufrière lie the famous Gros and Petit Pitons, vaulting from the depths of the sea to well over 2,000 feet. There are fantastic dive sites along the base of both Pitons, where the terrain above the water is mirrored in the steep slopes below. Coral cover is excellent and the fish life diverse.
Halfway between Castries and Soufrière is Anse Cochon. The snorkelling at the northern end of this beach is excellent: coral starts in standing depth, gradually getting deeper as you swim away from the beach. For experienced divers the Anse La Raye side of the Pointe La Ville headland is rewarding. Dive sites are wide-ranging, starting with finger reefs at Anse Galet and turning into steep coral-covered boulder slopes with gorgonian-covered walls. In the center of Anse Cochon lies the wreck of the Lesleen M, a 165-foot freighter deliberately sunk in 1985. It has matured beautifully, and is now heavily encrusted with coloured soft corals, gorgonians and sponges.

Surfing

In the right conditions, the breaks at Labralotte Bay and at Pigeon Island are surfed. The east coast, of course, gets the brunt of the trade winds and the swells they generate.

Water-skiing

Several hotels in the north of St. Lucia offer water-skiing. The waters on the Caribbean side of the island provide perfect conditions, with little or no swell and very little chop. Mornings tend to be the calmest time, and the best for beginners (or experts trying to perfect a new routine). Ski boats are used to tow four- or six-person Bananas and other novelty rides for those who want a fun, speedy ride without skis.

Windsurfing

Again, most hotels provide windsurfing equipment. For many, the calmer Caribbean side of the island provides all the wind they need. For the experienced, however, two spots on the Atlantic coast are worth exploring. In the north, Cas-En-Bas is a picturesque bay with some protection from the swells, but not the wind (you can use short boards and sinkers here most of the year — air time is definitely possible once out of the protection of the bay). In the south, there is a similar area at Anse de Sables and the Maria Islands where the wind whistles through and there is protection from the swells. To become airborne, you only have to venture beyond the protection of the Maria Islands into the wind and the swells. The best winds can be found around Christmas time.

CONTACT POINTS

St Lucia Tourist Board (758) 452-4094;

North America 800-456-3984; UK 0171 431-4045;

Germany 61 72 30 44 32

Cruises

Endless Summer Cruises, Rodney Bay: (758) 450-8651

Deep sea fishing

Reel Affair Charters, Coubaril: (758) 452-6736

Dive Centres

Buddies Scuba, Vigie Cove: (758) 452-5288

Dive Fair Helen, Vigie Cove: (758) 451-7716

Dolphin Divers, Rodney Bay: (758) 452-9485

Frogs, Windjammer Landing: (758) 452-0913

Rosemond’s Trench Divers, Marigot Bay: (758) 451-4761

Scuba St Lucia, Anse Chastanet: (758) 459-7000

Paragliding

Aquiafan Sports: (758) 452-9635

Windsurfing

The Reef Bar & Restaurant, Anse de Sables Beach: (758) 454-7400

Windsurf Cas-en-Bas

Yacht Charter

DSL Yachting, Rodney Bay: (758) 452-8531

Moorings Yacht Charter, Marigot Bay: (758) 451-4357

Sailing Let’s Go, Rodney Bay: (758) 452-9234

Stevens Yachts, Rodney Bay: (758) 452-8648

Stirrup Yachts: (758) 452-8000

Sunsail, Rodney Bay: (758) 452-8648