On the southwest coast of St. Lucia, the mountains sheltering Soufrière
Bay rise from far below the surface of the water, so the harbor
is precipitous and deep, encouraging even large yachts like Emerald
Seas to anchor so close to shore that we tossed a stern line to
a pair of fishermen waiting in a skiff who ran 20 yards to the beach
and tied it off to a tree. Afterwards Emerald Seas’ owners,
Glen and Mary Lancaster, and their guests–a small group of
charter brokers and I, chaperoned by LeAnne Morris Pliske and Anna
Spurling of The Sacks Group–slipped one by one into the still,
transparent water to loll between the stern and the shore. On the
beach photographer Gary John Norman shot portraits of a pair of
kids balanced partway up the trunk of a palm in the warm August
evening. Above him the foliage on the steep slope hid a dirt road
running from town to a cluster of nearby houses. You could hear
the voices of locals passing homeward in small groups, and every
few minutes the bushes behind Norman would rustle and another couple
of curious children would emerge. Within 20 minutes he was at the
center of a dozen gamboling youngsters. Those of us reclining in
the cool water looked on with amusement.
This tableau unfolded in the shadow of the northernmost of a pair
of natural wonders known as the Pitons–twin spike-shaped mountains
rising spectacularly from sea level to more than 2,500 feet. In
this embrace, our idyllic anchorage was charged with extra significance.
Petit Piton loomed with the strangely inert drama of the monumental;
it was as though we had come to rest beneath the Matterhorn or at
the foot of a pyramid.
The Pitons are a breathtaking national treasure in a country just
27 miles long and 14 miles wide, but they are not the St. Lucians’
only pride. Soon after our arrival on the island the day before–once
Glen Lancaster had met us at the airport, ushered us 15 minutes
north to Emerald Seas at Rodney Bay Marina, and settled us in our
staterooms–Norman and I jumped into a taxi for an improvised
tour. During a two-hour drive that took us through the stop-and-go
streets of the capital, Castries, and south along a switchback coastal
mountain road as far as the fishing village of Anse La Raye at the
island’s midsection, our driver Linus, a young, loquacious
Castries native whose radio-taxi handle was "Intellect,"
guided our attention to a variety of sights conventionally worthy
of a tourist’s interest. But he also gave weight to modest
features of his tiny country that most visitors would likely disregard.
Thus at the center of Castries he noted that the square adjacent
to the 1897 cathedral was named in honor of Derek Walcott, the St.
Lucian poet who won a Nobel Prize in 1992. Yet a moment later his
pride seemed just as strong as he pointed out the new engine at
the capital’s central firehouse. Amid stunning views from
Fort Charlotte atop Morne Fortuna, a 2,800-foot mountain overlooking
the city, he told us that the 1796 citadel had been restored as
a college named for yet another St. Lucian Nobel laureate, the economist
Sir Arthur Lewis. Yet he beamed just as brightly when we passed
St. Lucia’s humble TV station. "Just take a look at our
dishes, man," he said of the cluster of sun-bleached antennae.
At first I took a patronizing view of Linus’ generous enthusiasms.
But by the end of our drive I saw nothing naive in his patriotism.
The size and assets of his island nation should not have governed
his pride. It was as genuine as any Yankee’s, and as valid.
This was a valuable perspective as we explored St. Lucia’s
west coast and a handful of islands in the Grenadines to the south.
As a first-time visitor to the Caribbean, I welcomed any help in
grasping its proportions. From afar, extraordinary symbols like
the Pitons loom like illusions of paradise, and one postcard of
an achingly perfect beach can epitomize–and somehow obscure–a
dozen countries. But traveling by yacht with occasional forays to
land, we were able to take measure of these island nations in relation
to our wake–sometimes literally. Before we left Marigot Bay,
another of St. Lucia’s coastal gems where we’d stopped
for a while to play on quiet beaches and sip drinks at a local cafe,
we entered its stunning, steeply sheltered inner harbor, where there
was just enough room to spin Emerald Seas on her axis. We couldn’t
have more graphically appreciated its dimensions.
When a floating home is so substantial, she takes on a culture
of her own. Emerald Seas, with her rich mahogany interior set off
by polished nickel brightwork, suggests an earlier age of cosmopolitan
luxury. Myriam Tremblay, her French-Canadian chef, prepared superb
meals of North American fare with global flair–for example,
preceding herbed rack of lamb with tangy gazpacho perfect for the
climate and accompanying it with roasted potatoes and juliennes
of carrots and the Caribbean vegetable christophene. Our Trinidadian
captain, Cyprian Vialva, oversaw the yacht’s operations with
the dignified confidence of a 30-year professional, and his crew’s
cordial demeanor seemed influenced both by the bucolic beauty of
the island setting and a classic Southern graciousness imported
by the Lancasters from their native North Carolina.
At 105 feet LOA Emerald Seas sometimes rivaled in size the Grenadine
islands we visited. Bequia, a night’s run from St. Lucia,
is the largest in the group, yet is only seven square miles in area.
On the beaches of Admiralty Bay, encircled by its main town, Port
Elizabeth, small brightly colored sailboats the locals have used
for generations rested on their keels. Proportions on Bequia have
taken a playful turn. Once a regional center for boatbuilding, the
island is now best known for the finely detailed model ships made
by patient masters such as the Sargeant brothers, whose workshop
we discovered just a short walk from the crescent of small shops
and relaxed restaurants along the waterfront.
Seven miles southeast of Bequia on privately owned Mustique, Britannia
Bay harbors just one restaurant, the famous Basil’s Bar, which
we found remarkably convivial, considering its select location.
The likes of Mick Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger own homes on Mustique
and help make it one of the most exclusive destinations in the Caribbean,
so a 30-minute taxi ride past dozens of Edenic estates was in marked
contrast to our jaunt with Linus on St. Lucia a few days before.
Here our driver merely recited facts and figures for each mansion–the
nationality of the owner, the baffling number of rooms, and the
mortifying rental fee. Amid Mustique’s carefully manicured
scenery, I missed Linus’ exuberance for a particularly fertile
stand of banana trees or a fishing village’s dusty cricket
On a large yacht exclusivity travels with you. A few hours’
run south of Mustique, Vialva expertly negotiated a hair-raising
labyrinth of reefs to reach the pocket-size refuge of Horseshoe
Cove in the Tobago Cays. Once we were anchored, every guest took
to the aquamarine waters by kayak, RIB, or just a pair of fins,
and for a few hours the teeming reefs and deserted islands seemed
like our private archipelago. Looking back on the yacht from the
blinding-white beach on one of the cays, I realized that a charter
on this level is sometimes a means of exploration, sometimes a retreat,
but best of all, often both at once.
Later, as had become my habit after another of Tremblay’s
exceptional dinners, I reclined in a long chair on the open aft
deck. Distant lights on Carriacou and Union Island were visible
on the horizon, but our anchorage was dark under late summer meteor
showers. Five days of cruising had eclipsed and annulled the postcard
image of the Caribbean I’d held before my arrival, and I no
longer puzzled over its proportions. All I could do was wonder when
last I’d seen such a densely starlit sky.