The locals call it 'bay of the rays.' It's a fishing village south of Castries (St. Lucia's capital), a sleepy place on the beach, quite the opposite of the hustle and bustle of Rodney Bay marina, where the ARC has taken over for a couple of weeks. It's crazier than ever in the ARC Village at Rodney Bay marina - just this morning, five boats crossed the finish line within minutes of each other, making for some excitement on the docks as the Yellow Shirts made space for them. With over 150 boats now in port, that space is getting hard to come by. But it's all in fun.
Anyway, back to last night. 52 people showed up for the trip down to Anse La Raye, and we boarded the Flying Ray ferryboat for the 45 minute journey south. The moon was low on the horizon to the west, a tiny sliver as it began to wax again. But following the squally first couple of days here, the weather has been crystal clear, enough so that though only a fingernail moon was illuminated, you could quite easily make out the rest of it, a lighter orb on the black sky. Jupiter was rising to the east, above Orion, and shooting stars rained on the hills over St. Lucia, making for a magical atmosphere.
For the yachts offshore, it had to have been fantastical evening, and I admit to feeling a longing for being there myself. Mia will be back at sea again with my Dad in January for another Atlantic crossing on Kinship, but I'll be home with the dogs. My turn won't come until the springtime, but then I'll be well rested and ready for it again, with a renewed energy to get out on the water.
Interestingly, I had a conversation on this topic with Andreas from Vaquita, who was along last night for the fish fry. He said it takes a minimum 250-day per year commitment to even think about making a run at the Olympics in sailing. He did it in 1996, and again in 2004 I think.
Mia and Andreas
"But there is so much more to do!" he told me. "I love climbing mountains, I love kayaking, I love backcountry skiing. Sometimes you need to find that balance, get off the water for a while so you can appreciate it when you go back."
The Flying Ray arrived into Anse La Raye shortly after 1900. The village itself wasn't visible until we rounded a small headland. It's tucked in a horseshoe-shaped bay south of Castries, protected enough that another sailing boat was anchored there among the local fishing boats. But a swell was running into the bay, making for an exciting disembarking from the boat once we were secured to the modest concrete pier that the villagers had erected.
Fishing nets lined the pier and a local guy sat strumming his guitar, barely audible above the thumping beat of the speakers set up on the main street just behind the beach.
Mia and I lingered behind the main group of ARC sailors and lazily sauntered into town. We got Piton beers (believe it or not my first drop of alcohol since we got on the island) and wandered around taking photos.
Stray dogs roamed the streets. Local families had local grills setup along the main drag, which was only a block or two long and backed onto the beach, where colorful local fishing boats were dragged up into the sand for the night. The people here depend on fishing and farming for their livelihood, and the Friday night Fish Fry is a big part of their weekly income.
The atmosphere was no altogether different from the Friday Night Jump Up in Gros Islet, the local village adjacent to Rodney Bay Marina, just a bit mellower. Music thumped from the wall of speakers setup at the head of the street while the locals marched to the beat. The ARC sailors were mainly onlookers (until towards the end of the night a group of young crew took to the streets for their own bit of fun).
"The Jump Up in Gros Islet has turned into a party for the French," who come down from Martinique just for it, said Thomas Wibberenz, the Parasailor rep who annually comes for the ARC finish in St. Lucia. "The fact is, places like Anse La Raye need it more. They don't get the tourist numbers like they do up north."
Mia and I found a table next to one of the local stalls and shared a fish dinner with Andreas and Martin from Vaquita. Andreas and I lamented for a while on the amount of breakages in this year's ARC (which I wrote about in the recent feature story on the ARC website).
"When almost every boat has a major gear failure, it's not just dumb luck," Andreas said. I couldn't agree more, but nobody I spoke with for the story seemed to mind. It's just something to deal with offshore, they say. I say the best-prepared crews don't have to deal with it, and you shouldn't necessarily expect to deal with it. Failures should be the exception, not the norm.
Anyway, I digress. Andreas and I continued chatting about classic yachts, specifically Free Spirit, a custom Bruce King double-ender from Norway. "Would you sail on slow boats anymore?" I asked him.
"I'm dying to!" he said. "The last 100,000 miles have been racing, flat out survival mode. It's just a different mindset. I can't wait to get on a boat like that, with maybe another couple and just enjoy life at sea. You don't get that sailing fast. It's either work or sleep." After seeing the Volvo footage he showed us the other night at dinner, of Team Russia sailing in the southern ocean full speed ahead, I can't imagine they get much of the latter.
The evening concluded with the return journey north to Rodney Bay. Just a chance to sit and enjoy the 45-minute boat ride without having to think about anything was a welcome relief. These events are wonderfully fun to work on, but also wonderfully exhausting. It's a race against the clock every day to see how much we can get accomplished (though definitely better than watching the clock slowly tick away in a job you don't like. I'll take that tradeoff anytime).
The mate onboard also served as the enthusiastic MC. He queued up some Caribbean Christmas music and proceeded to march around the boat in step with the impossibly fast beat. There is energy in the music the locals create in the islands, and it's irresistible. It was to the mate anyway.
"You can't help yourself, can you?" I asked him. "No way mon!" he exclaimed. "Music is in our bones, it's in our veins, it's flowing through us. It's who we are." He wasn't dancing so much as flowing, floating around the deck, smiling wide with that certain spark in his spark in his eye. We couldn't help but smile at him.