BEST OF THE BLUE
Yachting is one of these past times that has been presented in the past, as a sport for the "rich and famous." Certainly in St. Lucia, while we appreciate the fun and frolic that is associated with this activity, to over 450 persons, Yachting is a serious way of life. It is about economic survival and a job that pays the bills.
What is more, St. Lucians have begun to embrace the ocean, and are joining in this adventure of a lifetime with many others who have felt the immense power and thrill of the outdoors, and to whom the ocean has become the Mistress, teasing them again and again, with the promise of intrigue and mystery.
The yachting industry in St. Lucia began in Ganters Bay, (Lunar Park) known now as Vigie Cove. Vibrant boating activity began in that area during the early 1950s, partly due to its proximity to the capital Castries and Vigie, now George F.L. Charles airport. Most of the vessels berthed in this very sheltered harbor were locally owned with a few foreign registered vessels. Today St. Lucia's yachting sector comprises of four categories of yachts: Cruisers, live a-boards, charter yachts, and local yachts engaged in day boat coastal charters, deep-sea fishing and whale watching.
Now In Rodney Bay, yachting began in earnest in 1976, introduced by Stevens Yachts. The charter fleet was located in what is now known as the inner lagoon and comprised of 30 vessels all ranging between 35 and 52 feet. This charter operation for a long time represented the St. Lucia Yachting sector. The operations continued to grow in anticipation of a Marina complex. However while Stevens was the only charter base, Rodney Bay and Reduit beach became popular anchorage spots for the few cruisers who sailed through St. Lucian waters. By 1986 Rodney Bay Marina was near completion, and Stevens Yachts moved their operations to the Marina, which was constructed in the first portion of the lagoon.
The average size vessel visiting St. Lucia is fifty-five feet. Over the last two years, St. Lucia has seen an increase in Maxi yachts (sailing yachts over 60 feet), and Mega Yachts (motor yachts over 70 feet). During the winter season, normally from November to May, maxi yachts can be found cruising the island's West Coast.
St. Lucia's Yachting Industry has come a long way from the early days. During 2000, sixty percent (60%) of the yachts that visited St. Lucia were between 40 feet and 70 feet. Thirty six percent (36%) were in the 40-foot category, while three percent (3%) were between 70 feet to 100 feet. Yachts over 100 feet accounted for one percent (1%) of arrivals.
What is more, St. Lucians have begun to embrace the ocean, and are joining in this adventure of a lifetime with many others who have felt the immense power and thrill
of the outdoors, and to whom the ocean has become the Mistress, teasing them again and again, with the promise of intrigue and mystery. This has come about through a number of yachting events including the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).
This activity is sponsored by the Tourist Board of Gran Canaria, the Port Authority of Las Palmas, the St Lucia Tourist Board, and in association with Yachting World. ARC usually starts from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands in November and finishes at Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia in December. This is the largest trans-ocean sailing event in the world, setting a record in 1999 of 235 starters. The 2700n mile passage will take most of the yachts between 18 and 21 days. The ARC has a special flavour, which successfully combines racers with cruisers, old with young, and provides entertainment for all.
St. Lucian Michael Gordon describes the yachting experience as simply glorious… In ARC 1996, he and other St. Lucians sailed across the deep blue on Breez-A-Way, a yacht skippered by Bernard Johnson. He bubbles with laughter as he recounts the event, and gallantly says, "we completed" the race from Las Palmas to St. Lucia. By December, the Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia comes alive with well over 1000 'yachties', still euphoric after an encounter with Mother Nature in its purest form – and by the sound of Michael that euphoria can stay with a person for a long time!
More recently, former Olympian Mike Green and his Team St. Lucia emerged the overall winner, capturing the Champion Pool, after two days of flawless sailing in the First North Sails Lagoon Regatta hosted in St. Maarten. The St. Lucia Heineken Regatta is also an event that is becoming more popular, attracting some 20 to 25 boats locally and from the region.
Well our future is well on course and cruising ahead at successful knots per hour, with the opening of a School for Sailing for young St. Lucians – The St. Lucia Optimist & Dinghy Association Sailing Programme.
This is currently being manned by Dr. Michael Camps, and if the children are anything to go by, then Yachting is certainly more than just a "job that pays the bills!" In fact, in St. Lucia now, Yachting is certainly more than just a sport for the "rich and famous." In the past 7 yrs, some 250 students have participated in the Sailing Programme. Three past students have been motivated to take up careers on the sea. Two became trainee ship pilots, and one a marine electrician in the American Coast Guard. There is also wide regional participation in Optimist, Laser and Keel boat racing – Martinique, Grenada, Tobago, Bequia as well as Tortola. In keeping with the general objectives of the Sailing Programme, Basic Sailing and Oppy Racing has been introduced, targeted at young people in St. Lucia between the ages of 7 and 15 who are competent swimmers. So word is out now, Island Yachting in St. Lucia, out on our deep blue, is a beautiful thing!
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