Little Compass Rose Caribbean Compass March 1998

Deck from from Helos
By Chris Doyle
 

Soufriere Should Be a Proper Port of Clearance

From a yachting point of view a wonderful change has come over Soufriere, St. Lucia, in the last few years. In the worst of the old days, men would pull alongside your boat well before you arrived, hang on uninvited and demand that you let them take your line ashore. If you refused, they would cuss heartily and threaten to cut your lines. Ashore in Soufriere, you would be harassed by men and boys insisting on being your guide and giving you no peace, to the point where it was no pleasure to be in town. 

Meanwhile, several interest groups were at loggerheads as to the proper use of the area. Fishermen resented the yachts that anchored where they wanted to set their nets; scuba interests resented both the fishermen they believed were damaging the reefs and the yachts that would sometimes anchor on them. Ecologically the area was under serious threat and fish stocks were becoming badly depleted. 

All this has changed. The good work of the Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA) has improved the situation on the water. Efforts by the tourist department, educational programs and the police have made visiting town a pleasure. 

The SMMA was formed in 1994 to both protect the marine environment and to resolve conflicts over the increasing human use of this spectacular area. Over a long period fishermen, hoteliers, divers, water taxi owners, the yachting community, government agencies and community groups negotiated a creative solution designed to benefit all users and to ensure the long-term protection of the marine environment. 

Under the direction of Kai Wulf, the SMMA has done a remarkable job on the waterfront in creating the Soufriere Marine Management Area. The shoreline is divided into priority areas. Some sections are marine reserves, primarily designed to increase fish stocks, but which are also excellent dive sites. In addition there are recreational areas, areas where yachts can tie onto moorings, and areas that are reserved for commercial fishing activities. Yacht moorings are in several locations and there is a marked anchoring space by The Hummingbird Restaurant. 

SMMA-licensed water taxis are available to take you to town or to any of the hotels and restaurants. Licensed yacht guides are available to take your line ashore. There is a new feeling of professionalism among these people, who proudly carry SMMA ID cards, and it is a pleasure to deal with them. During the hurricane season, Peter, the chief park warden, gives yachts the latest weather forecast. SMMA can be reached on VHF16 or 08 and are very helpful should you want assistance with taxis, information or anything else. The security record in the park has been excellent here, thanks to the diligence of the licensed water-taxi operators. 

The park is a marine wonderland with many superb diving sites and wonderful snorkeling. According to park regulations, scuba divers must go with a dive guide. If you have your own equipment, dive guides are now available through the SMMA at a fraction of the price of a regular dive through a shop. There are also dive shops at Anse Chastanet and Jalousie. 

Ashore there is so much to do. One of my favorite jaunts is to take a towel up to the Diamond Baths and ask for the upper bath house. Here in a private room you have two huge tubs with giant valves. Open the valves and hot water straight from the volcano quickly fills the baths. Afterwards, enjoy wandering around the gardens and admiring the waterfall. 

If you have never seen a sulphur spring before, then the "Drive-In Volcano" is dramatic. Bare earth colored in many hues, hissing steam vents and boiling muddy pools bring to mind early paintings of Hell and thoughts about the impermanence of the earth. 

If you anchor in Malgre Tout, it is a short and scenic walk to Jah I's little hot fall. It is very pleasant to lie against the cliff as hot water cascades over you. 

The town of Soufriere has some charming, photogenic old Creole buildings, and there is an old waterwheel at Soufriere Estate which still runs from time to time. 

One place I never miss is the Dasheen Bar and Restaurant at the Ladera Resort. Here, perched on the edge of a ridge and looking straight down between the Pitons, is the most spectacular view in the Windwards. 

Hikers could spend days in the area. St Lucia's best rain forest starts in the hills behind Soufriere. You can call the forestry department for a guide to take you on a hike. It would be hard not to enjoy the two-and-a-half-hour loop tour which includes the Maho Waterfall. Remember to take bathing things. Others like to climb the steep Gros Piton, and there are several guides willing to take you. Or, just stroll ashore and walk anywhere amid some of the Caribbean's most spectacular scenery. 

An excellent selection of hotels and restaurants will appeal to everyone. The Hummingbird and The Still Beach Bar both have a lovely view over the Pitons. The Jalousie Hilton and Lord Glenconner's Bang are right between the Pitons. Just above the Malgre Tout anchorage the new Stonefield Estate Restaurant has its own pool and a garden with Carib petroglyphs. In town you can find small local places such as Fedo's and Camilla's. Other restaurants include La Haut, Anse Chastanet, Captain Hook's and The Still Plantation. Provisioning is easy at Eroline's Supermarket.

Clearly Soufriere is now a destination with ample attractions to keep yachts staying several days. Yet most yachts stop only for half a day on their way north or south. One obvious reason for this is the Customs regulations. Anyone on holiday heading south is not going to want to retrace their steps to get outward clearance in Marigot. But if they clear in Marigot before they visit Soufriere, 24 hours is the most they can get. Similarly if they are coming north, they have a maximum of 24 hours to reach a port of clearance and check in. 

Soufriere is legally a port of clearance, but no Customs station has been set up. Now that this area has become a major yachting attraction, it needs to be a proper port of clearance so that yachts may call in and visit for as long as they want. In the long term this will increase the number of visiting yachts, and increase both the time they stay and the amount of money they spend in the area. 

Editor's note: At press time, the St. Lucia government was taking steps toward having clearance facilities put in place at Soufriere.

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Copyright© 1998 Compass Publishing