St. Lucia

Mar 05, 2020 - Sea Cloud


We dropped anchor in the deep water of Soufrière Bay at 7:05 a.m. on a sunny morning with a light breeze. This island paradise is approximately 200 square miles with a small population of 175 thousand. It is the birthplace of two Nobel Laureates: Arthur Lewis for economics, and Derek Walcott for literature. Both men went to the same schools and were born on the same day! Soufrière Bay is just to the north and east of the Petit and Gros Piton. The physical setting is very dramatic as the city of Soufrière is situated at the west end of an ancient caldera formed some 39 thousand years ago.

After breakfast we came ashore in Zodiacs and boarded minivans for the short ride to the interior of the caldera where the hot gasses and molten waters and rock are still quite active. Here we were able to see and smell (sulfuric gases are pungent!) the seismic activity of the island for the very first time. With the exception of Barbados, all of the islands which we have now visited are the product of volcanic activity as they sit atop the Atlantic and Caribbean plates. Our guide on St. Lucia was Noelle and she was extremely knowledgeable, particularly about plants and cultural matters. We also learned about the local geology and went to an overlook where we could peer into the face of the bubbling mud as it hissed and exploded.

Our next stop was the Diamond Botanical Gardens, one of the unsung gems of the Caribbean. Plants of every sort abound in profusion and Noelle was able to point out the most interesting varieties. I love the bamboo, which is the national plant of St. Lucia—it can grow 8 inches a day and reach 30 feet tall and 8 inches in diameter. As we left, we walked through the formal gardens and saw the exquisitely beautiful jade plant. I cannot precisely describe the color, but it is a cross between an ice blue and crystal. It takes one’s breath away.

We were in these wonderful gardens for about an hour and a half and after our visit, we returned to our vans for the very short drive to the center of Soufrière. The public square, which sits in front of the large Roman Catholic church, has recently been redone and in its center is a powerful statue of a slave breaking his chains. The more radical supporters of the French Revolution “the Jacobins” were here in the middle 1790s and set up a guillotine to rid the islands of the aristocracy and supporters of the monarchy.

We set sails for about an hour after lunch and the unfurling was also accomplished with the redoubtable guests who had been coached by Chief Officer John Svendsen. At 4:00 p.m. we watched the fabulous short film of Irving Johnson “Around Cape Horn.” At dinnertime Alex presented the slideshow of guests’ photos. They represent a cornucopia of ways of seeing the Caribbean. I cannot imagine a fuller day, and we all went off to bed utterly satisfied. Next stop Bridgetown, Barbados.

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About the Author

Tom Heffernan

Historian

Tom, a native of New York City, who has had a life-long passion for travel and exploration, is the Kenneth Curry Professor of Humanities at the University of Tennessee and the founding Director of the university’s Humanities Center. His areas of interest are anthropology of religions and historical linguistics.

About the Photographer

Alex Krowiak

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

A childhood surrounded by the woods and streams of Pennsylvania initially sparked Alex’s curiosity about nature. That curiosity eventually led him to pursue degrees in biology and environmental studies at Boston College. During his time there he conducted research on carnivorous plants in Iceland and kelp forests in South Africa. Together these diverse experiences provided him with the background and passion to become a teacher. 

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