Wet dream diary

Anse Chastanet. “We have to go there” I remember saying when I was reading about St Lucia and realised this place was a world-class dive site.

Anse Chastanet. Say it softly and the sussuration slips off the tongue like a prayer. It was a place I dreamed about often but you can’t really imagine it until you’re there. After all, I’d never been to a tropical reef before and I had very little idea what it would be like.

I imagined an offshore mass, perhaps some rock protruding from the water, probably best appreciated by scuba divers. I had no idea if we’d be able to see much at all with just face masks and snorkels.

It was one of the first things I asked the taxi driver who picked us up from the airport. “What are the roads like? How long would it take to get to Anse Chastanet?” The answer was several hours, twisty roads, chance of mudslips in heavy rain – much better to approach by sea. So we hired a boat. We had no real idea how big – I thought maybe something with a pretty little awning and a decent outboard motor. Then a fishing cruiser drew up at the jetty and Captain Rum introduced himself. His name was Ram but Captain Rum suited him better although he was of Indian descent and lacked the red beard – this was St Lucia, after all.

There was plenty of cover, which was just as well because it was a rainforest sort of day with the emphasis on rain – dark clouds overhead and “liquid sunshine” falling quite heavily from the skies.

Capt Rum was a good bloke. He liked Bob Marley and he was willing to take us virtually anywhere we wanted – Martinique if we fancied, but we didn’t. We heard it was snootier than France and pretty damn expensive for the Caribbean. Anyway all we wanted was to head south to Anse Chastanet.

The coast was all grey under the leaden skies but we were content just to sit and watch the ocean in the hope of spotting flying fish or perhaps a school of dolphins until the Pitons came into view. They are St Lucia’s characteristic twin lava domes and exploited mercilessly in every single smidge of marketing for the island.

Rum dropped anchor in the bay of Anse Chastenet where the onshore greenery climbs the narrow valley and hillsides, concealing an exclusive hotel estate.

The sea and the award-winning marine nature reserve within was all that interested us.

There was nothing to see apart from a semi-circle of white buoys bobbing on the water marking an area to the southern side of the bay below the cliff.

Capt.Sensible and I dropped into the water pretty much in the middle of the bay, agreeing to keep each other in sight. Once in the water, with the swell and the choppyness, it was easy to lose sight of each other and there were no other divers or snorkellers around. The sea was immediately remarkable for being very blue, very clear and very, very deep. Swimming under the marker rope, a shoal of bright yellow and black striped sergeant-major fish swam straight at me, separating to pass either side. It was like a welcome party.

To my right, skimming just below the surface of the water, a group of beautifully long, slim garfish shot past, all done up in shiny metallic blues violets and silver.

There were large shoals of smaller fish turning as one, flashing silver, the shoals transforming instantly from a ball to a torpedo to an arrow and back to a ball again before my eyes.

Larger fish swam down in the depths. I thought I saw a distant tunny fish that must have been five feet long.

It was incredibly exciting for all sorts of reasons – one being that I didn’t feel at all comfortable in that depth of crystal clear water but at the same time, I was confident in my ability to float! I struck out for the cliff where the water might be shallower and hey presto, there was the coral reef, totally resplendent in anemones, sponges, coral fans, teeming with a profusion of life.

I had a great rush of wonder at it all. It made me think this is what I should have been destined for – that spending so much of my life out of the water had been a major error. When I watched Jacques Cousteau on TV why on earth hadn’t I sought out ways to live the dream? Why hadn’t I just chucked school in and run away to join the crew of the Calypso?

Snorkelling in the vivid incredible underwater world of Anse Chastanet felt like swimming in a David Attenborough wildlife documentary. I thought of Doug Allen the underwater cameraman I met a couple of times and understood how he will never stop doing that he does. It’s a whole different world under the sea where man is the clumsy alien and every single other creature is superbly and wonderfully designed for their environment.

I watched small yellow and black fish nibbling and cleaning the sides of an elegant-looking large blue fish. Smaller dark fish behaved like terriers, chasing larger intruders off their territory. There were incredibly lovely parrot fish – substantial and turquoise with white lips and wavy yellow striped facial decorations. They were a challenge to photograph because they were camera shy but well worth the watching, following and waiting to get a snap.

I saw my first puffer fish – mottled brown and cream with little stubby fan-like fins working twenty-to-the-dozen. The way they float and propel themselves reminded me irresistibly of underwater airships.

I examined the reef very carefully for seahorses but couldn’t see any sign. We swam right up to the place where the beach shelves deeply and spent an hour taking pictures, swapping the camera between us before swimming back to the boat and moving north to another excellent dive and snorkel site, Anse Cochon.

The weather was still pretty bad but all you hear underwater is the pitter-patter of rain on the surface and watching the endless flowing, shifting sheet of silk, pitted by raindrops, that is the underside of the sea more than makes up for it.

Swimming away from the boat at Anse Cochon I brushed a foot against the long spines of a black sea urchin. The spines pierced my surf shoes like butter (Thanks, Dive90, Cheltenham!) and into my foot. I took off the shoe to pull the spines out but the damage was done. Three in my big toe, right foot. Ouch. The pain went off after a while and though the marine life was incredible, the light was worse and the water more muddied than Anse Chastanet. Forty minutes later we were back on the boat draped in towels holding rum punches and singing along-a-Bob M “One love…one heart…let’s get together and feel alright..”

The boat was about to move off when a local guy with rusty-orange dreadlocks and Bermuda shorts paddled out to see us in his home-honed canoe . His name was Rock Bottom. He brought shells and little carved turtles and he was desperate to sell some wares.

Captain Rum said quietly that old Rock Bottom probably hadn’t seen a tourist for days because of the weather. I bought a conch shell from him, although I know it’s breaking all the rules about encouraging pillaging for tourist trifles from the sea bed. Rock looked like a man struggling to survive the simplest of lives, so I had to buy something. Rock gave me my first ever Rasta fist bump. Yeah-man!

We headed north up the coast and took a little detour around the exclusive and pretty Marigot Bay a quiet preserve for the mega-rich with their ultra-smart yachts.

Anyone watching would have wondered what those people were doing sullying the quiet backwater of Marigot Bay with their fishing cruiser but hey we were perfectly happy with our little vessel – and it had one of those chairs where you strap yourself in and battle it out with marlin. Only I have never aspired to a battle with a fish.  I’d rather swim with them. .

I climbed up into the cockpit and sat with FatBoy at the helm and we talked about his family and his kids and their life on St Lucia as the boat swooped and rolled all over the place, riding the white-capped waves of the Caribbean like a bucking bronco. It was more lively than I’d ever imagined the Caribbean could be and I didn’t want the voyage to end.

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About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
This entry was posted in Coast, Current Affairs, Science, Seaside, Watery things and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Wet dream diary

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    I still have my cold, but this is a great read to wake up with and put the smile back on my face. Thanks.
    I have nly done a little snorkelling, but I remember the first time, and how wowed I was by all that life just out of sight below the water’s surface. Also had urchin spines in my feet. How did you get rid of them?

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Isobel. Hope you’re feeling better soon. The spines were extremely painful at first but after an hour it all simmered down. I’ve been spiked with urchin spines before and I just leave them and keep an eye in case of infection.They just grow out gradually.

      The beauty of snorkelling is that you can do it in really shallow water and still be surprised by the amount marine life you see.

  2. Pseu says:

    Marvellous, Jan. Truly wonderful. – I’d love to snorkel but get panicky.

    • janh1 says:

      Ta, Pseu. 🙂 You could try it in really shallow water until you get used to it and gradually extend the depth or not – whatever you feel comfortable with. You don’t have to make any effort to float in the sea, either!

  3. Wat an incredible experience, Jan – like flying! Those pictures are wonderful.

  4. janh1 says:

    Thanks Kate 🙂

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