ABOARD THE ROYAL CLIPPER – As the ship sailed into Marigot Bay on St. Lucia it began to rain and my heart sank. It was the last day of the cruise and I hadn’t booked a morning excursion because I wanted time to explore parts of the ship I hadn’t yet seen and take part in activities I hadn’t found time for.
Highest on my list was the opportunity to climb to the ship’s crow’s nest, but with the rain coming down, and deck and rigging wet, I was afraid mast climbing would be canceled. So I paced the deck, scanned the books in the ship’s library, had a coffee in the piano lounge and browsed the Royal Clipper logo clothing in the shop. Rain pockmarked the ship’s three pools. Netting stretches out from the ship’s prow and passengers are allowed to climb across it for a thrill ride high above the waves, but none were keen to do so on this wet morning.
Around noon my luck changed. The sun broke through the clouds and the sports’ crew brought out the safety harnesses for climbing. And up I went, one foot at a time on a rope ladder, my hands grasping cables tied to one of the ship’s five masts. It was easier than it had looked. The trick is not to look down. Once safely inside the railing of the crow’s nest I did look down—and up and all around, taking in the view from all angles from my perch high above the sundeck. What a thrill!
It was raining again by the time my afternoon excursion set off for Soufriere on St. Lucia’s opposite coast, but I was determined to make the most of it. Thelma guided us on a tour of St. Lucia’s drive-in volcano. Its magma chamber collapsed into a caldera 12 kilometers wide, she told us, big enough to contain roads and buildings. Our driver, James, took the winding road up from the dock, past the island’s iconic pair of pitons and into the volcano, parking next to a steaming pool of boiling mud. The water from the sulphur spring running through the caldera reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit, Thelma told us, and local people once used it to boil eggs and cook fish.
Thank goodness it cools enough farther downstream to allow us to take a dip in the volcano’s mud baths. I’d visited Iceland’s Blue Lagoon a year ago and the experience is similar here, but instead of a bright blue pool and white silica mud, the water flowing from the volcano is the color of slate and the mud various shades of gray. We donned bathing suits and jumped in, slathering on the mineral-rich mud to exfoliate our skin.
On our drive winding back down from the volcano, James stopped at a lookout point so we could take photos of the Royal Clipper anchored in the harbor.
Back on board, the captain announced he was sending the tenders out for a photo op. Passengers were free to board and cruise around the ship as the crew raised the sails for our last departure of the week. Dozens of us lined the railings of the tenders shooting photo after photo as the little boats circled the big ship, the sun slowly dropping toward the horizon and lighting up its ivory sails. The deck crew stood along the beam of the prow, smiling and waving their farewell. It was a postcard-perfect moment.
The Royal Clipper is the largest of the Star Clippers fleet but may be surpassed in size soon. Star Clippers is currently building a fourth vessel at a shipyard in Split, Croatia, that will launch sometime in 2017. It will be similar to the Royal Clipper, but with more verandah rooms. Its name will be announced in January.