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July 1999 Vol. 14, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia

where dive experience doesn't count

from the July, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The hundred-plus steps up from the sandy beach were quite a climb, but I immediately forgot how tired I was when I reached the art-decorated balcony for our dive orientation and the dive staff greeted us with a cheery good morning! The basic rules, however, were much less appealing: by law, all dives must be guided by St. Lucialicensed dive guides; no gloves, no knives, no exceptions. Everyone was to show up at the shop with gear, c-cards, and logs, fill out even more waivers, purchase dive permits (colored streamers to attach to your BCD), and proceed with the mandatory shallow-water checkout.

My boat dive had to wait till after lunch. I arrived at the beach with a full stomach and all my gear, boarded the twin Johnson-powered, 36-foot, covered v-hull, and was greeted by Fox, the jokester captain, along with the serious but affable divemaster, Ubaldis, and a helpful crewman, Andr. It only took ten minutes to reach Coral Gardens, a dive site in view of the fabulous Pitons, great volcanic cores climbing from the shore to well over 2,000 feet. In all of the Caribbean, there is no more dramatic setting for a dive.

I stepped off the dive platform and waited until the dive guide told us to descend, then followed with the rest of the group, keeping the guide in front and in sight as we filed past long schools of Creole wrasse, numerous typical Caribbean reef fishes, and beautiful, healthy hard corals (although there was some light coral bleaching attributed to the warm La Nia temps of the winter of 98/99). I didnt know it yet, but these drift dives, with visibility up to 100' and late April water temperatures of 78-80, would turn out to be the daily routine.

The 49 generously sized rooms of Anse Chastanet are scattered over a scenic 500-acre hillside overlooking the bay and the hotels well-manicured gray volcanic sand beach. Anse Chastanet, St. LuciaThe complex is linked by paths and scores of steps leading to scenic lookouts and the highest cottages, all of which are planted on the jungle-shrouded hillside in one of the loveliest hotel settings in all of the Caribbean. The higher up the hill you go, the more expensive and open the room. Although my bath was open (backing up to a large berm) and I might occasionally hear neighbors in their bath, privacy was never a problem.

Nick Troubetzkoy and his German wife Karolin, who have owned the hotel for 25 years, frequently mingled with their largely American, sometimes European guests. Nick, an architect, designed spacious and unique rooms with excellent views. Tile floors and local wood furniture and beams reinforce the close-to-nature feel of the property; fans, huge bathrooms, and balconies with chaises added to the airiness. There were plenty of creature comforts, including a refrigerator, hot water pot, hot-air drier, and safe. Comforts like radio, television, and air conditioning, however, were sacrificed to the open-air ambiance. Breezes normally keep the rooms cool, but it can be stifling on calm nights from May through October. The romantic mosquito nets over each bed kept some of natures more welcoming creatures at bay, particularly the occasional bloodthirsty mosquitoes and no-see-ums (seemingly sparser on second floors). Plastic bowls with water outside the door served as footbaths by day and harbored toads and frogs at night.

The beachfront SSI and PADI-affiliated dive operation, Scuba St. Lucia, is run by Michael and Karyn Allard, knowledgeable divers who know the area well. Its an excellent shop and photo operation, and the largely local staff is friendly and helpful, though they sometimes seemed bored with the large number of novice divers. Their three covered boats, one 36-footer and two 42-footers, have dive benches, two substantial dive ladders, plenty of power, and plenty of room for 10-16 divers. They provide one small plastic basin with fresh water for cameras.

My dive shop had booked our trip and arranged the schedule for our group of nine: a two-tank dive in the morning and, on two evenings, a shore-based night dive. Guests who werent with a group had fewer options--a choice of one morning boat or beach dive and an afternoon boat or beach dive, and a beach night dive was scheduled twice a week. Beach dive entries were typical of sheltered sand beaches: gentle waves and a dropoff thats neither too gradual nor too acute. One might arrange additional private dives but only by hiring a divemaster through the shop.

It quickly became apparent that Anse Chastanet is a haven for novices and easy divers. The first dive of the day was the deep dive to sixty feet for forty minutes. With several novice divers in my group, we often had Winnebago dives where the eager novices actually lead the divemaster. Nobody gets to slow down and search for the interesting macro critters that live here.

Supermans Flight, named after a Superman II scene in which the cloaked man flies down the granite face, was a typical dive, although there was nothing typical about the beautiful site at the base of one of the Pitons. I jumped in with the guide and descended with the group to scenes of trumpetfish in every color variety, coneys, chromis, sergeant majors, angelfish, and hamlets in every color phase or species (depending on your belief systems). Small eels, small lobsters, crabs, and other crustaceans lodged in rocks or sponges; indeed: a pleasant, easy dive.

Anse Cochon reef was similar to other local dives with small and medium-sized reef fish, mild currents, and macro critters. A barracuda being picked over by some cleaner wrasses paused for videography. As the rest of the group approached, he took off, rapidly turning from black to silver as he ran for safety. This barracuda was about the biggest fish I saw, save for a few jacks on one of my fourteen dives.

Other sites were less attractive. At The Pinnacles I enjoyed the soft and hard corals and large sponges, until I found myself navigating a scrap pile of old tires, bottles, and tins. Many had resident denizens, but the rubbish was discouraging, as were the fish-lines and tangles, which I couldnt do much about without a knife.

Some night dives were spectacular, though no deeper (58 fsw) than any others. Anse Chastanet Reef is protected (although the fishing boats set their nets next to the small reserve daily), and its fed by currents so the basket stars are grand and active. Anse Chastanet, St. LuciaEven video lights didnt interfere with their swaying and feeding; this display of basket stars was comparable to the Indo-Pacific! Spiny, slipper, and Spanish lobsters, large crabs, and other nocturnal critters were out as well as several species of cardinal fish and squirrelfish uncommon in the day. Everywhere Creole wrasse snuggled under protecting coral and rock, and parrotfish were under the corals, some in their mucus sleep sacks. But like all dives here, we finished in less than an hour. I usually returned with 1000 psi or more.

Generally, at least one dive day includes the Lesleen M, an upright, 165- foot freighter so sanitized that even our guides were content to tie up to the mooring and set us loose to do our own thing. The wreck is fairly open and penetrations are easy, but this is a popular dive spot and many novice divers kicked up silt and scared off critters. On the 65- foot bottom, I found a nice colony of garden eels. A new wreck nearby sits at 100 fsw, too deep to be dived.

I usually spent my 1-1/2 hour surface intervals on shore, sometimes at the Sheraton Jalousie just down the beach, sometimes in the town of Soufrire, which was busy with people walking around, shopping, and scoping out spots for dinner on the town or for the regular Friday night jump-up, a sort of town-wide block party where residents barbecue, listen to music, and dance. Some guests used one days surface interval to hike to nearby hot springs.

I might describe a visit to Anse Chastanet as soft ecotourism with shallow dives, a beautiful setting, several daily uphill hikes, and all tourist amenities. The hotel has tennis courts, windsurfers, kayaks, and sunfish. Snorkeling, walks to nearby beaches and abandoned plantations, and numerous daily boat trips to Soufrire are offered at no charge, while one can pay for guided climbing or a helicopter tour. Theres entertainment nightly, often excellent local groups that play everything from pan, reggae, and soca to traditional Creole music and modern pop.

To add to all this theres a well-tuned restaurant with interesting food served promptly by a thoughtful staff. Most nights dinner was a semi-dressy affair served in the upstairs restaurant and the romantic balcony, Tree House annex. I sampled appetizer/starters like roast duck breast with honey glaze and prosciutto with green melon on Belgian endive, followed by a choice between one cold and two hot soups. After the sorbet, I chose from five main dish/vegetable options (one heart healthy) including stuffed leg of lamb, bleu cheese-stuffed chicken, grilled mahi-mahi with Creole sauce, and kingfish and clams Mornay in filo pastry. Desserts might be mousses, cheeses, or crepes. Preparation and presentation were normally excellent, although the complex mixtures of spices in the Creole buffet one night were not to my liking.

Buffet breakfast included lots of fresh fruits, freshly-baked breads, eggs any style, and good coffee, plus scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, a complex French toast, and banana pancakes served a la carte. Lunch, served in the beachside Trou au Diable restaurant, was everything from sandwiches to hamburgers, grilled fish, or chicken or steak along with salads and fresh fruits. Service could be slow, but a buffet with a large selection offered a quicker turnaround.

Anse Chastanet is no place for experienced divers seeking multiple-dive days, lots of freedom, and big fish action. Its perfect, however, for those who want a multifaceted vacation with no crowds and diverse activities in a lush, romantic--and somewhat pricey--getaway resort that includes some fairly decent, if very restricted, Caribbean diving. The hotel is laid-back and beautiful, a place to relax and enjoy.

Not everyone will enjoy the natural setting as much as I did. One of our readers, Kathleen OConnor from Virginia Beach, said of her visit: Wildlife everywhere. In our room we had visits from lizards, tree frogs, birds, rats, and millions of mosquitoes. In the dining room they had birds during the day and bats (and mice) at night. For me, however, that was half the fun.

L. J.

Anse Chastanet, St. LuciaDivers Compass: Anse Chastanet, phone 800-223-1108 (U.S. only) or 758-459-7000; fax 758-459-7700; e-mail ansechastanet@candw.lc; website www.ansechastanet.com...or 888-465-8242...Seven-day off-season all-inclusive package $1499 or $1399 w/o air. Four price ranges from $13422565 weekly/double. Lower range w/no meals, upper w/two...Imported beer $4, local $3, soft drinks $1. All credit cards, tips optional, 10% service on everything...Flights from San Juan, Miami, New York, Montreal, and Barbados land at Hewanorra Field, an 18 mile, 30+ min., rough $45 taxi ride away; Vigie Field in Castries (commuter flights) is 30 mi., 1 hr., and $75...Departure fee EC $20, local currency only...Scuba St. Lucias website www.scubastlucia.com/, e-mail: scubastlucia@candw.lc...U.S. $30.00/dive, boat or shore; six-dive package $150, ten dives $225 if not part of package, all plus 10% SC...Aluminum 80s and 63s...Annual dive permits run $12 U.S., daily permits $4...Most boat diving is live boat drift, even in low/no current conditions...Occasional strong currents, Dive-Alert/safety sausage recommended...E-6 processing available, charging 110V available...Photo gear for rent...Good gear rental available, limited repairs...Viz 40-70', often backscatter, water temp 80F...Rains, possibly hurricanes, May-October...Chamber is on Barbados via chartered air...Official language English, but considerable Creole patois...U. S. dollars and credit cards welcomed...ATMs best exchange rate, often broken or closed...Electricity 200 volts/50 Hz, often fluctuating, British plugs.

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