Soufrière and the Pitons


Soufrière is first and foremost a lovely town nestled in a valley just north of the Pitons on the west coast of St. Lucia.  The town name is derived from the French word sufre which translates to sulfur in english, reference to the proximity of an active volcano and associated hot sulfur springs.  The Soufrière volcano is considered to be dormant – its last eruption of magna occurring in the late 18th century, however steam continues to be emitted.  The volcano and opportunity to bathe in hot springs and mud baths draws many tourists to the area.

Soufrière viewed from the northern rim of the valley with the prominent Pitons behind

The Pitons

The Pitons, Gros Piton and Petit Peton, were formed from magna that hardened in volcanic vents.  This type of landform is referred to as a volcanic plug.  In some instances, pressure builds up below the plug and may result in a violent eruption.  The hardened volcanic material that forms the basis of the Pitons was only revealed when the landmass surrounding them eroded away.

We visited this beautiful region with our daughter Allison and her family when they joined us in February.  Our sail from Marigot Bay could have benefitted from a bit more wind but afforded a nice opportunity for the kids to rest up from their previous exhausting day.

We moored in a bay between the Gros and Petit Pitons and spent an afternoon snorkeling the reefs on either side of the bay.  Sadly, I left my camera on Ice Floe when we snorkeled the south side.  The water was nice and clear and the reef was a colorful garden of sea fans and sponges such as we have not seen in many years.  The pictures below are from our snorkel on the north side.  At first impression I was disappointed as the water was not as clear and the most interesting part of this reef appeared to be in deeper waters.

However, I was directed to check out an area initially obscured by rocks.  Behind the rock wall was a veritable garden of colorful coral, tube worms, sponges, anemones, and plants.  
My best guess for what you are looking at:  The peachy pink masses – a cluster of nocturnal anemones.  In the evening, tentacles that catch food emerge and I bet it is absolutely beautiful.  The green and yellow animals are sponges.  The pale blue protrusion to the right of the green sponge is a Christmas tree worm (not in focus – better shot below) 
Glassy sweepers, often found in caves or hideaways like this one.
A collage of sponges, anemones, and sea urchins
The large yellow sphere is a brain coral.  The flat orange mat that looks like it has two eyes is a red boring sponge that, as its name implies, establishes its home by boring into the coral.  A beautiful orange christmas tree worm is displaying towards the top right and there is a white Christmas tree worm with tentacles out, as well as several other recoiled white Christmas tree worms below.
An elongated vase sponge.  Bottom spikey spheres are long spined sea urchins 
Smooth trunkfish.  Allison spotted this one and I took a wild shot and was lucky.
Again, best guess.  The blue and turquoise branched organism is a variant of the similarly-shaped white branched  organisms that look like “white tangled bryozoan”  Look closely and let me know if you see anything else?  Did you spot the fish in the upper left quarter of the photo.  I admit, I didn’t until I enlarged a portion of the original photo.  This fish is likely one of several types of fish that are usually resting, very still, on the sea floor or another solid surface.  They are generally well camouflaged and catch your eye when they dart from one spot to another
After lunch, George blew up our giant tube to tow Tristan and Riley.  George also offered rides to the two Angels who I wrote about in The Thin Blue Line .   We met them during a stay in Port St. Louis and as happens from time to time, we recognized their boat at the Pitons.  They declined, having spent an exhausting time swimming and snorkeling all day, but it was a pleasure to see them again.
As George was getting started the tube got caught behind some shallow rocks.  Allison’s attempts to free it resulted in her stepping on a sea urchin.  Let me tell you from my personal experience that this is very painful.  Allison had more than a dozen fairly deeply embedded spines.  Many had broken off or did so in the initial attempts to extract them.  There are always some tiny bits you cannot get out.  Allison reported that the last spine was expelled on April 25th, just about 2 months after she stepped on the urchin.
We scored a giant lobster and some fresh fruit from a local boatman.  We kept the lobster for the following day to have with lunch.
That evening was one we will remember as the second, roughest night we spent on a mooring or at anchor.  The craziest rocking experience happened many years ago when we rented a houseboat in Exuma, Bahamas.  Some day (maybe) I will find the time to tell that story in a Blog as it was the beginning of our road to cruising.  Allison and Mike made a Shutterfly book of the vacation that beautifully captures the fun we had with three generations on board – but I do digress.  
Back to the night at the Pitons – Ice Floe was in constant motion due to a significant swell, and seemingly, out of nowhere a katabatic gust of wind coming down between the Pitons would hit her and she would heel and swing like crazy.  At times we could see the wind hit the water and the water would splash straight up.  We turned on the navigation system to monitor the wind speed and clocked one crazy gust at just under 40 knots.

Day 2

We enjoyed a lazy breakfast and spent the balance of the morning snorkeling in a few more spots.

Lunch was the giant lobster along with a big salad.  George had to chop the lobster’s antenna off to get it to fit in our pot (IT WAS REALLY BIG!).  Delicious!!

We were cleaning up after lunch and making plans to stay another day to visit the Chocolate Hotel and/or a Botanical Garden.  Both were very close to Soufrière and quite a distance from Marigot Bay.  George emptied the giant lobster pot of steaming water off the swim platform and as he turned to step back up another giant wind struck Ice Floe and took her out from under his feet.

George landed hard and couldn’t even speak for a short while.  Those who know George know he is as sure on his feet as a mountain goat and stoic to an extreme.  He was really hurting.  Plans to stay another day to visit Hotel Chocolat and nearby Botanical Gardens were abandoned and we motored back to Marigot Bay.

George had broken his 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th ribs on his right side and had an approximate 500mL pool of blood between the diaphragm and lung, partially constricting his lung.  In addition, he injured his shoulder, a knee, and broke a toe.  I am happy to report, the diagnosis and care he received at Tapion Hospital (Castries) was outstanding and a tiny fraction of what it would have cost in the US.  He recovered in record time and has very few limitations, mostly pertaining to his shoulder and range of motion for his right arm.  He has been characteristically disciplined in doing a series of stretching and strengthening exercises and, no doubt, will be good as new soon.

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