Witnessing ARC’s Impact on Saint Lucia

14 December 2014

With over 230 yachts descending on Saint Lucia each year in December, it’s easy to imagine the impact that all those participants have on the small island nation. Indeed, economically, socially and culturally, the ARC is felt around IGY Rodney Bay Marina and beyond. We spent time this year speaking with business owners and local people, both inside and outside the marina, to get a better idea of just how much the ARC means to the island. For better or worse, we got some interesting insight.

The Laundry Boom

Didier and Pat of Sud’s Laundry, based at Rodney Bay Marina, might not exist if it weren’t for the ARC and their literal dirty laundry. On a tropical passage like the ARC, clothes, bedding, dish clothes, sails – all get dirty, sweaty and salty. Crews tend to live with it offshore, but once berthed in the marina that sailor’s mindset changes and life goes back to normal. Part of that normality is clean, dry clothes. Overwhelmingly, the sailors rely on Sud’s to get laundry done quickly and accurately.

“We probably do 200-300 individual loads of laundry every day,” says Didier. “I’d guess we get about 75% of the boats in the ARC fleet. It absolutely gets us through the slow summers in off season,” he added.

Didier, Pat and their staff work round-the-clock to exceed expectations of the ARC crews looking for a fresh change of clothes. Both of their smiling faces are instantly recognizable in their white golf cart they use to get around the marina. They pick-up and drop-off laundry – and even trash on occasion, plus refill propane tanks – dockside at your boat. It’s cleaned almost before you realize it’s left the boat, and Sud’s is uncanny in their ability to keep the fleet’s washing separated. If you drop off a bag full of dirty clothes, you're all but guaranteed to get it all back, down to that last lonely sock.

Sud’s Laundry is successful not necessarily because of the ARC, but almost despite it. The workload is enough to overwhelm even the most efficient operation. But Didier is a sharp businessman, coming from a marketing background, and understands the principles of good service required to keep customers.

“We’re not cheap,” says Didier. “But if we offer the best service, people will gladly pay. Sailors want someone they can trust, and we strive to exceed their expectations.”

Didier explained that during the ARC week, his operation sometimes costs him money, rather than vice versa. He has to hire extra staff to keep the place going 24/7.

“That costs money,” he says. “It costs money doing separate loads to keep the washing separated. It costs money maintaining this golf cart to make deliveries.”

As we spoke to him, his T-shirt was stained with grease and he had a wrench in one hand while he worked under the hood of the little golf cart.

“But I know that it’s not about making new customers. It’s ultimately about keeping them.”

That kind of loyalty is where Didier and Pat see the biggest impact at Sud’s.

Some of the "ARC regulars" at Rodney Bay Marina

 Kenny at Rodney Bay SailsVision the boat cleaner  Alex the pan man

Kenny Abernaty has been at Rodney Bay Sails for 20 years

Vision, the boat cleaner who has been at the marina for over 20 years

Alex, the pan-man greeting a new arrival.

The Boardwalk is the Place to Be

Occupying arguably the most prime real estate in IGY Rodney Bay Marina, it would be hard to imagine that the Boardwalk Bar, operating in its 5th year now, doesn’t see an impact from the ARC. Throughout the week they have been open late to accommodate yacht crew arriving in the wee hours of the morning. The place is the spot for thirsty sailors, and Boardwalk’s manager Mitch, is happy to serve them.

“We’re a lot busier when the ARC is here,” Mitch says. “At least 100% more than usual.”

Mitch smiles when he says he thinks the ARC is too short, admitting that the summers, while offering the occasional weekend party, are pretty quiet around the bar and the marina in general. The ARC’s arrival marks the beginning of the busy season, and a good year with ARC sailors can easily make up for a quieter-than-normal summer, just like at the laundry.

“I look forward to it every year,” Mitch says, still smiling.

Getting Around with Quincy & the Boat Boys

“I’ve been here ten years,” says Quincy, skipper of ‘Rule the Tide,’ his local open boat with outboard motor he uses as a multi-purpose taxi, tow and excursion boat. “Sadly, this is the quietest year ever for me.”

Quincy explained that the past three years have been slower than normal for he and the rest of the boat boys that share dock space along the main pontoon. Their boats have colorful paint jobs and colorful names, their skipper’s always smiling and often playing local music from their stereos while looking to pick up customers.

They offer great service when it’s needed. Shaka, another local captain, took a boatload of friends and family out into Rodney Bay proper in the middle of the night to watch ‘Juno of London’ cross the finish line. Then Shaka escorted the yacht into the dock.

“We just don’t have the same flow of people this year,” Quincy said sadly. “I’ve always loved the ARC, loved the support they’ve given us and look forward to it each year. It’s just a shame it’s not as busy this year, and I’m not sure exactly why.”

One reason might be the lack of incidents offshore this year. Quincy and the guys do good business when a boat has an engine problem and needs towing into the marina and into their slip. This year, with good, steady trade winds and relatively quick crossings, that just hasn’t happened as much, and is likely contributing to the down year for the boat taxis-cum-towboats.

But with still a week to go on the ARC programme – and some thirty-five boats still to arrive – Quincy and the other boat boys still have time to make up for a slow first week.

Despite technically competing against one another, they’re all in it together, according to Quincy.

“You can talk to any of these guys, no problem,” he says. “We’re all friends.”

Despite their casual appearance, Quincy and all of the boat boys on station in Rodney Bay marina are fully licensed and insured, and indeed pay a yearly fee to rent dock space from IGY.

“We’re a legitimate part of the industry,” Quincy says. “I was born and raised on Saint Lucia, and I’m full-time, year-round here in the marina. This is my life and livelihood.”

For those interested, Quincy says it’ll cost about 50 Eastern Caribbean dollars per person for a round-trip ride to Pigeon Island, the park with fantastic nature trails and a great restaurant on the beach, ‘Jambe de Bois’. Quincy and all the taxi guys work round-the-clock at the ARC, and you can find them just inside the gate on the main pontoon.
Shaka and Troy tow in Rafiki 
 Shaka and Troy towing in Rafiki

ARC and the rest of Saint Lucia

It’s almost a given that the ARC fleet is going to have major impacts inside IGY Rodney Bay Marina. But what about the rest of the island?

“I did a great year last year with ARC sailors,” says Sandra, the local woman who sells drinking coconuts and tropical fruits across the street from the marina entrance. “They bought lots of coconuts, but also other items. I enjoy sharing our culture with the European sailors and welcome them back each year!”

Sandra does year-round business at her roadside stand, mostly to passing locals, but definitely sees an upturn when the ARC’s in town.

Further afield, an ARC 2013 t-shirt was spotted at the local market in Castries last week, a good thirty minutes drive from the marina.

“My son works up at Rodney Bay Marina,” said the woman wearing the shirt. She was tending another local fruit and veg stand in the market, and the red, white and blue ARC logo stood out among the vibrant colors of bananas, avocados, coconuts and papayas she was selling. “So he gets very busy around this time of year!” she exclaimed with a big smile.

The ARC is felt in Anse la Raye, a small  fishing village that only two days ago hosted some 50 ARC sailors who’d made the journey south on the ‘Flying Ray’ fast catamaran from the marina.

“I opened my bar just for you guys today!” exclaimed Michael, a former police officer and now small-businessman in the little village he grew up in.

He had met two ARC participants on the street after they’d asked where to safely park the car, and invited them into his place, a proud owner happy to show off his life’s work. So Michael unlocked the door, cracked open a few cold beers and spent the next hour excitedly talking about life in his village while showing off his sound system with some Caribbean soca music.

Anse la Raye is perhaps the most traditional of villages on the west side of Saint Lucia. It’s a fishing village, and tourism, save for the ARC visit and the occasional passing car, is not a familiar sight in town. So the ARC’s impact, if only for a night or two, has an even greater effect on both the local economy. The villagers are proud of their home and happy to show if off to the sailors. And if they spend a bit of money, all the better.

Home Away from Home

“You know, it’s the participants that come back later that really makes the ARC worthwhile for us,” says Simon Bryan, General Manager of IGY Rodney Bay Marina.

Simon echoed Didier’s thoughts about retaining customers as opposed to just getting them. Yachts will leave Rodney Bay, and indeed Saint Lucia after the two weeks of the ARC programme are complete. But it’s the one’s that come to consider Saint Lucia and Rodney Bay Marina ‘home’ that make the most impact, both in the marina and elsewhere on the island.

“We’ll get sailors coming back on their way back home and coming here because it’s familiar,” says Simon. “And hopefully because we’ve given them a memorable experience.”

Similarly, Sud’s Laundry’s real returns come when the ARC is long gone, but the sailors remain, and continue to use his services. They might head off to explore the southern Caribbean, but on their return north, when they stop in Rodney Bay, they’ll inevitably return to Sud’s for that fantastic service.

“We want to make them feel at home, and I think we do a very good job of that,” Simon concluded.