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A Bay by any other name

If this is the time of year when
St Lucia welcomes the Atlantic Rally for
Cruisers fleet, it is only fitting that we pay tribute to the daring Admiral,
with close links to the island, whose boldness irreversibly changed the course of
Caribbean history. Without his exploits, it
would quite possibly be ‘Le ARC’ which arrives in
St Lucia’s
eponymous Baie de Grasse for some celebratory wine
and cheese. From there, boats might head north, stopping off at the chic
boutiques in Antigua’s ‘Villeneuve’s
Dockyard’, or stocking up in the Caribbean’s main
port of Oraanje
Baai in St
Eustatius. They may even head on up to cruise around the
‘Iles Vierges Francaises’.
But no…

Between 1761 and 1782, Admiral Sir George Brydges
Rodney’s rampaging around the Leeward and Windward Islands prised the
Antilles out of French hands for long enough to keep them
out of reach forever. In St Lucia,
where his fleet was based, Rodney
Bay bears his name and
keeps the legend alive.

Born in 1719, Rodney’s nautical life began at the age of 13. By
the age of 23, the Harrow-educated toff was
commanding a 60-gun ship. In 1761, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the
Leeward Islands, with orders to capture Martinique.
By early 1762, he had forced a French surrender, and went on to capture
Grenada, St Lucia
and St Vincent. Mission
accomplished, he returned to England,
only to reappear again in 1779.

As the American War of Independence neared its conclusion and the Royal
Navy was straining to defend its territories, the French and Spanish were
determined to bag as many British islands as possible. St Kitts had recently
fallen, and only St Lucia,
Antigua, Barbados
and Jamaica
remained. The Gallic plan was for the French fleet under Admiral de Grasse to
leave from Martinique, link up with the Spanish troops in Santa Domingo, and
capture the British HQ in Jamaica.

Admiral Rodney had other ideas. His fleet was anchored in Gros Islet, and from the heights of
Pigeon Island,
he was able to keep a lookout on the French movement.

On April 8, 1782, 33 French ships of-the-line and some 100 cargo ships
left Martinique. The alarm raised,
Rodney’s 36-strong fleet weighed anchor and set off in pursuit. The first
skirmishes began on the 9th off Dominica,
but it wasn’t until three days later that the two fleets met in one of
the most famous naval battles in history – the
Battle of the Saints.

Nowadays, Les Iles des Saintes off the coast
of Guadeloupe are one of the most charming anchorages in the Caribbean.
On April 12th, 1782 the area was mayhem. During the battle, Rodney
famously broke with battle protocol to steer through the French line, which had
been scattered by a wind shift. At the time, an Admiral was obliged to continue
action with his ships in the order in which they had started. Rodney
‘Crossed the Tee’, baffled the French and
captured de Grasse’s 130-gun flagship Ville
de Paris
.

Rodney’s victory bathed him in glory, although he was much
criticised in some quarters for the fact that he allowed 26 French ships to
continue north. The battle itself yielded only five ships. Symbolically,
though, Les Saintes shattered French prestige and
established the British as the dominant naval power. Rodney, by all accounts a
rather arrogant fellow, was pretty pleased with himself, too, writing that,
“Within two little years, I have taken two Spanish, one French and one
Dutch admirals.”

St Lucia’s
Admiral Rodney trail…

1.
Rodney Bay.
Nowadays a full-service marina that welcomes the ARC.

2.
Pigeon Island
Museum & Interpretive
Centre. Houses a British
Officer’s mess, restored to its 1808 elegance, as well as an Admiral
Rodney exhibition. Call St
Lucia National Trust on (452-50005).

3.
Fort Rodney.
Walk to the top of Pigeon
Island and you can enjoy the view across to
Martinique, as well as the tips of the Pitons on a clear
day. It is rumoured that Rodney himself perched on nearby Signal Hill to keep
an eye on the French.

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