Oil pastels are an interesting drawing medium with their strong colours and bold effect. It’s simple to make your own inexpensive oil pastels by placing ordinary classroom chalk (use colours rather than pastel shades) in a container of shallow olive oil, allowing the chalk to absorb the oil overnight. Wipe the sticks and put on newspaper to dry for a few days. They last indefinitely.
We are anchored in a favourite bay: a tiny, pristine indentation of sea in untouched tropical hillsides on St Lucia’s west coast, a marine reserve with no moorings, no beach bars and no fishing allowed. Day-trippers visit by local boat to snorkel the exquisite reef, swim in the crystal water and laze on the small, sandy shore but by late afternoon the bay is deserted, save for us.
As the sun hovers at the horizon, washing the west with fiery colours and preparing to leave us a flash of green as it sinks below the skyline, we hear the sound of an outboard motor and watch a small pirogue enter the bay. Four burly West Indians eye us as they pass, anchoring ahead of us near the reef. The day fades and we begin to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable: they are doing nothing but sitting in their boat watching us and we are alone in the anchorage. We know of stories of attacks on singular boats in remote anchorages but those are told of St Vincent and are not an occurrence in St Lucia … yet?
As we watch them watching us our young daughter has a bright idea. “Let’s do what Captain Slocum did and then they’ll think there are lots of us,” she says. So, following the words of that immortal sailor, the first man to sail alone around the world, writing of his encounters with local people in faraway lands, we go below, changing our clothes, finding headgear and coming out the different hatches to make it seem that there would be more than 2 adults and a child to contend with should they wish to board this vessel uninvited
Evening draws in to end our charade and a crescent moon lifts above the hillside. We hear the sweep of oars and make out the start of frenzied activity where before had been a tense waiting. The pirogue glides to the reef, powerful torches illuminate the water and a great net whirls through the air to settle with a splash into the sea. Twice more they throw the net and haul it back, releasing the catch to writhe and scrabble on the floorboards of the pirogue. Then the outboard roars, shocking to silence the droning cicadas and throaty tree frogs and the pirogue races away, the four men showing only their backs as they crouch over their illegal catch.
As the onshore tropical life reverts to its nightly habits we sit to supper at our cockpit table under the gentle glimmer of the moon and a paraffin lantern. We talk of traditional ways and essential feeding of families and of greed and lawlessness, and how impossible to tell them apart from an outsider’s perspective. But mostly we laugh at ourselves and at how funny we looked in our dressing up clothes.
We slumber to the rise and fall of the sea and the lapping of water on the hull, our ears tuned as always to quiet dips of an oar or the putter of an engine: sounds not akin to night time in a peaceful anchorage, sounds that would bring us to immediate consciousness, just as footsteps outside a door might do to a house dweller.