The Lesleen M is a gorgeous shipwreck. I discovered it on my first trip to St. Lucia in 1991. Revisiting it on a recent stay on the island, I was delighted to see how the site continues to get better with age.
This 165-foot freighter was intentionally sunk in 1986 as a diving attraction, and in the years since it has acquired a lavish and colorful layer of marine growth. A wide variety of corals, hydroids and gorgonians cover the ship’s steel structure, but it is the vivid carpet of sponges that is most striking. So intense is this living community of benthic organisms that the ship can appear more reef than wreck. Hiding within this colorful overgrowth are special oddities like seahorses and frog fish, which are revealed to those with a keen eye and the patience to look at things more closely.
Ideal and Idyllic
When surfacing from a dive on the Lesleen M, you can't help but notice the interesting collection of buildings that perch just a stone's throw away on the cliff face of Anse Cochon cove. This is the Ti Kaye Resort & Spa, and it's both an ideal and an idyllic location from which to base a dive vacation.
This is what a Caribbean resort should look like. In the local Creole language, Ti Kaye means “little house,” and it's an apt description for the collection of 33 Creole-themed guest rooms and gingerbread-trimmed cottages spaced around the property's lushly landscaped hillside. All rooms and private cottages face the Caribbean Sea, Inside, wood-beam ceilings soar above four-posted king-size beds graced with overhead canopies and gauze netting. Bathrooms include private outdoor garden showers, and French doors open onto large, west-facing balconies and verandas furnished with hammock and rocking chairs, creating stunning views of the bay's azure waters. Ten of the cottages also include private plunge pools on the verandas. Modern creature comforts include in-room wifi, air conditioning, complimentary tea & French press coffee, mini fridges with fresh milk daily and Bluetooth music systems. That said, the ambiance of the setting is likely to tempt you to turn off your mobile devices and open the cottage to the sea breezes.
At Ti Kaye the “& Spa” in the title isn't just a marketing afterthought. In fact, the Kai Koko Spa was named one of the top three spas in the Caribbean by Spa Finder magazine. Built entirely from local coconut wood, the spa perches on the edge of the cliff above Anse Cochon Cove, with three treatment rooms that welcome in dramatic views of the beach and the Caribbean below. Many treatments feature natural products sourced from the island, and these same products are stocked in guest rooms as a perk. After enjoying one of the spa's signature treatments, guests can relax in a private Jacuzzi positioned to take in the ocean views.
Foodies give high marks to the on-site Kai Manje and Ti Manje restaurants. The Kai Manje is the recipient of the prestigious Wine Spectator ‘Award of Excellence,” while the Ti Manje and its attendant beach bar deliver a casual waterfront dining experience with equally high culinary standards. Cuisines based on fresh local produce, meats and seafood include a modern interpretation of authentic Saint Lucian cuisine and traditional continental fare infused with a Creole flair. A personal favorite was the five-course seafood dinner presented Monday nights at Ti Manje. Couples can also arrange for private dinners set under the stars.
Both of the resort's dining venues are served by talented mixologists who can whip up favorite libations, or introduce guests to a selection of Saint Lucian rums. But what truly sets the Ti Kaye above the rest is the underground wine cellar, the Ti Kave, where a 500-plus bin collection of old and new world wines is recognized as one of the most extensive in the Caribbean. A staff sommelier is on hand to offer guidance and host daily wine tastings. The cellar is also available for private candlelit dinners.
The price guests pay for Ti Kaye's spectacular hillside setting comes in the form of winding stairs—166 to be exact—that lead down to the beach. Trust me on this, after a few days of going up and down, you will not miss the stair climber at your gym. But then again, it's a good way to work off all the good food. If stair climbing isn't a thing, guests can contact the front desk for rides down and back, Getting to the resort can also be a bit of an adventure. If landing at George F Charles Airport near Castries, it takes about 40-minutes to get to the resort on coastal two-lanes. Airport transfers from Hewanorra International Airport at the southern tip of the island involve an eighty-minute drive over winding country roads.
Ti Kaye Resort operates their own full-service dive shop, Island Divers, which is located under the same roof as the Ti Manje Beach Bar, right on on the water's edge. The shop is a full-range PADI facility, able to provide everything from Discover Scuba Diving packages and open water scuba certifications to specialty course instruction. There is an ample supply of rental equipment and tanks, but no accommodation for nitrox. This is less of an issue that it might be at other destinations because a majority of the prime dive sites lie in the 60-foot range or less.
Daily dive charters are conducted from a 36-foot Newton Dive Special. Among the great features of this boat are a comfortable ride, 300-plus square feet of floor and deck space, seating and custom tank storage for 20 divers and a swim platform configured for easy water-level entry. All dives are guided, with groups of more than 10 split between two divemasters. Solo diving is not allowed, pursuant to St. Lucia law, which requires all dives to be accompanied by a qualified St. Lucia dive guide.
Unlike the low-lying islands of the western Caribbean, St. Lucia does not sit within a ring of fringing reefs. Instead, reef structures begin almost directly off the shoreline and drop into the depths at pronounced angles. This is especially true on the calm western side of the island, which is sheltered from prevailing easterly trade winds. Hard corals grow on the volcanic substrate but are often eclipsed by the colorful forests of gorgonians and sponges that rule the reefs.
The majority of Island Divers daily two-tank charters are conducted inside the Soufriere Marine Reserve, which encompasses the best sites St. Lucia has to offer. For simplicity, we can separate the Reserve into two key areas. South of Ti Kaye are the reefs of Soufriere Bay, which are overlooked by St. Lucia’s famous twin peaks, Gros Piton and Petit Piton Mountains. This area includes many of the island's most noteworthy and well-known sites, including Coral Gardens, Jalousie and Superman’s Flight, Piton Wall, the Blue Hole, Trou Diable, Grand Caille, and Fairy Land.
The area north of Anse Chastanet takes in sites near Ti Kaye and up the coast to Anse La Raye. Here, the underwater landscape offers a varied topography of small spur and groove coral reefs, rock outcroppings, and a mini wall that runs towards the outer points of Anse Cochon Bay. With the exception of the Lesleen M wreck, which sits at a depth of 65 feet, the dive sites are relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 40 feet and large areas of flat, sandy bottom adjacent to the reefs.
Anse Cochon Bay typically provides idyllically calm waters for both snorkelers and divers, and this sheltered area is a nursery ground for a wide variety of tropical fish. Among my favorite finds here are juvenile jackknifes, which feature nearly identical markings to a juvenile spotted drum, but with more yellow in their body coloration.
An added attraction to a St. Lucia dive vacation is that there are ample activities to enjoy once you surface. The sheltered bay in front of the resort is ideal for kayak tours and paddleboard excursions. Ashore, hiking and mountain biking trails lead into the lush interior, and if you are a bit adventurous, you can zip-line through the jungle canopy of a magnificent rainforest, with tree ferns towering as high as forty feet. If not, relaxing in the cool surroundings of the Ti Kave Wine Cellar, or enjoying a chilled libation at the beach bar are always an option.