Hammock Contemplations

HammockAnother Island Note

Just the other day my good friend, Captain John, asked me for shortcut directions to get to the ridge road when leaving Rincon. “Go to the building where the Polar Beer wall advertisement used to be and turn right,” I expertly instructed.

The captain stared back at me incredulously. “How do you expect me to find that land mark if it doesn’t exist anymore? You’ve been on the island too long!” He had a point. Not about my longevity on Bonaire, but certainly about how the island, in perhaps subtle, imperceptible ways, has changed me. I decided that it was time for some serious hammock contemplation to explore this in depth.

I have a near daily ritual of retreating to my hammock in the heat of the afternoon. It hangs in the shade of the porch where the breezes blow through my home and out to sea.   The hammock is a great place to chill, contemplate the cosmos or simply snooze. I tend to do all three. But on this particular afternoon I began thinking about what Captain John had pointed out. How has this island changed me?

There are a number of small things. For instance, I used make a bee-line to the receptionist upon entering a dentist or doctor office to let them know I was present. No longer. I have learned to first say ‘Bon Dia’ or ‘Bon Tardi’ upon arrival, acknowledging everyone in the waiting room. Only after the greeting is complete do I make my way to the desk.

Another example happened last week. I pulled my station wagon over to say hello to Yellow Man who was walking along Kaya Playa Lechi. I didn’t do a very good job of that since the back end of the car was still on the road. Karen in the pickup truck behind gave me a short honk and yelled out, “Look at you, Patrick. You’re driving just like a local.” She was right. And the people in the three vehicles behind her appeared to nod in agreement as well.

Then there are the celebrations of new things on the island.   When the Bonaire Mall on Kaya Grandi finally got their new escalator working, the first one ever here, I went over and rode the machine to the top—twice. It was great. Then someone critically pointed out that it is only one-way, that once on top you have to walk back down. I never thought about that. I guess I am from the ‘glass-half-full’ school of life philosophy.  09OctBON 4Or how about when the new rotonda opened up at the intersection of Kaya Industria and Kaya International a few years back. I remember that grand day clearly. Approaching the traffic circle everything screamed, “I AM NEW!” in the blazing afternoon sun.  Bold, white lines commanded where to stop.  The new asphalt was deep black from being poured just the day before.  Letters painted on the yellow, circular centerpiece greeted those just released from the Flamingo Airport, ‘Bon Bini Na Bonaire’-welcome to Bonaire.  09OctBON 7It was overwhelming.  I was euphoric.  I sped about the circle once-twice-three times, laughing madly all the way.  My equilibrium-challenged spouse was duly unimpressed and as I approached the fourth orbit, I was sternly urged to abort the mission and begin re-entry. “Oh, ok,” I mumbled and obediently steered my earth orbiter Subaru on to Kaya Industria.

You can imagine with these changes in attitudes what it is like for me to change latitudes when I leave the island. Each year, I dutifully return to the States to see family. But increasingly I feel out of place in the country where I was born. For one, I have to wear real shoes there. Plus the traffic is horrendous. People are in hyper-warp—talking, texting and driving all at the same time. There is little room for poco poco here. When I visit a supermarket I get lost among the four, 20-meter long aisles of frozen foods. All I want is a bag of frozen peas! At a cocktail party hosted by my lovely sister, an urban-elegant girlfriend of hers inquires, “What is it that you exactly do every day on your tiny island?” I begin to answer, but stop. How can I express my excitement about orbiting our new rotunda to this lady? I take a sip of chardonnay instead and safely reply, “Not much.”

Coming back on the United flight from Newark, I await touchdown. Exiting the plane, I get that first blast of warm, tropical air. Yes, back on the island. The next morning, I awake early. First light reveals the silhouette of a palm swaying in slow motion outside my window.   First wind delivers the soft whirling noise from the wind generators mounted on the visiting yachts in the bay. First sounds come from a backyard rooster in the neighborhood as he crows his morning salute. A troupial responds with a multicolored melody. The question from the cocktail party lady comes to mind and I simply smile. What will I do today? Ahhh, let me count the ways…08AugBon 135 (1)

Post Script

Days after my return, Captain John confessed to me that my oblique directions to the ridge road out of Rincon were not the worst that he received down island. One time while anchored on the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua, he asked the best way to get from Falmouth Harbor to Shirley Heights, a lookout notorious for its Sunday parties of rum and reggae. A local told him to follow the road out of town and turn right where the cow was. The captain was skeptical, but made his way up the hill. After a while he saw a man ahead leading a cow by rope along the road. “I asked him if he could show me where he had his cow staked for the day and the farmer complied,” says John. Once there, the thirsty sailor then went right as earlier instructed from and made his way to the best party on Antigua.



The Antigua Anthology-the fourth & final installment

Island Crumbs.DSCN1067 Little bits left over from my Antiguan adventure.

My Mates. It is a tough go saying goodbye, especially when your mates are going to cross the Atlantic in a few days. That is the situation I was in after the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta ended. Owners Marcus and Freya were brilliant as always.  Then there was the crew—Ruth who quit her lucrative brewery chemist job in the UK to do a year at sea. You think she’ll have some problems with re-entry? Oh, yeah.DSC_2735 Sarah, who jumped ship in Grenada to join Grayhound for two months of island hopping. Upon reaching the Azores, she will fly back to the UK and continue her concert stage lighting work in London. Her money’s all run out.

Sarah & her tiger dress.

Sarah & her tiger dress.

DSC_2810And then my man, Diamond. Born and raised Antiguan, he has worked the boat yards as a maintenance guy and rigger. Diamond told me, “When I was young, dey tell me to climb the coco palm. I say, ‘No problem, mon’. I go up and drop down the nuts. When I get to de boatyard, ‘Diamond, go to de top of de mast.’ I say, ‘No problem, mon’. I’ve been going up de mast all my life.” He leaves on his first passage, a dream since childhood.

Roti Heaven. For those of you not in the know, roti (pronounced ROW-tee) is an East Indian unleavened, stoneground bread that is used as a wrap in the Caribbean. It’s not unlike the infamous tortilla that is often transformed into burritos. In the islands, roti holds the savory tastes of the West Indies– chicken, conch, beef, vegetables, shrimp or goat, all simmered in DSCN1052wonderful curry sauces, and on Antigua, topped with Suzie’s hot sauce. My hero during the regatta was Suzie, not Hot Sauce Suzie but Roti Suzie. She would deliver dozens of rotis to us dockside, and after a demanding day at sea, we simply devoured them. I must confess that I strayed one day and went to Grace Before Meals. Grace is a bible-thumping restaurateur who makes a heavenly roti. But nothing compares with Suzie’s. She is de Numba’ One, mon.

DSCN1056Shade of the Mango Tree. In the center of the historic Nelson’s Dockyards stands an opulent mango tree. It is enormous with boughs heavy with fruit. In the few days that I pass by, I enjoy its shade and, now and then, a ripe mango as well. Eating the fruit under the shade of the tree brings me full circle. I am in mango madness.DSCN1053

There and back again. You would think that getting from one Caribbean island to the next would be a snap. Hah! My trip begins with a Divi Divi Airlines hopper from Bonaire to Curacao. Then after a two-hour DSCN1076wait, I board a LIAT plane on a milk run to Trinidad, St. Lucia, and finally Antigua. LIAT is referred to by locals as Leave Island Any Time.  By the time we take off from Curacao the sun is nearly under and the southern Caribbean sky turns soft flamingo pink. The pilot banks the ATR 72-600 to starboard and there is Isla Sur below, one in a group of Venezuelan islands 40 miles east of Bonaire, glowing in all of its sunset glory. The Aves remind me of my new life. Little did I know that I would become a writer the way I have in my life after work.  My Aves article, Journey to the Islands of the Birds, just came out in February in Sailing Magazine. I am now heading to Antigua for the week to write two more stories. One is about the Grayhound and I will finish that for Fall publication in WoodenBoat Magazine. And the other, Classic Rookies, will be about first time boats at the Regatta, a piece for Sailing Magazine. I sip tea while Trinidad bound. The turbo-prop roar always sends me into a meditative state. Love that white noise.

By the time I’m at the Falmouth Harbor, and it is past midnight and the marina gate is locked. A friendly security guard leads me along the dock in search of Grayhound. We pass dozens of large vessels—massive mega yachts awaiting the party and wooden classics of varnish and brass ready to race. Finally, on the last stretch of dock, I look ahead. “There it is!” I exclaim. “Oh you be on de pirate boat, mon,” says the guard. “Dat be me.”

On the way home, I repeat the route in reverse, but this time in daylight. After we leave Saint Lucia, my radar picks up a gorgeous island chain

Sweet Bequia, Sweet.

Sweet Bequia, Sweet.

below. It is St. Vincent and the Grenadines, islands that we sailed back in 2000 with Capt Dave and the infamous pirate, Alan Heuss. Yes, there is La Soufrière, St. Vincent’s old 4000-foot volcano that looks like she will blow anytime. Then it’s on to sweet Bequia, my favorite of all. Mayreau, Palm and Union Islands follow. And there are the Tobago Cays, outstretched horseshoe reef islets that are the first landmass greeting waves generated in Africa. In the distance, I see Carriacou, the birthplace of five Carriacou sloops that sailed this past week in the Classics. Yes, they sailed all the way to Antigua and are now probably somewhere along the chain making there way home.DSC_2225 I then spot Grenada, the spice island, and soon after, we land in Trinidad on time. A delay in Curacao makes this another 12-hour travel day. I get home at midnight.

DSCN1062Dey go. On my final day on Antigua, I help Capt’ Marcus lash the mizzen sail to a new spar. The old one cracked while crossing the Atlantic four months ago. Marcus felled a 5-inch diameter bamboo tree in neighboring Dominica to use as a replacement. We DSCN1065cut grooves, tie off the sail with repeated reef knots and hoist her back on Grayhound. Freya posts the list of captain and crew for the journey to the Azores. Sadly, my name is not there. But while in Falmouth harbor, I made arrangements. This time next year I, too, will be crossing the Atlantic for the first time. Like Diamond, it will be a boyhood dream come true. Blue water sailing—that will be my time in the sun.