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.

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Passing by the Mango Tree

10JulyBON 6Another Island Note

If you take Kaya Nikiboko Sud out past the Jesus Christ shrine that is down aways from town and turn right, you pass by one of the sweetest-smelling mango trees this side of Trinidad.  It is a mature tree that has passed the years gracefully sporting a massive trunk, gangly branches and lush, robust leaves.  When the red-yellow globes of mango appear so do flocks of squawking loras, our local yellow-shouldered Amazon parrots.  It is but a slice of a moment and it reminds me of why I live on an island.

08DecBON 12There are many others.  Some days I cruise Kralendijk by bike and turn a corner only to suddenly see a nine-story structure towering above the town.  Ah yes, the Boat-els.  If it is a two cruise ship arrival 4000+ day trippers, 25% of our population, pour down the gangplanks and into the streets.  Good thing I’m on the bicycle.  There is no parking to be found as taxis, tour buses and tourists on quads jockey around the town.  But those days are not forever, nor every day.  The last boat departs in May and we will not see another until November.

10AprilBON 3Then there are times when I am underwater, 40 feet down.  No mangos here, but the forest of soft coral that I drift through is as impressive as any terrestrial timberland.  There are undulating sea fans of purple and green, lacey sea plumes that reveal the direction of the current and sometimes turtles, and black sea rods, branchy gorgonians that are also appropriately called the Caribbean sea whip.  Down under delivers an experience that spurred the local government to place “Divers Paradise” on Bonaire’s license plates.

bonairelodging_smI just spent a night out at the kunuku of my friend, Hans.  He and his Cuban wife, Jenny, own the Auriga Ecolodge.  It is near sunset and Hans is asked to change the tire of a neighbor plagued with a bad back.  In his absence, I scale the stargazer platform of the B&B to watch the sun go down and have a dram of rum.  The platform rises above the surrounding canopy of kadushi cacti, acacia and divi divi trees.  From this high perch I am treated to raucous parrots and parakeets, colorful tropical orioles and strange, nocturnal nightjars.   These are the low riders of the nocturnal bird world with long wings, short legs and stubby bills.  To the east, I see a slice of Caribbean blue.  The rest of the vista is rolling farmland covered with arid vegetation and small fields of sorghum.  Windmills reminiscent of the Oklahoma plains punctuate the skyline.  It’s another island sunset.

I guess that is one of the many reasons I like this island where I live.  For such a small place, its diversity is extreme.  If I’m in need of psychedelia, I only have to travel south to the wind-swept saltpans of pink, lime green and sapphire blue waters.  downloadThrow in some Don Quixote-esque driftwood sculptures that appear and vanish on a whim and you have a landscape that would make Salvador Dali’s mustache twitch with envy.  08AugBon 370802BON 26And if I’m in the mood to get high, I only need to trek Mount Brandaris, the tallest peak on the island.  At a mere 241 meters (784 feet), it is a tiny foothill compared to my tech climbing landscapes of New Mexico years back.  But the diminutive Brandaris delivers big time with grand vistas of Bonaire, glimpses of neighboring Curaçao 40 miles to the west, and splendid panoramas of the indigo blue Caribbean flecked with white-capped waves.  It makes me want to stay forever.

Rock fever, anyone?  You know, that hemmed-in, claustrophobic, trapped feeling mainlanders get when spending too much time down island?  Not me.  There is simply too much beauty to see and things to do.  And if I ever run out of ideas, I can always just chill out in the fragrant shade of a mango tree.DSC_0089