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The Race Against Time

It was a horrid
crossing.I set off from the Cape Verde
Islands, just me and my cat, she mewling plaintively and me, well, wondering
what the hell I was doing, crossing the Atlantic at my age, 68, alone, in a 33
year old boat whose engine’s chief characteristic was a habit of dying.
Worse, I had a time-schedule to meet.
My friend, Virginia, was flying out from the
UK to meet me, to spend Christmas with me in Trinidad.

First, there
was no wind and progress was nail-bitingly slow.
Also, I was fearful I might run down a lone rower, who had set
off a day or two before me.Then, when
there was wind, exhaustion was the name of the game. I fought endless battles
with my cruising chute and the pole.
At one time the chute wound itself around me and panic was beginning to
grip me. I thought I would arrive on some Caribbean shore, mummified inside the
chute.Of course, my knife wasn’t in my
pocket.You know the one, that knife
every sailor always, but always, carries?

Then there were
the squalls and the thunderstorms.They
varied from alarming to terrifying, especially at night.

Worst was the
rolling.I would lie on my bunk with
the lee-cloth up, hanging onto that with my left hand and clinging onto a rope
I had rigged above the bunk with my right hand.
Inside my skin, I could feel my skeleton rolling.
When my cat, Alicia, lay on my chest, I
could feel her skeleton rolling inside her skin too, so I knew I wasn’t
imagining it and going mad.

And as for my
ability to catch fish: non-existent.
Not quite true, actually: the one I did catch she wouldn’t eat, it was
something gelatinous and she dragged it into her litter tray!

Christmas grew
nearer, faster than Trinidad did, and Virginia was due in on the 23rd.
I wore my poor little brain to a frazzle,
doing endless sums, trying to work out if I would, if I could, make it.

Then, just as I
turned south into the Boca, knowing with a fierce joy I had made it, my engine
died.I was used to this scenario, and
in the swirly, fierce Boca currents, I emptied the quarter berth and crammed
myself into the engine space to do battle with the beastly thing.
Finally, it fired up: I arrived in
Chaguaramas exhausted and definitely slimmer, drenched in a sudden downpour,
but just in time to greet Virginia.The
race against time was won.

And … I got a
prize for my race.The colours, the
vivid life, the flowers, the scents, the sounds, the jungle, the butterflies,
the kiskadee calling birds, the… I’ll stop here, but, truly, I could fill
pages.I was overwhelmed by the
tropics.

To celebrate,
we three – Virginia, Alicia the cat, and I – took ourselves off to the
beautiful bay of Chacachacare.Dropped
the hook, uncorked the champagne, and sitting on the coach roof in the dark, we
were shocked into silence.At first we
did not know what we were seeing.A
huge display of tiny, incessant, twinkling lights.
Ah … the penny dropped.I
remembered I’d read about fireflies, and there they were, shooting off their
sparks, especially for us, two old ladies from The Grey Country (Britain!),
where such a display is unknown.Pure
magic: the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end!
Or rather, at the end of The Race against Time.

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