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Holidays and Awnings

Christmas in Bequia. Photo Courtesy Bequia Tourism Association

Christmas in the islands! It doesn’t get better than that. Every island hosts its own unique Holiday celebrations and now’s the time to plan where you want to be, what you want to see, and just how you intend to join in. To make your festive decisions easier, we have come up with a five page feature on Caribbean Nautical Holiday Happenings detailing many of the best places to ho-ho-ho and yo-ho-ho this festive season. You can find our detailed guide to holiday wassailing on page 58.

This summer was one of the hottest Caribbean summers I can remember and I‘ve experienced quite a few. In our lovely part of the world, the Northern Leewards, rainfall was at a minimum and days, even weeks, went by with light winds or no winds at all.

Living afloat through the summer in the tropics presents its own challenges when dealing with the heat. In our live-aboard days, high on our list of cooling devices was a canvas awning. This covered most of the deck so it was always in the shade. Setting the awning would drop the temperature in the cabins by many degrees and not only did it protect the boat from the sun, it also caused a wind tunnel effect so that whatever breeze there might be was funneled down the open hatches.

The awning was also useful for catching rain water and it allowed us to keep the hatches open during a shower. One drawback with such a big awning is that it cuts down on the light below and if, like our boat, you have a hatch above your bunk, you can no longer see the stars from your bed at night. To work efficiently, and so as not to look like a bag of old washing flapping in the breeze, awnings must be strong, strong enough to be set up under great tension.

Large awnings take time to rig and it’s usually a two person job. That they take time to rig means they take quite a bit of time to take down and this almost cost us the boat while we were anchored off Powerboats in Trinidad one summer when a powerful squall came off the land.

The squall instantly turned day to night, was heavy with rain and packing gale force winds on its leading edge. We were well anchored, but the large steel boat towards the front of the anchorage was not. When the wind hit, his anchor pulled free and he took off, beam on, and we were right in his path. The horizontal rain cut visibility to zero but instinct told me he was coming. When the leading edge of the squall struck our awning it laid us on our beam ends.

I had our ancient engine running within seconds, even though I had to remove part of the engine box and start it with a cranking handle. While I was cranking, my wife was trying to drop the awning. Releasing the halyard that attached to a three part bridle along its top edge to tension it only made things worse. Now, instead of being quite flat, it draped across the boom and filled like a spinnaker. The lashings holding it to the back stays aft and the shrouds forward hummed, the mast shook like a wet dog and I feared for the rig.

I grabbed the large knife we kept in a sheath at the base of the mast and ran along the deck, slashing through the lashings as I went. Behind me my wife wrestled with the heaving wet canvas as it fell. At the bow, I readied to slip the anchors when as rapidly has it had built the wind eased, the rain cleared and I saw the steel boat tangled up with a large French ketch. Our experiences off Powerboats didn’t stop us from setting the awning every time we anchored, but we did find a better way of releasing it in a squall.

See you on the water!

Gary E. Brown, Editor

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