I am writing this at the tale end of August and so far Antigua slumbers fairly peacefully through the uncertain months of summer. But it brings back memories of days when, with virtually no weather forecasts, we chartered up and down the islands on my yachts Ron of Argyll and Lord Jim, then later with Mirage and Etoile de Mer. Perhaps we were lucky, but hardly ever did we even have a fright when it came to hurricanes.
Once though, we were helping our old friend Tony Garton takes his 115ft ex-military Fairmile Warrior Gereant delivery to Barbados for a summer haul out. It was a leisurely sort of trip, and pulling into Castries, St Lucia one evening we spotted two unusual flags flying on the signal masts at the harbour entrance. Well, they turned out to be signifying a hurricane warning! So we soon slipped down to Marigot Harbour, which was still a deserted and lonely place, and went stern-to the sand spit behind three anchors.
OK! It did blow a bit that night and nobody slept much. But all seemed fine in the morning and by that evening we were underway again, rounding the south end of St Lucia and heading out to sea for the 90 miles of open sea to Barbados. It was then we heard a “strange rhythmical rumbling”. We searched everywhere for that noise, and came up with nothing until someone opened the door to the big false funnel amidships… to find half a dozen coconuts rolling back and forward every time the ship rose and fell and rolled in the swell. And in case you didn’t know, a Fairmile can really roll.
There were also one or two occasions when, in English Harbour, our lovely schooner Lord Jim was wrapped up in the mangrove bushes like a kid’s Christmas present. On the whole, though, nothing too bad until 9 years ago when the mother of all tropical storms gave Antigua a 36-hour battering. There were trees and boats, houses and bushes on the roads and all over the place.
So we in Antigua, along with many other islanders all over the length and breadth of the Caribbean, feel lucky indeed if we can escape during the summer months from a mauling by Mother Nature.
Just the other night during a period when the moon seemed to be taking a break from her duties, I awoke and started thinking about the lucky people who are able to actually sail purely for fun. I don’t mean racing. I mean going to sea and making long or short trips on their boats and for most of the time being by themselves in the vastness of the Caribbean. Now that in itself, being alone, is not so easy in the season. By West Indian standards, it can get quite busy out here. But there are times, when the visiting boats have gone back to Europe or the States, when Judy and I have taken our 34ft Dehler Hightide down to the coast of South America or even just the islands which were once our playgrounds in the old charter days. And after a lifetime of racing, it is now the cruising that we really love. The excitement of the crowded starting line, the bloodthirsty battles and the super get-togethers after the race will never be matched, but now we can snorkel and swim, explore coves and bays which the racers never see, and sip a petit ponche at our favorite street side café in Marie Galante.