Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Sunday, 15 February 2009

All at sea

Antigua is a romantic island. Everything about it screams good lovin'. To most working UK folk the term 'R&R' conjures up images of a hastily arranged weekend crammed into a busy schedule or a spa session at a health centre. But in the Caribbean R&R is a way of life, providing the backdrop for most of what you do here, standing as it does for romantic reggae. It sits comfortably with the innate approachable attitude of a people whose immediate response to anything is a broad relaxed smile.

Since being dropped off on terra firma I've spent my time on what is as close to my own personal stretch of beach as I'm ever going to get. Crabbe Bay is named after the small crabs that burrow up and down the short coastline. Measuring no longer than half a kilometre it has enough for any new or old couple whose intentions stretch no further than their feet are able to on a sun lounger.

At one end a smattering of beach houses are ably served by a one of the numerous bars that look like they could get swept away by the first decent sized wave to hit the beach. The other end is a restaurant called OJ's which sits atop a man made collection of boulders that allow for the spectacular sight of the infrequent crashing of the very same waves that could prove a nightmare scenario for the other bar owner. Run by a friendly chap called, you guessed it, OJ, it's a haunt for locals and tourists alike who take advantage of wooden tables and chairs that crunch into the sand, sea shells and sailing memorabilia decorated in a manner that sits oh-so comfortably with the Caribbean sea setting.

In the middle of all this stands the apartment I booked into for three nights before heading to Mosquito Cove. As basic as it comes it still retains enough charm to enable it to live positively long in my mind. For three days and nights I lived a life consisting of long drawn out walks on the beach, beautiful sunsets, sun lounging, snoozes at unnatural times of the day, toes dipped into the turquoise water and lazy, stretched out dinners full of good wine, heartfelt chat, private utterances and fresh local Caribbean food. It's just a shame that when I looked across the table, needed suntan lotion rubbed into my back or when I poured another glass of wine instead of Fe's beautiful brown eyes face staring back at me they belonged to Mark.

Photobucket

He really does have nice eyes. Anyway, much of those few days was spent talking about our far better looking halfs. We're both in the same boat in that we have left our girlfriends at home while we swan off across the Atlantic. I'd like to think it's not the guilt we both feel that has led us to both agree that one day we'll take them out here. Although I don't think we'll be allowed to let it coincide with a cricket tour.

Photobucket

Photobucket

It was all very different from the first three days of my Antigua adventure. I've never spent a night on a boat before and so it was a real treat to be invited on board my uncle & aunt's chartered boat as we sailed from Dickenson Bay on the West of the Island to English Harbour on the East.

Photobucket

We spent the first full day sailing from Dickenson Bay to Falmouth. For the first hour or so I amused myself by taking various pictures of the coastline and trying to take arty photo's of the mast. Indeed one of the first things I noticed was the difficulty that arises when trying to take a photo that accurately takes in the size & complexity of a working boat sailing on the seas.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

I was enjoying sitting alongside the side of the boat, watching the coastline slide by and enjoying the feeling of the spray and the sun on my face when suddenly the wind changed and the boat started dipping alarmingly (to me) whenever a strong gust of wind took hold of the sails. I was more concerned about my camera being ruined if we capsized than anything else but it was an eye opener to realise just how extreme the boat movement can be. But in Captain Nash I had a skipper that bred plenty of confidence.

Photobucket

At 62 years old he's been skippering boats for over forty years. Like most he is a proud Antiguan and he'd grown up on the water and sailed the Caribbean waters his whole life. If he was in control then so was I. And so after a momentary minute or two of panic I again attempted to take a photo of Mark at the same time showcasing the severe dips the boat took in the water. In that I failed.

Photobucket

More success was to be found in the fishing stakes. Captain Nash dropped a line off the side of the boat and after an hour or so we reeled in a fine looking Spanish Mackerel. Within an hour it had been gutted and expertly cooked by my aunt. I've spoken before about food tasting better when eating out doors and after a day in the open air and this was no different. It tasted exceptionally good.

Photobucket

Another thing I learnt on that first day on the water was just how much money resides on this island. We were staying in Falmouth for the night and upon reaching the harbour I was confronted with the kind of scene you'd normally associate with Saint Tropez. Multi-million pound boats lined the jetty including one called the Maltese Falcon which apparently costs $40,000 a day to rent.

Photobucket

Photobucket

My second night on board brought to mind a series of books I used to read as a child. They centred around a kid that had a picture of an 18th century ocean crossing ship on his wall. When it was dark and the light from the moon lit up his room he'd stare deep and long at the picture and then become transported on board as a ship hand.

He took part in many adventures tackling pirates, finding treasure on remote islands, dealing with mutineers and so on and so on. But one memorable storyline featured the ghosts of mariners that had fallen overboard or died in battle. In the story they would target lone battleships on the water. The first sign of this would be a howling sound that would surround the boat. At the first sign of this the sailors would bolt themselves in the hold and chain themselves to whatever they could as they knew they were unable to resist the sound of their former friends calling to them. If they weren't strapped securely enough they would walk towards the ethereal sounds on the open deck and to their doom.

I'm sure you're wondering just what kind of boat I'd landed myself on. But bare with me. The weather here is mostly of the very hot kind but it can be windy. Sleeping on a sofa in the main cabin with the hatch left open to keep things cool I fell asleep quickly on the gentle rocking waves. But at some point in the night I awoke to a howling, whistling sound and an increased tempo as the waves got increased in power. The sound of the wind catching the mast and sail as it swirled round the boat was eerie and unusual experience. And while experiencing this in the safety of a harbour is one thing. I could imagine a far more unpleasant scenario if out on the high seas with only my imagination to keep me company. The inspiration for where the storyline came from was apparent.

The next morning once again I awoke at dawn as the minor jet-lag lingered and we set sail for a journey away from the coastline. The wind was strong and the waves rocked the boat as we headed away from Antigua in the general direction of Costa Rica. At different times on the voyage flying fish accompanied us and turtles poked their heads up to check us out before diving back into the deep. I was enjoying the experience and started to understand the way a boat manouevres between waves, keeping the wind alongside and not behind, Captain Nash expertly steering us along.

From my vantage point I could see the rolling seas, the disappearing coastline and also down into the cabin where Mark had decided to pass out. On past tours he'd often remarked that he didn't suffer from jat-lag. So it must have just been coincidence that he was once again fast asleep during the daylight hours despite the boat rocking somewhat violently from side to side. Head down against the side of the sofa at times his legs were almost sticking vertically up in the air as the boat leant to the right. Looking at the time on my phone I made a mental note that it was past two in the afternoon. For someone who doesn't suffer from jet-lag I thought he does an 'alf sleep a lot.

Before long it was time to head back to land. I'd surprised myself by not freaking out at all up until this point. But I was ready for this change in direction. However switching the sails to turn the boat around brought an unwelcome wake up call for Mark. For while he was okay sleeping on top of his own head leaning into the side of the sofa. As the boat veered to the left suddenly gravity took hold and his legs, poking over the sofa, had nothing but fresh air to rest on as he half slid, half flew through the air coming to a painful crash onto the other side of the cabin.

The sharp turn of events also took me by surprise and for the first time I felt a bit green round the gills. But this was nothing on Mark as he crawled up on deck, nursing a big bruise on his neck and head, his face the colour of a unripe brussel sprout. For about ten minutes or so it was touch and go whether he was going to provide the fish some food. And if not for the fear that the wind would actually turn it back onto the ship rather than away he may have had to forego his lunch.

But he's a brave soul and before long he was able to laugh about the accident and his ability to sleep through crashing waves and unsettled seas. It was, he said, as a result of the early hours he starts work back in Germany as a postman. Whenever he goes away, he continued, for the first three or four days, he sleep loads and always at funny times, sometimes at the drop of the hat. It was then that I started to suspect that Mark doesn't actually know what jet-lag is.

Before long we moored in Carlisle Bay and eagerly went ashore to be greeted with the stereotypical Caribbean beach. Palm trees, white sand, clear water and (if you look closely) David Dickinson reading a book.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

It really did have it all. We went for a walk up and down the beachfront and on the way back decided to stick around for a quick beer. £18 later we decided that this particular stretch of beach probably wasn't designed for the likes of us so we made our way back to the boat and sailed round to our evening destination, English Harbour.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

English Harbour was to be our final night's stop. We spent another delightful evening dining at one of the harbour restaurants. It wasn't cheap but then my uncle picked up the tab so I wasn't complaining. English Harbour was where Lord Nelson was stationed for three years and is the only example of a Georgian Harbour in existence. So we soaked a bit of culture at the museum before heading back out for a final journey on the boat as we were dropped off on Crabbe Island.

Once again Captain Nash proved his sea skills. After boarding two backpacks, several rucksacks, my laptop and recording equipment into the dinghy he managed to get both me and Mark onto dry land without a single item getting wet. LEGEND!!!!!

3 comments:

Kieran said...

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

Thank goodness England’s fortunes at the cricket have improved so I don't have to hate them. As I type, 395 for 4, and KP approaching a 1/2 century.

Did the change in venue cause much havoc?

Dicky said...

Well I worked all week, navigated the bedford hill straights to Sainsbury's, watched an average Fulham play an accomplished Swansea and went back to work. one thinks you may be getting more out of Feb this year than me!

Jonno Norman said...

The change in venue actually turned out to be a blessing in a particularly good disguise. I've added an entyr covering that now. Keep tuned for my next 'blog entitled 'Pain stopped play'.