So, once again I’ve taken to the ship. Perhaps not too quietly, but quietly enough. In recent months, I’ve definitely been grim about the mouth, and have been closer to stepping into traffic or pushing off people’s hats or following close after funerals, so perhaps it’s allowable that I wasn’t quite as silent as I might have been. My buddy, Ishmael, would allow me that luxury, I suspect.
What’s been surprising is that taking to the ship hasn’t been the balm it’s always been in the past. Granted, it’s only been four-plus days but I was hopeful of an almost immediate transformation. And what I’ve found has been a bit more like, well, finding out that the red Corvette convertible and the bimbette don’t really solve the mid-life crisis.
I arrived in Barbados Saturday afternoon, a week or two short of 25 years since I last set foot on that island along with nine other college friends on what was an insane and wild spring-break week. It was interesting to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak (to be honest: it was a lot tamer than we like to admit to ourselves) even if only for a few hours. And it was only for a few hours because I was bound for Union Island in the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines a day later. I couldn’t make the connection in one day, hence the layover.
Union was my destination because my Dutch friends, Boogie and Marlies, with whom I’ve sailed many thousands of miles both north and south, were there, and they had invited me to get away from winter, from despair, from what has been a 24/7 job of caring for my father for many months. Dad has progressed in recent weeks to near-independence, enabling me to take my friends up on their very kind offer and escape to the Caribbean.
Union is very Third World, an on-the-cusp-of-tourism-influx place in stark constrast to the smooth operation of Barbados. It’s the gateway to the diving mecca of the Tobago Cays and is a burgeoning kiteboarding destination. And in the middle of it all were my friends, skipper and mate on an obscenely opulent 70-foot aluminum sailing yacht. Boogie and Marlies work for the pair of owners and have shepherded the boat throughout the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic and up and down the Caribbean chain. The owners were going to be back in Europe for a bit, enabling me to join my friends as they took the boat north to St. Maarten in advance of the owners’ return.
While I didn’t get to experience the Tobago Cays (they remain on my to-do list, for sure), I did get in a morning of kiteboarding — the first time I’d done so since I spent three days in Cape Hatteras the first week of November 2011 learning how. And I had a great time and was much more proficient than I expected I’d be. That was gratifying. And just plain fun. The dinner we had the night before we departed — grilled lobster with assorted local sides all prepared by a local guy named Michael and served on the beach between passing rain squalls was nothing short of exquisite. A return to Union is in the cards.
We hoisted anchor and motored out around the reef at midday on Tuesday. We were bound for Antigua: 266 miles almost due north. We planned to run along the west, leeward side of St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Guadaloupe, and finish up at Falmouth Bay on the south coast of Antigua. Our ETA was about 30 hours later: late in the evening on Wednesday.
We hit our ETA but it sure felt a lot longer than that, and that’s where the feeling of midlife realization came in. I hadn’t been aboard a boat in 51 weeks — since I’d crewed for Boogie and Marlies in the 2012 Heineken Regatta in St. Maarten — and while I expected to be a bit queasy (par for the course the first night out when I return to sea), I never expected this. I felt like shit from Tuesday evening until we arrived in Antigua, with a wonderful break in the lee of Guadaloupe. It was never really bad — a lot like a low-grade wine hangover — but I never really felt as blissful and carefree and, well, FREE as I usually feel when I’m at sea. And it’s not like the location in this case sucked: at night I had Polaris on the bow and the Southern Cross on the stern and several shooting stars all aroud; there was the deep, royal blue of the Caribbean Sea, a color that calls you to look into it in search of anything and everything you might be seeking; the wind was a raucous and steady 20 to 25 knots, powering our 55-ton vessel as she was made to be moved; and perhaps most importantly, I wasn’t cleaning commodes or administering medicine or washing soiled laundry or living from call to call and need to need, the first time I’d really had that freedom in almost four months. It was not only escape, it was escape in the dreamland of escapes.
And yet, I felt like shit. Again, not puke-my-guts-out shitty but just blah. Exhausted. Worn out. Tired behind the eyes. And I couldn’t find the cure. Robert Frost pointed out that the best way out is through, and since I had no alternative, that’s what I did: I kept on. I stayed topside when I could, savored the sailing and the Caribbean when I could, and I slept when I could.
There was the fabulous several-hour respite in the lee of Guadaloupe. As we approached, the seas that we’d been bashing into and the wind that had us almost close-hauled — two factors that in all likelihood created my crappy feeling — waned. The sea flattened and the wind shifted to the west. You could smell the land — plants, activity, LIFE — and even the sun that had been scorching seemed more benign. Dolphins cavorted in the bow wave adding to the majesty. I can’t speak for Guadaloupe itself but I adore the waters off its west coast.
We emerged from the northern point of Guadaloupe back into the close-hauled winds for the 40-mile run to Antigua. But the seas weren’t quite as jarring and the fact that the finish line loomed undoubtedly helped. The run into Falmouth Bay went nicely, although there was still a tinge of discomfort within: I was saddened to have the sailing not be the escape it’s always been.
But we made it. And so we’re in Antigua now. Last night was mellow: a barbecue dinner at a restaurant owned by a friend of Boogie and Marlies (they know EVERYONE in the Caribbean it seems, especially among the yachtie contingent) and to bed early. Today it was a few boat chores and then off for another round of kiteboarding — my progress continues and considering I’d kited once in 15 months since I’d learned, I’m way psyched with the outcome. We’re kiting again tomorrow morning and I hope to really make a jump in my ability.
It’s ironic that the kiteboarding has been the biggest escape thus far on the trip. What was originally going to be a nice plus has turned out to be the pinnacle of the trip…so far. We’ll be here another couple of days and then head downwind to St. Maarten and I’m hopeful that this final sailing leg will rejuvenate my sailing jones. I’ll try to find a crewing gig for next weekend’s Heineken Regatta (our boat will not be racing) and I’ll turn 47 (the second straight year I’ve spent my birthday in the islands) and we’ll see how it goes. And I’m sure I’ll continue to ponder more. Too much, in all likelihood. But I’ll report back with my findings.
Thanks for indulging me in this bit of navel-gazing. Greetings from Antigua!