Opportunity Knocks

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2am in the fore-peak of Glee, squinting against the glare of the laptop in the darkness through half sober eyes after returning from the hike to Sentry Hill and the ensuing house party, a mail from Cattitude, the boat I’m due to help cross the Atlantic. I click to open. “Can you help me take Cattitude to Antigua tomorrow morning?” My mind was filling in the blanks. Does that mean we continue east to the Mediterranean from Antigua. The sails and awning were still up on Glee. It would take me a day to secure Glee for the hurricane season and pack up my stuff.

Glee wasn’t ready for being left a couple of months. I replied as much . No, Cattitude was to meet the owner and would return to Sint Maarten after the owner returned home. It would be a flying delivery, well the return part for me it would be. We were to be ready for the 10:30 bridge. 6 hours wasn’t much notice but do-able, so I agreed – this would be a new adventure, never been to Antigua, never been on a catamaran.

Cattitude was moored in the channel around Snoopy Island off the end pier of Simpson Bay Marina just near the fuel dock and I swung the dinghy round her to enter the marina and tie up at the dinghy dock. My hiking blisters were swollen but not ruptured and I walked on the edge of bare feet to protect them. The ground was warm but not yet up to grilling temperature as I padded around to the berth.

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A young Serb was diligently polishing the chrome on the stern. He wasn’t making the trip due to visa regulations for Serbs in Antigua. Me? I had the right little booklet that allows me to be waved past immigration. Bizarre, the Serb looked far more qualified and diligent than me. The power of mass belief in pieces of paper…

Cattitude is a gleaming white 75 feet long 36 feet wide catamaran which makes her area about the size of a tennis court and I noticed plenty of cleaning equipment out on the deck. There is no excuse for doing nothing as a crew member on a luxury yacht.
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The channel for Sint Maarten bridge is 55 feet. 10 feet clearance per side sounds quite a lot but it is nerve-wracking in the strong easterly crosswind and from the ships bridge, you can’t see the water either side. You have to commit to avoid being blown onto the rocks either side. The Serb and I were calling out distances and ready with a fender on each side. Steve, the skipper, was calm and collected and didn’t look at all rattled but admitted later he’s always relieved to have cleared each passage through the bridge.

After anchoring and taking our spare crew member back to shore and to check out of customs and immigration, we deflated and stowed the crew dinghy in the hold. I dropped down into the anchor locker to direct the Skipper along the path of the chain and to flake the chain into an even pile as the anchor was drawn up. The rusty, salt water made the uneven floor slippery so I had to try and brace myself out the way of the dripping chain and try not to tear my blisters on anything as my feet slid around. Pretty soon the three white markers indicating the arrival of the anchor appeared and I clambered out on deck. We were under-way.

5 knots into the force five wind is not the best conditions for a catamaran, we were pitching and sometimes crashing into the south easterly waves. Motoring was the only option into the headwind. On top of that, the engine could not get past fifteen hundred revs; the propellers probably needed a clean. At 3pm, we anchored in Anse a Colombier at Gustavia, St Barts for Steve to don his diving gear and clear the props. The sheltered bay was vulnerable to back-wind which would take us into shore, It was my job to stamp on the deck if we turned or if the Gendarmes came to see what we were doing there. We started to turn but I could see a gust coming out form the shore so hesitated with the alarm and after getting parallel to the shoreline we gently blew back out again. Later Steve said he was waiting for the alert as he was clinging onto the prop as the boat swung round. He was probably more worried than I was since we didn’t really know each other well.

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Steve emerged after about forty minutes covered in cuts and stings, crawling with sea fleas. The lax sewage control in Sint Maarten seems to make for a fertile environment for sea life on the underside of boats.

With the engines free-revving, we were back on course for Antigua. The delay meant that making for the anchorage at St Kitts over night no longer made sense, since it would be late night by the time we got there. We may as well continue to Antigua and sleep whenever we got there and so anchor only once instead of twice.

The music was playing in the darkness, 29000 hours of mixed genre material on shuffle, as we watched the distant lights of St Kitts pass slowly to the starboard side. The radar screen and chart plotter gave a soft illumination and occasionally were plunged into darkness as an intermittent fault with the Radar caused the integrated systems to shut down. The compass and autopilot still worked but looking out into blackness without any indication of obstructions was unnerving. Booting up again lost our plotting information but we kept the same course.

A green light off the starboard bow looked as if there was a sail-boat about 300 metres away, The radar indicated two miles distance and we would clearly pass each other. We were now on watches: one hour each before midnight and two hours each thereafter. Sleeping on the beanbags in the lounge was the most comfortable for the pitching of the vessel and, despite the occasional banging of the waves, I slept soundly in 20 minute segments, conscious of over-sleeping and waking to check the time. The clock downstairs was wrong and I was 20 minutes early for my watches because I hadn’t noticed. It gave the impression of enthusiasm on my part and I didn’t mind. The traffic on radar was pretty quiet now so whenever the system powered down, I left it the radar in standby for the rest of the watch so that the plotter stayed up.

Groggy with sleep, I ascended the spiral stairway to the bridge at 4am for my watch surprised to hear the Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” blaring out. It took me back to the time of the punk revolution of the 70’s, a reaction to capitalism and elitism and here I was now on a luxury yacht in the Caribbean. I was experiencing a dissonance of the irony while full waking consciousness slowly returned. The other surprise was of seeing the lights of Antigua dead ahead. We were nearly there so we stayed on watch together. We had reached the lee of the island sometime during Steve’s watch and had made good time by motoring at 10 knots since the sea had calmed down.

We dropped anchor shortly before dawn and grabbed a few hours sleep before awaking in the bright morning sunshine in a beautiful bay in the southern part of Antigua. Now we were here it was time to get to work, cleaning and polishing to prepare Cattitude for the arrival of her new owner. While Steve went to check in at the Marina, I started swabbing the decks and scrubbing the exhaust stains off the starboard hull, aft of the exhaust port.  18 hours of motoring seemed to have  really cleaned out the engine bores and ports.

The sun was getting hot and I was feeling the accumulated sunburn of the hike and yesterday’s voyage and took advantage of the factor 50 sun-block I had spotted in the lounge. Pretty soon we were moored up in the Marina, I couldn’t tell you which one since I had my head down washing and scrubbing as we were under way.

The deck was becoming slippery with all the water and was treacherous in bare feet away from the textured surfaces. My blisters were holding up and the wetness of my skin probably helped stop them tearing. Even so, Steve gave me some electrical tape to bind up for protection. This was far more successful than the plasters I tried to use earlier. The owner was due in at 2:30pm but it was now four and Cattitude was now looking immaculate.

I was tired and thirsty but I took off to the shower block while I could, peeled off my sweaty clothing and sat down on the floor in the corner of the cubicle letting the cool abundant water cascade over me for about 20 minutes before finally washing down. After getting dressed and having a shave, I felt replenished and looked rejuvenated.

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The owner and his family had arrived while I was out. It was hard not to look like a hitch hiker as I returned to the boat with my trusty backpack. I was welcomed back aboard as the Skipper and Owner got acquainted. My role was complete and I was on the border of being sociable and discretely reclusive so as not to intrude. It wasn’t clear what my immediate future was, whether I was required as crew or whether I’d be dispensed with at the airport. As the evening wore on, it became clear that I was spending the night and was treated to a pleasant dinner together with Steve and the owner.

The following morning, I felt much better and my blisters had dried out and shrunk a little. Steve came down to the galley while I was clearing up after breakfast and said he’d found a flight for me for 10:20am. It was 8:15 already and we quickly booked it online. I had already packed so I grabbed my backpack and hopped in a taxi at the marina entrance to go the airport, and took in as much of the Antigua experience as I could. By 9:40 and tolerating the intrusive and demeaning security checks I was sitting at the departure gate with three destinations scrolling over the screen. Which one is it: St Kitts, St Maarten or St Thomas?

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The plane was an ATR 42 600, overhead wing, turbo prop. It was pretty much a flying bus, first stopping at St Kitts while people got off and others got on. Next stop St Maarten then continuing on to St Thomas. After about an hour I was back home. St Maarten, home. That’s what it is to me, home, and it felt good. How’s it going to feel leaving Glee behind for the Atlantic crossing and Summer in England? We’ll have to see but that time is not too far away now.

Cattitude won’t be too unfamiliar to me on the Ocean crossing. Of course, plans like this can change but, whatever happens, options and opportunity seem to be becoming more plentiful the less I think about the future and the more I pay attention to the present…

And the more opportunities I become aware of in the moment the happier I become…

Right, next!

1 thought on “Opportunity Knocks”

  1. What a wonderful ‘report’ , Paul. You are quite the writer 🙂
    I have a nephew plus friend who are looking for Trans-Atlantic crew options to St. Maarten / if you have any suggestions as to how to improve their chances of finding a boat then please let me know.
    have a wonderful summer: back to England ????
    Warm Regards,
    Liesbeth De Falco

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