Opportunity Knocks


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.


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.
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.


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.


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?


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!

One Thing Leads To Another


‘One Way Road’ is a steep pass between Philipsburg and Simpson Bay. I’d finished breakfast at Lagoonies just after ten and was now on ‘One Way Road’ climbing the steep incline against the traffic. Technically this is not part of the hike but the heat from the sun above and the asphalt below were driving the breath and sweat out of my body with every stride. What is it, half a mile to the crest?


Approaching the crest of the road presented me with the easterly breeze and a view of the Great Pond near Philipsburg. I rested on the roadside for five minutes savouring the cooling trade winds and rehydrating from my water bottle. “If you see Kooymans, you’ve gone past the trail ten paces” Mark on Sea Life had told me. I was sitting opposite a narrow dirt trail disappearing upwards into the shrubs on the southern end of the ridge of hills that extend north to Marigot. Next to me was a concrete track going south up the side of Cole Bay Hill. It looked like a good starter before the main hike and it was still early.

It wasn’t a long ascent but it was steep and the paved track narrowed to a dirt trail. Access to the summit was via the top of a dry-stone wall about three feet wide. Two goats stood as if guarding the peak and we looked at each other for a minute. The goats retreated as soon as I advanced along the wall to the newly installed beacon. The views were good but partially obscured the shrubs were thick and tall. Looking north I was level with the first peak on the ridge trail and could see Sentry Hill beyond. To get to that first peak would involve undoing all the gains I made up Cole Bay Hill and climbing once again to this same altitude over there. There were no shortcuts.



Descending steep dry stone walls is pretty hard on the knees and feels as if there is more of a risk of falling but pretty soon I was scrambling up the loose dirt trail to the next beacon.

With the shade of the trees and the breeze coming out of the east, the climb felt easier than the walk up One Way Road. The views along the ridge are spectacular, at the crests and whenever I remembered to turn round and look back behind me on the ascents. Occasionally I would lose sight of Sentry Hill as the trail undulated through the shrubs and trees. From each hill-crest, Sentry Hill still looked a fair climb and, immediately ahead, the trail turned down-hill. Each stride down meant adding another stride up the following incline. I took an old branch to steady my descents on the loose surface while wishing for the ridge to level out  and stemming the continuing deficit in altitude. A stick makes a hike so much easier.


It must have been about 1pm when I reached Sentry Hill. Cole Bay Hill had used up about an hour. The sun was in and out of the clouds and I was in and out of the trees and the breeze was constant. Sunburn might be a factor if I was out too long.

Sentry Hill has a craggy peak and hosts the best views on the island. The last forty metres or so became more like a climb than a hike but the effort to get to the top was well worth it. I was probably an hour there; admiring the view, contemplating, meditating and stripping down to dry out my shirt and socks, and to cool my feet.


The buildings below looked like dolls houses it’s an odd thing that I can happily look down from this three hundred and forty metres high peak and get the jitters ten metres up a mast. St Peter’s didn’t look too far from here and it was tempting to go on but I was warned that the going gets tougher north of Sentry Hill. That would be for another day since I had a meet up at St Maarten Yacht Club at five..

Turning back along the same trail is as different returning as discovering another route. With the constant gradients, my feet were beginning to hurt and I could feel the pressure on my knees, especially descending One Way Road. I’m not that unfit but I notice the spring in my step has diminished with age. I pay it no more thought. Annoyed at the attitude of people to their environment, I start collecting trash from the verges along the way. People seem to be the same wherever I go. They turn paradise into a waste-heap. By the time I reach Cole Bay I have a Louis Vuitton shopping bag full of empty beer bottles, water bottles and cigarette packets.


At the junction of One Way Road and Union Road is a cafe called Marge’s. With my Luois Vuitton bag, it looked as if I’d walked back from a shopping trip i Philipsburg. Marge’s is a locals place, I ducked in there as I could feel my energy ebbing. I had been wilting on the side of these hills facing the afternoon sun and being sheltered from the easterly wind. Half an hour with a couple of ice cold beers and a creole swordfish pasty while watching Cartoon Network with the owner’s daughter replenished my reserves to make the last half mile to the Dinghy moored at Lagoonies. I was running late. I had to meet friends at the Yacht Club across the lagoon at five and it was already four forty.

Louis Vuitton was deposited in the bins at Lagoonies and I skimmed across the lagoon in the Dinghy.

A party at a friend’s house, Mark had said. A millionaire’s pad with exclusive views over Simpson Bay would have been more like it. And here was me, beaten up walking boots, dusty t-shirt and backpack standing between the swimming pool and the balcony railings looking at the sunset reflecting off the bay.


No second chance at a first impression, they say. No-one said anything so maybe I got away with my dignity intact.  After a cool beer and time for people to settle down in the pool I kicked off my boots and discovered a giant blister on each toe joint. The blisters hadn’t ruptured but were beginning to feel sore. I took advantage of the outdoor shower in the corner of the terrace and plunged into the pool. It was my first time in a salt water pool. The water tastes barely salty and feels totally natural. How I would imagine it would be like returning to the womb. It felt totally nourishing to the skin and body.

Unlike the UK, the interior and exteriors of houses aren’t clearly defined by windows. Open plan to the outdoors seems to summarise the effect. The pool table was in the kitchen and next to the balcony but part of both. Taking a last glimpse of the anchor lights in the bay, I wandered; How did I get here? I hardly knew anyone here and this wasn’t expected but I was in a state of total appreciation for fate or whatever you would call it.

I was here at the invitation of Mark. Mark had pointed me to the hiking trails the night before. I had asked someone a random question about any nice walks around the island and that person had said to ask Mark. The question arose because I was getting a bit stagnated on the boat and I looked online for inspiration. Something in the search results said that getting into nature is a good way to recharge the spirit; resulting in this particular trail from a moment’s discontentment to a day of appreciation.

One thing leads to another so be vigilant and receptive to everything in your life. One thing leads to another…

Fort Amsterdam


The moments you have now are the special memories you have tomorrow. I’d just been uploading some photos of Deb from 4 years ago. It wasn’t bitter-sweet, it was just sweet. Somehow the bitterness gets filtered out in looking back. I exited Glee’s companionway with the realisation that even this simple act may well  become a golden memory in time. But only when this chapter had expired and I am immersed in new phase in life.

In the shade of the RBC bank, I squint into the afternoon heat along airport road looking at the registration plates of the vans as they approach. Taxi, no. Taxi, no. Bus, yes. Stepping forward facing the minibus is enough of a signal for it to pull over and stop next to me.  For a fair deal, the trick is not to look like a tourist. Asking “How much to Philipsburg?” is a dead give-away.

I slide open the door and squeeze into the last remaining seat with a casual greeting.

‘Pay on entry’ the notice says but the bus moves off and nobody flinches. I watch how the passengers leave and join. I get the system… they pay either in transit or on exit. I bask in the fan driven draught of the air conditioning trying to dry out the sheen of sweat between back and t-shirt. I should really set about these excursions at 8am except the sufficient motivation doesn’t usually overcome my inertia until gone noon. The penalty is to suffer the full force of the Caribbean sun.

These buses remind me of the blue and whites in Sharm El Sheik. They run on tacit local knowledge as money passes silently from passenger to passenger to and fro. The same behaviour in different cultures, different colours of notes and coins with different faces of historical heads of state imprinted upon them, yet under the very same sun.

Philipsburg is just over the hills to the east of Simpson Bay lagoon. Maybe three miles, separated by a ridge of tall hills. As we descended into the outskirts, I was looking out for some stores located near a set of traffic lights that had been recommended by some friends. The traffic had stopped and the bus swerved down a back street. My guess was that this was a rat run past the traffic lights.

Plan B was to stay on the bus until the far end of Philipsburg. There wasn’t much of note to see, to be fair. Apart from the humongous refuse tip that some bright spark decided to put in the Great Salt Pond in full view of the city centre. It  frequently catches fire and casts a noxious cloud over the city. The recent fire had died down and a faint plume drifted out of it like Smaug’s breath from under the Lonely Mountain.

Apart from looking out for the stores that were presumably bypassed along the way, I had no agenda and alighted at the library and wondered down to the coast near Bobby’s Marina.  A thick grove of palm trees offered a tranquil spot for some quiet contemplation. I didn’t need to do anything in particular so I ordered a beer in the shade of the palms.


Nothing needs doing, which leaves a huge space for what I want to do, and what is that exactly? This kind of thing doesn’t come about by thinking… more by feeling. I could see an old fort across the bay, I’d go and have a look. Just because I feel like it.

The Boardwalk, they call it: a wide paved promenade that separates Philipsburg from the beach. Kicking off my deck shoes, I tread the warm, white sand down to the turquoise sea and west along the shore. The Boardwalk peters out as the commercial properties merge into villas.

Up and down the beach there is no-one within about 100 metres so I strip off and plunge into the cool blue water. Cool enough for relief but, unlike the UK, not so cool that skin feels like it spasms into two sizes too small for the body.  When I’m ready to get out couples emerge from east, west and over the ridge from the car park. No towel, no swimming trunks, no nothing. It would be hard not to emerge scuttling to my back pack without looking like Gollum back from a fishing trip.

Ten minutes later, two sets of couples pass by in opposite directions level with me. No-one ever looks back so I escape the water when they are ten metres past and sit on the sand between my bag and my clothes until most of the water drains from my skin. I then dress myself over the sticky salt water. The sand is coarse and covers my feet like breaded frozen fish ready for frying. I put my shoes in the back pack and pad toward the Sonesta Great Bay Hotel. The Fort is not far along the coast but there is no way around the Hotel. Walking with purpose around the Sonesta, I go unchallenged, use their fine bathrooms and find my way out to the road.

The pavement is smooth and warm under foot until the footpath fades into gravel filled gutter at the roadside.

Fort Amsterdam is obscured by the Divi Little Bay Beach Resort guarded by a military looking security gate. There are no restrictions for accessing the fort but I walk straight through as if I belong there anyway.

Fort Amsterdam is a neglected ruin but is preserved as a bird sanctuary. Pelicans were nesting below the cliff tops but fairly well hidden that they are heard and not seen. The place was deserted so it was an opportunity to try and shake this coarse sand out of my clothing. The sand would not brush away easily, it was stuck to my skin but I brushed and shook as much off and out as possible and got dressed. My shoes were back on but they were hot and rough as I walked over the rugged terrain of the fort. I kicked them off again as I retreated into the Resort complex and headed home.

Navstick Mike hasn’t worn shoes for ten years. He says your feet toughen up so I take his word and lead. Mindfulness while walking at the roadside is crucial. Green chips and shards of shattered glass glitter like emeralds in the afternoon light. Little gems the value of which expired at the transformation of bottle into fragments after last gulp of Heineken had been downed and the bottle launched into oblivion.

The footpath at G.A. Arnell Boulevard was a relief on the feet. The incline around the foot of Cay Bay Hill was fairly steep but the pavement was smooth. There was a traffic island at the top on the main road. I sat on the curb and put on my shoes seconds before a bus of smartly dressed commuters arrived to take me home.

I returned home feeling fulfilled. Had I achieved anything? no. But every moment of the day was lived. A series of seemingly ordinary moments strung together. But it was all something new to my senses and, whenever I think of Debbie and that all this is no longer possible for her, it reminds me to live consciously. Nobody dies with everything done, nothing needs doing above living your own life in the present moment… Do something new every day.

Pirates of the Caribbean


“Have you had any scary moment’s out sailing?” I asked Roy at the bar at Lagoonies.
“Every day,” came the reply “But it’s only really a problem if you’re worried about dying.”

If I was looking for reassurance I was getting something else: the realisation that it wasn’t death that should be feared but that of ‘not living’ while you have the chance.

Most of the people here are established sailors and here I am, in at the deep end with a loose plan to take Glee out of the lagoon for a sail and not sink. It’s all too easy to forget about that and sit back in the sun and let life drift by with a book and beer. I feel content but I’m getting lazy. No, not so much lazy, more losing my thirst for adventure.

Adventure lives in uncertainty but so does fear. There is no fear in comfort but comfort can be a slow painless death.

There’s things I need to do to get moving and they have a monetary cost to get done. So much needs doing that it’s hard to draw the line on what’s just ‘good enough’. There is never ever nothing to do on a boat. As the jobs are checked off, more are added. As time goes by, I’m getting more familiar with Glee and can recognise that I don’t need much to sail within sight of land. I’ll be setting off soon with minimum requirements. Engine to go, anchor to stop, Sails to …  well … sail. What could possibly go wrong?

Today, I have a diver scraping the sea-life off the boat and cleaning the propeller so I can actually move through the water. I can hear the pleasant meditative scuba bubbles cascade around the hull as I’m writing. I won’t mention that as he might charge me for them- business has been slow for him lately.

Meanwhile, I’ve met someone who wants some prep for her skippers course that starts next week. I’ve agreed to help in order to add some motivation for myself to get Glee out and about. Mostly, I started to wake in the morning with a feeling of obligation and resistance, although the days have turned out to be rather enjoyable, give me a rewarding sense of contribution and expands my knowledge on sailing. With just a few days to go before the course starts, I’ve come to welcome the structure and will probably miss it when it stops.

Apparently, customs and immigration is a big deal in the boating world these days. This didn’t used to be the case, even in very recent times. I’m yet to register as the new owner with the small ships register. Without a piece of paper with my name on it, it will be difficult going anywhere. I’m confined to St Martin until I concede to the rules of the state. I resent this obligation. And, as usual, there is a fee involved; another form of extortion however minor.

Since being here, I’ve not had to show my ID or prove my paper existence to anyone. Only within the borders of St Martin do I have a sense of freedom. So the reality is that the only freedom we experience exists only in which level of imprisonment we choose. A permit or certificate merely releases us to the next level.

Theoretically, I can sail round the island without checking out at the harbour office but I will still be vulnerable to checks from the coast guard. €300 is a good collar for the Gendarmes – Modern piracy: better than working for a living eh?

Each time we bow to the state as an individual we lose a little bit of power and freedom as a collective. These individual acts gradually reinforce our bonds to a global faceless authority. So do I become a hypocrite to gain access to the sea or do I stick to my principles and risk the consequences? Do I give the bullies my dinner money or do I get beaten up after school? same thing.

Chances are I’ll just pay up for the pleasure of being listed on some database in exchange for an easy life today, as we all do, and then leave it to my children to sort out the Orwellian legacy to which this seemingly harmless act inevitably leads.

Deb’s Rock


Descending from Glee with a soft thud of my old walking boots breaking the dawn silence on the dinghy hull, I tilt the outboard to get the propeller out of the water, deploy the oars and gently row away toward a clearing by the two tugs moored near Mount Fortune.

The morning is still, with hardly a ripple on the lagoon. There’s no-one else around, I could be the only man on Earth in this moment. The ‘slip, slop’ of the the oars stirring the water’s surface massages my mind for the few minutes it takes to reach the shallows. It’s a temporary relief from the pain of tragic news of the sudden passing of a close friend and lover.

The Sun had not yet risen but was now painting the tops of the cotton-candy clouds a new-born pink. Today is the dawn following the vernal equinox. The Sun had crossed the Equator confirming the end of the long British winter and on it’s way north to dry out my homeland and to turn up the heat in the Caribbean. I had felt happy to have escaped the cold and damp alone, but today I felt like I’d abandoned a treasured friend.

The water here looks about 3 inches deep but the dinghy’s draft is shallow enough to clear the bottom and I reach the cluster of rocks protruding from the shallows. The rocks are unyielding and solidly support my weight to keep my boots dry as I step across to land. The trunk of a nearby shrub offers the perfect mooring point.  It doesn’t cross my mind to use the lock and cable. I leave it unlocked.

If this land is private, I don’t care. We all belong to the land, the land belongs to no-one. Ownership is an illusion created by men and supported only by a collective belief.

I didn’t sleep well last night. Grief, guilt, regret, memories and thoughts of lost opportunities sprout out of the shock of unexpected loss. I think of all the things left unsaid, projects left unfinished and dreams left unfulfilled.

Glee is only about a hundred metres south of me but, even this close, gives the impression to be too small to be a home for anyone. The branches of the shrubs are low but thin and easily brushed aside as I turn to move inland. Within a dozen strides, grassland opens up before me.

This is not Britain; there are no badgers and hedgehogs here so what sort of creatures lurk beneath the undergrowth? I take a stick and sweep the knee high grass as I walk in order to disturb any snakes or whatever might be startled upon my sudden arrival. The vista is not so different from places I’ve been back home and reminds me of our stealth camping adventures around Britain. My throat starts to tighten and squeezes tears up to my eyes over the memories.

I bear left into the woodland. The trees are not as dense as they appear from the water and I easily crouch and duck my way through the woods and over the rise toward the rock at the end of the peninsula. Apart from some discarded boat batteries and beer bottles as I walk along the incline, the place seems unspoiled by civilisation and the land soon levels out to a clearing on a leafy Plateau.


Through the branches of the trees I can see the boats on the lagoon but I myself am concealed from sight. Deb would have loved hanging out here. It would be places like this on our travels that we’d cook up a meal, read, doze in the hammock and quietly repack the van before moving on. These places were never a destination and we rarely visited the same place twice. Yes, we both would have loved spending some time here. I continue on, for today I have a purpose: to conquer Mount Fortune in the memory of Deb.

I arrive at the foot of the eastern side of the rock and look up, the climb looks too steep and the footholds too far apart so I edge around to the north to find an easier route. The western side beckons me to the summit, not so steep and with plenty of footholds; some steps were a stretch but it was neither difficult or dangerous.


The sun had cleared the eastern hills and had beaten me to the summit. No matter, standing next to the cellphone mast, looking across to all points of the lagoon. I see the whole of the Dutch side to the south, the Lowlands to the west and, to the north, I make out Fort Louis at Marigot and even the island of Anguilla beyond. The view is spectacular. Below me, a small dinghy carves a white line into the dark blue water.  The livening easterly wind turns the faces of the yachts into the sun in unison, as if to present them for worship at its arrival.


I wander around the mast taking photographs and eventually settle on a rock. The sun slowly escapes the hills and I take time to indulge my random thoughts.

Call it what you like, this is now ‘Deb’s Rock.’ If I had been the first Westerner here, ‘Deb’s Rock’ would be printed on every chart and map in the world. But this is the 21st century. What’s left to be discovered for us in this world? Wherever we go today, the towels are already on the deckchairs…

Grief comes in waves; in peaks and troughs. But unlike the ocean you can’t see them coming, you can only feel the effect as they pass. Here on the summit, I feel numb inside but I know this won’t last. The brain chatters like a waterfall, the heart surges like an ocean swell in a gale and the stomach knots up like a seasick passenger.

I’d stay here all day but what would be the point? I’d done what I set out to do. I’ve admired the beauty of the world and digested the experience. What’s left is all internal and I can take it with me back to Glee.

My own life is not yet done. Each day is a bonus. A bonus that Deb no longer has. If it were possible, I’d trade some of my time to have her sharing this day with me now; or the last few weeks on Glee; one more chance to get her out of the house that, on one hand, held so many good memories for her and her family, plus sustained her with an income, yet ultimately became a prison for her soul…

But these thoughts are futile. Whatever I would have done differently, it still would never have felt enough in the end. And if our choices happen to lead us to a path of self sacrifice then that’s no good to anyone.

Nevertheless, I feel I’ve somehow missed an opportunity for us both and I can change nothing about it now except change the feeling itself.

I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. (Ho’oponopono: ancient Hawaiian healing prayer)


Tip of the day: Live each day like it may be your last because someday you’ll be right.


In Memory of Debbie Bulman:

2nd July 1961 – 21st March 2016

Billy Folly


I bring the dinghy into Palapa dinghy dock cutting the engine early, drifting the last few feet on a light following breeze. I lock it to the rail, grab my backpack and step out onto the quayside. I’m the first of our group at Vesna Taverna for our regular Sunday morning breakfast but our usual table and the neighbouring tables are taken.

I turn around and sit at the picnic table outside under a palm tree and take out my notepad and pen to start some kind of to-do list for the day. Instead, I start to sketch a redesign for the layout of Glee. Mike walks in, barefoot as usual. I wonder how he deals with the the shards of glass along the side of the road. His soles must be like leather. I can barely walk along gravel without looking like an impression of a pigeon. I stuff my things back into the bag and join him at the bar just as Jaco and Johan from Atlantech Divers roll up and we quickly grab our regular table now that it had been vacated. Mason arrives as we are about to order and we set about simply enjoying each other’s company in a shared meal.

Mason and Mike have so much to say, I end up listening in fascination most of the time. How can these people know so much? Boat life is perfect for reading and working stuff out. Our boats are little sanctuaries of peace, study and tranquillity.  Glee still needs some work but is patiently waiting for the end of my ‘non-doing’ phase. There is a dilemma here that work is going to cost while leisure is free; it’s the opposite of having a job where work usually means income.

Our two hour breakfast quickly passes and I ponder what to do for the three hours before the Mexican Train Dominoes starts at Little Jerusalem. I hadn’t played it before but I heard the game broadcast on the VHF Radio Net for cruisers around the lagoon. Besides, it’s an opportunity to make new contacts.

Mike points East down Airport Road and suggests exploring the road to the South that joins next to Burger King. Tick, next… that will be at least an hour taken care of.

It’s hot along the roadside and the shops and cafes both shield the breeze and trap the Sun’s heat and I feel the sweat building between my back, t-shirt and Cabin Max backpack. This bag was designed for airports, not hiking in the tropics.

In the shade at the Burger King Junction. My cheap and cheerful tourist map shows that the road loops round the shore in an elongated circuit or fizzles out indeterminately. When I look around, I see one road that veers off at thirty degrees South of East and another that seems to turn back on itself to the South West, which has to be the one that follows the shore further down.

These thin soled deck shoes are not made for walking but Mike’s bare feet return to mind. These will do nicely. The road winds around and up and down quaint palm tree fringed resorts, cafes and casinos. The resorts and time-shares hint toward retirement homes rather than holiday accommodation. People must come here for relaxation rather than activity.  It’s a different feel to the main drag through Simpson Bay.


A green iguana and I startle each other and it races off down the side-walk with it’s comedy waddling gait along the foot of a wall looking for cover, by the time I take out my camera, it’s barely visible beneath the palm tree on the lawn around the end of the wall. I rest for 5 minutes removing my pack and cap to cool down.

There’s rumour of a breeze, which is faintly heard in this neighbourhood. I get a glance from a man in a small white Hyundai as he approaches the junction and turns left up the hill. It must look as if I’m waiting for a lift or something. There’s no-one around and nothing at this junction apart from private apartments and time-shares, gleaming white in their immaculate paint under the tropical sun, and closely cropped lawns.

I stride economically up the hill in the wake of the white Hyundai and in the dappled shade of the palm trees feeling no cooler than before. I turn right continuing uphill to the peak of Billy Folly. There’s nobody on the streets, cars are in drives and wrought iron gates with security intercoms are closed.

The road is steep and eventually, the surface changes to a shale track and starts to level out through shrubs and short trees but there are no signs or gates restricting access. At the end of the track is a turning area, service building and storage tank. It appears to be a dead end. A finely worn groove hints is the clue that the route to the peak skirts a twenty metre diameter holding tank and up through some shrubs. Before I know it I’m on top of a slab of white pumice presented fully to the fifteen knot cooling easterly trade wind and a perfect view of the island from Cole Bay to Anguilla, 9 miles North of St Martin. To the south is an expanse of royal blue ocean flecked with flashing white horses. The place is beautiful. I can see the whole of the lagoon,  the giant yachts in the lagoon marinas below me, Glee at the foot of Mount Fortune just over the causeway, Marigot and Fort Loius beyond, the white buildings of Anguilla toward the horizon and the KLM 747 over at Princess Julianna Airport preparing for its departure for Amsterdam. An unexpected pleasure on this Sunday… what time is it?

After taking some pictures I make my way back down the hill, I wasn’t expecting this outing so I didn’t have any water with me. I feel hot and tired as I start to dehydrate. I slow a little and distract myself with the scenery. Twenty minutes later I’m perched on a stool at the Buccaneer Beach Bar and order a glass of iced water and a bottle of Presidente lager. No rush.

Manchester City are playing Manchester United on the flat screen behind the bar; echoes of a former existence. The faces of the football fans look milky white from the long British winter. Twelfth January I left the UK but it seems like a year. I’d packed light for a two month air-conditioned stay in Houston and I look incongruous in salt stained deck shoes, heavy jeans and navy coloured t-shirt. I’m hot and in need of some shorts and sandals.

Downing the water, I suck on the ice cubes and think of Debbie; of our summer travels around the southern counties of England and our winter escapes in Egypt. As beautiful as this location is, it loses some of its lustre without the sharing of it. I see someone approach out of the corner of my eye. Moving my backpack off the stool, a man sits next to me with a nod of thanks. I nod back but we don’t speak. The condensation runs down the beer bottle like a cold sweat.


I sip at my beer as he half watches the football over the top of a bar menu, I guess it must be lunch time. I quietly finish my beer, don my cap and backpack and shuffle along the soft sandy beach like some sort of displaced time traveller…

I’m late for the Dominoes…

Thought for the day: You can’t really plan for adventure since adventure lives in the ‘not yet known,’ which means having to overcome the fear of uncertainty.  Embracing uncertainty is the route to the life you dream of and all its treasures along the way.



The seabed in the lagoon has a gentle slope up to the beach at Great Key, a small island in the lagoon unofficially known as Explorer Island, which means I have to step out of the dinghy into the water before I reach the shore. What is this growth under the water, does it sting? I don’t want to get my shoes wet. I step barefoot out of the bow and I pull the Dinghy up to the sandy beach – all’s well. The small beach faces west and is enclosed by shrubs that make it fairly private. A wrecked wooden fishing boat lies 20 metres to the south in the water as does a cosy looking barbecue area, under a single palm tree, separated by the waterline. If I wasn’t alone, I’d be making more a more leisurely use of this hideaway.


The sun is quickly gaining in ferocity since I failed to set off at dawn for taking advantage of the most comfortable temperatures. What is it, about 10.30? It must be 80F/26C in the shade already.

I unload the dinghy placing the fuel tank into the shade of a shrub on the beach, take off the outboard and flip the dinghy upside down half in the water and half up the beach. The cooling water on my feet counteracts the effects of wearing a black t-shirt in direct sun.

There are not many weeds but lots of barnacles across the hull. Oxalic acid and a wipe, the Google search told me. Spraying the oxalic acid got the sea lice scurrying from under cover of the weed and the bottle only just about covered the hull.

“I want to clean the underside of my dinghy” I said to the folks at Budget Marine. “You need this.” handing me a giant green scotch-bright pad.  The weeds wiped off fairly easily but the barnacles were stubbornly ripping the pad to pieces. The oxalic acid hadn’t touched them at all. They were still welded to the hull.

The edge of a screwdriver was slow but effective. rotating my cap to shield the sun from burning my neck, I set about dislodging the shellfish. A sweeping sideways movement of the screwdriver shaft dislodged 80% of them but the other 20% needed a diligent chiselling motion to avoid the screwdriver going through the soft fabric.

Thirty minutes later, I was onto the outboard. The outboard is heavy and I am feeble through inactivity but I find an old Mercury outboard cover used as a seat in the barbecue area and invert it to use as a cradle. On the end of the leg, just above the propeller is a delta wing. Underneath the wing was a wing shaped colony of barnacles with no view remaining of the surface they clung to. Patient chiselling with the screwdriver cleared it in about 20 minutes and another 5 minutes on the propeller had that clear too. It was hot work and I had soon finished my water bottle. After reassembling the outboard and reloading the dinghy, I steered out into the lagoon. I was on the leeward side of the island so the water was almost mirror flat. I’d earned myself a reward and started off toward the causeway and then south to the Dinghy Dock to get something to eat. The dinghy was up on the plane in no time and skimmed along the surface like a pebble across a pond, what a difference. How much fuel had I been wasting by dragging this sea life around with me?

Out of the lee of the island I was against the wind on a rough chop which made the extra speed bouncing from crest to crest with the dinghy  contents jumping up and down uncomfortable and dangerous. Three quarter throttle was just about right for the rest of the way.

Cafe Atlantico is a French bakery on Airport Road, Simpson Bay. Approaching the cafe, Mike from Quinn spots me passing the neighbouring mini-mart and calls out from the check out. The attention from people makes me feel popular and I spend enough time alone to enjoy company when it’s available and gladly amble together with Mike onto the cafe’s wooden veranda. The breeze is perfect for helping me cool down. I take off my cap and put it on my lap to feel the cooling effect of the sweat evaporate from my forehead into the breeze.

For $10, I get a carton of coconut water to quickly rehydrate myself and wait for my Mexican omelette to arrive. Mike had already eaten so he sips iced tea and updates me on his latest project whilst watching me eat. Somehow, being watched feels uncomfortable and I find myself eating faster than usual.

Mike’s an interesting guy: a single-handed transatlantic sailor who alternates between St Maarten and the Canaries each season. He created the Nimble Navigator Navstick which is a USB stick that plugs into a laptop and contains a GPS and all the charts of the world so you can see and plot your position in real time from your computer. He was telling me about his new project of integrating Automatic Identification System (AIS) which shows ships in the vicinity of VHF range. Collision in the ocean from freighters is a serious risk so having ships visible on your plotter is a big bonus when you’re out in the ocean. His claims of laziness aren’t well founded – he just does what interests him to generate an income from his peeling boat, which doesn’t include painting. Whereas, I think about what might interest me for no income at all, which also doesn’t include painting. I win.

Tip for the day: As soon as you’re aware of procrastinating just do one small thing for five minutes to stop the barnacles from dragging on your mental to-do list. Do it if it’s likely to get worse with time, delegate it if necessary. Ditch it if it isn’t important but whatever you do, get back to living a life you love. And if you aren’t doing that then you need to find out what that is and start navigating toward it.

Check Mate


Monday,  a rainy day in paradise. I’m laid out in the fore-peak getting online stuff done while the rain drops beat a drum-roll on the hatch. It’s a comfortable 75 F (24 C) although it feels muggy with it. I’ve been collecting water off the awning into my 25 litre canisters. I doubt there is any pollution to worry about here but need to be careful of bacteria if I keep it for very long.

Saturday was the monthly flea market at Time Out Boat Yard (TOBY). The previous night’s rain had deposited a few gallons of water in the dinghy which needed to be bailed before setting off. Also the slow air leak needed compensation with the pump to firm up the chambers. This would be the furthest trip I’d made since fixing the carb problem in Port de Plaisance. It was a pretty stiff east north-easterly across the open northern part of the lagoon and any breakdown here would have see me blown out to the western side of the lagoon near the airport.

The motor was sounding sweet but the choppy waves were slapping the starboard side of the Dinghy and giving me a soaking. Moving to the port side gave me the feeling that any gusts under the starboard might flip me over. The other thing with switching sides is that the throttle control feels awkward since using the left hand on the starboard side rolls it backwards to accelerate while the right hand on the port side rolls it forwards. The whole thing feels reversed.  I settled for crouching low in the centre of the dinghy. Uncomfortable but not far to go.

It was gone ten by the time I got round to embarking on this outing and people at TOBY looked like they were already to wind down but there were still lots of interesting items available. I had a bit of a casual browse. I spotted Des from the night on the catamaran on a metre squared stall selling his Irish Coffees – he’s a specialist, that was his only product. He told me that Irish Coffee has the four major food groups: sugar, caffiene, alcohol and fat. Sounds like a fair breakfast, so I bought one. Does a good job of lightening the head on a warm, sunny Saturday morning.

After dumping my trash and happily discovering a glass recycling container, I was on my way back to Glee. A dip in the lagoon and a quick shower after lunch was a great reviver physically and mentally.  I’ve been here a month now and this tropical paradise has become almost as normal to my senses as mowing the lawn and driving to work in the 8.40am drizzle used to be. It’s clear that I didn’t just buy a boat here, I bought a whole new lifestyle in a ready made community. This part came without a price tag but is probably the most valuable part of the whole deal.

Saturday afternoon was chess at Little Jerusalem. A great excuse for sitting with people for long periods without having to say a word apart from “Sorry, is it my go?” I hadn’t played chess for years but I enjoyed it. Won one, lost one but both games were fun and I got to know some more salty sea dogs.

Skimming across the lagoon, I looked down at the basket where I keep my things out of the bilge: empty. I had bought some almonds, crisps and a baguette. They were still on the dock where I had been preoccupied with untying the dinghy without blowing into the shore. I couldn’t just leave it since my wallet and phone were in the same bag. Technically, the bag hadn’t left my line of sight but if anyone wanted to, they could have walked off with it while I observed from a safe distance while returning to the dock from the water. If I have a system of checking I have everything with me, it doesn’t work very well.

Sunday at breakfast, we were talking about the ideal model of Government and it was settled on that individual self-governance would probably be the best. All other governing models force the will of the majority, dictator or oligarchy upon the rest. We seem to have self-governance here in the lagoon. Technically, we are under French jurisdiction but they leave us alone. We are all individuals that do their own thing without interfering with the rights of others but if anyone runs into trouble, the community kicks in to come to their aid. This is the free-est I’ve felt since I was 4 years old, when ‘the law’ said I had to go to school or else. This model only probably works below a certain size threshold before it breaks down and society becomes vulnerable to corrupt and greedy  power hungry sociopaths, but why not have millions of small communities like this? Power hungry psychos can’t get a foothold in small communities. The rocks are too small for the cockroaches to hide under.

I remember things being similar in my grandmothers village in the late 60s early 70s. If anyone was up to no good, everybody knew about it. I hadn’t felt this gradual erosion of community  before, which brings me gratitude for the life I have now. All this could change tomorrow; a security crack-down, Fees being levied and regulated for mooring, US invasion? Time to be grateful here and now.

Thought for the Day: What would your dream life look like if you chose it today, and if you traded your current life for that dream, what would you miss about the life you have now?

Port de Plaisance

port de Plaisance

The mission for today? Get some parts for the outboard and start replacing worn items. Toward the end of the morning broadcast of St Maarten’s radio net on the VHF, Mason on ‘Out of Africa’ announced he was off to Budget Marine straight after the net, I could ask him for a lift, so I quickly got dressed and I gave him a radio call. No answer. He wasn’t kidding when he said ‘straight after’, I could see him through my port hole. That was him in the distance climbing into his dinghy.

It was a leisurely row downwind to Port de Plaisance, it’s not that far, perhaps half a mile. Tying up on the northern corner of the marina under the watchful gaze of two Iguanas, I climbed out and made my way down quayside. I was parched already. I had prepared a bottle of filtered water but left it on the galley counter and the day was warming up quickly. It was only about 10am and I was making my palm tree shaded, looping way along the drive of the marina to the main road. I didn’t realize the road was so far away from the shore and, turning right, I still had a distance to go to get to the chandlers.

A happy discovery along the way was the Carrefour supermarket. Dropping my backpack in a shopping trolley, I slowly wandered up and down the aisles, flapping my t shirt to dry my back where the pack had been restricting ventilation. Carrefour’s air conditioning plus chilling out in the chilled food area did the trick nicely. Buying a bottle of water,  abandoning the shopping trolley and donning the back pack, the next stop was 5 minutes down the road at Ace Hardware. More free cool air, free toilets and cheap hose clips.

Both the chandlers, Budget Marine and Island Waterworld, are next to Lagoonies Bistro and Bar so I settled there for an hour, sipping iced mint, browsing the internet and catching up on email. The beauty or curse of my life here is that there is virtually no time frame to get things done. One day can run into the next. If the dinghy isn’t repaired today then maybe the next day. Even though I was on a self imposed mission, I was enjoying the walk, the exploration and resting in the breezy shade of Lagoonies. Really there isn’t any work or play, it is all life. Employment installs the illusion of this separation.

Island Waterworld is a Santa’s Grotto of boat parts and yachty stuff. They are not cheap since the number of boats that come to this part of the island means that the law of supply and demand is well in the merchants favour, and the presence of ‘tax haven’ registered super-yachts means that a good proportion of their customers are reasonably well off.

Neither chandlers had the gasket or the diaphragm: a simple paper ring and piece of plastic film, but they did have the carburettor repair kit which included those two parts for $115. I settled for an in-line fuel filter and a can of carburettor cleaner spray and kept the $115 in my bank account.

I made my way back to the marina via Carrefour, to stock up on some groceries and grab some lunch from their buffet counter. Lunch was a picnic in the shade of a palm tree in the marina grounds, squinting at the white boats, basking in the sun on their pontoons.

Through the steel gates, nodding to the security guard I made my way back along the quayside to the dinghy. Breaking out the tools, spray and filter, I set about taking the carburettor apart again. I could almost do it with my eyes shut by now. My spectators were the yacht owner where I’d tied up near almost under his bow and a large Iguana at his feet. Buchi was a Harbour Pilot and the Iguana was no relation; it was wild and came to the boat looking for food. After giving me some advice and some distracting entertainment, Buchi left to collect his kids from school.

I gave the carburettor a good spray in every nook and cranny and reassembled everything within 10 minutes. My plan was to get as far as possible and as close to the shore as possible. The shelter from the wind that the shore provided would make rowing back to Glee a bit quicker and easier, and perhaps I’d be out of hailing distance from Buchi when he came back.  As it happened, the motor started after a few pulls and revved higher and smoother that it had since it broke down. The best part was that it  kept on going all the way back to Glee. I was home in 5 minutes. Whatever the problem, the spray had probably flushed it out of one of the narrow channels between the jets in the carburettor.

It’s such a rewarding feeling having a problem solved by your own hands. Not only did I save money but I learned a great deal about this outboard motor that I would never have done if someone else had fixed it for me.

Tip for the day: Try one thing new today. Something that has an uncertain outcome. Drive a route you’ve never driven before without using your Sat Nav. Try some food you’ve never tasted before. Try fixing something you think you know nothing about – the internet is a great resource for this sort of thing. Each of these small things build a habit for adventure and personal growth.


Transcending Borders


The Traffic was slow enough that the silver SUV could collect me without pulling over. This was my first time on wheels on St Maarten, or even away from the shores of the lagoon. Looking at the size of the island on a map, you would think you could hop on a bike and cycle round it fairly effortlessly.  The roads are more like a roller coaster around the volcanic hills and, with so much traffic, I wouldn’t want to risk it on these steep, twisty and narrow concrete ribbons.

The change from concrete slabs to European Union characteristic tarmac signalled crossing the border from Dutch to French territory, as we headed inland. The vacant border monument seems purely symbolic.  Two nations controlling a tiny 37 square mile island… How many governments are needed in one place? In practice, we can cross borders at will.

We were late arriving at Quarter D’Orleans but there was plenty of time to explore the possibilities for the future between Lowlands Community Garden and Eco Vie. It was a pretty short meeting but long enough to see our commonalities and to for introductions.

One of our group invited us back to her home in Orient Bay. From the terrace looking Northeast over the palm tops to the Atlantic, a memory returned, this was a scene of a tropical dream I had carried for almost a lifetime. It was just like this: a table and chairs, a roof with open sides; perfect. And somewhere in the direction of my gaze my friends and family were sheltering from the cold, British rain.  It hardly seems like the same world.

During dinner and wine to lay on top of my Little Jerusalem shawarma from earlier on, I realised that none of us shared the same nationality but we all shared something that transcends borders. I can’t explain it  yet but being here in this place, with these people just felt easy.

If there is a secret to life it’s trading the familiar for uncertainty. As tempting as it had been for me to make an excuse to stay on Glee because I wouldn’t be able to row back against the wind. I would have missed this particular experience forever.

Taking the northern route back to Simpson Bay meant that I had completed a lap of the island. It was past 11pm by the time I was dropped at Palapa Marina and I was now standing looking down at my dinghy with the stale pop tunes blasting out of the neighbouring ‘Soggy Dollar Bar’ to a handful of souls that looked either bored, drunk or tired of their search for meaning.

The wind was still keenly out of the Northeast, I couldn’t stay here, it was warm enough outside but too noisy and too busy, The plan? The night was young, let’s get some exercise and row out into the wind and if it became too exhausting then change course for Cole Bay and either stay or hitch a ride from Lagoonies Bar.

Once you start rowing against the wind, a 10 second pause will undo 20 seconds of rowing. I fixed my light and set off for a marathon Gym session on the inflatable rower. I could see by the position of the masts of the boats in the anchorage that I was making headway be it slowly and I was settling into a rhythm against the short choppy waves when I saw another dinghy deviating out of the channel and heading my way. He was a young guy running a charter boat on the French side on his way back to his vessel, and offering a tow back to Glee. He’d seen my light and came out of his way to see if it was anyone in distress. As it turned out, it was me, no more distressed than normal but very grateful for the tow.

I was back to Glee earlier than I expected. I had needed nothing from by bag. What looked like a mini adventure from the outset turned out to be an evening that could hardly have been planned better; all down to perspective… If I wasn’t so full, I would have enjoyed a beer on the deck to complete the experience before turning in but that’s OK, the wind rocking me to sleep was good enough.