A Tiny Stowaway
"we saw the little gecko again. It clambered around the Hydrovane pole and then scared by Luciano’s movements, it dropped into the water..."
Greetings from Antigua! We managed to get everything done to launch on Tuesday 10th January as planned. As I went into the boatyard office to pay the final installment, Luciano was on the boat as it was launched into the water. When I returned, he was on the boat, which was being controlled by four ropes handled by the boatyard workers. As I looked across the water at him, I noticed a tiny stowaway against the white of the deck - a little lizard or gecko. I didn’t think they could swim, so thought we might have to take him, or her ashore by dinghy at some point. Anyway, they pulled Matusadona close into the dock and I could step onboard. Our final worry was whether the engine would start and it did! We spent a day on the marina pontoon so that we could sort out the final crucial elements before taking off. First, reattaching the mainsail; then pumping up the dinghy to catch the bus into town to clear out of customs and immigration of Grenada. Then a rush back to collect our headsail from where it had been left for minor repairs back in July. We also had to get back to see the installment of our bimini and mesh curtains and pay the company. They did a great job and this will provide much needed shade in our cockpit. We rehoisted the headsail and were pretty much set. Just a final check of our passage plan and the weather and we thought we were good to go the next day.
It all felt very rushed, but we had arranged to meet my family in Antigua and also to stop to meet our friend Susan, who we had met the previous year in Union Island. If you listened to our podcast episode with her from last year, you will remember that she is a community activist and entrepreneur, who has set up a restaurant in Chatham Bay, Union Island (the southernmost of the St Vincent Grenadine islands). Stopping off would also give us an opportunity to check that everything was functioning properly before heading out on the three day passage to Antigua. As we left Grenada, the sun came out and we saw the island engulfed in rainclouds. It had been very wet there, which made doing some of the work like the antifouling a bit of a challenge. However, this is why they say Grenada is so fertile you can put a stick in the ground and it will start producing some beautiful fruit or other. Still, it was nice to head back out into the sunshine. So far, so good. Everything seemed to be working well and we could still remember what to do after all those months away. It was a long but lovely day with blue waves, moderate winds and bright sunshine. Flying fish and seabirds splashed around and we even saw a rainbow.
As evening approached, we made it to Chatham Bay just as the light was fading. We anchored not far from the beach. We waited a little while to check the anchor, as there was no wind at all and all the boats were spinning in different directions. Satisfied with our position, we pumped up the dinghy in the dark and headed over to Susan’s Sunn Dipp in Paradise Bar and Restaurant. She was waiting for us on the beach in the dark and guided us to the small sandy patch to dismount from the dinghy and greeted us with a big warm hug. When we met her less than a year ago, her beachfront restaurant had only just opened and was small and simple. Over the past few months, she and her new partner, Rocksteady, have put in a huge amount of work expanding the area, rebuilding, wiring and installing a generator so there are lights at night. Susan has painted some beautiful murals on the front. She showed us her garden around the back where she is growing lots of her own vegetables, salads and herbs. The first time I have seen okra growing! Ever environmentally conscious, she has huge water butts and piping running all across the restaurant to collect rainwater for her garden; Union Island does not get the rain like Grenada does. She has reused all plastic wrappers and plastic bottles as plant pots for her herbs and salads and the glass bottles are used as a picturesque border for her flower garden. We caught up over some beers and a plate of vegan Caribbean food - large flat dumplings, beans stew, fried plantain and vegetables. Chatham Bay is completely isolated - this is part of its charm, all the restaurants are right on the beach on publically owned land, unconnected by roads unless you climb up the steep unpathed hill at the back. For this reason, all their trade comes from visiting yachts. Unfortunately, Susan and Rocksteady, told us, most people don’t go onland here, they stay on their boats. This seems such a shame. I’m sure the restaurants in the big tourist areas are well frequented by visiting yachts and to be frank, these well connected tourist hotspots are less in need of sailors’ money than places that are entirely dependent on yachts. Yes the beachfront restaurants in Chatham Bay are simple, but you cannot get a better location. They make authentic Caribbean food and here you can make genuine friends with local people. We have stayed in touch with Susan and Alex (the local historian) since we have been away. Susan plans to expand her offerings, such as a laundry service to visiting boats, so hopefully business will pick up. They have only been reopened for three weeks after all.
The next morning, we saw Susan waving at us with a white cloth. We waved back. We had to get on and leave for our two and a half days’ passage to Antigua. We deflated the dinghy again and folded it away. As we attached our hydrovane rudder and wind vane to the structure, we saw the little gecko again. It clambered around the Hydrovane pole and then scared by Luciano’s movements, it dropped into the water. I was scared it would drown, so we looked for it in the water. There it was, skating on top, little ripples around its feet. It floated away from us towards the beach, alternately doing a scrabbling style of paddle and water gliding. Hopefully it made it ashore! With that, we hauled up the anchor and started our three day’s passage to Antigua.
This is the first multi day passage we’ve done since crossing the Atlantic. It was a great passage actually; the Hydrovane worked wonderfully to steer us according to the wind. It was fun to see the islands we visited last year at a distance - first the little Grenadine Islands, then St Vincent, St Lucia and Martinique. Finally we passed the leeward islands we haven’t been to yet - Dominica and Guadeloupe. Each time we passed one of the larger islands, even though we were some way out to sea, the wind dropped, blocked by the island and the sea was calmer. In the channel between each island we had a fresh breeze again. The first night shift was long and by the second, I was so nauseous by the tiredness and motion of the waves that I took a seasickness pill. That helped - I felt even more tired but that was better than feeling sick. The passage was quiet, with occasional ships but no hairy moments thankfully. We had a few minor squalls along the way but the main was well reefed and we just adjusted the headsail as needed.
Two and a half days later we had made it into Antigua and anchored in Falmouth Harbour in the late afternoon. We raised our yellow quarantine flag and homemade Antigua courtesy flag and felt tired but elated. We had made it here in plenty of time to meet my family, who are arriving this week.
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