The hidden treasures of Barbados
”I waved at him frenetically, both arms waving wildly in the SOS call. When he arrived, I explained that I couldn’t find Chocolate anywhere and he must have gone overboard. ”
Barbados has plenty of hidden treasures, especially under the water in the form of coral. Unlike the rest of the Caribbean islands, which are volcanic in origin, Barbados is made of coral and most of the island is surrounded by coral reefs. In 1820, pirate Sam Lord built his white crenellated mansion, reputedly on the proceeds of ships he plundered by hanging lanterns on his land to draw the ships in, thinking they were entering Bridgetown Harbour. As they approached, they were grounded and battered on the coral reefs just offshore. We went to visit his castle which is now an abandoned eerie shell, which is being converted into a hotel. A quick walk down to the deserted beach gave us a picture of what those poor hoodwinked sailors were up against. Like a castle, there is a fortified wall separating his estate from the beach The force of the wind on this eastern exposed coast has left its imprint on the trees, all of which have branches which are permanently facing west, blown by the wind, giving an asymetrical statement of the power of the wind that would be much admired by Edward Scissorhands. The ominous white breakers just offshore show where the hidden coral would have wrecked the boats for Sam Lord to feast on.
What was bad for the sailors then is very good for the fish. We cycled up to Folkstone Marine Reserve where you can snorkel on the reefs straight off the beach and there we saw a huge variety of colourful and patterned tropical fish feeding on the coral reefs. The reserve is legally a Marine Protected Area run by the National Conservation Commission. The Commission takes the protection of the reefs very seriously. Sailors must get permission to anchor around the island and you can be fined thousands of pounds if you are caught anchoring on the reef. As the coral is eroded it turns into fine white sand. The beaches in Barbados are amazing and varied, from the long white sand stretch of Carlisle Bay, to the pink sand and towering cliffs of Crane Beach. The crashing waves and weird rock formations of Bathsheba to the gentle inlets of Holetown and Speightstown. And the water is warm enough to swim in without a shock to the system.
One Barbadian taking the environment very seriously is Steven Whittaker, proprieter and chef of the Lion’s Share Café. Please listen to our upcoming podcast interview with him as he outlines his commitment to locally grown Bajan food, his sustainably powered and sourced café and shares some delicious Bajan recipes. Steven outlines his life philosophy and the challenges he has had in setting up his business according to his prinicples. We have twice eaten at Steven’s café and it is the best and most unique food we have had in Barbados. This week I also tried a rum punch for the first time - it was delicious with locally grown nutmeg sprinkled on top. We have also been enjoying the variety of fresh juices from fruits we haven’t had before, like soursop. We’ve tried cooking with novel vegetables too, such as breadfruit and manioc which are sold everywhere on the streets.
As you travel around the island you can’t help but notice the colourful bungalows, some wooden. These are known as chattel houses and were originally built by plantation workers to be easily dismantled if they moved to work on a different property, as they did not own the land they were built on. Nowadays many of the houses are built in the same style but with bricks and mortar rather than wood. They retain the individual painted lacy verandahs and contrasting colours on the wood work. One of these houses is the one Rihanna grew up in. We dropped by to the renamed Rihanna Drive on our way back from interviewing Steven to see the house and street where she grew up. There is a monumental plaque to her at one end. Otherwise, it is a normal friendly Barbadian street. A gaggle of young girls giggled on a doorstep as their little dog sprinted madly from one end of the garden the other. On the other side of the road a family of three generations gazed smilingly over their verandah and pointed us to Rihanna’s house. The house was freshly painted in green with maroon woodwork with the Barbadian flag painted across the whole driveway, presumably befitting her status as National Hero of Barbados. A bakery van was stopped in the middle of the road and we picked up some lentil patties to take back to the boat with us.
We’ve had some ups and downs this week. Our dinghy has twice been punctured. The first time we arrived back from a day snorkelling to find the whole front of the dinghy deflated and sinking into the water. Luckily there was a local sailor and fisherman who was able to lend us his pump and then when we discovered a rip, some patches so we could do a temporary fix. Normally you are supposed to wait 24 hours for the glue to dry. We were worried about waiting only an hour especially with the weight of two folding bikes which we did not want to sink into the water halfway back to the boat; in the end, we braved it. I was at the tiller, while Luciano held his hand on the patch in case it wouldn’t hold. As we passed the corner where the fishermen throw their lines, I decided to take a shortcut rather than going further out as we normally do, as I was worried the boat would sink. Bad move. As we proceeded we saw the thin transparent fishing line caught in our propeller. I kept going, desperate to get back to the boat before the dinghy collapsed sinking our precious bikes with it. Luckily the outboard kept going and the dinghy remained inflated until we got back. We lifted it on board the boat so it could dry out overnight.
The next morning bright and early we went up on deck to try and do a proper repair on the dinghy. As we were working on the patch in the sunshine, a fellow sailor, Klaus, who is handily an electrical engineer from a nearby catamaran came by on his paddleboard to offer his help with our electrics. We had noticed our watermaker had been pumping really slowly. We had thought it was a problem with lubrication, but when that didn’t solve the issue, then we thought it was a mechanical issue with the pump. Then it stopped working altogether. We tested the anchor windlass which it is wired up with and that was also not working so then we realised it was an electrical issue. Klaus did a thorough investigation, testing our batteries and the wiring system. Eventually we worked out that the windlass as a heavy power user had been wired to use the engine starting battery in addition to the domestic battery even though we were switched to domestic battery only. As the watermaker which is also in the bow had been wired into the same control box, it turned out we had been draining the starter battery without knowing it. By switching to both batteries, the domestic battery was able to charge up the starter battery through the solar panels. Problem solved and it was a huge relief that it wasn’t a mechanical problem with the watermaker, as it would be a nightmare to try and send it back from here.
After Klaus left, Luciano went paddleboarding while I started some research into where we are going to keep our boat for hurricane season - Trinidad or Grenada. I had all the books out in the shade of the cockpit with a nice gentle breeze wafting through. Descending into the interior of the boat to get another book, I wanted to say hello to the cats. Chocolate was not sleeping on the chart table where he had been earlier. Suki was in her favourite spot by the window in the cabin. I looked in his usual places, but couldn’t see him. I went back on deck to see if he was anywhere, under the dinghy or behind the paddleboards or at the back among the fenders. He was nowhere to be found. Feeling a bit worried now, I started to open compartments to see if he had got trapped somewhere. Starting with the obvious ones which we had had open, the watermaker compartment and the domestic battery compartment. I removed sofa cushions to see if he was in any of our storage compartments; or the wet locker, or the wardrobe. Most of these places are jammed full without space even for a cat, but I felt around anyway to see if he could have squeezed in among clothing. No soft fur to be felt. I looked in less obvious places; the cockpit locker, the engine compartment, the fridge, the food cupboards, where we store our saucepans, plates and cups. No sign of him. By this time I was starting to feel frantic. I went back on deck. Luciano was finally heading back. I waved at him frenetically, both arms waving wildly in the SOS call. When he arrived, I explained that I couldn’t find Chocolate anywhere and he must have gone overboard. Luciano started going round shaking his treats to see if he could hear anything while I started pumping the deflated dinghy which was crumpled sadly on deck waiting for the patch to dry. There was no time to wait, a paddleboard wouldn’t be fast enough. Luciano took over the pumping and we launched it into the water, added the outboard engine and started motoring around Carlisle Bay in the direction of the tide, looking for a little brown bobbing head.
We went over to buoys to see if he could have clambered on one, we motored around nearby yachts asking if anyone had seen him and to search their boat and keep an eye out and radio us if they saw anything. We headed back to the boat. It was getting dark. I grabbed a torch and a lifejacket and decided to go back out in the dinghy to search for him some more as the tide had turned back towards the beach. Luciano stayed on the boat to search for him some more and to see if he could hear him meowing or scratching. I took the dinghy in the dark as far as I could in the direction of the tide, peering closely in the dark at every buoy to see if he could have clung on. I made my way back to the boat to see if Luciano had found him. While I had gone he had even searched in the bilges but no sign and no sound. “We have to go to the beach” I said, in the vain hope that he may have been washed ashore. We filled up the dinghy with more petrol, took flashlights and took the dinghy into town. We walked the whole length of the beach calling his name and shaking his treats. Looking in the undergrowth at any reflections that could be his eyes - they always turned out to be glass bottles; and scanned the water. We knew it was impossible. He had now been missing for hours and the tide would have carried him out to sea. Even if he did make it to shore, his nature as a cat in a strange location meant he would probably just stay hidden. “We have to go back to the boat,” said Luciano. “It’s pitch black, there’s nothing else we can do.” At that point we were desperate and accepting that he had drowned. Both of us silently contemplated what this meant. How could we carry on with sailing after this? How could we leave Barbados without finding him? What were the next steps?
We got to the dinghy. “The Captain”, the local boat owner who had helped us with a dinghy repair kit the night before was sitting there in the darkness. We forlornly told him what had happened. He said there was an RSPCA in Bridgetown, he had just got a puppy so he knew how we felt. Tomorrow we would have to print posters, go to local shelters, all the while knowing that he had almost certainly drowned at sea. We got back to the boat at 9.00pm. Luciano sat hunched over on the floor of the boat, at a total loss; I was sobbing. We went to the bedroom and lay down next to each other, silent and devastated, stroking Suki for comfort. It was 9.15pm. I suddenly realised that I didn’t think I had looked in the starter battery compartment. I had undone the screw and twice looked in the larger domestic battery compartment, but not the smaller compartment for the starter battery. I yanked the velcroed cushions off the seat in the bedroom and lifted the wooden hatch. He lifted up his little furry head like a meercat. “He’s here!” I yelled. I grabbed him in my arms and smothered him with kisses and Luciano did the same. Poor thing had been trapped in the compartment for hours. He ate his dinner and drank lots of water and then lay enjoying the fresh air in the cockpit. He’s the most precious hidden treasure in all of Barbados and we are so relieved we found him.
This week's Vlog.