Just before Easter, Anjès and I fly back again to Guadeloupe for a short vacation. The war against the Mussulmen is making every customs officer extremely vigilant. There is amongst others things a high pressure hose in our baggage. Already before our departure, I personally thought that the pipe piece suspiciously looked like the barrel of a sten gun. But no matter how much I jiggle and push the “barrel” remains sticking out of our baggage. The rags that I wrap around it only appear to make it much worse. And as such I have to provide an explanation at four airports. And because that doesn’t help I have to unpack my suitcase and put my deodorant and my boxer shorts on display at each airport. My contribution to the fight against Muslim terrorism.
In addition to this, the baggage also includes tins of polyester resin, steel thread, terminals and other rust free metal material to enable you to carryout repairs yourself. But mainly books and factor 15.
The Breeze appears to be lying fine upon arrival. We are greeted heartily by various acquaintances and swap news and tidbits.
On Easter Sunday our French friends Chantal and Michel announce off-hand that they are going to make a small sailing trip to iles des Saints. It sounds like there is an invitation in there somewhere. We are sitting unwashed and sleepy from our jetlag having breakfast and our day is still our own. Rent bicycles, read a book in the tub cockpit, finish the job from yesterday, everything is still possible. Why throw everything overboard to go sailing now? Yet we do it. The first step concerning our fear of sailing with just the two us would be taken and we can also make use of their local knowledge. Within ten minutes we have cast off and are on our way to Iles des Saints. Already in the harbour the Breeze seems sluggish and her handling heavy because of the growth. We also miss the genoa jib because that was lowered and stowed away in January. We have to do with the cutter jib. Because of this their “Elena” leaves us for dead in the water. After two and a half hours of sailing she disappears in the distance in the Bay of Terre d’en Basse. They hail us but our knowledge of French does not make conversing by VHF easy. We take bearings of the rocks and a half hour later we find her. The water is twelve meters deep and the whole of our anchor chain is thrown out. Michel has already dropped anchor and comes towards us snorkeling. It is not only our hull that has growth, the propeller also has a lot of growth. Coquilles! Michels points out. Using a filler-knife together we prize the worst of them off. It appears that coquilles are crazy about the Dutch environmentally friendly anti growth paint.
The siesta hours are passed by both crews going snorkeling. The Elena catch six sea urchin and a fairly good sized sea turtle. The faith of the last beast is ok: posing for a photo and then being observed swimming away. For the sea urchins it is a lot worse. We have been invited to dine aboard the Elena and they appear to be on the menu as appetizer. Michel casually cuts through the spikes on the underside and shows us how to spoon out the orange substance on the inside. Ninety-nine per cent of this little spiky God’s creature is carelessly thrown overboard after this. “Delicieux n’cest pas!?”, he calls out delighted. Uuh…c’est très spéciale …. we answer politely. There follows many courses of native delicacies whereby we gradually have to be less guarded with our politeness. Wine from the Medoc has been specially flown in and one thing is certain: sea urchins make you very thirsty. That’s why towards the end of the day we swim drunkenly back to the Breeze that lies at anchor a hundred meters further up. Deep down below us are rocks teeming with sea urchins, who are missing some family members, that glare back up at us.
The conversation in our own tub cockpit at evening time is about St. Anthony who, as we learned at school, is said to have loved animals and flowers so much that he spent whole days talking to them. And through them to his Maker. But what we just realize is that we at that time never learnt how this saint in the name of God filled his stomach!
Could you pity sea urchins and not eat them, but yet without guilt, for example, polish off haddock. My loving wife thinks in any case that sea turtles should be given leniency, as they can live to a hundred and fifty years and look at you so cutely. And they feel so warm in that cold water. I sympathize with these thoughts but am hindered by a certain dogmatism. Or to stop moaning and declare everything that walks, flies, swims and hangs from branches edible. We have been doing this for thousands of years and if we hadn’t been doing this we would not be here now. Or to conclude that a new millennium has arrived and that we can no longer, like cannibals, eat up our co-inhabitants of this planet. And as such establish an animals rights charter. But then for every animal. And then no extra privileges for baby seals because they are so huggable or for sea turtles because they live to be so old. But then if we do this, what are we in heaven’s name going to eat? I don’t fancy eating for the rest of life, soybeans. And thus it again appears: jede konzekwentz führt zur teufel.
Apartment Breeze II
“It’s all about winning”, I read on a T-shirt when we are having a snack sitting on a terrace after Easter. A blond head is sticking out of the neck of it and in his wake another more blonder head. It does not seem very risky to approach them speaking English and not French. They are Swante and Ulf and are from Sweden. Swante was the skipper on the sister ship of the Assa Embloy. Ulf is his shipmate. They belong just like us to the family of the crossers and have the same biotope as us. We tell them to pull up two chairs and in no time swap our experiences. They are sailing in a narrow thirty-six footer. They sailed from Sweden in a snowstorm last November and left overtime because of a job that got out of hand. After that they had, in between Portugal and Tenerife, southerly winds of up to fifty-seven knots where they had to lay by for a long time. But they are now already months here in paradise. Yes, Trinidad is a good place for repairs. Yes, the carnival is wild. No, they couldn’t enter the harbour here with their draught of 2.30 m and they are lying just at the roadstead at anchor. No, the customs at Guadeloupe and Martinique is not in the least difficult. No, the dinghy can be better kept onboard at night with regards to theft. On Cape Verde they had to buy back their own dinghy because according to the locals it had drifted away during the night and they had rescued it.
At home such exchanging of information is called a refresher course, study days are paid for by the employer, that is, after you have at least asked him in triplicate and accredited congresses are recorded in your personal files. Here a mild deregulation is prevalent. We talk the night away and they appear to have the same literary taste as us. They also have read all eleven parts of Captain Hornblower and we alternately summon up with ease incidents from the book Rode Orm. They have only never heard of the ship’s journal of Bontekoe. Has not this ever been translated into Swedish? This seems to me to be a lapse by the Duch Ministry of UGNT (Upholding our Glorious Naval Tradition).
The next day we go with a little dread to the customs office with our ship’s papers. We entered Guadeloupe on 1 January but we avoided checking in then. It was the Christmas holidays and at the time we were at their door they were closed. But we were a bit lax as we did not go everyday after that to see if they were open.
The day before yesterday at Easter they were again closed and yesterday they were seen but we again met with a closed door. Today the door is finally open but we are now four months too late. We heard a story in the harbour from someone about sailors who had sailed from St. Lucia to St. Vincent and along the way had dropped anchor for a couple of nights and had to answer for that because the trip duration did not match the data of the checking in and out through customs.
The form that is now shoved under my nose does not allow for any half truths. I confess and put on my most friendly face. The man shows no emotion concerning my negligence. Should I fill in January or April for the date of arrival, I ask? He prefers the first. For the question on crewmembers should I fill the crew from then or the crew from now? He prefers the last. This all carried out according to the credo of the islands: “Pas ni problème”.
A few days later the French ship the Mallory enters our marina and moors next to us. It appears to be a sister ship of the Breeze although to see this you really need to take a good look because it looks so greasy as if has just served as a whaler. But they are excused because they have been three years underway and have now come from Patagonia. “Back from Patagonia”, it could be the title of a book from Melville or from Conrad. And it summons up associations with the roaring forties, with its icebergs and Vuurlanders (inhabitants of Tiera del Fuega).
The skipper tells us that he had heavy weather by Cape Horn but the ship held together fantastically. And this creates a bond. Reason enough to decide that the French, although latecomers, also deserve a modest place in the world’s glorious nautical history.
The spoilt paradise
On 31 August 2003 we fly again, via Paris, back to Point a Pietre in Guadeloupe. We haven’t seen the Breeze for four and a half months and are very curious as to what condition we will find her in. Laurent, our French guide, picks us up at the airport and drives us to the Marina on the west coast of the island. The road through the forests is pitch dark. Despite the lateness of the hour there hangs a heavy sultry heat and we drive with all the windows open. The crickets outside (des grenouilles) are present in their thousands and they are not singing but screeching. They are lowing. We are back in the tropics.
We reach the harbour around midnight. Laurent helps us get our bags onboard and then leaves. When we get onboard and want to open the hatch it doesn’t look good. It is damaged and is open a little bit. We fear the worst. Inside it appears that all the lockers cupboards have been gone through and it is a mess. We hesitate whether we should first clean everything up or call the police. It appears that the police here also prefer only to keep office hours. As we are tired we put everything back in the lockers and go to sleep. It is unclear what is missing. The mood is way below zero. We’d prefer to fly back immediately.
The next day we keep discovering that still more stuff is missing. Luckily all the navigational equipment is undamaged. But there are fishing rods missing, sport shoes, an oil lamp that came from our previous ship, my combination sunglasses/glasses, and all the boat cushions. Nothing expensive but they were things that we were attached too. But much worse, the Breeze is injured. The locks have been forced and the cabin hatch is damaged. I lick my wounds.
“Des gamins”, the police of the nautical brigade announce the next day, when I together with Chantal, our lady French friend, report it to them in a run down office with a fan and the paint peeling from the ceiling. But I couldn’t care less whether they are just rogues or professionals, locals or drifters, light brown or pitch black, I make detailed preparations to keelhaul them. Although, for now, only in my mind. It appears that the most precious thing that is taken from us that day is our faith in the islanders. During our previous trip we saw every drifter passer by as a representative of this paradise and jovially waved to them or greeted them. Like a distant cousin of the noble savage. In the simple assumption that every islander was naturally a good natured musical steel drum playing lover of life. Who, sitting under a coconut tree far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization shouldn’t even be able to have evil thoughts. This illusion has now been shattered and appears to be a reality that we ourselves construed.
The consequence of this is that everyone who pays too much attention to the Breeze to our liking, or everyone that avoids looking at the Breeze, is considered guilty by us. But after a time it appears that even the opposite view, that everybody is bad, is just as an unworkable view that everybody is good. We will just have to, like back home, judge someone’s goodness individually. Tiresome but unavoidable work.
Was there not a time when it was easily established who was good and who was bad? When the English ambushed our glorious Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (United East-India Company) for example, and that they then all had to be sunk. Or earlier when Alva was an occupier and every Spaniard was a damned papist that had to be fought with fire and sword. Or when with the crusades against the heretic Moors and our God was the only one real God who was on our side for every death stroke. So, just to clarify, that if we died unexpectedly in battle, ours went to heaven and theirs to hell. How well-organized the world was then! But now I have to find out for myself which of these islander’s hand I will continue to shake and which one I won’t. Because some of them remain disarmingly friendly and warm-hearted, while others are unsympathetic racist haters of whites or so I’m told. And I encounter this very quickly. I go into a shoe repair shop where the owner does not deem me worthy of a glance. Never mind giving an answer to my questions that I have asked in my friendly and very best school French. Only because he hates whites. And thus me as well. And then to think that this black shoe repairman doesn’t even know that my great uncle Jacobus Reedijck in 1732, in Guinea, bought his great-great-grandfather from a Fantijn (local people) King for the present day price of a simple pair of plastic shoes and subsequently transported him in the stuffy hold of the ship the Gulden Schaap to here.
I decide its best not to tell him.
And so here we are today in shops on this paradisiacal island amongst all kinds of light brown and dark brown people, we sit among them in restaurants and on the beach and wrestle with our feelings between affection and aversion. Equipped with poor instruments. We, whites with a white heart. Doubting whether the pitch black gentleman in line at the cash register lets us go before him out of courtesy or colonial submissiveness. I am also unsure of whether the beautiful Creole on the beach looks away because she is flirting with me or because she prefers black islanders more than this blond seafarer? And hesitating to take a photo of a cute little black girl with beads in her hair, because I absolutely want to avoid the appearance of looking at the animals.
It is now the fifth time since our Atlantic crossing in Christmas 2002 and our unexpected decision to leave the ship temporarily in Guadeloupe, that we come onboard for a couple of weeks vacation. This time we really would like to sail from here to Antigua in order to see the Antigua sailing week. We find the Breeze in a good state; no vermin and no burglars, thanks to extensive measures taken three months ago.
The first day we take down the canopy, clean ship, fix sails, take on provisions and loose our jetlag. The second day mussels have to be scraped. Especially the propeller and the rudder have, after some months, such growth that sailing is hardly possible. Because our marina has not got its own slipway we have to do it ourselves. Sluggish as a result of the growth and with difficulty we leave the harbour and in open water I go overboard with diving glass and filling-knife. After about two hours the worst of it is off but it was a difficult job this time because of a considerable swell.
From here to English harbour on Antigua is 75 miles. We want to do it in two daytrips; first to Deshaies on the northwest point of Guadeloupe and then the crossing. Deshaies is nothing more than a sheltered bay in the rocks and we unexpectedly stay there two nights as it has started to seriously blow. For this reason about thirty yachts are lying there sheltering and we sail out together with a number of others on the third day.
Antigua is a former English Colony. Since independence it is somewhat impoverished. The English do not have much authority anymore, but it also does not cost them any money. The French chose the opposite solution for Guadeloupe and Martinique. They are French provinces, which cost the French Treasury a lot of money, but the French government has complete authority. The Netherlands’ Government chose for our Antilles a solution in-between these two; a lot of costs but hardly any authority.
On Antigua the Classic Yacht Regatta is up and running, which always takes place before the Antigua sailing week. There are various ships coming in for next weeks race. When we check in the race fever becomes tangible. Everywhere in the harbour ships are being prepared; winches are being disassembled and greased; fittings are inspected right up into the mast and the ships are polished below the waterline. The local sail maker tells me that he has for days been working till deep into the night. It is curious that here today on the piers, the exact same men are walking around as years ago on my first Loosdrecht week with my first Pluis (youngsters dinghy). They have the same racy boats as then, the same trendy outfits, and they look with the exact same haughtiness as the hotshots of then. Only now they do not come from Loosdrecht or de Kaag but from Fort Lauderdale and Martha’s Vineyard. But maybe this striking resemblance comes more from the observer than the observed.
Only for a minute at the eleventh hour do I consider entering the race. But sailing with the spinnaker with just the two of you is not a good idea. And in any case a lot of unnecessary weight would have to be taken off board and where would I leave my reserve anchors; my fold-away bicycles; my dingy; the onboard library and the habour porcelain to name but a few? Stuff that cruisers do have and racers do not tend to have with them. So we don’t do it, but the consequence is that I myself, when co-sailors inform about the order of the race, for a week long hear myself saying: No, no, we are just spectators.
Everyday now more ships are coming in. We have got a good place, as we are lying at anchor right beside the entry into the bay. The list of participants that I collect shows 211 registered ships divided over 16 classes. Two racing big boat classes (a hundred feet is standard here); two racing classes; two racing/cruiser classes; three performance cruising classes (fast ships but handicapped by the weight of washing machines and jet-skis etc., onboard); a cruiser class and six bareboat classes.
I am especially interested in the Dutch participation and that appears to be only seven ships. Six in the so-called bareboat category; rental boats from the local rental companies. And one ship in the performance racing class, Geronimo a Swan 651, from a Dutch owner with a Belgium skipper who is sailing this week with guests. For the statistics: 58 ships sailing under a British flag and 25 come from the USA. Almost every European country is represented, after England, Germany is the most with 23 ships, strikingly many Italians, Swiss, Finns, but also Belgians and Russian. And furthermore ships from the region, of course. Dutch flags are hardly to be seen.
The Friday before the commencement of the race there is a pre event race from Guadeloupe to Antigua. Twenty ships take part under which the much talked of Mari Cha IV. This splinter new, vacuum injected, Kevlar reinforced one hundred and forty footer earlier crossed the Atlantic ocean in six days! We hear that she today with a time of two hours and fifteen minutes won the pre-race. Three days ago, we ourselves did this forty-five miles from Deshaies to here in six hours and ten minutes. But my lady-skipper does not let herself be in the least impressed. She employs a simple handicap formula; the Breeze is a forty-four footer, the Mari Cha is more than three times the length and as such should have done it three times faster. She didn’t so we won.
Today is also the closing of the Classic Yacht Regatta. 52 participating ships are on the list. Four have Dutch roots. One of these is Christoffels Lighthouse, a ninety-one footer designed by Dijkstra and partners and built by Holland Jachtbouw in 2000. The term “classic” has, couple of years back after a lot of discussion by the competition committee, been stretched. The regulation now states: “Yachts in this class must have a look that is true to a traditional design (…) they may however have modern underbodies and appendages and use modern technology in their rigs”. Ballotage precedes the registration in this separated Spirit of Tradition class. Also the class has its own sponsors and trophy. Christoffels Lighthouse comes fourth in this Spirit of Tradition Class B. In the Spirt of Tradition Class A another Dijkstra design comes third. It is the 135 footer Windrose of Amsterdam. Also the Grote Meid, a 70 footer from Paul van Kolen, wins a prize. This ship sails in the Classic Class A. And furthermore there is the Lelanta, a truly real classic, a 76 footer staysail schooner, designed by John Alden and built in 1929 by G. de Vries Lentsch. The Lelanta comes fourth in the vintage class A.
There is also, on Friday, after the prize presentation for the Classics a beach party. A local rum brand wants to make its name more familiar and provides free rum cocktails between 18:00 and 20:00 hours to everyone who wants some. And many do. Two hours is not long to quench your thirst here, thus already before commencement the dingys and the water taxis whiz by our anchorage heading for the beach. When the party has been going on for awhile we also decide to go and when we get there we find a colourful and swinging mixture of sailors and locals. The reggae music engulfs the whole bay. The rum brand not only provides free rum but also free red caps with the emblem of the island and so everybody has not only at least one glass of rum in their hand but also at least one red cap on their head. When we arrive there is not just happiness, no, it appears that total brotherhood is the order of the day. Where for 2000 years Christianity still books poor results on this point, this approach is very remarkable.
Even though I have only just arrived on this island, oddly enough it appears that every local knows me: Hé mân, ha yea dooin’? everybody calls out heartily to me in Creoles’ English. One local immediately helps us tow the dingy up the beach upon our arrival and squeezes a path a little while later through the crowd in order to show us the way to the beer tap. The barman is given instructions by him on how this new friend thinks we prefer to drink our cocktails best and before I even have mine finished and before we even ask he goes and stands in line for a second. And a third. He follows us like a shadow and his dedication knows no boundaries that we fear we will never get away from him. Brother he calls himself and we wonder what he expects from us. Money? A job onboard? We do not know. But because we appear to know everybody, we talk to everybody and in the end brother acknowledges that he can be missed.
There are not only very laid back rasta men at the party but also a lot of blond lady sailors, who have their ship name and rigging plan close to their hart. And because I, much to my own amazement, tonight appear to know them all a lot of profound nautical conversations are carried on. When my lady skipper after some hours, looks crookedly at the skipper, establishes satisfactorily that the bar is closing, a little while later herself falls from a dune and lands below on the beach in the middle of the partygoers. Then it is clear; it is time to leave. The dingy is towed into the water and in the pitch-black we find the Breeze back behind her anchor. With reggae music in the distance, rocking, we fall asleep. Heaven is a place on earth.
Joost was today onboard. Joost has just graduated and is a friend of a friend. He has taken a year of to travel around the world and is looking for a ship for an ocean crossing. He heard of our presence here and comes onboard. After a drink and a meal we go ashore to look for a bar. Once there Joost wants to look around to make contact with possible skippers. He leaves his backpack hanging on the bar stool with all his valuables inside and asks me to keep an eye on it. When it gets more busy later on I keep having to defend the empty bar stool. When I later look around Joost’s backpack has disappeared! At that moment eight pushy Irish men in sailor shirts from a charter company stand next to me and one has the black bag that I was to guard between his legs. I say that it is from my friend and ask him if he will put it back. The Irish man laughs at me and says the bag is his. His seven buddies grin in unison. I repeat my request, the Irish man repeats his answer.
Sometimes a man has to make choices in his life. I decide not to leave it at that. Who do these Irish think they are! Pretending as if they are sailors! Fake sailors is what they are. Tourists! Has Ireland got a nautical tradition that can even stand in our shadow? Did they discover Australia? Or where they the first by Cape Horn? And did the Irish ever have a colony? And then to think that my great, great grandfather Gerhard Pleunius Reedijck in 1595 was already onboard with de Houtman and de Keijzer during the first sailing to Indonesia. And so, if we could then take possession of Indonesia, then getting a backpack back must also succeed. I get of my bar stool. Happily the man see on time that I am very serious and decides to make an opening in the case. He unzips his bag and shows me its contents. One wet towel. I stand there in doubt. Without firmness of principles everything is lost. I decide to go look for Joost. In one and another local I find him in a conversation. His backpack is hanging on his back! I fume! Yes, he apologizes, I was in such a deep discussion there that he didn’t want to interrupt me and that’s why he took it without saying anything.
Halfway through the week I end up at a local shipyard. The huts look a bit shabby but they seem to be able to do a lot here; complete refits are done here for big boats of name and fame, but also restorations on half wrecked curious classics. Most here are not only skilled people but also total ship fanatics. It smells of wood shavings and romanticism.
Andrew, the English owner of the shipyard was in the race committee of the Classic Regatta and first takes the time to look at some photos that I took on which sometimes the ship’s name is missing. Later he introduces me to one of his people who can apparently speak good Dutch. This Australian lived for years in Amsterdam, but love brought him to this island. Love for a boat, that is. Actually it is a common story. When he finally gets going he tells that his ship was once part of an illustrious unit class, but that this is about the only one left over from it. A magnificent design! They don’t make them like this anymore! Built by Wight by the well known designer X! Pitch pine on oak and he pours a lot more passionate text over me. I had already seen the mouldy and propped up wreck back at the shipyard and came to the conclusion that it would never sail again. But I have to re-evaluate that vision, and a little while later we both climb the ladder to her deck. Every min-point that is visible here is immediately blamed on the ignorance and the slackness of the previous owner. Finally we end up in her cockpit. That is to say, the space where the rusted keel bolts can be seen and the cracked passageways. We remain there for a considerable bit of time and talk respectfully and with subdued voice about her grace, her speed and her earlier glory.
As a spectator replace the smell of rotting wood with incense, rafters with pillars and the portholes with church windows, then it is obvious that we are both believers. Come together in this sacred silence to witness that, which for others would appear total deception; the established believe that through love and dedication this ship shall acquire a new life.
Sunday we climb the height where Shirley’s Heights is to be found. This was formerly one of the forts of the British admiralty, now it is a relaxing and favourite place for the locals to have something to eat and to listen to a band. Today there is a steel band playing an unlikely virtuoso on instruments made from oil barrels. European evergreens with a Caribbean beat. Whole families of Creoles are there and the people talk animatedly with each other and sway every now and again to the music. Some fathers have their binoculars with them and glance with them sometimes at the race out on the sea, but more because that is more distinguished than because they want to follow the race. Racing is something for the earlier colonials, who still do not understand that God has totally other intentions with this world. Sitting on the dock by the bay, watching as time goes by, for example.
Anyway down below the rivals do not sail any less fiercely after each other and it is the photo helicopter that has chosen the steel band has a turning point, which connects the two worlds together.
Later in the day we meet Terrence. Terrence is an American who has not so long ago left a stressful existence on the New York Stock Exchange to pursue the art of painting on Antigua. He shows us his work we hear ourselves responding politely to it. But Terrence also seems to take photographs and for these we can sincerely respond enthusiastically. He followed the race today on their heels, with his speedboat he sailed annoyingly through the field and this has given splendid action photos. And us as well as after some negotiating and digital copying. We now have a good supplement to our own photos on and around the piers.
Saturday is the prize presentation. The most Dutch bareboat sailors have finished somewhere in the middle of the field. We again meet Joost. He has for the last two days strengthen the under manned crew of the Geronimo which didn’t make them end up with a prize. But it appears that he has had success in his search for a ship for an ocean crossing. He sails next week as paid sailor on the Opium to the Mediterranean. A whole new crew had to be found for this ship as the previous crew, en bloc, including the shipper resigned. This eighty footer was very unfortunate in the race. First a genoa deckblock broke from the deck resulting in one of the grinders getting seriously harmed and loosing his leg.
Later the ship ran aground, from a steering mistake by the owner as rumour has it. This story seems to be like the old adage: the ones misfortune is the others gain. Hopefully the new skipper will bring better fortune. Our enthusiasm for this Antigua sail party is in any case not dampened by this.
Some days later we head back with the Breeze to Guadeloupe with cameras full with pictures and heads full of emotions. The Italian adage says that you first have to have seen Naples before you can die in a good peace of mind. For us sailors this is different, we know that now. And there are an awful lot of islands here in the Caribbean, which we still have not seen. Reason enough to think that we want to remain here for the next thirty years.