January 2001: Antigua and Sea Stories
 
We finally sobered up and left St. Barth. One evening late. On New Year's day, Rob was recovering from his hangover and neglected to go to Customs and clear out of St. Barth. It's difficult at times to remember that we're not just sailing from island to island, but traveling from nation to nation, and so we must clear in and out of each island. This can sometimes be a real chore, with lots of forms to fill out and bureaucrats who live up to the reputation of civil servants. Most times, though, it's simply a time-consuming activity you have to consider when making plans.

The first half of our passage to Antigua was an easy close reach in moderate winds under a gorgeous starlit night. We almost felt guilty about this, remembering our trip 12 years ago with new sailors Allen Butler and Katy Lang on board. On that trip, we pounded to windward in 25-knot winds. Rusty and Naomi and we were OK with that -- after all, the four of us have spent much of our time together beating to windward for the fun of it -- but Allen and Katy were miserable.

On the present trip, just before dawn, with the GPS predicting a 10:00 ETA, the wind gods hit us with a 45 degree header. Now we had to beat to windward, just as when Allen and Katy were aboard. In retrospect, we should have tacked on the header, but Andi was fast asleep, and besides, we're cruisers, remember? We don't tack on headers any more.

Seven hours later, we were on the layline and closer to Monserrat than Antigua, so we tacked for English Harbour. Of course, we then got headed 20 degrees. You'd think after all this time we would have learned not to go deep into the corners. In the end, we just made it into port before dark.

English Harbour is a beautiful quiet refuge, redolent with memories for us, not only of being here with the Burshells and Allen and Katy, but of 17 years ago, when we spent weeks and weeks here with Lisa . As a young teenager, she was starved for peer companionship, and found it from three American sisters who were staying at the Galleon Hotel/Beach cottages, right on the shore by our anchorage. We recall that we took advantage of their hospitality to take long showers. Ah, the things cruisers do!

The steel drum band still plays up on Shirley Heights, where Lisa met some Boys those many years ago. At that time the bands only played on Sundays, but this Thursday their sounds were drifting down on the breezes to the boats below, just as they did years ago.

Sitting on the horizon as we look out of the harbour from our boat is Monserrat, the main town on which, you'll recall, was destroyed by a volcano three years ago. The first morning we were here, we turned on the FM radio and picked up Radio Monserrat, which was busy recruiting emigres back to the beautiful island -- we know it's beautiful because every reggae song they played said so. The next morning, as we sipped our breakfast coffee, we noted a tall white cloud above Monserrat's highest peak, looking suspiciously like a volcano plume. Sure enough, there had been an earthquake in the night and the sleeping giant had awakened. We tuned in to Radio Monserrat, of course, but not a word of the new eruption. We guess they didn't want to discourage people from returning. Ironically, one of the promotional reggae songs was "Check your facts", in which the singer berates the media (he actually uses the word, 'media') for making it sound as if Monserrat is a disaster area, when in fact it's a beautiful -- and safe -- paradise. Well, in any case, the mountain at Monserrat went from "active" to really active while we were here.

Sea story or soap opera? The evening of January 5, we entertained the crew of the yacht "Silver Lining", who had just crossed the Atlantic from the Canaries. The boat is brand new, having been built in Barcelona last year for the owner, Melinda. It turns out this is the second boat she bought from them. She and her then-husband brought the first one, a 50-footer, back from Barcelona to her home in England three years ago. Crossing the Bay of Biscay, the boat leaked so badly that Melinda found sea shells under her bunk! When they got to the UK they had the boat surveyed, but the surveyor found no major problems (at that time). Melinda and her husband hired Bob, a Southampton boatbuilder, to remove all the fittings and rebed them. He did so, and discovered the builders had used ordinary bathroom tub caulking instead of marine sealant. Despite the repairs, when Melinda took the boat to sea it still leaked like a sieve. This time, the surveyor, accompanied by Bob, removed the toe rail and took a little closer look at the deck-hull joint. Behold, you could insert a dinner knife between the two parts! Apparently, the Spanish workmen had just finished beading the hull and deck with silicon sealant in preparation for mating the two parts, when the lunch whistle blew. So they took their 2-hour lunch, and when they returned the glue had set. Undaunted, they had simply bolted the deck to the hull.

So Melinda and her husband sued. The husband, a good lawyer, got the builders to agree to build them a new vessel, a 55-foot production boat this time, at no additional charge. The deal included a stipulation that the construction would be supervised by a licensed (Spanish) yacht surveyor, but even at that, things started to go wrong. Though four boats had already been built, the builder blamed delays on the construction of a new deck plug. Why, Melinda and her husband wondered, did they need a new plug for a production boat? So they sent Bob to Barcelona, and he discovered the yard had decided to redesign the boat, adding about 2 feet to its beam-- necessitating the new deck plug. So in effect, they were giving Melinda and her husband an experimental prototype rather than hull #5 of the old model. As it turned out, they had done this modification without benefit of any marine engineering, or even plans. Of course, Melinda's husband screamed bloody murder, and eventually arranged for the boatyard to retain Bob to consult and supervise the remaining construction. No doubt Melinda went over frequently to check on progress, too. Eventually, the boat was built, and the crew all claim it's a great boat. Especially Bob, who appears to have replaced the husband as captain of the ship, as well as in other respects .

While Bob and Melinda were telling Rob that saga, Andi was talking with one of the crew, Suzie, who told Andi about her participation in one of those Around the World Races. This is the one that includes boats with somewhat amateur crews who pay for the adventure of sailboat racing, on one design 67' boats. It's something akin to the folks that pay to climb Mount Everest. Suzie bought into this and did extensive training for it -- some 25,000 miles on Pete Goss's boat. This included a dismasting! "It just bloody fell over the side," was her summary. Anyway, the actual race started from England, bound for Rio, in 55 mph winds. "Bloody hairy," said Suzie. In the chaos of the start, someone let loose a jib sheet which hit her in the arm, raising an enormous bruise and disguising the fact that it had also wrenched her shoulder enough to tear her rotator cuff. That became obvious as she sailed, in great pain, on the leg to Rio, where she had to leave the boat. She had spent some 30,000 pounds on this adventure, so Andi was duly sympathetic. "All in all," Suzie concluded, "it wasn't a good year for me. I'd already lost my husband at sea, then all that money, then the injury." EXCUSE ME!!! Let's go back to the beginning of that sentence!

Another sea story or soap opera? Suzie's husband would occasionally take off for solo sailing on a weekend on their WestSail 36. One weekend, when he had done this and she had been off at a regatta, he didn't return when expected. She contacted the English equivalent of the Coast Guard and eventually, the boat was found in the English Channel. The interior had been totally destroyed by fire, though it didn't seem to be an explosion. There was no-one aboard. Investigations failed to reveal any cause for the fire, and the husband was never found. Suicide? Accident? No-one knows. Suzie now owns the boat (which has been refitted and restored), and she continues to do promotional work for the Around the World Races. .