Home comforts

John & Susan Simpson
Tue 10 Jan 2023 00:14
After a brief visit to the UK for Christmas we have now returned to Casamara for what will be our longest stint away from the UK since we left in April 2021.  We won’t reach Australia until September this year and, whilst we have many wonderful places to visit along the way, many are remote and it will be difficult to find somewhere to leave the boat even if we could get back to the UK. So we made the most of our Xmas in the UK, had a wonderful time and brought back with us many happy memories, as well as much Christmas chocolate!  Alex and Josh kindly hosted us at their house for Christmas and we were joined by Tom and Gemma for a few days too.  It was great to see all our children and grandchildren together.  Danny (8 yrs), Benjo (5 yrs), Xavier (3 yrs), Clara (2 yrs) and Aurora (3 mths) kept us on our toes and provided much amusement.  

One late afternoon Xavier and I were relaxing after a busy day.  He was watching some cartoons snuggled up next to me on the sofa and I was enjoying a few salted peanuts with a beer.  “Grandma,” he said “what are you eating?”  “Peanuts” I replied, thinking he might be about to ask if he could share them.  There was a short pause. “Grandma, I can hear your peanut noises”  was his retort!   

One morning when all of the grandchildren were staying at Alex and Josh’s house they were all awake early and I went to say hello when I woke up.  “Is Grandad awake?” asked Benjo.  “Yes, but he’s still in bed” I said.  “Quick everybody,” says Benjo “let’s go see Grandad.  Clara, bring the mower!”  Off they all scampered along the landing to see John, Clara pushing the toy lawn mower noisily at speed as instructed!.  We will cherish memories like these over the coming months.

British Airways very generously gave us each a baggage allowance of 2 x 23 kg bags, which was a good job considering how much we brought back with us.  There were lots of spares for Casamara and even some bits for the dinghy which we had sourced in the UK, as well as a new solar panel to help charge Casamara’s batteries as we cross the Pacific.  This was a replacement solar panel for one that should have been fitted whilst we were away from Casamara during the hurricane season and which mysteriously went missing in Antigua whilst being shipped - but that’s another story!  We also brought with us some ‘essentials’  that we haven’t been able to find in the Caribbean, including a generous number of Yorkshire Tea bags and ten months supply of my favourite hair products.  Casamara’s lockers now carry more stock of those two items than your average Caribbean island store!

Soon after we returned to the Caribbean we began to head north to rendezvous with other boats crossing the Pacific Ocean with us. But before we left the Grenadines we spent a few nights at anchor at one of our favourite spots, Union Island.  Union is three miles long across the furthest point, and only about a mile wide.  Most of its 3,000 residents live in two ’towns’ called Clifton and Ashton.  

As I was sitting in a cafe in Clifton a local man stopped by and introduced himself as the local historian. We had an interesting chat about the history of Union Island and its links with Bristol in the UK.  Like most of the Caribbean islands, ownership of Union passed between the French and English many times.  When the Seven Years War ended in 1763 the island was given to England as part of the agreement reached in the Treaty of Paris.  A Bristol merchant named Samuel Spann was given the island, named it Union and also named its two settlements Clifton and Ashton after the two places on either side of the River Avon through which his fleet of ships passed on their way out of Bristol harbour.  Sadly these ships would eventually pick up slaves from West Africa and transport them to Union Island to work in cotton plantations.  Generations of African people lived and worked in slavery and poverty until the abolition of slavery in the 1830’s and even after that Spann’s successors continued to own the homes and land occupied and worked by the freed slaves.  It wasn’t until 1850 that Spann’s descendants sold the island and the connection with Bristol ceased.  Alex the local historian is making sure that generations of visitors remember.  It was a poignant reminder that doing things to remind us of home is little different to how it was for merchant venturers like Samuel Spann in the 18th century, with his desire to remember Bristol, but that the African slaves were not so fortunate.  There were no home comforts or ‘essentials' for them and no way of getting back to their loved ones, no matter how fondly they looked back on their memories.  How fortunate are we.

On a happier note, we enjoyed one last beer on Happy Island before we left Union.  This is a tiny island in Clifton Harbour which is entirely man-made out of conch shells.  It can only be reached by small boats as the water is so shallow and the only facility on it is a bar.  As we prepare to leave the Caribbean we are beginning to say goodbye to the many now familiar places that we may never have the chance to visit again.  Union Island is one we’ll remember with great pleasure.

And finally, those of you who’ve been reading these blogs for a while (thank you!) will know that John has been learning to wing foil, otherwise described as the single most difficult way for man to move from A to B on water!  For ages now he’s been able to foil perfectly in a straight line but cornering has resulted in a big splash and much cursing.  Today, back in St Lucia where our Caribbean sojourn began, he finally mastered the art of the corner (foiling gybe) and managed it not once, but twice.  Today is a momentous day!