When I pulled the blind this morning to let the tropical sun stream in to our cabin a horse was swimming past my window. That’s the nice thing about cruising: it’s always full of surprises.
To put you in the picture, we sailed in to Rodney Bay, St Lucia on the 7th December, spent a week there, and then set an eighty miles course to Barbados, where we have spent the last five days. Tonight we set off on the 145 mile south-west passage to Grenada, where we will meet friends. Grenada is the most southern of the Windward Islands. Over the next few weeks we will be meandering 300 miles north through this arc of different countries and lots of island. The Leeward Islands continue the arc a further 200 miles or so north-west up to the British Virgin Islands, where we plan to be in the middle of January. So if I talk about Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Martinique and Dominica, these are all part of the southern Windward Islands. Whilst they are all part of the same chain, they are fiercely independent of each other, which for us means a lot of clearing in and out of customs, along with visits to immigration, passport control and ministry of health. This entails much form-filling and carbon copies, and already our passports are rapidly filling-up with official stamps, but in true Caribbean style it is generally all pretty relaxed.
The sole purpose for sailing first to St Lucia was to meet the owners and crew of the four Discovery yachts that had sailed the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. The Rally finishes at Rodney Bay, which with over 250 boats in the fleet and owners and crew rightly feeling both chuffed and relieved to be there, is a good basis for a lot of celebrating. Add to this the superb schedule of events laid on by the ARC organisers and easy-going approach to life by the locals and you can see why people were often partying to the early hours or even right through until dawn. We celebrated the success of Sapphire, Brizo, Tioram II and Casamara and hope to meet with them again over the coming weeks. We also had a great party, with about 30 on board for Ocean Cruising Club members, although the credit has to go John on Tzigane, who makes a mean rum punch. You certainly lost count how many you had had after the first one!
We are looking forward to exploring the lush, steep-sided island of St Lucia on our return. The two volcanic silhouettes of the Pitons as you approach from the south are certainly very impressive.
In Bridgetown, Barbados, yesterday we were being very British, bemoaning the fact that the tourist office had just closed at 4pm on a Friday and would not open again until Monday. Yet ‘Caribbean time’ seems to work very well for the locals, who know how to enjoy themselves, with loud music, ‘jump-ups’ (more of which later) and plenty of rum.
I love the attitude of the locals. They are a great mix of being confident, proud, relaxed and generous. They smile a lot and rhythm is in their soul. Sure, they want to make a buck when they can – taking your lines, selling you fruit or fish, polishing the hull – but not only are they gracious if you decline an offer, they will often go out of their way to help. The girls working in the phone shop had the really positive first names of Charms and Surewinner and as a boat cleaner walked down the dock he was singing at the top of his voice ‘I love my life’. (I must try that in the High Street when I am next home.) In the clothing store, one of the customers spontaneously burst into a bop as the tinned music changed tempo, only stopping when she realized she had quite a crowd. The women are proud of their figures and delight in squeezing in to the smallest garments they can find, accentuating their shape and leaving a good degree of exposed smooth flesh. They take a lot of care over their nails and hair and the likes of Vidal Sassoon could certainly get some lessons from the creative and sensational hair styles they have.
As night falls and the heat lessens, so it is time to party, particularly if it is the start of the weekend. Friday is a popular night for a ‘fish fry’. The street is closed off and fish, lobsters, chicken and pork are cooked at temporary stalls and there many varieties of rum punch to choose from. Then there is the music. Music has to be loud and has to have rhythm. The compelling beat reverberates through you and even the reserved Brits were ‘jumping up’. The whole street moves to the music and as the night grows, so does the intensity of the partying. My theory is that the local way of dancing has come about because of the heat here (although as the Trade winds set in it’s getting less sweaty!). You don’t need to move much, you just have to have superb control – flexing and contorting your body in small, exact movements, feet metering the rhythm. The emphasis is definitely on the hips: not just wiggling, but an urgent thrusting that would raise eyebrows back home.
Our entry in to Barbados at Port St Charles, presented a very sophisticated and manicured island, with two superyachts anchored next to us and a beach-side restaurant which resonated with the expense of crisp linen and just-polished wine glasses. We visited The Crane – a very smart resort on the east coast, which purports to have one of the top ten beaches in the world and a place that is not used to its visitors arriving by the local bus!
The Bajans are bilingual, speaking the local patois that I certainly can’t understand and English that has a strong west-country lilt. It is a very British island, with names like Hastings, Christchurch and Worthing. The statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square predates the one in London by 30 years. British regimental coasts of arms adorn the Roman Catholic Cathedral and canons are numerous enough to be heaped in the sea. The Kensington Cricket Oval is prestigious, as is the horse racing and polo. Equally so, with over 1000 rum shops for a population of 280,000 Barbados is also very Caribbean! It seems that religion is part of everyday life and it was a first for me to see a couple in a restaurant saying grace. I joined the National Trust Sunday 3-hour walk - there were about 40 of us in all. Each time we stopped for a break George, the leader, would read a passage from the Bible and then we sang a shortened version of a carol – it was certainly a very different carol service! What I did find particularly incongruous was when a pirate ship sailed past our boat with the steel band on deck playing ‘Angles from the realms of glory’.
So, back to today, when I was concerned that I had nothing planned and oh dear, the tourist office was closed. Seeing a horse swimming by certainly got me out of bed, but before we got round to cooking a full English breakfast we took the dinghy over to the marine park where we snorkelled some wrecks. The fish were so numerous it was like watching snow fall, each fish as a snowflake. They got a bit too up close and personal when I fed them a tin of peas, but it was mesmerising to be able to be so close to so many fish. We had an iced coffee at the local hotel and took time to study the history and stories of the graves in the Military cemetery. Walking back to the boat we saw a poster for a choir and police band concert, which we enjoyed that evening, and the people we met there gave us some good steers for places to visit the next day. It’s been great to ‘Tek time en laziness’, as they say here, and to let the day unfold.
Happy Christmas to all!