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Date: 18 Feb 2011 02:52:00
Title: Doing my homework

Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua, Thursday night

I've spent much of the day today reading my homework book for the SCUBA diving course tomorrow. I must admit that it was much more time-consuming than I anticipated and I was trying to do it properly. The book has loads of questions and self-tests in it so that slows you down rather than just read it through. I'm sure that's deliberate to make sure the information goes in and stays in. I was supposed to watch a DVD of the same stuff but I was so full of dive-related facts that I couldn't face it.

Kali went off first thing as she's having a few days off and wanted to explore the North side of the island and arrange some windsurfing. Andrea and I got the air-con fired up and Andrea then spent the rest of the day doing computer stuff which she's been wanting to do for ages. I alternated learning about diving with fixing the starboard navigation light. It started blinking a week or so ago and has since stopped working completely. I tested the supply which was all fine so I tested the replacement spare light which we've carried since Greenland. Only half the LEDs in it work. I suppose that's an improvement on none of them but it's pretty diabolical. Regular readers may think that my opinion of Lopolights couldn't really get any lower but it's turned out to be too generous. Oh, and just to make sure, I found a sticker on the back of the original light saying "Sample - not for sale". Great.

I did have a laugh with the guy doing the varnishing work on the classic yacht alongside us, though. The crew bring the boat here every year to get a lot of varnishing done as this is the ideal place. Good weather and trained workers. She has all her varnish redone every 2 months but I suppose that's why she looks so good at 75 years old. I said that we must all be mad to be working in the midday sun and he asked if I was enjoying myself. "Why else would I be doing it?" I replied. Why indeed.

As I was coming back to the cockpit, Steve from the Malo appeared and asked if we wanted to go to a barbeque up at Shirley Heights above the Dockyard. That sounded like a great idea so we arranged to meet him and Sue up there at about 5:30. That gave me time to do more diving homework, pay a load of bills online and write some emails to Discovery Yachts about the Lopolights and the water tank. Andrea and I were about to set off to walk up to the barbeque when Kali returned and politely told us that we must be mad to consider walking all the way up there as it had taken her an hour to run it yesterday morning. We took a taxi for most of the way and Kali was right - we'd have wilted in the sun if we'd tried to walk it all.

The taxi dropped us outside a ruined British Army barracks on the top of the hill and we walked from there. The whole range of low hills opposite Nelson's Dockyard are covered in old fortifications. The Navy had the same problem here as they did at Portsmouth - rather than attack the dockyard directly, Johnny Foreigner could just land along the coast and sneek in the back way, bombarding Our Boys from the nearby high ground. As at home, the solution was to build a chain of forts to protect the dockyard from the land and these forts are mostly still there. Most are ruined with huge cacti growing out of them and goats browsing peacefully but the one at the very top has been restored and made into a bar.

Behind the bar, the stone courtyard was hosting the evening's events. The main one was the sunset over the spectacular view. We could see the whole of English Harbour with Nelson's Dockyard in the centre and the boats including Saxon Blue tied stern-to around it. Further away was Falmouth Harbour with Maltese Falcon and the other mega-yachts amongst which Steve and Sue's Malo was moored. We could see the ocean around Antigua with Redonda, Montserrat and Guadaloupe all sitting silhouetted on the horizon. A steel band were playing. Three young girls knocked out the tune with another lass on a set of massive oil drums providing the bass. A drummer completed the group. I'm a bit of a sucker for steel bands. The music is twinkly and infectious with plenty of rhythm and it just fitted so well with the sights and smells of the evening.

As the sun set, everyone watched, hoping for a Green Flash which Sue assured us she'd seen twice so maybe it's not the myth that I was led to believe. We chatted away to Steve and Sue and their friends who were joining them for two weeks onboard the Malo. It was all pretty perfect and just confirmed our opinion that Antigua is lovely. When it came time for food, we ordered and paid at the bar, received a token and took it over to the cooks. They took the tokens, tossed them into a bin with hundreds of others and then tried to remember what had been written on them. Chaos. Luckily there weren't many of us waiting for food but, on Sundays, it's really busy so I'm surprised that anyone manages to get fed.

We all got a taxi together back down the hill to Falmouth where we said our goodbyes and headed back to Saxon Blue. Steve suggested that we visit them in Guernsey on Chalkhill Blue, our Malo. That sounds like a very good idea to me. A quick jaunt across the Channel will seem pretty straightforward now that we've crossed oceans and St Peter Port is a beautiful spot. Once again, I've been surprised how sociable sailing is. Making new friends seems to come naturally and we all have something fascinating and inexhaustible to discuss - or at least it seems so to us. Others may find the intimate details of navigation lights a bit dull. For what it's worth, Steve bought two Lopolights and they were both faulty on arrival. He fitted something else.

It's not that I'm disappointed with Saxon Blue. She's a beautiful ship and I'm very proud of her. It is frustrating, though, to discover that something I've researched, chosen, paid extra for and had fitted turns out to be rubbish. It makes me feel like I'm being disloyal to criticise our lovely boat but I feel that the hard work and dedication shown by the builders can be undermined by suppliers delivering sub-standard components. None of this stuff is cheap and none of the sub-contractors work for low rates. On the other hand, none of them will be onboard when their shoddy workmanship puts us in a difficult or even dangerous situation.

We got back in time to watch an episode of Battlestar with Kali - we'll struggle to get to the end of the series before we leave for the UK. We may have to spend some days just watching DVDs to catch up. I'm off to bed now as my dive book says that I must eat and sleep properly before diving. It also says that I must eat foods which don't create excess stomach gas so that's my entire diet out the window then. I feel a bit like it's my first day at school tomorrow. I hope no bigger boys pick on me.

We got some great news when I checked my emails just now. John Eustace from Discovery Yachts and his wife Kirsty have just had a baby girl called Maria. That brought a smile to all our faces. We wish them all the best.

Harvey

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