Once again, Jack flew in from Berlin to St Lucia via Miami, to continue filming, and of course to use the work angle as a great excuse to fly closer to the equator, where the water is a blue like no other, and the mangoes are handmade in heaven. I was most happy to see a familiar face after the Atlantic, as admittedly I'd had a few small pangs of loneliness once I made landfall. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Sailing alone is not lonely, but walking through crowded streets and watching people with their friends and family in familiar surroundings is. We both felt ceaselessly hassled in Rodney Bay, where one step onto land seemed to attract a taxi from nowhere, or attempts to sell 'medicinal drugs' ('hey mon, they call me the doctor!'). Unfortunately the poverty in this part of the world can be extreme, and one mustn't forget that amongst the white beaches, leafy palms and comparatively meaningless endeavors like crossing oceans to find paradise, are conversely the everyday surroundings of the poorest of people, netting for dinner in shallow waters, or selling hats woven from coconut leaves to white tourists to feed families. The lines of trust also feel blurred, as you have to develop a new sense of authenticity to work out whether the fruit man rowing up to your boat on a broken surfboard, to sell you avocados who exclaims 'welcome to paradise', is just playing up for the stupid guy in the sailing boat, or whether he's genuine. I still haven't worked out the formulae, and am probably overanalysing the situation, when what I really should be doing is just getting back to watching the kids dive off the pier, racing each other back to shore, or swimming in the water myself.
Eventually I received an email notifying me that my Australian passport with US visa was waiting for me at the DHL Castries office, and we ventured into town. Before I continue, I'd just like to mention as a side note, that I'm screaming through the entire Antilles region because of DHL and customs Madrid: Their bureaucracy stalled me in the Canaries for two months, which was time set aside to explore this region further... It greatly disappoints me, and seeing the DHL lettering in Castries set off a wave boiling blood, as I walked past another stall selling johnny cakes and fried chicken, with the situation really dawning on me as to how much I was missing because of the entire debacle. That all being said, this blog post is being powered by the generous sponsorship from Andre & Intertoys, with each electron coming at you directly from the Caribbean sun, via 86watts of solar panels hanging off the boat, so not all is lost.
As Jack took a street shot in Castries, a man roughly my age approached, with a tiger tattooed on the top of his hand, dark sunglasses, wearing a bandanna and a NYC badged baseball cap. At first Jack and I looked at each other, as if exclaiming 'do we run or tell this guy we don't want to buy anything', however we became somewhat perplexed when he took a genuine interest in the film, and seemed to exude an air uncommon knowledge on the topic. This street corner meeting turned out to be one of the most surreal experiences of my land-based voyages: We'd ended up crossing paths with a highly intelligent music producer and hip-hop artist, who took as on a whirlwind tour through Castries. The natural talent of a rap singer is an innate sense of urban poetry, so as we walked, this man spun off what seemed like an endless barrage of quirky facts, theories and odd word groupings, introducing us to his aunt selling Guyanian gold, his rasta friend selling everything, and a man owning a bizarre medicine premises called 'The French Shop', which sold magic powders and ancient tins of secret crushed herbs. Tiny glass bottles with labels which looked hot off the press circa 1950 crowded the shelves, another full of aerosols containing love potions and spray on good luck. Jack was only mentioning mountain voodoo the day before, and here we were, possibly at the source!
Our trip through Castries peaked as we became part of an elaborate prank at the St Lucian culture centre. As our man explained a recent Taiwanese donation to the centre, designed to help fund local cultural works, and it's mysterious disappearance, we embarked on a mock documentary, posing as a BBC camera crew to shake things up. Jack and I were soon quizzed for business cards, however the quick thinking music producer evaded our discovery, by exclaiming that no one could talk to us since we were under signed contract! So standing there on the hill in the cultural centre, Jack and I looked at each other wondering whether we'd fallen into a black hole at The French Shop, or whether our realities had just morphed onto the set of a Richard Linklater film. Either way, Jack's tape kept rolling, as we proceeded through higher meditations and conspiracy theories at an alarming rate, somewhat dumbfounded by this unique human discovery we'd made on the corner street of a ghetto in Castries, St Lucia.
St Lucia on the whole was rather weird, and I would suggest that sailors get away from Rodney Bay, and check out the more 'real' parts of the region. Too soon it was time to leave, charts were purchased, and Martinique was scratched off the list of islands to visit: I started to cull islands because charts were too expensive... Moving on directly to Dominica, winds were light and fluky, and I was struggling to make many miles. Eventually I made an anchorage that wasn't much of an anchorage at all, with an odd NW wind blowing, I ended up having to take a buoy. I snuck into town without clearing customs because they were closed, and walked up the street amongst goats and chickens, purchasing the worlds greatest mangoes, and finding a hidden bakery with an assortment of strange flour-based goods. The next day strange winds were once again encountered, and I only made it to Portsmouth, at the northern end of Dominica, which was by no means a disappointment. Again, missing customs opening times, I snuck ashore in the dinghy, and walked up the street into town, as groups of men built like tanks hung out on windowsills and in trucks, as I dawdled along in board shorts and a red tshirt, feeling well out of place, and quietly wondering whether I was going to be beaten up for looking like the stupidest tourist in town.
Fortunately I survived Portsmouth, my fears entirely unfounded, as the sun set over palm trees walking along the beach, a bag of un-ripe avocados and passion fruits in my hand, wondering whether this entire experience was real or not. Hauling up anchor in the morning, the wind swung around to a light easterly, and Constellation finally barreled across the stretch of sea between Dominica and Guadeloupe, where the winds howled, averaging six knots in the day-glo blue Atlantic. Again, general strangeness was encountered in the lee of the island, and a 2kt current pushed us back to a small anchorage near Pigeon Island, complete with a lighthouse that looked as if it had been transported directly from Brittany, in France. A live band played onshore, pasta was cooked, and the following day 13nm was battled in continuing flukiness until the clear waters between Guadeloupe and Antigua were found, at which point Constellation took off like frightened racehorse all the way to the gorgeous English Harbour, Antigua. The sun had just set, with a full moon on the starboard quarter as August the mighty Yanmar powered us through the headlands into a natural harbour, fenced in with mangroves, full of megayachts and buildings of English charm. One can almost smell the hot tar and see the men working in overheating sail lofts from two hundred years ago, as much effort has been put into maintaining the harbour to an amazingly original state. Waking up, I'm greeted by a polished classic ketch from Bristol on the port side, and the Admirals Inn on the starboard side, surrounded by green flora and the morning calls of roosters hidden amongst the brush.
As wonderful and romantic as all this may sound, the seasons are rolling by, and I'm going north, to New York, as per my plan from some months ago. I really have no idea how things will work out once I arrive up there, but it's always best to just keep going. It's when you stop that the momentum is lost, and I feel that there will be some good opportunities, as well as friends and family I simply can't wait to see, back in higher latitudes.
I've sketched an idea in my head that I'll leave this weekend, either for Bermuda, or direct to New York. The advantage of a Bermuda stop is to wait for a good quality forecast for the remainder of the journey into New York, however I really am wanting to get there rather quickly... Antigua is an expensive region to be provisioning in, and don't forget the voyage to New York is over half of another Atlantic crossing... It's no walk in the park, and again, I'm low on funds, having some big problems with a bill from Germany which had been festering for an entire year, and resulted in an incredible outlay of money. I've rested this morning, and spent an hour in customs, so it's time to start putting together a provision list, and also a list of jobs on Constellation before we depart.