Going to the Leeward Islands was a bit of an unknown for Sabine and me. Having no grounding experience to lean on to put my expectations in the realm of obscurity. Of course I assumed blue water, sandy beaches, and sun but beyond that the food, culture, and unique sights were vaguely gleaned from fruitless google searches. Adding to the uncertainty of the mood was the fact that Sabine’s dad had died suddenly and far too young just prior to us leaving…specially we had to change the flights so that she could schedule and be at the funeral prior getting on a plane. Life is seriously fucked up sometimes. We struggled with going vs not going but ultimately decided it was what it was and the time away was actually perfect timing. On the other end of the spectrum was that Sabine’s sister would be 7 months pregnant while on the boat and this would put her mere weeks before the typical doctor recommended travel ban. As you can see there seemed to be a few omens hovering around this trip before it ever started. Later we would find that rough seas and a propensity for sea sickness would push Sabine’s sister to the limits and ultimately off the boat early into a small hospital on the island of Anguilla getting an IV of liquids.
Needless to say the omens prior arrived in a fury when on day one leaving St. Martin our vision of Caribbean like seas and weather were shattered by 25 knott winds and chaotic seas of high waves that quickly dismantled any organization or our stuff we only hours before had carefully placed while in the calm protection of the marina. Any desire to go further beyond St Martin was immediately replaced with a Bee line to the closest cove we could find. The cove itself provide some reprieve but there remained a constant undulating that never quite allowed some members of the crew to recover. This would turn out to be a constant battle for the duration of the trip creating a fracture within the group that remains hidden and subtle.
The next two weeks would take us to Saint Martin, Fourchue, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, and Prickley Pear Cay. It was one of those trips that while not perfect was packed with memorable experiences that battle for supremacy within my brain. Only through photos and journals from the time can I fully appreciate the beauty and wonder. A few stand out:
Swordfish and Lobster
Having a couple who are both professional chefs and damn good cooks has big advantages on a boat and tends to up the overall trip experience by a factor of 10. Our friends take it one step further by being adventurous seekers of local and direct acquisition of fresh food. Passing a fisherman out at sea will require a quick swing by their boat to holler a genuine “howdy” followed by a request for anything fresh from the days catch. While on St Kitts we were stuck in the Marina due to an engine issue and on two occasions Randall, the husband of the couple, worked his magic talking to local fisherman.
The Lobster happened to be right in the marina and walking by seeing hundreds of them calling to us Randall waited for the right people to appear before making his approach. I always observe him in amazement, he, like you and I, is always met with skepticism. You can see it in their expression; “Here comes yet another tourist hoping to replicate an event from a food network show trying to channel Anthony Bourdain”. But there is a true skill in haggling for fresh food directly from the folks catching that can only be built after years of working in the industry. There is a camaraderie, an understanding of the system that comes across as cheep and ingenue from normal folks like us. I listen carefully to what Randall says and there is nothing special or secret in his word but there is a tone and a confidence that draws the person in and opens them up. My brother-in-law has this same knack having worked in kitchens. We ended up with about 12 lobsters at about 3 bucks a pound…crazy! Fresh, good, delectable. We ate them that same night on the boat in the Marina. Not the most romantic scene one could imaging but it was made better because we had a secret weapon on our boat.
The swordfish was a step above the lobster. We had rented Mopeds to take around the same Island (St Kitts)…like I said we were making the best of being stuck in the Marina. Off we went and about an hour into the drive Randall pulls over into a building compound just at a bend in the road. Why there? I had seen similar places everywhere. I saw nothing special, nothing that screamed “STOP HERE!”. Even once there the whole scene seemed off to me. It wasn’t a really a restaurant but there were tables and bathrooms but no customers. There seemed to be quite a few people working but I still couldn’t get a sense for who was who and what they were doing. Meanwhile Randall was talking to a couple of men. It seemed to me there was a lot of talking, a lot of gestures, with numerous glances around. Randall was finally lead towards some other gentlemen who came out from behind the building, more talking, more gestures, and more glancing. Finally he is lead to the smallest and furthest shack at the end of the compound just shy of a cliff leading to the sea next to large fire pit that seemed to burn for no purpose. He goes in and 5 seconds later pops out and beckons me over. As I approach the door to the shack the inside is dark but there is a large igloo cooler filled with ice. Resting among this ice is a very large entire swordfish with only the head missing. We work out how big of a piece we want and the deal is done. The men will deliver it to us at our boat later that evening. Amazing.
Killer bees and moonshine
The nighted ended in what is now referred to as the “dingy debacle”. We arrived to Nevis (just south of St Kitts) desperate for some quiet beach time. Our time in St Kitts was fun but being stuck in the Marina for a couple of days had us itching for the quintessential remote feeling you get when anchored in a bay or cove. In the Caribbean there is a no question that the redundancy of the beach scene can get old. The grass thatched structures with bright blue or yellow painted wood, sun, sand, drinks, and music creates an overall manufactured vibe expected by the tourists who arrive there…us included. The “sunset beach and bar” was no different except for a few notable things. First of which was their signature drink called a “killer bee”. I have to this day not been able to replicate the potency while maintaining the sweet flavors of mango. These drinks went down easy, too easy. They were refreshing and deadly despite their innocent look in small plastic cups. It wasn’t long before we were all talking and playing cornhole in a daze.
We were there in the early in the afternoon and during the slow season so the locals were more relaxed and had time to sit back themselves and participate in our ramblings. One gentleman brought out is own moonshine and poured us some shots that further drove our mental state further towards oblivion. At one point an order of corn fritters came out that remain in my mind the best I have every had. There could be an element of vacation-atmosphere-induced-influence on my memory but looking at the photo of the fritters I’m still convinced my recollection of the taste is accurate. Prior to heading back to the boat for dinner there was one last gift from the locals; a joint. We didn’t wait to indulge and while not everyone took part it’s safe to say everyone’s mental state was fully disconnected from reality.
It’s at this point that the dingy comes into play. Factors at play with a dingy: First of all you have the motor. It alone can take your leg off if it’s running. Typically I wait till folks are in the dingy before starting, but when you are making a beach launch this isn’t always possible. Second, the beach launch. The waves were not big but they come and go, pushing and pulling the dingy back and forth causing instability, confusion, and chaos. Lastly, we were shitfaced. I don’t recall if we were stumbling or slurring but we were laughing historically. People, purses, hats, and glasses were all falling in the water. The more people floundered the funnier it got. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how wrong it all could have gone. But it didn’t, and so while it was a debacle getting back to the boat, it remains a fond memory of an afternoon where spirits were lifted and the strains of things not going perfectly the previous days washed off through hysterical laughter and careless abandon of safety.
Grand Case and Friars Bay
There is an unwritten rule about sailing with groups. Four couples on a boat with close quarters for two weeks can be trying at best. Day 7 is notorious as a day when emotions are most strained and even the most reserved person snaps. Getting past day 7 without incident is a milestone especially considering the emotional baggage we arrived with. So while getting past day 7 is key the end of full two weeks is usually marked with a mass exodus of couples fleeing for solitude from the other crew members. And flee we all did until Friars Bay and Grand Case.
This quaint little town along the northing beach of Saint Martin resides in the French half of the island. The town was welcoming and full of life as we strolled through galleries and outdoor eateries. Friars Bay in particular was just outside of the town and it was here that the group regathered to sit, reflect, play bocce ball and soak in the final days of a dynamic vacation. We were comfortable around each other and could sit in silence without feeling awkward about it. We had gelled as a group and felt it represented one of the more perfect combination of couples on a boat…no easy task when putting together a sail plan.
There was a bitter sweet aspect to it, Angela’s pregnancy was a joyous occasion but it had silently sunk in that she and Lindsey were a major part of the group dynamics and that it would be some years before they would be back again. It felt like an end of one era and the beginning of a new one.