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  • Writer's pictureFatjax

34 || It's a Dog's Life

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

February 2021 (Jax)

We had been in Falmouth Harbour for quite some time enjoying being in one place. Over three days, Sophia went diving to clean the hull and made friends with many of the creatures who had taken up residence either attached to the hull or staying near by, knowing there was a significant food supply on tap. Iain was not amused at how dirty the hull had become, but happy it was being corrected. Our next sail would be extremely efficient.

While in the USA, Iain bought a blow up windsurfer, which can also be used as a paddle board. I have never used either, and it was agreed I should start off by mastering the paddle board before thinking of windsurfing.

Early one morning when it was exceptionally calm in the anchorage, Iain decided I should try. I was nervous being very close to the water and trying to balance, co-ordinate a very long handle and paddle at the same time was making me apprehensive. I was sure my balance and sense of co-ordination would not support such an activity. To coax me along, Iain said he would take me for a ride so I could get used to the motion of the board and watch his technique of handling the paddle.

After a couple of wobbly attempts to stand up, I decided to sit in front of Iain while he paddled. I had been worried for no reason. We ventured out into the anchorage and headed to the safety of the shore line. It was lovely. We left the boat to do something neither of us had experienced before. It was fun. I could not stop grinning, trying to savour every moment of our new experience. I felt very special being paddled around the bay listening to the day unfold, tempered only by the swish of the paddle while Iain explained the construction technics and maximum point of sail of each yacht we passed. I knew this morning was a sign of good things to come.

As we were drifting between the shore and the boats, watching the sun climb higher in the morning sky, I thanked Iain for suggestion such a romantic morning activity. I was hoping this could become “our thing” every time we ventured to a new anchorage. I was still grinning. “Thank you for suggesting such a romantic morning trip, I’m really enjoying myself” I said to my galant husband. There was a slight dip of the board and a swish of the paddle as he changed sides and then replied, “most people do this in the morning with their dogs”. Of course he was right, but I didn’t let it spoil my morning.

I became more comfortable with the paddle board as the week unfolded and we had lots of fun but I think the most enjoyment came from watching Iain teach Dugald to windsurf. Iain had not been on a board since he was a teenager. We have his old board at home in Ringland which hasn’t felt a wave in over 30 years, but was very efficient as a sledge propelling all the children we know down the Ringland Hills during those big snowy winters when they were growing up.

This activity has been a great success and both men are becoming stronger, skilled and very competitive as the days go on. With their new found skill being developed, we decided to sail to Green Island for a few days as this is the place to go for any board related sport.

As the wind changed, we sailed back to Falmouth for some provisions. It’s astonishing how much food can be consumed by four people! It was a gentle sail to begin with. We are all very used to the little hops around the island which are never more than a few hours between bays.

As usual, Dugald put out his fishing lines to practice reeling in seaweed and we teased him once again. After several catches of really good clumps of weed, there was a different sound as the reel expelled the line at a greater speed. We all knew it wasn’t weed, and pandemonium erupted. A major school girl error. I did not get the fishing equipment ready, I didn’t expect Dugald to catch anything and secretly, I don’t think Dugald did either, or he would have sorted the necessary equipment. With lots of flustering and some very stern instructions from the helm, I was told to “get the alcohol, it’s in the bilge”

In my defence, there was a floundering fish on the deck, which was distressing me. I had to kneel down, in a moving vessel and stick my head in the bowels of the boat to find a bottle of alcohol which was purchased especially for this purpose. Some sort of rubbing alcohol. What are the chances? Given my known tendency to seasickness, this is not boding well.

I rushed, the blood was pumping around my ears as I tried to not think of the fish fighting for its life and concentrate on looking for a specific bottle while ignoring the motion of the boat which would most certainly send me running in a different direction. I did not want the fish to suffer, I found a bottle. It was an imported bottle of gin! It was alcohol! Armed with a tea towel, some rubber gloves and a knife, I proceeded to the deck and started pouring. Eventually, I poured the alcohol into the fishes gills. The fish became calm, much calmer than Iain who watched me pour three quarters of a bottle of our most favourite gin over the deck whilst trying to angle the bottle into the gill of the fish, missing on several attempts as the boat lurched from side to side, but insisting I would continue to pour until the fish stopped moving.

Iain steered the boat, voices were being raised while precise instructions on pouring were proffered. I was trying stand over the fish, pouring into the sometimes not so open gill. Dugald also tried to balance, on his knees, underneath the bottle, holding the fish with both hands but swaying in the same directions as me and my fast depleting bottle of expensive gin, simultaneously talking a very calmly in a firm voice to reassure me the fish could not feel anything, but suggesting I try to focus a little more on not pouring quite so much on the deck and more in the gill.

In the end, I think the fish did not suffer. We learnt the value of preparation and team work. We thank the fish for providing us with some wonderful life lessons but mostly we thank Sophia for a splendid fish supper that evening.

We returned to Green Island. The wind was right, we had supplies and we stayed there messing about in the water. As the curfew continues most of the cruising and super yachts are doing the same circuit around the island. We are becoming quite the nomadic tribe, all following each other from bay to bay.

On our return to Falmouth, we were very happy to meet up with Jan and Greg on Viridian. We had a specular time with them last year at the Mardi Gras in Martinique. Iain had not seen them since, but I was fortunate to spend a weekend with Jan and Greg in Norfolk. We had lots to catch up on. We had a really good evening of rum and pizza on board Fatjax. The evening came to an end rather quickly to adhere to curfew, but this didn’t matter as we knew we would see them again.

The following morning was a late start. However, it was decided we had been playing for far too long. The list needed to be tackled once again. This time it was going to be the mammoth task of the headlining throughout the boat. We knew it needed changing when we bought her in 2016, but it was good enough at the time, and there were more pressing issues which needed to be dealt with so interior cosmetics was neglected for as long as possible.

Iain had successfully changed the headlining and lights in the master heads while in the USA, but the time had come to tackle the day heads. Humidity and leaks have not been kind, and in several places the lining has deteriorated so badly it leaves a fine powder all over the boat. This is going to be a very long process. However, Iain and Dugald began. Sophia and I kept out of the way.

While this task was being undertaken slowly, we continued to sail between the bays and snorkelled when we could. We went to Deep Bay several times to snorkel on a ship which sunk in the middle of the bay nearly 100 years ago. It was The Andes, a barque from Trinidad which met its end when its cargo of pitch caught fire. The mast of the wreck pokes out of the water like a beacon and so far, having made three trips to Deep Bay, the water has not been clear or still enough for us to see anything more than this mast.

Not to be disappointed by the lack of visibility in Deep Bay, we went for a walk to Fort Barrington. The fort as it stands today was built in 1779. It commands a spectacular view from the top of the hill. It was another invigorating climb ever upwards. Many rooms of the fort still stand, which we explored along with a few inquisitive goats.

Towards the end of the month, the wind was looking particularly favourable for a trip to Barbuda. Like marmite, it would appear, people either love Barbuda or hate it. Not to be swayed by popular opinion, we decided to find out for ourselves. We set off.

It was a quick three hour sail, which we all enjoyed. Dugald helmed most of the way, and Iain trimmed the main and the jib occasionally. We found a spot to anchor off Splash Point, but Iain was not convinced. It was not very deep, but with the keel up we managed to sneak in-between the reefs. Dugald and I went for a snorkel which was most enjoyable but the wind was getting up, and we returned to the boat.

The next day, Iain was concerned by the proximity of the reef as we swung, so we moved. The wind was increasing and visibility under water was not good. Iain was uncomfortable with the anchorage which was becoming increasingly lumpy. Also, the Island was closed including the famous Nobu Restaurant which everyone says has to be tried. By the following morning we decided to return to our favourite spot in Falmouth.

Once back in Falmouth, I felt the need to stretch and feel the soil under my feet. I arranged a walk with Annemarie and once again we hiked ever upwards on the Middle Ground Trail. Luckily it was not a Monday so there were no interruptions in our stride or distractions from our chatter. We stopped several times to take in the view or just because we felt like stopping. It was refreshing for both of us to get away from our boats and all things male to exchange news, walking at our pace followed by a refreshing take away mango juice and ice cream in English Harbour.

Iain, Dugald and I had two long walks to end the month. The first was to Great Fort George. In This was established 1689, when the English settlers built a large fort to defended Antigua’s first town and harbour of Falmouth.

We left the boat very early, to beat the rising heat of the day and began the ascent. Along the way, Dugald made a four legged friend who seemed to know the way and was very happy to accompany us on our quest to the top. Dugald was excited to have a companion and lamented we never had a dog while he was growing up. Something he was going to put right when he had a place of his own. The Dog was very friendly and he seemed to know where we were going. Several times Dugald tried to be masterful over his new companion to send him back from whence he came, but sadly, the dog’s intuition told him Dugald was new to this game of master and beast and so our friend continued to walk and sometimes run circles around us as we climbed ever upwards. Eventually, the dog left and we continued walking but secretly hoped to see him again.

As we approached the top, evidence of the scale of the fort was revealed in the numerous buildings and excellent road. The skill of the workmanship is quite astounding. We discussed how difficult the construction must have been in the heat of the day and on such a scale.

The descent was via a different path. Just a straight hill side overlooking the sea and towns below. On the way down, the path led us to a partially overgrown windmill which we couldn't resist.

The following day we set off again, this time to the famous Shirley Heights. Chris Doyle’s guide to the Caribbean describes the Sunday night hot party spot as a Caribbean Institution and a must to watch the sunset while listening to the steel bands, reggae and eating the local barbecue food severed from stalls. We will have to take his word for it this year, but he is quite right about the view from the top.

The roadway was a gentle introduction along a steep incline leading to a country road path covered by trees and vegetation. As the climb became steeper, denser in vegetation and less even there was a sign which took a diversion around the boulders and an even steeper incline. Naturally, we were not going to take the easy route, especially as Dugald was with us. Why would we? Dugald bounded forward, jumping over the boulders and spurning Iain on to keep pace. This was a huge relief for me as it distracted Iain from my lack of speed and agility. Should have kept up those gym classes! But thankfully, most of the walk was in the shade of trees. The undergrowth seemed to muffle the sounds of the outside world and I felt very connected to each step listening to the rustling leaves, the occasional bird and the teasing banter between Iain and Dugald.

The view really was worth the climb. We stayed to spot the familiar boats before carrying on to marvel at the old military ruins and the grave yard commemorating the bravery of so many soldiers and their families.

The scenery on the way back was very barren and low in comparison. We followed the side of the hill with views over the pounding seas, feeling the bracing breeze bending us towards the shore to mimic the same shapes of the trees and plants which weald to the same force, growing at a slant towards the cliff, above the rock formation below carved out over centuries of erosion by the water and salt relentlessly bounding at the cliffs gave us a reason to stop to marvel at such power. Something we have seen many times before in many countries but still such magnificence can never be taken for granted.

As we descended, a dog joined us. We were impressed at the stamina of the pet who didn't seem to be struggling at all with the heat. He descended with us for a little while and we soon realised his owners were on a beautiful cacti garden on a plateau. It was such an oasis in an otherwise rugged landscape.

And so the month ended, not very much sailing, but lots of walking and getting to know our temporary home.

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