Bermuda to Antigua – Thanksgiving week 2010

A while back, James casually asked me if I (along with my kids) would like to join him on his sailing trip from Bermuda to Antigua. I’m firmly of the opinion that,in life, if at all possible, it’s exactly one of those offers that one should simply not turn down.  And so it was that I duly informed my 13 year old daughter Natalie (my son Sam gets badly seasick, so that was him out of consideration), that we were heading off on a big “adventure”.

By way of some background, it should probably be noted that I have no sailing experience whatsoever. The few times I’ve been on a boat are when I have found myself in some seaside harbour town, and I’ve taken the cute little half hour tour of the area in a boat. I’m not even sure when a boat is a boat, or when it’s a yacht.  After some careful deliberation, I do know the difference between port and starboard, but prior to the trip I would have been hard pressed to point out a jib if my life depended on it (I am pleased to report that I can now do so with utmost authority). In fact, I’ve come to realise that there’s a whole sailing lexicon that vaguely sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book.  Go ahead – you tell me which is which: halyard, gryffindor, protector, dementor, bludger, painter, clew, floo!  But I digress….

So Nat and I flew to Bermuda, took a quick cab ride to “the gas station by the water” in St. George’s, and jumped on Ondine.  And the following day, round about lunchtime, we set sail for Antigua.  Seems simple enough, right?  Wrong!  Sailing is hard work!  I mean it took us several attempts to just get the main sail up!  With three adults on board, we were each assigned 3 hour rotating shifts: on for 3 hours, off for 6, on for 3 again etc. etc.  That means you’re constantly setting your alarm clock and after a couple of days, generally feeling the effects of sleep deprivation.  And you actually have to “sail”.  That means adjusting sails, pulling in lines, winching stuff, checking on stuff, writing entries in a log book, making sure bilge pumps are operational, putting up spinnakers (another sail), taking down spinnakers. Actually, as I write this, it dawns on me that I might be more of an engine kind of guy!  But that midnight to 3AM shift, with an ocean as far as you can see in any direction, a gazillion stars overhead, nothing out there but us – WOW!  Simply amazing!  It is memories like that (words and pictures won’t do it justice), that I will hold on for a long time to come.

For me, the highlights of our 6 day passage (I think that’s a fancy word for a long sailing trip) were as follows:

1. Getting to know the Green family better.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to get to know the family that’s embarking on an adventure like this??!!  No surprise to see James is indeed the consummate Captain – in charge, but not overbearingly so. He is incredibly patient and he’s a great teacher.  His children, particularly Paloma, could run sailing circles around me!  And trust me, I tested his patience.  On our last night of the trip, an hour and a half after he had just finished the midnight to 3am shift, I noticed the lights of another ship in the distance.  I looked it up on his fancy computer chart thing, and it was pretty obviously on a direct collision course for us.  Clearly an emergency!  I’m thinking SOS AND MAYDAY!!!  So I woke him up and watched as he clicked a couple of buttons, and he calmly, albeit sleepily announced, “Yes, it’s a ship.  The Silver Spirit.  Nearest point of contact: 10.3 miles.  I really need to go back to bed.”  Yup, I’d woken him up because we were going to come within 10 miles of another ship!!!!!

And if sailing is a metaphor for life (and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be), then Emma-Kate is his perfect partner.  She is the calm when he borders on stress.  She is an equal partner, but happily defers to him.  She’s a joy to watch as a mother (Paloma and Ronan, you are lucky kids!), and she is clearly programmed for adventure!  In fact, I hereby formally apologize to EKC for my grumpy outburst on Thanksgiving day.  It was round about 3pm in the afternoon, when James announced that Ondine’s steering system was defunct, and we might well have to manually steer her the 400+ miles we had to go.  I promptly went downstairs and sulked for a bit, and when I came back on deck, there was Emma-Kate smiling away, almost happy at the adventure of it all.  “What are you so bloody happy about? There’s nothing fun about this!”, I grumbled at James and Emma-Kate, and then I directed the next outburst at her, “Particularly you!  Why are you still smiling??!!”  As I said, she was simply game for the adventure of it all.  And to round out the story, it was her idea to call Antigua for the instructions on how to fix the steering issue (which James duly did).  All calls to the States had gone to voicemail, no doubt due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

And with parents like that, it should come as no surprise to see kids like Paloma and Ronan.  Paloma has a way about her that belies the fact she is only 10 years old. She’s a kind and caring older sister, is smart, insightful, and just generally, well….cool.  And as I mentioned, she is already a very knowledgeable sailor.  And Ronan?  Well,  let’s just say I kept telling Natalie to take him back to school for “show and tell”!   His stumping us at charades, with what must be the most random, difficult, and delightful charade ever (“Schools with Monkey Bars and Gorillas”) is possibly my most fond memory of the trip!

2. Hanging with Natalie – as I told a few folk after we got back, “hanging out with your daughter, in close confines, for six days and six nights…. well, no bad can come of that”.  She was a trooper.  It was a long trip, she got sea sick on day two, and she ran out of reading material on about day 4.  And yet it was she who informed me, shortly after my “incident” on Thanksgiving, a day when I really wasn’t thankful for much at all (!), “Daddy, you really need to change your attitude”.  Priceless.  It really was a special few days, and I know Nat and I will be talking about them for years to come.

3. I come from Scotland, a land of some amazing trout and salmon fishing, but I can confirm that I am no fisherman.  We tried various lures, and some defrosted ballyhoo (bait fish), and the closest I came to catching anything was a clump of seaweed.  The poor couple of flying fish that ended up on the boat don’t exactly count!

4. The French have an expression, “ca change less idees”.  Literally translated, it means “that changes ideas”, but it’s really more a way of saying, that if you do something different or out of the norm, you’ll come away with a different perspective on things.  As James notes in another posting, it’s fun to jump off a cliff.  That’s really what this trip was about for me.  I’d have liked more time in Antigua, but even as we started to take more time than we originally anticipated, it dawned on me that this was more about the voyage itself than the actual destination.  This was about being out on the open sea for six straight days, disconnected from everyone and everything.  No phone calls, no Facebook, no text messages, no games of squash, no TV shows.  Just you, your thoughts, some sailing, and the occasional very lost bird!  Honestly, it’s something I would highly recommend to anyone.  And for the record, Antigua seems like a lovely place; quite British Caribbean in flavour, and it’s where an old childhood cricketing hero of mine, Viv Richards, comes from.  I’ll visit again someday.

And so I will sign off on this posting, hoping that James and family will continue their odyssey in much the same vein as it started; coping with and overcoming the unexpected, reveling in the moment, and just simply “being”.  Get some sun on your bodies, some memories inside your heads, and a whole load of perspective on life.

With much love and a ton of thanks,

Passenger/crew member/general lackey,

David (and Natalie) Uprichard

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