This week, the second most powerful hurricane (by sustained wind speed) ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin hit Barbuda, St. Martin, and Anguilla. St. Martin is close to my heart, as it’s where Tarka and I started our voyage. I know the place well, and unfortunately, know many people there. Most of these people live on boats and had already, or were able to sail out of the path before Irma arrived. However, I still have friends that I have not heard from, but I have heard second hand that they are OK. But after seeing videos of the destruction, I’m unsure if the island will ever truly recover. In addition to 90% of buildings being destroyed, entire forests have been removed from the island, and there’s little doubt that the reefs have been decimated.
“Captain!” I heard a voice call from behind. I reflexively turned around, only to see a man in black slacks, a white shirt with fancy shoulder epaulets, and shiny metal wings. The barista at the airport café was of course shouting to the airline pilot, and not this dirty-looking sailor in desperate need of a haircut. I had become so accustomed to taxi drivers, food vendors, and others shouting, “captain” at me – deservingly or not – that I couldn’t help but laugh at myself when I turned around.
The time had come: Tarka was coming out the water. The sails had already been brought down, lines coiled and hung, and the forever-drying laundry stowed below. With the help of Michael, Meagan and Michelle to handle lines, I maneuvered Tarka over to the marina dock. From there, the dock crew took over pulling Tarka onto a very large trailer while two divers made sure she was secured on the hydraulic cradle. The tractor then pulled Tarka effortlessly out of the water, and out of her element.
This week’s blog, and the ones to follow in the coming weeks, are likely to be shorter than previous ones. The adventure has slowed as Tarka and I wait out hurricane season and do work on the boat in preparation for the upcoming trip to Panama and from there, the crossing of the South Pacific. Though there will still be much to share, the day-to-day activities are becoming more of a social nature, and when I’m being responsible, more of a boat-maintenance nature.
This week, I broke the 500-mile mark upon arriving in Grenada. Though this distance is tiny compared to the 10,000-mile voyage across the Pacific, it has served as both a learning experience, and an opportunity to discover a new mission for the Adventures of Tarka.
This week, Tarka and I experienced our most trying sail to-date, but were dully rewarded with an island paradise unlike anything we have seen so far.
At three in the morning, and without a working masthead light, I untied the mooring lines that secured me between the dramatic Pitons, and set out into the darkness of the Caribbean Sea. The moonless night didn’t afford much visibility, but I trusted my charts. I had jury-rigged a temporary navigation light to my bow and left my anchor light lit, positioned high on my backstay. I was hoping this would be sufficient for other boats to see and avoid me if necessary.
It has been a wild ride this past week. I said goodbye to good friends as their journey came to an end, and I continued mine alone, straight toward the path of a tropical storm.
After an unforgettable stay in Dominica, it came time to put the clothes back on and leave the waterfalls of that tropical treasure astern. In stillness of the morning twilight, I readied Tarka and myself for departure. In almost ritualistic fashion, I prepared my morning coffee, and sipped it on deck, reflecting on my time on the island. I glanced over at King of Bongo, its crew happily still asleep, and wondered how I’d manage without them. Those thoughts would have to wait though, as it was time to lift anchor and set sail.
This week I put the adventure back into The Adventures of Tarka after what had been a relatively relaxing time on the islands of Guadeloupe and Les Saintes. Tarka and I had arrived in the much-hyped Dominica, and to my surprise, it blew away all expectations.
Tarka and I have continued our march south. From the volcanic island of Montserrat, we have made landfall on the French island of Guadeloupe, Iles des Saintes, and now lie on anchor off Dominica’s north coast.
Tarka’s journey from Montserrat to Guadeloupe to Dominica, totaling over 100 miles.
The passage from Montserrat to Guadeloupe was a rough 45 miles beating into the wind and waves. It was wet, loud, and slow. I let the windvane steer the boat, and spent the majority of the passage below deck reading books or watching episodes of Friends. The will-they/won’t-they of Ross and Rachel really takes a bite out of the sometimes violent and alien world of ocean sailing.
In the last week, Tarka and I have sailed over 150 nautical miles working our way down from St Barts to Montserrat and to where we now lie on anchor in Guadeloupe.
Our stay on St. Barts was short. Compared to the other islands of the West Indies, it is polished in appearance, and adorned with boutique shopping, clean streets, and beautiful buildings. That also implies that it is more expensive than other places, as it caters largely to visiting mega/super yachts. However, St. Barts proved to be a perfect place to buy a few parts for my overheating engine, and, being home to one of the most challenging runways in the world, stirred up my inner pilot. Best of all, we had access to moderately-warm showers every day.