Light winds and rain have been the order of the day lately.  We left the Saints in a drizzle and made our way to Basse-Terre to check out on our way to Deshaies, our last anchorage in Guadeloupe.  What should have been a simple stop to check-out during (French customs) business hours turned into an unexpected adventure.  There’s supposed to be a customs office at Marina de Sens as well as in the main town, but after motoring into the marina and finding it packed and the fuel dock occupied, we decided to stop at the main town a mile and a half away, thinking there would be a better chance of finding someone in the office there anyway.  The anchorage off of the town wasn’t the best, the commercial dock was empty, and the swell wasn’t too big, so we found a convenient spot to tie up to the dock and got permission to stay long enough to check out.  My basic French eventually got me to the customs office where they told me sorry, go back to the marina.  Can’t check out yachts here.  I walked back to the marina, but didn’t see a customs office, so I asked around and was told to go to the Barracuda Restaurant.  Not typical, but OK.  I walked to the other side of the marina and found it was a very nice place with uniformed chefs and cooks getting ready for the lunch rush in a kitchen that was visible from the dining area.  It turns out the main chef is also the customs guy.  After checking several boiling pots on the stove, he took me into a closed Billabong-style surf wear shop next door, powered-up the computer used to as a cash register, and printed up my clearance after I’d filled in the form.  Checking in and out can sometimes be a bit of an annoyance, but it’s never a bore.

We haven’t been fishing much, so I stopped on the way back to buy some fish at the market.  Freshly caught mahi mahi, wahoo, tuna, and marlin were out on the chopping block and I got a pretty decent deal on some mahi mahi and wahoo.  With Lauren’s parents coming to Antigua it will be nice to have fresh fish dinners at something other than the tourist price.  Just to give an idea of the difference, I picked up enough mahi mahi and wahoo for about 9 servings, each larger than what you’d get in a restaurant for a little over $30 US.  The restaurant at the dockyard here in Antigua is charging $45 US for one plate of wahoo.

When I got back to the boat I found out Lauren had been having an adventure as well.  The swell had grown and docklines had chafed through while she was below.  She was a little shaken up by the experience of colliding with the concrete wall (no real harm done, fortunately), but she had us tied back up securely and in a few minutes we were off for Deshaies.

We made Deshais before sunset.  It’s one of those anchorages that almost everybody stops at on their way up or down the chain. We’re still getting used to the number of boats in the Caribbean and how tightly they get packed into anchorages.  Deshaies had plenty of room for everyone, but it was still closely packed with 45 sailboats as well as a few local dive boats.

Thanks to light winds, our passage up to Antigua the next day was pretty uneventful.  We even used the time to fill diesel tanks and Lauren gave the cockpit and deck a good cleaning.  As we motored into Antigua’s English Harbour, we got a new lesson in what “crowded anchorage” means.  This is Classic Regatta week and Antigua Sailing Race Week is coming up.  The result is more boats and dinghies than we’ve ever seen in one place.

anchorage Looking from where we’re anchored across the channel toward Freeman Bay

After checking in, we went ashore to do a little exploring and soon found ourselves in the middle of a party.  We were walking down the street toward Falmouth Harbour when we saw Tracey walking toward us. She’d just arrived from Brazil by plane and we started catching up as we headed toward the yacht club.  As full as English Harbour is, Falmouth Harbour made it look like a deserted backwater.  The docks were jammed full of superyachts, mostly classic-style sailboats, including the ultra-modern square-rigged Maltese Falcon by Pereni Navi.  There was a separate “harbour” just for dinghies from the armada of sailboats anchored and moored in the bay.  The first part of the night’s festivities were sponsored by some European watch maker I’d never heard of, who must sell watches for the price of cars.  They must be that expensive because their ads were just pictures of huge yachts and they took the opportunity to supply free drinks to everyone in the Harbour.

Mt. Gay sponsored the next portion of the evening with live music, cheap food, and cheap or free rum.  The coveted red Mt. Gay hats were distributed to regatta participants and I was able to talk my way into a few of them after explaining that we’d sailed nearly 30,000 miles just to visit the Mt. Gay distillery in Barbados. The Caribbean is filled with a different type of sailor than the more remote anchorages of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.  There are some old salts here, but there are also lots of charterers, people with a lot more money than sense or experience, boat bums who found an anchorage they won’t leave for 20 years or more (I’m not sure what some of them did with the money from selling their mast), European cruisers just starting to get nice and salty after crossing the Atlantic, Americans in shiney decked-out boats here for a run up and down the island chain, superyachts with uniformed crews that polish and clean then polish and clean some more, families, you name it.  Everyone is represented here.

With so many different people around, we had to do a bit of mingling.  Here’s a sampling of some of the people I enjoyed conversations with.  It gives some feel for who’s here in addition to the owners and crew of the large, classic yachts: a Brit who lived aboard here for 20 years after retiring, a German owner/captain who charters his 60-foot sailboat for a route that covers the Med, the Caribbean, the Baltic, and St. Peterburg Russia, a local Rasta-style farmer with 3.5 acres that is mostly fruits and vegetables, but also includes a certain herb that he tries to sell at evening tourist gatherings, an American hiding from his ex-wife’s divorce lawyers for a few more years, a Swede who crossed the Atlantic with a partner and is now planning to head for the Panama Canal and attempt a circumnavigation, and a young man named Mario.

Mario was probably my favorite.  He was born in Jamaica but has lots of family in the US and England, including a son in NYC.  He’s working with a local company who is a distributor for Mt. Gay, so he was technically on the clock last night, but had plenty of time to chat.  He left Jamaica because of all the violence in the cities and the lack of any job prospects after completing welding school.  He’s had no problem fitting in and making friends here in Antigua and likes the more relaxed atmosphere.  Since he was from Jamaica, we had to have a chat about music.  While we’ve found that American hip-hop is popular the world-over, we were really surprised by how strong of an appeal Bob Marley still has to indigenous peoples and former slaves of all ages everywhere we’ve been.  After reading Michener’s Caribbean over the last couple of weeks, it’s obvious that in addition to being a good musician, Marley captured quite eloquently the experiences and psyche shared by a lot of people after coming into contact with European society.  Mario laughed and called Marley “old people” or “family” music. He’s right about that being the case here in the Caribbean.  We like to listen to the local radio when we’re approaching a new country, and the music here even today is striking for its content.  In the US, the girl you’re dancing with or the guy you’re in love with, or “bling” as Mario added, makes up for most of the lyrical content.  The Caribbean has that too, but here there are also a lot of songs about life’s hardships, economic problems, politics and the government, etc.  We even heard one really strange (for us) song on the bus in Dominca by a victim of childhood sexual abuse that passengers were singing along to.  Mario just nodded his head vigorously and became a little animated when he said the difference is because in the US “you don’t have no hardships, no walkin’ to school with no shoes, no comin’ home and momma don’t have no food to give you to eat, no havin’ to go out in the street and rob someone just to have some food to eat.”  In the US we think of much of the rest of the world as “poor” and behind, but really it’s just that we’re rich and lucky.  Compared to much of the rest of the world, we’re more like the few guys with the crewed superyachts.  Here in Antigua Mario’s had it much better.  He’s got a good job, a girlfriend he’s thinking about proposing to, and enough money to soup up a Honda Civic and pay the tickets he gets for driving way too fast on the winding roads.