Wednesday, May 26th, 2010
0730 – beautiful warm sultry tropical Caribbean morning – winds have backed into the ESE and blow steady and fresh, sky has plenty blue in it, still some squall clouds about – shoals of tiny flying fish shoot across the seas surface from time to time. One has graciously landed aboard overnight for Chibleys breakfast – we are coming up on Anguilla, our first land fall.
The 8-12 watch first spotted Anguilla this morning, but by about 1100 all hands were awake and looking out over the rail at land as we approached. Shortly after noon (ship’s time, which was 1100 local Anguilla time), we dropped the starboard anchor in about five fathoms of water in Road Bay, Anguilla’s main anchorage. The Captain, mate Rebecca, medical officer Dr. Krista and I went ashore to clear the ship in through immigration and customs, which went smoothly, the nice ladies at Customs/Immigration remembered us from our last – they even smiled when they mentioned this! Their office is right on the beach up from the small boat dock and it was air conditioned, not a bad feature today as it is unusually hot, sun beating down through a high haze and reflecting sharply back up from the creamy beach sand – also, the sun is virtually overhead. Back at the ship, after an all-hands swim call, the 8-12 took the watch for the day, leaving the other two watches free to go ashore and check out the island.
As it happens, today is WhitMonday, a national holiday. Next Monday is Anguilla Day, the biggest national holiday of them all. On both these days, there are races for local boats, each lovingly built and sailed by different owners and communities around the island. These 18 or so boats look sleek and smooth on the outside like fiberglass does, but they’re actually made of wood. And they are big, 35-40 and 45’ long evolved from the old time fishing sail boats they used to have. The sails on these boats are huge for the size of the hull, the boom extending far beyond the transom and the main sheet attached to the boom only about a third of the way along. And they’re packed with people – a few folks to handle lines (they only have a main and a jib, so there are just a handful of lines), a helmsman and a bunch of people as ballast/bailers. Depending on the strength of the wind they might have 20 crew. The race started and ended in Road Bay, so we were able to watch. I saw them on the horizon returning to finish the race, turned my back for just a few minutes and they had already crossed – these boats are fast. Designed, built, crewed and skippered by Anguillans, this may by one of the largest match regattas in the western hemisphere – it certainly is fun and exciting to be in amongst. By the way, The Sloop Real Deal won by a mile this time…
Where it’s a holiday and there’s a big boat race going on, Sandy Ground village is packed with people. We make regularly scheduled runs with our skiff from the ship to shore, and the skiff coxswains have to be very careful approaching the dinghy dock because of all the swimmers, children and adults, in the area. A good way to strike up a conversation with anyone from Anguilla is to ask them which boat is the best – apparently Anguillans feel the same way about these boats that many North Americans feel about their favourite NHL, NBA or NFL team.
The on watch have been working on some rust busting and painting projects, many of which are hard to do while the ship is underway. The white stripe at the top of the ladder to the quarterdeck was repainted, the rail around the ladder from the quarterdeck to the breezeway has been rustbusted and primed and the new hardwood floor in the charthouse has been treated. Under chief mate Michael’s direction, the on watch launched the long-boat and went rowing in this tropical bay. Just before supper the swing rope was rigged from the fore yardarm, which will surely bring hours of entertainment during swim calls.
While a stop in Anguilla was unplanned, it is certainly welcome. We anticipate being here until Thursday afternoon, so each watch will be on duty for one day and have two days off. If today is any indication, there’s lots of relaxing, exploring and unwinding to be done.