World Voyage 5

The Gods of Montserrat

By Ollie Campbell

Note by the Executive Editorial Committee: The below account by veteran Picton Castle crew member Billy ‘Ollie’ Campbell and the facts asserted therein have not all been verified by independent alternative sources, but we have found no one willing to go on record to call him a liar so we let the story stand unchallenged.

After the Antigua Classic, Mike the Mate was given leave by the captain to deliver one of the Carriacou sloops from Antigua to the French (and Swedish) island of Saint Barthelemy, so that she might participate in the West Indies Regatta. A crew of eager Picton Castlers were chosen, and I was detailed to go along as videographer.

The West Indies Regatta in St. Barths was started by Alexis Andrews, maritime photographer extraordinaire who, through the anthropological studies of his youth, had become enamored of the West Indies, particularly of Carriacou, and thence of her sturdy, sweet-sailing little workboats, the Carriacou sloops. His appreciation of them eventually extended not only to the building of his own sloop, Genesis, but to the devotion of a good deal of his energies toward the revival of theboatbuilding and racing traditions on the island he’d come to love. The West Indies Regatta is one of the ways he’s going about this. Reviving interest in the racing traditions of Carriacou naturally meant having as many of her sloops as possible participate in the regatta, and since Good Expectation’s owner Martin couldn’t make it to St. Barths, but was willing to let his sloop come for the races, six lucky Picton Castle crew under skipper Mike Moreland would make the delivery.

A contrary breeze on our morning of departure meant we’d have to beat out of Falmouth harbor, right under the noses of our shipmates still at anchor on the Picton Castle, but we were freshly provisioned, full of energy and optimism and coffee, and set out to make a good showing.

The first couple of tacks were enough to work out the wrinkles – the sloops are simply rigged, easy to handle – but Good Expectation is not as good to weather, we soon found, as she’d need to be to gain the mouth of Falmouth Harbor and so, to a chorus of hoots and hollers from our shipmates who’d lined the railings of the Picton Castle, we accepted a tow from our own skiff, rounded the point, let go, and shaped a plan for Anguilla, some 110 nautical miles to the NNW. There we’d rendezvous and, in a couple days time, sail in company down to St. Barths for the regatta.

We were doing quite well at first, heading toward the upper end of Montserrat, a few points off the port bow, a light but constant breeze pushing us along at a reasonable 2 or 3 knots. By the time Picton Castle had picked up her hook and made an appearance outside the harbor – followed by Pipe Dream, another Carriacou Sloop with her compliment of current and former Picton Castlers – we, in Good Expectation, felt as though we were most of the way to Montserrat. Of course we weren’t, but it was Mike’s plan to head that way which, when the wind came further north (as was expected), would give us as pretty a slant as we could wish to Anguilla. We were meant to sail in company, actually — the Castle, Pipe Dream, and Good Expectation – but, far to the SW of us now, it looked as if our happy barque had run out of wind. She lay on the horizon, sails sagging, seemingly devoid of life, while we were still contentedly toodling along, albeit slowly.

For most of us, save Mike perhaps, this gave rise to a fantasy of standing waist deep in the cool waters of an Anguillan beach with cold beers as, mere yards away, and days after we on Good Expectation had arrived, Picton Castle and her grumpy crew motored in to drop the hook. A few of us elaborated this fantasy to include reggae music, grilled chicken, island girls (Davey’s contribution), and the admiration of the locals, who’d been so impressed to see a bunch of white kids deftly maneuver an engineless Carriacou sloop into their busy harbor, right onto its anchorage, that they’d thrown us an impromptu fete!

We had a good laugh over this notion, some of us, excepting Mike, who (though in a great mood, relieved temporarily of his myriad responsibilities as Picton Castle’s first mate) remained inscrutable as ever, scanning the horizon to weather, suspecting perhaps our luck might turn.

It didn’t just turn, it died. Miserably. A flatulent mosquito might have caused bigger ripples than were now evident on the face of the Caribbean. No wind, not a puffy-wuffy. Zero. Zilch. Nada. For two days we drifted in dreary circles between Antigua and Montserrat, now closer to one, now the other, the water so greasy calm, the sails so limp, that we gave up all hope, stowed the tiller, the sails, put up the awning.

It was bloody hot. Montserrat is an active volcanic island, an ashy plume of steam permanently ragging away to windward – like an angry dialogue-balloon – from her heights. It was easy to believe this had something to do with our predicament, as if the Gods of Montserrat had sucked up the wind, marshaling their reserves for bigger mischief. We imagined the island exploding, which she had as recently as 1995, and, though uncomfortably close for such an eventuality, theorized that we might at least surf the tsunami Anguillaward.

We spent our time dozing and reading and Picton Castle’s 2nd engineer Katelinn made a project of jury-rigging a regulator for the propane tank, as we’d overlooked bringing one. She ingeniously used an ointment tube, rubber gloves, duct-tape, twine, and even a chopstick, I think, in her heroic and successful attempt to provide us with a hot meal. Why we wanted a hot meal is anybody’s guess. Paula and Fred and Davey dived on the hull with scrub-brushes, as it had grown a bit of a lawn. I went for a swim too, and the water, warm as it is in this part of the world, was a welcome respite from the heat, particularly if one dips the old skinny.

Of course potables had to be consumed before the cooler lost its cool, so there were some perks to all the lolling about in the heat. But it had begun to get old by the end of day two – the drifting – and despite the cold beers, the beatific sunsets (accompanied by Katelinn’s heartwarming fiddle), the laughter and camaraderie, we of Good Expectation were positively desperate to make way, our discomfiture only increased by the news that Picton Castle had taken Pipe Dream in tow, fired up her engines and steamed off to Anguilla. Our dreams of greeting our shipmates as newly minted local-heroes had gone up like so much volcanic ash. Now it was we who’d come dragging in.

What little juice was left in my phone allowed us to be in email communication with Captain Moreland on the Castle, though, and he wondered if – due to our delay – it might be more efficient for Good Expectation to head straight to St. Barths, rather than us chasing them down in Anguilla or (more likely by the time we’d arrive) St. Martin, where we’d only have a day or so before having to head back down to Barths.

And suddenly there was wind in our sails, if only figuratively. St. Barths, a whole 4 nights before the Picton Castle would arrive… I mean, we could really get some work done! Rather than spend the extra time sailing around, we could turn-to, do some much-needed work on Martin’s sloop: cleaning, painting, rigging, carpentry, make her tickety-boo for the West Indies Regatta!

Everyone was in quite a lather over this and it was only upon sober reflection, after our excitement had mellowed a bit, that we realized this would also mean 4 unsupervised days in St. Barths: hot showers, cold beers, beaches, Caribbean food, music, dancing, Piña Coladas, and members of the opposite sex. Imagine our dismay. Not a one of us hadn’t heard the Captain repeat the old adage ‘Ports rot ships, and men.’ …and here we had a a predicament: How to avoid temptation, yet do what’s best for the group, for the Captain, for the ship? Certainly none of us wanted to disappoint the Cap’.

We had a lot to live up to.

Mike set us straight. The way forward, the way of true seamanship, was to face temptation and stare it down, prove ourselves stronger than its grasp. We would go to St. Barths, show ourselves deserving of this trust. Would set rigid watches in Gustavia, live and eat and sleep onboard, lubricate our days with elbow-grease, spend our evenings in solemn contemplation of the next day’s labor, with, perhaps, a seamanship review and violin concerto before bunking down on deck at a reasonable hour each evening.

As if in mute approval of our intentions, the Gods of Montserrat released their strangle-hold on the winds, sending the first of many nifty little zephyrs from the North, and soon Good Expectation was rollicking along, a bone in her teeth, her crew as grateful a lot as you might imagine, cooled by the wind, thrilled by the salt-spray. Not long afterward, an enormous mahi mahi took the bait Davey had just sent over the stern, was hoisted by many hands into the boat, wrestled to death by the skipper, filleted, seasoned, fried on Katelinn’s contraption, and hungrily consumed on deck. It was flat-out the tastiest fish I have ever pushed down my pie-hole, and, in concert with a steaming mug of black coffee and a dripping-orange Caribbean sunset, the turquoise waters creaming along our little sloop’d side, it was easy indeed to imagine the Gods smiling down on us.

The next day Mike and his able crew tacked Good Expectation neatly up-harbor into the port of Gustavia. Threading million-dollar yachts, we rounded her up a few boat-lengths to windward of the wharf, set the anchor, and backed down with the wind into our final resting place, stern to the wharf, right next to a giant plastic stinkpot Beyoncé herself might’ve been proud to own. All this without any means of propulsion, save that of wind on Good Expectation’s threadbare sails.

There were no hordes of admiring locals to admire this maneuver, or fete us for it, but the single present crew-member of the aforementioned yacht, having watched the whole operation from his railing, broke into applause with its conclusion. He was a Mexican gentleman, and pronounced it ‘Berry berry niiice!’

Not chicken and cold beer but it would do, just the same.

One of our lads wondered if the crew who worked these big-money yachts – in their khaki shorts and topsiders, with their air conditioning and bow thrusters – might not look down, figuratively as well as literally, on the ragged little Carriacou sloops in their midst, and on those who crew them.

‘You kidding?’ growled Mike. ‘They WISH they were us.’

Mike was smiling as he growled. Good quality in a skipper.

The boat having been secured, lovingly tidied, we made our way into Gustavia town, seven abreast, sunburned and salty. Merely, mind you, by way of reconnoitering its various temptations so that they might be effectively thwarted. Until the Picton Castle sailed in from Anguilla and Saint Maarten 4 days later, and contrary to a previous Captain’s log by another of our crew (the tart), we had not one drop of fun.

I swear by the Gods of Montserrat.