I m writing from my room at the house in Casa Blanca – Ecuador, where the girls and I are spending vacations with my family. My mother, father, and brother are here, so is my sister and nephew who arrived two days ago. We’ve found our routine. A lot of reading, very little work, movies, runs at the beach, board and card games, the world cup. And there is good food, plus gin, beer and wine. Today the sun is out, strong, sending its light almost perpendicularly, but it has been hidden for most of the time.
It has been one month and three days since I left Antares on the hard at the shipyard in Turks and Caicos. The last forty eight hours there were not very pleasant. I finally left South Side marina on Friday 17th. Tom, the single-handler sailor I had met, came with me for the 1.5h trip to the boatyard. It was a very painful slog, motoring against 20+ knots of wind and a sharp shop. We were doing less than 3 Kt and, at times, Antares was simply not moving, almost going backwards with the waves. Frankly, the engine should have been be able to generate more boat speed. Maybe the propeller, which I later found was full of barnacles, had something to do with it.
I spent the afternoon and night moored at one end of the dock. A sailor I had met during my last trip to T&C was also staying at the yard, at anchor past the marina. He was trying to repair his yellow catamaran which had lost its mast. I invited him over. He accepted a beer (he really doesn’t drink) and I fixed a G&T for me. We sat at the cockpit, him with the falling sun reflecting on his face. Like last time he was wearing a bandana over his head. Big hands, arms, legs and face covered by a skin worn and wrinkled, a mustache almost all white. A couple of weeks before our encounter he had been planning a passage to Luperon-DR with two other boats. They were all waiting at French Cay for a weather window. Him, as always, alone in his catamaran, a couple in each of the other two boats. The window never came, the trades continued to blow steadily at 20+ Knots. The other two boats, nonetheless, decided to attempt the 100 miles crossing. Approaching DR they found 30 Knots of wind and steep seas. One of the boats lost the mainsail and the other the mast. But it seems, at the end, both were able to enter Luperon and anchor.
“Why did you decide to stay?” I asked. “My boat is too old for those conditions,” he replied, “plus I am tired. I have been doing this for more than 20 years. Alone. I don’t have an auto pilot. I have to steer almost non-stop. I pee in a bottle. From time to time I leave the boat unattended to prepare coffee or eat something quick.” I understood he had some investments in the US, trailers that he rented. These generated some income to pay for the cruising life. He had children but he didn’t see them often; it was difficult for them to visit while he was on the move or maybe they didn’t enjoy living conditions on the boat. But now he was thinking about turning the page, giving the boat away and buying a piece of land that he had discovered in DR, a small plot close to a waterfall. If he was not able to do the crossing to DR, he was planning to sail back to the US, sale the boat, and fly instead of sailing to Luperon.
He left before sunset. I stayed in the cockpit for a while also feeling tired, gloomy, and, I have to say, lonely. From gin I switched to red wine and turned on the stove to boil water for a freeze-dried spaghetti with meat sauce. Once I had emptied the bottle I hit my bunk.
I woke up the next day around eight but it took me a while to get going. When the yard’s manager came to see me it was 9am and I had not even prepared coffee. As agreed the day before, I had to move Antares before 11am. A large yatch serving tourists interested in scuba diving was coming to take her place (and more). I also had to take the sails down. I started with the genoa. I unrolled, doused, and folded the monster who resisted til the end. Doing this with another person is already hectic, particularly when the wind is blowing. Doing it alone is almost impossible, at least for me.
The dock master and his helpers told me that there was no need to turn on the engine to move the boat. They were just going to “walk” Antares to the spot, literally around the corner of the dock, where she would be hauled out. I asked them, “Are you sure ? The boat is heavy.” They didn’t seem to mind and started the walk, but with the wind blowing in the high teens they soon changed their minds. « Help us with the engine », they screamed while holding the lines now with their bodies healing backwards some 30 degrees. Once we turned “the corner” the wind started to push Antares against the dock as opposed to away from it as before. I thus rigged the two, large, black fenders on the port side. They guys broke for lunch and I started to take the main down. Again, a big job when done alone, particularly when the person is feeling sad and lacking motivation (and the lazy jacks are a pain). I was even thinking that continuing with the trip was not realistic, that I didn’t have what it takes. Even now, when I remember, I can feel the anxiety I felt back then and have doubts about what will happen next.
Antares was out of the water by 2pm. They pressure washed the bottom and drove her to the place where she will spend the summer. A rather depressing place, at the back of the yard, with her stern facing the street, surrounded by dusty boats that seem to have been forgotten. Antares own decks were soon covered with sand. It is transported by the wind and it seems to have an infinite source. I spent the night at the yard. A very different situation that I hope I do not have to repeat. I m not sure how much I had to drink before I could fall asleep. And I was a prisoner. The guard had closed the door that leads to the yard from the dock. I found this out when, next morning, I crawled down from Antares to go to the bathroom. At the end I had to pass through a hole in the fence that, I supposed, was engineered by thiefs. Back at the boat and after finishing several jobs, including removing and storing the dodger and jack lines, I left carrying with me electronics and other valuables that Bob told me I could store at his place.