17/03/2012, Pigeon Point, Antigua, West Indies
I had just finished hiking the marked trail which overlooks the shimmering Caribbean Sea and climbs over the emerald hills of Antigua's south shore from English Harbour's Berkeley Point to Falmouth Harbour's Windward Bay. As I came down out of the hills and approached Pigeon Beach I passed a tall, trim, elderly lady coming off the beach in a swimsuit. She carried herself in a stately manner, and as we passed she returned my "Good afternoon madam" with a warm smile and a friendly "Hello." She was quite attractive, had the stature of an athlete, and I thought to myself "I'll bet that is what Lilly will look like when she gets old." The next time I saw this lady was the following Sunday morning as Lilly and I were walking up a steep hill to Baxter Memorial Methodist Church. A typical Caribbean morning rain shower, complete with sparkling sunshine and a rainbow, was cooling us down as we climbed the hill in our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. This kind soul stopped her car and offered us a ride to church. After the service she introduced herself as Lisa Nicholson, and invited us to her home up on Pigeon Point for a visit. As we walked to her car I told Lilly who this lady was - the Grand Dame of West Indian Yachting. We had a delightful afternoon in the open air home she and her late husband Desmond built overlooking the entrance to Falmouth Harbour; she freely answered our many questions about her life and recounted the history of yachting in Antigua from her first person perspective. She gave us a copy of the brief memoir Desmond had written, which I had already read while visiting the Dockyard Museum, which Desmond had established. We told her we were really interested in how SHE came to Antigua, and what it was like living there and raising a family. One of the many things we learned was that the trails around English Harbour, which Lilly and I were enjoying so much, had been established by Lisa and Desmond in the early years of their marriage. This is her story:
Born Louise Dodd in 1934 on another small island - as Lisa says with a twinkle in her eye, "You might have heard of it, Manhattan, New York!" Her given name Louise was replaced with Lisa while still in her childhood. Her father, Edward Dodd, was the owner of a maritime publishing company, and her mother was the daughter of the founders of the esteemed Hampton Institute of Virginia - one of America's first black colleges. A daughter of privilege herself; education, travel, and service to mankind were stressed in her upbringing and education. Her parents were strict; radio (TV had not yet been invented) and comic books were simply not allowed to be part of her childhood experience - but classic literature, the outdoors, and physical activity certainly were. Lisa's father Edward was an interesting chap. As a young man, he and 5 other fellows bought the schooner "Chance" and sailed her off to the South Pacific in the 1930's; he then authored the book "Great Dipper to the Southern Cross." As a member of the OSS (the forerunner to the CIA) in World War II, he saw service in Europe and worked with Winston Churchill. After building his publishing company into a very successful business, he took early retirement and went off to French Polynesia to study the culture and write five more books.
As a result of growing up during WWII and of her parents' divorce, Lisa attended a variety of public and private schools, ending up at the Putney School in Vermont. In the early 1950's she was off to Cambridge, Massachusetts and Radcliffe College where she lived on the Radcliffe women's campus, but attended many of her classes with the men at the adjacent Harvard University. Lisa studied science, literature, philosophy, and art history, and after graduation had a job waiting for her in Manhattan at New York's prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
During the summer of 1956 with her newly earned Liberal Arts degree in hand, Lisa's life took quite a turn on the way to a career at MOMA, and what would have been a sophisticated life in New York City. It seems her mother remarried while she was at Radcliffe; her new stepdad was quite a clever fellow who made music with electricity, perhaps you have heard of him, Lauren Hammond, the founder of The Hammond Organ Company! During the summer of 1956 Mr. Hammond chartered one of the Nicholson yachts in Antigua to treat his new family to a Caribbean sailing cruise, and Commander Nicholson's son Desmond was the skipper. Well, young Lisa fell for her dashing yacht captain, and the rest is history - over 50 years worth. (Lilly sez: You have got to watch out for those dashing yacht captains - even the old ones can change your whole life!) Lisa never did find her way back to a career in art at MOMA!
At an early station of life she had developed a character trait which many of us seek in a lifetime of pursuit - she knew who she was, and what she wanted. With a liberal urging from her heart, Lisa saw a window of opportunity and courageously jumped aboard her ship of opportunity. She traded a lucrative career in art and the bright lights of the Big Apple, for a family life in quaint colonial Antigua along-side the sparkling Caribbean Sea. After all, she is her father's daughter. Practical folks of necessity, Lisa and Desmond combined their honeymoon with some much needed maintenance on the Nicholson family schooner Mollihawk; with worms in her rudderpost the yacht urgently needed to be hauled for repairs, and the nearest facility that could handle her tonnage was the steam screw dock in Barbados. So south to Bridgetown our gallant young couple sailed, beam reaching on the Trades without a rudder, and steering the big schooner by trimming her sheets and dragging a bucket over the side - nothing one would expect to read about in "MODERN BRIDE" magazine.
One day early in their new marriage Desmond and Lisa climbed the hill at Pigeon Point and sat on a huge rock overlooking the entrance to Falmouth Harbour and the southern approaches to Antigua. They envisioned a home built on that hill, and a house full of children. As Lisa is so fond of saying, "Everything starts with an idea." and today that rock sits right in front of her home. Their first purchase to make their idea a reality was a diesel generator; the lot atop Pigeon Point was off the grid, as was most of colonial Antigua in the 1950's. In those early days of their marriage teams of oxen tilled the sugar cane fields, local fisherman and island trading vessels worked the waters under sail alone, and windmills crushed the cane for the local rum. It was a Spartan life with few of the comforts enjoyed today; they were the pioneers of the modern West Indies. Lisa and Desmond bought a set of chairs made by shipwrights in Barbados as their first furniture, and two local masons named Reuben and Rafael were employed to lay a foundation for the house and set corner posts for the walls - these fellows had fitting names for craftsmen working on a home for a Radcliffe graduate with a degree in Art History! Desmond paid the equivalent of about $40 in pounds sterling to purchase a huge piece of surplus plate glass which they set into the wall overlooking the anchorage in Falmouth Harbour. That picture window has withstood several West Indian hurricanes, and is the only window in Lisa's open-air home which is glazed. Their four children, Sarah, Chris, Nancy, and Celia, were raised in that home and it saw a lot of joyous celebrations throughout the years. Lisa had quite a grin on her face when she recounted the New Years Eve Party (but of course our English cousins would call it an Old Years Night Party) when the dancing in the front room was so robust that the floor joist gave way and the planking sagged. But of course, as with all families, there were difficult times also - at age 24 their son Chris was killed while climbing Mount Cook in New Zealand. At the time he was the foredeck captain aboard a large Swan racing yacht; and their mountaineer, sailor, world traveler son was taken from them. While we were visiting Lisa she was wearing Chris' well worn chambray sailing shirt - a mother never forgets.
As we sat in her modestly furnished front room and looked out over a forest of masts and rigging stepped on the keels of many millions of dollars worth of the world's most POSH sailing mega-yachts, we asked Lisa what was it like to put together a business and to support their family in the early days of Antigua's yacht charter business. Lisa stressed to us that their first and foremost obligation was to raise up and educate their children the very best way that they could. Early on in their marriage Desmond decided to swallow the anchor, retire from yacht skippering, and stay home and run their businesses out of the Dockyard at English Harbour. The economy of colonial Antigua was sparse, and they had to work very hard to make ends meet. They did their part in operating the Nicholson family yacht chartering business, and they founded the Carib Marine yacht chandlery. With the backing of an investment team, Desmond and Rodney rebuilt the wrecked Engineer's Workshop in the Dockyard at English Harbour and developed the famous Admiral's Inn hotel, pub and restaurant. Lisa kept the books and helped to manage the business. Today, the Admiral's Inn garden and the adjacent sail loft pillars have become the icon for Antigua, and it is featured in virtually every marketing pamphlet describing Antigua's tourism and yachting industry. Forty five years ago, as a pleasurable way to wrap up the yacht charter season and have some fun, they founded a regatta in late April / early May to sail down to Guadeloupe and back, followed by a rousing West Indian Jump-up (party) and prizes for the fastest boats. Today that annual regatta is known as Antigua Sailing Week, and it is the premier sailing event in the world. Everything starts with an idea, but ideas must be carefully nurtured and worked to fruition; Desmond and Lisa were a busy and hard working couple indeed!
In 1984 Desmond retired from the yacht charter business, but he certainly did not retire from the vigorous activity and creativity which had marked his professional career. He called retirement, "Putting on a new set of tires." Desmond had quite an intellect; he loved knowledge, and his passions were science and history. Desmond spent countless unpaid hours researching the history of Antigua and the Dockyard at English Harbour, and then teaching others what he had found. He was fond of saying that knowledge to be of any value must be communicated - and Desmond dedicated his retirement years to doing just that. He studied the ancient people who first inhabited the area, and he developed a keen sense of awareness of the importance of the islanders, black and white, who lived and worked with him. He loved Antigua, her history, and her people. After the former colony was established as an independent nation he took Antiguan citizenship and proudly carried an Antiguan passport. He was a modern West Indian, and a pioneer in every sense of the word. In early 2006, after a long debilitating illness, Desmond left this world. Lisa lovingly described his passing: Desmond was in the hospital, the nurse came in and took his vitals at 8:00 AM, and told her that he was going; He heard the nurse say that - opened his eyes for the first time in a couple of days, looked at Lisa with radiant blue eyes (he had brown / hazel eyes all his life), and smiled at his wife of 50 years; A typical West Indian morning rain was rattling the shutters, and as it passed by his spirit was gone from her sight on the wings of that squall.
These days, Lisa Nicholson is a busy lady enjoying a very active retirement: A fit and flexible woman, she attends Yoga classes every Monday; She swims at Pigeon Beach almost daily; She makes delightful music with her friends in an a-cappella singing group; She takes an interest and supports her church, Baxter Memorial Methodist; She walks most places she goes, traipsing Antigua's rough roads and hilly countryside in flip-flops; she volunteers with Hospice; She picks up trash everywhere she goes, which is why the locals call her the "Trash Lady"; She works with the local school board, and gives freely of her advanced education; She enjoys her three daughters and nine grandchildren. A breast cancer survivor - she knows full well just how precious life is, and she lives it to the fullest. She is still an American citizen, and for many years her United States passport was quaintly stamped by Antiguan Immigration as a "BELONGER," but with changing times she now holds an Antigua passport as well. Lisa is at one with her environment. As we visited in her open air home, her friend the gecko patrolled the living room for insects, and a dainty banana keet flew in and out of the kitchen. Her garden (us yanks would call it her yard) was colorful and fragrant with many of the islands tropical shrubs and flowers in bloom. This Grand Dame of West Indian Yachting told us that her life has been a wonderful journey, and she hopes to find some time and record it all in a memoir. If you get down to Antigua, hike up the hill to Pigeon Point and say hello to Lisa Nicholson, a charming lady with a jump in her step, a fascinating spirit, and a story to tell.
It matters not how straight the gate,
how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
from "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley
17/03/2012, Antigua, West Indies
During its heyday in the Eighteenth Century, English Harbour was the home of the Royal Navy's West Indian Squadron, commanded by none other than Commodore Nelson - the hero of the British Navy. The Dockyard provided repair services to the Royal Navy ships watching the French on the nearby island of Guadeloupe, and a safe haven during hurricanes. But in 1949 when the Nicholson family arrived aboard their schooner Mollihawk, English Harbour was the site of a dilapidated and abandoned Royal Naval Dockyard. Today, Antigua's English Harbour is the center of a thriving international yacht charter business, with the largest sailing yachts in the world basing their winter operations out of this secure and scenic natural harbour. Although many people participated in this metamorphosis, Commander V.E.B. Nicholson and his family were the driving force responsible for the transformation of English Harbour into what we see today. Below are paraphrased excerpts from the memoir of Commander Nicholson's son, the late Captain Desmond Nicholson, a member of the West Indies First Family of Yachting which was instrumental in creating Antigua's Nelson's Dockyard National Park:
WEST INDIES YACHTING - AN EARLY HISTORY
I am Desmond Vernon Nicholson, the son of Commander V.E.B. Nicholson, Royal Navy (retired). Our family arrived in Antigua in 1949 from Ireland and England aboard our schooner Mollihawk.
During the early years of World War II father had served aboard the HMS Diomede which had called at the Royal Naval Dockyard in English Harbour, Antigua. He was captured by the beauty of the West Indies, had seen what a fine cruising ground the area was, and became interested in the business opportunities the then English Colony presented. Later in the War, he was helping to search for rivers and estuaries of Devon and Cornwall as suitable places to gather landing craft for the invasion of Europe in 1944. On the River Dart, Devon, he saw a fine schooner yacht called the 'Mollihawk", so he decided to purchase her, especially since it was wartime and the price was really cheap. So on February 8, 1949, after a voyage of some eight weeks, mother, father and two sons, Desmond and Rodney anchored off the Pelican Rocks in St. John's Harbour. The few other vessels in the harbour at the time were sailing fishing sloops and inter-island trading schooners. Steamships then anchored outside the harbour and hefty sailing barges unloaded the ships. I remember these cumbersome vessels being handled very skillfully under sail.
About a week after we arrived in St. Johns, we sailed Mollihawk round to Nelsons Dockyard in English Harbour and came alongside the north wharf next to the Cordage, Canvas and Clothing Store that still possessed a part of the upper floor, but with a collapsed roof. The Mollihawk was due for maintenance, so the family moved into the abandoned Officer's Quarters. Some of the yacht visitors at the dockyard at that time were the 'Sea Gypsy' of New York and the famous Brigantine 'Yankee'. On March 26th 1949, while Yankee was entering English Harbour there was a loud steel band playing. It was a picnic of the "Red Army" steel band celebrating the return of the Governor Lord Baldwin who had been called back to England. He had been reprimanded for ignoring the plantocracy and favouring the black Antiguans at Government House. A black gentleman was dancing around the Dockyard with a banner "Baldwin on the Carpet, but Dancing a Waltz!" In those days, steel bands, especially the "Red Army", were used as weapons against the planter class by the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) to show a fighting spirit for the better. They had been encouraged and trained by Lord Baldwin himself. After this public function at the Dockyard, it was decided that the remains of the upper floor of the Cordage Store should be taken down as they were too dangerous, so the upper walls were dismantled by the Public Works Department. The other ruins of the Dockyard were still standing, but dilapidated. Shingles lay around the yard, shutters banged and goats roamed keeping the grass well cut.
When our family arrived in Antigua we thought it was a nice West Indian island - and so it was... But compared with today, it was just amazing! Leeward Island sloops and West Indian schooners plied between the islands with cargoes, and sometimes smuggled rum and cigarettes from St. Barts. Fishing sloops ran out of English Harbour to South Bank about 15 miles south-east of the Harbour and they were repaired and careened at the Dockyard. There was Mr. Gilbert's "Lady Faith" and Mr. Sebastian's "Nellie", both carvels of sloops. Their booms were very long, extending way aft to give a push to windward. The mast and booms were of the same length as the hull, an overlapping jib gave these little native craft speed, and the high bow kept the deck sitting helmsman dry. Musical entertainment was given us in the Dockyard by a fife band consisting of Jeffrey Sebastian and Basil Potter. Their favorite tune seemed to be "Sly Mongoose" and "Don't Walk dere, you Catch de Big Foot!" At English Harbour Village there was just one car, a taxi owned by the only grocer, Mr. Allistan West who was cross-eyed. He wrapped up your purchases in a page torn out of a large bound volume of the "The Illustrated London News". Two special characters of English Harbour of this time were 'Tarzan' Tercheira and 'Samjo'. Tarzan was a fisherman and lived in a hut where the Dry Dock Restaurant is today. He was a bit of a smuggler and one day the Police caught up with him. He escaped by swimming clear across Falmouth Harbour. Samjo was a vagrant and a grave digger of no fixed address, putting his head down anywhere in the village. Oxen ploughed the fields in preparation for sugar planting and Antiguans cut cane by hand for a pittance, rather like the days of slavery. The Central Sugar Factory worked in full swing, except when there were strikes. As I said, there were no cars, so people just walked everywhere. Ladies balanced their baskets and bags on their heads. Some, when walking to town, took their shoes off for comfort, and to be smartly dressed, would, on arrival, simply put them on again. Letters to the Post Office were even carried on the head with a stone placed on top, to stop them blowing off. In Bryson's grocery store, when, for example, a pound of butter was requested, an old man with a long beard would shuffle off and fetch it from a kerosene running refrigerator. Some Antiguan Expressions heard at English Harbour, 1950's:
Please, sir, I want something to keep my hands amused (a job).
I have a shilling in hiding to have a pant built.
Boo Hoo, my bladder's leaking! (My balloon has burst)
Nothing but naked sea (no land in sight).
I can tell it's him coming by the way he throws his foot!
Nothing but naked guesses (so many guests).
I hardly missed your back before I saw your face again!
Naked rum (with no water in it).
Where is he? I heard his voice speaking to the east, Madam!
A tom cat was a "Ram Pussy".
THE BEGINNINGS OF YACHT CHARTERING
During the first refit after crossing the Atlantic, we had lived in a couple of rooms at the east end of the Officer's Quarters, next to the "Hold me Tight Room", the floor of which had collapsed in 1947, while a dance was being held there. It happened to the tune of "Hold me Tight Honey!" hence the current name of the room. Then after the short stay at Hodge's Bay, we moved back to the Dockyard and lived in the Pay Office, but before we could do that my brother and I picked up the wooded shingles scattered around and patched up the roof. We possessed a kerosene refrigerator. They were very messy to run, the sooty chimney often had to be cleaned out with a special long brush, and we became covered with soot in the process. Occasionally, to keep the fridge really cold, the whole thing had to be turned upside down until it stopped bubbling and gurgling! However, it was refreshing to have cold water to drink. We stored water in used rum bottles in which we also stored our kerosene. Once we offered guests some cold water, and guess what - they took a sip of kerosene instead! The Mill Reef Club had officially opened the same month, February 1949, as the 'Mollihawk' had arrived. The members often visited the Dockyard and saw this fine yacht and dreamed of cruising aboard her. Then one day a member, Mr. John Archbold, who owned Springfield Plantation in Dominica, wanted a passage to his estate. So in April 1949, father, brother Rodney and I, sailed Mr. Archbold to Roseau and left Mother and Uncle Victor behind in the old Pay Office. The trip to Dominica was the first time we had ever made an income chartering our vessel, though this was not a true charter party.
TRINIDAD: TO ESCAPE HURRICANES
As the hurricane season approached we thought it prudent to travel south to Trinidad which is supposedly out of hurricane alley. Those were the days before regular weather forecasts, so in July 1949, we sailed south to the Trinidad Yacht Club. There we met Clement Mark, who was a waiter at the Club, and took him on as Mollihawk's cook. He was much later to become a restaurateur over Laurent's Drug Store near the market at St. John's. Our other crew member, Edmund James, was from Grenada. These two gentlemen served wonderfully during the main charter period that was to come. Warneford Sebastian from Mast Pond, English Harbour was yet another very fine charter crew, as was Kenneth Potter.
A RARE VISIT
December 1949, we had a most amazing visit at the Dockyard. It was a 36' Spanish sailing fishing boat laden with 56 refugees from Franco's Spain. They had sailed from the Canary Islands, 3,000 miles over the Atlantic and they supposed that they had reached Venezuela, their intended destination. They had run out of food and water for four days and they had ended up off Mill Reef. Ralph Camacho in his motor boat 'Saucy Sue' found them and guided them into English Harbour. There were persons of all walks of life, male and female, one of which was pregnant and gave birth amongst the goat droppings of the Pay Office. They danced with a guitar and castanets and had a merry time in celebration of their arrival. I will never forget the English Harbour villagers coming down to the Dockyard with fruits and vegetables on their heads with their offerings to the people of the sea. Antiguans who had worked in Santo Domingo were in their element speaking Spanish. The Syrians and Lebanese came out from town in their Oldsmobiles donating materials and clothes from their dry goods stores. A yachtsman gave charts and tutored the boat's Captain on how to reach Venezuela, "Count the islands down and then turn right!" We actually heard from one of them later, they had found jobs and all were happy.
THE FIRST REAL CHARTER
The Mollihawk had taken a few other day sails and passages to Guadeloupe by Mill Reef members and full recommendations were given to their friends back home in the States. This led to the first true and proper charter of Mollihawk taking place on January 30 1950, and was a party from Chicago, the William Erharts and the George Browns of Chicago. A full season of 12 weeks followed.
CAUGHT IN HURRICANES
At the end of that second Hurricane Season, we survived two hurricanes at the Dockyard, one was on 21st August 1950, which gave 100 mph winds, and the other was ten days later which blew at 145 mph. The barometer dropped to 29.02 of mercury. 1,348 houses were destroyed and 2,343 were damaged. 6,792 people became homeless which was 15% of the population. During the hurricanes the 'Mollihawk' was moored alongside the small wharf by the Seaman's Galley and old rotting timbers from the buildings were used as fenders. Lead roof capping was flying around as well as many shingles and I remember some of the siding on the north side of the Pay Office came off and I saw the Mollihawk framed in vivid flashes of lightning. Next day villagers, whose houses were destroyed, took over the Officer's Quarters and other buildings in the Dockyard were used by refugees. The new Governor, Mr. Kenneth W. Blackburne, inspected the hurricane damage in the villages. At the Dockyard he met and talked to the hurricane refugees. The old Royal Navy buildings already were in the last stages of decay before the hurricane decimated English Harbour.
"But there was one small ray of hope amid the despair of the island. Alongside the ole stone wharves lay a beautiful schooner yacht, whose owner had settled in the one habitable building in the Dockyard and was using it as a base for charters. And so an idea was born.... Why should the old buildings not be used again for sailing ships - though for yachts rather than men-o'-war? Why should the Dockyard not become a memorial to the great deeds of the Royal Navy in the wars of the 18th century? And why should it not become a tourist resort?" (Sir Kenneth Blackburne in "Corona", a colonial magazine.)
THE DOCKYARD TO BE RESTORED
In 1951, the Governor of the Leeward Islands, Sir Kenneth Blackburne, launched the Society of Friends of English Harbour, the aims of which were to restore the old buildings and to encourage yachting by providing suitable facilities. My father, Commander V.E.B. Nicholson Royal Navy (retired), became the first restoration supervisor and Mr. Oliver Knowles, of New Winthrop's Village carried out the technical work.
HARD TIMES IN ANTIGUA
My mother was very, very good to the local children, offering food to the hungrier and poorer ones, as times were difficult for the people due to strikes by the sugar workers as their wages were so low. When we expanded our charter fleet and when cruising yachts started visiting English Harbour, my mother would try to find employment for the people of English Harbour. Mostly this would be in the capacity of scraping and scrubbing up and cleaning down below. One yachtsman, Edward Allcard of Sea Wanderer, raised his eyebrows when my mother one day asked, "Edward, I hear you want a girl!" For 60 cents / day, Edward was able to get on with more technicalities than just being a housekeeper! Now 50 years later, my mother's kindness in those formative days of the Dockyard's recent history is still remembered. The Red Cross gave a posthumous award to her in 1997, twenty-one years after her death!
YACHT MAINTENANCE AT ENGLISH HARBOUR
Now I must tell you about a wonderful and much needed character of English Harbour in the early years. A brilliant engineer was Mr. Dennis Gabriel of Cherry Hill Estate above Blake Island in Falmouth Harbour. Self taught, he was remarkable, because he could fix anything. He was a thin, balding man of about 55, always dressed in Khaki pants way too big for him, suspended with home-made braces of inner tube. Large Mrs. Florence Gabriel, always dressed in colourful calico, was a remarkable lady in her own way; she always accompanied Dennis whenever demanded at the Dockyard for yacht repairs. She often whiled away her time on a folding stool, painting water colours of the historic buildings until her husband had finished his job. There were no spare parts available for yacht maintenance in those days, so when a engine rocker arm of the yacht "Fedoa" broke just before David Rockefeller chartered her, Dennis and the carpenter, Frederick Gilbert, contributed a substitute made of lignum vitae, a very hard wood used for, amongst many other things, courtroom gavels, bowling balls, stern tubes and the plant itself was used for tonics, gargle, gout and syphilis. Two of these trees now grow on the north side of the Pay Office in the Dockyard, but they are yet young and small. The Rockefeller charter worked out just fine and later it was a delight to observe the mechanic's face from St. John's when removing the valve cover to discover a semi-wooden engine! (Rockefeller never knew!). Mr. Gabriel's old car was held together with bailing wire, and the instruments swung by wires below their holds in the dashboard. Lift the bonnet, you would find the engine and a bowl of dirty water. Under the seat was an enormous collection of tools and on the seat would be a young goat or two, complete with fodder. On the roof sat his large dog even when riding down the hole-ridden road through English Harbour Village. Mr. Gabriel believed in sump oil and molasses as a panacea and dug a pit outside the Galley in which sump oil settled. Once he fell in, but nobody laughed, he was so well respected and needed!
Frederick Gilbert of English Harbour was the Dockyard Caretaker in the early years from 1941. He was a carpenter and later became a fine shipwright. When we damaged the bowsprit of the 'Mollihawk' in the Grenadines during the Christmas winds one year, we flew him there to fix it and well did he! When there was no work to be done on the yachts, we had him build an 18 ft. sailing dinghy that we called 'Mollibooby'. He had it set up in the boat shed under the Joiner's Loft and we were always amused when he marked the port and starboard ribs and the other parts as east and west!
For major underwater repairs the 'Mollihawk' had to sail to Barbados to be lifted on the old steam screw dock at the Bridgetown Careenage. For minor underwater repairs, we were given a divine helmet by a charterer, Mr. Felix Williams, who was the President of the Monsanto Chemical Company. With this we were able to scrub the ship's bottom and even remove the propeller, when necessary. The nickname for this helmet was "Old Man Mose", and is still to be seen in the Dockyard Museum.
At the Dockyard, we carried out the tricky job of removing the mast of the 'Mollihawk' for repairs and at another time, we even installed a new engine. My father's fuel for the manpower at this time was "two cases of rum and a hundred men and we'll get 'Mollihawk's' spar back in!" To build a derrick for these purposes, we called upon the Antigua Sugar Factory to lend us the necessary equipment. The factory also possessed a well stocked store room and a superb machine shop, these were well used by us.
THE NICHOLSON FAMILY BUSINESS
At first my father was in command of the 'Mollihawk', taking one of his sons as Mate. Then the day came when the two sons took the vessel on their own. Later, just one of the sons took command of the 'Mollihawk' with a West Indian crew. The other son skippered one of the other yachts in our care. Commander and Mrs. Nicholson stayed back in the Pay Office where they looked after the charter reservations and accounts. Rodney had a good background of radio technology, so was responsible for communications. we ordered two army surplus B-19 radio transceivers to keep in contact with our headquarters, the Pay Office. The dials of the radio were marked in Russian as they had been manufactured for "Aid to Russia" during the war. As a hobby, Rodney obtained an amateur radio license (VP2AJ). Our good friend and fellow amateur was Jim Browne, who worked at a lumber and hardware store on Redcliffe Street. In the off season, while living in the Pay Office, we contacted amateur radio stations around the world on 15 metres with a galvanized wire antenna slung across the Dockyard between the masts of two yachts, using cockleshells as insulators! The radio was also useful for keeping watch on the weather. My hobby was photography, so I set up a darkroom in the Pay Office and began producing yacht charter advertising material. I took photos of the yachts and made brochures, using specially ordered Ilford photographic materials from England. I washed the prints in a large wooden orange crate floating in the sea. This saved fresh water, which was very scarce; the prints only needed a short pass through fresh water to eliminate the salt. We had a black and white general yacht cruising brochure printed. The opening words were classic (corny):
"Relax and let yourself be wafted with white billowing canvas aloft and crystal clear waters below, to the tropical islands of your fancy!"
It must have worked, as we soon had many potential clients writing for details or to make bookings, though word of mouth recommendations were foremost. We advertised in 'Yachting Magazine', 'The Saturday Review of Literature' and three times in 'Holiday Magazine'. In 1959 we received 381 enquiries - mostly in January of 1954. Our ad read:
CRUISE ABOARD your own yacht in the Caribbean.
Refreshing summer trade winds, cool and calm.
Cruising ground between Antigua and Grenada.
Luxurious, fully crewed ships.
Write airmail, Commander Nicholson
Box 103, Antigua, West Indies
Rodney married Julie Pyle whom had circumnavigated the world on the brigantine 'Yankee' and she joined the office from 1956. I married Lisa Dodd, one of my charterer's daughters, in 1957 after I had been in command of the yacht "Freelance". However, from then on, I gave up my profession as a sea captain.
So now I have related how the Nicholson's arrived in Antigua, what the island was like fifty years ago and how the charter firm of VEB Nicholson & Sons started its operations at Nelson's Dockyard, which eventually became a new industry for Antigua.
(Desmond Nicholson passed away in his beloved Antigua at the age of 80...)
24/02/2012, Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, French West Indies
One of the ways that I tried to keep Lilly's spirits up as we made the sometimes rough 1600 mile winter open ocean passage to the West Indies from the East Coast of Florida, was to describe some of the great fun we were going to have once we got to the Caribbean. I usually did this as a form of cheer leading and morale boosting after emptying her Little White Bucket from the latest round of Mal-de-mer. Perhaps my favorite bunk-side story was how we would enjoy Carnival in the French West Indies. This colorful event is celebrated in New Orleans (Mardi Gras), Trinidad (The Trini's call it The Greatest Show on Earth), and Rio (CARNIVAL!) as a precursor to Lent. It is fêted in many areas of the world whose people have a Roman Catholic heritage, and each Carnaval has its own flavor based on the history, culture, and spiritual beliefs of the people. We decided to spend Carnaval 2012 in the hustle and bustle of Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. We anchored Tiger Lilly just off the downtown waterfront at Quai de la Darse, in company with the British tall ship Tenacious, the busy Harbor Pilote boats, and the French cruise ship du jour. (If you go to www.jst.org.uk you can learn more about Tenacious and the important work she does. Tenacious is a 178 ft. barque rigged tall ship built for enabling the disabled to experience the sea - people in wheelchairs are actually hoisted aloft into the rigging.) We enjoyed starting our day out each morning with a brisk walk up to Boulevard Chanzy (Lilly, why do we have to RACE everywhere we go?) to our favorite Mom & Pop bakery, Boulanger Patissier, for hot baguettes, French pastries, and cafe espresso that is strong enough to knock your hat off. (The French pastries were only for Tom of course - Lilly is always in training for something-or-other.) We had a great time touring the town, and visiting several venues presenting Carnaval events. We attended the Grande Parade du Dimache Gras (Sunday), Children's Carnaval (Monday), Town Parade du Mardi Gras (Tuesday), and Podium D'Animations at the Place de la Victorie each evening (singing and dancing at the town park stage). On Wednesday evening, we had quite a surprise. Although we had maps, and Carnaval schedules, and French dictionaries, with which we created a detailed Carnaval Plan Of Action - with Milestones (Lilly sez: Can you imagine how exhaustive this man planned out what is supposed to be a FUN time?), it seems we (read that "we" as Tom-Tom) were too clever by half - "we" forgot to read the BACK of the official Carnaval Schedule. So, on Wednesday evening while below deck aboard Tiger Lilly quietly reviewing and editing our Carnaval pictures on the computer, and thinking that the wild week of Carnaval was over, we were VERY surprised to hear aerial bombs suddenly going off just over the masthead! As two wide-eyed sailors popped out of the main companionway, the town waterfront was aflame with a huge bond fire - although Carnaval was over, Lent was started, and the citizens of Point-a-Pitre were burning the devil and celebrating his demise with a rousing fireworks display! Another colorful party, complete with drums and marching and loud music was underway! We scrambled into the dinghy and rowed to the quai to witness the joyous celebration - sometimes the best things are unexpected :-) While the Devil was still burning, fire engines began racing through the crowds in the downtown area - there was a major structure fire just two blocks south of Victorie Park - thankfully, no one was hurt. Never a dull moment! To see some of our pictures of Carnaval Guadeloupe style go to the PHOTO GALLERY on the upper right side of this page, click in, and navigate thusly: PHOTO GALLERY / PORTS OF CALL / CARIBBEAN / GUADELOUPE. See you there!!
13/01/2012, Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, West Indies
Our English cousins have a saying:
THERE ARE TWO THINGS THAT ARE NOT NEEDED ON BOARD A SAILING YACHT; A NAVAL OFFICER, AND AN UMBRELLA.
Damned if we don't have BOTH!!
04/01/2012, Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, West Indies
OUR ARRIVAL IN ANTIGUA:
Tom-Tom said the part of the voyage which he most enjoyed was watching my face light up as we sailed south down the west coast of Antigua. Oh my gosh, what a magnificent display of color and motion! After being at sea in the grey North Atlantic winter for two whole weeks, my eyes drank in the crescendo of ascending shades of the vivid blue Caribbean waters, rising up out of the deep and bursting on to the brilliant white sand separating sea from shore. From my vantage point the surf looked like a shower of white diamonds. The steep dark green hills of Antigua, scarred with slashes of grey volcanic rock, brooded over it all, and added such solid contrast to the dynamic scene below - it all looked so very inviting and exciting. Antigua truly is a tropical paradise; and it meant so much more to me sailing to these sparkling shores in a small boat than if I had flown in with a plane full of brightly clad plump tourists. I felt like I had really earned this beautiful moment; perhaps I was beginning to understand a small part of this cruising lifestyle. As we ghosted down the west coast, the high island of Antigua shadowed us from the easterly Trade Winds, and we had to start the engine and motor-sail through Goat Head Channel and along the south coast into Falmouth Harbour. (Yes, that's how our English cousins spell "harbor" - go figure!) We motored in and dropped our anchor in this well sheltered harbour of crystal clear water, and found ourselves surrounded by many of the world's fanciest mega yachts.
THE HAIR CUT:
It took us little time, and with just a few words exchanged between us, to unrig our dinghy "Grace" from the cabin top, flip her upright, and launch her - we were working together as a crew. My first experience clearing Customs and Immigration was really a lot of fun, and not at all what Mr. Serious Naval Officer Guy tried to make it out to be. As my Mr. Serious was dotting all the eyes and crossing all the tees on the official forms, and of course being so very proper and thorough and Naval Officer like, I was making friends with the Senior Customs Officer - who also started out acting pretty stuffy and serious himself. (WHAT IS IT WITH THESE OLD GUYS TAKING THEMSELVES SO SERIOUSLY?) I started to break the ice when I asked Mr. Stuffy Customs if HIS wife cut his hair; it looked just about as short as Tom-Tom's, and when I remarked on this, he started to crack a friendly smile. After I asked him about his family and home, I then proceeded to tell him the story of how my Mr. Horse's Ass (who admittedly had been up most of the night to ensure our safe landfall) made me absolutely fighting mad about something he was barking about just after we anchored (just now I forget what it was, but I am sure that it will come to me), and then he had the absolute AUDACITY to ask me to cut his hair. Well, let me tell you about the first hair cut I ever gave a man with electric clippers - who had just pissed me off royally! Now those hair clippers are hard, sharp, and have perfectly square corners; and Mr. Pissed-Me-Off-Before-He-Asked has an almost perfectly curved head that he was so very proud of (well, it used to be anyway - before I gouged it in 13 very specific places). I cut that sucker three ways: wide, deep, and unnecessarily. Now, let me tell you Sistas out there that I have NOT been asked to cut Mr. Big Shot's hair since! The Customs Officer had really warmed up to my story, and was laughing out loud and pounding the counter in glee; but I think he actually felt sorry for the poor fellow standing before him with slashes of clotted blood on his scalp. We were having quite a good time in the Customs Office (that would be Mr. Smiling Customs and I), at Mr. Serious Service's expense, of course. I came here to have FUN, and that is exactly what WE are going to do - even if it kills him! (Service sez: "I think that someone upset the big wicker basket that their mother used to carry the whole damn Hermes litter in, and they ALL fell on their heads. This woman, in particular, is a real piece of work - and she can be meaner than a friggin snake!")
Not only do the Antiguan folks spell some words differently (like harbour and endeavour), but their money is really hard to figure out, too. They use Eastern Caribbean Dollars, and some apparently smart and important person in the Government has decided that 2.7 EC equals one US Dollar; but the really smart people in the shops and tee shirt booths use 2.6 - isn't THAT clever of the shopkeepers! I must have been in the pool at swim practice the day they taught the 2.6 times tables in 4th grade, because I have NO CLUE how to figure out their money - I just tell Tom-Tom to pay the man!
LAUNDRY - TOM'S WAY:
After arriving in Antigua and finding out that laundry ashore costs $10.00 USD per load, and that water cost 15 US cents per gallon, we elected to hand wash our clothes aboard Tiger Lilly; we would use the water we had in the tanks, and then buy water to top-off when we went to the fuel dock. You will recall that little lobster pot incident that we had on the way in, well that fire-drill produced a LOT of extra laundry, so we washed our clothes and bedding by hand and dried them on Spaceship Tiger Lilly's life lines for the first 4 days we were in this tropical paradise - my welcome to the cruising world! (Tom sez: "Cruising is nothing more than working on boats in exotic places" - and I sure hope that he is wrong on that one; but then, this is not his first rodeo - as he is so quick to remind me.) I have found one more area this compulsive-excessive husband of mine excels in; hand washing our laundry. Here is the "Official Tiger Lilly Northern Hemisphere Procedure for Hand Washing Laundry." The two large Home Depot orange plastic buckets that live in the shower are brought out to the cockpit and filled to the 3/4 level with water (not 1/2 or 7/8, but exactly 3/4). Next, we read the laundry detergent label (HE READS IT EVERY TIME) and precisely two ounces of soap are evenly disbursed into the water. The clothes are added until the water is EXACTLY two inches from the top of the bucket, and then a toilet plunger is used to agitate the clothes (in a clockwise pattern). This is the Phase-One Wash Agitation, and you can probably imagine that our laundry is not the only thing GETTING AGITATED by this time. The clothes are then allowed to soak for about two hours with the sun warming the buckets, which are turned every 15 minutes - all timed by the MOST AGGRAVATING kitchen timer buzzer I have ever heard in my life. (Tom sez; First you have to understand that this woman has NEVER owned a watch!) Then 50 anti-clockwise plunges are applied in the Phase-Two Wash Agitation. (According to Mr. Know-It-All the alternate clockwise and anti-clockwise pattern must be reversed in the Southern Hemisphere to correctly offset the Coriolis Effect. Here's the kicker Ladies, he made me get out Bowditch "The American Practical Navigator" and look up the word coriolis. Working with this guy is more fun than a root canal!) Then an old-fashioned hand-operated wringer is clamped to the boom gallows aft of the cockpit and the clothes are rolled almost dry with two passes through the tightly tensioned rollers - first head to tail, then tail to head. Only Tom-Tom could have found this antique wringer in the twenty-first century (remember his Horatio Hornblower identity crisis thingy?); Horatio found it on a web site that supplies the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish community. I could have bought a bottom-of-the-line automatic washer at Sears for almost the same price, but where would the water or electricity come from to operate it? Where would we put it? Dancing with our low-carbon footprint seems to be stomping all over my flip flops - what is up with that? I must admit though that I was impressed by the construction of our industrial strength, direct drive, double dip-galvanized, prehistoric wringing contraption; which is so heavy that it could kill a rhinoceros - if sincerely applied. (Until seeing one of these museum pieces, I had never really had an in-depth understanding of that quaint warning about keeping your tits out of the wringer.) The First Rinse Phase is next, the soapy wash water is dumped on deck where ever a good cleaning is needed (which is most everywhere after the boat has been in the salty sea for two weeks) then refilled as before (less 10% since the clothes are already partially wet - we are leaving NOTHING to chance here), two ounces of fabric softener are substituted for the detergent (and of course we have to read THAT label too, and then make some ratio calculations with a calculator), and then the clothes are agitated 50 times with the toilet plunger (you guessed it, in a clockwise pattern). After the First Rinse Phase (I swear to you that I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!) the clothes are rotated by hand from the bottom of the bucket to the top, and agitated 50 more times in the Second Rinse Phase (we are now at a total of exactly 200 plunges - made in very specific patterns (BUT WHO'S COUNTING? WE FLIPPING ARE, THAT'S WHO! WE COUNT EVERYTHING! We even count the lever strokes when we pump the head - down and back up is one stroke, NOT two - but then, that is a whole 'nother story.) Then it is back to the boom gallows (that whole gallows-thingy sounds so depressing to me) and our Amish wringer, an artifact right out of the Old Testament, for the final double-pass Rinse Wring-Out Phase. Ladies, if you haven't already CUT YOUR THROAT OUT OF DESPERATION, or simply THROWN YOUR LAPTOP ACROSS THE ROOM OUT OF FRUSTRATION by this point, then you know that we are having some fun now, and are ready to hang the clothes out to dry on the life lines. Standing on the foredeck and looking aft towards the cockpit, I could clearly see it coming; The very first instant this man made a motion towards me, no doubt to tell me how to hang out the laundry, I WARNED THE MR. TOUGH GUY WITHIN AN INCH OF HIS OVERLY-STRUCTURED LIFE TO STAND CLEAR OF ME - OR BE PREPARED TO SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES!! And so help me, as God is my witness, I WOULD HAVE DONE IT! I don't think there is a jury of 12 honest citizens this side of MARS that would convict me; I am confident that when the jury heard my story they would find the case to be justifiable friggin homicide, and then the judge would likely order him dug up and shot again! As you can probably understand by now, our clothes are certainly clean when Mr. Tidy Whitey gets through with them, but it makes me absolutely crazy watching the process.
LAUNDRY - LILLY'S WAY:
But can you even imagine how HE feels when he goes to a laundromat ashore with his Get-R-Done production (not process) oriented bride? First, I CRAM in - using my not-unformidable foot-power if necessary - 30 pounds of really dirty laundry into a 15 pound machine, ignoring any posted capacity warnings, and not sorting ANYTHING by color. Next, I usually put in HALF the amount of detergent recommended on the label, which I guess at - if I remember to put in any at all. Finally, I go off somewhere and completely ignore the wash cycle while reading a motocross magazine, checking the bulletin board for the local carpet cleaning rates, and socialize with the homeless denizens that frequent the seedy laundromats patronized by sailboat cruisers. Somewhere in this process, if I remember, I throw the clothes in the dryer, feed it a few quarters (slugs if I have them), turn the heat up to max, and forget about them. Meanwhile, my Tom-Tom has retreated to a neutral corner, kicks a cat if one is convenient, and then has a head shaking / sneezing / swearing fit. You can only imagine how much fun we have when Mr. Blue Jackets Manual and Ms. Origami-NOT get together to fold clothes. Hint; Do you remember how Jack Nicholson packed for his road trip with Helen Hunt in the movie "As Good As It Gets"? Then you KNOW just how precisely this man folds clothes - and as Jack would put it, "Precisely is not a word I use lightly here, Sweetheart."
THE ODD COUPLE:
Well, that's my wash day story, and I am sticking to it. In spite of all our back and forth ego flexing and war of wills, somehow our marriage is turning out just fine. Perhaps a good way to describe us is "The Odd Couple Goes Cruising," starring Felix the perfectionist (Tom-Tom), and Oscar the sports fan (me, of course), living on the same boat with two very different philosophies of life - but we are actually enjoying ourselves. OK ladies, are YOU ready to sell everything (including your automatic washing machine) and sail off in a cruising sailboat? Yeah, that's what I thought. This ain't exactly Margaritaville baby, but I think that God has a plan for us all, and it may be something we NEVER expected for our lives - so hang on, it's going to be a wild ride! I also think that God's plan for His people is that we be happy, joyous and free - and certainly not seasick! So, I am quite hopeful "This too shall pass" and most importantly I claim the promises of Psalm 91 for my own - look it up, you will be surprised. Well, there you have it, the rites of passage aboard Spaceship Tiger Lilly, pretty much from MY point-of-view. We think that we can use sailing as a way of realizing God's plan for Tom and Lilly. But we guess that right about now you are probably asking yourselves some questions:
A) What about her seasickness?
B) Can she live with that strong hard-headed SOB?
C) They seem to be so different, how can they get along?
What do you think? Can we do it?
Lill (aka The Tiger Lilly)
Falmouth Harbour, Antigua, West Indies
Answers to the Marriage Quiz:
A) Don't worry, I'll make it - my sea sickness seems to be manageable.
B) Of course I can live with him, he's trainable.
C) Lots of love, and prayer are what make our new marriage work. Remember, Felix and Oscar are each exactly what the other one needs!
03/01/2012, AT SEA
Well, one thing that I do know is that preps for a triathlon, and the actual race, are two very different things. We had worked very hard and done our best to get ourselves and our boat ready for this passage, and now here I was out on our Lord's very big ocean, in a tightly confined environment, and totally dependent on the man who brought me here. (Ladies, I must admit that although I do LOVE him ALL of the time, I certainly don't LIKE him ALL the time - especially when he starts barking commands and orders.) What's more, once at sea, Spaceship Tiger Lilly was making moves and sounds like I never felt or heard in our previous sailing. All along my family and friends (and even some of HIS family and friends) wondered out-loud if I could make it in as little as 44 feet, day and night, 24-7, with a handful like Mr. Tough Guy. Well, the first thing I found out (which of course HE wasn't telling) was that when the boat is at sea with the wind forward of the beam (which would turn out to be the norm on this passage), the forward one-third of the cabin is totally uninhabitable as the bow rapidly rises and falls to meet the oncoming waves. If I would venture forward of the main cabin bulkhead (that is what he insists we call walls) for even a moment to retrieve something from the forward head, the pitching would immediately make me sick. So, it turns out that at sea our boat effectively SHRINKS to only about THIRTY FEET LONG! But apparently that was long enough, and Spaceship Tiger Lilly actually took very good care of us. Probably the most disturbing sound I heard as I lay in our main cabin sea berth was the gurgling of water up the galley sink drains as the boat rolled in the waves; but until Tom identified the source for me, I didn't have a clue what was making that very discomforting noise. After over 24 years and many thousands of miles of sailing his boat, Tom-Tom did not even notice this gurgling anymore; but to ME, laying in my bunk and listening in the dark, it sounded like our Spaceship Tiger Lilly was sinking. Once I asked him (after two days of wondering where and how much water was coming in) Tom-Tom explained the situation and then quieted the drains right down with the sink-stoppers and a dish rag.
In spite of all his many efforts to lift my spirits, I did not feel like Tough Chick at all. In fact, a little white two-gallon paint bucket had become my new best friend: I threw-up in my Little White Bucket ("Tom-Tom QUICK, BRING ME MY BUCKET!"), and then afterward he would dutifully empty it and rinse it out for me; and then I would pee in it, and again (with hardly a discouraging word) my Tom-Tom would empty it and rinse it out again - and all the while he would be promising me that I would feel better soon. (WHENEVER THAT IS!) Thank God he didn't bring me my food in that Little White Bucket! For those first few days out of Port Canaveral I didn't know what day it was, what time it was (except dark and noisy), or where we were - nor did I much care. I seemed to have forgotten all those chart talks Tom and I had before we left about our proposed track to the West Indies and how we would get there. My hair was knotted and mangled, my mouth tasted like dried up vomit, and all I wanted to do was curl up into the fetal position and get this passage over with. THIS PART WAS NOT FUN OR PRETTY! And then the sun came out. We were well to the east of the Gulf Stream, the wind had died down to about 12 knots, and the sea was beginning to calm. Tom-Tom talked me into coming out to the cockpit (why on earth do they call it THAT!) and getting some fresh air in my face. Well, I must admit it took some cajoling and coaxing, and against my better judgment I untied the web of line used to lace up the canvas lee cloth on the outside of the sea berth which prevented me from being thrown out on to the floor (he always reminds me it is a deck or cabin sole), wiggled out of my cocoon, came topside - and soon began to actually feel better. (Tom-Tom describes a perfect sea berth as being as tight and comfortable as a coffin - words that do not particularly soothe my weary soul, or bring reassurance of a better life at the end of a rough passage.) I won't sugar coat it and tell you it was blue skies, smooth sailing, and a calm stomach for the rest of the passage, but it did get better - just as all my sailing mentors and Tom told me it would.
Tom-Tom said he knew I was feeling better when he looked down in the main cabin and saw me on my hands and knees with my Little White Bucket with soap and water in it, and a damp rag in my hand wiping down the deck. And I was better, until that last strong cold front came out of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Florida - and I had my head right back in my Little White Bucket as we beat to windward to escape the worst of the gale; that was so discouraging - I really wanted to enjoy myself, and learn what this man saw in a life on the sea. From my current vantage point here in calm, sunny Falmouth Harbour, I see my Little White Bucket sitting out in the cockpit and as I reflect back on our passage the Tom Hanks movie "Castaway" and his friend Wilson the soccer ball comes to mind. My Little White Bucket became my Wilson! Tom actually did most everything on the passage like cook, clean, sail, navigate, and stand watch night and day, while I paid close attention to my own personal needs of vomit, hydrate, pee and the occasional hot meal that I was urged to eat in a boat that rocked and rolled constantly; more than any carnival ride I had ever been on - and I HATE those rides. When I did finally get my appetite back, it came on strong - and did I eat. Unfortunately, I ate too much (and Tom warned me at the time to take it easy on the chow), and within a couple of hours back up it came! My new criteria for what to eat, and what not to eat, was based on how it would taste and look when I would see it again! I did try ("try" being the operative word) to help Tom with an occasional watch so that he could get a few hours of sleep each day - but that was sure a challenge. He says it was enough, and our improvised watch system seemed to somehow work. My pre-reading about seasickness and Tom's continuing reassurance told me that this too shall pass, but in the depths of my misery this was so HARD for me to believe. Don't you just hate it when they lay that one of those platitudes on you - and then get it right? I really DID want to help with some of the chores and duties - when I didn't want to die. When I would ask Tom-Tom to please let me help, he always made sure that I understood that what I really meant by "help" was PLEASE, TOM, DO IT FOR ME! He said that my "help" usually consisted of sitting in the cockpit, or lying in the sea berth, and issuing rapid-fire "suggestions" on how HE should be performing the task at hand (usually, cooking or washing up afterwards).
SUNSHINE and SEA BREEZES:
Then things began to look up as we skirted that last cold front, celebrated "Over the Hump Day" (half way there) with brownies and ice cream, and then feted New Years and our First Anniversary with Coke Floats. Tom had snuck some ice cream aboard to surprise me, and it was such a great treat! It wasn't exactly like Sister Carol's Annual Gala and Christmas Party with a paid piano player, seven varieties of catered cheese balls, and of course the ubiquitous "Hi, it's soooo nice to see you again." cooed between the suburban French Hens and the rustic Maids-a-Milking; but our little party at sea suited us just fine, thank-you-very-much. Each morning Tom-Tom would inspect the deck and return to the sea, for burial and consumption, any flying fish that had the misfortune of slamming into Spaceship Tiger Lilly's cabin top during the hours of darkness. One morning, after I was starting to feel better, he presented three of these nasty dead creatures to me in my Little White Bucket for breakfast; but I politely declined - and then pretended to spit in the cheeky rascal's morning cup of Earl Grey tea. On another morning, after a particularly rough night of near gale force winds, a large squid had washed up on the foredeck and in his death throws ejected thick black ink all over our newly painted non-skid deck. Tom-Tom actually had to use bleach and a swab to clean up the mess, and he did it on a wildly pitching wet deck. After that I called him my Squid-Lips Swabby!
Tom had predicted that this voyage would probably take between 12 and 14 days (which really brings home the concept of a slow boat to China), but I was hoping so much for 10 or 11. By the time we were 13 days out of Port Canaveral I was really praying for some land and a quiet anchorage where we could sleep through the night in the same bed together. It was just after dark when from his vantage point at the mast Tom-Tom hollered out, "LAND HO!!" in his best imitation of Horatio Hornblower - a persona which he regularly assumes. (Note to self: Hmmmm, better watch THAT behavior.) He explained to me what "LAND HO" meant (I had never heard that one before), and he pointed out the lights of St. Martin off to the west. Shortly after that, the lights of St. Barts began to wink at us from below the horizon in the southwest. Oh my gosh, we were going to make it! I was getting excited! Tom-Tom called my new-found optimism Channel Fever, but warned that we still had a ways to go. But things were going well for me - and I was enjoying my upbeat mood; I felt pretty good (not great, but a solid good), it was a warm tropical night full of stars, I could see land again (or at least lights on land), and hey - I actually knew where we were. The Trade Winds had diminished to about 12 to 14 knots and dipped south of east, the seas had calmed considerably as we came out of the deep sea and into the West Indies, and we were making good speed towards our destination on the Island of Antigua - about 90 miles to the south. At around 2030 (8:30PM in land time) the depth sounder perked up and started showing numbers on the display; we came on soundings at 328 feet and by 2200 (10:00PM in land time) it was reading 110 feet of water under us - and that should have given us a clue. For the last 12 days the depth sounder could not find a bottom because the water had been so deep (the chart showed up to 16,000 feet in places along our track), so I was amused and comforted to have numbers on it again. But then, all at once and quite mysteriously, the boat started to behave very weirdly: no matter how Tom trimmed the sails, Helmer the self-steering wind vane could not keep the course to the south, and we kept running down and off the wind toward the west, and the shallows off the east coast of St. Martin - not a good thing. When we hand-steered and put the boat back on a southerly heading for Antigua, the wheel felt funny and the boat was sluggish to respond. Then, just by chance, we happened to glance at the speed on the GPS display, and it read ZERO! We were dead-in-the-water and not moving, zip, nada, and stopped! As soon as Tom got to the aft deck with our big spotlight the situation immediately became clear - we had snagged a lobster pot line. Just about that time I heard water sloshing around in the aft cabin; a stern window was open, we were anchored by the lobster pot line, and waves were hitting the back of the boat and coming in on the aft bunk! OH MY GOSH, WHAT A MESS! I dove below and closed the open port, while Tom furled the sails to reduce the strain on whatever part of the under-water hull was fouled by the lobster pot. My Captain was on this problem like a duck on a June Bug, and I could tell by his words and actions that there was a sense of urgency about him; but it wasn't until we had it all sorted out that he was able to take the time to explain the immediate danger to me. The wet aft cabin was merely an inconvenience, the real problem was how and where we were fouled. We knew by the feel of the steering wheel that the rudder was involved, but our principal concern was if the propeller and propeller shaft were also caught by the lobster pot line. If this was the case, it was really important that we reduce the strain on the propeller as quickly as possible because it was not designed to take the stress of anchoring our heavy boat in the open sea. Boats under similar circumstances had been sunk when their propeller shafts were pulled off the coupling to the transmission and the shaft came right out of the boat; leaving a formidable hole for the sea to flood in. Right then we were not in any danger of sinking; however, we had to figure out our situation pretty quickly. The aft cabin mattress, the bedding and pillows on it, and over 100 paper charts stowed under the mattress, were all saturated with sea water - but those would have to be dealt with later. Tom could have gone into the engine room and tried to rotate the propeller shaft by hand to see if it was caught on the line, but he saw a way to quickly release us and solve the problem - and into action we went. Before I could realize what he was doing, he was in and out of cockpit lockers, grabbed some gear, and then nipped back to the aft deck. He used the dinghy anchor to grapple the lobster pot line, then rigged the anchor line over the top of the utility arch, down to the deck through a snatch block, and then forward to the starboard jib sheet winch in the cockpit. On Tom's order, I cranked the winch and lifted the grappled lobster pot line clear of the water; then, while I sat on the aft deck and held the tensioned anchor and rode off of the stern and away from our brand new paint job, he reached out through the centerline stern port and cut the lobster pot line - and we were free. We then hoisted our sails and by 2230 (10:30PM in land time) we were headed back south towards Antigua. The up-side of this mess was that we had faced a serious problem, and solved it together as a team, and we both felt good about that. Well, that said, it still put quite a damper on my Channel Fever, but I was so very thankful that Tom did not have to go overboard and into the rough sea on that dark night to cut us free - and so was he.