The trip from Guadeloupe to Antigua was wild and fun, but it didn’t start out that way. Beating lazily to windward and occasionally losing wind altogether under soggy clouds, Rich and I were happy enough just to be sailing. Then the gusts became so frustratingly northerly that we thought we might not make it to Antigua in daylight, and Rich reluctantly started the engine. The sky laughed, admitted it was just kidding, and blew us a steady sunny twenty knots from a sensible direction for the rest of the journey.
As we approached English harbour we went to turn the engine on again, but it wouldn’t start. In his grump at having turned the thing on in the first place Rich had forgotten to put it in neutral as he’d turned it off, and now some air had got in there. We tacked away from the harbour entrance and changed our plans, sailing instead into the wider entrance of Falmouth harbour and tacking gently to a fine anchoring spot in the middle. It was a far more pleasant way to end our last sail on Gwen than motoring into English harbour could have ever been, and we blessed the air pockets in the engine as soon as they’d been safely bled away.
We’ve been living between the two harbours ever since for three of the most stressful weeks of my life. We’ve been emailing, calling and walking around companies to try and ship our stuff to the UK, answering endless questions about the boat from prospective buyers, organising our flights and paperwork, packing or chucking everything we own and cleaning every bit of the boat so that people could look around without being confronted with the dust and dirt that wasn’t bothering Rich or me. Just as we thought we had one thing sorted another would fall through. No companies ship anything less than a container from Antigua to the UK, and almost nobody who says “I love your boat and I want to buy it” is actually prepared to do so.
Rich and I were handling all the stress so badly that we had to have a serious chat about strategies to stop us killing each other, and by the start of this week we had a method pretty much down. It’s quite ridiculous as we are in the most relaxing place on earth. Palm trees shake, turtles occasionally swim by, cocktails are less than two quid in happy hour, everyone is friendly and kind and nobody is in any hurry. Nobody, that is, but the two tanned souls on the blue boat with the “For Sale” sign.
The stress has probably paid off. We think. Our stuff has been picked up in two big blue barrels from Sammy’s shipyard (where I gave my banjo away to Al, the very lovely man in charge). We think they’re headed to our dads’ addresses by plane. And a man has paid a deposit for Gwen. We think he’s going to complete payment and take ownership next week. I’m not counting any chickens until they’ve started clucking. In a final surge of stress for us, the (probable) buyer decided that he should insist on another viewing of Gwen before he’ll complete. I will have to go through the sails and an itinerary I shouldn’t have sent him (he didn’t ask for one, I’m an idiot) before I can stop being terrified that I’ll be left in possession of a boat that I’m booked to fly away from, one that I’d have to get put away and protected for hurricane season on my own in the two days in between.
Between all this fear and frustration there have been some magical times in Antigua. We’ve snorkeled, explored the beaches, eaten delicious rotis and drunk local rum with home made ginger beer. We ran into Riley and Elayna who we met in Mallorca and shared tales of sailing successes and nightmares. We ran into Adrian and Sam and Lewis from our happy hour crew in Lanzarote, and have joined them for the (THREE HOUR) happy hour here with inebriating results. We went to the surprisingly plush cinema in St Johns for valentine’s day and watched the start of the Caribbean 600 race from a pretty hillside a couple of days later. We’ve held each other tight and said everything would be okay and not believed each other but been very grateful for the sentiment.
Rich left yesterday on his flight to Japan. Watching him leave Gwen, the boat he renovated, the boat we sailed for two years and lived on for three before that, crushed my heart a little. I’ve been welling up regularly and had a bawl when we got the deposit, but it was the first time I’d seen Rich cry for her. He hugged her mast and told her she’ll be okay because she’ll still be sailing, and that someone who probably cares more about maintenance than we do is going to look after her. I doubt I’ll see him until June and I miss him already, although having the sofa to myself for a couple of days is a bit of a treat.
The Caribbean, or the little that we’ve seen of it, is so much greener, prettier and friendlier than we could ever have imagined. Even Rich, whose heart was set on changing from a cruising life to concentrating on aquaponics and sustainable farming, is talking about us coming here for a sail in two years when the work in Japan is done.
But that won’t be on Gwen.
I’m getting ready to hand her over, and I can’t help but think of all the incredible things that this boat has been and done. I am a different person to the one I would have been without Gwen. I’m scared because I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life now, but because of her I know I’m capable of almost anything. I am going to miss her more than I can ever hope to tell you.
Thanks for reading my blog. If you think you might like to do something like what we’ve done, all I can tell you is do it. And if you see a concrete gaffer called Gwendolyn anchored anywhere along the way, pop over and give her a massive hug from me.