A particularly striking feature of the Caribbean summer, apart from the sultry, sauna heat, and the mind-numbing detonation of the occasional tropical deluge, is the Royal Poinciana, standing proud and redly flamboyant out of the lavish greenery of the lofty hillsides. Right now, a dozen of these startling trees flare out of a swathe of banana and palms that reach down to a windswept, reef-mottled ocean with her pointed islands, poking up like so many green methuselahs. In the foreground, as I stand on the narrow roadway overlooking Belmont, a long abandoned tin shack, as lonely as those scattered islets, it’s rusty red carapace an almost exact colour-match for the showy flames beyond.
At midmorning, I stop to rest in the shade of a gnarly old avocado tree; nearby, a herd of goats stare at me in astonishment, as if they had never once set eyes on such a phenomenon as a pale human taking a drink of water and a chocolate bar.
My Sunday morning walk lasts around three hours, long enough in this climate. I end it by taking a shortcut; a tortuous rocky trail over the forested hillside - where a thousand variously-sized lizards scatter before me, and a three-foot snake makes me wish for something rather more substantial than sandals on my feet - back to Harvey Vale, where I meet up with friends for lunch at the Slipway Restaurant. Grilled Tuna with salad, followed by a rather decadent mango cheesecake, and coffee, plus the two Bloody-Mary’s I started with, rather quickly combine with the fatigue of walking – so I take my leave and clatter the dinghy out to my boat.
After a short nap in the cockpit, I flash up the Internet and look at the latest Atlantic weather. A small disturbance over the Cape Verde’s has a 30% chance of developing.
By Tuesday morning (18 July) it’s clear that Tropical Storm Don (when they give it a name, it’s time to take notice) is heading our way. By midmorning, boats all around the bay are hauling up and heading into the mangrove. I do likewise. The lagoon’s pretty full by the time I get in, but I find a space next to a big steel schooner, drop my kedge some way out, and motor gingerly into the foliage, not quite getting the bow stuck in before the keel comes up softly against the muddy bottom. Thus kedged and roped into the dense roots, lines to the boats either side, I consider I’m safe as can be made.
By noon, it’s raining stair-rods; shouts of latecomers struggling with lines and anchors as they squeeze in where they can. A Frenchman catches my kedge-line with his rudder, pulling me out of line. I manage to untangle him and haul back in. Later he comes by in his dinghy to apologise. No problem, say I, have a drink. Foreign voices call back and forth across the lagoon; French, German, Dutch, Spanish, American; all seagoing life is crowded here in a miraculous spirit of mutual support. A tiny dinghy slips by, rowed by a handsome yachtswoman, two enormous dogs standing rain-raggled in the prow, keening eagerly at their boat ahead.
I’ve done all I can to secure Island Spirit against the worst – fingers crossed now for Don’s dissipation, or diversion from his direct-hit trajectory. Okay, it may come to nothing (like last time), but it’s never worth taking the risk of staying out there, exposed to all-hell and too late to move.
By 2pm, all is quiet. A few dinghies glide around the lagoon, recording with phones and cameras this unusual gathering for the enlightenment of friends and families back home, and no doubt for posting on social media (don’t we all?). Some wave to me, or call a polite “Hi Mike!”, or “Good Afternoon!”, as they pass sedately by.
There no Internet here (for me, at least), and the cockpit’s too wet and open (without my side awnings) to use the laptop. Down below, with all the hatches locked down, is like a sauna. So, not much to do. Except… get out the rum bottle.
After the rain, the lagoon is all wobbles of reflected grey on olive oil. In the green margins of dense vegetation, a huddle of sailboats gathered together for safety – the Dutchman in the posh schooner tells me the latest forecast is for Don to pass 7 miles north of us by 8pm tonight. A laughing gull (not laughing now) dives and scoops something from the water, leaving expanding ripples as the only other moving thing. I pour another rum and light up… something.
At times like this, I get to thinking I might like a female companion. For a while. Maybe a long while. Maybe. The right one, at least – a respecter of solitude.
By dusk, it’s raining again; the wind has stalled, so the rain falls vertically; the water growls darkly, olive. I feel I could stay here always; tied to root and branch, nipped by insects, but otherwise calm and silent.
Next Morning. It’s all over. The wind came up around 8pm, and was done by midnight. Thirty-knot gusts, maybe, no more. We hardly moved. The tuna boats were first out this morning, gurgling their way out into the fairway, and off to their fishing grounds. The sailboats on the eastern bank are mostly aground, masts tilting crazily, hulls exposed; it’ll be much later when they get off.
Me? I’m out of here just as soon as the Dutchman wakes up and casts me off. By 11`am I’m back out in the bay, tidying up; stowing ropes, fenders and anchors, rigging awnings, etc.
So, am I happy here, with this, my chosen solitary life in paradise? Well, I do miss my daughters, my diasporic family, and my friends; some of the latter more than others, one above all (who never reads my blog). I worry at the reception of my latest novel, published, but lacking feedback and reviews – a sign perhaps that my story-telling prowess is perhaps not good enough for popular success. Must try harder with my next.
I love the seclusion that informs my writing, that inspires it. I value the simplicity that is Island Life, the perpetual warmth, the natural beauty, the freedom. The simple spontaneity; a turtle’s head rising out of the water like a wrinkled old man struggling for air while doggy-paddling, a rush of boobies and pelicans diving into a nearby school of fish, a prehistoric looking frigate bird on the lookout for a gull to rob of its hard-won catch, Warrior in his dilapidated rowboat calling each evening for my garbage and stopping for a chat and a glass of rum, Popo, who stops by every few days to sell me a trio of freshly caught snappers or jacks.
So, Yes, I like my life here.