Arrived early in Antigua, but by the time passport formalities, etc. were all done, it was about 10am. I headed to the city centre and met with Brian Ho, a young journalist who did an interview with me for the local paper, the Antiguan Sun. Then I started hitting the cargo companies to see if anything was heading towards the Dominican Republic. There was something, but it left yesterday. I felt sick. There was nothing else for over a week.
So I headed back to the Marina and started asking around – nothing. Unlike St. Kitts, there are HUNDREDS of yachts here on Antigua, but none would take me west.
You’ve got to understand how demoralising it is to walk around for hours asking everyone you meet if they can help you and the answer always being no.
A bit of good fortune though – I met a guy called Neil Rock who’s a fellow scouser, who agreed to help me and I also hooked up (thank you couchsurfing.com!!) with Cristal Clashing, a local girl (and Antiguan shipping champion) who offered me somewhere to crash for the night at her dad’s place. It was a wonderful house and the spare bed was so big, I could lie in the middle of it and stretch out both arms and not touch the sides. Nice!
Cristal and I hit the streets looking for a way off the island. We even had a half-hour segment on the local radio station. We then spent the rest of the day trying to find a cargo ship – we thought we had found one leaving for Puerto Rico tomorrow. Perfect.
There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there! US immigration (Puerto Rico is a US dependency) have changed their visa rules and now anyone arriving in a private vessel must have a US Visa (you’re alright on scheduled transport). So it was a big no, no.
I headed back to the Marina on the other side of the island – surely somebody there could help? No. I asked and I pleaded and some people said they would do all they could to help; others just couldn’t care less.
Unlike the other islands, there are loads of people my age on Antigua. They work as crew on the big, big yachts that cost upwards of twenty million pounds. But to get on one of these boats isn’t easy, and at this point, I’d settle for a rowboat.
The sailboats (a better option) were all moored out in the water, so I could just ask from the jetty if anyone was going to St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands or anywhere really.
My sense of panic and despair is rising rapidly. You can only be told ‘no’ so many times before your whole demeanour changes – you find yourself expecting the answer to be no. Where was my Annette? My Wayne? My nice lady from the shipping company to help me out?
Antigua is such a beautiful island. I wanted to be able to enjoy it in the knowledge that I had my passage sorted. But I didn’t, and things were about to take a turn for the worse…
Once again, I stayed at Christal’s dad’s house, but not before I attended a ballroom dancing lesson down the road. Seriously! Christal’s dad, Owen, cooked me an amazing dinner (seafood pasta) which was such a breath of fresh air after three weeks of fried chicken and rice (it’s all they eat on these islands. You know…Trinidad has more KFCs per capita than any other country on Earth!) and to sleep in that bed again… ahh… bliss…
But I couldn’t sleep…
My hair was beginning to fall out about ever finding a way off this island.
Maybe if I went to see Stan’s Barely-Used Ship Emporium and got the swordmaster, the talking tattoo guy and the guy I sprang from jail (using the highly acidic grog passed from cup to cup whilst running from the Scumm Bar) to be my crew.
I forgot to say, yesterday I lost my hat. Hat4. It blew off my head as we were leaving Owen’s house and I thought Christal picked it up, but she didn’t. Luckily it was still there at the side of the road 12 hours later when we returned. Phew. Sorry, Hat4, I’ll be more careful in future. I can’t go gallivanting off around the world without a silly kangaroo hat. It would be most unbecoming.
In the morning I said my goodbyes to Christal, her dad and her mum, Edith. I headed back to the Marina at English Harbour DETERMINED to leave on a boat TODAY.
I started by asking around every single boat I could reach, visiting every yacht club, every charter company, anything and everything I could find. This afternoon, I camped out at the immigration offices asking everybody who came in if they could give me a ride west. No, no, no and no.
But I had my supporters. I was now in the local paper, so all the bus and taxi drivers recognised me and cheered me on. Jackie from Horizon Yacht Charters offered me a yacht FOR FREE if I could find a crew, but it wouldn’t leave until Saturday. Andrew from Superyacht Publications was on the case, and it looked like I was going to be able to hitch a ride onboard The Moonbird – a FIFTEEN MILLION POUND superyacht.
Excited by this prospect, I tried to get off the passenger list for the boat I came in on.
But immigration had other ideas. I needed the captain of the Vagrant to sign me off. But captain Grant flew back to Canada yesterday. I almost had a nervous breakdown. Antiguan immigration has a reputation for pulling stunts like this, god knows why they do it – Antigua’s sole industry is tourism – it’s a bit like Saudi Arabia putting sugar in their petrol – why would they bother?
I had a stand up row with immigration, which culminated in me storming out – see ya later Antigua – no, I don’t need an exit stamp, I’m never coming here again, my lawyer will send you a fax tomorrow. GOODBYE.
I ran in the hot afternoon sun, weighed down by heavy bags, sweating and panting, towards the Moonbird – my passage off this infernal rock… when my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a text from Lorna in the UK.
The captain may have said yes, but the owner said no.
For the love of god!
A third night in Antigua. This may undermine my manly credentials somewhat, but I had a little cry. A third night roaming the bars asking and asking and asking. And to make matters worse, I had lost my wallet. Christ on a bike, what’s with this island?! Hundreds of boats… none of them going my way… if I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor…
But I still had people barracking for me.
Joanne, the lovely lady who used to run the Last Lemming bar down by the harbour gave me a couch for the night, and Cap’n Rocky, the helpful scouser (also a Kopite, he threw a bottle of water over me at the end of the derby – ha!) and his mate Gaz bought me a beer or two to drown my sorrows. Thanks guys.
But there was rumour afoot – a small sailboat called the ‘Monparess’ was leaving tomorrow at noon and they had been in the Waterfront Hostel to say they’d take me. I called out on CB radio channel 68 for them “Monparess, Monparess, Monparess. Waterfront Hostel.”
But no reply. We would have to see what tomorrow would bring. I’m now two weeks behind schedule.
I scrambled like a fighter pilot down to the harbour. I have to leave today. I have to leave today. I stopped at the Waterfront Hostel on the way, attempting to contact the ‘Monparess’ boat, but no reply on the radio. Damn. Had to go back to immigration with my tail between my legs after yesterday’s little spat. The lady in immigration gave me the kind of dressing down I hadn’t experienced since primary school. The good news – they had my wallet. I had left it there when I stormed out. The bad news – they still weren’t going to take me off the crewlist until I showed up with captain Grant (who is still a few thousand miles north of us at this moment in time).
Outside I bumped into Andrew, the incredibly helpful guy from SuperYacht Publications who almost got me on the Moonbird yesterday. He told me that the Leander was heading west today, he knew the captain really well and he might be able to give me a lift.
I remember years ago my brother Mike telling me that the guy who owns the biggest yacht in the world was the guy who set up NCP car parks, the bane of my architectural disposition. Well, it’s not the biggest in the world anymore, but it’s called The Leander and here’s a chance for me to hitch a free ride on the physical manifestation of a million Britons being forced to park their cars in brutalist concrete monstrosities.
Oh, the irony. Andrew said he’d see what he could do.
By this point, I hadn’t eaten in over 36 hours and my legs where about to give way so I walked over to the fruit stall to buy myself some pulpy sustenance. On the way back, one of the many, many people whom I had spoken to over the past four days, shouted me, “you found a boat yet, mate?”
“You have now. We leave in two hours. We left a message for you at the Waterfront Hostel.”
“Are you the Monparess?”
“No – we’re on the Mariposa.”
No wonder the Monparess wasn’t answering – it didn’t exist! Monparess, Montserrat, Mariposa, Villa Rosa, Lollapalooza… the important thing was – I had a boat! FINALLY, I HAD A BOAT!
But, immigration. Damn intransigent immigration. If I left without signing off the crewlist, Grant wouldn’t be able to take his yacht out of country next week – and I couldn’t sign off the crewlist without Grant. The original Catch-22. The boat, the Vagrant, was still in harbour – being looked after by Grant’s friends Jim and Freda. Immigration suggested I get in touch with them.
So as Kerri and Andrew of the Mariposa waited patiently at the harbour-side café, I got back on the radio, “Vagrant, Vagrant, Vagrant…”
The harbourmaster suggested I go out into the harbour to get them. But his dingy was punctured. There must be some other way.
The immigration guy came with me down to the jetty to hitch a ride. A girl (who also asked if I had found a boat yet) was just pulling in on her dingy when immigration and I commandeered the boat on behalf of the British Empire. Well, we asked her really, really nicely if she’d take us to The Vagrant and she said yes.
We put-put-putted over to the boat. “Hello?! Jim? Freda?”
They weren’t there. I climbed aboard (thereby technically invading Canada) and left a note.
On the way back to shore, I couldn’t look immigration in the eye – I was nearing the end of the second act of a John Hughes film. The long, dingy ride of the soul. Immigration tapped me on the knee. It will be all right.
I had to explain the situation to Andrew and Kerri and then I headed back to the immigration office for one last push. The lady who had reprimanded me earlier asked if I had a boat.
“Yes, yes I do!”
“Then you can go. We’ll take you off the list.”
Thank the dark lord of bureaucracy. Within half an hour, I was on the Mariposa sharing a packet of McVites Ginger Nuts with Andrew and Kerri.
And slowly, but surely, we were heading towards St. Martin. We passed the Leander as we left the harbour. I wasn’t lording it up on some mega-yacht, but who cares…?
I had escaped.