Bryan Stevenson for Explaining Why

Bryan Stevenson doesn’t think that slavery has ended in America. This is because the root cause of slavery was not involuntary servitude. Nor forced labour. No, Bryan, human rights lawyer and founder of the human rights group, the Equal Rights Initiative, believes that the real power of slavery was rooted in ideology. How? Because back at the beginning of enslaving people, slavery needed to be justified. Enter the narrative of white supremacy. White people can do things that black people can’t do. Black people aren’t as good as white people. You know the rap.

Although the practice of slavery may have been abolished in America in 1865, Bryan believes too that his country is not free yet. This is because this narrative of the ideology of slavery has never been addressed openly. Now America is burdened. A shadow looms over the poor, the excluded and those who try to implement change. It’s like a smog that hangs in the air. It affects everyone.

‘Nothing will change,’ Bryan says, ‘until we change this narrative. And for this to happen you need to get close to the problem.’

I’ve been a huge fan of Bryan’s for some years. That’s cool talk for I’m totally in love with him. His dedication to his cause. To human kindness. ‘The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.’ With his words, I believe you begin to get glimpses of the golden ticket. About who we really are.

Since becoming a fan of Bryan’s, I’ve carried his words around with me. Then they came to the surface when, a few days into our stay in Florida, Jack turned to me. ‘Black people seem tougher in America,’ he said. ‘They seem like they’ve had it harder. That things are still hard.’

Real racial experts, us. Turn up from Welsh Wales and instantly let our fingers fall on the racial pulse. But I nodded. I’d noticed it too. The look you get back when you smile hello, the worried expressions. The way people move among each other. It was definitely different from Barbados. Trinidad too.

We spend most of our time in areas in the Caribbean which are not tourist-driven. It surprised us then that people’s response was different to what we’d been used to in the Caribbean. Since America is the land of opportunity. Hands down, you feel it when you’re in the Caribbean. You feel the enormous power of America like that cousin you have who made it impossibly rich and lives in the mansion round the corner.

Then you listen to Bryan Stevenson. And you realise. The United States of America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. One in three black men between the ages of 18-30 are either in prison, on probation or on parole. After a lifetime of working amongst the condemned, the disenfranchised Bryan maintains that, ‘We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability shapes outcomes.’

Before we came, we weren’t sure what to make of Trump’s America. As a small sideline, can you imagine if you’d fallen asleep for 15 years and woken up to find that Donald Trump was the United States President? Would you want to turn over and go back to sleep again? Or would this be the start of something – like weird gossip that revitalises you somehow. If life is this crazy, you should at least see what happens next.

Every gaffe, every potential scandal has been poured over in the British media with relish. And cheese and ham. Would we see protesters in the streets? Would there be a scratch the surface aggression towards the president? Instead, Fort Lauderdale seemed peaceful and booming. We took a trip down to Miami Beach to catch the vibe. After an Uber, a double-decker train (new form of transport for us; awesome) and a bus ride from Miami’s international airport, we were there. It was our first time. And it was a sunny day despite the dire weather predictions. The soon-to-be-teenage Lulu was impressed. ‘Finally,’ she exhaled, stepping off the bus, ‘I’m somewhere that’s cool.’

I was more circumspect. Huge blinged-out cars.. Range Rovers dripping gold along South Beach. Was this really honest money? Meanwhile, renovations were rife. Art deco buildings scaffolded and wrapped up like sausages, ready to emerge in their former flamingo pink glory. ‘Chinese money,’ Henry told us knowingly when we got home. Meanwhile, we absorbed the scene. And went for a swim. We had to! It seemed compulsory to swim off Miami.. so we got changed behind a trash can. Green warm water, schools of fish darting in and out of our ankles. And yes, it was impossible not to be nervous. Were there any fins pointing like arrows out of the ‘more-shark-bites-than-anywhere-else-in the-world’ water? At least the iconic lifeguard stations were reassuring. If a cartilaginous critter did take a bite, a beautiful lifeguard would come. That would be exciting too, no?

Instead of sharks, electronic billboards floated past. This got Jack very excited. As the proud owner of a London-based billboard site, the appreciation levels of seeing a water-based advertising horde was high. Plus the planes flying past. ‘Eat at Foxy’s!’ we were instructed. We didn’t though. We got changed at the trash can again and ate at a crab shack across the road. Beautiful oysters. Po’Boy sandwiches. Full of shrimp and salad. Uh-oh. Back to American food again. No wonder everyone wants to live here. And if we follow Bryan Stevenson’s way, could this wonderful country finally be free? Could it?

https://eji.org/

Grey Florid-ale

Rain, rain, rain. Grey skies hung like ugly curtains over our motel. Looking through the window, Delphine’s face fell with the raindrops into the pool. Awesome. We spread out on the large motel beds instead, flicking through channels on TV. It didn’t take long to find the Weather Channel. Tornados in Texas, flooding in Florida. My eyes widened. A full thirty seconds to become addicted.

I sighed at the screen an hour later. ‘Can you imagine if there was a weather channel for sailing. We’d never stop watching it.’

This is what sailing does. It turns you into an obsessive weather freak. Even I found myself creepily fascinated by the fact that Florida was experiencing a broad, slow-moving low pressure system that would be around for at least another week. Memorial Day was already being called a wash-out despite being over a week away. ‘The holiday that marks the beginning of summer,’ the weather presenter mourned, one eyebrow managing to twitch its way through immaculate make-up, ‘means that barbecues will need bringing inside.’ We nodded thoughtfully, imagining the barbecues toiling away in the living room.

So rain was predicted for our stay. Enthusiasm didn’t cover it. At one stage, two meteorologists brought out an old-fashioned chalk board and collectively began to draw on it. Circles, arrows. Close-ups and long shots. It started to look like strategy play for a football game. I couldn’t stop watching. I kept thinking that these should be GRIB files, sea surface charts. I could really use these TV guys.

Meanwhile Delph looked out the window. ‘It’s stopped raining. Can we go swimming now?’

Lo and behold, she was right. Huh. We left the presenters to their chalk board, dug through the suitcases and found our cozzies. I turned off the Weather Channel reluctantly. We met Henry the porter at the bottom of the stairs. I ran back to the room to get his present. Last time we came through, I brought M&S shortbread cookies for him in a red telephone box tin. Unfortunately the tin had dented significantly in the suitcase. This time on Quest I was selecting through a number of Trinidad relishes we’d bought this season but never opened. I was a few inches from the trash with one bottle when I thought of Henry.

‘Oh my god!’ Henry extolled straight out of I Love Lucy. ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ Clearly, Henry isn’t stupid. We knew that thought. Last year when we first met him, Jack had no money in his wallet to tip him except a Trinidadian dollar.

‘I can’t even buy a beer with this,’ Henry said, grinning. ‘There’s a Trinidadian guy here and I asked him.’

He’s worked at this motel since 1970. 1970! And when you talk to him, invariably a line of stray household cats come out of the surrounding strip mall bushes and slink towards him. It’s unnerving.

‘Everyone dumps their cats here,’ Henry said. ‘What can I do? I feed everything.. cats, lizards.’

‘Alligators?’ Lulu asked.

‘Of course!’ he shouted. ‘If I don’t feed the alligators, they eat the cats. Where are you guys going shopping this time?’

‘The Galleria maybe,’ I said. ‘We haven’t been there yet.’

‘Oh my god! You always go to such fancy places. Why do you go to these fancy places? There’s a K-Mart across the road.’

‘Maybe he’ll feed the sauce to the alligators,’ I said after we waved good-bye.

Jack snorted. ‘Only if wants to kill them.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for Change

Please at no point would I ever want to give the impression that I know what I’m doing. That I have some sort of well-thought out, long-term plan with travelling. Most of the time it feels like we are living a complete experiment. And none more so than when we’re going home. Going home is a mixed bag.

We’ve done it three times so far since July 2015. Once for the still-surreal visit for Jack’s Dad’s funeral. The second time, we sighed with relief and stayed home. Now we’re doing it again. I know returning back feels a bigger deal for us than for the people at home, where life passes slow and steady. Don’t get me wrong, I like slow and steady and when I’m home, I feel split in two. Watching my friends makes me gulp. They’re working jobs, building resources, paying off mortgages. Am I missing something? Should I be doing it too? Or is this travelling life going to bite us on the ass in ten years? I can’t see the future. I wish I could.

It’s becoming clear that this travelling life has begun to mould us for a no ‘back to normal’ return. Work and school and life. There are associated sacrifices. Jack has come to understand that he can’t build his property business remotely. He can retain it but not build it. And his business is his third and most intimately known child. The one HE breastfed :). The girls have sacrificed their sense of teenage steadiness. If those two last words go together! Ha! Still, perhaps teenagers need steadiness more than even children do. I did. So we’ve been exploring the kind of steadiness they need. A family that sticks together is our main template.. lame, I know! Then school then friends they keep in touch with. And the sacrifice for me? Well, I guess it’s carving out my own career. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. How important this was may yet be revealed. All these sacrifices have been for Quest. To travel and feel free.

With these feelings brewing in us for our return, Florida is a nice buffer between Quest and home. And the food is awesome. It makes you appreciate America at its best I think. In its most egalitarian way. Political upheaval aside, America is still the most magnificent of cultural melting pots. You see it most simply with the variety of foods on offer. Hummus huts, burrito bars, pierogi places. The list is endless. And all cultures come together to eat in America. Why not? Firstly it’s good value. Ok, I’m not going to quibble about prices going up or down over the years. Just go to a supermarket in Barbados and you’ll never quibble again. Secondly, it’s fresh, readily available and even ingenious. To begin with, we had Uber deliver sushi to us on the first night in the motel. We didn’t need it. We were exhausted. But it was Lulu’s birthday and Jack wasn’t going to let this occasion pass without celebration. Super dad doesn’t cover it. I was already in bed when the sushi came.

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Now, anyone who knows or just sees us near food knows that we.. ahem.. enjoy it. Ha! For me, food is about living. I have no time for health fads, diet-related martyrdom, self-punishment or using food as a method of control. Ok, I could lose a couple of pounds right now, it’s true. Sliding into my mid-forties. But I feel healthy and this is too nice a feeling to ignore.

So, for now bring on the burritos in Chipotle. A line of friendly staff followed by gorgeous food. Hold on. How can rice, beans, meat and salad not be healthy? Wait.. I don’t want to know. This Mexican outlet is just across the road from the motel. Until the next day when we discovered that it was shut. A Chipotle worker sat outside waiting for his lift home, amiably explaining to gutted customers there was an issue with the plumbing, turning away a steady stream of customers. Including a highway police man, guns clinging to his torso and us; the greedy yachties.

‘There’s another Chipotle about ten minutes away,’ he said helpfully.

We were off. Our Uber arrived. Uber; another amazing part of staying in Florida. We don’t have Uber in our part of Wales. None in the Caribbean that we’ve found. But in Florida, it’s indispensable. It gets us everywhere.. to each food venue accompanied by a large slice of American dream. Everybody tells us their story. Unless they can’t speak English. We’ve met a Venezuelan lady who joined her parents to escape Maduro. A legal secretary who retired, dyed her hair blue and now enjoys meeting people. A Middle-Eastern dad who times his Uber shifts to pick up his son, a pilot returning to Miami airport. The son might drive a plane but his dad will drive him home, thank you. If I could be, I would totally be an Uber driver too. Much too modern in Aberystwyth though. So, in anticipation of going back in time in Wales, we hit the other Chipotle and joined the ever-present queue. After the delicious food we walked ten yards and ended up in Starbucks. We sipped coffees and watched a woman in a mobility scooter make her way down the middle of the road towards Chipotle. All the while, her pink phone was clutched to her ear. Cars lined up behind her.

The next day, a Peruvian lady picked us up. We were using Uber to check out a local store that specialised in underwater cameras. More dreaming for us.

‘If you like food, you need to go to this Peruvian restaurant. It’s called Bravo.’ she instructed.

Well, what could we do? After a morning of staring at complicated and expensive cameras, we walked in to the cool, darkened interior. ‘What’s ceviche?’ Lulu asked, looking at the menu.

‘A Peruvian speciality. Like South American sushi.’

Her eyebrows raised at the Incan-style graffiti paintings on the walls. ‘Can I have some?’

We stayed for hours. This we could afford. Lime-marinated ceviche, slow-cooked pork, barbecued chicken and rice. Passion-fruit juice and Cubana espressos; sweet and strong, the only espresso that’s worth drinking after years at spitting out the bitter stuff. Finally we had picarones, Peruvian doughnuts smothered in rich honey.

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‘Can we have 40 nuggets tonight?’ Delphine asked as we got up to leave. No sign of a joke on her face.

Jack looked confused. I turned to him. ‘McDonalds next to the motel sells 40 nuggets as a single order.’

‘Not 40 nuggets!’ Lulu bemoaned. ‘It’s way too much, remember? Plus I’m stuffed now.’

Delphine and I looked at each other. We smiled.

‘Yeah, Delph,’ I said, ‘it’s way too much.’

 

 

By Plane

How would we leave our stunning, multi-faceted Trinidad? The country where you could never get bored. With green tropical water and a sort of Welsh accent on steroids. By plane it turned out. This year though, the flight had changed its scheduled time to Fort Lauderdale from the late afternoon to 12:59am.

We all stared at the computer screen. ‘Who leaves at 12:59am?’ Lulu asked.

I squinted in confusion. I don’t think I’d ever seen this time before on an itinerary. ‘So, is this time in the morning or in the night?’

Jack shook his head at me. ‘AM means morning. So it’s an hour after midnight.’

I continued staring. ‘Ok.’ But this was deeply weird. Wouldn’t the pilots be tired? Surely, this wasn’t a safe time to fly. Plus, I’d lived under the Heathrow flight path for over ten years. No one took off at this time. It didn’t conform to noise standards for residents around the airport.

Jack gave me one last frustrated look. ‘This is Trinidad, not London,’ he said. Then he walked away, ready to flush out an engine or fish out his adjustable spanners for the twentieth time. Poor Jack.

Last year, I’d felt anguished to leave Quest until the moment that we left. What an idiot. We’d been on her for two years and had never left her before. I checked every cupboard and double checked it. Then I checked it again. Every sock was sorted through, every book examined for usefulness. Then, as soon as we left, I felt so relieved. We went home to Wales and I didn’t think about her for seven months except like she was a fleeting dream. This time was different… thank God.

In between packing, we even went to the beach a couple of times. Not Las Cuevas an hour away but the little local beach in the Chaguaramas National Park. You park and walk down a flower-filled path to the water. The place was full of mellow, bathing Trinis while the bay was unexpectedly deep. While we were treading water, we spotted the remains of a pier and wooden pylons lying on their sides underneath our feet. Jack asked another bobbing man what the pier was for.

‘The Americans,’ the man said. ‘Macqueripe was part of the military base. They stored submarines here.’

Submarines? We knew America had had a military base in Chaguaramas from the Second World War up until 1972.. but.. submarines? I stared at the bare poles sticking out of the water. Often the world seems a more dangerous place now than it used to be. This was not one of those times. This was one of those moments when the world seems a decidedly safer place now. US Submarines prowling underneath the calm surface of Macqueripe Bay? Rather than the hoards of floating, happy Trinis?

 

‘Mum,’ Delph said when we were alone together, ‘We have to get something for Lu’s birthday.’

She was right. We were flying on Lu’s birthday. 12:59 was just inside realms of her 13th birthday. It was mall time. West Mall, Trini’s poshest mall.. a mix of brands like Pandora and Sketchers mixed with Trini’s own brands like Mickles. Mickles is a clothes store with a difference. Light, bold patterns, Caribbean sexy. All Trinis love this store. Of course, from being stupidly European circumspect, I am starting to love it too. No H&M here.

Lulu made her way through the 10:30am, still-empty mall to the MAC make-up store. The store assistant looked up in surprise. I suppose a blond kid walking in on a Wednesday morning wasn’t her idea of normal. Look, I wanted to say, she’s done school. She’s been up since 4:30 am. Luckily, I took a few breaths. Calm down, Hannah. She isn’t the police.

If this woman wasn’t expecting us to turn up in her store, she was probably expecting what came of Lulu’s mouth even less. Contouring, primers, the subtleties of highlighters. Delph and I just stared at her blankly. It was like she’d taken on another human form. This is because Lulu is a student of make-up. Boat kid, surfer, diver.. and make-up. Wait a minute? Well, she is almost thirteen. She has to be thirteen somewhere.

The MAC lady’s face changed. Suddenly she was taking it all in her stride. She had seen this before. She got out one brush. Then another. A palette of something beige. Spread it over Lulu’s nose. Put another powder on her cheeks. In front of the mirror, she and Lu began to talk like they were old friends.

 

I shook my head in relief. Live this strange life where you travel and you are always slightly on the edge. The edge of knowledge, experience and in the case of make-up, comfort zone. Sherri had saved me. She did a free, made-with-love make-over. Out of completely sheer (or was it matt, sorry couldn’t help it) kindness.

We walked around the mall afterwards, Lulu’s face shining with joy. I might not have agreed with her eyebrows but I knew how much she wanted them. Besides, we left it a good hour before we started calling her Coco the Clown. Such bitches. And I had a little birthday surprise for her.

Predictably the last moments on Quest were a little more stressful. The suitcases were halfway down the ladder before Jack realised he hadn’t flushed out the fuel from Edna’s outboard yet.

‘I have to do it,’ he said with his usual patience at having to explain everything to me. ‘It’s a two-stroke. Otherwise the fuel will evaporate and leave the oil gunked up at the bottom.’

We put the suitcases down and brought out the hose. Ten minutes later, we were done. We packed the girls and suitcases into the rental car, locked the hatch, removed Quest’s ladder and sighed. Ok, no more beautiful boat. Back to land.

I slept in the airport terminal. Next to me, Delph chatted almost continuously. Something about a dream. I fell in and out of consciousness, listening to her voice. Midnight came and we began to board. As soon as we took off, my three Ormerods and almost everyone else fell asleep. Except me. I was completely awake for four and a half hours after realising from the announcements that we had a all-female flight-crew. This was a first for me. Disembarking in Florida just before dawn, the cockpit door was open. I looked inside. The two empty cockpit seats were pushed up against the plane’s front windscreen. Nose-touchers.

‘Female drivers,’ Jack mused. ‘Oww!’ He jumped. ‘Why are you pinching me?’

After the usual debacle of getting into America (please could the US border police start wearing President Trump face masks.. just for fun, no?), we waited for the motel’s complimentary bus. As Jack went for coffee and Lu dozed on her chair, I remembered. Happy Birthday Lu!

‘Thanks, guys,’ she said, opening up her little MAC pressie. ‘This is the weirdest birthday ever.’

We nodded. ‘You’re welcome, Lu.’

 

Light Work, Hard Play

Quest: home and floating, flapping car. She is everything to us. She is magic maker of water, solar soaker of energy. Working kitchen, office. Schoolroom and cabins. Movie nights. Dive centre too. It was time to give back to her. Our afternoons were spent shutting down individual parts. Putting dive gear away, Lu’s room became our storage space. Lu bunked with Delph. The girls did school, then hung at the playground with Laura in the afternoons under the mango tree. Jack and I sorted through things. We flushed fresh water through the heads. Accidentally broke a toilet valve and spent another another afternoon fixing it. Cleaned out the shower box. Took the awnings down. Lowered the anchor chain and laid it out on a metal stand so it won’t turn into a ball of rust. We polished metal. Cleaned out cupboards. Pickled Quest’s water maker to stop the membranes drying and degrading. To do this, you need a bucket, pickling solution, un-chlorinated water and some moving of valves in the bilges. All done. Phew across the forehead. Easier this year than last when we were pickling newbies.

The rigging company Superb Sails came to help us take Quest’s sails down. Superb Sails is a family business. Mackenzie and her dad, Shawn come out to work on the boats. Mum Lenora works the machines in the sail loft. Even though they are dad and daughter, I’ve never seen Shawn show an ounce of irritation towards his young daughter. Like other dads might. Never heard him shout or say, ‘You stand there and let me do it.’ How do you think Mackenzie is with this?

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Inspiring, no? You can talk about female empowerment but when you see it, it’s pretty awesome.

‘I want my girls to work with me too like this,’ Jack says sighing whenever Shawn and Mackenzie have come to Quest. We laugh and make fun of him a little. And cross our fingers. As well as our sails, Superb Sails took Evil Edna with them too to fix her cover. It was damaged this season in Bridgetown’s inner basin. Swell + tides + concrete = slightly battered Edna. Plus Mackenzie’s little brother, five year-old Charles likes to sit in her.

We had a whole lot of last minute meetings. Goodwin the Raymarine dealer came to look at our electronics. A new Harry Plotter and a new brain for George next season? We talked lightly and furiously added everything up after he left. Without any big shocks, it’d be a good possibility. Breathes were held. Then Shiva the engineer came to install extra external filters on our inlet pipes. Why? The sail from Barbados to Trinidad was two hundred and fifty miles of sargassum weed.

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We didn’t mind catching it on the end of our line instead of our monster fish.. but that was only the beginning. Since 2011, sargassum has filled the Atlantic Ocean like bubbles in a hot tub. This season it’s been everywhere. Sargassum weed had piled up on Caribbean beaches in unprecedented quantities. Sailing in open seas, you can absolutely see why. It forms long brown lines as though it’s imitating rope, going on for endless miles. We began to stare at it with a whole new concern. Would Quest be ok with the engine on? Flushing the toilet? Anything that needed to suck water into Quest would be potentially dicey for blockage. We discovered that another boat had arrived in Peakes a few days after us, its engine intake so clogged with weed that it had conked out completely. And mid-passage.

Ecologically, experts are still reluctant to predict what the effects of these sargassum blooms will be. Let alone explain where it’s come from. At first, people thought that perhaps the sargassum was an overproduced offshoot from the sea of its namesake; the Sargasso Sea. Located to the east of the North American continent, the Sargasso Sea is the only sea with no land borders. It’s in effect a huge, two million square mile gyre. Is the increase in sargassum due to offshoots of this gyre? No, it was recently confirmed unlikely. In fact, huge amounts of this brown weed are now being produced towards the equator, in the North Equatorial Atlantic. This is an entirely new breeding ground.

A huge change is happening in the surface waters of the Atlantic. This stuff is simply here now. What will happen? On the one hand, it’s recognised that this extensive layer of weed floating on the ocean’s surface provides a nursery for many species of fish and sea creatures. They lay their eggs in it, hide underneath it, sometimes even feed on the algal fronds. On the other hand, these huge blooms are not natural. They’ve only been seen in the Caribbean region on this level since 2011. There are reports of dead fish, trapped turtles, huge piles of decomposing weed on Caribbean beaches. There have been attempts by the not small number of ingenious Caribbeans to turn it into useful products. Fertiliser is a key candidate. However, it also been recently discovered that sargassum has a high level of a slightly poisonous chemical; arsenic. Maybe not so good for putting on your pineapples. Right now the jury’s out.

For Quest right now, we decided it has to be filters. For this, Shiva came to Quest. Tall and skinny, with a hairdo wonderfully reminiscent of Coming to America’s ‘so-glow’, Shiva is one cool cat. He immediately invited us to his family’s barbecue on the weekend. And to stay in his house near Maracas. We smiled through a slightly embarrassed thanks, there was no way we’d be able to with our schedule. He was so disarmingly nice though, it was hard to see properly for a little while.

‘I’m from the bad part of Port of Spain,’ he said grinning, ‘so it’s nice to be able to share what I have with people I like.’

From Laventville no less, we discovered. Spend more than five minutes in Trinidad and you find out about Laventville. It’s one of the most infamous neighbourhoods in Trinidad. Twelve-year old Laura knows a song about the boys from Laventville. She sang it to us. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there a lot of warnings in the lyrics. Just outside Port of Spain’s city centre, the major highway goes alongside Laventville. We’d been warned from day one never to stop there. If your car broke down on this stretch of road, we were told that police would be immediately on hand. If not, there’d be a good chance that hooded men would strip you and your car faster than a parade of leaf-cutter ants. From then on, we stared intently out of the windows when passing Laventville. At the same time slouching towards the rental car’s floor.

But it’s also just a neighbourhood. It’s got houses like anywhere. Streets, schools, little shops on the corners. Through gaps in the highway fence, we caught glimpses of colourful washing hanging out on lines. Women talking across their washing lines. Men walking down the street.

Passing Laventville, we had to do one last thing before we left. It had to do with hummingbirds. Hummingbirds you say? Not more boat things like propellers? Or anchors? Oh yes. Hummingbirds. I’m slightly obsessed with them. Catching a glimpse of one flitting around a purple flower or zooming off the edge of a cliff in the Caribbean, it’s the feels like the opposite of a curse. A blessing. We’ve caught one somewhere on our travels; flitting in and out of purple flowers in Jolly Harbour in Antigua, on remote beaches in the BVI. We even spotted a tiny nest in St. Lucia. Eggs like blue tic-tacs. Alas, no luck this season in Barbados. Now in Trinidad, I read that Trinidad was once known as ‘Iere’. This means ‘Land of the Hummingbird’. I discovered that the hummingbird was once the Amerindians’, the indigenous people of Trinidad’s sacred animal. They believed that the little acrobatic birds carried the souls of their ancestors.

Perfect. I looked for a place to see them. Turns out that a world-class sanctuary exists in Trinidad, but it’s a long drive through the mountains. Hmm. I looked somewhere closer. In the top ten list of things to do in Trinidad, right near the top was hanging out in Theo and Gloria’s garden, Yerette. Literally. This is the back garden of two retired people who live high up in the Maracas Valley. Past Laventille, up, up and next to the huge silk cotton tree. The Amerindians’ sacred tree. In the Maracas valley which was the Amerindian’s sacred valley. Petroglyphs, Amerindian ancient rock carvings are found here. Hold on. Sacred bird. Sacred tree. Sacred valley. Was this just a coincidence?

Not by the look in Theo and Gloria’s eyes. It was clear that Theo and Gloria get hummingbirds. So much so, they opened up their garden for everyone to see. As well as planting flowers that attract hummingbirds, feeder after tree-hanging feeder was filled with sugar cane-diluted nectar solution. Theo took us aside at the start. ‘It’s nectar solution,’ he said seriously. ‘We never call it sugar water.’ Since I was standing in his garden, I nodded. But what was wrong with calling it sugar water I wondered? The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind them. They ducked in and out of the gardens in their hundreds. Hundreds of hummingbirds! I was in bonafide geek heaven.

 

These tiny, long-beaked acrobats hovered at the feeders, drank their nectar solution and fought with each other. A lot. As we gaped at them, Theo chuckled at us. ‘They get pretty hungry.’ He rolled some facts our way to explain. Hummingbirds have the fastest wing speed of any bird at 20 to 200 beats per second. A resting heart rate of a staggering 500 beats per minute, rising to 1,250 when on the move. A metabolism that burns 160,000 calories a day. Wings that beat as a figure of eight instead of just the normal up and down, making them the only bird that can also move forwards and back and side to side. Like feathered, iridescent helicopters.

Theo revealed his plan for us. We were to become hummingbird ambassadors. This was because, he explained, along with bees, hummingbirds are the significant pollinators of plants in the tropical Americas. No hummingbirds, no pollination. At 345 species strong they are the second largest family of birds in the world. 18 species alone were to be found in Theo and Gloria’s garden. Including the White-Necked Jacobin, the Green-Throated Mango and the astonishingly beautiful Ruby Topaz. As Theo spoke, these evolutionary specialists buzzed around us.

To be honest, watching hummingbird wings beat 200 times a second made us hungry too. In the the sacred valley by the sacred tree, watching the sacred birds, we ate Gloria’s creamy soup and coconut bread and wondered.. It was the question you wonder when you’ve been somewhere too long to be a visitor anymore. How could we leave Trinidad? How would we go? Theo shrugged and went for a nap.

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Up, Up and Away

The boatyard is divided into sections. The office, laundry, guest rooms, showers and restaurant are by the water. The first storage yard is immediately behind. Short term boats are kept here as well boats that are being worked on. It’s a dusty place. Stunningly hot to walk through the middle of the day. During breaks, staff are often found sheltering under boats. Often so quiet I find myself almost bumping into them before I notice they’re there. People – including us – use raised catamarans as handy shady parking spots. We all thread our way through the bottom of boats to get anywhere – the showers, laundry, the office.

At the front, the dust ends and the gardens begin. Lawns, flower beds. A big, bold amaryllis bulb rises from the ground. The striped petals looked hand-painted. My Aunt Ela who loves amaryllis and I think of her straight away, can only grow her amaryllis inside her west London house. Here it seems to smile at me in the outside. You’ll often find Miss Ena too, Peakes’ employee by the laundry room – ‘Like Miss Tina,’ Delphine helpfully points out, ‘without the T.’ Miss Ena, who has obviously spent some significant time sweeping the pathways and folding laundry. Salt and pepper hair tied into a neat bun and shorter than Delphine.

‘Hey Miss Ena,’ we say when we see her. Her eyes spark and twinkle in reply.

‘We dress Miss Ena up as an elf at Christmas time,’ Daniella said, passing us. Miss Ena just smiled enigmatically while our mouths popped open like drawers.

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But not all is perfectly well in the boatyard. Falco the mechanic arrived from the adjoining boat yard to shut down Quest’s engine; changing the oil and running coolant through the system to stop any corrosion. One of his team is missing.

‘Shot in the face,’ Falco told Jack. ‘He was in his house when another guy snuck in to shelter from a gang. The gang found him and shot both of them.’ And another man dead too from the other boatyard. A boat sprayer was shot in the back on the streets of Trinidad.

All the boat mechanics we’ve met have a certain sense of unflappable coolness. From Cocoa T in Grenada Marine to Falco. But Falco was holding heavy. His best friend has just died over the weekend, his car plunging over one of Trinidad’s north coast cliffs. Falco pulled out his phone and showed Jack the footage. Someone had filmed his friend in the front seat dying.

‘What was it like?’ I asked Jack as we put Quest back together afterwards.

Jack pulled his head out of the floor and pauses. ‘He was all cut up and doing the death rattle.’ I felt myself shiver.

Trinidad’s north coast road is precariously winding and narrow. We’d driven it too a few days before in our rental car. Drove an hour north to Las Cuevas beach with brown sand and green water. Trinidad’s beaches have no feeling of pretension; not with so many local Trinis lolling clumsily in the surf zone, laughing as they came out, their hair stringy and covered in sand. And despite the Trini heat, the water is cold – markedly colder than Barbados. This is even though it’s closer to the Equator. We spent our time shuddering and wondering why. After, by the outside showers in the car park, we rinsed the brown sand off with other shyly grinning Trinis.

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We stopped for bake’n’shark on the way home. You have to. It’s a sandwich unlike any other. Bread rolls but deep fried like a doughnut. Inside battered fish or shrimp or even just potato. You line up for a buffet salad to put on top; cucumber, tomato, lettuce, pineapple. Then different sauces to choose from and blend if you wish; mango, chilli, coriander and a dark-red, tangy tamarind. The sandwich needs to be tackled like a football: hands and a fork and several pieces of tissue paper.

In the bake’n’shark shack on the edge of the busy north coast road, we were just about to tuck in. Parked car alarms were going off all around us from vehicles whizzing past. Then a wedding party came in. A wedding party!? We stared openly at them line up in the buffet queue – purple taffeta and jewel-encrusted hair clips. Was their meal before or after the wedding?

‘Why on Earth would you have your wedding meal here?’ Lulu asked derisively.

Jack and I looked at each other. We were slightly scared to answer. Straight away, it had seemed obvious to us that it was the perfect place for a wedding meal. No fuss, no worries about lack of food or quality. That’s the point about Trinidad. Violence is always somewhere in the background. Or it comes close to you. Our mechanic Falco had just lost both his friends and colleagues. Then the wedding party comes to the bake’n’shark shack. It’s hard to put it into words. Trinidad just always surprises.

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Peakes’ Peeps

Peakes Boatyard. It’s like a scene out of Cannery Row. This isn’t to say that Peakes is an unprofessional outfit. You know this before you even come out of the water. Divers are in place under the travel lift to inspect your keel. They’re making sure the travel lift straps are properly in place. Above the water, the travel lift operators are working as smoothly as oil. Not surprising since they lift huge fishing boats that come down to Trinidad from all over the Caribbean, extra-wide catamarans, and everything else from racing yachts to antique boats. We’ve watched this all before we’d set off in February from our corner position in the boatyard.

This time, we are lifted out in the middle of Lulu’s Spanish lesson. As the class is progressing, I give the computer to a lift operator and find our shoes. Clad in green overalls, he stares blankly at the computer screen. Jorge, the Spanish teacher is declining the verb, ‘to go’ out loud.

‘Thank you,’ Lulu says to him. She steps off Quest, takes the computer from him and goes to sit under the trees. The lift operator shakes his head.

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It’s hot. 8am and hot already. This is the boatyard where boiling is a pre-requisite. We’ve already arranged for Richard, the air-con man, to come with a unit right after lifting Quest out. I can’t wait. Like last year, he will remove our saloon hatch, seal the air con unit in and then Quest will become a lush, cool apartment instead of a breezy if sweaty boat. In the meantime, Jack has been attracting a number of bear hugs. Large numbers of boatyard staff are coming over and hugging him. He’s hugging them back like it’s Christmas day. His face is lit up like it’s a tree. At the same time, he’s receiving looks from fellow cruisers who are walking by. Where was our hug, they seem to be saying inwardly before carrying on.

After their embraces, the staff turn their attention to Quest’s copper-coated bottom. From going into the water in February with a new, dark red colour, Quest has returned as greeny-red as a cathedral roof. Everyone who was involved in copper-coating her then is admiring her now. With clicks of the tongue and words of praise, Delphine and I leave both Jack to his bromances and Lulu and her computer class under the pink bougainvillea. Instead, we head upstairs to the office.

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The office is in a handsome building overlooking the boatyard. The rest of the building is made up of a breezy restaurant called the Zanzibar and double guest rooms. We hear Daniella in the office before we see her. ‘We are you calling me?’ she is asking someone loudly. Delphine and I glance at each other before closing the office door.

We enter and feel the best air-conditioning in the Caribbean. It’s so effective the staff are dressed as if it’s a March day in Wales. When she sees us, Daniella ushers us into her office quickly. She is half-Dutch and half-Trinidadian and a slip of a girl. The laughing begins almost instantly. This girl is funny. Then the phone rings. Daniella picks it up and listens for a moment.

‘I thought I told you to stop calling me,’ she says seriously.

Delphine and I look at each other. Daniella pauses and her eyes begin to glow. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll sort it out for you.’ She puts her phone down and smiles at us. We sigh in relief. It was a joke! Without further ado, she moves to the filing cabinet and pulls out the paperwork for Quest. Somehow in the chatting, Daniella cheerfully reveals to us that she was dyslexic as a child.

‘I’m dyslexic too,’ Delphine announces proudly.

I look at Delphine in surprise. I’ve never heard her say it before. Especially to a grown-up. The truth is that her cerebral palsy means that her learning issues are probably not as simple as just dyslexia. Still, it’s becoming a handy go-to. More than that too, she’s becoming proud of it. Especially since Jack is dyslexic and the spelling on Quest is often wild and wonderful. He regularly says to Delphine, ‘See, you spell better than me!’

Daniella has narrowed her eyes at Delphine. ‘Are you good at recognising faces?’

Delph nods shyly .

‘Me too,’ Daniella booms. She is grinning now. ‘And memory games where you have to turn cards over. I bet you’re really good at these too.’

‘She awesome at them,’ I interject. I nod a quick apology to Delphine. ‘What? I didn’t want to risk you being modest.’ And she is. Delphine’s visual memory is amazing.

Daniella looks at us as if she’s made her mind up about something. She stands up and pulls her phone out of her pocket. ‘C’mon you two. Lets go take photos of your boat.’

This most be the most magical moment of travelling. Going somewhere different and feeling at home.

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Boat Yard Boogaloo

Laura lives at the boatyard with her parents. She is 12 years old, a serious girl belied by a typically lilting Trinidadian accent. To our ears, the Trinidadian accent sounds like Welsh Caribbean. Still, every time we come back to the boatyard, Laura is busy doing extra lessons for school. Homework club. Preparation for 11+ exams. Saturday school.

‘If I don’t get 95%, then I won’t be admitted into one of the good schools,’ she says when we see her. She is about to sit the equivalent of the 11+ exams in Trinidad. She has a list of schools she wants to go to which she rattles out like crashing waves. 97% for St. Joseph, 95% for Bishop.. the list goes on. These are the admission requirements for Trinidad’s few grammar schools. Laura’s list is precise and extensive. She tells us that some schools will add points to your application but only if your religion matches the school’s. Other schools like it if your interests match theirs, like music and particular sports.

Laura is intent on doing well. ‘Otherwise I have to go to the local secondary school down the road if I don’t pass my exams,’ she explains patiently to us.

‘What’s wrong with your local school?’ we ask her.

She shrugs. Purses her lips. ‘There are bad kids there.’

It turns out that Trinidad is like a lot of other places. A few good grammar schools with intense competition to get into them. If you get into one of these schools then your future is assured. If you don’t get in and have to go to a local secondary school, well good luck to you.

‘What kind of student are you?’ I ask her one afternoon in the boatyard’s play area. A huge mango tree bends its branches over our heads. Small, unripe mangoes hang together in bunches like oversized grapes.

‘I’m not good enough,’ she says sadly.

The girls shake their heads in sympathy. ‘But you’re always studying,’ Lulu maintains.

Laura nods morosely. ‘I know.’

We invite her for a movie night on Quest. We still have a large collection of unwatched movies from Jason in Barbados. We plan it for the end of the week on Friday and the rest of the week passes. On Friday, I see Laura’s dad. He works as an engineer on the tug boats that shuttle between Trini’s many gas platforms. A big, burly American, he soon tears up when we begin to talk about Laura and her school.

‘I just want her to be happy,’ he murmurs. ‘It’s just so competitive here to get into these good schools. None of the others are worth getting into.’

I squint my eyes, trying to find a solution. ‘What about private schools? I’ve seen the international school by the shopping mall for example.’

He laughs and it sounds like a dog’s bark. ‘Yeah. The problem is that these schools are filled with spoiled brats. They’re followed around by their bodyguards and allowed to do whatever they want to.’

I scratch my head. Not such a problem where we live in Wales. Not too many children in Aberystwyth need bodyguard protection. And here we are in Trinidad. Our kids are a similar age to Laura and yet we’re removed from this situation. Like we’re looking at it through some sort of port hole. Our kids can go home. They can still do well in their lives without attending the country’s top schools. I watched Laura’s Dad’s face crumple painfully. It’s clear he wants her to stay a kid. Kids should enjoy themselves. They should enjoy living. But here, pressure starts at an early age.

‘I think,’ I say slowly, ‘if they’re happy, the rest should follow.’ I wince when I say it. He leans over though and our arms brush together.

Later, when Laura arrives, she tells us about soca. She tells us about Trinidad carnival and about the song that had won this year.

‘Hello Folklore Riddim,’ Jack says knowledgeably, having been to this year’s carnival himself. No. Laura shakes her head, her curly hair shaking like a cloud. Vigorous debate begins on Quest about the song which had actually won. Jack starts dancing and the girls start laughing. Laura’s smile gets wider and wider. I close my eyes and will the hands of time to stop. Just for a second.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Scent of Trinidad

The first time we went to Trini we discovered doubles. Spoonfuls of channa in fluffy flatbreads; doubles may not sound like much until you eat them. Sweet and tangy and like all things in Trinidad; spicy on request. Next time we came we found shark’n’bake on the north coast. Beachside sandwich that the whole nation adores. You don’t have to have shark either if you don’t want to. The third time it was ice cream. Creamy but not too sweet, J’n’J ice cream is made in Tobago. Flavours include cherry coconut and pumpkin. What did we find this time? This time it was chow. Worried you’re not getting your 5-a-day? Worry not longer. Chow is mango or pineapple sliced and marinated with salt and pepper, garlic and a chopped, green herb called chadon beni. Sweet and salty and of course hot if you want it sprinkled with pepper sauce.

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Chow is our latest experience of Trinidad. It’s another thing unique among the rest of the Eastern Caribbean. We discovered that Bajans called Trinidadians ‘Tricky-dadians’. Ha! Is it a simple play on words? We couldn’t comment of course, but it does seem that Trinidad plays with geography. This is a country that is almost South America with jungle forests, towering peaks, savannahs and deep cuts of river. Then at the last minute, it snatches itself back into island status. From this stance, while serving food that reflects its sense of special isolation, Trinidad is also a culture that pats itself on the back. I’ve absolutely never met a country that enjoys itself so much. Sure, Americans are proud of their constitutional values. The British covet their own traditions, different for each of its social spheres as if they’re a cake with different flavoured layers. The French hate change (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it Monsieur), the Poles worship their willingness to suffer for a worthy cause. Australians both tame and respect nature, an impressive thing to do both together while the Spanish go all historically proper with long, complicated names but love to giggle. Can the defining nature of cultures be the way they can be summed up into handy synopses? Probably not. And so much fun.

This time, we smelled Trinidad before we saw her towering silhouette. This was mostly because it was dark by the time we arrived. We didn’t plan to arrive at night though. We forgot about the equatorial current. It had pushed us to Barbados and now it was fighting us going home.

‘I think we’ll have an extra 60-80 miles to make up for it,’ Jack said after carefully examining the Navionics app on his phone.

Aha. If we’d had our plotter on, we would have realised this much sooner. Unfortunately, as well as George’s unpredictability, we had another mechanical victim this season; our navigation plotter. Harry Plotter. Harry normally would have sorted things out for us navigation-wise. Now the condensation inside of him was sparkling merrily at us in the sunshine. He’s been on Quest for her whole lifespan; ten years up in the cockpit, a computer brain permanently outside in the elements. Perhaps not so surprising that he’s given up the ghost. So, another thing to fix on Quest? Here’s the thing; things have changed. Not many people are re-investing in plotters when similar navigation apps exist on phones and iPads. Hmm. We’re not so sure. A plotter is another crew member and particularly handy in coastal environments. When you’re about to anchor, the plotter is much more accessible to look at than a phone in your hand.

Overall, Trini is busy. Oil tankers, gas platforms; this constant fossil fuel industry gives us a strong clue why Trini are so pleased with themselves. Fuel is cheap and fossil fuel supplies are abundant. Fishing around Trinidad is also blessed. The pesky equatorial current we’d fought with meets the Caribbean Sea out here. This mixing and the nutrients flowing from the nearby Orinoco River in Venezuela combine to make critter capture a productive life. On the way to Trini’s NW trip, Jack and I pushed Quest through a fleet of blinking fishing vessels.

During the day, we’d seen many types of boats. White-coloured Venezuelan boats remind us of New Orleans steam boats without the paddles. They are a strange sight in the lumpy, electric-blue open sea. Earlier, fifty miles off the coast of Tobago, another boat had changed course and come our way. We’d watched it steam or rather bob towards our stern and gulped. This is always a little disconcerting. Three years ago, on the outer edge of the Bay of Biscay, a sailboat came right up to us. It was the middle of the night and the hair had stood up on my arms. Anything could happen out here. In fact, it turned out to be a retired Dutch lady who wanted to say hello without the usual sense of personal space. Now, the fishing boat too made its way right to our stern as I began to throw looks at the locker holding our emergency flare gun, a man came out of the cockpit. He waved at us. Huge and happy.

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In order to get to the yachting centre of Trinidad, Chaguaramas (try saying that after downing a few and staying up all night), we’d have to sail through a narrow channel called the Dragon’s Mouth. It’s narrow but busy. You’d think that there’d be some lights in it. At least one. Anyone? Jack held up his phone – and according to Navionics, that little rocky outcrop in the middle of the channel should be lit. I had a look. The dragon’s tooth. I frowned at the phone. It should be lit. But as we sailed into where we were sure the channel was, it was dark. Well, except for the phone.

The north coast of Trini is jungle. It’s a world away from the capital Port of Spain behind it. We had a glimpse halfway through the inky channel. We saw the first light; an anchored ship, then another, then a whole gas platform. Ten minutes later, we slipped into the mooring field like burglars. A year ago, I’d picked up a mooring buoy in Chaguaramas on a windy, difficult day. Quest’s mooring gaff went into the water. Disaster! Without the mooring gaff, we’d never be able to hook onto the buoy. I quickly stripped down to my knickers and jumped in before the gaff sank to the bottom. Chaguaramas is a watery dead end and all sorts of rubbish end up floating in the water. Fridges, dead fish, the odd turd. And me it turned out on my birthday. I ‘d spent the rest of my special day de-contaminating myself. This time, I didn’t need to remove a single piece of clothing. We attached Quest without a hiccup. 1 am. The girls long asleep. We were here.

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Passage to Trini

I’m interested in how this world works. What the creatures on this planet including us, make of it. Because of this, I tend to ask myself ridiculous questions. The day we left Barbados, I went snorkelling. I never get over how the underwater realm is a parallel world, a completely different existence. As the sun went in and out of the clouds, I began to wonder what underwater creatures think of the sun? When it shines through the water and then goes cloudy, what do they make of it? Oh, that’s the light going off? Oh yeah, it’s come back on again. Crazy lightbulb. After all, they don’t spend time looking the sky. With thoughts like this taking up space in my head, my brain tends to plague me. I think a lot about our own lives too, especially as we are setting off back to Trinidad to store Quest again in the boatyard and fly back home to Wales for the Caribbean’s hurricane season. Nothing like a mix of transience to cook you a bowl full of questions.

People tell us we are living the dream. No life is a dream though. It doesn’t feel like it when we’re living it. You can be in the most stunning location, but on a boat you’re always thinking logistics. Dinner. Schoolwork. Boat stuff. Finding fuel for Evil Edna, our dinghy. Making enough water in the water-maker for showers. And when my brain especially likes to harass me, I wonder if we’re doing the right thing being here. Not many people live on boats with their kids. Sure, some people do but it’s not exactly the norm in the cruising world and especially not when the kids hit their teenage years. Kids on boats tend to be younger, from the ages of very small to about 12-years old. After that, they seem to fade away back to a ‘normal’ life. I’m always hearing that teenagers need stability. But when it comes to this issue, I can’t help feeling like a deer caught in headlights. What’s better, small-town life in Wales or seeing the world and meeting new cultures?

I don’t know. Hence the writing. I paid 30 squid for this WordPress blog last year. This means I can offload all my worries in one handy location. Some live-aboard people crave advertising and ‘buy-us-a-beer’ type sponsorship. I just want to have a good moan. Could you be sponsored for moaning? Surely this is dream come true stuff. My blog, my moan suckers! Oops. There goes my last reader.

Oh well. Back to Questie. She’s a floating, white attention seeker after all. After the fish left us with all our 1km of line and an exploded reel (thank goodness we didn’t have to land this fishy goliath in the cockpit) the sea became a rolling bed of three metres. Quest went quiet then. The wind powered her like silent fuel. We got the harnesses out and clipped the girls to the A-frame. They didn’t even moan too much about it. All the while, the waves were coming at our beam side and Quest was happily spitting them out. For lunch, I filled pot noodles with boiling water and placed them in the sink for protection while they cooked. For me, this is the measure of how rough conditions are. When we started sailing, we were helped to get the hang of Quest by a guy called Ian. Super guy. He gave me advice about cooking while underway, including using the sink for hot liquids. He told me once, when he was on a rough passage on another sailing boat, he’d asked an inexperienced crew member to make tea in the sink. Ian checked up on him a little while later and saw that, rather than cups in the sink filled with tea, there was a sink full of light brown liquid. Oh yeah! It was a sink full of tea!

This anecdote always makes me giggle. It would be so tempting to re-create. For the first hours, I thought about Ian and his lovely laugh while I braced myself, made food, did stuff down below and then came up to breathe. All the while, the Captain was sitting at the helm, watching the conditions and how George was handling them. Unfortunately, George has become something of an unpredictable auto-pilot. He becomes overwhelmed in this kind of sea. How? Well, if a big burst of wind hits us or we veer off too far to the side down a wave, George holds up his robotic ghost hands and gives up. God dammit George! We have to run to the helm and stop Quest gybing into the wind. She comes up on her ear when this happens. This extreme angle is not good for breakages but excellent for constipation problems. Thanks, George. Who would have thought your job would be to keep us so regular?

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In anticipation before we left Barbados, we tied our preventer to our boom to prevent damage if we did gybe. Now we stay vigilant, always sitting near George’s controls when we sail. Plotting his demise. Sorry George but your robot days are numbered (mua-ha-ha!). Don’t you get arsey with me! Hold on.. am I talking to the auto-pilot again? After personifying him? Uh-oh. I might need to buy the premium version of WordPress. Confusing your machinery for human traits? For 48 quid, this will stop yourself from going bananas.

As George steered us from side to side, the girls took up their usual positions. I watched them. We haven’t been in a sea this big for a long time.

‘Can we listen to Percy Jackson?’ Delphine asked. On cue, she pulled out our old iPod and a portable speaker. Aha. It wasn’t really a question. Percy Jackson is the story of Greek myths re-imagined in modern times. Some humans are half-bloods – children whose one parent is a Greek God. We listened away. Despite the potentially complicated narrative, Rick Riordan writes in a deliberately slow and friendly way. While white, foamy wave crests licked the side of the cockpit, understood one of the defining characteristics of half-blood children is that they usually have attention-deficit-disorder. This is because their bodies are hard-wired for the quick reflexes needed for life as a demi-god. Percy Jackson himself is very dyslexic too. This tickles Delphine no end. When he read a prophecy out loud and said ‘dogs’ instead of ‘gods’, Delphine’s face lit up. Not just Delphine struggling to read? A dyslexic demi-god also? Genius, Rick Riordan, genius.

So, with the audiobook as supreme distraction, Quest rode the ocean waves. I found myself thinking again. There’s something about staying in a place for a while. In Barbados for two months exactly, we’d heard the ex-colonial Big Ben chimes from Bridgetown’s Parliament building ring out across the anchorage every 15 minutes. That thing didn’t stop chiming. We felt the limestone bricks with the palm of our hands, the dead coral polyp skeletons warm in the sun.

Then there were people we’d never have dreamed of meeting. One such person was Jason. A number of men line narrow Swan Street in central Bridgetown hustling different items. Perfumes, music, movies are the noticeable things for sale. DVDs like Black Panther, Coco, The Greatest Showman. Good movies, bad movies, it was no matter when we discovered these movies are the cheapest thing you can buy in Barbados at the bargain equivalent of 80p each.

We were in fact, not buying them from Jason at first. Until one day we didn’t see our regular guy and Jason approached us.

‘Did his movies have Chinese subtitles?’ he asked.

We nodded enthusiastically.

‘That’s not good enough quality,’ he said disdainfully. We shook our head in surprise. We’d thought it was ok.

‘Have you got Game Night?’ Lulu asked him, flicking through the titles on his phone.

Jason shook his head firmly. ‘It’s not good enough quality yet either.’ He seemed to take the quality issue seriously. He began giving us run-downs on the movies. ‘Looting and shooting in this one,’ he said, glancing at the title. ‘That one’s plenty teary,’ he said of another. After this, Jason was our man and Lulu in particular enjoyed his mini-synopses. Every time, she came away with a pile of movies in her hand, grinning. ‘I can’t wait to check this one out. Jason said it had weight and a certain respect.’

Saying good-bye to him was more emotional than we expected. He hugged us all tight. ‘I’m going to miss you guys.’ We hugged him back. It was the same with Ellen, the lady outside the supermarket who sold fish cake rolls. Delicious. I’ll explain. Fish cake rolls are deep-fried balls of batter and salt fish. The fish cake part is one carb in its own right. Then you put it in a bread roll and they become two carbs. Add pepper sauce, ketchup, mayo. A quid each. Not exactly diet food but perfect elevenses on the way from the beach to the library.

My only bug-bear was that Ellen always gave extra fish cakes to Lulu and Jack. Never to me and Delph. ‘How’s your husband?’ she’d say to me, winking. ‘The kids too?’ Good thing you’re hiding behind that religious apron, Ellen I thought. And that you have a fantastically cheeky smile. She hugged us like bears as we said good-bye.

This is the simple act of hanging out somewhere for a while. You meet people. Of everyone, Henry had the strongest effect on me. Wait. We didn’t know his name was Henry. The truth is that I called him Henry after I gave him an Oh Henry chocolate bar. He always sat on the bench near our dinghy dock in Bridgetown’s inner basin. He had swollen feet. Sometimes listened to a wireless radio, but always stared forwards as if he were somewhere else. When I gave him the Oh Henry bar, he moved his head and stared down at it. The next time, I saw him, I waved. To my surprise, he waved back. From then on, it was always, ‘What do we have?’ on the way back from the supermarket. Gum, fruit, once half of Delphine’s snow cone.

‘Can we give him this?’ I asked, holding up a cup half-filled with pink-coloured ice. ‘Well, I suppose he can always refuse.’ Poor Henry. He was probably chucking stuff straight in the bin as soon as we left.

Then we saw Henry one day somewhere different. He was on the other side of the bridge in the Independence Square park. It was 5pm and the park was buzzing with people. Henry stood on his own planted there like one of the trees, watching everyone. When he saw us, his face changed. For the first time ever, he gave us a beaming smile and raised up his hand, palm forward. We passed him in a line, high-fiving him as we went past. That night, we dinghied down the Careenage feeling part of the place.

I thought about this during the long night sailing to Trinidad. Barbados was getting further away. At three in the morning we were becoming aligned with Grenada instead. Trini lay still over a hundred miles to our south, past its sister island, Tobago. The moon rose up from the horizon, a waning gibbous. This was our only light. The girls had gone downstairs to sleep. Their dreams must have been centred around washing machines, I thought, sucking in the salty air. As usual, Jack and I took two-hour shifts and when it was time to sleep, both of us opted to fall face-down on the cockpit bench that leaned closer to the sea. It was our rocking cradle. A few times, the sky became dark and sprinkled with rain. I pulled the blanket over my head, feeling lucky to be sleeping al fresco in the tropics.

Before the night finished, I had some more thoughts though. The most surprising part of this season hadn’t been the beauty of Barbados. Though beauty had been everywhere. It wasn’t the amazing fact that Quest made us so much water, we didn’t need to dock once to fill our water tanks. It wasn’t the excellent 3G coverage that made life so much easier to do work and school. It wasn’t even the proliferation of hawksbill sea turtles or the presence of antique bottles just waiting to be discovered underneath us.

It was, I thought, as I hugged myself to stay awake, the natural happiness of our girls. They’ve glowed this season. Jack and I have watched them quietly but haven’t wanted to chew it over too much. In case their happiness mysteriously fell overboard. Like Goldie Hawn without the happy ending. The thing is, I thought, I don’t know the answer to the question of teenagers and stability. I don’t know how much longer we’re going to sail for or where we’ll end up. Compared to the advantages of being on land, I don’t even know if Quest is enough. Then life comes along. As the moon reflected off the huge waves, I gulped and remembered the girls kayaking to the beach on their own every day after school. Lulu’s grin when she came up from each of her dives. Delphine’s almost enthusiastic reading before delighting in Barbados’ warm waves, well. I’m hoping my brain will consider a vacation. Just for a little while.

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