Cap’n Fatty Goodlander. Yes, this is an actual person. Cap’n Fatty’s been around the cruising scene for, well judging by his photos, it looks like a respectable stretch. As well as books, he writes in cruising literature, magazines, newspapers you pick up in chandleries and marinas. He wrote an article for Cruising World a couple of years ago that I’ve chewed over since. The article was about where yachties go to hang out and why. For the Caribbean, Cap’n Fatty listed some of the current favourites; the Windward island of Grenada, Georgetown in The Bahamas’ Exuma Island and Simpson Bay in St. Martin, though there’s major re-building going on this year after Irma. I think for the French Antilles, this season is abuzz in Martinique. All these places have infrastructure; marinas, chandleries, dinghy docks, readily available fuel, water and ice, waterside cafes. Yachties are a funny bunch. They sail off from civilisation and then crowd together like lonely water voles.
Over time, these places wax and wane with popularity. It seems that too much of a good thing can become a major factor. As Cap’n detailed, with so many people in typically remote locations, issues such as cost, overcrowding and security can strip the shine off a place. People vote with their keels and sail off, looking for another ‘untouched’ bay. I find these patterns of movement linked to peoples’ dreams and the places that cater to them a fascinating topic. Plus, unless you go completely off kilter and head only for empty bays to anchor in, you’ll meet this cruising world. Sometimes they come across as a floating Butlin-style camp. Other times they prove to be a heartening community. A lot depends on what you need at the time. Kid boats tend to gather here. When our girls are fed up with staring at our faces all day (can you imagine it!?), these bays are a godsend. The water here isn’t always exactly the cleanest though. With everyone flushing their heads, swimming sometimes is a case of closing your mouth firmly. I’m glad these yachtie hubs exist but for the sake of our probiotic health, they’re a transient fling.
I dug Cap’n Fatty’s historical take of the cruising community in his article. The part that really caught my attention were the up-and-coming places. The Azores in particular, Tanna in Vanuatu and Barbados. Cap’n Fatty said Barbados was a gem of a place if you brought a flopper stopper and didn’t mind the roll. Yes, these were actual instructions. And Cap’n Fatty was right about Barbados. The roll is interesting. We were good pupils though and bought the flopper stopper. It turns out to be a flappy piece of metal you hang off one side of Quest. It bobs up and down in the water, opening and closing to dampen the action of the waves. We still feel them but, judging on the dance of the other boats around us, the flopper stopper’s not doing a bad job. Meanwhile, over the last few weeks, we’ve watched yachts come in to Carlisle Bay, pitch backwards and forwards for a few days and leave as soon they hear about the calmer anchorages further along the island chain.
Being the closest island for Atlantic transiting yachts, Barbados continues to be the first stop for many. Dive operators even run special dives in Carlisle Bay for centuries-old bottles buried in the sand thrown off of schooners and cutters. Nowadays however, Barbados seems among the least set-up for yachties. The only marina for visiting boats is within Bridgetown’s inner basin. Sure, there are stands here for water and electricity and cleats to tie your lines to, but I’m not sure I’d call it a marina. The inner basin feels more like an extension of the local park, Independence Square next door. Clean and free public toilets, mature trees you may want to hug, the odd person having a nap on a bench – a boat’s cockpit opens up to all of this. This is no complaint, it’s just as community-oriented a marina I’ve ever seen. Not exactly a typical, gated European model. And it’s hot. And a little stinky too – also no complaint. This is the tropics. Surely vitamin D and 27°C happy endorphins bring pay offs.
So, it’s out in the anchorage for us. Even with our flopper-stopper, the swell soothes us like an over-enthusiastic rocking chair. We’re lying opposite the old sugar warehouses – now nightclubs and the car park with no mention of its history as a burial ground for slaves who didn’t survive the Atlantic crossing. Gently swaying casuarina trees line the edge of the ground. I imagine their roots being nourished by the bones they embrace. We are four visitor boats currently anchored in Carlisle Bay. And this place is awesome. Every Bajan we meet is friendly, quietly proud and so dry-witted, we often wonder if we heard it right. Take yesterday. Jack jokingly told the fruit seller at the market that he’d see her in church today, on Good Friday. She cocked her head and asked him which church he was going to.
‘You didn’t have an answer?’ I asked him a few moments later.
He shrugged, still sheepish-looking by the bananas. ‘I never thought she’d ask what church I was going to.’
Later, labouring under a mid-day sun, we passed a stall in Bridgetown advertising frozen chicken wings. Jack stopped to look but I carried on. Urghh. Chicken wings. He was taking his time and I stopped to wait on the street corner. Man, it was hot. I squinted at him.
A woman walked past. Without stopping, she said, ‘He thinks he’s going to start cooking now, does he?’
I looked up at her. She wasn’t even smiling. Not with her mouth anyway.
‘Exactly,’ I replied. The truth is that he’s a pretty good cook. The point was the timing. Boy, I like Barbados.
When Jack came away from the wings, we went back to the inner basin and found Edna. She was right where we’d left her, tied up near the shiny basin ladder. No other dinghies were jostling for space. Just ours. Cap’n Fatty Goodlander, you’re right. A gem of a place. Just don’t tell anyone.
Here’s the Cap’n’s article: https://www.cruisingworld.com/cruising-social-scene