How to sit in a Sarong – and other mysteries

A gap year, whether taken as a youngster or, as in our case, near our dotage, should be an opportunity for learning new skills, broadening horizons, taking stock; an education in its broadest sense. I fondly imagined that once we had got the Atlantic out of the way we would have all the time in the world to accomplish all this – and more. But have we?

Certainly our exposure to different cultures, and especially financially poorer ones, has been an eye opener – and sometimes a painful one (none more so than when I was politely reminded by a St Vincentian that his country may be poor in one sense, but rich beyond measure in other ways!) Then again we have learnt a degree of self sufficiency that you just don’t get living at home. If the oven falls to pieces, or the water maker stops working or the outboard splutters to a stop you either fix it, or do without.

But have I learnt the maths involved in Astro –navigation, have I applied myself to improving my skills at painting, or learnt that foreign language? Oh dear, that would be no, no, and er… no! Part of the reason is that all these things are still as formidable a challenge as they were when we were working and had a “proper excuse” to avoid them – but also the fact is that every day survival on a cruising boat takes a lot of time. If you want water you must either fetch it, or make it. This needs power, and if you want power you need to set up and adjust solar panels or the wind generator, pander to the needs of the engine and worship at the feet of your batteries. Food is fetched by bus, shanks’s pony and dinghy, washing is done by hand and there is the constant tending of half a million widgets on the boat – any one of which can fail and precipitate a problem orders of magnitude greater than the same failure ashore. Marine biology is fascinating, but most of it makes a beeline (should that be a barnacle line ?) for your hull and tries to convert it at amazing speed into a coral reef and the only solution is daily diving to repel all invaders.

So no huge advances in knowledge then, but there are plenty of mysteries. Take today for instance. We were up at dawn as we wanted to get to Barbuda before the sun got too hot. To the North of Antigua there is a channel between 2 shallow banks, and as we beat our way through it Lynda saw a spout – followed by a large splash. A minute later we both saw another , and a very large whale surfaced 10 boat lengths away, rolling under without showing its head or tail. A tiny fin way down its back suggests a Fin whale but could it have been a Sei or Rorqual? We lack the experience or knowledge to be sure. Closer in to Barbuda, and by now on a shallow sandy bank , we were met by two very large dolphins, who just like on our last visit, swam momentarily on our bow pressure wave before gliding off with none of the exuberance that we have come to expect from the spotted dolphins elsewhere. Were they a different species – or just old like us and conserving their energy. Back in the water I saw a sea snake, a beautiful brown colour with yellow spots. The problem is my books say there are no sea snakes here – so was it an eel? The anchorage is about as isolated as it is possible to be so there is no chance of researching these mysteries on the internet until we get back to civilisation in a few days time.

Some mysteries may never be solved. Thanks to Simon and Roo we are well supplied with sarongs – that eminently practical garment for a hot climate. Apparently I have yet to master the art of sitting with any sense of decorum, but as skirt skills come fairly low down my list of priorities my guess is that that is how it will stay.

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