A nasty gale came up on the second day out, we were caught napping, heads in the sky, eyes already looking to Cape Verde. Every dog has it’s day and every section of water can bare it’s teeth and make life uncomfortable for awhile. We hung on for three days straight, hand steering because the wind vane wouldn’t hold. The swell was confused, coming in undersized and angry like the little red faced drunk man in your village boozer. It was half stunted half crippled, sucking off the land, running wild from shots of Saharan heat. Clouds of red sand filled the air, painting everything in rust coloured dust, our visibility dropped down to a squint, we sat at the wheel peering out at white capped horses crashing, coughing and spluttering in the smog.
Christmas Eve morning was spent heaved to, there was too much weather on the beam, it was either run out wide or sit tight and chill, after a few days at the wheel I opted for the later, drawing the boat up close, dropping the cutter and throwing a third reef in the main. Coconut was parked up, a beautiful slip running out from her full keel, she was rising and falling slowly, dancing with the gale. Miranda was down in the saloon, horizontal in the bunk, she was wrapped up snug, ‘I hope this drops down before Christmas,’ she said as I got in to join her, we had pictured blue water and fair winds, sipping down our gin and tonics, watching the day unfold. The gale raging outside our door felt like coal in your stocking, like Santa had forgotten all about Little Coconut. Rudolf the red nose rain-deer had just flown overhead on route to the big city lights, his present for us a mid flight dump, we were stuck in the hiss and blur, getting soaked and flushed, holding on inside the chattering chest of a floating Coconut, copping it all right on the nut.
Our worries, as so often the case, were misplaced, the weather died down that afternoon, and bit by bit Miranda and I started hoisting up all the rags we had dropped, bagging up the cutter, spilling out more and more gib, rebooting the main sail. Soon we were free, the boat was steering herself, the destination wasn’t our only refuge anymore, we could enjoy the present and live for the journey.
For the last four Christmas’s on the trot I had been working, out in the middle of nowhere, lost down the bottom of some dark faceless mine. Christmas would roll around too quick, it had become a day of reflection, Christmas reflecting!!!!! All joy had been lost in the cloudy twists of my mind, my inward thinking self seeking carcass was standing tall but walking empty. My last sailing trip was buried in the gutter, sunk beneath the falling drives and reeling stopes, wrapped up in rock fall and paste fill. I was living only to fill my own boots, walking around the centre peg both blinkered and all the time on the move, ploughing the same tread week in week out, what was I doing? where was I going? As Solomon mentioned in the book of Ecclesiastes, it felt like I was chasing the wind and chasing it alone, my labour beneath the earth had become meaningless. This Christmas I couldn’t have pictured in my wildest dreams, sailing again, out on the ocean with my beautiful wife, the horizon ran wide full of colour, our future lay with it, an unknown expanse of sparking blue water. We opened stockings, put a Christmas pudding in the oven and celebrated, it had been a long time since I shared a joyful Christmas. For the next four days we skipped all the way down to Cape Verde, arriving in daylight for once. David and Helen who sail a boat called Grace were waiting at the docks for us with a cold beer, what a way to welcome someone in.
Cape Verde awoke beneath our very nose, rubbing sleep from it’s eyes, brushing away the thirsty night, unwrapping it’s hot body from sheets of desert sand. Dry brown hills encircled the bay, which lay protected from the trade winds on the north west of the island. A fan of faded shades fell like beads of sweat from the half baked hillside stone, dropping all the way to the water’s edge, old and new bound together, arm in arm, broken walls next to sliding doors. We had reached Mindelo, a good spot to rest and prepare for the Atlantic. Outside the marina gates sat a group of beggars, their clothes tattered and teeth missing, their eyes wide and intense, drawing you close like glistening marbles in the dark, their hand shank catching you by surprise, netting you quick, roaring in like an Atlantic gale. ‘ Where you from brother,,,,, England,,,, I love England!!!!! Chelsea, you like Chelsea, they are the best,,, no?!!!!’ I was easy pickings, walking through the gates smiling, kicking my heels, stoked to arrive in the outer reaches of Africa. That was where I first met Dom, he had a once orange trucker cap, only heroes don trucker caps, hill billy blues nuts, captains or ball players, period!!! he had a worn out pair of crocs, only two types of people where crocs, absolute legends or complete wankers, Dom had a trucker cap on so he was firmly in the legend quarter. He had a ripped faded T shirt and some shorts held up with washing line, he walked with a swagger, his limp didn’t hold him back, his smile a swinging crescent of yellow and black, tooth, missing tooth, tooth, missing tooth. I liked Dom from the outset, he found cabs for me that where already waiting, he walked me to shops a stone’s throw from the dock, shops I could have found my way to with a blind fold on, he helped me back to the boat with water, him walking me carrying the water. We spent a fair bit of time together, Dom and I, he spoke the type of broken English you only pick up from the street, we made trips to the gas station, filling Coconut’s bottles up for the Atlantic, he showed me to the market, told me what a good price for fruit and veg was. I’d see him coming 100 meters away, grey and white curls poking out from his cap, his fast paced limp overtaking the tourists, a beaming smile on his face, he must have somehow bugged me with a GPS beacon, probably a dam site craftier than I gave him credit for. As we left Dom hugged Dad and I, a big bear hug for both of us, ‘Jesus Christ’ he said pointing to the sky, ‘Jesus protect you.’ He said that to me, us sailing a mini battleship, him struggling to survive in a poor dusty wind blown corner of the world, a place uninhabited until the West Indian trade routes started, an island so dry it could suck the sap from a cactus, bake the wings off a cricket, flake the scales off a snake. We left him by the bins, he dropped back into the shadow, back into the timeless tide, into the stillness of his town, that faded orange cap drifting slowly off down the road, floating away behind our stern like a tin can in the drink. The Cape Verde’s had just waved us goodbye, that was our parting moment, for me anyway, at day break we would be off, out into the bones of an ocean, two thousand miles of water all the way to Barbados.
Sao Vicente and Santo Antao were the only islands we had time to visit in the Cape Verdes, both cut from the same cloth, both forged deep beneath the seabed from the same womb of molten rock, distinct in their appearance, but different in so many ways. Antao holds his mother’s looks, green eyes and soft skin, lush gorges and high ridges. Vicente is a pricklier version of the old man, practically built with heavy paws and strong arms. The siblings work hand in hand, they prop each other up, fending wolf from door and lifting head from dust, one offering fertile soil for growing fruit and veg, the other a perfect natural harbour, an enclave in the desert, offering much needed shelter to many passing boats.
We spent most of our time in Sao Vicente, Dad flew straight there from Lisbon, white as a sheet from the English winter. He was rearing to go, coiled up like a spring and ready to rumble. I had to slam the brakes on abit, get the old boy acclimatised, let his skin redden up a tad before we hit the open water. With no wind forecasted for a few days it gave us all time to kick back and enjoy the islands. Miranda and Dad bonded pretty quick, I got lost in Santo Antoa, they waited for me and missed the last ferry back, their only option bedding down for the night in a nearby village, Miranda bunked up snug with her father in law, witnessing first hand his husky snore, it’s unpredictable rise and fall, it’s ability to stop the night, to drop the clock dead, vibrating anything in the room not made of bricks and mortar.
I got lost way out west on the other side of the island, or rather we did, I being the main instigator. The landscape of Santo Antao comes alive when you leave the sanctuary of it’s cobbled roads, the hills gain weight, the miles don’t tick they crawl, you feel the environment for what it is, man’s voice just a whisper on the breeze, his strength outside the glass like that of a child. We got disoriented in the heat, we lost track of time in the water, the desert trail took our legs, the walls of white wash took our arms, we eventually found our way to a quiet village on sun set, three shadows walking across a black sand beach. It must have been a strange site for the villagers, one tall ginger Irishman, one blond viking cut Swede, and me, a balding Channel Islander. ‘Look what the cat dragged in,’ soaked in sweat, stomaches rumbling, mouths dry and skin burning. It felt amazing, sitting down in the shade of that village, detached from it’s comings and goings but still submersed, what luxury, just to sit and watch a peaceful pocket of the world unfold around you, salt covered from the waves and bleached from the sun. Children played on the beach, fishing boats lay idle in the water, locals sat in small circles, hidden beneath the trees, their houses quiet, their doorways left ajar, their windows all open. They lived between two frontiers, the mountain on one side, the ocean on the other, nourished by a small trickling stream which fell slowly from the clouds. They looked out over the setting sun every evening and awoke to the sound of cockerels crowing above the pounding swell. We had surely stumbled upon a unique spot. It was an epic day of adventure, we sat that evening as thick as thieves, drinking cold beer and eating like kings, Owain and Oscar had been strangers on the dock a few days ago, crewing on different boats, crossing the Atlantic at the same time, we bunked down that night as old buddies, I could have been on a trip with some cats from home.
A knock at the door woke us up well before sunrise, the village was already on the move, land cruisers rested on idle, getting loaded with people and goods, all tangled together half asleep, bound for the port away to the east of the island, up and over the hills. We managed to snag a lift, shoulder to shoulder like a tin full of sardines, boxes of fish between my legs, windows wide open. Owain’s boat was meant to leave at 10:00am, his crew had been left waiting, his skipper smoking from the ears no doubt. We weren’t late though, ‘wizards are never late,’ it was meant to be, we got gobbled up by a big fish is all, hitting the sanctuary of a village, waking before the sun to make our trail back east. Wives and boats gotta wait sometimes, thats just the way it is. We spotted Miranda and Dad at the docks, two white faces walking down the roadside. I was worried about them and relieved to spot them in the crowd. A round of coffees and a few back rubs later they were both grinning ear to ear, we packed up and got ready for the off, a well oiled team, rested and ready to rock and roll.