Easter Excellence

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 Days prior to the 29th running of Bequia’s Easter Regatta, the Admiralty Bay anchorage began to swell dangerously. Race boats blew in from over a dozen countries, some bringing mother ships bearing supplies along with full-on fan clubs. Cruising boats, bareboats and spectating vessels squeezed into every available watery hole; high speed taxi’s ferried passengers helter skelter; local boats delivered fuel, laundry, bread and lobster as a hive of inflatable dinghies buzzed the bay. Just when it seemed there was no room at the inn, several base-booming ferries pulled in bearing hordes of gyrating visitors.

 

Ironically the real party started on April Fool’s Day with a skipper’s briefing amidst tents of free-flowing beverages supplied by the red hat rum runners, Mt. Gay. Captain’s and crew of a record 86 registered boats fueled up for four days of seriously fun competition organized by the Bequia Sailing Club.

Day one on the course, Good Friday, was just that. Winds were light but never gave up allowing each boat to fly a full wardrobe of sails. The first leg, upwind of the line, was a bit of an obstacle course with a ship and one mega yacht anchored in the way but the extra tacking added drama along with a couple of minor collisions and a handful of near misses.

The J-24 Class rounded the mark in a cluster, popping chutes like a blossoming field of flowers. 16 entrants sailed hard to win the Bequia crown but also to grab top honors for the first sanctioned J-24 Southern Caribbean Championship.

Another one-design class was the 25 foot French Surprise boats that made the long trip from Martinique onboard ships. Their sponsor emblazoned hulls colored the course as well as supplying plenty of reading material for nearby boats.

The second day of competition turned into a bumper-car ride with fading and fluky winds. The downwind mark near West Cay was a parking lot with plenty of high spirited road rage filling the air but luckily, no one felt the need to use their horn.

The heart of the regatta, 33 double ended “fishing boats,” started LeMans style from Lower Bay, boomed out and bailing. Seven separate starts created a parade of tradition hailing from Bequia, Canouan, Union and Carriacou.

Easter Sunday, termed Lay Day, was jam packed with one event after another. The Heinekin Round the Island Race set off from Admiralty Bay while in Friendship Bay, contestants and the curious filled the beach for the start of the fishing boat race. Busy sculptors took part in the Sand Castle Contest followed by a Crazy Craft Competition with four inventive, enthusiastic vessels that somehow sailed down the beach before losing all their bits.

 

For the final day of racing the weather blew in with true Caribbean conditions, perfect for the Admiralty Bay triangle course. Fishing boats had an added leg taking them out and around the south end of the island.

Each days race was followed by an awards ceremony but the finale, held at the Gingerbread Hotel was the biggest and best. Nicola Redway, chief organizer of the perfectly orchestrated regatta, emceed the presentation of prizes that included fishing gear, anchors, tool boxes, VHF radios, GPS units and other highly coveted boat gear. In an over-the-top effort to please, the committee keeps track of who gets what so that winners will receive a new thrill each year.

Former Prime Minister, the Honorable James Mitchell took the stage, joking to the revved up crowd, “I regret and take responsibility for the lack of wind on the first two days.. We’re glad, though, that you got to see the blooming yellow pouie.” Laughing, he continued, “I’m sorry there was a little crash of the yachts here and there. Sometimes that’s needed to get them out of your way.”

For many, the Bequia Easter Regatta was an inaugural event but for one sailor it was the last, the retirement race of a legendary, lifetime career. Trinidad’s Rawle Barrow drove his Beneteau 38, Petit Careme, to one first after another netting him the overall win in the Cruising Class I. As he took the stage to collect a beautiful Bequia model boat, the crowd cheered for the man who, in his youth, was an Olympic sailor.

More full and half models were placed into proud hands until the ceremony came to a propitious end as the sky opened up with much needed rain, sending everyone for cover. They would soon sail away taking with them unforgettable memories and the words of Mr. Mitchell…”You’re always welcome here on this beautiful rock called Bequia.”

 

Tis the Season

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Christmases past in the United States were always a wild slip-and-slide through endless seasonal tasks, and each year, I secretly wished for a simpler celebration. I should have remembered the sage advice a friend once gave me,  “Be careful what you wish for,” because one year, as Christmas present began to take shape, I found myself yearning for the those crazy old times.

In our anchorage off tiny Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, I merrily listened to Christmas tunes from a St. Croix radio station. I unfolded and decorated our nine-inch boat tree. Our stockings, that list all the places we’ve spent Christmas for the past twenty years, were hung on a bulkhead with care. A dinghy darted past with Santa in it but it turned out the fellow with the red hat was wearing the wrong kind of suit.

On shore, little to nothing gave any indication that the holiday was upon us. No trees, no lights, no crowds of shoppers. No place to buy wrapping paper or a roll of ribbon. I even walked down to Corsairs Restaurant in search of the Pirate Santa I’d seen there the year before, only to find the place closed. Either we were in Scroogeville or the Grinch got there first.

Then I saw the sign announcing the annual Christmas concert featuring the school children of Jost Van Dyke. The date, December 7; the venue, the upstairs veranda of Foxy’s Tamarind Bar. Donations welcome. Holiday food and refreshments during intermission. I gleefully rowed back to the boat and saved the date.

The day of the concert, I arrived early as the children drifted in wearing starched white shirts, black pants or skirts and red ties or bow ties. I took my seat next to proud parents who, like me, held cameras in their hands. A keyboard player warmed up and a couple of men fiddled with lights as microphones were tested and adjusted. Finally, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” filled the air as the kids came singing, smiling, one-by-one up the stairs. The program, 20 performances long, was a wonderful tribute to the true meaning of Christmas. Through songs, speeches, acting and reading, they spread the word of love and peace.

If there was a dry eye in the audience, it certainly wasn’t mine. As a teacher and a parent, I’ve been to dozens of Christmas programs but never did one touch me so well. Maybe it was the look in the eyes of children who have so little but appreciate so much; maybe it was the crazy state of our world or perhaps the hope we all cling to. Maybe it was Christmas.

Whatever it was, I hope it finds you this year and in all your Christmases future.

BOAT SONGS

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Sprinkled through the titles of Eric Stones eleven CDs lie a string of island adventures that every salty sailor hopes to have. Bomba’s Shack, Dominica Discovery, Bequia Kind of Day, One Night at Corsairs, Goodbye Trinidad, are all stories lived and memories made by this talented sailing, surfing, songwriting singer.

His music is a comfortable mix of rock, pop and country but since everything he writes is water related he likes to describe his art as Nautical Americana. “Everything I do,” he explained, “Revolves around sailing.”

To the casual listener he’s a Jimmy Buffet wanna-be but his song titled, “Everybody wants to be Jimmy Buffet,” straightens out that myth in the opening line…I don’t want to be Jimmy Buffet, I just want to be me. Although he does sometimes play the Margarita man’s music in his shows and acknowledges that it’s had an influence in his style, he’s been on his own convoluted melodious journey that started in the unlikely state of Texas.

At the age of ten Stone’s mother taught him how to play her guitar and when he took to it quickly and passionately, he never gave it back. His high school band, all rock and roll, played on until a ticket out of Texas came in the form of an airlines job that landed him in Florida. That day job was counterbalanced by moonlighting in a rock band. Years later a job transfer to Hawaii brought the opportunity to learn the ukulele and that is where Eric’s taste in music turned tropical.


After nearly a decade of job security a driving desire to become a serious songwriter prompted a move to the music industries epicenter, Nashville. There, within a week, Stone landed a publishing deal with Be Cool Records. “That’s were I really learned to write,” he explained. And write he did, every kind of music including his own until he realized, “I finally had enough songs to make my own CD.” Titled, Songs for Sail, it caught the attention of the folks at Strictly Sail Boat Shows who hired him to perform at their Chicago event. It was there he met the infamous Bob Bitchin, publisher of Latitudes and Attitudes, who agreed to carry the CD in his magazine before Stone finished his second set. From that fortuitous performance, Eric became the official entertainer of all Strictly Sail Boat Shows and the musical voice of a magazine.

The next meeting with Bob Bitchin at a St. Petersburg boat show launched Eric onto the stage of all the Latitudes and Attitudes cruisers parties and rallies held throughout the US and in exotic anchorages around the world. He’s played some amazing venues with them but his favorite was a party in Tonga where he performed for one of the governors on an island with no power. A few years ago the magazine added a television component that opens each show with the Eric Stone theme song titled, of course, Latitudes and Attitudes.

Stone has logged many musical miles singing in over thirty five states and nine countries. The biggest crowd he captivated was 85,000 at a benefit concert in Australia. Behind him is a trail of venues and corporate events and festivals that include such names as G.M., Hewlett Packard, Bass Pro Shops, Carnival Cruise lines, Margaretville, Sunsail, Bahama Breeze and numerous major yacht clubs. Summers, he tours the states in a big red bus while looking forward to his new winter home in the US Virgin Islands. He zips around those waters performing at Latitude 18, Foxy’s, Corsairs, Myett’s, Sidney’s Peace and Love and other boater loving bars.

When asked to name his favorite song he hesitated and said, “It changes. I’ve got a catalog of two hundred songs I’ve written.“ Coming up with all those ideas seems to be no problem. “Hang out with us for a couple weeks,” he said. “We meet characters everywhere. I don‘t try to keep track of everything…I‘d have to write songs every minute!” The lyrics for, Permanently Temporary, the title track from his third CD, are the autobiography of his life. “We’re not here forever you know, we’ve got to live life.” He certainly seized it when he wrote those words on a plane on the only available paper, an unused airsick bag.

Songs for Sail has sold over 100,000 copies making it certified gold, no small feat, considering that it was an independent release. There are other Boat Songs Collections along with two Scuba Compilations and a Christmas collection. His latest release, Songs from the Virgin Islands is the first acoustic compilation and already there are plans for more. “Mostly,” he said, “I’d like to write songs for movies, TV and other artists.” Given all that he’s accomplished, that’s probably in his future.

To learn more visit www.boatsongs.com Eric Stone tunes are available from 72 music download sites.

It Happened One Sail

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Leaving Anguilla we bashed up the north coast before threading ourselves through the eye of the needle, a small divide between the eastern tip and tiny Scrub Island. Not only is it a tight spot to sail through, it’s tricky as all get out with a growling lee shore and reef strewn water. The other hazard is the distraction from the colors of the crystal clear sea that run through every shade of blue imaginable until the underwater reefs turn dangerously brown. Fish often accompany us through the cut and last year we were guided by a pod of playful dolphins.

Once through, size XL seas piled up, caused by the long shallow sea shelf. It took a bit of effort to get the boat going against them but once in deep, open water we were off and reaching to Antigua.

Not long into the sail we heard a scratchy VHF Mayday call and huddled near the radio listening for details. Bit by bit more info came through; a French sailing vessel sank between St. Barts and Saba; two people floating in a life raft. Our position was east of St. Marten, some sixty miles away but had we been close we’d have put our ol’ lifeboat in gear and headed to the rescue. We monitored the radio until all hands were rescued.

So on we sailed. When morning dawned, the western side of Antigua stood tall before us. Two nearby cruise ships chatted on the radio with the port captain choreographing their arrival, a few West Indian fishermen broke in with fish chatter and then we heard Martinique Coast Guard announce the distress call, pan-pan.

Again, huddling close to the radio, we waited for details. “Pleeze be on zee lookout for zee selling vessel Rainbow, wis red sails, a grin hull. Zee man on board iz 70 years old, fatigued, and may need assistance. Zee vessel left St. Lucia 7 days ago and izz reportedly between Montserrat and Antigua. Eef you see ziz vessel pleeze contact zee Martinique Coast Guard.”

Directly in front of us, a mile or two away, we could see that little green boat cutting through the water, red sails powering her toward Falmouth Harbor. Another pan-pan was announced so Bruce answered, giving our position, the approximate position of Rainbow and explained that we’d go have a look. I started the engine while he sheeted in the sails.

Anyone who’s run toward an emergency knows that the interval of time before you get there is filled with a surplus of “what if’s?” Our heads were full of them and a few fell out: “What if he’s hurt? What if he can’t sail the boat in alone?” and the worst cast scenario, “What if it’s a ghost ship?”

The gap between us closed until we were close enough to see a smiling, waving fellow in Rainbow’s cockpit. We brought Woodwind within yelling distance and ascertained that he was o.k., his batteries were down but he didn’t need our help. We reported his position and status to Martinique Coast Guard and sailed on toward Antigua’s Falmouth Harbor.

A large motor yacht contacted us and said they were heading out to tow the boat in. We watched as they steamed out of the harbor, running to the rescue, but we were perplexed when they returned “empty handed.” On their way to the harbor, they thanked us for our help saying they had only dropped food aboard to their tired and hungry friend.

Days later we discovered that there never was a pan-pan situation but Rainbow’s owner had placed it, “just in case,” causing undue alarm and worry to officials, family and friends. Thankfully our part in the event had been small and we chalked it up as another adventure on another day at sea.

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