.“Royce, get up.” My eyes shoot open. Why is Ella waking me up? And hasn’t anyone taught this girl how to nicely arise the crew? Her abrupt command could have woken the dead.
“We’re here.” She said and then was gone, as quickly as she had appeared.
We’re here? Where are we? What time is it? And then the blanket of sleep was gone. We’re here. We’re here!
I leapt from bed, and landed like a cat on the sole floor - a maneuver I had now perfected having practiced thrice daily for nearly twenty days. Alejandro did the same, although his feline reflexes are more in line with Garfield at his advanced age. I glanced below my bunk - Odie was gone. We were the last two arriving on deck moments later.
And there she was. Antigua. Her lush vegetation, dotted with brightly colored houses, was a clear giveaway that we had arrived in the Caribbean.
“Smell that.” Mia said with a broad smile.
“Huh?” Wake up, Royce.
“Smell that.” She repeated, her grin somehow growing wider.
The rich aroma of…what is that, nutmeg? The standing joke in my house is that I have zero sense of smell. A Jewish nose that doesn’t perform - oh, the irony. But for the first time in nearly a month, it wasn’t the unmistakable foulness of the head, or Eau de Latino that my unsophisticated olfactory bulb recognized. You could smell the land. This rich, sweet, overpowering, delicious, warm aroma. My smile returned Mia’s.
The pink light of dawn painted a backdrop to the island, no more than a couple miles off our starboard rails. I stared. We all stared. Nothing need be said. Even Staton was in silent reverie - a first since waltzing up to my table in Las Palmas. I grinned at him. He grinned back. We made it. We’re here.
We slowly turned to starboard and entered the mouth of Falmouth Harbor, under motor. The yankee sail was quickly furled, and for the first time in 17 days, 19 hours, and 25 minutes we lowered the main. To bookend our journey, I once again climbed the mast, and helped guide Falken’s exhausted sail to her boom. The process of flaking (folding) the main back and forth across her boom took all of us, with the exception of Nelson, who was slowly keeping us out of harms way - several sailboats laid at peaceful rest throughout the harbor. Once her main was flaked and tied down, we fastened buoy’s to life lines, and lines to cleats, ready to hook ourselves to the dock.
10 minutes later, we were attached to land. The unrelenting motion underfoot we had grown accustomed to for a month was gone. The boat was still. I walked to the end of the pier, the longest continuous stroll I had taken since climbing aboard Falken in Spain. Come to find out, walking is like riding a bike. I hadn’t yet noticed any sense of sea legs. Perhaps I had left those at, well, sea.
We gathered in the cockpit, not really sure what to do first, or how to feel. Mia emerged from the hatchway, her perma-smile distracting me from the objects in her hands. And then I noticed. And I smiled too. She had cups and a bottle of Champagne. Who is this party girl, and what have you done with that all-business mate from Sweden? Who is this stowaway?
“Baruch atta adonai” and down the hatch. Three thousand, two hundred and twelve miles, and nearly a month since my last drop of alcohol, never mind that every beverage since Spain was either piping hot coffee or lukewarm tap water. The impact of chilled Champagne was immediate, but fleeting - I wanted off this boat to indulge in more icy cold adult beverages.
So, with haste, I started tackling the list of to-dos, presented the night prior. I’m sure it came as a shock to the captain and crew that I knew how to work and was motivated to do so - had they uncovered the right “carrot” earlier in the passage, they surely could have extracted more from the lazy guy who chose sunbathing to sail trimming. But Red Stripe has a magical power to extract work from the most lethargic old salt. Both of which I had become somewhere out there with the drifting seaweed.
For an hour, Staton and I sprayed and scrubbed, hosed and hauled, with the occasional stink eye toward those lazy crew glued to their phones who still thought we were drifting along on the Atlantic, with nowhere to go and nobody to see. And at the self-appointed hour of completion, I set down the hose and announced to little pageantry that I was done cleaning, and would now like to leave the boat.
“We have to wait for Chris to clear us through customs - he’s not back yet” Mia explained with an equal measure of authority and trepidation - at this point, I could certainly walk away, no longer trapped by an inescapable ocean.
“Hasn’t he been gone an hour already?” I questioned.
“Customs can sometimes take 2-3 hours, Royce. It’s the Islands.” She clarified, with a hint of defeat in her voice.
“Staton. Let’s go for a beer.” I shouted from the dock, my partner in crime avoiding the blazing sun belowdecks. And like a gopher, he emerged from the companionway, and joined me in the mutinous desire to find a bar sans passports.
“You’re not allowed off the docks until we’re cleared.” Mia pleaded from the boat.
“Mia, if this country is so unorganized that it takes them 3 hours to check our passports, I think it’s safe to assume they won’t expeditiously track down a couple uncleared sailors before we polish off a six-pack.” I explained in the nicest way possible, while making it clear that only an act of God was going to stop me from walking to a dockside bar and quenching my month’s-long thirst.
In defeat, she made us promise to return when Chris was back. We’ll keep our eyes on the pier, we assured her. And so, with Nelson and his recently arrived bride Erica in tow, we headed to a sailor’s haven.
It wasn’t until mid-way through my third Red Stripe and two glasses of water that I finally quenched my thirst. Which was timely, because Chris came strolling down the dock right at that moment, so we finished our beverages and joined the entire crew on the dock. Turns out, after telling our bartender Lenox we’d be back in a few hours that 5 minutes later we were sitting in the restaurant of the same establishment. Apparently an all-crew lunch takes precedence to letting us go free.
“Another Red Stripe, Royce?” I was asked with a knowing smile.
“Thanks Lennox. That was a fast three hours, huh?” I remarked with a laugh. He so gets me.
After spending 3 weeks in close quarters, despite the lubrication provided by cocktails all around, the twelve of us (now with Erica as an honorary crew member) had nothing of any interest to discuss. A warm shower and air conditioning was awaiting me at a luxury hotel on the water not 100 yards away, and only my passport and this lunch was standing in my way.
I scarfed down my meal, and stood up, indicating to everyone that we better visit the customs office before they close and we’re all forced to spend another night on the boat. In agreement, we quickly paid and walked nearly a mile, following Chris to customs.
If I wasn’t half drunk, all the way tired, hot, sweaty, irritable and yearning for alone time, I might have enjoyed Nelson’s Dockyard more. This UNESCO historic 250 year old military outpost and cobblestoned streets was the epicenter of original Antigua and housed the customs office. Individually, we appeared before the magistrate, pleading our case for entry. No I do not have any fruits or vegetables to claim. Those were eaten 2,000 miles ago, and I definitely didn’t get the last apple, thank you very little. Please let me have my passport so I can be free of these savages and can collapse in my air-conditioned hotel room.
15 minutes later, I was emptying my duffel bag of moist clothing all over the deck of my very air-conditioned studio apartment overlooking the water. Another win from my now best friend and travel agent, Courtney. I had texted her from the boat a day prior and asked her to book accommodations at the nicest place she could find within a nine iron of the boat. Like Lennox, she so gets me.
There was a quick dip in the pool, a nap, a shower, and a quick text to the group that I would be tasting rum at the bar before our 7:30 dinner reservation with the Falken crew. Vince took me up on the invitation, and humored me as I tried the local English Harbor rum. Lennox was of course very helpful in guiding me on a brief journey through the local spirits. With the wheels greased, we walked to another all-crew event. Don’t these people have other friends?
While I had been recuperating from the afternoon’s shenanigans, Alejandro and Staton had apparently discovered the swim up pool bar of their hotel and had not slowed down their thirst-quenching pursuits. I was shocked to see that Staton’s 6-month and as many inches-long beard had disappeared.
“Dude. What the fuck happened to you?” I asked in shock at this baby-faced baboon with a shit-eating grin on his face.
“I went to shave today and messed up. So I took it all off.” He responded, smiling.
“Where is Alejandro?”
“He’s still passed out.”
Jesus. I leave these two ass-clowns alone for three hours, and the wheels fall off.
Unlike lunch, we were all laughs and obnoxiously enjoyed one last round of sharing our ups and downs. The drink of the night was an Old Fashioned Rum Punch, which helped everyone loosen up and provide some lively take-aways, “suggestions”, and general learnings from the cruise. Even Vicky was animated - but Canada hasn’t yet discovered rum, so her behavior should be excused. Mid-dinner, our sauced little Costa Rican also showed up, all smiles and giggles.
Heaps of praise were thrown, justifiably, on our captain and first mate. Chris scored positive feedback for his wealth of knowledge, leadership, and dry sense of humor. Mia’s accolades included her positive energy that Nelson highlighted really came alive when the rest of us were going into our darkest depths of misery late in the voyage. Her culinary skills earned equal praise - I mean, who bakes fresh scones in the middle of the Atlantic?! And Ella. Well, she was the intern. What do you expect? She made proper tea, and was gracious in understanding that we stopped listening to her mid-passage.
And right as I hit a wall and had resigned myself to walking back to the hotel for my first real night of sleep in a month, Chris announced that we would be going to a rum bar. Again, his leadership shining through. We found ourselves amongst the locals 20 minutes later, drinking rum, shooting pool, and smoking joints. At 11pm, nearly 4 weeks with these people, and as many hours of consuming Antigua’s pleasures, and I was done. Vince was a gentleman, escorting Vicky and I back to our boat and hotel, respectively. And, with a crooked smile on my face, put there by a sailor’s welcome only Antigua could provide, I laid down to my first full night’s rest in a month.
And now it’s 9:44 pm on Saturday night. I am 30,000 feet above the continental US, on my second flight of the day. This one is bringing me home to Denver after a short layover in Miami. I woke up this morning, surprisingly refreshed after a day of uncommon consumption. I think the local’s pharmaceutical at the evening’s end helped - I mean wasn’t ganja invented on the islands? Those guys know what they’re doing.
I grabbed my goggles and went to the pool for a 30-minute swim. The exercise was my first in a month and felt so good. After that, I grabbed one of the stand up paddle boards for hotel guests and headed out in the bay for half an hour. I cruised by Falken to check on my friends after last night. Chris, of course, was dangling high up on the mast, fixing the latest ailment plaguing our vessel. Bruce and Mia were bright eyed, but Vicky looked like she had just been run over by a Zamboni. Probably a good thing that rum is illegal in Canada. She needs to stick with Molsen and Celine Deon - Rum punch and Bob Marley are doing her no favors.
Back at the hotel, after a brief stretch on the pier, I grabbed a shirt and made it to the hotel restaurant, which offered each guest breakfast with their accommodations.
“Would you like a hot beverage, with your breakfast, sir”. I was asked from the smiley islander serving me.
“A cappuccino, please” I said with a grin, remembering my new fixation from the trip’s European origins. Some things clearly followed me across the ocean.
And as I enjoyed what served as my last beverage on this crazy voyage, I began thinking back to my first, in that little breakfast diner at Gatwick airport. ‘Was that this year’, I thought? The last time I took 4 weeks off from anything was back in college, more than 20 years ago. I’ve read that the most effective way to slow time is to fill your days with unstructured activities, and then journal about them. I’d add that if you throw in a 3,000 mile boat ride, you can slow it even further. And though I can’t remember every minute of the trip, much of my last 30 days comes with easy recollection…but it sure flew by.
Looking over the water across the bay to the green hills rising out of the blue, the warm Caribbean breeze kissing my face, I couldn’t help but smile. That moment of quiet reflection. From the long flights and anxious anticipation of arriving in Las Palmas to a week’s long vacation on a Spanish island, meeting new friends, and being indoctrinated to Falken. Then days, weeks, of making a passage. Enduring the heat, the boredom, the proximity of others. Being amazed by the sea life, the stars, the rising and setting sun and moon, the waves, the freedom, the wind. The abrupt chaos of a day and night in Antigua. And the frenzied ending to an epic adventure.
I called Tara en route to the airport. We simultaneously said that 4 weeks is too long. I went searching for limits, and I found mine. I don’t want to be gone from my girls for 4 weeks. I don’t want to be on a passage for more than a week. I don’t want to own a sailboat - Chris, dangling high above decks today, post-adventure, was another subtle reminder that ownership is not sailing - it’s maintenance, and tinkering, fixing, and fine-tuning. Not for me. I learned that who you travel with absolutely matters - this was an awesome crew, which made the passage palatable, but having a loved-one on board would make it better.
So, the next big adventure? I need some time on that one. On the sailing front, it’s going to look like chartering a catamaran, with family or close friends, for a week, maybe two. And Red Stripes at the end of every day. So many Red Stripes. And rum. So much rum.
I’m always surprised and honored to learn that people followed along on these adventures. Like, you read my blog? No way! In an age where our kid’s aren’t the only ones suffering from a short attention span, I know it’s an undertaking to read all of this. I write it for me, honestly. I love to write. But I wouldn’t get nearly the enjoyment if I didn’t know someone else was laughing along, journeying with me.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Together, we went. And we went far, didn’t we?
We all just did that. Thanks for coming with me.
We're the Zimmerman Family!
Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
LOVES to sail !
Follow our crew (Royce, Tara, Avery, Charley, Nora & Ruby)
as we blog our sailing adventures
Set Sail 4.22.23 | Las Palmas - Across the Atlantic - Island of Antigua
Set Sail 9.22.21 | Sweden - Germany -
Set Sail 7.18.19 | Newport, RI -
Martha's Vineyard, MA -
Nantucket, MA -
Thanks for reading !
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