Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Conch, Caribbean Chill, and Christopher Cross...

I'm taking life far too seriously. Tried to force myself to lie in bed past nine this morning but had to leap out of bed at one minute past because the guilt was just too much for me. I even rushed my shower to make up for lost time!

It’s always been like that for me, I’ve never really learnt to relax completely so the few times when I have been totally chilled really stick in my mind.

Yes, I’m going to give you another memory.

Twenty or so years or so ago Gaynor and I took a day trip to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Now, I know what you’re thinking; the Grenadines is much too far for a day trip, but we were on holiday in Barbados at the time so it was just a short hop across the lush blue Caribbean sea.

We set off from the airport at six in the morning in a twin engined eight-seater flown by a very competent woman pilot and an hour or so later were approaching the landing strip of St. Vincent. Back then it was just that; a strip, and as we approached from the mountains a cow wandered across the dusty runway and we had to steeply climb to miss the palm trees at the end of the runway and circle again.

I hated flying back then, but eventually we landed (me still shaking with fright - well it was a tight squeeze between those mountains) and were hustled through immigration control. A sleepy, dusty looking chap in a frayed uniform, gold epaulettes and a gun waved us through a wooden gate as he stood inside a rickety tin shack smoking a cigarillo. Real banana republic stuff and not even a passport stamp.

St. Vincent was truly paradise, even the shark pool at the harbour. But we had to move on as the next part of our day trip was a tour of the Grenadines on a yacht.

Gaynor hates boats but I love them and we were soon sailing out to sea swigging Venezuelan beer from the bottles that our German captain had smuggled on board. He seemed a little dodgy, probably a gun runner, definitely a smuggler (he told us) and his only crew member was a really well-to-do English girl who’d run away to the Caribbean and was living in a tin hut on one of the smaller islands with her young son. She was 'never going back’, although the authorities were trying to deport her - all very high seas and romantic (lucky pair).

We sailed all day in the sunshine on the crystal-clear blue water; dolphins leaping up and out of the waves every now and then; past Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, and down to the Tobago Cays for lunch where we anchored up.

I don’t know the name of the small island that we stopped at, but it remains vivid in my mind because the beaches were covered with huge pink conch shells. Thousands upon thousands of them in huge piles.

This was one of the places that the local conch fishermen dumped the empty shells from their brightly painted fishing boats once they’d emptied them of the succulent conch meat.

We waded through the warm blue sea to the white beach and sat side by side amidst the mountains of pink conch shells watching huge green iguanas basking on the shells in the heat of the sun.

And that was it – total chill.

Those few hours on that island remain the most relaxed experience of my life. It wasn’t much of an island, just some scrubby trees, sand, the conch shells and a few iguanas; but for a short while I was without worries, concerns, no need to rush, no ‘something’ to do, nothing. Total relaxation. I was floating.

On the return journey the wind picked up and we had to shorten our final visit to Palm Island as it looked like a storm was brewing. Our German captain served us a white rum punch and hiked up the sound system to keep our minds off the choppy water. His choice in music wasn’t mine, a little too soft-rock-tastic for my tastes, but one song came on that summed the whole experience up for me; Christopher Cross and Sailing - schmaltzy and corny, true and beautiful, and I still can’t hear it without being taken back to the relaxed perfection of that day.

Before we left the island we picked up three of the conch shells to bring home. We still have them; placed besides the fire in the upstairs lounge where I listen to music - still pink, still full of the sound of the Caribbean sea, still full of that day.

Sometimes I put on my vinyl copy of 'Sailing' that I found in Oxfam and listen to the poetry of the words. I look at the conch shells we collected on that far away island that I can't remember the name of and try to recapture the quiet perfection that day.

But I never can.

It's not far down to paradise, at least it's not for me, and if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquillity. The canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see. Believe me. Sailing, takes me away to where I've always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me and soon I will be free…

And for that short while on that beach I really was free.


  1. Stephanie Ashton commented on Facebook:

    Great posting...strikes a cord with me...

  2. Phil Morgan commented on Facebook:

    Great read.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Sonya Tickle commented on Facebook:

    Lovely image - sounds like a great trip x