Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Caribbean

6 June 2007

I’ve sailed the Caribbean Sea many a time during my life. The first was in 1972, on the dear old ‘Northern Star’, heading for Australia on our ‘deep sea’ trip, with a dozen twice-nightly shows to play and sing and … laryngitis from the air-conditioning system. The next, the next summer, was a solid four months or so, on the benighted QE2, a season which at least gave me a chance to get around and visit–cum-explore a good number of the islands. I remember happy times visiting a barren lighthouse in Aruba, scaling the heights to visit John Nash in the posh part of Saint Thomas, sheltering under the leaves of a banana tree in a rainstorm miles from anywhere in St Lucia and, above all, making the adventurous tour on foot of the lovely island of St Martin/St Maarten (half French half Dutch) …

Since then, of course, I’ve traversed various areas of this same sea, twice a year for a number of years, on the Blue Star ships between New Zealand and Philadelphia. Blue Star used to call in at Jamaica for a cargo of rum, but the Tikeibank is already carrying rather more explosive stuff than rum, so we just press on, past the Tropic of Cancer, down the straight between Anguilla and my fondly remembered St Martin/St Maarten (where my binoculars pick up some worrying looking objects which seem to be – please, no! – tower blocks) towards Panama.

The delicious sun-drenched, blue-skied monotony is broken only by one boat drill, the inevitable three large, cooked meals a day, the odd session at the bar, an occasional bird or fish sighting (boobys and dolphins) and the usual amount of reading. 

The latest book bundle has been particularly successful:
‘Falling Angels’ by Tracy Chevalier: a delightful, simple, not-too-long novel of Edwardian England, beautifully written. I really, really enjoyed this one.
‘Balham to Bollywood’ by Chris England: a true life tale of English actor-cricketers making an Indian film in India. Funny.—sometimes very -- when it doesn’t try too hard. Normally I find books that make Margaret Thatcher jokes to be really klutzy and pretentious, but this chap ultimately redeems himself with a real and delightfully original tale.
‘The Master Butchers’ Singing Club’ by Linda Erlich: atmospheric and nicely written, but its ‘saga’ ambitions lead to the killing off of too many supporting characters in whom one has become interested. Unusually for me, I didn’t expect the final twist. Sagas don’t normally have them. Enjoyed the first ¾ a lot.
‘Barbra Streisand’ by my ‘heritier’ Christophe Mirambeau. A very tidy star biog which hits just the right tone. No fan-type gush, no fabricated scandal, a genuine ‘biography’ or rather ‘biographie’, because its in French.

There is one more thing which has, in the last four days, become a feature of my shipboard life. Lyndall’s fault. In spite of my announced scorn of the gym, I’ve started working out. Just a little. No weights or anything impossible like that. After all, I’m sixty-one, and given my mostly sedentary life of the last 35 years, grotesquely unfit. So we settled on the exercise bike as being likely to be beneficial to my cardio-vascular being, also perhaps even to improve my blood pressure problem, which is not being aided, I am sure, by bacon for breakfast.

I started gently on day one. Fifteen minutes. At the end my pulse had gone up from 88 to 118, and several minutes after finishing it was still 108. Not good. The machine told me I had burned 100 calories. Lyndall says that is half a slice of bacon. Sigh.

Four days later, I can report that I am doing decidedly better. I now do 10km (364 calories) before breakfast, and 10km (more calories) before cocktails, and I’m gradually pushing up the speed. I have brought my 10km time down from 33 minutes yesterday to this morning’s 27 minutes 28, and the recovery times are improving gradually. My Jacques Esclassan-type sprint for the finish this morning took me up to pulse 141 but, 3 minutes later, I was down to just over a hundred and falling. A long way to go until I win the Tour de France, or vanquish the blood pressure thing, but I shall persist.

If nothing else much changes as we press on into the Caribbean, the heat does. It has been getting progressively hotter and, last night, after dinner – a gloriously clear night – we were able to sit outside in the glasshousey air with a beer or two and watch the constellations go by above. These days I can only recognise Orion, and there he was full frontal. Next trip I shall bring a star map.
In the distance, we could see the flashing, bolting lights of a typical Caribbean storm. Wonderfully dramatic and suitably far away. This morning it was still going on.

6 June and 8am.

The cycling done, breakfast done (sigh: four slices of bacon, two croissants, some melon and coffee), two showers – hot then cold -- already, and all the emails answered …

In about 4 hours we are due to arrive at the breakwater at the Panama Canal, ready to take our place in the queue. At which time it's very probable that not only will the smoke stack start to spout little black oily burning cinders, but the biting beasties of this not very salubrious area will also doubtless be out. I think a little stripped-off laze in the sun is called for before then, because afterwards it will be time to cover up ….

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