A long way for a lost hat

Barbuda’s Nobu beach bar is more of a resort really, with wooden walkways in the sand and piped music among the trees, secluded sunbeds, outdoor bars…

They have an indoor bar as well – although nothing’s really indoors except for the five-star loos…

Nobu – walkways in the sand and piped music

…and a shady veranda

I had walked all the way up the beach specifically for a Nobu cocktail. In all the time I’ve been in the Caribbean this year, I still haven’t had my bushwhacker. I thought everyone knew how to make a bushwhacker (Rum, Kahlua, Amaretto, Baileys, Crème de cacao, Triple Sec & Nutmeg). But when I got there, I had to put up with something which consisted of white rum, chilli, lemon juice and 90% ice – for $25 – and that’s US dollars, not the East Caribbean ones as in “EC come, EC go…”

I wouldn’t complain because at least $15 of that was for the veranda furniture and the glass that came with the bottle of Carib (that was a first…)

No, what upset me was that I left my hat behind and didn’t realise until I was back on the boat. Nobu closed early on Sunday and would not be opening again until Wednesday.

Of course, I could abandon the hat and return to Antigua for customs check-out before going back to Dominica to take the not-mended Kindle back to the electronics shop. But this was no ordinary hat. I had ordered it online and had it delivered to the Heathrow hotel when overnighting on the way back from the family skiing holiday. A lot of logistics had gone into that hat. Also, it wasn’t cheap, and I find I’ve become very parsimonious since losing £352,600 by being just plain stupid.

(If that figure made you to go back and read it again, it’s not a mistake – well the numbers are correct – losing that much money certainly was a mistake. (The full story is in my autobiography Faster, Louder, Riskier, Sexier https://amzn.eu/d/a7j8Re8)

So, I certainly wasn’t about to lose my hat as well. All I had to do was hang around until Wednesday…

Princess Diana might have been content to spend several days on the Princess Diana Beach (well, you’d feel obliged to if they named it after you), I decided to kill the time by going up to Codrington – or “the village” as the locals call it. I could check out there instead of stopping again in Antigua. Also, they don’t charge if you to do it in Codrington which would go some way towards the cost of the ice cocktail.

There’s a good reason it’s free: Much of the water around Barbuda was last surveyed in 1848 (HMS Thunder, Capt. E. Barnett)ß. The Cruising Guide claimed to have the most up-to-date chart – although my 2018 edition was still at the printers when Hurricane Irma came barrelling up the islands and punched a hole through the lagoon’s defences.

Even the Navionics chart includes notes such as: “This area is encumbered with numerous coral heads… put a man in the rigging and eyeball…”

Eyeballing requires strong sunlight above and behind the man in the rigging so that the deep water shows up as dark blue, the sand as pale green and the coral heads in sharp relief. I compromised by standing up on the cockpit seat and going very, very slowly.

The best thing about modern electronic charts is that mariners can contribute, and somebody had helpfully plotted a line of depth readings all the way along between the lagoon and the reef, right up to the anchorage just off the wrecked Lighthouse Bay Hotel.

This was truly spectacular. I had seen plenty of houses with their roofs blown off by Irma, but a hotel which falls flat on its face because the land underneath it gets washed away is enough to make anyone throw out an extra handful of chain before going ashore.

This was not as straightforward at Codrington as it had been on the Princess Diana Beach. Admittedly, thanks to Irma, I didn’t have to drag the dinghy over the spit and into the lagoon. Another note explains: “As a result of two hurricanes in 2017, a new pass has opened up between the sea and Codrington… wide and deep enough for RIBs and other dinghies to pass into the lagoon.”

The only tiny detail omitted is that it is a full two miles from the anchorage to the village and the Trade Wind was blowing its usual 12-15kts.

And I still don’t have an outboard.

Of course, I could call on VHF for a water taxi ($40 US at 2018 prices).

Or I could row.

I once rowed one-and-a-half miles each way across the Sint Maarten lagoon (from the Dutch side to the French side because I had a French SIM card and they had some way of restricting coverage to comply exactly with the border). But that was without taking the wind into consideration. My usual two-knot rowing average could be seriously affected by a brisk headwind. I WhatsApped the Customs Officer and said it would take me an hour-and-a-half. He said he closed at four o’clock.

Isn’t there a bit in The Riddle of the Sands when Davies and Carruthers are planning to row through the channels to creep up on the Germans and Davies says: “How far can you pull?”

The answer has always got to be: “As far as I have to.”

Rowing – with hat

I stopped only twice – once to take a close-up of the collapsed hotel and once to check on my phone if I was still going in the right direction (I wasn’t).

And it did take an hour-and-a-half – and the lagoon is sufficiently wide for a 12-15kt trade wind to kick up an appreciable chop – which then gets blown over the bow of the dinghy, soaking the oarsman from head to foot. But that’s OK because the water temperature is 29°C. By the time I’d walked a mile through the meandering streets of Codrington to find the Customs Office, I had pretty much dried off.

The Customs Officer had gone home. A woman on a bicycle told me where he lived. He came back, bringing the Immigration Officer with him.

We spent a pleasant twenty minutes filling in the forms (only five of them this time). I apologised for being late – I’d had to row across the lagoon.

They were incredulous – both of them: “You rowed across the lagoon?”

I don’t have an outboard motor.

“Nobody rows across the lagoon!”

This became obvious on the way back. Not only did I have the wind with me – so this time it only took 50 minutes and I didn’t even get wet. But a man in an enormous Boston Dory with three (yes, three) giant Suzukis on the back, drove over to ask if I was OK.

He came close enough and shut down his horsepower so that I could shout my usual response: “If I don’t do this I have to go to the gym!”

All the same, he wouldn’t leave until I had given him a definitive thumbs up.

And so, on the Wednesday morning, I carefully retraced my route inside the reef, round Nine Foot Bank and wriggled through the coral opposite the Nobu until I was just off the beach. I could see the people on their sun loungers and in the shade with their chopsticks and seared salmon karashi sumiso.

This time I was so close I didn’t have to bother with the dinghy at all. I swam ashore and presented myself, dripping, at the bar.

And yes, they had found my hat. The only thing I hadn’t planned on was swimming back wearing it.

And, if you meant to look up the book when you’d finished reading this, here it is again:  https://amzn.eu/d/a7j8Re8

3 Responses to A long way for a lost hat

  • John …. You are a classic… you remind me of my real good fun friends that I knew in the 70’s as a ski bum in Tahoe….a laugh a minute, not a care in the world and 3 or mor “ last runs” every ski day ! Keep it going … I’ll buy you a Bushwacker if I see you somewhere . I’m buying the book !
    Best ….Phil A

  • Ho, ho, very good. Do you know the Steeleye Span song – “All Around My Hat”. It’s a long time since I listened to it but I am doing do now. I think it’s quite appropriate to your predicament – just replace “my true love” with Bushwacker

  • More adventures in a week than some of us get in a life time.

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