It’s been an interesting week and a half since we left Ottawa. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried and we’ve started drinking like proper sailors. But most importantly, we’ve seen our boat, i.e. our home for the next 10 months.
Because our flight to St. Martin was cancelled a month ago, WestJet offered to get us as close as they could, so we were re-booked on a flight to Antigua. The morning of Saturday, October 28, as Halloween party revelers were heading home in the early hours of the morning, we were frantically rushing around the house preparing to head to the airport for our 7 a.m. flight. Rachael (one of the aforementioned revelers) saw us off as we loaded our 200+ lbs of luggage into the cab. Then we were off! We had surprisingly little trouble checking our bags, which included a generator and a small outboard motor. As we took off, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise to which photos could not do justice.
We arrived in Antigua mid-afternoon, where Customs were kind enough to offer to hold all our heavy bags for our two-day stay since we were in transit. This worked out nicely for us, since it meant not having to drag four 50-lb duffle bags to and from the airport. We checked into our lovely AirBnb, picked up some delicious BBQ chicken and ribs for dinner from a very busy roadside restaurant, provisioned for our stay (i.e. bought water and beer), then had a quiet night in after what had been a very long day.
The next day, family friends picked us up to take us on a tour of the island. With beautiful beaches on all sides, you really can’t go wrong in Antigua. We ended up having lunch in a gorgeous spot on Ffryes beach, and enjoyed strong cocktails and a great lunch while hearing about Norm and Elaine’s adventures setting up a business in a new country (next time you’re in Antigua, check out Salty Dogs Rentals for a unique tour of the island). Our lunch was made even better by the view…
At this point it was midday, and it was hot. So when given the option to check out the rainforest or go swim in the ocean, we didn’t hesitate to choose the latter. The rainforest would have to wait until we returned to Antigua on the boat.
The next day, it was time to head back to the airport, where our Winair flight to St. Maarten was showing on the Departures board as a flight to St. Barths. Apparently it wasn’t going to be as direct a flight as advertised. It took quite a while to recover our bags from Customs but eventually we got them all checked and made it to the 19-seater plane that would take us to our final destination.
We began our descent after only about 25 minutes in the air, and approached what seemed like a very familiar island. To the great surprise of all passengers on board, it had been decided that this was now a direct flight to St. Maarten!
As we landed, everyone silently observed the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Irma almost two months earlier. Where there used to be palm trees, there were now only stumps. The majority of buildings no longer had roofs, and some just weren’t there at all anymore.
The airport had re-opened just weeks before, and I’m not sure what we were expecting. Maybe they had opened a wing of the former building. But no, the St. Maarten airport has been reduced to a simple tent, where you wait for your bags to be unloaded directly from the cargo truck, then walk 20 ft to check in with Customs. They scanned our passports and waved us through, barely batting an eye at all our luggage or the fact that we had no return flight booked.
Then once again, we were in a cab, driving through what was left of St. Maarten, first through the Dutch side, then through St. Martin (the French side, where our boat was laid up during the hurricane). Being there, and seeing the destruction and devastation in person was overwhelming.
As the taxi got closer to the boatyard, we were both nervous to see what we would find there. We still didn’t know what kind of shape the boat’s interior would be in, and whether we would even be able to stay on it, and what impact it all would have on the rest of our year off.
To be continued…