Sewage and damp squids

I guess just about everyone who has fished has a fishing story to tell, and it’s usually about the one that got away, the monster fish that grows with each telling, and I’m no exception. Only this story is about the one that didn’t get away when I wish it had.

My wife and I were anchored in the beautiful harbour of St. Vincent de Barquera on Biscay’s Spanish coast. Back then, St. Vincent de Barquera was a simple fishing port set against the magnificent backdrop of the Pyrenees Mountains.

Our boat was simple. A 23-foot sloop with no engine, no electronics, no radio and a bucket for a toilet. Money was tight. Our meagre budget was spent on essentials like food and wine. The local red was very cheap. We lived on vegetables and whatever was on sale in the market. We also tried to catch fish.

We were anchored off some stone steps leading down from the quay to the water and everyday people came down with simple fishing lines and fished over the sewage outlet for mullet, which they caught in large numbers and took home to eat.

Now I wasn’t keen on sewage-fed mullet but what really caught my eye were the small rowing boats that held a couple of guys who jigged for and caught squid.

One day, as they came ashore, I got a good look at their jigs and then went to the local fishermen’s supply store and checked the price. Being a little expensive, I decided to make my own. Jigs are just a piece of round colored lead about half an inch in diameter. On one end is an eye for the fishing line, and the business end is surrounded by a series of short thin spikes pointing upwards and outwards.

Back at the boat, I found a four inch bolt and drilled a hole in the end. Then I wrapped it in red electrical tape. I bent several inch and a half nails into a V shape and fixed them to the bottom of my jig with wire ties.

The Jig

My wife laughed when she saw the finished object and said, “Do you really think you’ll catch something with that? You’re nuts.”

I waited for the rowing boats to appear, just in case there was some kind of special time to hunt squid, and then lowered my jig over the side and when it hit the bottom raised it about foot.

I began to jig.

I’d been going for all of thirty seconds when my arm was almost torn out of its socket.

‘Holy shi*” I cried and began hauling hand over hand.

My wife leapt up from the cabin and looked over the side. “I can see it, I can see it!” she screamed, as excited as I was.

And then the creature broke surface.

Squid do not go gentle into that good night. They let rip a stream of black ink with deadly accuracy. Wife, me, boat … all covered in it, and it doesn’t come off. It’s the original indelible ink. The white cockpit spray curtains, made lovingly by my wife, retained traces of that ink for two years. Our skins were stained with it although not for two years.

So pissed off was I with that squirting squid that I dragged it over the rail into a bucket.

That night we cooked it and ate it. It was disgusting.

Next day I went fishing for mullet over the sewage outlet. It had to be safer.   


I DID DRUGS … and wasn’t  very good at it!


As a lad at school (a long time ago, I’ll admit), few of us had even heard about drugs and wouldn’t know what to do with them if we had. Yes, there were stories that The Beatles had been caught with something dodgy but in my part of Yorkshire we were more interested in sneaking into the pub while underage and getting hammered.

My first brush with drugs happened while traveling around Europe. For the most part I was hitchhiking but on this particular day I was on a train about to cross the border from France to Italy. My compartment was full of young hippy travelers. Mostly were rich kids seeing Europe on daddy’s credit card and money was no object. As we slowed to a stop at the border, someone threw open the compartment door and said police were boarding and searching the train. Pandemonium ensued, pockets and bags were emptied and stuff hurled from the window. “Get rid of your shit, man, if they find it on anyone of us we’re all looking at a year in an Italian jail, that’s after they’ve cut off our hair and beaten the crap out of us.

A posh English girl began to sob. I felt like joining her. I had no ‘stuff’ but would be dammed if I was going to jail for these posers. I grabbed my bag from overhead and stepped into the corridor as the carabinieri complete with snarling dog came through from the next carriage. They stopped me, checked my passport, let the dog have a good sniff, grunted and let me pass. Later I learnt that they gave the guys in my compartment a hard time but found nothing and left when the dog bit the girl and she became hysterical. She got off the train with me in Genoa and said she was hitchhiking to Afghanistan because they had some really good shit there.

This whole drugs thing had me confused.

And then I went to Canada where I stayed with some students who spent most of the day smoking marijuana. “You’ve never smoked a joint?” they scoffed. “You’ve got to smoke a joint. It’s super cool, dude.”  And so I did, and while they were all grooving to the music, I was freaking out like a man with DTs, and that put an end to that.

Back in Europe, I tried a popper … amyl nitrate offered to me by a gay friend. “Try it,” he said. And so I did (the popper, not the other) and a few minutes later asked what it was supposed to do because nothing had happened.

This isn’t your mum’s homemade ginger sponge

My next foray into drugs happened in Gibraltar, where hashish was cheap, available, and the drug of choice among the people I worked with. After weeks of badgering to get me to try it, I finally gave in and my workmates gave me a large nugget of the stuff to share with my wife because it would, well, you know! (Here they were making gestures with one arm.) “Okay, I said, “tell me what I’m supposed to do with it.”

“Just roll a cigarette and crumble it in,” they said, and even gave me a cigarette paper and some rolling tobacco.

Back home, I showed my wife our prize and together we rolled a cigarette and smoked it. We woke up twenty four hours late on top of the bed still fully clothed.

At work on Monday morning, everyone wanted to know if we enjoyed the hashish and the (more arm bending).  “Bloody awful,” I said. We smoked it and it knocked us out for twenty four hours.”

“How much did you smoke?”

“Just one rollup,” I said.

“How much hash did you put in it?”

“All of it,” I said.

“Jesus H Christ, we gave you enough for ten cigarettes!”

Hashish was my undoing the next time I dabbled, too. This time at a Caribbean party, on a famous yacht, that shall remain nameless.

It was a great party. Lots of rum and joints being passed around (which I declined), and then someone made a bong out of a coke can. We were sat around the table and the bong came to me. I went to pass it on but they were all shouting, “Come on, Gaz, take a hit. Just cover the hole in one end lightly with your thumb and put your mouth over the hole where the tab was and suck. Gently.”

My wife was looking at me and mouthing ‘don’t do it’ but she was too late. Thumb and mouth in place, I sucked, and then sucked hard, and when nothing seemed to happen removed my thumb from over the vent. The burning hashish shot through the hole in the coke can and straight down my throat. I leapt to my feet choking and coughing with glasses and bottles flying everywhere.

“Where’s my hash?” someone roared.

“He swallowed it,” screamed another. Some of them wanted to murder me, others fell about laughing.

My wife took me home and put me to bed.


If I took LSD, do you think I might fly?


Gary E. Brown©2020

Dancing with Dengue

When symptoms started, my wife and I thought immediately it was Covid-19. It started with a temperature of 102, my body radiating heat while at the same time I shivered with cold.

With the world in the grip of Covid-19, it seems rather petty to write about my battle with Dengue fever but Dengue has had me in its grip for the last 15 days and I have never felt so ill in my life.

When symptoms started, my wife and I thought immediately it was Covid, even though there are few cases on the island and we’ve hardly been anywhere for months. It started with a temperature of 102, my body radiating heat while at the same time I shivered with cold. Painful aches, total fatigue, shortness of breath, and 100% loss of appetite followed. A seven day graph of my temperature saw it spike at 102 most afternoons and then drop back a little. It was a roller-coaster. Paracetamol helped lower my temperature and at this point we ruled out Covid, well, sort of. I have scarred lungs (it’s a long story) and as my breathing was becoming a worry I agreed to a blood test, which came back positive for Dengue Fever.

Interestingly, while this was going on, Key West, Florida reported their first cases of Dengue in ten years.

The disease is carried and transmitted primarily, but not only, by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito and here’s a fun fact. If someone tells you they’ve been bitten by a mosquito you can explain that that isn’t strictly true as mosquitoes don’t have a biting mouth as we understand it. A mosquito’s mouth is a sophisticated system of six thin, needle-like parts that scientists call stylets. Each of these is designed to pierce the skin, find blood vessels, and make it easy for the creature to suck blood. While they suck, they excrete an anti-coagulant to help the flow and stop the blood from clotting. By the time you feel the ‘bite’ in the form of an itch, the little vampire is long gone. It takes eight to ten days for Dengue to develop in the human body so there’s not a lot of point in going looking for the one that nailed you. Murdering its descendants, however, is a different matter.

Having had such a debilitating form of Dengue leads me to think that I’ve have had a mild case before, the World Health Organisation (WHO) noting that a mild case can be barely noticeable but much more severe second time around. They also note that the global incidence of Dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades and claim about half of the world’s population is now at risk. There are an estimated 100-400 million infections each year.

Back to my recovery: Two evenings ago I managed, supported by my wife, a half circuit of the garden. Last night it was a whole circuit. Also for the last forty eight hours I haven’t slept during the daytime whereas a week ago I was sleeping around 18 hours a day. I’ve even had a small glass of red wine, so I know things are improving.

That I’ve been so ill from Dengue has been a revelation. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Aedes aegypti mosquito photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikipedia




I walked into the bank

and was stopped by the puffed out chest

of a security guard.

Off. Off. OFF! He roared and grabbed my arm.

WTF, from the safety of the street

into the vice like grip of Man Mountain

demanding I take something off.

I’m confused.

The bank is crowded, so it can’t be my shorts he wants

or maybe it is. After all, this is Sint Maarten.

Hushed depositors, check cashers

and money launderers eagerly watch

as with meaty hands he removes my sunglasses.

They’re prescription, I plead, and now I can’t see.

Tough, he snarls, them’s the rules.

Squinting like Clint, I stumble towards the teller where,

in order to see through the tiny Perspex hole,

almost at knee height,

I put my criminal sunglasses back on.

Man Mountain watches but no longer cares,

he’s sparking testosterone,

preening and posing

for a curvy woman at customer service.

So now here I am in the Covid pandemic,

standing outside the bank,

my face covered by a mask,

looking at Man Mountain through the door,

thinking, this is going to be fun …


Wine in a Box

I think everyone has been a wine snob at some time even though they know nothing about wine. I certainly have, and I don’t.

Growing up in a Yorkshire mill town, wine was low on the list of alcoholic beverages of choice. My old man managed to put away a few bottles of whisky a week that he ‘acquired’ from the shop where he worked, mum would occasionally get giddy on bottles of warm pale ale, and at Christmas there was sherry, Advocaat, Babycham, and Pink Lady. Wine was for the posh gits like Penny Peep’s family who lived in the leafy crescent along the road from our cobbled, smoke-grimed street.

Britain has always had a drinking culture, and sneaking into the pub at fifteen years old was a rite of passage. If you were caught and thrown out, there was always the off-license where you could buy bottles of cider and get off your head in the park on that and a couple of woodbine cigarette pinched from your granddad. This is long before we knew what a joint was.

By the time you were sixteen, you pretty much knew which pubs would turn a blind eye to your illegal drinking, and by the time you were seventeen you looked the part anyway. It was down to the landlord, he’d look at you and then look away or he’d come around the bar and toss you out.  They never asked for ID, it was unheard of back then.

Does anybody remember the wine bars like Yates that once flourished, they were the equivalent of those awful Wetherspoons pubs that today blight Britain’s drinking culture. Yates Wine Lodges served rocket fuel under the guise of Australian wine in schooners and after downing a couple you understood why Australians talk so much shite.  Down four or five and you were ready to chuck your jumbuck into a billabong and jump in  after it stark naked screaming God bless Australia, good on yer mate.

Of all the things I miss about Britain, pubs are high on the list, and I mean proper pubs, with proper mates, and real ale pulled by busty landladies into pint glasses that haven’t been sterilized between refills and still contain a dribble of your slaver at the bottom. Pubs where on a snowy night you could step into a cozy room with a roaring fire, smell the smoke, spilled beer, and steam rising from damp woolen coats drying on pegs by the door. Life was a late summer evening in the beer garden when twilight went on forever. You’d hear the landlord call time but your mate’s on his way back with a full tray. Another pint of Best for you and a vodka and lime for the missus.

But I left Britain and went off to see the world, and pubs, the foundation to my social life, were replaced by bodegas, Cafés, beach bars, street vendors with iceboxes, Hooters, feux Irish watering holes, Chinese shops, Kneipes, μπαρ, מִסְבָּאָה, bares, dens and dives.

Eventually, I washed up in a rather strange corner of France, and that brings me back to wine in a box.

At one time I wouldn’t dream of buying wine in a box, I mean, what would the neighbors think if they saw me walking out of the store with wine in a box, or two? The French are civilized, right?

Let me tell you, wine in a box is a winner. First, it’s cheap. I mean really cheap. And there’s five liters in there, and because it has a little tap on it, you can repeatedly fill your glass without seeing the level going down, so it cuts out the guilt. Also, your wife doesn’t know how much you’re drinking, so she doesn’t nag. Just in case you’re wondering, every drop of wine comes out of that box, I know because I cut one open to have a look. Surprising things happen too. I was nearing the end of a box when suddenly it took on a life of its own and started PUMPING out the last of the wine, like there was a little heart in there. Pump, squirt, pump, squirt. Wha Hey!  You don’t get that with a bottle. Wine in a box can save your embarrassment at the recycling bin too if a friend drives by and waves and then drives by again half an hour later to see you still tossing in empties. And it gets better. You know how when friends come around for dinner, they usually bring a bottle of wine? Well, I can almost guarantee that if you pointedly bang down their little bottle of wine on the kitchen counter next to your handsomely inscribed five liter cube of cabernet sauvignon, they’ll feel so bad that when next they come to dinner they’ll rock up with a box as well!


Bacchus, God of Wine in a Box.


In the days when I could drink ten pints of bitter and still stand, I would often find myself wandering aimlessly around the empty town having missed the last bus home by a couple of hours.

I wasn’t worried about walking home, even though it was quite a long way. In those days I wore sturdy boots that I actually cared for by rubbing dubbin into the leather at regular intervals.

I had a choice of routes home. I could hit the backroad and cross the old woolpack bridge or, if I was feeling lucky, take off my boots and wade the shallow ford. The shortest route was to follow the main road but staggering along in the middle of the night gave the bored cops something to do and they could be really unpleasant. I’d been stopped a few times and locked up once.

On this night, I chose the most scenic route, which followed the canal bank. To get there I had to walk through the old Victorian graveyard at the bottom of town.

The Victorians had a thing about marking the graves of their dearly departed with ghoulish effigies and this particular graveyard was creepy at the best of times. Without ten pints of Taylor’s best bitter swilling about inside me, I wouldn’t have set foot in the place even in daylight. But the beer made me brave and I pushed open the rusty ironwork gate with its skull motif and went in.

Forgotten and ignored by the town council, the graveyard was an overgrown tangle of knee-high weeds, vines, and overhanging trees whose roots had long since sucked the marrow out of the bones beneath. Here and there I stumbled into a hollow that marked a collapsed grave. Stone angels, some headless, pointed fingers and wings towards the sky. Grey headstones stood like injured soldiers in crooked lines, a sergeant tilting left, a corporal tilting right, a private falling forward towards his mate broken on the ground.

In the center of the graveyard I came to an ancient grave marked by a stone slab standing on carved pillars about two feet off the ground. Like the other stones, this was worn down by a century of northern weather and blackened by soot spewed out by the industrial engines that had once made the valley prosperous. Its carved inscriptions were no longer readable, the stone carver’s marks full of lichen and moss. It made the perfect bed. I lay down on my back, linked my fingers together behind my head, and gazed at the stars twinkling through the branches of an overhanging elm tree.

An owl hooted.

I fell into a drunken sleep.

And when I woke my bowels almost let go.

A few graves down a stone angel was beating the ground with its wings and trying to fly. I was rigid with fear. If I nipped my sphincter together any harder it would crack.

And then I saw another ghoul below the first, its white legs thrashing the air like giant worms fresh from the ground. And the writhing worms had a voice that shouted, “Oooo Billy, you’re throbbing!”

These weren’t graveyard ghouls, it was town thug Bill shagging his best mate’s wife.

I’d seen them in the pub earlier and they were as tanked up as me.

I’d had dealings with Billy before and it had cost me a loose front tooth. My sphincter eased but I was now desperate for a pee. If Billy saw me I would have more to worry about than a dodgy front tooth. His best friend was away on a rig in the North Sea and here was Billy pumping oil for Britain.

In an attempt to stop from peeing myself I gave a little grunt.

“What was that,” Billy.

“Shut up, it’s nowt.”

Thoughts of taking a pee went out the window. I gave a long moan.

“Stop, Billy, look, it’s haunted. Oh God!

“I can’t stop now,’ howled Billy, looking anyway.

With my hands folded across my chest, I sat up on the stone slab.

She was now hysterical. Billy took off with his pants around his ankles and went down in a bed of nettles. Screaming, she leapt right over him and fled. Hero Billy passed her before she reached the gate and ran slap into a police patrol.

I ran to where the action had been and picked up a pair of knickers. I hung them on the finger of an angel before jumping the back wall and heading home, having kicked bully Billy in the goolies, so to speak.

Note: Goolies are a Yorkshire term for testicles.

The Corridor

It’s difficult to deny the presence of ghosts when one has an encounter with the spirit world.

Growing up, I was haunted by weird dreams and often experienced things that other kids didn’t. Perhaps I was just a weird kid (who grew into a weird adult). Some of the dreams continued into my teens but the experiences grew less and less and finally stopped. Until one cold night spent in a four hundred year old Yorkshire inn.

The Old Silent Inn outside the tiny village of Stanbury, clings to the edge of the moors made famous by the doomed lovers, Kathy and Heathcliff, in Emily Brontë’s book Wuthering Heights. Steeped in history, the inn is said to have played host to Bonny Prince Charlie on his retreat back to Scotland in 1746 after the failed Jacobite rebellion. Allegedly, the hostelry was then called the Eagle Inn, but changed its name to the Old Silent Inn after the villagers kept quiet about the Bonnie Prince’s clandestine visit.

The inn has everything you would expect to find in a building more than four centuries old: Thick stone walls, mullioned windows, flagged floors, and a massive log fire spitting and crackling in a hearth big enough to park a car. Horse brasses and pewter mugs decorate the walls and blackened oak beams span the ceilings.

My wife and I had booked a room for the night. We drove there, checked in, left our bags in the room and then walked over the bleak moors to Top Withens, the ruined farm that many think is the hall that features so prominently in Emily Brontë’s book.

Returning late afternoon, we watched from our window as dusk spread across the moors and our room grew dark.

We had a dinner reservation for eight o’clock. We left our room and walked towards the stairs leading down to the dining room when the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise and I turned around. The far end of the corridor was in shadow but other than a rather incongruous illuminated sign that said Fire Escape, the corridor was empty.

We sat and ordered dinner. The dining room was quite busy but this early in the season few people were actually staying at the inn. After dinner, and despite the roaring log fire, my wife said she was cold and would like her sweater.

Knowing I would probably bring the wrong sweater, it’s what husbands do, I offered her the room key and said I would order some drinks while she was away.

She now surprised me by saying she didn’t want to go upstairs or be in the bedroom alone.

And to my shame, I realized that neither did I.

Leaving her at the table, I climbed the stairs and reached the landing.

Our room was half way along the corridor.  The same shadows lurked at the far end but I could see they were now moving. The red light in the Fire Escape sign flickered and died. As I approached our room the temperature dropped. My hand began to shake and fumbling for the lock, I dropped the key. Every nerve screamed run. Unable to tear my eyes away from the moving shadows, I crouched and my hand touched the key. Sobbing, I thrust it into the lock, flung open the door and leapt into the room. The door slammed shut behind me. I don’t remember touching it.

In the dim light, my wife’s sweater mocked me from the top of her bag. I picked it up and clinging to it sat on the bed. I sat there for quite a while trying to make sense of what had happened, but of course in my heart I knew.

I also knew that I had to go back down stairs. I had to force myself to open the door.

Outside the room the temperature was back to normal, the shadows were just shadows, and the light in the Fire Escape sign glowed bright. It was just an ordinary, empty, rather musty, hotel corridor.

I handed my wife her sweater. She looked at me for several seconds. “You were gone a long time,” she said, adding, “are you okay?”

I only looked away when the waiter came to clear the table and invited us to sit at the bar.

The evening passed pleasantly, my wife slept well and, to my surprise, so did I.

Next morning, at breakfast, I caught one of the waitresses looking at me several times and eventually looked up to find her standing next to the table.

There was something about her. The hairs on the back of my neck began to rise and a cold shiver ran down my spine.

“Sir, do you mind if I ask you something?” she said.

“No, I don’t mind at all,” I said.

“Last night, upstairs, you saw something, didn’t you?”

Hesitating a little too long, I said, “Yes … at the end of the corridor. How did you know?”

“I always recognize the ones who have seen it. You are very lucky.” And with that she turned and went about her business.

Lucky or unlucky? You decide.

On our last visit to the UK, I asked my wife if she would like to spend a couple of nights at the Old Silent Inn. I think you can guess her reply.

Gary E. Brown©2020


From the archives: Lady C … Sint Maarten’s unique floating bar

Neither tempest nor calm, or a stomach that threatened to turn itself inside out, could stop intrepid seafarer Michael Voges from bringing what has become the island’s most unique bar, the Lady Carola, to St. Maarten.

The infamous bar found a home between the SMYC and Lee’s Roadside Grill 

The Lady C – as she is affectionately known – started life in 1938 as a private yacht sailing the cold, gale swept waters of the Scottish North Sea. After leading a checkered life she found her way to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and then into the hands of Voges who, in 1996, and with a crew of five, set sail for the sunny Caribbean.

“The boat was leaking so badly that the crew pumped the entire contents of the Atlantic Ocean out of the bilge,” says Voges, who recalls spending the entire nine-day voyage hanging over the rail as sick as a dog.

Once in the islands the boat was put into the day charter trade only to fall into the maw of hurricane Bertha which, taking over where the Atlantic left off, promptly sank her in Statia harbor.  Undaunted, the irrepressible Voges pumped her out, re-floated her and sent her back into the day charter business, where she toiled until 1999 when fate once again lent a hand.

“When hurricane Jose came through it gave the boat a hard slap, then along came Lenny and slapped her even harder.  The damage to the boat meant taking her offshore was no longer an option, so what else could I do but turn her into a bar,” said Voges.

Declaring the boat a bar was one thing, but finding somewhere to put it was quite another and like a refugee the Lady C roamed the Simpson Bay Lagoon looking for a permanent home; one day moored here, another day anchored there.  This brought a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘bar hopping’, as there was a sporting chance that your favorite bar wasn’t where you left it the night before! Eventually the boat found a permanent home between the St. Maarten Yacht Club and Lee’s Roadside Grill and the most serious chapter of her life began.

Captain Mike Voges was in charge of the daily mayhem

Make no mistake wooden boats are living things that absorb into their timbers a ghostly trace of every character who worked, lived or died on them, so I wonder what the old girl’s spirit thought on the dreadful night when somebody stole Elvis.

For the uninitiated, Elvis was the figurehead that, wearing sunglasses and adorned with various pieces of frilly underwear and other ‘interesting’ objects, stood proud at Lady C’s stem-head. On the fateful morning of his disappearance a large search and rescue operation got under way, and a reward was offered for his safe return. Hanging from the yardarm or keel hauling was said to be too good for the thieves, and an aura of fear and suspicion stalked the decks and gangways. At the bar customers stared gloomily into their drinks. Some even wept.

“We eventually received a ransom note threatening to return him one piece at a time if we didn’t cough up, and it took us two weeks of hard negotiating and the payment of two cases of Red Stripe to bring Elvis home safely,” chuckled Voges.

Fun, history, and new traditions go hand in hand at the Lady C, where else in the world could you get away with carving your name into the bar top. Or, if you are stepping aboard from a boat, tie up to a dingy dock that once circumnavigated the globe? (A whole different story.)

Open Monday to Saturday during the off season, the bar welcomes locals, tourists and visiting yachtsmen alike, but take care, there is danger in having a quiet drink here for quiet drinks have a habit of turning into rip roaring parties.

Perhaps the original owners of the Lady C are spinning in their graves at the thought of their lovely 65 year old ketch spending her retirement on a tropical island playing host to a salty collection of imbibers and sea gypsies, but somehow I think not. For in our hearts we all carry a little of the buccaneer, and what better way to share in six decades of adventure than to swagger down a dock, step onto a deck, and experience it all for the price of a beer.

Notes: The floating bar Lucky Lady, featured in the novels Caribbean High and Caribbean Deep, is based on the Lady C, and many of the colorful characters found in the books were based (loosely) on customers I met a the bar.

Sadly the Lady C was broken up a couple of years ago but her legend lives on. If you have any stories or photographs from the infamous floating bar then please share them on Facebook.

Virus in Paradise Part 2

Lockdown. If it wasn’t serious before, it certainly is now.

Are we lucky to be trapped on a small Caribbean island while the world deals with one of the biggest threats of recent years? As things stand right now, I would say we are.

Our contact with the outside world is through news via the internet, and I don’t mean Facebook. Yes, I use and enjoy Facebook but as a news source wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

Reading the news, and by comparison to the UK, where a lying fool is in charge, and the US, where a man I honestly believe to be unhinged is in charge, the leaders on both sides of our island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin aren’t doing a bad job.

Like people everywhere, no one wants their freedom taken away (those in the UK that voted for Brexit being the exception), and so many aren’t dealing well with the draconian measures limiting our mobility.

Today, it was announced that the French gendarmes and Dutch-side police are patrolling the border, and further restricting movement with a curfew. The French side is volatile at the best of times, the riots of a few months ago testify to that, and these restrictions would never have been put in place unless absolutely necessary. Look on the island as a small town with very limited resources, zero manufacturing, and limited medical supplies.

Jan and I walked very early this morning carrying our documents as required by law, and then did a ten minute work out for, er, older people that I found online. (The two cats think we’ve gone crazy.) *The workout is excellent, see link below.

Placing restrictions on crossing the border has made shopping more difficult and certain products will now be out of reach, but that is something we can deal with.

Copy of Mid ocean 1984
A thousand miles from land, alone but not lonely

In many ways I am lucky. Having twice sailed the Atlantic alone in total isolation, one voyage taking 35 days, I learned that there’s a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. That is why I am full of admiration for those who are reaching out to people by sharing messages written on bits of cardboard for a lonely neighbor across the street to see, and those forming virtual communities online. There are a lot of good people out there.

Sadly, there are also a lot of chancers on the prowl ready to prey on the vulnerable. on the streets and online. Inevitably, crime on the island, and elsewhere, will increase and vigilance is the name of the game.

It can all seem doom and gloom and perhaps the above adds to that, so I’ll end on a brighter note with this from one of my all-time heroes, Spike Milligan

spike mill

Smile, and if you love someone, now’s the time to tell them.

*Link to 10 minute online workout:

Virus in Paradise Part 1

From the land of French law, Dutch law, and make-it-up-as-you-go-along law.

Just over two weeks ago I was out on the water reporting live for radio station Island 92 as we covered the four day Heineken Regatta here in St. Maarten. It now seems light years away.


The Island 92 Heineken Regatta team, from left: Erb, me, Carey, Soc and Heather

The huge night time parties that traditionally accompany the regattas were packed with people from many parts of the world.  Since the Heineken Regatta every other Caribbean regatta has been canceled which, for many islands, will have huge economic impact.

At our pre-race meeting, Covid-19 was touched upon but with just days to go to the start of the first race, pushed gently under the carpet in the green room.

For the last 16 days I have been on edge worried by every sniffle and cough, and having checked in with the rest of the team know that they felt the same way. I fall into a high-risk category (work-related damaged lungs from when I had a real job), and covering the regatta was probably not the brightest thing I have ever done. But like much in the Caribbean, we lag behind the rest of the world, often believing that life in ‘paradise’ and another rum punch offers some protection.

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is a strange place. Half French and half Dutch, with a mix of people, language and currency, the island depends 100% on tourism, and that revolves around the world’s largest cruise ships that daily unleash thousands and thousands of passengers onto the streets. That business is now stone dead.

In some ways, the island is better prepared to deal with this pandemic than other places. Islanders have suffered a series of devastating hurricanes over the last few years and are reacting to this crisis in a similar way only this time they still have roofs and utilities. There has been a little panic buying but other than hand sanitizer and face masks, just about everything else is available.

Of course the island has its share of yahoos and idiots, however, law enforcement are clamping down. This is from a report issued by the French authorities earlier:

MARIGOT–Gendarmes clamped down in no uncertain terms on motorists and persons moving around the French side over the weekend without the mandatory waiver document in their possession.

Over the weekend 160 vehicles and 200 persons were controlled, resulting in 35 fines issued at 135 euros each. The Gendarmerie justified the action during controls after two days of warning citizens “to limit movement to save lives” unless they have the waiver document.

The Gendarmerie confirmed that controls will continue throughout the territory to enforce the regulations. Businesses will also be monitored day and night, particularly shops in commercial areas, to prevent looting and delinquency.

Mention of looting is chilling as it was quite widespread after hurricane Irma in 2017.

One issue everyone is having to deal with is the rumor mill churning out ‘he said, she said, a friend of a friend who worked with him said’ news on social media.

In this blog I will do my best to only report news from official organizations on the island, beginning with this:

Two new COVID-19 cases for St. Martin were reported by health agency ARS on Monday [March 24].

Total active cases on the French side are now up to six. Three are in Louis-Constant Fleming Hospital (in addition to a pregnant woman transferred to the Guadeloupe University Hospital) and two are confined to their homes. Two former patients have already recovered and left the island.

Saint Barth’s has currently two cases confined to their homes. One former patient has recovered.

handwash 2 (1 of 1)
Now do it 🙂