A Surfeit of Gin and Chilli

We had just two more shortish passages before our final leg into Antigua. First stop was in the delightful little archipelago of islands at the bottom of Guadeloupe called Les Saintes. Once again we were in France. We went ashore to check in then wandered round the pretty village and, as the sun was going down, we found a bar with a table outside where we could watch what promised to be a spectacular sunset, drink in hand. After all the rum punches, we all decided that a good old gin and tonic was what we wanted. Neil, who was in charge of the kitty, said he would go and order the drinks. “Don’t forget Neil – they won’t speak English here” I said. “How’s your French?”. “What do you think I am – an idiot? I think you’ll find I can order three gins and tonic in most languages” said Neil sneeringly, and went off to find the barman. The order seemed to be an unusually long time in coming. Eventually, two waiters appeared with a couple of trays each, laden with glasses. Thirteen in total. It seemed that Neil had got his Spanish and French muddled up and had ordered “tres gin et tonic” rather than trois, and this had not unnaturally been interpreted as treize. We did our very best to do justice to the misplaced order, and nearly hit double figures between us, before we crawled back to the dinghy and weaved our way back to the boat.

The following day we sailed 32 miles from the southern end of Guadeloupe to Deshaies in the northwest corner, this time in the smooth waters protected by the lee of the island. Our final dinner onboard before reaching our destination of Antigua, was to be cooked by Neil – by far the best cook amongst us – and it was chicken, peppers and a little finely chopped chilli in a coconut milk sauce served on a bed of rice. Lawrence loves hot chilli and has ruined many a good dinner on board by adding so much chilli that you can taste nothing else and end up with blistered lips. Neil’s delicate addition of some chilli to the dish was not enough for Lawrence. He had found in the cupboard a small bottle of oil steeped in chillis that we had bought in Salvadore in Brazil a couple of years ago, but which we hadn’t yet opened. I tried just one drop of the sauce on my plate. “My God” I said “that’s indescribably hot”. “Excellent – there’s no chilli that’s too hot for me” Lawrence boasted, sprinkled a good teaspoon of the stuff over his plate, and tucked in.

Lawrence went unusually quiet, his face turned bright red and his eyes started bulging. He grabbed his throat. “Hot enough for you?” enquired Neil casually. Lawrence replied with a hoarse gurgling noise. Tears were streaming down his face and he rubbed his one remaining good eye (the other one was still weeping pus). Mistake number two. A molecule or two of the sauce must have been on Lawrence’s finger tips. “F*****G HELL”, Lawrence shouted, as much as his red hot larynx would allow, “I’m blind, I’m blind”.

Needless to say, Lawrence went hungry that night. He had met his match. His ruined meal was ditched overboard and I was half expecting the boat to be surrounded by dead fish the following morning.

Our final passage was yet another rip-roaring sail across the 43 mile windy stretch of water from Guadeloupe to Antigua. We dropped our anchor in the shallow water off Pigeon Point Beach in Falmouth Harbour and no sooner had the anchor bitten than I was in the dinghy rushing ashore to clear in before customs shut for the day. With the formalities out of the way, we were all free to go ashore and celebrate the arrival at our final destination, after what had been the most fabulous two-week delivery cruise. Perfect Caribbean sailing at its best, and in perfect company. Mina2 had behaved herself, and nothing had broken that wasn’t sorted with a quick fix. We had had adventures both ashore and afloat, and we had rarely stopped laughing. It had been brilliant. That night we celebrated in style.


Tim Barker is a sailor and occasional adventurer. Since 2004, Mina2, his Oyster 485 yacht, and he (with the Downstairs Skipper and a wonderful bunch of friends) have sailed from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many places in between. Come join their adventures and read Tim's award winning blogs and journals from the comfort of your own computer screen.

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