8. THE ATLANTIC.
Our passage from Durban to Capetown had been long and with many memorable incidents, the weather being predictably inclement in this region and though there are some Ports of Call they are far apart. We made stops at these and eventually arrived in Capetown, an attractive city cradled by the majesty of Table Mountain and place of the world's first heart transplant operation.
With the Capes of Southern Africa behind us, all that lay ahead until landfall in St Kitts was 6000 miles of Atlantic Ocean (South and North) with only the tiny island of St Helena, 1800 miles out from Capetown on the way - Ascension Island is about 800 miles beyond that, and on a more Northerly course than I planned to take.
St Helena, about the size of Nevis, was first used by the Dutch as a staging post during the days of the Dutch East India Trading Company in the 16th century. Later the British used it as a inescapable exile for Napoleon Bonaparte who ended his days there banished from Europe and in the company of some of his former Generals. Many years later they again sent prisoners there during the South African Boer Wars at the start of this century. We made St Helena in time to spend Easter and refill our water tanks for the remaining 4000 miles to St Kitts.
Leaving St Helena, my main concern was to avoid the windless region of the Doldrums which we would encounter if we headed north too soon. Should this occur, we could be becalmed, perhaps for weeks as, our engine being out of commission by this time with a fractured drive shaft, sail was our only means of progress. Recollections of 'The Ancient Mariner' came clearly at that time; then, when a gigantic whale cruised by one afternoon heading back towards St Helena and during a moonless night we were surrounded by
a group of three more, at least one of which was bigger than 'JAHO', how well the tale of Jonah came to mind.
Days and nights came and went in endless procession. Only daily position plots on the chart gradually shortened the distance visually, for the water looked the same mile after mile by the thousand. Until, at one stage being about 500 miles out from the mouth of the Amazon River, the oceanic deep blue became muddied by that great effluent. Two days later it was sapphire blue once more. Other than this, only weather variations - now fair, now foul - brought any real changes in the ocean-scape; the little ship held up through many adversities, but we, Skipper and the one-man crew, Kenyan by birth, Seychellois by parentage and Calix by
name, were yet to encounter our toughest test of all.
One evening at dusk with very little wind to give us way, we were all-but run down by a freight ship which appeared not to see us until we were able to hail the crew seen at leisure on the after deck passing as they did menacingly close by our stern. It was only then, after near disaster, that I was able to contact them over the VHF Radio. They readily consented to relay a radio message through Barbados to St Kitts giving our news and anticipated date of arrival - always D.V.
The 'test' came one night as Calix and I were changing watch. He had been becoming noticeably more morose and brooding for several days, which I had attributed to his having run out of whatever it was that he had been smoking during his night watches, but he had also been upset by the SA newspaper article which he thought would jeopardise his safety on returning to Seychelles, for he, although I had tried to reassure him that it was not the case and that I would do whatever he felt was necessary to ensure it, not being able to read the text of the article, except for the
bold headline which read 'SHOOT ME' surmounting a photograph of the two of us aboard 'JAHO', felt, poor chap, that this would be open invitation to his summary execution upon landing back home.
His brainstorm broke suddenly. He had had enough and wanted only, in blind raging despair, to destroy the ship and end both this voyage and life itself for the two of us, and thereby, in his words, 'equalise everything', by smashing out the bottom planking with the heavy sledgehammer from the tool-chest he brandished high over one inch of bared pine-wood board and miles above the ocean floor.
In the terrible battle, of wills rather than physical engagement, that ensued, right once more prevailed, but that close bond had been broken. Had it ever been there? Was it ever thus; Haves and have nots; Black and white; Must it ever be so? Trust or mistrust; From that moment on, Ship's Master watched cat-like against any resurgence of the smouldering fury of Ship's Crew.
As predicted the previous evening, our first sighting of the West Indies was the south-east coast of Antigua at dawn on the 16th May 1983. Some nineteen hours later we dropped anchor near the old Treasury Pier in Basseterre Roads St Kitts. Nine thousand miles, 104 days and nights at sea, or seven months, away from Seychelles. The voyage was over but the story continued.
A few days later a somewhat mollified Calix left by air, having chosen at first go via London to Mombasa in Kenya were he had grown up. Later returning safely to Seychelles.
The 'Skipper' became once more the 'Doc' in a St Kitts shortly to become an Independent Federation with her sister island of Nevis where a period of working at the Alexandra Hospital followed, before coming full circle back to work at the Joseph N.France General Hospital in May 1984.
There was no 'Hurricane Alert' later that same year in November.
Spawned in the Caribbean, rather than the Atlantic near the coast of Africa, Hurricane 'Klaus' smashed unheralded through these and neighbouring islands taking an enormous toll in small craft. 'JAHO' was totally destroyed on the rocks below 'The Lighthouse' in her last and darkest hours.
Her finest hours had been during another wild night - In February of 1983 during our passage 'reaching' across the treacherous mouth of South Africa's False Bay, with a South-Easterly gale 'abaft the beam', between two Lighthouses, that of Cape Hangklip and the Cape of Good Hope Light, 'JAHO' straining with every fibre of her being the very limits of her capabilities, harmonising those of her two confederates, one black one white, breaking her bonds with the Old World, heading for the New. Her fastest night of sailing in all her close on 50 years I'll warrant.
By 1984 time and the elements had taken their toll on the fabric of the 'Institution'. More subtle were changes in the personnel and gradually the intervening years seemed to shrink in memory as more time passed by. Nature's way with passing years - was it ever thus?
In 1983, the 'Doc' who returned to St. Kitts was not the 'Doc' who went away, and neither was the same who had come in '73. In 1984 the Sailor yearned to save his ship; the Surgeon remained, time and responsibility committed, ashore. All were and are the same, as are we all. Ship-wrecked, survivors.
The year, 1988, marked the 500th anniversary of the first passage around those Capes by a European, the Portuguese Mariner Bartholomew Diaz, sailing from West to East seeking the sea route to India from Europe. Four years later Columbus sailed West with the same intention in faith that he would succeed. The 'West Indies' stand testimony to that intent, in deed if not in fact.
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