It seems like a long time since I pulled my last strokes propelling Sara G every closer to our final destination of Port St. Charles. Our journey although amazing was certainly longer than we all predicted and the final sting in the tail came in the last few miles and almost resulted in us spending one more night tucked up in the cabins.
In fact now that I come to think of it the the sting probably lasted for most of the last 72 hours as we went from crawling to flying back to crawling when we could almost touch the Island.
24 hours before our arrival I was waking for my usual 11-1 shift and the boat was loosing speed. I sat through the 2 hours shift I calculated and re-calculated the speed we need would to maintain to arrive on time. We knew at that stage that the port customs and passport control finished up at 10pm and arrival after that time would result in us not being allowed to step foot on the Island! The dead line was set and with waining boat speed and a tired crew it was going to be tight, very tight.
A long night of rowing and calculus ensued and as I hit my bunk after the dreaded 7-9am shift it was not looking good, but what a difference a sleep can make. I woke for my 11am row not in the best of form as I was coming to terms with the fact that another night on the boat looked inevitable but to my delight, and surprise, the wind had picked up again and we were cruising above 3knts. It was back on, our deadline was back in reach, all we had to do now was keep focused, work as a team and most of all hope that the wind stayed in our favour.
We managed the first 2 but unfortunately the Atlantic had grown quite fond of us and seemed reluctant to allow us depart her vast expanse and finally enter the Caribbean sea. At around noon GMT we finally caught our first glimpse of the Eastern coast of Barbados and although only a little over 10miles off shore or as we thought a little over 4 hours away little did we know what a struggle that last stretch would be.
All our research said that once you get close to the Island the risk is, getting pushed north by the ocean currents, we braced for this but nothing really happened, happy days plain sailing, or rather rowing from here. Plain sailing, because our research also told us that once we got close to the Island it would shelter us from the wind and current and our last 3 miles would be a leisurely row on a veritable mill pond.
If there is anything we should have learned from our 8 weeks at sea it is that whatever the prevailing conditions, expect the opposite! And the opposite we got, a strange weather pattern on the west coast of Barbados resulted in uncharacteristic southerly winds and of course to hinder us further a steady northerly current in the supposedly friendly Caribbean!
As we passed the northern point of the Island and I took to the oars for the final time at 7pm I was almost certain I would be rowing Sara G into the marina in Port St. Charles at some stage late in my 2 hour shift. 60 minutes later and I was certain that this would not be the case as I was rowing flat out along with Pedro and Matt to eek out a mere 1knt of boat speed. At the end of the 2 hours as the sun was setting I handed over to James for what was to be the final time, I was probably for the first time on the trip spent, totally physically spent. For 120 minutes I focused all of my might on driving Sara G through the water as swiftly as possible. Being this close and not being able to step ashore for the night would be a disaster so failure was not an option.
Fortunately we were at this stage in touch by mobile phone with family and friends who had, with the help of the local senator, managed to get the customs officials to work late! Our deadline was extended, this did not mean that we could let up on the oars as to slow now would only delay our long awaited arrival. It was now time for all of us to put it in, for one last session we had to power the boat along the coast and put Sara G to bed so we could step ashore.
At 22:57 local time we finally did just that, just about! Our approach was not easy nor was it simple, with several boats at anchor and moored off the entrance we had to dodge our way in, in hindsight lighting a flare to celebrate was not a great option as in doing so Matt was temporarily blinded. Not a major problem you may think, only problem was he was steering! We managed to squeeze through the narrow entrance and turn the boat in the shadow of some multi million dollar yachts before finally I threw the bow line to the eager hands of my awaiting wife.
We had done it, we all stepped (staggered) ashore into the awaiting arms of family and friends and to be honest the next few hours is a blur of hugs, handshakes and photographs. I think the smiling faces say it all.
I will post again in the coming days to talk about how I have coped with dry land and my return to work.