To The Same Island

In the time of Covid-cancelled tours and shows, I am on our floating home, Ocean Girl,  considering what to write for an ‘on the road’ article. Time to tap the well of past experiences.

Some years back Amy and I were in the Canary Islands, off Spain. We were waiting for a storm to blow itself out to start sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. (Background: Amy and I are both captains, have lived and cruised our sailboats long distance for 25 plus years, performing to pay the way). I was sitting in the cockpit playing my guitar, minding my own business, when this guy rows up in his dinghy and knocks on the hull. I look over the side and say ‘Hey man, what’s up?’ This guy says, ‘I see you are a musician. So am I.’ This was my first meeting with ‘Hurricane Bob’. I tied off his dinghy, invited him on board, and we start talking music. It turns out he is also from the States, the Florida Keys, and he is a keyboard player. Turns out he is also waiting out the weather to head for the Caribbean, cruising on his sailboat with his wife and eight year old son. The conversation continues back and forth about the styles of music we play, the bands we’ve played in and the solo gigs we have had along the way. We find we know a lot of the same music, wish each other safe passages and that was that.

To The Same Island
Unbelievably, we both were headed to the same island – Antigua – and the anchorage, English Harbor. Pretty freaky considering there are a lot of islands in the Caribbean! Especially when you factor in that from Gran Canaria to Antigua is roughly 3000 nautical miles of open ocean. It took us 24 days to cross the Atlantic, riding the tradewinds all the way. This is not a Sunday afternoon type of adventure. This is more of a ‘better take this really seriously in case something goes wrong’ kind of trip. What can go wrong? Well, weather, running out of freshwater, one of us gets sick or injured (no one to call), we hit something, have a rigging failure…on and on. Ok, so why do we do it?

Being thousands of miles from any land on your own small boat is an amazing feeling. The night sky at sea with zero light pollution is almost indescribable. The feeling of freedom and complete responsibility for yourself can be addicting. It is not for everybody. If you make prudent decisions putting your boat together and then while navigating and sailing, you will get to your destination. If you make poor decisions, there is a good chance you will not, and a chance you will die. The challenge is invigorating and lets you know you are alive.

This 24-day voyage brought squalls but most of all, magnificent tradewind sailing with gentle 15 – 18 foot swells. The sea sets up its own rhythm. From wave top to wave top is the wave period. This period runs in seconds and is influenced by wind strength and duration. I find it can turn into beats per minute. It was on that trip that I wrote Find Me to the swell period. We spent Christmas and New Year’s at sea. On Christmas Day, we saw a freighter, it stopped and the crew wished us a Merry Christmas and wanted to see if we needed anything, water, fuel, food? The Captain was Russian and talked of his small sailboat at home. He offered to call my father to tell him we were ok and to give him our lattitude and longitude position. That was a huge Christmas gift, maybe our favorite, as we did not have any long range communication on board.

Making Music, Making Money
Throughout the sail my thoughts drifted to making music, making money when we made landfall, and how Hurricane Bob and the others we knew were doing. We made landfall in English Harbor, Antigua 24 days later. I loved it. Instantly! It offers a well-protected anchorage, tropical foliage, rocky hills, and a strong Rastafarian culture. We dropped the hook (anchor) and cleared Customs. My first morning ashore was a Wednesday, we were out for a walk and came across this very cool, colorfully-painted, outdoor bar with a nice stage. There was a gentleman raking the sand who looked to be the maintenance man but turned out, to be the owner. I asked if he booked music and said my band had just sailed in. (Hurricane Bob, that is.) He asked about musical style, instrumentation, compensation etc. He booked us for Friday and Saturday night, just two days away! In twenty minutes ashore I had a gig!

But, hmm. I just booked a duo and the other half of this duo I had met only once, one afternoon, across an ocean, in a different country, about a month before.  I saw Bob’s boat in the anchorage when we sailed in, so I knew he was there. I took my dinghy to his boat, knocked on the hull and said, ‘Hey Bob, good trip? I just booked us as a duo starting Friday night…you up for it?’ He got a big smile and said, ‘Hell yeah.’ We rehearsed the next two afternoons. This started a season of us playing the Tiki-bar circuit and saving up much-needed funds.

Odd as it is we have now come full circle. With all this Covid-19 and loss of gigs, Amy and I are starting up a streaming concert series live form the cockpit of our boat as we travel. You are invited to join us. Sign up for our newsletter at Subscribe to our YouTube channel at Catch a taste of our first ‘on the hook’ video on ‘Like’ us while you are there.

Thanks. Looking forward to meeting you virtually from wherever we may be. Stay safe out there. Smooth sailing!

By Mike Aiken