Most years, we leave Play Actor for a month or so of visiting family in the States. This year, we’re making an extended visit, leaving her stored ashore in Antigua while we renew our experience of life on dirt. This is the first time we’ve left Play Actor in Antigua, and only the second time in twelve years that we’ve left her for the entire hurricane season.
We arrived in Antigua at about 1:00 a.m. after a long, slow sail from St. Martin, and dropped the anchor a mile or so offshore to get a few hours of rest before dealing with the formalities of entering the country. We took Play Actor in to the Customs dock at about 9:00 the next morning, and while Leslie went ashore to deal with the officials, I tidied the boat. After a few minutes, the customs officer walked out onto the dock.
“Good morning,” he said, looking her over with an experienced eye.
“Good morning,” I responded. “Will you come aboard?”
“Oh, no. That’s not necessary. I just came out to welcome you to Antigua. The captain (that’s Leslie) tells me you’re leaving Play Actor at Jolly Harbour until November.”
“Yes, we are,” I agreed.
“Well, don’t worry. Everything will be fine. The marina will take good care of her, and all of the paperwork will be handled directly. Your wife will tell you all about it once she finishes with Immigration and the Port Authority. We do this all the time.”
Leaving the boat for an extended period during hurricane season requires that we strip the exterior of sails, canvas, and any other removable items that add wind resistance. Further, we shut down almost all of her systems – pressure water, electrical, refrigeration, etc. This takes a few days to accomplish and leaves a vessel that isn’t really an attractive place to live. We made arrangements with the boat yard to haul Play Actor early on Tuesday, and our flight to the states left early on Wednesday, so we elected to stay in a hotel near the airport for our last night in the islands.
Hotels in the islands fall into two categories. There are resorts geared to foreigners, and there are basic hotels for the local folks. The resorts are expensive – several hundred dollars per night in season; a few hundred during the summer. For a place to sleep for a few hours, that’s too expensive for us, so we’ve always sought accommodations at the other end of the spectrum. Finding them is a bit of a challenge. They don’t advertise. You won’t find them on the Internet, and there are no local equivalents to the AAA guidebooks, so you have to ask.
When we ask about local hotels, we’re invariably steered to the tourist places at first. “Where would you stay, if you were visiting and just wanted a basic, clean place to sleep?” We asked the ladies who work in the marina office, a few days before our haul-out date. That resulted in side conversations as they came up with a list of places.
“The Amaryllis,” one of the ladies suggested
“It is finished,” another lady answered.
“Closed?” The first lady asked.
“Yes. Out of business.”
“The Loft,” a third lady offered. “Very close by here. Is nice.”
“Beachcomber,” the first lady volunteered. “Or the airport hotel.”
“Yes, yes. Airport hotel. Very close. Walk to the airport.”
“Do you have phone numbers?” Leslie asked. Telephone directories are rare, and always out of date, often with the key pages missing. This resulted in another conference involving everyone in the office. Several folks called friends – everyone has a cell phone – to ask for numbers. After a few minutes, the receptionist presented us with a post-it note with three phone numbers, including “The Loft,” “The Beachcomber,” and “airport hotel.”
“Does the airport hotel have a name?” Leslie asked.
“No. Well, maybe, but everybody just calls it the airport hotel. Everybody knows,” the receptionist explained. “The number for The Loft isn’t actually for The Loft. It’s for a person who knows the phone number, but I couldn’t get him to answer just now. So, if you wish to call The Loft, you must call this person and explain.”
Back aboard the boat, Leslie called the airport hotel. “I’m looking for a room for Tuesday night,” she said.
“Yes. I have rooms. $75 U.S. with a fan, $95 U.S. with air conditioning. No problem.”
“I’d like to reserve one for Tuesday, please.”
“No, no need. Plenty of rooms. Just you come.”
“You’re sure you don’t want my name?”
“No… Well, all right. What is your name? No, wait. I must find the pencil… okay.”
“My name is Leslie Dougherty.”
“Leslie. Okay, what time will you arrive?”
“Okay Leslie. Don’ worry. Plenty rooms.”
By noon the next day, Play Actor was out of the water, hanging in slings, and the yard crew was chipping a few barnacles from her bottom. After handling the paperwork with the marina office, we caught a cab
“You go to the airport?” The driver asked, eyeing our duffel bags.
“The airport hotel,” I said. “Do you know it?”
“Of course, but who recommended it to you?”
“The ladies in the office. Is it all right?”
“Yes, but not many visitors stay there. Most stay in the resorts. When is your flight?”
“Tomorrow morning,” Leslie said.
“You are taking British Airways to London?”
“No. American Airlines to California.”
“Ah, but I thought you were British.”
We hear this often in the islands. For whatever reason – appearance, manner, or speech patterns -- we are seldom recognized as American.
“Where is your accent from?” He asked, looking at me in the rear view mirror.
“Savannah, Georgia. It’s a tidewater accent,” I replied.
“You sound more English than American.”
After a few minutes, we arrived at the airport hotel. It presented a spare, clean appearance, and there was no sign out front. As the man told Leslie on the phone, “Everybody knows.”
We were greeted by two ladies behind the reception desk, one of whom presented a registration form to Leslie.
“What time is your flight?” The other lady asked.
“9:00 a.m.,” Leslie responded.
“Okay. 9 o’clock; you must be there at 7. You will wake up at 6 o’clock, and leave here at 6:50.”
“Will you arrange a taxi for us?”
“No. No taxi. We will take you. Our guests do not take taxis. At 6 o’clock, my husband will bang on your door until you answer. He will check back after a few minutes to be sure you didn’t fall back to sleep. He will take you to the airport when it is time.”
And so it happened. We miss the islands, where everyone looks out for everyone else, and no one is too busy to take an interest in a visitor. The transition was abrupt when we got off the plane at the Dallas – Fort Worth airport and joined the impersonal herd rushing about to cope with delayed and cancelled flights, but it’s good to be home, at least for a while.