I’ve been wanting to share this story about a huge, pink polka-dot suitcase, a crab, some dog food and a kitten for quite a while, but at the time it was actually happening, it was important that my movements were kept secret…
It all began when I was still aboard Dawn Chorus in the Caribbean. I knew I needed to take a break from sailing so that I could travel home to Ireland to see my mother’s grave and say goodbye properly, but then it dawned on me that I would also be back in time for my daughter, Jo’s birthday in Dublin. If I managed to spend it with her, it would be the first birthday we’d spent together since she was born. I started planning the surprise visit with the help of her husband, Paul, and decided to keep a low profile on social media in case I let anything slip. Later, I learned my absence from Facebook had nearly alerted her that something was going on!
Martin and I arrived back in Antigua from an amazing visit to Monserrat for St Patrick’s day in plenty of time for me to organise a flight home for my lovely dog Bonny and go looking for a suitcase for myself. St John’s in Antigua is a bustling, colourful town with a mish-mash of trendy shops catering for cruise ship passengers and higgledy-piggledy streets crammed with local shops that often sold clothes at the front and something entirely different like pots and pans or stationery at the back. Finding a big, inexpensive suitcase proved difficult. Then, I saw it. Eye wateringly Barbie pink, hordes of teeny tiny dots, and to crown it all, a big satin bow. Perfect! After nearly eight months of living aboard a boat and years of using sensible sailing bags that are waterproof and fold flat, I was ready for something impractical and silly. I’d picked up a big bag of dried dog food for Bonny the same day so I popped them inside my cute new case and drove back to the marina in the hire car. When I wheeled it back to the boat Martin said he’d just prepared dinner, so we left the case on the dock, meaning to bring it aboard later. The next morning I realised we’d forgotten the case, but when I went out to fetch it, it had vanished. At first, I thought someone had made off with it, but after a while, I recalled a strange noise I’d heard the night before. Had the case fallen in??? If so, would it have sunk, or floated? I was eating a piece of bread and suddenly had an idea – why not throw it in the water to see where it would go? As it drifted on the current in the direction of the far side of the marina, I fetched a pair of binoculars, and – there it was! A splash of pink, bobbing under a wooden jetty. Amazed I’d spotted it, I dashed round there and tried to fish it out, but it was partly open and had become waterlogged and extremely heavy. I borrowed a boat hook from a nearby boat (nobody to ask) and it snapped! Mortified I went and fetched a replacement from our boat (which I left with a note later for the owner of the broken one) and managed to fish the case out and drain the worst of the water away while trying not to let too many soggy dog biscuits escape. Back at our boat I started to clean out the case. As I emptied away the last of the water and soggy dog biscuits I came across an extremely annoyed crab, waving his claw at me as he defended his stash of free food. I popped him in a takeout container (with holes in the lid) along with a big helping of dog food and took him back round to where I’d found him.
Peeping out at me from a little service hut beside where I released the crab was a tiny, black kitten. It looked much too young to be out there alone, but when I tried to come close it quickly hid beneath some pipes. The suitcase survived a thorough wash and looked relatively unscathed, but I kept worrying about the kitten. I was leaving soon so I couldn’t take care of it myself, and Martin would be moving on soon. Finally, I went and found the family renting the property near the little hut and asked them to keep an eye out for the kitten and do their best to offer it some food and milk or water, which they agreed to do. Did it survive? I’ll never know. Travelling home with many mixed feelings, some very happy and some very sad, I was glad of my pink, polka-dot suitcase, like a big, wheel-along smile. And for once, finding my case on a busy airport carousel was a breeze! (Unlike getting it upstairs at my friend, Vicki’s place, when I arrived in London – good job she had a stair lift 🙂