I did not anticipate the smell.
We actually sailed into Tortola - the breeze picked up as we approached Thatch Island, just after the crew woke me up, around 7 this morning. My last watch was from midnight-2am, and we were still about 50 miles out by the time I went below for a sleep. I left the owner's son, Aaron at the helm, a ship close by to starboard, the loom of St. Thomas just appearing off the bow. The moon was setting in the west, and had disappeared behind a cloud bank just before I went below. There was a space beneath the clouds, however, and I told Aaron to keep a lookout for the setting moon, as I anticipated it being a marvelous sight.
David woke me at 7. We were motoring, as we had been when I was on watch, the mainsail sheeted flat, no jib, powering along at 7 knots. By now we were right on top of the islands, less than 4 miles from the finish line, between Tortola and Thatch Island. It was a good feeling, having slept through the monotony of the approach, awakening just as things were getting exciting, as we arrived.
I didn't want to wake up, in truth. I was in a deep sleep - I had only slept about 4 hours before my watch, when I could have slept 8 - I ended up finishing my 5th book of the passage, and completing the radio sched instead of retiring to my bunk forward. Which was all well and good at the time, but when David roused me at 7, I felt I needed a few more hours to be fully refreshed.
But I went on deck anyway, chipper in attitude because we were nearly there. And then I smelled land.
I recall reading this in the books I've devoured over the last few years. And I should well have experienced it in my own right, having done half a dozen or so offshore deliveries. But the simple smell of the islands, the flowery and smoky fragrance that wafted over the boat as we rounded West End triggered wonderful emotions from my previous visits here over the past three years, emotions that I wasn't prepared for, that caught me off guard and made me realize how much I'd missed this place, the tropics. For all the crowded harbors and charter boats, there is something here beyond comprehension that makes it feel absolutely wonderful to return.
Only smells and sounds can produce those feelings, I believe. For what I saw I have seen before, what I felt I have felt before, and what I smelled I have smelled before - yet it was only that smell which triggered the memories within me, the timelessness, the calming...it's indescribable, really - and I had never expected it.
For the entire summer I have been dreaming of winter, of recharging my batteries after an insanely hot and humid season on the Chesapeake. I haven't had a winter in the past two or three years in fact, at least not an entire season. The thought of retiring to the dark and cold of Sweden this year has been appealing, indeed very much so considering the sweltering we took in July and August. And yet, though the sun baked down upon us as we entered the islands, I felt invigorated by the smell, and beyond that, I can't describe it. It was there, and it was good.