Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28

After leaving the U.K in May 2016 i’m sailing

around the world in Fathom, my Vancouver 28.

 

map

Antigua – Part 2

During the first week of March, the more I read the news, the more I realised life here in the Caribbean was not in a protected bubble but would be changing very soon. With the Coronavirus spreading rapidly around the world and hundreds of people starting to die from it every day, it was only a matter of time before the effects were felt in Antigua. It began to feel like human civilisation was playing out the script of a far fetched Netflix series, completely surreal.

lockdown anchorage off Pigeon Beach

For what seemed like an age after many countries had started lockdowns, life in Antigua continued as normal, planes landed, charter boats still crammed the anchorages and cruise ship passengers from all over the world still walked the streets and packed out the bars and cafes. With the future becoming so uncertain I decided it was sensible to get Fathom stocked up for the Atlantic crossing when I could. I sailed a few miles down the coast from Falmouth Harbour to Jolly Harbour for a few days to visit the better supermarket and make the most of the greater selection. On the way I passed close to the beautiful J-Class yachts Velsheda and Lionheart match racing in a regatta. It would turn out to be their last race for the foreseeable future, the next day both Classic Yacht Week and Race Week were cancelled. The excitement and buzz around the harbours of Antigua dimmed instantly and there was a big sense of disbelief. Back at Falmouth I moored Fathom on the dock for a couple of days to top up the diesel tank and jerry cans and plugged into a shore power connection to give the batteries a conditioning cycle. Then back to my favourite local anchorage off Pigeon beach to see what would play out. I had everything I needed to be self sufficient except drinking water which was easy to get hold of.

By the end of March there was a lot of uncertainty and a considerable sense of fear circulating as no one quite knew how bad it would get. With less than 20 ventilators on the island and a population of over 80,000 there was a real risk of a major disaster. Flights were now being cancelled and many sailors were rushing to haul out their boats, ship them across the ocean or leave them in a marina and get back home when they still could. Hurricane season was only a couple of months away. On the 28th the authorities introduced a curfew meaning beaches, bars and restaurants would close. Furthermore, cruisers living on their boats would only be allowed ashore between 0600 and 2000 for a visit to the supermarket. Break the rules and face a $5,000 fine and or 6 months in jail. During the last afternoon of freedom a group of us enjoyed some beers on the beach and I went for a final run up in the hills. It was great to finally catch up with Barney, an old uni mate who I hadn’t seen since graduation in 2006. He is now Captain of Velsheda, one of the most beautiful yachts ever built. On the 1st April, a state of emergency was declared and a full lockdown was introduced with no one in Antigua allowed to move around unless for an essential hospital visit or food shop between the hours of 0800 and 1200. Everything fell eerily silent.

 

Being confined to my boat for extended periods of time is something I have become quite used to over the last few years and I never find it a problem, but being positioned a few metres off a beautiful beach and not allowed to step ashore is a very different feeling to being in the open ocean. I couldn’t complain with the situation I now found myself in; reliable internet connection with data to burn, swimming and snorkelling off the boat for exercise whenever I wanted and friends anchored next door. I was lucky. In not such a fortunate position were friends currently at sea who were struggling with the uncertainty of where they could legally make landfall. David and Amy on ‘Starry Horizons’ were sailing up the South Atlantic and with more Caribbean islands going into lockdown each day they were running out of options. I continued to email them updates and thankfully they made it to Antigua two days before the island closed it’s borders. Mike and Marie on ‘Roke’ were on passage from Panama to the Marquesas and after a month at sea were unaware of the Coronoavirus situation. It was not an easy satellite text message to write as I updated them that the authorities in French Polynesia might require them to leave their boat in Tahiti and fly out on arrival. I won’t type Mike’s reply to me! Even here in the Caribbean, the rules and regulations on other islands were far more harsh than in Antigua; swimming off your boat in Saint Maarten was illegal and risked a fine and people were only allowed to visit the grocery store in Grenada once a week at a time dictated by the first letter of their surname.

The weeks went by relatively fast and I actually started to enjoy all the time I now had for catching up on writing and for the opportunity to reflect on my voyage over the last four years. I finally managed to finish another piece for Yachting Monthly magazine that I had been struggling to write for a while, it should be published in the late summer/autumn. I even started to think about what the future might hold but didn’t get very far with that. The lack of available outdoor space on 8.5m Fathom did spur me on to being creative and I discovered that the dinghy hoisted alongside made a nice comfortable seat for a sundowner! It also provided the perfect position to watch the diving Pelicans during their feeding frenzy every evening, just after the sun had dipped below the horizon. I wasn’t alone either as Greg on ‘Nebula’ was anchored alongside as well as Denis on ‘Oriana’ and new friends Ben and Caroline on ‘Balou’. We were all planning to sail back to the UK soon and met up regularly for catchups – respecting social distancing of course! Greg’s wife Jenny had flown back to the UK at the end of February to visit her unwell Mother and her return flight to Antigua in early April had been cancelled. With no possibility of reuniting in the near future Greg would now be a reluctant solo sailor back across the Atlantic. Fresh food continued to be in good supply with the two local supermarkets nearby well stocked with fresh produce. Face protection was now mandatory and I had to make do with a thermal neck warmer which was very hot and not so ideal for the tropics. It also gave me the appearance of someone who was planning to rob a bank! I later upgraded to a rasta style mask which was much more suitable.

 

Finally, on the 23rd April, the outlook started to look more positive. There had been 24 confirmed cases on the island and sadly 3 deaths but thankfully no evidence of any community transmission. The curfew was relaxed and it was possible to exercise ashore again between 06:00 and 1800, some restaurants opened for takeaway which was exciting as cooking for myself night after night had become very dull. Denis was getting impatient to leave so decided to set sail for the Azores before the end of the month despite the unsettled Atlantic weather. He likes a good challenge having sailed his other boat, a 27 foot Albin Vega ‘Lizzie G’, solo from the UK to America against the prevailing winds and currents and has no satellite communications onboard or means of obtaining weather forecasts at sea. We went out in our dinghies to wave him off. My visa had been automatically extended until the end of May so there was no rush to leave and the rest of us decided to wait a little longer for better weather. One afternoon as I looked over some old photos from the confines of my locked down boat I realised it was the 3 year anniversary of my landfall in the Marquesas after 38 days at sea. I could never have imagined back then what a different place the world would become before I had sailed home. The unlimited freedom to explore is for now, at least, no longer possible.

The first days of May were busy with preparations for another long ocean crossing. It had been over 12 months since I had completed my circumnavigation in Grenada and I had not done more than a day sail since so a bit of adjustment to the mindset was needed. I began to feel that knot in my stomach I always get before heading off to sea, a combination of a little anxiety, excitement and anticipation I think. The coastguard granted me permission to move so I made one last trip down the coast to Jolly Harbour for a night which was a much needed shakedown sail. It was great to finally hoist the anchor after being in the same spot for six weeks and so nice to catch up with David and Amy on ‘Starry Horizons’ who I hadn’t seen since Australia. Amy spoiled me with some fantastic cooking and David kindly offered to get some drone footage of Fathom under sail, the first ever taken and the results are amazing. The five hour beat back to Falmouth harbour was a reminder that I much prefer the wind from astern but I am not sure how much of that there will be over the next weeks.

 

I type this now a couple of days before setting sail for Horta in the Azores which is currently open for yachts to stop to reprovision for a few days. I really hope that by the time I get there restrictions will have eased enough that it will be possible to step ashore, otherwise I am going to be onboard for the best part of 2 months. I have always wanted to visit those islands and it is where I was aiming for when I set off from the UK in 2016 as part of the Jester Azores challenge before diverting to Spain. Four years later I guess you could say I just took the long route! It is a very strange feeling to be starting the final leg towards home, something which always seemed so far in the future. The next chapter of my life is lingering close beyond the horizon.

Posted in: Caribbean

Antigua – Part 1

I had been looking forward to visiting Antigua for a long time. Renowned for it’s racing regattas and parties it promised to be good fun. The sail up from Guadeloupe on the 29th January was one of the best, a beam reach in 15kts wind under cotton wool clouds and I made landfall mid afternoon, anchoring Fathom next to Tiama off Piegeon Beach in Falmouth Harbour. Turtles swam close alongside and stingrays glided under the keel in the beautifully clear water. At the end of the bay huge superyachts and the tall rigs of the J Class yachts dominated the skyline while the sound of Bob Marley drifted out across the water from the beach bar. My initial impressions were positive.

Low Bay, Barbuda

The following morning it was a short walk to Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour to visit customs and immigration. The area was named after Admiral Nelson who lived in the Royal Navy Dockyard from 1784 through to 1787 and it is now part of a national park and UNESCO world heritage site. Many of the old buildings have been restored and you get a feel of how it would have looked back in the day. It’s naturally a tourist trap with a few restaurants, cafes and shops on site and plenty of seating available alongside the marina for the envious to sit and look at how the other half live. It is undeniably a pretty place. Falmouth Harbour on the other hand is much bigger and spread out with a large number of small bars and restaurants along the main street. Both of the harbours are a bit of a bubble catering for the upmarket yachting industry, charter boats and cruise ship passengers and prices reflect that. Over the following few days I started to become a little disenchanted with the busy bars full of flashy superyacht and race crews, dressed in their pristine team uniforms and splashing the cash. After so long as a vagabond sailor, and having spent most of the last four years living the simple life with likeminded cruisers in remote corners of the globe, I found myself feeling a bit out of place. I did though meet some interesting people including a couple of crew from Maiden, the yacht Tracy Edwards skippered in the 1989 Whitbread race with an all female crew. She still owns the boat and it is sailing around the world again to raise awareness for girl’s education. I was also pleasantly suprised to discover the Antigua Yacht Club ran a happy hour from 4 to 7pm every day with any drink 5 East Caribbean dollars, the equivalent of £1.50. The only place I could find that seems to cater for visiting cruisers and I felt at home there with my holed shorts and 20 dollar sunglasses!

 

It was soon time to bid Dustin bon voyage. He was pointing the bow towards Saint Maarten then on to the BVI and the Panama Canal before sailing back to Hawaii later in the year, a feat that will make him the first double amputee to sail solo around the world. His story is both shocking and inspiring; hit by a drunk driving a lorry, losing his left arm and leg in the accident, ending up $450,000 dollars in debt to his insurance company as a result, on food stamps and then his insurance denying him medical care. When all seemed lost he declared bankruptcy and began to rebuild his life, taught himself to sail by watching youtube videos and sold everything he had to buy a $12,000 sailboat! Now, ten years on, he is achieving incredible things. We have so many mutual friends from our respective voyages across the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic i’m not sure why it took until Grenada in November for our paths to finally cross. I’m glad they did as the Caribbean has certainly been far more memorable as a result. Fair winds to the pirate!

February seemed to disappear quickly and I spent my days trying to write and work through the job list. Fathom was treated to a new toilet (head) after the 30 year old original developed a crack and started leaking (not pleasant!). I made a couple of trips along the coast to Jolly Harbour for a change of scenery and to stock up at the better supermarket. One of the highlights during this time was a visit to Shirley Heights for a Sunday sunset party. The restored military lookout and gun battery is a bit of a tourist trap but the view from 490ft down over Falmouth and English harbours is superb. I had gone up there with Harry, a yacht crew from the Oyster world rally that I had first met in Australia and his girlfriend Isy but ended up bumping into Denis Gorman, a fellow Jester Azores challenger from 2016 and his partner Lizzie, Finnish couple Anna and Tuamos and Greg and Jenny from Nebula. It was great to see everyone again and it turned into a fun evening. Soon afterwards Jeremy, a friend from the Isle of Wight, flew in to participate in the RORC Carib 600 race which was good timing as he could bring a spare part for Fathom in his hand luggage. Just before he set off on the race we went with Greg and Jenny to see British rowers Paul and Phil arrive on their tiny plywood boat after a 70 day, 3,000 mile row across the Atlantic as part of the Talisker Challenge. Watching them take their first tentative steps on shore and be able to have a chat and congratulate them was fantastic. The following day Jeremy managed to get me a ticket to the Carib 600 pre race party with free bar but I woke up the next morning with more than a sore head. Achey and with a fever that lasted 24 hours I then developed a relentless dry cough for the next ten days. This happened before anyone was talking about the Coronavirus out here so I assumed it was just a bug but in hindsight maybe it was Covid-19. I will never know for sure but felt pretty rotten.

By now my more ambitious plans to sail towards Cuba and the Bahamas had become unrealistic as the reality of my dwindling cruising budget hit home and I didn’t want to make the sail back across the Atlantic in May any more tricky than it needed to be. Likewise plans to head South towards Dominica seemed less attractive as I couldn’t face another windward bash north and going back on myself felt wrong. It was a strange feeling to have so much time on my hands and not be in a rush to move but I made a vow to spend it productively and try and concentrate on writing. The Classic Yacht week in April promised to be a good spectacle and I looked forward to that. I decided to get fit again and started running most mornings on a nice trail up in the hills and immediately felt better for it.

pretty Fathom

At the end of February the weather was looking calm so I took the opportunity to sail up to the island of Barbuda alongside Greg and Jenny on Nebula. On the way we stopped for a night in Nonsuch Bay off Green Island on the Eastern tip of Antigua, a great anchorage just inside the reef. On the sail north the following morning Greg was not best pleased when Fathom overtook them to leeward halfway to Barbuda and then ripped a spinnaker trying to catch me up! To rub it in I managed to get the overtake on video. Barbuda is part of the Antiguan nation and has a population of around 1600 people. It is still recovering from hurricane Irma in September 2017 that destroyed 95% of the buildings and infrastructure but is such a pretty place. We enjoyed a fantastic few days anchored off the 8 mile long beach at Low Bay. The beach glows a pink champagne colour due to the crushed coral in the sand and as there were very few other boats around and it was extremely peaceful and a nice contrast to the high energy Falmouth Harbour.

By early March excitement was building for the racing regattas coming up in a few weeks time and the harbour was a hive of activity. One morning while reading the news I became aware of a virus spreading out of Wuhan in China. It seemed another world away though and I didn’t really give it another thought. Little did I know things were about to change very quickly.

Posted in: Caribbean

Dominica, Les Saints and Guadeloupe

Before leaving Martinique in mid January I made sure to stock Fathom up with food and make the most of the good selection and better prices available. A cruiser favourite is definitely the duck confit – seared duck breast and legs in a can of duck fat. 12 pieces in total and the can only costs the equivalent of £4. It might not sound too appetising but trust me, after 15 minutes in the oven the meat melts in your mouth. The trouble was a long running strike in France was affecting shipments of some foods to Martinique and it had become a rare commodity. I did luckily find a few hidden at the back of a shelf so left with 3 tins in the locker which should provide some nice meals mid Atlantic. A big improvement over corned beef!

After a period of strong reinforced tradewinds a calmer period coincided with the sail from Saint Pierre up to Roseau, the capital of Dominica at the SW of the island. For once it wasn’t a rough, lumpy bash to the north but a nice pleasant sail. Despite a new fancy looking lure my Caribbean fishing exploits continued to be a disaster with not one bite on the way. The anchorage at Roseau is deep with bad holding so a few local businesses have put down moorings. As I approached, a couple of locals in a speed boat directed me to one and helped thread my mooring lines. On the mooring next door was Tiama, it was good to see Dustin again, and you guessed it, a few rum punches ensued that evening.

arrival in Dominica

It was a long dinghy ride to the fish dock which is the best place to go ashore and leave your dinghy safely. Check in was nice and easy and the locals seemed friendly. Walking round the town there was still plenty of evidence of the category 5 hurricane Maria which passed overhead in 2017. Many buildings had crumbling walls and were missing roofs and the downtown area had quite a few gaps waiting for a new property to be built. It was a shame I forgot my camera. I couldn’t believe how many clothes shops there were, every street seemed to be full of them. What also struck me was the lack of white faces, Europeans only make up 0.8% of the population on the island.

There wasn’t any reason to stay more than one night so the next morning Fathom and Tiama headed up to Portsmouth, a large well protected bay towards the north of the island. The tradewinds had by now completely died so it was a long motor the 30 or so miles along the coast in a glassy smooth sea. We made a couple of detours over sea mounts to try and catch fish but still no luck. By early afternoon we had safely anchored and headed ashore to check out the town. It just so happened that the carnival warm up was taking place right then and the whole place was a hive of activity, dancing and singing as large cut away lorries drove down the streets while live bands played on top. The ‘music’ was so loud you could hardly hear the person talking next to you and although it was basically a bit of a racket the atmosphere was fun. As the lorries travelled down the road they reached power cables hanging across from the rooftops and I couldn’t believe my eyes when a few gloved hands would reach up and push up the wires so the lorry could pass underneath. Health and safety at its finest! The afternoon and evening had been a real authentic Caribbean experience and I made a vow to return at the end of February for the real carnival.

The following day I met Liz, a Canadian working on the island and Josefine, a Swedish couchsurfer and we ended up hiking up to Fort Shirley together which sits in a National Park at the edge of the bay and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The fort is most famous for a revolt by African slave soldiers in 1802, an event which led to the freeing of all British slave soldiers in 1807. It had been built and modified as part of a network of defences along the Lesser Antilles during the international conflicts between the British and the French in the 18th and 19th centuries. The hike provided some fantastic views and a good opportunity for seeing some snakes. There are many different types on Dominica but not one is poisonous to humans. Despite knowing this we did stop in our tracks suddenly at one point when we heard some loud rustling in the undergrowth, only to find a snake mid way through squeezing the life out of a Gheko. My impressions of Dominica after only a brief time were very positive, it was definitely the most visually beautiful of the islands I had seen in the Caribbean and easy to see why Pirates of the Caribbean had been filmed here. I was keen to come back for some hiking and exploration in a month or two but in the meantime decided to keep buddy boating with Dustin towards Antigua.

Next up were Les Saintes, a group of small islands lying a few miles to the south of their dependency Guadeloupe. They had been recommended to me by several sailors for their beautiful waters and coastline. With the wind falling light again it was a motor sail for several hours from Portsmouth to the anchorage on Terre-de-Haut. Josefine was trying to get north so had jumped onboard for a lift and it was good to spend time exploring with her and Dustin. On our second day there the three of us hired scooters to do a few laps of the island and we stopped off at Fort Napoleon. Originally named Fort Loui it was destroyed by the British in 1809 and then rebuilt by the French in 1867 and named after Napoleon III. There is now an impressive museum on site and beautiful views across the bay from the ramparts. Despite being a very pretty place, I was not overly impressed with the island though, it was basically a white French bubble, expensive and rather fake with its fancy restaurants, a complete contrast to the laid back, authentic Dominica which I much preferred.

 

Back on the salty road again, this time to the town of Deshais on the NW of Guadeloupe. I hadn’t heard many great things about the island so Dustin and I only planned a short stop before heading to Antigua. Josefine hopped off to continue with her programme when we made landfall. In the anchorage at Deshais we met another boat Dustin knew with father and son crew of Russ and Jon aboard. After checking out with customs and immigration in the afternoon I invited everyone back to Fathom for a pasta dinner and a few of my famous Ti-Punch drinks. They are quite strong and Dustin was certainly feeling the effect when he dinghied back to his boat later that evening. A few hours later, about 03:00, I was fast asleep when I was woken by a message on my phone. It was from Dustin saying his leg had fallen off while climbing back onboard his boat from the dinghy! It turns out he had caught his prosthetic limp in the self steering gear on the stern and rather than jump in to the pitch dark water after it, he had assumed it had sunk and could be rescued in daylight . As the sun rose in the morning I swam over and the two of us spent a good hour in the water trying to find his leg but sadly to no avail. In hindsight it is likely that the fitted trainer provided enough buoyancy for it to float off and was probably at that point a couple of miles out to sea. As we both set sail for Antigua I did feel bad for my role in getting Dustin legless but on the plus side he was able to convert his swimming leg to a walking one as a temporary measure. Never a dull moment with the single handed sailor around!

 

Posted in: Caribbean

Martinique (Part 2)

Since setting sail from the U.K in 2016 I have had four Christmas Day’s away from home. The first was celebrated with my Atlantic crossing buddies in St Lucia, for 2017 I was in New Zealand, 2018 with my Indian Ocean sailor family in South Africa and now for 2019 with this salty gang in Martinique. Each one has been memorable and i’ve been lucky to have had such a nice variety.

On Christmas eve I took Fathom from the anchorage at Le Marin to St Anne’s, just around the corner, and anchored alongside Dustin on ‘Tiama’, Jeff and Cheri on ‘Grasshopper’ and Miki and Karl on ‘Fai Tira’. We had a nice afternoon on the beach drinking rum punches before ending up on Tiama for a bit of party. Christmas Day lunch was spent on ‘Grasshopper’ and we all cooked a dish and brought it along for a festive feast. We were joined by Liz, an old friend of Dustin’s from Hawaii, who had flown in for a few weeks holiday. Dustin then decided a second female crewmember would be a good idea so Alice, a French couchsurfer, joined ship. Alice had an interesting sounding tin pan instrument with her which inspired the rest of us into an impromptu jam session, me on guitar, Karl on his 3 string twanger and everyone else drumming along and singing made up lyrics. We thought we sounded great anyway.

 

Over the next week we sailed up the coast of Martinique as a flotilla but sadly had to bid farewell to Jeff and Cheri who were heading off to Colombia. It was great to buddy boat with the others and we always made a race of it between anchorages. Fathom, the smallest ship as always, just about managing to keep up. We made a stop at Anse Noire, a pretty but crowded bay and enjoyed some good snorkelling off the headland. Then past Fort de France where we anchored off ‘Dog Beach’, named after we encountered several playful dogs when taking a stroll that evening. More great snorkelling and Miki cooked us all dinner.

On the afternoon of the 30th we had reached Saint Pierre, a charming and pretty little town on the NW of Martinique which is overlooked by the domineering Mount Pelee. The volcano erupted in 1902, destroying the town and killing 30,000 people in the space of a few minutes. The only survivor was a prisoner who was locked up in a small dungeon like jail cell and somehow managed to escape with only a few burns. Imagine his reaction when he realised everyone else was dead. The anchorage at Saint Pierre is very narrow and there is not much space to drop the hook before the depth shelves deeply to 20m+. With plenty of other yachts around it was a battle to find a suitable spot but we all squeezed in eventually. One catamaran had dropped their anchor too close to the edge of the shelf and we watched after dark that evening as it dragged out to sea in the strong wind. It took a good half an hour before the frantic sweep of torch lights on the bow indicated the Owners had realised they were no longer located off the beach but a mile or so out to sea! No harm done and they got back in safely.

 

On the 31st an American couple in the anchorage offered to host us all onboard their boat for an early evening dinner party and we were joined by Finns – Anna, Tuamos and Sirkka, old friends of Liz. It was a fun night and later we ended up seeing in the New Near on Tiama while drinking Dustin’s pirate strength rum punches. As you are probably realising from reading this, the rum always flows in the Caribbean. I can confidently report that we all started 2020 nursing sore heads but quickly rallied and were back on Tiama that afternoon for some card games and sundowners on deck to watch the first sunset of the New Year. We thought it would be a good idea to raid Dustin’s fancy dress collection as you can see from the photo.

We stayed a few more days and one morning Liz, Alice, Karl and I decided to hike up to the summit of the volcano. To reach the start of the trail we chose to save some energy and hitchike rather than walk for three hours to get there. As we started walking up the trail thick cloud closed in reducing visibility before we got soaked in torrential rain. Thankfully as we approached the rim of the crater the clouds cleared allowing us a fantastic panoramic view across Martinique and down over Saint Pierre to our boats, tiny dots in the distance. The hike had been well worth it and also provided some much needed exercise.

 

The days ticked by and I was keen to get back to Le Marin to reprovision and give my liver a rest. Dustin and Liz planned to sail up to Dominica for a week so I offered to give Alice a lift back south towards the airport so she could catch her flight to Guadeloupe. It was another race along the coast, this time a head to head between Fathom and Fai Tira, a clear win for Fathom this time! Once back at Le Marin, Alice caught her flight out and I enjoyed some lazy days writing and catching up on boat jobs before picking up a bug that had been doing the rounds and feeling pretty rough for a while. It was great to have Miki and Karl closeby and to see Max and Tania again for a few days when they sailed ‘Alalila’ up from Bequia.

I still didn’t have a plan in place for the next months, the option of sailing towards Cuba and the Bahamas before an Atlantic crossing in May was an exciting thought but the route would be a challenging undertaking sailing solo. Another consideration was my cruising funds which were getting dangerously low and going that way wouldn’t be cheap. In any case there were more islands to explore nearby so no rush to make a decision. I was rather enjoying the lazy day sailing anyway.

Posted in: Caribbean

Saint Lucia & Martinique (Part 1)

December 2019: With gale force reinforced tradewinds on the way imminently there was just time to sail up to Saint Lucia but it was still a feisty windward bash, particularly in the acceleration zones at the north of Saint Vincent and the southern tip of Saint Lucia. As ever, Fathom was sure footed and just about managed to keep up with Dustin on Tiama despite being 8 feet shorter. Grasshopper joined the convoy an hour later. The approach to Saint Lucia is always spectacular with the Pitons providing a dramatic backdrop, Gros Piton rises 798m out of the ocean while Petit Piton is 753m. It wasn’t possible to anchor but there were moorings available for approx 20 US dollars a night. It was a relief to be in a sheltered bay and out of the strong wind. A nice evening followed as Cheri and Jeff invited Dustin and I over for a spag bol dinner and one or two rum punches.

approach to Saint Lucia and the Pitons

The next morning all three boats departed for the anchorage at Rodney Bay, about 20 miles up the coast. It turned out to be a motor sail as even though we were in the lee of the island, 35kt katabatic gusts barreled down from the mountains followed by several minutes of calms making it frustrating to come up with a suitable sail plan. Once anchored at Rodney Bay, the same spot I had anchored Fathom in for Christmas 2016, we all went ashore to clear in with customs and immigration. After Saint Vincent and the Grenadines it was a bit of a shock to the system to see a modern boardwalk with plenty of bars and restaurants. The local Piton beer was a nice change too. It was good to catch up with Anthony Davies from the Royal Solent Yacht Club and get up to speed with all the gossip I had missed from home over the last four years….a surprising amount!

Rodney Bay was the furthest point I had ventured north in the Caribbean before so I was keen to keep on moving and discover some new islands. After a few days in Saint Lucia all three boats set off in convoy again. There was always a competition to see who would be first to leave in the morning. This time I won and the look on Dustin’s face as I motored past him still at anchor at 06:00 while he hadn’t even taken his sail cover off or finished his coffee was priceless. The lead didn’t last long though and it was yet another windward bash, this time probably the roughest so far with gusts up to 28 knots and horrible short period slab sided waves. I tucked 3 reefs into the mainsail with a heavily rolled foresail but it wasn’t pleasant. These strong tradewinds are normally referred to as the Christmas winds but had set in a few weeks early this year.

 

Martinique is pretty much like being in France with the EURO currency and lots of French speaking white people. The best part about being on the island is definitely the supermarkets, the selection in Carrefour and Leader Price a real eye opener and genuinely quite exciting. Oh to have freshly baked baguettes each morning and a fridge full of brie and camembert. The lagoon at Le Marin on the southern tip of the island is where we all anchored and it must contain the largest collection of yachts in the Caribbean, a real yacht city. The chandleries are first class and even the self service laundries are ultra modern.

There is never a dull moment hanging around with Dustin and sure enough one morning even a trip to the laundry provided some entertainment. He had offered to pick me up in his dinghy but turned up a little bit late and uncharacteristically pissed off. It turned out that he had put his large bag of laundry on the deck while launching his dinghy from the davits but out of nowhere the wash from a large superyacht had rolled his boat from side to side and his laundry bag had fallen overboard and started sinking. At lightning speed Dustin dumped the dinghy in the water and somehow with his one arm managed to pull the now waterlogged and extremely heavy bag of clothes into the dinghy. In the process lucky to only lose his best pair of shorts and save the rest of his wardrobe and all his bedding from disappearing forever into the murkey water. After we had tied up at the dinghy dock the two of us couldn’t even carry his laundry bag two paces between us as it was soo heavy, so I commandeered a shopping trolley and we proceeded to the laundry, the sodden bag sprinkling water as we went. The sight of Dustin loading his salt sodden clothes into the washer from a shopping trolley in the middle of the laundry room provided some entertainment for the other laundry goers.

While anchored at Le Marin I got in touch with Miki and Karl, a great couple I had first met in Grenada last year and who sail a Nicholson 32 ‘Fai Tara’. They are fun company and suggested I moved and anchored next to them at the other side of the bay. What followed was a fun evening catching up and playing music, me on guitar, Karl playing his homemade 3 string version and Miki providing the percussion. It was a reminder that I had really missed playing music and jamming in a group, and we all agreed we should do it more often. For the last few weeks I had been assuming it would be a very quiet Christmas this year and I had no plans in place, but with Dustin on Tiama, Jeff and Cheri on Grasshopper and now Miki and Karl we had a nice gang and it promised to be a good one. Another example of things just working out.

Posted in: Caribbean

Saint Vincent & the Grenadines

The anchorage at Tyrell Bay on the island of Carriacou is one of my favourites in the Carribbean and I had enjoyed my visit in early 2017. But this time round I was struggling a little, no longer crossing oceans and sailing to a timeframe, and with all of the Caribbean sailing season ahead of me, I almost had too much time on my hands. Friends Greg and Jenny on SV Nebula were closeby but otherwise the anchorage was filled with older cruisers that never moved and I didn’t have much in common with them. I tried to spend some time writing but wasn’t feeling inspired and for a few days felt a bit fed up. Should I sail slowly up the Caribbean island chain or be more adventurous and head to Cuba? Not bad options to be considering so I told myself to cheer up.

 

Luckily Max and Tania on SV Alalila, great friends from the Madagascar and South Africa days, were closeby having started work for a charter company just north in the Grenadines. On the 9th of December I day sailed up to Clifton on Union Island to clear in and on approach to the anchorage watched a large 60 foot catamaran smack straight into the reef at full speed. It took about 10 local boat boys in their tenders to pull the catamaran back into open water. After lunch and having checked in I sailed the 2 or so miles further north to Saline Bay on the island of Mayreau. It was fantastic to see Max and Tania again and soon Dustin on SV Tiama had arrived plus Jeff and Cheri on SV Grasshopper, a really fun gang and the drinks flowed. We had an early Christmas dinner on Alalila one evening and then the following day Dustin and I took our boats round to Saltwhistle Bay on the N.W of the island. This is a beautiful small bay but in true Caribbean style means it was jam packed with charter boats. That afternoon whilst having a couple of rums at the beach bar we got chatting with Sasha, a German charter skipper and her German crew. They were super interested in our voyages so invited us back to their boat for dinner. A really fun evening and nice to meet a younger crowd for a change. The next day I went back to Saline Bay to spend some more time with Max and Tania before it was time to part ways yet again.

 

Next stop was Bequia, about 35nm north of Mayreau, where I arrived on the afternoon of the 13th after another day sail. The weather was squally and quite unpleasant but I quite enjoyed the sensation of sailing to windward again after so much rolly downwind sailing over the last few years and Fathom galloped along at a good pace. I anchored alongside Tiama and Grasshopper and then spent the rest of the afternoon sampling the rum punches at the local bars with Dustin and Jeff. Cheri joined us for a great local dinner ashore that evening, a rare treat not to cook. I still didn’t feel very set on any one plan for the months ahead and continued to yo-yo between moving slowly north or being more adventurous. There was never a dull moment hanging around with Dustin and Jeff so I decided to go slow for the rest of the month and see what I felt like doing in the New Year.

Dustin and I set sail for Saint Vincent on the 15th December. I had not stopped at this island back in 2016 because at the time some cruisers had been boarded, robbed and sadly killed by some locals in the dark of the night. The island had gained a bad reputation back then but more recently cruisers were starting to visit again. The advantage of stopping was that it was a day sail away and split up the otherwise overnight passage to Saint Lucia. It was another windward bash into the N.E tradewinds but very manageable and I anchored Fathom next to Tiama in Chateabelair Bay. We were the only cruising boats in an otherwise empty bay and within half an hour two locals paddled out to us in their small wooden tender. I couldn’t help but feel on edge but they seemed friendly and sold me a couple of freshly caught red snapper fish. One of the two, a tough looking middle aged guy introduced himself as ‘George’ and offered, infact insisted, that he would be our protector when we stepped ashore later and no one would bother us. I wasn’t sure if that was a reassuring to hear or not.

After lunch Dustin picked me up in his dinghy and we looked for a place to land on the beach. Our main intention was to visit the customs and immigration office so we could clear out and then sail on to Saint Lucia early the following day. We knew roughly where the office was so beached the dinghy nearby in front of the house of a toothless local lady who must have been pushing 80. She told us she would look after the dinghy and ensure no one stole it. The customs office turned out to be closed but there was a note on the door with a phone number and the man that answered said he would be there in an hour. Now what to do. The decision was made for us by George who suddenly turned up, slightly aggrieved we hadn’t landed on the beach nearer his house, but all the same invited us to have a beer with him and some of his friends at a local bar while we waited for customs to open.

with Dustin and George (to my right)

It turned out to be a good 20 minute walk to the bar and the sight of double amputee Dustin walking along on his peg leg certainly drew some attention. We were back at Customs an hour later and the formalities were quick and easy. George was still with us and insisted we joined him for a couple more beers before heading back to our boats. I gave the old lady a few coins as a thank you for her sterling work as dinghy guardian which she seemed pleased about. This time we took the dinghy closer to avoid the walk and George jumped in with us as we motored back along the bay. I jumped out a little early during the beach landing, the water quite a bit deeper than it looked, and was soaked up to my waist. My damp appearance plus Dustin on his peg certainly provided further intrigue for the locals but with George by our side we were pretty much left alone. The small shack we stood outside served cheap cold beers and we made sure to buy George a cold one every time we went to the bar inside. The locals turned out to be mostly friendly, those that were awake that is, probably half of those around us were sleeping on the bench seats. No surprise really as they all appeared to be addicted to drinking 80% rum and smoking weed which was sad to see. They were happy that we were making an effort to socialise with them as most cruisers stay well away and as a thank you brought out a plate of local food for us as a gift. George certainly seemed to have the respect of the locals who continued to come up to him and give him a fist pump. He later told us he had killed a guy who had cheated him at a card game and had been summoned to court next month..

As the sun began to set we made our excuses to leave as it wouldn’t have taken much for the atmosphere at the bar to take a turn for the worse. Dustin and I were back on our boats by sunset. I think we were both on edge after dark, we had seen a dodgy looking guy on a kayak a bit earlier very close to our boats so for the first time ever I locked myself in the cabin overnight. We also kept our VHF radios on and monitored channel 6 just in case any trouble arose. It wasn’t my best nights sleep but no one bothered us. The coffee certainly tasted good as the sun rose in the morning. It was time to continue with the island hopping, next up Saint Lucia.

Posted in: Caribbean

Grenada – for the 3rd time

I returned to Grenada on the 20th October feeling refreshed after 4 months away from the boat. It had been great to stay with Anny and Carl in Canada and help them with some DIY and gardening work, a beautiful part of the world for sure. Then I had travelled on to Switzerland to stay with two of my oldest mates and finally enjoyed some family time in Spain. I had been doing some writing and was chuffed to have an article published in Yachting Monthly magazine about my circumnavigation. While I was away from Fathom it had been definitely worth paying for a monthly check on the boat with the anti-humidity crystals being replaced and the bilges and battery voltage monitored. The only surprise once I removed the washboards and stepped down into the cabin was a mummified gheko on the chart table seat. It was all a bit of a mess down below but thankfully minimal mould and dampness. Good to be back home!

 

The heat and humidity of the tropics at the end of the wet season however was a shock to the system and living on the boat in the yard made it even worse. Cabin temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius. It was so hot that I could only do jobs outside until about 10am. To make matters worse a few blisters on my feet got infected so I ended up limping around for a week or so. A trip to the doctors for some antibiotic cream soon sorted things out. By far the worst thing of all was the lack of running water at the boatyard. Not only was there no water pressure from the hose next to the boat for over 10 days there was no water coming out of the showers. Covered in antifouling dust and sweat after sanding the bottom of the hull it wasn’t even possible to have wash off and despite this the yard still insisted on charging the 6 US dollar per day amenities charge. Won’t be taking a boat back there again..

I don’t want to give the impression it was all doom and gloom during the two and a half weeks I spent at the yard. There were some familiar faces there including Seb from Denmark who I had first met on my travels through the South Pacific in 2017 and always good company to share a beer or two with. Jenny and Greg on ‘Nebula’ made a few appearances and it was good to see Mike and Marie on ‘Roke’ again and Mike and Lizzie from the Isle of Wight. The boatyard at Clarke’s Court is quite remote so I took the shopping bus once or twice a week to stock up on provisions and escaped to the beach at Grand Anse a few times for a swim. Seb and I decided to join the HASH one weekend, which is an enthusiastic group of ‘drinkers with a running problem’. The event is held weekly with a different course and involves a few kilometers of walking or running through the bush and is hard work for the unfit. The party at the end nullifies all the calories burnt but still feels good to have got a sweat on. During this time I also enjoyed the weekly pool championship and took part in a racing regatta in J24’s. I have really missed competitive sailing so this was great fun. I skippered a team comprising of Seb, his Danish mate Allan and Don, an American sailor, also working on his boat in the boatyard. After coming 3rd in the first race we won the next 3 races but were denied the championship because another boat thought we had broken a racing rule at a mark rounding and the organiser had thrown us out without even asking for our story. In fact we were the right of way boat but as outsiders they clearly didn’t want us to win so there was no point making a fuss.

 

By the beginning of November, Fathom was ready to splash. I had worked hard to make sure she was shipshape and she was looking fantastic with polished and waxed topsides and a freshly painted blue stripe. I had also replaced the dripless stern seal as a safety measure and given the engine an overhaul. The bottom had been sanded smooth with a barrier coat and 3 coats of antifoul. I had applied PropSpeed to the propeller which despite being pricey is the only product I have found that works. A great feeling to be floating again and to get away away from the hot, dusty and mosquito ridden boatyard. Some sad news was that Ian, an English sailor, who I had met with his sister before hauling the boat out in June had suddenly died from a heart attack. They were the nice neighbours on the dock that had made me a Gin & Tonic while I was struggling in the bilge and I had shared a few anchorages with them earlier in the year. Another reminder that you don’t know when your time is up and to make the most of life when you can.

 

Before leaving Grenada I finally managed to meet Dustin, another solo sailor who is attempting to become the first double amputee to sail alone around the world. We had sailed the same path since Madagascar but always managed to miss each other. Great to finally cross paths and we would end up sharing a few adventures over the following few months. I was all ready to head off when I noticed some water building up in the engine tray and it turned out to be a leaking lip seal on the engine water pump. Thankfully a new one could be sourced locally and it was relatively easy to replace. Grenada is a great island for sure with a thriving yachting community but not somewhere I would want to get stuck too long so was happy to be moving on. It was an enjoyable sail up to to Tyrell Bay at Carricou in mid November where I dropped the hook and started to make some plans for the next months. But as all cruising sailors know, making plans is dangerous. They should be written in the sand at low tide..

Posted in: Caribbean

Grenada – for the 2nd time

I must admit it felt a little anticlimactic to sail into Grenada and finish my circumnavigation in April last year. I had sailed nearly 6,000 nautical miles up the South Atlantic from Cape Town to the Caribbean in only three months and not only was I weary after so much time alone at sea I was missing friends I had left behind in South Africa. Until there we had sailed our boats alongside each other as one big family since Madagascar and it felt strange not to be sharing an anchorage and a celebratory rum punch with them. But this is part and parcel of the sailing life, you are constantly moving, meeting and making close connections with fantastic people, but then the time to say goodbye arrives all too quickly. Thankfully there were a few familiar faces ashore that first night back in Grenada to share a beer with but I certainly didn’t feel like I had just sailed around the world!

 

I had already decided that I would wait another season before sailing back across the Atlantic to the Isle of Wight. I wasn’t ready to end the voyage yet and could just about stretch my funds for another year if I lived super cheaply. All I felt like doing was putting the anchor down and not crossing oceans for a while plus there was lots more of the Caribbean I had never visited and wanted to explore before heading home. It seemed sensible to spend the upcoming hurricane season from June to November in the south of the island chain, which is rarely affected by hurricanes, and put some effort into starting to write a book about my voyage.

After a few days anchored in Prickly Bay I took Fathom round to the dock at Secret Harbour to get access to a fresh water hose. The quarter berth was still salty damp from the near sinking episode on passage to Saint Helena so it was good to finally rinse it out together with the mattress and foul weather gear and generally clean everything up in the cabin. I also took the opportunity to do some maintenance on the engine. The stainless steel water trap, which lies deep down in the bilge and is part of the engine exhaust system, had began to leak after nearly 30 years of service. In hindsight, I should have replaced it before setting off from the UK but had left it thinking it would be ok. It was a pig of a job and very uncomfortable to squeeze down into the bilge over the engine to remove the hose and water trap. I made sure I had my phone within reach in case I got stuck and couldn’t reverse myself out! The local engineers had a replacement plastic water trap in stock but of course it wasn’t just a plug and play. A trip was needed to a metal fabricator to weld up a bracket and then I was back down head first into the bilge to try and install it. I also removed the exhaust elbow and chiselled out the carbon deposits that had built up inside and which had begun to affect the performance of the engine. Nothing is straightforward and due to the different angle of the exhaust hose from the new water trap the exhaust elbow didn’t fit back on the engine so another trip to the fabricators to get it cut and re-welded. One afternoon as I was struggling head down in the bilge my friendly neighbours on the dock clearly heard me f*ing and blinding during a moment of frustration and came over with a glass of Gin and Tonic for me which they assured would help. It did.

 

 

Once the jobs were finished I had time to explore more of the island. One of the highlights included hiking up in the Grand Etang National Park with Jeanne, a Brazilian vet who had a short contract at the local University. On the way we were introduced to some friendly monkeys who enjoyed posing for a selfie with us, but only if we bribed them with a banana. We also found some nice pools and waterfalls to play around in. A week or so later I got chatting with the chap next door to me in the anchorage at Prickly Bay. He turned out to be Andrew Simpson, the well renowned boatbuilder, designer and journalist amongst other things who is now in his early 80’s. I had read many of his books while preparing to set sail and he still writes a column for Practical Boat Owner magazine. Sadly his wife had passed away from cancer a few months before and he had just flown back from the UK to be on his boat in the Caribbean for the first time without her. He was struggling somewhat so I was happy to keep him company from time to time and help him out with a few boat jobs. It was great to get some writing tips from him too.

 

For a change of scenery I sailed up to Tyrell Bay on the island of Carriacou, about 35 miles north of Grenada. This is a great anchorage and it didn’t take long meet some other like minded cruisers. Over the next couple of weeks I enjoyed the company of Jenny and Greg on ‘Nebula’, Adam and Becky’ on ‘Sampanema’, Miki and Karl on ‘Fai Tira’ and Swedish Par who have all become friends. A great bunch and eager participants in some music jam sessions and rum drinking. By mid May I was back in Grenada and starting to wonder if I really wanted to stay onboard Fathom all the way though hurricane season. Apart from my new friends I was already a little tired of the ‘clicky’ cruising community on the island and began to realise that a break from boat life would do me good. I made contact with the three local boatyards and Clarke’s Court came back to say they had room for Fathom. I was given a haul out date of 12th June. All change.

My birthday evening in May turned out to be quite eventful. I was enjoying a nice time with friends early on before things took an unfortunate turn later in the night. Whilst playing a game of pool with Adam at a local bar I had put my small waterproof bag on the floor. After the game it was no longer there and security showed no interest in trying to find it and refused to check the CCTV camera footage to see who had taken it. I had only put two items in the bag which were a set of keys used to lock up Fathom and my dinghy to the pontoon and a slice of birthday cake. Thankfully my wallet and phone were in my pocket. As I walked around the bar trying to find the bag I sensed that the atmosphere had taken a turn for the worse and after asking a local if they had seen my bag he suddenly shouted out to his mates ‘this guy has just accused me of stealing his bag’! That was the signal to leave and give up hope of getting the stuff back. The trouble was it was the wee small hours of the morning and my dinghy was locked so I couldn’t get back to Fathom, I had also given Adam a lift ashore from his boat. I remembered I had the number of a local called George who provides moorings in Secret Harbour and who had told me to contact him if I ever needed any help. Not quite sure that ringing him at 2am in the morning to drive across the island to break my dinghy free from the dock was what he had in mind but he did turn up with his bolt croppers. I gave him a generous pile of notes as a thank you and then stayed on Adams boat. In the morning we managed to cut through the ‘extra strong and secure’ padlock on Fathom with a hacksaw in less than 2 minutes. Lesson learned, I now have a combination padlock!

 

It was a busy and rather hectic time preparing to leave for a few months. Once Fathom was ashore in the yard I washed out the whole inside of the boat with a white vinegar solution to try and prevent mould taking hold and put as much stuff as would fit in vacuum storage bags. I left moisture traps in the cabin and signed up with a local company to check the boat once a month. All the sails were taken off the rig and stored below in case a tropical storm passed overhead. After travelling so far together and having kept me safe and secure for over 32,000 miles of ocean I felt a little bad leaving Fathom to herself in a dirty boat yard. I had never thought I would gain such a strong bond with my boat but I had.

 

Heading back to the UK before sailing back was something I didn’t want to do so I accepted an offer to stay with sailing friends Annie and Carl who I had met in the South Pacific. They had sold their boat in Australia and were now living deep in the Canadian countryside at a place called Knowlton, 1.5 hours S.E of Montreal. The deal was I would spend a few hours a day helping them with jobs in return for bed and food. I managed to book cheap flights with the help of all the air-miles I had accrued from my Shipbroking days. It was time for some land life.

Posted in: Caribbean

Fernando de Noronha to Grenada

The island of Fernando de Noronha is situated about 350km off Brazil’s north east coast and is a popular destination for Brazilian tourists seeking beautiful beaches and diverse sea life. Despite this it is not overly popular with visiting yachts for two main reasons I discovered after arriving. Firstly the anchorage is incredibly rolly and quite deep at 11 to 12 metres. Secondly, I hadn’t been prepared for quite how expensive it was to check in – over £100 for a 2 day stay. Ouch! After pumping up the dinghy on the morning of the 26th March the outboard wouldn’t start so I performed the old trick of draining the carburettor via the bleed screw with a screw driver and it then roared to life. Once ashore at the harbour office the check in formalities and clearance into Brazil was nice and relaxed, so relaxed in fact that the Port Captain offered me coffee and cake. I guess I should have expected that for the extortionate check in fees. He didn’t speak a word of English so we communicated via typing into Google Translate on his computer. I learnt from the Port Captain that the authorities have a strict limit of only 450 visitors per day but visiting yachts are not included and he then went on to tell me that to visit the nicest beaches would incur a further cost of about £50 for a permit. I’ve been lucky to see a lot of nice beaches in the last three years so sod that.

 

It was a good 30 minute walk to get to the town. I found an ATM to withdrawal some Reals, the Brazilian currency and found some wifi and grabbed a bite to eat. I then found a lady that could do some laundry for me the next day. With so much motoring required to power through the calms on the way from Saint Helena, Fathom was low on diesel but with the forecast showing the North East trades only about 150 nautical miles to the north, I figured that I only needed to buy 40 litres to get me through. It was a hassle to fill the cans up at the fuel station half way up the hill and get a taxi back to the harbour so I only went once. This would prove to be a mistake. The outboard then failed to start again and to my dismay I realised the screwdriver I had left in the dinghy for such an event had been stolen. I managed to borrow one off a charter catamaran to bleed the carb and get the engine going again so I could get back to Fathom in the anchorage, a long way away.

My task the following day was to fill up the water tanks. The town water was not safe to drink so I was forced to buy 6 x 5 gallon bottles from the supermarket and then get a taxi back to the harbour. The ramp down to the pontoon was currently being rebuilt so it was quite a task to carry each bottle down a steeply inclined single plank. It proved too much for my wobbly sea legs and I managed to drop one bottle down onto the pontoon which then promptly exploded and that was 5 gallons lost. Then with the remaining five bottles in the dinghy I got back to Fathom in the anchorage and in the process of unloading them on to a very rolly boat managed to drop one into the cockpit which also exploded and another 5 gallons lost to the sea. On the plus side the cockpit did get a nice fresh water rinse. The whole episode was not one of my finest moments. I also got the laundry done and found a few items of fresh food at the supermarket but the choice was very poor, not unsurprising so far from the mainland. The larger downind jib that I had hoisted onto the furler in Cape Town was lowered and replaced with the standard Yankee foresail in preparation for some stronger winds on the beam north of the doldrums. The last task was to swim around the boat to check the hull and propeller which were surprisingly clean. It had been a short and not particularly great stopover but a necessity for water and fuel. On the morning of 28th of March it was time to set sail again – destination Grenada, 2000 nautical miles to the north west.

 

The first afternoon at sea was in a calm once again so we motored all afternoon and through the first night. I was awoken at 23:30 by the radar alarm that had detected a target closeby and after rushing on deck could just make out the lights of a vessel which was displaying no AIS or radar signal. I kept an eye on it as we passed each other very close thankful that the radar alarm had done it’s job and woken me up. Little did I know at this point that vessels passing close in the night would be a theme of this leg of the voyage.  Sleep was hard to come by for the rest of the night as the radar alarm kept going off, triggered by passing rain showers. In the morning I turned the engine off and tried to sail but the cruising chute wouldn’t even fill. I couldn’t wait to reach the north east trades and leave the hot and humid calms in my wake. The next night the same thing happened and I was woken by the radar alarm during a nap. Again, I watched a fishing vessel pass very close and then found it hard to switch off and sleep. The latest weather forecast wasn’t good news and I could not believe that now the doldrum belt was moving northwards with me! I just couldn’t reach the NE tradewinds that were so tantalisingly close. After so much motoring from Saint Helena and with several days of calms still ahead Fathom was critically low on diesel. Why didn’t I buy more in Fernando?!  On the last day of March and the 3rd day at sea the radar alarm went off again, this time triggered by a huge tanker 5 miles off the starboard beam with no AIS signal. I called them on the VHF to let them know their AIS wasn’t working and they replied saying they were sorry and were trying to fix it. Not good for my stress levels.

 

On the 1st of April Fathom crossed the equator and was back in the northern hemisphere again. It wasn’t really a time for celebration as the rain was torrential with very poor visibility. A brief puff of wind in in the middle of the day temporarily allowed some sailing before it died once more by sunset. I calculated that I had enough diesel to run the engine through the night but at 07:00 the next day it would have to be turned off for good. I even tried whistling for the wind. Just after dark I could see the loom of a light on the horizon which grew steadily brighter. Peering around the sprayhood in the driving rain I could eventually make out it was a fishing trawler but it’s course was erratic and we were getting close. Eventually after I had changed course a couple of times she disappeared astern. Tired and a bit fed up I dropped back into my bunk longing for some wind, a Caribbean rum and the end of this long sea passage.

 

The next morning, at long, long last, the breeze began to fill in from the East North East and I can’t tell you the relief in turning the loud engine off and feeling the motion of the boat as the wind pushed her along once again. All of a sudden I felt great, there was 1 knot of current boosting our speed, I began to relax and even baked a cake to celebrate. The next day continued in the same vain and all was good. Then at 01:00 on the 4th April all hell broke loose. 30 knots of wind from the north barrelled into Fathom out of nowhere and torrential rain hammered down on her decks. I jumped out of my bunk, stripped off and put on my harness before heading out on deck to reef the sails, a real battle in the conditions. I headed Fathom off downwind as I struggled to install the 4th reef in the main. The wind direction and our NW course to Grenada meant upwind sailing for the first time in forever and it was a long night. By sunrise conditions had begun to moderate and I shot some footage on the GoPro As Fathom slammed into the waves. The forecast had only indicated 15-20kts when actually gusts were 35kts or higher and it had been a bit of a shock to the system.

 

Thankfully over the next days conditions improved, a nice 15 -20 knot wind set in on the beam and speeds increased with a strong current pushing Fathom to the north west. A messy swell made the motion a bit uncomfortable but we were sailing so I didn’t care. On the 7th April as Fathom closed on the coast of French Guyana a new record 24hr daily run under sail of 152 nautical miles was achieved which was smashed again the following day with 167 nautical miles! Pretty impressive for a 28 foot boat even with 2.5kts of current giving a helping hand. I very much doubt Fathom will ever have a better 24 hours again. In the night, yet again, the radar alarm detected vessels very close and I was on full alert. At one point I was tracking a target on the radar only half a mile abeam yet as I stared out into the blackness I saw nothing. It was eerie and very unsettling knowing there was a boat so close showing no lights or AIS signal. I couldn’t switch off and sleep was hard to come by. The remaining miles to Grenada seemed to tick down slowly and I found myself monitoring the eta a bit too obsessively. I was tired and felt fed up with long solo passages.

 

In the last of the evening light on the 11th April I could just make out the outline of Tobago on the horizon. I was keeping a wide berth and planning to approach Grenada from the east. Recently, due to the chaos in Venezuela the piracy risk around Trinidad and south of Grenada had been increasing sharply and only a couple of weeks before a yacht heading north to Grenada from Trinidad had been approached by a skiff with 4 armed men who attempted to board the yacht. The high sea state and the skippers evasive zig zag course had prevented the men from boarding but they had fired shots at the yacht which had pierced the hull. This was playing round in my mind as I stared at the horizon, imagining pirates speeding towards me and it was another long night with little sleep. I was very relieved to see the sunrise on the 12th April, my 16th day at sea and the lush green slopes of Grenada lay in front of Fathom. It was hard to believe that we had set sail from this island just over two years before, it really did seem like yesterday. A good 20 knot breeze picked up from astern and Fathom flew along as the last remaining miles flowed under the keel. I sat in the cockpit with my morning coffee and watched an excitable pod of dolphins playing in the bow wave. Jumping high in the air and diving forward they seemed to be leading Fathom back to the Spice Island and across our ground track from 2017. The sleepless nights and endless calms were soon forgotten, we had done it. Fathom and I had been a great team, I had cared for her and she had looked after me. We had circumnavigated the world!

Posted in: at sea - 2019

Saint Helena to Fernando de Noronha

As I sailed away from Saint Helena I was sad to say goodbye but on the other hand looking forward to reaching Grenada and the Caribbean again. Only 3,500 nautical miles of sailing to go! Having said goodbye to my friends on ‘Plastik Plankton’ who were heading north back to Europe this next stretch would be done very much alone and as normal before a long passage, I was feeling a little apprehensive. To break up the passage to Grenada and to replenish the stores my intention was to stop at Jacare on the eastern bulge of Brazil, about 1700 nautical miles and two weeks of sailing.

 

The first few days were nice and relaxed, a low 1 to 1.5m swell and light breezes ranging from 12-15kts, just perfect. The trouble was despite the conditions I was finding it hard to settle into life at sea again and I continuously found myself counting down the miles and days to go. I had a sore throat and felt lethargic. As my friends Janneke and Wietze reminded me on an email one morning, “Don’t count the days, make the days count!”. Wise words and I told myself to cheer up. By the end of the first week the wind began to falter and on the night of the 18th March I was woken up by banging sails as Fathom wallowed in a calm. As the next few days ticked by in daylight hours I hoisted the cruising chute and we glided slowly north west and in the night hours had to resort to running the engine.  On days 12 and 13 there was enough wind to sail wing on wing again, the mainsail fixed out on one side of the boat and the headsail poled out on the other. With no vessels detected in the vicinity or squalls clouds overhead I was able to take the luxury of 3 hour sleeps overnight as the Aries windvane steered Fathom along in the blackness. As we continued towards the doldrums the temperature and humidity rose sharply and it was hot and sweaty in the cabin. On the 22nd a brief rain shower passed overhead, the first rain that had fallen on Fathom since leaving Cape Town.

 

The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, or doldrums, is not located exactly over the equator and actually migrates north and south with the seasons throughout the year. It is a region where the South East tradewinds and the North East Tradewinds meet and is calm and very wet with frequent thunderstorms. I knew I would have to get through this area as quickly as possible and every couple of days would download a weather GRIB file via the satellite phone to check it’s current position. The forecasts showed the ITCZ was hovering just south of the equator and at a latitude just above the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha. At this point I decided to change plans and visit this island instead of sailing the further distance west to Jacare on the Brazilian mainland. The information I had onboard indicated I could obtain diesel and water at the island but it was expensive to check in so I would make only a short stop. By the 24th the wind began to falter again and by night it would die down to around 5kts meaning yet more motoring.  On day 14 I began to see many more birds in the sky and my spirits were lifted when the fishing line went tight that afternoon. I battled to pull in what turned out to be a 1m long yellow fin tuna which provided some much needed variation into my diet and breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next couple of days!  As the sun began to rise on my 16th day at sea I could make out the dramatic outline of Fernando de Noronha on the horizon. We were completely becalmed and after motoring all through the night I headed Fathom into the anchorage and the hook went down mid morning. My first time in Brazil.

Posted in: at sea - 2019

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