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

Archive for the “Caribbean” Category

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 on 09 Feb 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 on 07 Feb in: Caribbean

Carriacou & Grenada

The sail from Union Island to Carriacou on the 5th January was a cracker with 15 knots of wind from astern and a low swell. Carriacou is a dependency of Grenada and the largest island in the Grenada group at 7 miles long and 3 miles wide. As I sailed into the anchorage at Tyrell Bay I was met by Erik from Harry Z with the instruction to meet him and Britt at the Lazy Turtle restaurant in one hour for beers and pizza. Perfect! Nice to have a proper catch up with them and in the evening they invited me aboard for home cooked pie, a rare treat.

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Tyrell Bay sunset

The following day Harry Z was booked to come out of the water at the local yard so I lent a hand. Once the boat was ashore I was given a boiler suit, face mask and a continual stream of beers in exchange for my help sanding the hull. Seemed like a reasonable deal to me. That evening it was good to see French friends Marjo and Clément from Passmoilcric. The only trouble is I continue to struggle to pronounce their boat name and it is highly embarrassing calling them up on the VHF when I know others are listening. We went and had dinner at a bar overlooking the bay and were treated to some local music, a band playing a mix of blues and reggae. A band of very active squall clouds then came over. I have never ever seen rain as heavy and in the 30 knot winds it was blowing horizontally into the bar soaking everyone. The dinghy ride back to the boat was refreshing to say the least.

The next few days were fairly relaxed. I picked up some fresh food from the little village on the edge of the anchorage and lent a hand with the antifouling on Harry Z.  For a change I was quite happy to stay around the boat and didn’t feel a need to explore the local area so much. One evening we were treated to an exceptional sunset, even by Caribbean standards, with a deep red glow engulfing the sky for several minutes.

By the 9th January I was ready for a change of scenery and looking forward to visiting the main island of Grenada. Fathom departed the anchorage at Tyrell Bay just after 8am and arrived at St Georges, the capital of Grenada, at 16.15 after another pleasant sail.  Fathom had been either at sea or at anchor since leaving Lanzarote at the beginning of November and I was keen to give her a fresh water scrub down and also needed to do quite a bit of food shopping. So decided to moor up on a pontoon at the Grenada Yacht Club for a few days. My neighbour on the pontoon was a German solo sailor who at the age of 21 had cycled from his family home in Frankfurt to the Med and bought a yacht after becoming disillusioned with city life. 45 years on he was still sailing on the same trip! One evening while sitting on the yacht club balcony we watched a large superyacht run aground by missing one of the channel buoys and cutting the corner. Rather embarrassing for the Captain as apparently the Owner was onboard.

St George’s is a pretty town with the brightly painted buildings around the harbour front sitting beneath the steep hillside of an old volcanic crater. I made the most of having an excellent chandlers close-by and found a few spares I needed. The local supermarkets were also very good but food in the Caribbean is expensive. For example one apple is typically more than one USD (80 pence). If only it was possible to live on Bananas and Rum the wallet wouldn’t take such a hit.

After a few days it was time to head to the south of the island where there are many bays and anchorages. As I was approaching the channel that threads through the reef on the way to Woburn I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw ‘Venture Lady, the larger sister of Fathom I had last seen mid Atlantic. They were heading the opposite way to me but after a quick chat on the VHF decided it was definitely time to have that cold beer we had been talking about for months so proceeded together and anchored off Woburn. Very nice to meet Andy and Alison at last.

The next week or so was incredibly social. There is an excellent cruising community on the south of Grenada with events happening every day. A very good radio net runs every morning with new arrivals made to feel welcome. Plenty of English about many are enjoying the lifestyle and have not moved for a while by the look of it. I enjoyed meeting the various characters and listening to the live music performed by Country Dave, Paul and Andy etc. Other highlights included the Full Moon Party which was located about 100m from where Fathom was anchored and the hash. The hash is an event the organiser describe as being for “drinkers with a running problem”. It involves running or walking along a route identified by shredded paper and every week is in a different area of Grenada. I went along on the Saturday and it was quite hard work after sitting on a boat and not using my legs for a while. Up and down steep hillsides in the jungle, across rivers and along beaches. On the way back to the anchorage the minibus I was on stopped at several rum shacks which is all part of the ‘event’.

I was having a great time in Grenada with fun people and plenty going on. I must have been having a good time because I only took five photos during my whole time on the island! I knew I had to make a decision on what to do next. There were three realistic choices to consider. I could stay in Grenada and have a good time waiting out the hurricane season there, head north up the island chain and back to Europe in the summer or chase the sun westwards. After considering all the options I knew what I wanted to do..

Posted on 31 Jan in: Caribbean

The Grenadines

Fathom and Sturmschwalbe departed St Lucia on the afternoon of the 29th, bound for the island of Bequia, an overnight sail to the south. St Vincent is not so safe with many crimes reported against visiting yachts, so we had decided to sail on past. As the sun set we were close to the Pitons on the south of St Lucia which looked dramatic in the fading light. Conditions became quite lively later as the wind was accelerated between St Lucia and St Vincent and the sea became rough and uncomfortable. I took 10-15 minute naps and Jan and Jule kept an eye out. The next day Jan told me that during the night off St Vincent they had heard voices in the dark and a torchlight shining towards them so had turned off their navigation lights and AIS just in case. I was half a mile away and saw nothing.

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Tobago Keys – Jan up the mast of Sturmschwalbe also

We arrived in the anchorage at Admiral Bay, Bequia just before 10 am. A pretty but crowded bay with several small waterside bars and restaurants. Refreshing to go ashore and not worry about walking around with a camera visible. A very nice little village with friendly locals and a feeling that we had arrived in paradise at last. On New Years Eve we decided to head south to Union Island where there were friends on a couple of Norwegian boats, Harry Z and Careka. An almost perfect sail in 15 to 17 knots of wind on the beam. Fathom in her element flying along at 6 knots. We anchored in Chatham Bay and were surprised to see only about 10 other boats in the anchorage. The celebrations started with a nice bbq aboard Sturmschwalbe with Jan & Jule, progressed to drinks ashore at the beach bar with the Norwegians and ended around 5am (I can’t remember exactly!) after rum punches onboard Fathom. A very memorable NYE.  2016 had been quite a year. Fathom and I clocked up 5,632 nautical miles since leaving Yarmouth in May.

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Fathom at anchor, Tobago Keys

On New Years day Jan and I hiked up to the hill overlooking the anchorage and then halfway across Union Island to the small village of Ashton. A good way to cure a fuzzy head. The next day Sturmschwalbe and Fathom sailed back north for a few miles to a collection of several small islands and reefs known as Tobago Keys. It was the first real upwind sailing in months and felt strange after thousands of miles sailing downhill. On arrival we chose an anchorage just inside the reef and alongside an island known for its turtles. Tobabgo Keys is a stunning location and probably the highlight of my Caribbean experience so far, despite being rather crowded with charter boats. We spent the next couple of days relaxing, swimming with Turtles and exploring the reef. I took the opportunity to climb the mast for a check and to take some photos overlooking the anchorage. Sadly, after many weeks and thousands of sea miles, it was then time to say goodbye to Jan and Jule. Sturmschwalbe is headed north up the island chain and then west to Cuba before heading back across the Atlantic in May. I will miss them but look forward to a reunion in the not too distant future.

I headed back to Union Island on the 4th, but this time to the small village of Clifton on the east side so I could check out of the Grenadines. Time to head on south to Carriacou and Grenada.

Posted on 07 Jan in: Caribbean

St Lucia

A really great time was spent at anchor in Rodney Bay, St Lucia, with the crews of Hent-Eon, Ribouldingue and Sturmschwalbe over the Christmas period. We celebrated with dinner on the 24th onboard Ribouldingue, 25th on Hent-Eon, 26th on Sturmschwalbe and on the 27th I cooked dinner and delivered it to Ribouldingue for everyone to eat as Fathom is rather too small to fit everyone comfortably. A unique Christmas indeed in the company of French and German friends in 30 degree temperatures, blazing sun and even an attempt to learn windsurfing on Christmas morning. Thank you everyone for speaking English it made life so much easier!

Christmas Day sunset

I found St Lucia itself quite a disappointment. At Rodney Bay the marina and associated developments felt artificial and there was a fairly strong feeling going around the cruising yachts that the area and the island itself were not particularly safe. In fact one crew member from a boat on the ARC, was beaten up and robbed when he found himself alone in an area close to the marina. The daily radio net run by a British yacht warned every boat at anchor to ensure all dinghies were hauled out the water and chained at night and during periods of a new moon to lock yourself in the cabin as boarding’s on dark nights were a possibility.

We did explore ashore and before Christmas went along to a street party that happens every Friday evening in a small village close to the marina called Gros Islet. Several streets are filled with food and rum stalls and there is loud music and dancing at pretty much every street corner. We were advised to stay in groups and not take cameras so unfortunately no photos. The jerk chicken was fantastic especially when washed down with a rum punch. A few days later we went back to the same area in daylight to take photos but nearly had some trouble with some locals who saw us taking photos and began to get mad that they were in one of our shots. After assuring them we had deleted the photo we walked off briskly.

Another day we took a bus to a nearby town called Castries. On the bus a friendly local recommended we stick to the market and central square only and not to walk off down any side streets. We enjoyed an excellent lunch in the market with local homecooked food but again no photos due to risk of losing our cameras. Later in the day we explored Pigeon Island National Park at the northern end of Rodney Bay and Fort Rodney which was built by the British so they could keep an eye on the French at the neighbouring island of Martinique. Our legs were clearly used to sitting on a boat and the short hike to the summit of the hill wiped us out as you can see in the photo. The evening of the 28th was our last evening all together. The next day Hent-Eon and Ribouldingue headed north and Fathom and Sturmschwalbe south to the Grenadines. I will remember these days very fondly with lots of laughs, one or two glasses of rum and excellent company.

Posted on 03 Jan in: Caribbean

Barbados

Once Sturmschwalbe had arrived in the anchorage at Carlisle Bay the Cape Verde gang were reunited after the Atlantic crossing. Five boats anchored together just as we had been in Mindelo over two thousand miles across the pond. Great to catch up and talk about our experiences of the trip. I was awarded the prize for best beard (remember the rule that no one could shave)!

We were a little disappointed with Barbados though. Most nights the music from the beach bars blared across the anchorage until 5 or 6 in the morning and one night it was so loud we could hardly hear each other speak when sitting on deck. In the daytime jet skis and pleasure boats blasted past a few feet away. Despite this the people of Barbados were incredibly friendly and the area is safe. The ‘city’ of Bridgetown was interesting to walk through and there are plenty of reminders of its previous life as a British colony. Unfortunately the only photo I took the whole time we were in Barbados was all of us having drinks on Fathom. 14 people (including two babies), a new record for people in the cockpit and the lowest ever waterline!

We made a decision to spend Christmas elsewhere and thought St Lucia would be a better option. Arwen and other French friends on Passmatic headed to Grenada. Fathom and Sturmschwalbe departed Barbados on 22nd December just before noon for an overnight sail to Rodney Bay, St Lucia. Ribouldingue and Hent-Eon left later in the day. Before sunset I was excited to catch a decent sized fish before identifying it as a Barracuda which is not safe to eat due to the risk of Ciguatera disease. Only Tuna and Dorado are 100 % safe in these waters. Emeline from Ribouldingue called up on the VHF before sunset to say they had caught a 1.2m Dorado and we should all refer to it as our Christmas turkey. The sail to St Lucia was quite uneventful and I slept in 30m chunks. Sturmschwalbe were less than 1 mile away the whole time so kept an eye out for me. The highlights of the trip were an unusual double rainbow before sunset (see photo) and a 27 knot squall which hit when I was fast asleep. Anchor went down in Rodney Bay just after sunrise on the 23rd.

Posted on 03 Jan in: Caribbean

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