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

Saint Lucia & Martinique (Part 1)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Saint Helena

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I had been looking forward to stopping at Saint Helena for a long time.  Measuring only 10 miles by about 5 miles and with a population of 4,500 it is one of the most remote islands in the world. It’s position in the South Atlantic make it a popular stop over for cruising yachts sailing between South Africa and Brazil/The Caribbean.  I was not disappointed and my ten day stay was hugely memorable and has become one of the many highlights of my whole voyage. With the new airport barely functional due to wind sheer issues the island is still one of very few destinations left on earth where as a visitor you get a certain respect from the locals for simply getting there. They know the distances involved to arrive by sea and enjoy welcoming us salty seadogs to their special island.

 

After arriving on the morning of the 2nd March, and once secure on the huge mooring buoy, I hailed the little ferry boat taxi which took me ashore along with the three crew of a 46ft Leopard Catamaran which had arrived an hour before me. The check in was simple and friendly and the customs lady even drove us up the hill in her official car to save us walking to the immigration building. A bit lazy really after sitting on a boat for 15 days but seemed rude to turn down such a nice offer. After the formalities were complete I was pleased and not unsuprised to discover the South African crew were in as much need of a cold beer and a burger as me so an enjoyable afternoon was had in company at Ann’s Place adjusting to land life again. It was quite strange to be paying for things in ‘pounds’  for the first time since 2016, Saint Helena pounds that is.  The island has it’s own currency which is fixed to the British pound and both are accepted on the island but only the local pounds can be withdrawn from the bank. Important not to withdraw too much local currency as trying to pay for anything in the UK with a Saint Helena pound would not prove successful and likely raise some strange looks.  After checking my emails on probably the most expensive internet connection anywhere, £6.60 for one hour, the last water taxi back to the moorings was at 17.30.  Probably a good thing and after the long passage and with the near sinking episode now a fading memory, I slept well that night.

 

Saint Helena can suffer from large swells from time to time throughout the year and it just so happened that my stay coincided with some of the biggest of the year. On the second day of my visit Fathom began rolling beam to beam on the mooring and it became quite uncomfortable onboard. Each day from 07:30 to 18:00 the little water taxi would run back and forth taking us cruisers to shore. It was just too dangerous to take in our own tenders which would likely be smashed to bits. To make disembarkation easier ropes hang down from an A frame at the quay and the idea is you swing out of the water taxi like Tarzan when it’s on the top of a wave. It was a bit of an eye opener for me and trying to get on and off while also passing across several 20 litre water cans called for some good co-ordination skills. It proved too much for the elderly lady crew on one of the yachts who let go of the rope too early and promptly fell into the water between the ferry and the quay. Luckily only a scraped leg and she was fine. For us sailors hoping for some flat calm after rolling around at sea for a couple of weeks we were in for some disappointment.

It was a little frustrating that due to some politics between two companies bidding for the water taxi contract the last ferry was 18:00 each day. But the South Africans and an American catamaran that pulled in were super friendly and for several evenings invited me over for beers and food and even provided a taxi service for me with their dinghy. As the weekend approached the swell was due to pick up even more and we were informed that it was unlikely that the taxi would be able to run the next day. Thankfully Hazel from the Consulate Hotel in town came to the rescue. When she has room she offers a heavily discounted rate of £50 per night inc full breakfast to yachties wanting a night off their boat. The thought of being trapped on a rolling Fathom for the weekend was too much so I said yes please to Hazel and enjoyed a night ashore. Before heading in I jumped over the side to attach a stronger mooring line to the buoy and in the process got stung by what I thought was a Portuguese man of war jelly fish. An agonising stinging rash appeared on my belly and once ashore my first words to Hazel were ‘hello, do you have any vinegar please’. By wiping this on the burns it soon subsided and in hindsight may have been instead a reaction to some poisonous seaweed that was growing on the mooring buoy. Anyway, Friday night turned out to be great fun. I enjoyed meeting some locals and a group of Brits who have been posted to the island for work. When they invited me to join them at the night club I thought they were pulling my leg. I still can’t believe there is a night club on Saint Helena.

 

 

Once my friends Kathi and Wolfi had arrived on their boat ‘Plastik Plankton’ we all took an island tour by an older local Robert who has been showing tourists around for over 30 years. He certainly kept us entertained with his stories and described how his father and grandfather used to make their living cultivating and processing flax for rope and string, something which is is no longer done here.  He drove us all over including stops at the ex-quarters of Napoleon Bonaparte who was imprisoned on the island between 1815 until his death in 1821 and we looked down at his now empty tomb. At the Governer’s house we caught a glimpse of Jonathan the tortoise,  aged 185 the oldest known living terrestrial animal in the world. We enjoyed great views over the capital Jamestown and from high in the lush green hills down over the barren rocks to the endless blue sea. The town of Jamestown itself is quite quaint with a number of small independent shops, the bank, a couple of hotels and the market building. One of the shops called Thorpe’s sells goods from Tesco and I can’t tell you how happy I was to find a Frey Bentos Steak and Kidney pie! The locals, or saints as they are known, talk English with a strange accent that sounds like a mix of Irish and Cornish and they never fail to smile and say hello while passing by.  A real test for the legs was climbing the 699 steps of Jacobs ladder which rises from the town to Ladder Hill Fort, 180m above. The ladder is all that remains of an old railway and my time of 12 minutes to get to the top didn’t get close to the world record time of 5 minutes and 17 seconds set by a Scot in 2013.  With that speed the fella clearly hadn’t arrived by sailing boat.

 

The most amazing experience on Saint Helena was swimming alongside Whale Sharks. I had enjoyed a very brief encounter with one in Madagascar but this was on another level. It is now believed that Saint Helena is one of the main breeding grounds for Whale Sharks in the world because equal numbers of males and females are found here for a few months every year. A couple of licensed companies do tours and every effort is made to protect these creatures. What amazed me was how inquisitive they were, changing course and swimming towards us to check us out as we snorkelled close by. The sight of one of these 10m beasts swimming right at you with its huge metre wide mouth open does get the heart rate going but we were reminded that their throats are the size of a golf ball and they have tiny teeth so nothing to worry about! For me it was right up there with swimming alongside humpback whales in Tonga. How lucky have I been to have had these experiences.

 

 

After ten fantastic days on the island I was keen to get going and to get another long passage out of the way.  With the water and diesel tanks full and with a few Tesco goods filling the cupboards I let go the mooring on the 11th March and pointed the bow NW towards Brazil – 1,700 nautical miles away.

 

Posted in: Saint Helena

Cape Town to Saint Helena

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After six weeks in Cape Town, and after the long coastal passages down the South African coast, I was looking forward to getting offshore and into the rhythm of a long ocean passage again, about 1700 nautical miles to Saint Helena. Fathom was ready too, with new forward lower shroud U bolts and new house batteries and appeared in good shape. The three year old Lifeline AGM batteries had disappointingly lost a lot of capacity so I decided to replace them with Firefly Carbon Foam types. Without trying to sound too geeky these new technology batteries are well regarded and were about half the price in South Africa. Time will tell if they were a good choice. It was sadly time to say goodbye to my cruising family that I had been sailing alongside since Madagascar, Alan and Annie on ‘Kiwi Dream’ and Mike and Marie on ‘Roke’. The end of a chapter and I really hope our paths cross again one day.

 

At noon on the 15th Feb I slipped out of the Royal Cape Yacht Club marina and out to sea. As on my way in it was necessary to dodge several whales that were loitering around the harbour entrance. A tanker passed close by with no bridge, strange, but actually it was the first sign that fog was on the way in. The weather forecast had indicated 15 to 20kts of breeze and clear skies but a couple of hours later there was zero visibility and zero wind. Once the shipping lanes outside Cape Town were astern there was still a lot of traffic around. I always find being at sea in thick fog rather stressful so remained glued to the radar. That whole night the fog stuck and it was a long motor until dawn. It was cold too and I slept under a couple of blankets.

By mid morning the following day the sun had replaced the fog, the wind had filled in, and it was time to go sailing. The water temperature around Cape Town was a cold 14 degrees celsius and over the first few days before it began to warm up there was plenty of bird life around. I spent a lot of time sat in the cockpit watching several huge Albatross circling the boat. Progress was good with a nice push from the Benguela current and night sailing beneath a bright full moon. After four or five days the water temperature had risen to the low twenties and flying fish began to make an appearance. Time to put the fishing line out!

 

It was clear from the weather GRIB files downloaded via the satellite phone that the South Atlantic High Pressure system had extended a ridge north, stifling the SE trade winds and there was a large area of calms on the direct route to Saint Helena. I changed course and steered more NNW for the next week sailing more parallel to the Namibian coast before turning to the NW. It turned out to be a good decision as the wind held for the whole crossing. It was really great sailing with the breeze hovering around 15kts most the time, a lowish swell and no rain or squall clouds. The fishing was great too, I even caught one fish while letting out the line, it just couldn’t wait to get in the frying pan.

By the 2nd week at sea I was fully relaxed and enjoying the crossing. It was warm 24 hours a day and the fleece and blankets had been stored away. Plenty of reading on the Kindle, listening to podcasts and playing guitar. The wind never rose above 20kts and it was up there with the best passage of the whole voyage. I was sleeping in 1 to 2 hour chunks at night and was well rested. On the morning of the 26th Feb, the 11th day at sea, things got a bit interesting. Here is an account of what happened.

A Wet Boat

It was early morning about 450 nautical miles to go to St Helena. I was sitting at the chart table drinking a coffee, still a bit sleepy, when I noticed that a cloth on the cabin sole underneath some of the spare water bottles was wet. Assumed that one of the bottles had a leak but on closer inspection they were all full. Looked under the floorboards and horror of horror there was water sloshing about everywhere! Split water tank? No… it’s salty…. then I lifted off the steps above the engine and what I saw was a bilge completely full of water, so high it was lapping at the bottom of the engine and had filled the engine tray. S*#$!! Turned on the bilge pumps – the automatic switch had failed to activate the pump as the water level rose.

Water was pouring into the boat somewhere at the stern. Fathom was low in the water and sluggish. Why had I not noticed earlier? I hadn’t been awake long. Rolled in the headsail and hove to. For a few seconds before I had found the source of the leak I must admit the thought of sinking in the middle of the South Atlantic crossed my mind. But survival instinct kicks in and time for a calm head….. DON’T PANIC! Went on deck, opened the starboard cockpit locker and emptied it at lightning speed so I could climb in. It was immediately clear that the exhaust hose had split open where it fixes onto the thru hull fitting and had nearly completely detached. There was a good 2 to 3 inch hole letting in water. This thru hull is just above the waterline when the boat isn’t moving but when sailing, and now with a heavy boat full of water, it was below. The water was coming in like a high pressure hose and Fathom had been filling up fast.

Squatting in the cockpit locker with the water up to my waist I quickly plugged the hole while cutting off the split end of the hose then reattached the hose with the two jubilee clips. It was crazy how much water was in the boat. The bilge pumps had only just been keeping up but as soon as the hose was reattached the water level started going down and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The next 8 hours were spent clearing the inside of the boat of water that was trapped from the bilge pumps. There were over 6 buckets worth of water in the locker under the quarter berth alone. To get access the spare anchor and chain had to be pulled out of the locker and up on deck, all in a rock and rolly boat. Lockers from the chart table aft on the starboard side had water in but the port side of the boat was ok. Water had sloshed up onto the quarter berth itself so the mattress and covers were soaked in salt water. Thankfully the engine worked fine as the water had only reached the bottom and everything electrical and the batteries were ok.

Not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon. Despite regular checks the section of exhaust hose that failed is about the only item onboard I haven’t replaced since I’ve owned the boat. It will be replaced as soon as I can find some new.

What have I learned from this? Regularly check the auto bilge pump sensor is working! Always ensure there is a wood bung tied in position ready to use next to every thru hull and maybe install a seperate bilge water alarm.

Strangely enough I was a little preoccupied to take photos of a wet boat

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Everything was pretty much back to normal on the 27th apart from a damp and salty quarter berth that I was still trying to dry out. Just after lunch I reached a nice milestone, crossing the same Meridian of Longitude as Yarmouth, where I had started the voyage in 2016. It was a good job I had discovered the leak in time as crossing this line in the liferaft wouldn’t have felt quite the same. There are various ways of qualifying for a circumnavigation and sailing around 360 degrees of longitude is one of them. I celebrated by opening a can of beer, offered some to the South Atlantic to keep Neptune on side, and enjoyed the rest. For the first time in 3 years, and with 28,715 nautical miles under the keel, I was back on UTC time again.

around the world

The final few days into Saint Helena presented no drama and I slowed down a lot to arrive in daylight. It was a nice sight seeing the island appear on the horizon in the first light of the day on the 2nd March. By 10:00 Fathom was safely on a mooring surrounded by four other visiting yachts including a couple of familiar faces. Another long ocean passage out of the way and despite that ‘minor’ incident, one of the best.

Posted in: at sea - 2019

South Africa Part 3: Cape Town

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After being constantly on the move for the last months I was looking forward to staying still for a while and pleased to discover that the Royal Cape Yacht Club has a reciprocal agreement with the Royal Solent Yacht Club, my club back on the Isle of Wight. Half price marina berth for up to one month – about US 7 dollars a day so a good deal. The New Year didn’t get off to a great start when a pickpocket managed to steal my phone at the touristy Long Street while I was walking with a couple of friends in the wee small hours of New Years Day. They are very good these pickpockets. We had been warned about this street and despite being extra careful I let my guard down for a few seconds and then it was too late. Other than having to buy another phone no harm done but super frustrating.

 

The Royal Cape is a friendly club and a real hub for cruising boats passing through South Africa. The club has a keen racing division and we had heard that the annual Round Robben Island Race was coming up. Tobias on Uno Mundo was keen to enter so Alan and I joined as crew and we had a great day. The look on the faces of the local race boats as tatty old Uno Mundo, the only cruising boat to enter, charging onto the start line on starboard, was priceless. We were soon left behind by the race boats as the wind died but consoled ourselves by empting the fridge of cold beer. After rounding Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years of his 27 years behind bars, the wind died altogether so we retired and motored back to the marina.

There is lots to see around Cape Town so Alan, Tobias, his sister Katy and I hired a car for a few days. While checking out the view from Signal Hill we were approached in the car park by two pale faced tourists who told us they had just been robbed at knife point on the hiking trail, 200m below the road in broad daylight. We offered them one of our phones to call their family and otherwise they were ok but still in shock. It was a reminder to all of us to be on guard and as we have since found out, robberies and muggings are becoming more and more frequent. Hiking in South Africa is sadly becoming more and more unsafe which is a real shame as Cape Town is such a beautiful city. We then drove along the coast stopping at Hout Bay for lunch and Simons town to meet some other sailing friends. On the way back a walk along Boulders beach for some penguin spotting before a stop at Urban Brewery for some beer tasting. The next day was Tobias’ birthday so we took a drive to the famous wine producing region of Stellenbosch for some tasting. All rather alcoholic. The highlight of my time in Cape Town was hiking up Table Mountain. It took nearly two hours and was hard work but the view was spectacular and well worth it.

 

Cape Town is windy, very windy For at least three or four days every week the wind shrieks through the marina and it is not uncommon to have 40 knots + across the deck. Calm days are quite few and far between but on one of these occasions a few of us took the opportunity to check out an anchorage a few miles down the coast near Camps Bay. Tobias and Katy took Uno Mundo and I jumped on Kiwi Dream with Alan and Annie. We ended up staying the night at anchor and coming back to the marina the next morning. On the way we were treated to some first class whale watching and at one point the whales surfaced unexpectedly right alongside, so close they brushed the hull. A whales tail with the back drop of Lions Head and Table Mountain was quite a view.

 

Although a little out of town I quickly realised that the Royal Cape Yacht Club was a great place to work on the boat. The chandleries, hardware stores and industrial zone were closeby and there is a shipwrights on site who are helpful and happy to give recommendations and advice. After getting some inspiration from another Vancouver 28, ‘Sea Bear’, that had an extended starboard bunk, I decided to go ahead and do the same on Fathom. Why not make some home improvements. It turned out to be a long and very messy job. Despite constructing a tent in the cabin dust got absolutely everywhere. I did all the work myself and made a few minor mistakes but overall was pleased with the end result. When in port I can now extend the bunk to a double and when at sea put back the cave locker storage and sea bunk.

After the long and rough trip across the Indian Ocean last year it was also time to give Fathom some tlc and keep on top of routine maintenance. I gave the engine an overhaul, oil change, new filters, cleaned and wiped on corrosion inhibitor. Drained the muck from the bottom of the fuel tank, serviced the outboard, rebuilt the tow generator with new bearings and seals, stripped the varnish around the galley to bare wood and added six new coats, re sealed some deck fittings, replaced some running rigging etc. It was while checking all the deck fittings that I noticed the U bolt holding the lower port shroud had lifted slightly at one end. After removing the nuts I couldn’t believe that one side of the bolt had snapped. No idea when this has happened and how it had not completely failed. Very relieved to have spotted it before setting off to sea again and a reminder that thorough boat checks are so important before and after long ocean passages. I have had two new U bolts made up by a local stainless engineer and replaced the starboard side too as a precaution.

 

Time has really flown by in Cape Town and as I write this it has been just on six weeks. I’m ready to set sail again and looking forward to getting out to sea. The Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel were not so easy so i’m hoping the South Atlantic is a little kinder and more relaxing. Sadly it is time to say goodbye to friends I have been sailing alongside for many months, in particular Alan and Annie on Kiwi Dream and Mike and Marie on Roke. I hope our paths will cross again. Fathom is in good shape, full of food and supplies, 300 litres of water, 220 litres of diesel and a few bottles of South African wine. We are both ready to tackle the South Atlantic.

Posted in: South Africa

South Africa Part 2: Richards Bay to Cape Town

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Like the Mozambique Channel, the stretch of coastline from Richards Bay to Cape Town needs to be treated with a lot of respect. The strong south setting Agulhas current makes for fast passage times but it is not a place to find yourself if a front sweeps in with strong southerly winds. The conditions created by these two conflicting forces have caught out many boats in the past and create confused seas with huge steep waves. It’s all about hopping down the coast in good weather windows between safe ports. There are not so many places to hide though and between Durban and East London, a distance of around 200 nautical miles, there is nowhere. It’s all about being patient and waiting for the right moment to leave.

 

Fathom and Kiwi Dream finally departed Richards Bay on the afternoon of 11th December for an overnight sail to Durban. As ever, Des was helping us out and we went on his green light. It was a miserable night despite the wind being astern, messy seas with steep waves and a short period made for a horrible motion. Fathom was thrown all over the place and for the first time in a while I felt a little nauseous. The wind increased overnight and by daybreak was hovering around 30knots. The photo of me sitting in the cockpit with white water astern and sleepy eyes sums it up. It was good to reach the shelter of Durban harbour where we anchored outside the marina and enjoyed a cold sundowner that afternoon.

The intention was to wait in Durban for the next good weather window to reach East London or possibly Port Elizabeth. First we had to check in to Durban with both Customs and Immigration, a tiresome requirement in several other ports in South Africa too where a ‘flight plan’ with likely timings and destinations down the coast also has to be given. Durban is not the safest place and we were warned by the marina staff not to wear watches or any flashy items when walking in public and absolutely not to walk outside the gated marina grounds at night. Alan, Annie and I took an Uber to Customs and Immigration and walked back but it was all very edgy and we didn’t loiter along the way. Thankfully the weather was looking good so we checked out again the next day.

On the morning of the 14th December the strong southerly wind that had blown all night had backed to the south east and was on it’s way to the east. This was the queue to raise anchor and head out to sea as it would then back further to the north east and increase within a few hours. Conditions remained light until early afternoon when the breeze filled in and by sunset it was blowing over 20 knots. I set the foresail on the pole, put three reefs in the mainsail and snugged the boat down for the night. The wind blew hard throughout the next day and the sailing was fast yet uncomfortable in confused seas. At dawn on the 16th the wind had given up so I motor-sailed to maximise progress. We were now firmly in some very strong current, running up to 3 knots at times, and by noon we had travelled 202 nautical miles in 24 hours. A new record by some distance but as the motor had been used for some of the time the 151nm in the Indian Ocean still stands as the best 24hr run sailing. The foreast was looking good for the next few days and Des told me to keep going full speed ahead. No need to stop at East London so it was either Port Elizabeth or continue onto Knysna.

Late on the 16th I made the call to head straight to Knysna where Des agreed with my own estimates that I should arrive at sunset on the 17th, a few hours before a big 35knot southerly change swept up from the south. Kiwi Dream and a few other boats I had left Durban with were now astern of Fathom and were heading to Port Elizabeth. Despite being the smallest boat Fathom had again shown great speed in the downwind conditions. As Fathom surfed down a wave on the way past East London the log briefly showed a speed over the ground of 12.6 knots! The 17th started off well. As I sat in the cockpit drinking my morning coffee I looked out to see a large fin a few boat lengths away. It turned out to be a curious Orca who stayed close to the boat for several minutes, the first I had seen on the whole voyage from the UK. Now past Port Elizabeth and out of the Agulhas current, and with the wind dying, progress slowed and I realised it would be touch and go to make landfall before dark. The entrance to Knysna through the heads has a fearsome reputation due to the two treacherous bars that have to be crossed. The South African navy used to train their skippers here to teach them how bad conditions could get. I knew the swell was low enough to make it manageable but it would still be a challenge and I was a little anxious. The cruising guide I had read suggested only enter on the last of the flood tide and never on the ebb. High tide was 16:30. To make matters worse thick fog closed in and by the time I reached the entrance at 17:00 visibility was so bad I couldn’t clearly make out the leading lights. Thankfully a friend had put me in touch with another yacht already inside and they messaged me to say Navionics charts were accurate and I could follow them. The tide was still slack and I got in without drama. The anchor went down a few minutes before dark and the anchor beer never tasted so good. Later that night a storm blew in and as the wind shrieked in the rigging I lay in my bunk very happy I had made it in time.

 

Knysna turned out to be a fantastic stop. Once through the heads the channel opens out into a lagoon with an excellent anchorage. The town itself is a white bubble, lots of upmarket shops, boutiques and bars but everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. I waited for a few days for the other boats to arrive from Port Elizabeth and we then all got together for a memorable Christmas period. A few of us attended the local blues festival and Tobias and Leo on Uno Mundo even braved the heads again to head out to sea for a few hours to try and catch the Christmas turkey. I joined them for a nice day sailing up and down the coast with four fishing lines out but unfortunately we didn’t have any luck. On Christmas day the local yacht club was closed but they let us use their outdoor facilities, BBQ’s, power point, tables and sun shades etc. We had a great day and in the end five cruising boats got together. Hard to believe it was my third Christmas away from home, St Lucia in 2016, New Zealand in 2017 (by plane) and now South Africa.

We all wanted to be in Cape Town for New Year so set sail from Knysna on the 28th. The swell was running quite hard and heading out over the bars was quite exhilarating. Some locals had told me to hug the rocks on the starboard side close enough that I can hear the Mussels cracking so I did and it went ok! The first day out was nice sailing but the 2 to 3m swell was relentless. Mid afternoon on the 29th Fathom and Kiwi Dream converged and we took photos and videos of each other as we passed Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point in South Africa. It was an incredible feeling to finally leave the Indian Ocean for the Atlantic Ocean and felt like a real milestone. As we turned north west a couple of hours later the seas suddenly calmed, the wind moderated and we were met by a large pod of playful dolphins. It really did feel like we were in a different ocean. Some friends of mine from home called and it was surreal to have a group chat at that moment. A memorable day.

 

After an easy overnight sail in 10-15 knots of breeze I sat on deck as the sun rose and watched Table Mountain appear in the distance. The approach to Cape Town must be one of the most spectacular in the world. It really is a breathtaking coastline and I couldn’t resist a couple of selfies on the way in. I tied Fathom up at the Royal Cape Town marina just after lunch on the 30th with a big smile on my face. The South Atlantic was next but first I was looking forward to some land time and Fathom needed some tlc.

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