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

Archive for March, 2019

Saint Helena to Fernando de Noronha

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


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


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

Posted on 30 Mar in: at sea - 2019

Saint Helena

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 on 15 Mar in: Saint Helena

Cape Town to Saint Helena

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


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 on 08 Mar in: at sea - 2019

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