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.