A Sailing Holiday
February 27thFebruary 27th, 1986 – Here we go! Brisbane Airport’s international departure hall is busy as usual. Our plane is due to leave for Hong Kong and Frankfurt soon. Around ‘ us are the sound of familiar voices. Our friends have come to see us off. The children are playing unaware of the impending departure. I am feeling quite numb, unable to enjoy the first day of our dream come true.
It seems like only yesterday that we arrived in Australia with 3ust packs on our backs. In fact it was almost 6 years ago that Annie and I stepped from the plane in Sydney with somewhat similar feelings to today. No kids than, of course, just a bag full of dreams and hopes; dreams we have shared together ever since we met and married in far off Africa.
How lucky we have been! Settling in Brisbane, meeting our present friends very soon after arriving here, finding employment and buying a house. I managed to secure a franchise with an electronics retailer, and Annie soon fell pregnant with Christopher. Now he is already 3 and has an 8 months old brother, Michael. To make our dream come true was hard work but also very rewarding. Australia has been good to us.
We decided to do the trip earlier rather than later. Christopher would have to attend school within 2 to 3 years, and we didn’t feel confident that we would be able to provide the same kind of stimulation and education he would get in a school.
Our plan is to fit out our boat – Antares III – in W. Germany and sail back to Australia via the Med, through Suez, around the horn of Africa, across the Atlantic through Panama Canal, and the South Pacific. It is ambitious, to say the least!
I wonder how closely we will be able to follow our plan.
Our financial situation isn’t as good as I had hoped it to be. We were unable to sell our house and the Australian Dollar isn’t exactly buoyant. At least we had paid for Antares 6 months earlier at a more favourable exchange rate. She is now waiting laid up in Germany, looked after by her former owner, my brother Rolf.
We have to board! Annie is crying. Chris and Michael look bewildered and the lump in my throat is going to choke me. Here we go!
And what a glorious summer day it was. We had worked until 2 o’clock that morning, putting the final touches to Antares. How different she looked. Just 3½ month ago she was a sorry sight, showing rust streaks and other signs of neglect. But on launch day she was a proud sailing ship once again. Looking at her gleaming white hull you could be forgiven for thinking she was made of GRP. In fact she is of round bilge steel construction, professionally built over 20 years ago!
The hull was freshly antifouled set off with a blue stripe at the waterline. A full keel with a 3 ton internal lead ballast gives her a sturdy and seaworthy appearance.
Her measurements are 37′ (35′ on deck, with a 2′ bowsprit) x 10′ x 5′ 2″ . She is sloop rigged, with a 42′ aluminium mast and a twin forestay, for ‘trade wind sailing’ (running before the wind with two headsails boomed out to either side).
Her layout is semi-traditional with an aft cockpit, a doghouse (double bunk, chart table, galley), a saloon amidships (with one double or two single bunks), a cabin with two single berths forward and the head (loo) in the forepeak. Her interior is all gleaming mahogany, her cockpit mahogany and teak, her decks steel with anti-slip coating.
In the past three months I had overhauled the 3 cylinder Volvo diesel, converted it to freshwater cooling, built a hot water system, stainless steel water tanks (300 It), and a eutectic fridge. I had replaced the sliding hatch and anchor locker lid with lightweight, seawater-resistant aluminium, and the heavy engine cover with a two winged type made of wood with a thin stainless steel lining and sound-proofing. Annie had made the curtains and bedding, covered the saloon cushions with new material and put her touch to a hundred other things that turned Antares into a home.
Her well shaped transom shows her name, home port (Brisbane) and yacht club (RQYS). I managed to get her a full Australian ship’s registration via the embassy in Cologne. Today she will fly the Australian flag for the first time!
I had organised a heavy-duty tractor from one of the neighbouring farmers for the haul to Varel harbour about 10 km away. It refused to start, and no amount of coaxing would make it go. -After some desperate phoning around (the crane was ordered for 10 o’clock this morning) I had no option left but to use my brother’s 3 1/2 ton truck to pull Antares.
The trailer had a weird front axle steering arrangement. Combined with the fact that the truck was too light for the load it produced an incredible swaying effect. The trailer just zigzagged from one side of the road to the other. Disaster struck just 1 km from the harbour! I sideswiped a parked car and did quite a bit of damage. Luckily Annie managed to pacify the owner and get the formalities for the insurance claim done while I drove on.
The crane was already in position. In next to no time the experienced crane driver had Antares lifted and gently lowered into her element. I swear she gave a delicate shudder as she settled into the cold waters of the North Sea. Finally the mast was stepped and Annie brought out the champagne! Antares got a good
dowsing of it and so did we. Speeches were made and good wishes conveyed. She looked beautiful!
The next 8 days were spent doing the final fit out. On June 22nd we had our first sea trial. Hans, my old friend, came along to experience an eventful day. The weather was fair and Antares going very well under sail. We spent an en3oyable day out in the Jade Bay visiting Dangast and Wilhelmshaven. The engine overheated but we managed to sail back to Wilhelmshaven and tie up at the yacht club there.
We were ready to leave at 7.30 am. Our German friends had come to see us off. There was no wind but a sunny day. We made for Wilhelmshaven and decided to wait there for more wind to come up. Our friends followed us by car and said good-bye once more in the evening. The next morning the wind freshened and actually blew from the east! We had a most enjoyable sail to Langeoog, one of the German Ostfries-islands.
Here we were joined by Hans once more who was going to crew for us on our trip to Dover. It was the first chance that I got to try out our mini bike. Langeoog has no motor vehicles but runs a lovely steam train system instead. On our way back from the village I raced alongside the train, trying to keep up. Christopher and Michael were shouting encouragement from the train and the other German passengers looked on with amusement. Suddenly one of the numerous cyclists’ did a u-turn right in front of me. The crowd on the train gasped as I struggled to avoid an accident. I succeeded and earned applause from the spectators, but alas the groceries were all over the road! Needless to say I did not manage to beat the train.
We left Langeoog on Friday 4th July. Weather conditions were ‘normal’ for these parts, namely south-westerly winds and a short uncomfortable chop. In the late afternoon the wind increased to Force 5/6 and faces started to turn green. After an hour of pounding and blinding rain everyone but me was seasick. I tried to persuade the crew to continue, but since Norderney was still in sight we decided to ride out the weather there.
Conditions were very uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure of our exact position. As we rounded the western part of the island we suddenly hit bottom several times. It was a bone jarring experience but I managed to turn Antares around and avoid getting stuck. The engine started with no problem and we took a wider turn, at last finding the buoy we had been I looking for. After a short while the engine overheated again, a problem I thought I had fixed after our first sea trial. We finally made a landfall in Norderney and spirits began to lift. Unfortunately, the weather showed no sign of improvement and our friends decided to visit us for a third goodbye from the mainland.
A neighbouring yacht, Snowflake, from Sweden also had two children on board and we quickly got acquainted. Bjorn, the skipper suggested to take the inland route through the Dutch’ canals to Amsterdam, thus avoiding much of the choppy conditions in these parts of the North Sea. After satisfying ourselves that we wouldn’t have to lower our mast at all we agreed to his suggestion and took off on Monday, 7th July.
The engine overheated again and I finally admitted defeat by bypassing the heat exchange and reverting it back to seawater cooling. The trip through the Dutch canals was thoroughly enjoyable. We visited
places like Edam and Enkhuisen and our mind boggled at the number of locks and bridges we had to navigate. In some villages only one person looks after up to three bridges. After opening the first one he would jump on his bike and race ahead in time for the next bridge. From the last bridge in his village he would lower a traditional wooden clog and ask for one Dutch Guilder for his services. We became experts in handling Antares under engine and Annie was turning into a confident yachting mum.
The children also settled in, particularly Michael who was quite unhappy in the beginning. Both accepted the fact that they had to wear lifejackets while playing on deck without too many problems. At first Michael was attached to a lifeline but usually got tangled within minutes. Since we had safety netting all round and the canals were very smooth we felt quite safe to let them play on deck.
Hans left us in Amsterdam, his holiday coming to an end. We had hoped to be in England in time for Annie’s sisters wedding, but we were not going to make it. I sadly agreed to let Annie and the children travel ahead to London by boat-train.
The very next day the weather showed a slight improvement and I decided to leave for Dunkirk single-handed. After 36 hours of beating to windward and some motoring in the usual uncomfortable conditions I arrived with no major problems, just very tired and a little proud. I hoisted our homemade guest flag (the Dutch guest flag on end) and the quarantine flag to await the French officials.
Two day’s later the newly weds arrived for a honeymoon cruise to Dover. What they got were the usual choppy seas and fog in the busiest shipping lane in the world! John proved to be a great help and became very proficient at blowing the foghorn. In the end though, we were all rewarded with sunshine, a comfortable beam reach and glorious blue skies over the white cliffs of Dover.
We had a happy reunion with Annie and my two boys who had anxiously awaited our arrival.
The next day we left Dover for Rye, a lovely old town with many olde worlde pubs and cobblestone streets. We managed to get a mooring right in the middle of town. We seemed to be dried out most of the time and the mud wasn’t particularly inspiring. However it was only a short drive to Annie’s mum’s place and we stayed for 10 days. I found time to do some maintenance and buy a second-hand Johnson 3 hp outboard for our Zodiac.
Annie’s mum voiced all the anxieties of the uninformed landlubber, only worse, but we knew she meant well. Still, what we needed most was encouragement and support, and we found it, not for the last time, from fellow yachtsmen.
The Australian dollar continued to fall and our timetable was beginning to look doubtful. We decided to press on hoping for conditions to improve, as we got further west and south.
The shoals off Rye harbour proved to be extremely rough with waves up to 6 feet and as steep as walls. The south-westerly quickly increased to a force 6 and at 3 o’clock in the morning we could take it no longer. I could make out the lights of Newhaven and we went for it. The harbour entrance was well lit and I had no problems entering it. Annie was down below sleeping after being seasick and I decided not to wake her for the mooring manoeuvre.
The harbour channel was well sheltered and calm. I ducked down for less then 20 seconds to grab fenders and mooring ropes. Antares had a hydraulic steering system and the rudder locks if the wheel is not turned. She runs as straight as a line with her long keel and the canals of Holland were a breeze to navigate. Yet as I came up with my ropes and fenders she had done a 90 degree turn in the narrow channel and was heading straight for the harbour wall I managed to rip the gear lever into reverse but it was too late.
I won’t forget the sound as the bowsprit was forced upwards, reducing the solid teak grating to matchwood. Both forestays become slack but incredibly the mast stayed up. Annie’s ashen face appeared in the hatch. I was mortified’. The damage looked horrific in the semi-dark.
The bowsprit and the pulpit were a tangled mess. We found a free box in the yacht basin and stumbled into bed.
The next morning I inspected the damage again and to my relief found it to be confined to the bowsprit and push pit. The teak grating was beyond repair.
After getting a number of quotes from local welding shops we finally settled for a small one-man operation on the waterfront. Len Reed was an expert and had everything back into shape within a day. J was able give him a hand and his final bill came as a pleasant surprise – only £300! Our spirits began to lift again.
During our stay in Newhaven we had befriended a German couple and their daughter on yacht Nova, a Dehler 32. Herbert had experienced some electrical problems and I was able to help him sort some of them out. We left Newhaven together and had an enjoyable trip for a change. The weather was lovely, if cool and the Solent promised to be everything we had read about it. We made for Chichester harbour and after some persuasion we joined Nova in the modern but expensive marina. Herbert paid for our mooring fees in return for my help and we enjoyed a couple of comfortable days with all the amenities a modern marina has to offer. A fisherman in Newhaven had told us that just about the only marina in England that did not charge foreign yachts for their stay was Birdham pool. After a lot of enquiries we finally managed to get into Birdham pool through a tidal stream and an ancient lock. Birdham pool is equally difficult to find by road. It is tucked away behind huge trees and bushes and only a private road leads to it. Birdham is without doubt the most beautiful and picturesque place we had seen so far in the
south of England and there were plenty of picturesque places to compare it with.
Only about 50 yachts of varying design and value, mostly luxury, of course, were moored here. On weekends the old red brick yacht club was humming with upper-class voices and the car park brimming with Rolls Royce’s and Porsches. Rarely would a yacht leave the basin, their owners preferring to sip champagne in the seclusion and safety of Birdham pool.
We managed, with some effort, to keep our envy under control and were pleasantly surprised by the many warm and stimulating conversations we had with our wealthy neighbours. Christopher and Michael were usually the centre pieces of our chats. They had both turned into true little yachties, with a healthy tan and light blond hair. Antares had become their home and it showed in the way they confidently moved about and played their innovative little games. We had visits from Annie’s family and all in all spent a most refreshing ten days in Birdham pool.
During our stay in Birdham we had made our own spray hood, not unlike the professional types available from sail makers. It had see-through windows and could be collapsed if need be. These vinyl windows proved to be a contributing factor to the second disaster we were to face. After leaving Birdham on the height of the tide we had a fairly comfortable sail through the Solent and anchored off Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, to wait for the tide to turn in our favour.
Around midnight we weighed anchor and continued on our trip to Dartmouth. It had started to rain heavily and the wind increased to its usual Force 5. Both Annie and Christopher started to get seasick.
Perhaps I should elaborate a little on the ‘usual conditions’ in the channel. The tide is running strong and dominates all decisions regarding time and course to take. Naturally one always sails with the tide, in our case west southwest for most of the time. South-westerly winds prevail in the channel, whipping the opposing tide into short, steep waves. Add the underlying ground swell, cold rain, fog and the fact that we had to beat to windward and you probably stop wondering why even hardened fishermen in the area feed the fish as often as they catch them.
It was under those conditions that I finally cleared the Needles and tried to settee for a long, wet night! Arthur, our Autohelm 3000 autopilot droned busily as I thankfully took shelter behind our new spray hood, looking out for other shipping.
20 minutes past the Needles fairway buoy, Antares rose out of the water with an almighty crash. I held on for dear life and could just see a huge buoy, half submerged and lying on its side, slipping past on starboard. I rushed forward after shouting down to Annie to check for leaks below. What I saw at the bows almost made me cry!
The buoy had torn away the bobstay, dented the bow just above the waterline and scraped along the
starboard side of the hull to about amidships.
I hurriedly lowered the sails, fearing that the newly repaired bowsprit might not be able to support the mast without the bobstay. Annie reported no water or visible damage below and I started the engine to maintain steering way.
After a careful inspection of the damaged area in the anchor well I satisfied myself that once again Antares had stood up to severe punishment without springing a leak. We congratulated ourselves on our choice of hull material. I made a Securité call on VHF radio to warn shipping in the area of the hazard and continued to motor to Dartmouth.
In retrospect I am not sure if I would have spotted the buoy without the spray hood impairing visibility. The buoy was half submerged and of indistinct colour, probably due to rust and marine growth and visibility was bad due to the rain. We put the incident down to experience and kept a much sharper lookout from then on.
To top off the night of disaster I had underestimated the tidal set and at daybreak we found ourselves much closer to Portland than to Dartmouth. We anchored amongst some local boats and started to repair as much of the damage as we could.
I touched up all the damaged paintwork and found a local rigger who manufactured a new bobstay. I had no tools suitable to straighten the dented bow section and it wasn’t until Lisbon that I finally managed to panel beat the bow.
After two days in Portland we took advantage of the nice weather and had a pleasant sail down to Dartmouth. We anchored in the middle of the river Dart and began to stock up with provisions and spare parts. Dartmouth was to be our last English port. From here we were going to sail across to France and the island of Ushant through the Chenal du Four.
Trying to get spare parts in Dartmouth was a story in itself, but we were greatly assisted by Trevor, a local fisherman.
A bad depression, the remains of a north Atlantic hurricane passed over the south of England and we dragged our anchor for the first time. We were forced to tie up alongside a local tug but suffered no damage. Winds of over 70 knots were measured that night and a number of · boats got into serious trouble. The depression passed over quickly towards the North Sea and appeared to be weakening.
Trevor invited us to his lovely house, overlooking the river Dart, for a meal with his family. Trevor and his wife used to be cruising yachties and were a great source of inspiration and sound advice. For the last time we absorbed the beautiful views of Dartmouth nestled on the banks of the river, the rugged coastline and the rolling hills of England.
The channel crossing was uneventful and rather pleasant. The weather appeared to be holding and we
actually beam-reached under Genoa and a full main. We managed the 125 nautical miles to La Conquet, France in 25 hours, a respectable 5 knot average.
We spend a lovely Sunday in La Conquet, enjoying the atmosphere and culinary delights of this enchanting fishing village.
On Monday morning, the 1st of October we set sail for La Coruña, Spain. The weather report sounded encouraging, with light south-westerly winds and the depression almost stationary in the North Sea. We took full advantage of an incredible 6 knots of tide running in the Chenal du Four and both mainland France and Ushant where quickly left behind.
The first day brought a mixed bag of weather, from light to fair winds from the east and periods of calm. The sun was out in force and we sun-bathed and played with the kids on deck.
We experienced an irrational feeling of remoteness from land as the Continental Shelf gave way to the West European Basin. A subtle flattening of the swell and an increased length in the waves were the only signs of the incredible difference in depth.
The wind abated on the second day and we motored for about 8 hours, not wanting to hang about in the infamous Bay of Biscay. The 17:00 hour weather report came as a shock. The depression in the North Sea had turned and was heading in our direction. Worse still – it was actually deepening again!
Our second night was as uneventful as the first. We had settled into a nice routine and managed to have supper
with the kids and put them to bed without problems. Both Annie and I seemed to get very lethargic on longer trips and it was difficult to find energy to entertain the kids. What would it be like on the Atlantic crossing?
The third day brought our first sighting of a school of porpoises, which accompanied us for a while, much to Christopher and Michael’s delight. We even saw a large whale passing close by, but were unable to identify it.
Our radio direction finder picked up the beacon of Estaca de Bares and Cabo Penas, giving us a superb fix, 95 miles off the Spanish coast. I was quite relieved because I did not have reduction tables for these latitudes and could therefore not get a position with my sextant.
Almost 2 years have past since the night I am about to describe to you. Both Annie and I find it difficult to remember just how bad it was. Log entries are very few, only stating wind direction and force, course steered and position. One doesn’t feel much like writing in conditions such as those. Our memories of this night are but a blur -time, it seems, heals all wounds.
A moderate wind sprang up from the north east and we beam-reached under genoa and full main. By 1g~m hours the depression was upon us and we were reaching under storm sail and twice reefed main. By 21.~ hours I had to take the storm sail down and reef the main to its fourth row. The main refused to
come down on the present course so we were forced to face into the wind.
The foredeck heaved up and down like a roller coaster. I was wearing my safety harness over my lifejacket and clipped myself into the lifelines as I went. Holding the jib halyard in one hand I dispensed with using both safety shackles at once. Instead I unclipped the one from its present position and attempted to clip it to a better spot. At that moment a huge wave lifted Antares and I lost my balance. The life line caught me behind the knees and I found myself hanging overboard! The very next moment I stood on deck again, still holding the halyard in one hand and the useless safety shackle in the other. The motion of the boat must have thrown me back on deck’
This experience almost made me lose my nerve. I dropped to my knees and, leaving the storm sail lying on the fore deck, clawed my way back into the cockpit. Annie was shaking with fear and so was I.
The most comfortable course to steer seemed to be the one leading to La Coruña. Waves and wind were increasing steadily and the rolling became quite alarming. I considered briefly to hove to and ride out the storm, but Antares seemed to be more comfortable rolling along on a square run.
Throughout this time the children had been absolutely marvellous. At l9.~ hours they even demanded their supper and poor Annie struggled to get them fed. She popped them both into their bunks with a double dose of Phenergan syrup, padded the sides of their bunks with blankets and put up the safety netting. We didn’t hear a peep from them during the whole night.
Outside, however things were getting worse, much worse Waves were reaching enormous proportions and the wind increased steadily. I did not like to estimate its strength any longer. For Annie’s benefit I entered Force 8/9 into the Log (3ust after midnight), but I thought it to be closer to Force 10. Waves easily reached heights of 5 meters and more with their breaking tops being ripped away in long foamy streaks by the screaming wind. The large underlying swell produced troughs deep enough to completely hide Antares – mast and all.
Sometime during the night I had found enough courage to crawl back to the foredeck and secure the storm sail. On my way back I also lowered the mainsail, but could not secure it as well as I would have liked. A small amount of canvas flogged about all night and made a terrible noise. Annie had taken to praying below while I was holding on to the wheel. I had secured all hatches and washboards but somehow Annie heard the click of the safety shackle as I tied myself to a strong-point in the cockpit. Annie said later that this click had made her realize that things were really getting bad.
By now every fifth wave or so was breaking over the decks and into the cockpit. The windbreaker around the push pit had all the eyelets ripped out at the bottom. But through all the rolling and hair raising rides down the steep waves Antares never once felt like being pushed beyond her limits. At least that is how I perceived it in the cockpit Annie’s perception down below was that of near panic – the creaking of timber, the howling of the wind in the rigging and the shudder and moan of the steel hull as waves broke over her.
The log showed up to 9 knots at times and I considered streaming ropes to slow us down. Annie pleaded with me through the hatch to run for the nearest harbour and I entrusted Arthur with the helm while I ducked down to consult the charts. While I was below I made a Securité call to general shipping and had a response from a Philippine freighter Caroline Schulte. We arranged to have a hourly radio contact
Cedeira seemed to be the closest harbour and I discussed the pro’s and con’s of making a landfall in these conditions with Annie. We decided to take the risk, mainly because the night was surprisingly clear and the entrance appeared to be well lit with the powerful Estaca de Barres lighthouse close by.
By midnight we could make out the light of Estaca de Barres and by 4.~ am we sighted the beacon marking the Cedeira harbour channel inlet. Incredibly, we also saw the freighter Kathrine Schulte, our faithful radio contact. We thanked him for his kind words and support and bade him farewell. As we came closer to land the wind seemed to increase even more. The coastline is high set and the north easterly wind was probably funnelled along this barrier.
From the comfort of my lounge chair it seems incredible to have attempted a landfall under those conditions. But that night, being wet and utterly exhausted, it seemed to be the only thing to do.
I started the engine a mile from the entrance but there was no need to engage it. We were still making 6 to 7 knots under bare poles. We shot into the deep cut channel like greased lightning and suddenly, almost painfully the hauling and screaming stopped. Steep waves were continuously rolling into the channel but they did not break anymore and were much wider spaced. 10 minutes later we rounded a breakwater into the shallow and well protected harbour of Cedeira, dropped the anchor and collapsed on our bunk.
We were awoken by two bright-eyed little boys who noisily demanded breakfast from their bleary-eyed parents. The radio news bulletin gave graphic details of the horrors of the night. The crew of a coastal freighter and a Dutch yacht had been airlifted to safety by coast guard helicopters. A newly-wed Australian couple on a 28 foot catamaran was less fortunate. The husband was found floating in his life raft 14 days later by Spanish fisherman. He had lost his young wife to the cruel sea.
That morning we decided to sell Antares and fly home.
December 4th, 1986 – New found courage!
After a hearty breakfast we went ashore and looked for the Spanish customs and immigration office. We found none, but were told by the local constabulary not to worry and do the official clearance in La Coruña, only 30 miles away. We met a couple of Yachties who had arrived earlier, amongst them Jack and Sue from Gambit. We were to become good friends, having been through the same storm and heading in the same general direction.
Both Jack and Sue had also decided to sell Gambit, a lovely old wooden 28~ Nicholson. We treated ourselves to a lot of red wine and a lovely meal that night. We stayed for the rest of the week and explored the quaint fishing village, en3oying the wine and seafood. By the end of the week we had recovered enough to make it to La Coruna, where we hoped to make a decision on the future of our trip.
On Saturday 6th, we had gathered enough courage to make it out to sea again. It was only 30 Miles to La Coruña but I must have checked the weather report a 100 times! The sail proved uneventful and would have been en3oyable in more positive circumstances. The entrance to La Coruña is guarded by the Roman Tower of Hercules, one of Europe’s oldest lighthouses, and the magnificent castle of San Anton, dating from the 16th century. The town is rather large (224 000 inhabitants) and spreads right around a large, well protected bay with good beaches, a commercial and a fishing harbour and an abundance of café’s, bars and shops.
The Real Club Nautico has a good marina and number of mooring buoys for visiting yacht available. Anchoring is cheaper though and we found a suitable spot. The basin was rather deep and this was going to prove a bit of a bind. More boats came in all the time and we had less and less room to swing. One night we were up 3 times to re-lay our anchor. After that experience we began to assert ourselves a little more and refused to move for any boat that arrived after us.
I have great respect for the seamanship of French cruising skippers. But time and again it had been the French yachts that anchored in the tightest spots and then demanded from the others to move. It was becoming a standard joke amongst the other yachtsmen and we experienced it everywhere we went. We all speculated as to the reasons why and Jack, from Gambit, a former international truck driver, told us in his usual humorous manner about his experiences in Paris parking his semi trailer. We were all rolling on the floor with laughter and concluded that the French simply love to park, or anchor, in tight places.
We got to know a lot of cruising yachtsmen in La Coruña. It is the first port for most yachts from Northern Europe on their way into the Mediterranean Sea or across the Atlantic.
Some of the yachties were old hands and urged us not to give up too easily. Southern latitudes they said will bring favourable winds and much better sailing conditions. It can only get better; after all, the Bay of Biscay is notorious for its bad and unpredictable weather. We watched Jack and Sue go through the agonizing motions of trying to have Gambit shipped back to England or sold in Spain. Neither prospect looked very promising and both Jack, Sue and us finally decided to give it another go! We brought out our last bottle of champagne and celebrated our new found resolve on board Antares.
Finally leaving La Coruña. And what surprises and delights lay in store for us! We shall never forget the short hops along the Spanish and Portuguese shore, working our way south, slowly but surely. The weather improving all the time, the winds becoming more reliable and steady and the mood decidedly adventurous again. Ports and villages that stood out amongst those visited were Muros and Bayona in Spain and Porto, Figueira de Foz, Peniche, Lisbon (of course) and Setubal. Portugal is certainly worth a visit! We were delighted with the people and their simple unhurried attitude to life. They were helpful and polite and men and women alike simply adored our children.
Custom formalities had to be repeated in every harbour, a sometimes tedious procedure. But officials were polite, almost apologetic and showed great interest in our journey and our nationality. They don’t
get too many Australian yachts in their waters! We were beginning to be quite amazed by it all. Australia seemed to fire the imagination of almost everybody we met. It had started in Germany and never really let up. Questions like, “Can you still immigrate to Australia and what is it like there?” would be asked almost daily. Half of Europe it seemed, wanted to or had wanted to, at one time or another, immigrate to Australia. We tried to answer all questions as truthfully as possible and could not help feeling very proud indeed of our chosen nationality.
The coastline presented no great navigational problems. Lights, light houses and radio beacons were sufficient in number, although some radio beacons seemed to be out of order. We were not entirely without problems, though. Our alternator and the engine gave me one headache after another. As soon as I had fixed one problem, another would crop up. Luckily it was never bad enough to have to ask for help. I always managed to get everything fixed again with our own equipment and tools.
On October 4th we arrived in Lisbon. The river Tagus is spanned by Europe’s second largest bridge, 1 1/2 miles long. Lisbon lies on the north side of the river and is overlooked by a statue of Jesus, high on a hill on the south side.
The cities origins lie in Phoenician times and it boasts the medieval castle of St. George and a 12th century cathedral as well as many other magnificent buildings and monuments. In the 15th century Lisbon was the world centre for trade in spices and 3ewels from the east and gold from Brazil. Today it is still an international centre with its own airport and large commercial sea port.
We found a free mooring in a marina just under the huge bridge. The noise was incredible, because the bridge surface is made of steel gratings rather than asphalt. But we soon got used to it. I managed to borrow some heavy tools and finally straightened the damaged bow. The next day Gambit, Spica and Sabre Samba arrived and we had a joyful reunion. All four of us had been sailing up from La Coruña more or less together and had spent many a night in quiet fishing villages or secluded anchorages.
We were also getting very excited at the prospect of meeting Edith and Gunald from Germany again. The two were going to spend two weeks of their holiday with us.
On October 7th we set off for the airport using the Lisbon public transport. Buses and trams are very crowded and two young kids do nothing for your mobility. But again the helpful and friendly Portuguese went out of their way to get us onto the right buses. We had kept in contact with Edith and Gunald by letter and the occasional telephone call. We had even received calls from them on our VHF radio via coastal radio stations.
Their arrival was a highpoint in our trip so far. Both had given us unfailing support during our stay in Germany and we love them dearly. Christopher in particular is a firm friend of Edith and Gunald and there were no bounds to his excitement. They had arranged for a rent-a-car and we took a leisurely drive through lovely Lisbon back to Antares.
The next week we spent exploring Lisbon and the surrounding countryside. We tried to save some money by having our gas bottles filled factory direct. Trying to find the factory turned out to be an odyssey of epic proportions. We must have spent twice as much money on petrol than we actually saved on price. Still, we saw a lot of the city and were able to fill bottles of other yachts as well.
Christopher had had a nasty fall on a slippery jetty some time back. He started complaining about pain in his shoulder again and we decided to take him to a local hospital for an X-ray. It was very crowded and we braced ourselves for a long wait. Surprisingly however things seemed to move very efficiently in what looked like chaotic conditions. Christopher was x-rayed, seen by an orthopaedic specialist and given a figure of 8 bandages to support his fractured clavicle within an hour. Annie was very impressed by the professional treatment Christopher had received and it was free, too. Poor Christopher was very brave through it all and duly rewarded with lots of sweets.
On October 15th, we left Lisbon for Sesimbra, but conditions were not that comfortable and we only made it to Cascais, a resort town 5 miles down the river. The anchorage was very exposed and Gunald aptly renamed Cascais to Kozcais (Kotz being German for Vomit). The next morning we set sail for Sesimbra and conditions were perfect. We had a lovely reach all the way and the coastline looked quite spectacular. Gunald soon forgot the horrors of the night before and could not be prized off the wheel. The next day we continued to Setubal and after some looking around finally found a mooring amongst some local fishing boats. We quickly made fiends with the surrounding fishermen and felt quite safe to leave Antares unattended.
Our two friends hired a car again and we drove through some very lovely countryside. Setubal also had what must be the nicest croissant bar in the world. The smell was like a magnet and drew us back again and again. Unfortunately their holiday just flew by and we had to drive them back to Lisbon airport. We were sad to see them go and have their promise for another visit in Australia. We drove back to Setubal, returned the car and got ready for our departure the next morning.
We only managed to get away at 11.30 and the weather deteriorated quickly. Waves increased to 2 meters and conditions were definitely uncomfortable. We pulled into Sines instead of pressing on to Cape Vincent. The wind decreased during the night and we decided to leave very early to arrive in Baleeira during daylight hours. We rounded magnificent Cape Vincent at around 15.00 hours. The light house of Cabo Vincente looked rather unimposing during the day, yet is reputed to be the strongest in Europe with a 6o mile range.
Two hours later we picked our way through the rocks strewn before the entrance of Baleeira and lo and behold -Gambit and Spica were still there waiting for us! We sounded our foghorn as soon as we spotted them and they replied in turn. What a welcome!
Baleeira turned out to be a rather enchanting village, relying only in part on tourism. It lies on the western-most end of the Algarve, Portugal’s famous holiday destination. We had no desire to venture further into the Algarve but believe it is rather beautiful and not as crowded as one might expect. Gambit and Spica were getting ready to leave in the morning for the Canary Islands. We decided to join them on the 5 day trip, our longest yet. We all had a lovely meal on-shore together and retired early for our last night in Europe.
We managed to get away around 11.30 am after checking out and filling the water tanks. The weather report showed low’s all around us but winds were not expected to exceed force 5. The Bay of Biscay
incidentally had another bad storm forecast. We shuddered to think….!
I used to get weather reports regularly through the ham radio by listening to both the German and English maritime mobile nets. Their information was always very reliable and I checked in every morning and evening to have a chat and to relay our position. It gave us a safe feeling to know that somebody was watching our progress.
After some early south westerly winds we finally got closer to the trade wind belt and got a nice north easterly breeze. We were running under genoa and main but found it very uncomfortable. The rolling was awful and I tried all sorts of sail combinations to reduce it. I felt we needed a second boom to have two foresails boomed out to either side to get the sail plan more balanced when running.
Waves were up to 3 meters high but not threatening because of their more gentle slope and wider spacing. We did pick up speed down the slopes though and we had mixed emotions about it – mainly Annie scared and me excited at watching the knot meter shoot up. The wind increased a number of times to force 6 but soon abated to a steady 3 or 4.
We had slipped into a daily routine and could only marvel at Michael and Christopher. They were hanging on like pro’s when Antares rolled. Christopher amused himself with drawing and colouring in and Michael was happy to be near Annie and get a cuddle now and then.
We saw a freighter some distance away, but couldn’t raise her on the VHF. We lost contact with Spica and
Gambit after 3 days and I felt that the VHF radio was suspect.
Our position was approximately 200 miles north of Lancarote, Gran Canaria’s northern most island. On our fourth day out the engine refused to start for the daily battery charge and fridge cooling. I took the starter completely apart, no small feat in those rolling conditions. After installing it again bust before nightfall the engine started okay but after a while I heard a whining noise and opened the engine hold to investigate.
Blue sparks were flying everywhere and I shouted to Annie to stop the engine. The sparking stopped but flames and thick clouds of smoke billowed from the hold instead. I grabbed the extinguisher and discharged it into the engine hold. The fire was quickly smothered but the smoke was very acrid and made us both cough. By now it was completely dark and we had no power at all. After airing the cabin Annie had to take the wheel so that I could look at the damage and hopefully restore power. At least enough to get faithful Arthur going again.
I traced the fault to the main battery cable which had slipped out of its harness onto the alternator blades, which cut through the insulation and caused the blue sparks. As soon as the engine stopped the exposed cable had settled on the stationary blades and caused a dead short. The insulation started burning immediately and ruined one of my precious deep-cycle batteries. Luckily the other two heavy duty marine batteries fared better and after switching them in parallel and replacing the burned sections of cable I even managed to start the engine again
While the soldering iron was hot I also had a look at our VHF handset and re-soldered a broken wire.
Just as I was finished a freighter almost ran us down. We had to take evasive action and only after he had past us did we get a reply to our calls on the radio. At least we knew then that it was working again. We also got a position from the freighter which tallied very closely with my latest DR position.
The rest of the night passed without further incidents and at 7 o’clock in the morning we rounded the northern tip of Lanzarote, actually overtaking Gambit on the last 5 miles of the 6oo mile 3ourneyi. We found a good anchorage at Arrecife and on completion of the log entries I calculated an average speed of 5 1/2 knots. Old Antares had done herself proud again.
For his birthday Christopher had asked for a Miss Piggy cake. The day before Annie and I hunted all over Arrecife for the ingredients and knick knacks needed to make it. We had to compromise on some of the trimmings as not all ‘standard’ sweets that the Australian recipe asked for were available. But it turned out to be quite spectacular, or so we thought, and was a hit with both Christopher and the invited yachties. By now Christopher was heavy into Masters of the Universe; goodness only knows where he heard of them first. So he was very pleased to get one of these disgusting figures. He also got a fishing rod which turned out to be the start of a love affair with marine life. A fascination he has retained to this day.
We were very proud to learn that he was considered to be a very sweet and polite young boy by the other yachties. We all felt that this special day was an all round success.
The inner harbour of Arrecife is a shallow affair with most of it drying out at low tide. I decided to make it to the harbour wall at high tide and dry out to scrub the bottom and have a look at the leaking stern tube.
Our friends from Gambia and Spica were enjoying a drink at the local yacht club and we joined them to wait for high tide. Unfortunately we got carried away a little and when we finally made it to Antares it was already 1 hour past high tide. However, I was confident that we were going to make it and hoisted anchor immediately.
10 minutes later we were stuck just 30 meters from the wall! No amount of pulling and winching had any effect and, feeling rather foolish, I had to admit defeat. It was the most uncomfortable night we had spent for a long time, With Antares healing over at a crazy angle. At least I got to get a look at the stern tube but decided against expensive repairs. The antifouling was in much better shape then I had thought and didn’t require much scrubbing. By 2 o’clock in the morning the tide came in again and we went straight back to our anchorage.
On November 3rd, we headed down to Puerto de Flaya Blanco on the southern side of Lanzarote and anchored off what looked like a very secluded and lovely beach. But by the next morning we were amazed to see a large number of tourists with four wheel drives arrive, shed their clothes completely and enjoy themselves on ‘our beach’. At first I was delighted but when I discovered that most of the tourist were German and not very young ones at that I wanted to move on. We found a mooring in the little
fishing harbour 5 miles further down the coast.
In this idyllic harbour we finally found some time to reflect and study our cruising guide of the Canaries.
This Spanish archipelago lies between latitude 27° and 29° North and is 55 miles from the African coast of Marocco. There are seven main islands, the largest being Tenerife and the smallest Hierro. Generally speaking, the five westernmost islands are mountainous with lush green valleys, banana plantations, palm trees and pine forests. Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, on the other hand, present a stark lunar landscape of low volcanic cones and arid valleys, lacking vegetation.
The islands’ climate is warm and mild with almost constant sunshine and relatively little rain. Because of this ideal climate the group attracts large numbers of tourists who tend to congregate mainly on Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
For a time the Canaries were believed to be the end of the world and Christopher Columbus visited the islands three times in the 1490s, establishing a useful trading post between Europe and the Americas. The northerly winds and the favourable currents suited the early navigators very well and the safe ports provided a chance to stock up with fresh produce and a last taste of home comforts before the long transatlantic journey.
The same is still true today. Hundreds of yachts stop over every year on their way across The Ditch. This year, however, the migration was going to have a new twist.
We had heard about the ‘race’ first from Gambit in La Coruña. As we came closer to the Canaries, more and more of the yachts we met had signed up for it. Apparently it was sponsored by a big English yachting magazine and a Barbados rum distillery. Very appropriate! It was called ARC – Atlantic Race for Cruisers. It turned out to be the biggest race across the Atlantic ever and is now an annual event. It also turned out to be the single most exciting and memorable event we ever took part in.
On October 8th we left the little village and headed for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of the archipelago. The yacht harbour was brimming with race participants already and we had to anchor off the harbour entrance. We were able, however, to register with the race organizer, Jimmy Cornell, a free-lance yachting journalist and round-the-world yachtsman. For a £50 fee we are amongst the participants!
The atmosphere was just incredible! Ultimately 204 yachts from 24 nations would crowd the harbour and anchorage. The spirit was truly international and very infectious. As a consequence of our young children aboard we were featured in two German yachting magazines and filmed by the local Las Palmas TV network. Jimmy Cornell planned to produce a documentary about the race and we were interviewed and filmed. We now have a copy of the video and actually appear in it.
10 days before the race Annie experienced excruciating pain in her kidneys and had to give herself an injection. Her heroic husband couldn’t even watch, let alone give the injection himself. Both kids came down with diarrhoea and even I felt slightly off. Poor Annie was really suffering and we finally got a yachtie doctor to look at her. He confirmed her diagnosis of Pyle nephritis and commends her for giving herself the correct treatment. What a clever girl she is! Because of our illness we were given a berth in the yacht harbour and it improved our lot considerably.
On our way from Lanzarotte I had experimented with our suit of sails in preparation for the expected trade winds during the Atlantic crossing. I decided to get a longer second boom to be able to have both the working 3ib and the genoa boomed out to either side. To get aluminium pole of the right size and price turned out to be quite difficult. But eventually I found the right place and even had it delivered!
The rest of the time we spend planning, buying and stowing provisions for the expected 30 day crossing.
Las Palmas city council put on a continuing barrage of entertainment and parties for the competitors. It was topped by a magnificent fire-works display the night before the start.
It had been decided to have all 204 competing yachts start at the same time, at 12 noon. 5 single-handers had the option to start 10 minutes later. At 11.30 am all hell broke loose. 204 Yachts all trying to get out of the small harbour at the same time! Incredibly not a single collision was reported. We got to the 1½ mile long starting line 10 minutes late. But what the heck – it’s 3000 miles to Barbados!
The scene at the start we shall never forget. The harbour wall was lined with thousands of spectators and TV choppers buzzed overhead. All the boats were blowing their foghorns and we actually never heard the big gun from the Spanish destroyer sounding the start of the race.
Everybody was caught up in the excitement of the moment. We felt a mixture of relief, fear and elation – Barbados here we come!
But first we had to beat to windward. No sign of the steady trade winds that had blown sailing boats across the Atlantic since Columbus’ time. A gusty south-easterly instead.
At 3.30 am the next morning the wind backed to a light north-easterly. It was my first chance to try the twin fore sail combination. We were rolling quite badly and I tried to stop it by hoisting the mainsail reefed to its minimum and sheeted tightly in the middle. It looked rather odd but it stopped some of the rolling and didn’t affect our speed.
Antares was a good 2 inches down on her waterline because of the provisions. We had food for 30 days on board with a further 14 days of emergency stores, i.e. staples like dried peas and lentils. We carried 550 litres of water and 450 litres of diesel fuel. You can imagine she wasn’t the most responsive of boats
Nevertheless she managed a respectable 90 miles for the first 24 hours. We had decided on dropping to Latitude 22° north by steering 220° compass and turning west (270°) on a great circle route. This happened after 6 days which brought us a 12 hour calm and 3 half hour squalls with winds up to 40 knots.
These squalls were to bug us for another week or so, always at night. Since we never knew if and how bad the squalls were going to hit us we had to reef down for every single one of them and pull the sails up again after they passed us over. We could not bear to reef down for the whole night as some competitors did, because we were determined to put in a good performance.
After the first week we were getting very tired and quite bored. Looking after the kids and doing our respective watches proved to be rather taxing.
On the whole the children behaved marvellously. Annie played with them for most of the day and cleverly rotated their toys to prevent boredom. Christopher got to watch video films for one hour a day, while the engine was running to charge the batteries and drive the fridge compressor. Both Christopher and Michael accepted the incessant rolling without complaint. Not so their parents!
The rolling became an all important, hated part of the waking hours. Every move is a painful exercise, cooking is reduced to a minimum and eating becomes a slurp it up and gulp it down affair. Yet, the only reference I have found so far in books and articles of Atlantic crossings was one single line, Rolling Down the Trades.
As the days passed our ham radio became more and more important. We would check into the ARC’s own Rawhide Net (round ‘em up and drive ‘em west) and the Trans Atlantic Net at around midday. Both nets provided excellent weather reports with information of the trade wind belt and a chance to chat to other yachties. Sometimes we would also talk to the German Maritime Mobile Net which actually managed to pass on a message to our friends and family in Germany.
Navigation by sextant alone was a breeze and most satisfying. 3 days from Barbados we came across a Japanese freighter and had our position verified. It tallied with my calculations to the last mile! A fact that made me swell with pride to twice my size. By then we had a number of very good daily runs, with 3 successive days of 165 miles! A record in Antares lifetime, I am sure.
After 14 days it became clear that we would make it to Barbados before Christmas, provided the steady trade winds would continue, of course. 200 miles off Barbados we met the German yacht Bajadere and then, incredibly, Rose Moon, one of only 3 other Australian yachts in the race. What a performance! The three guys, Lui, Brian and Steve had run out of beer and couldn’t believe their ears when I shouted across to them that I had 5 bottles still left in the fridge. I wrapped 3 bottles up in some plastic bags, tied them to a line and dragged them behind us, until Brian was able to lift them on board with his boat hook. With a lot of shouting and a few strains of Waltzing Matilda we downed the amber liquid and set about racing again.
After 23 days, 2 hours and 11 minutes we crossed the finishing line! We were greeted with a blast from a foghorn and the inevitable rum punch, even though it was 3.00 am local time. We carried on drinking and
exchanging experiences on the catamaran Twinsome who had arrived just before us.
We ended up being 148th overall, 90th on handicap and 32nd (of 56) in our class. A result we were very pleased with, considering the fact that most boats were of much more recent construction and had more adult crew on board.
The welcome in Barbados proved almost too much to handle. The whole island was involved in welcoming the yachts. Parties every night, barbeques, plain booze ups and all that with plenty of reggae, calypso and of course, gallons of rum punch.
We met a lot of lovely people in Barbados, especially Sheila and Tony Hoad, the official time keeper and their son David. Their kindness we shall never forget.
On the whole the trip across for us was definitely one of a lifetime. It was too much like hard work with two young children to have enjoyed it without reservation. Yet, the feeling of satisfaction and achievement was well worth the effort.
After spending 3 fun filled weeks, including New Year’s Eve in Barbados we had to make a decision as to the future of our trip. The cruising kitty was running lower by the day and it didn’t seem possible to carry on to Australia without first earning more money. The direct route to Australia held no promise of a country on the way where a job could be found. So we decided to head north towards the USA, looking at as many islands on the way as we could.
After catching our breath from all the partying in Barbados we set sail for Martinique, on January 11th. With us were two young, gorgeous Aussie girls (lucky me), who had approached us for a passage to Martinique.
The trip to Martinique was one I would rather like to forget. It was quite rough and being a beam reach the motion was very different to what we had experienced on the Atlantic crossing, anyway I was very seasick! To add insult to injury I nearly sailed past Martinique thinking it was St. Lucia. After having to backtrack for about 10 miles we finally sailed into Fort de France and dropped anchor. Needless to say I was most embarrassed but the girls and Annie didn’t seem to mind.
Martinique is a land of unexpected contrasts. A melting pot of black, white and café-au-lait people with African, European, and Indian bloodlines. Landscapes range from luscious rain forests, cascades, and black sand in the volcanic north, to cactus, salt marshes, a stone desert, and fine white sand in the dry south. Cane fields and plantations cover the interior. An abundance of flowers and trees of all descriptions make it the most colourful of the Caribbean islands.
Martinique is an overseas department of France and enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. We hired a car and drove right around the island, exploring a breathtakingly beautiful gorge
and waterfall, the Gorges de Ia Falaise. The cloud shrouded Mt. Pelé offered magnificent views of rainforests and pineapple and banana plantations below. In May 1902 Mt. Pelé erupted, killing all but one (a prisoner in an underground cell) of the approx. 30 000 people living in St. Pierre. We all fell in love with Martinique and it became our favourite island of the Caribbean.
We set sail for Guadeloupe on January 17th, but too little wind forced us to anchor off St. Pierre, now a sleepy fishing village of 6ooo people. After a breakfast of fresh croissants we set sail once again for Guadeloupe. We decided to skip Dominica after hearing some disturbing reports and arrived in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe with a head gasket blown in the engine. We had to motor in the lee of Dominica and for some reason the gasket failed. We had to anchor outside Basse Terre marina and make a Frenchman understand, that we needed a tow inside the marina as a strong and gusty wind was whistling down the mountainside. Luckily the girls spoke a little French and managed to persuade the owners of a dinghy with a 9hp outboard engine to tow us into the narrow opening. It was hair raising to say the least, but we arrived safely and became good frieds with our helpers. While poor me tried to get spares for the engine Annie, the children and the girls were driven around the island by Jacque and John-Pierre, our faithful dinghy crew.
Guadeloupe is butterfly shaped and is called the emerald island because of its lush tropical vegetation, forests, fields of cane and plantations of cocoa, banana, and coffee. It has an abundance of waterfalls and hot springs and with its rugged and mountains coastline makes a spectacular sight both from land and from the sea. We climbed to the top of the still active volcano La Soufri4re but a cloud obscured its mouth. Guadeloupe is a department of France and en3oys a good standard of living. It is also the administrative seat for the islands of St. Martin and St. Barth.
It was here that Christopher was taught how to fish properly. Not by his totally inept father but by a whole regiment of local. fishermen who came to the marina in the afternoon to catch bait for the following morning. He had no problems communicating with the French speaking fishermen and soon was catching quite a few fish. It made an enchanting sight to see the blond Christopher bent over in concentration amongst his black friends. He also learned how to swim with his floaties and at last enjoyed playing in the water with his new ‘girlfriends’, Jane and Jenny-Ann. After many frustrations I managed to get the engine going and even got a second hand starter which held out to this day.
On January, 23rd we left Basse Terre, not before I had dived under the boat, of course, and retrieved various items placed there, chucked overboard is the word, by naughty Michael. This was becoming routine for me after every anchorage. We tried to coax and threaten him out of the habit, but he would just return a cheeky smile while dropping the next thing over the side.
After enjoying a few idyllic anchorages on the west coast of Guadeloupe we made for Antigua, Lord Nelson’s headquarters in the Caribbean. Here we said good-by to the girls. They had to press on, because they wanted to see a bit of the USA before returning home to Perth for their last year in medical school. We enjoyed their stay on board very much, but especially Christopher, who spent hours with them swimming and telling stories about killer whales and man-eating sharks, his favourite subjects to this day. We actually saw a killer whale rise out of the water almost vertically at a distance of about 200 feet. Anyway1 Jane and Jenny-Ann we shall always remember and we hope to see them again one day in Aussieland.
Antigua, a former British colony, abounds with history. From English Harbour, where we anchored for almost ten days, with its beautiful restoration of Lord Nelson’s dockyard to its many fortresses and
churches around the countryside. Needless to say it has also an abundance of white beaches and lush vegetation. Nelson’s dockyard was our favourite place, though. The restored admiral’s house, porter’s lodge, guard house, engineer’s workshop, sail loft, paymaster’s house, capstans and bollards were a constant reminder of history. A number of bars and restaurants frequented by the yachties made for a lively and enjoyable atmosphere. It might be interesting to point out that the Caribbean islands played an important if not decisive role in the colonisation of the Americas. Major naval battles mainly between France, Britain and Spain were fought and their outcome is reflected in the political and ethnic make-up of the Americas today.
We shall never forget the bus rides into St. John, the capital, on minibuses loaded with cheerful islanders, reggae music blaring, horns blasting and the speedometer needle touching mach 1. Add the potholes, donkeys, goats and other obstructions – those were memorable bus rides indeed!
And so onto Nevis and St. Christopher, an island our little Christopher made sure we wouldn’t bypass. We had the most enjoyable sail yet, as we gently rolled along before a 10 knot wind and a slight following sea. Nevis and St. Kitts, as it is known for short, are a former British colony and Nevis in particular is a most charming and relaxing island. Long rows of towering coconut palms, white and black sand beaches, coral reefs and lush plantations with estate houses are overlooked by a large volcano, 3500 feet high. The climate is complemented by mineral spa’s and is a place of great healing power. On this island Lord Nelson fell in love with Frances Nisbet whom he later married. Their marriage is recorded in the historic St. Johns church in Fig Tree village. We were particularly impressed by the friendly and unassuming islanders and their relaxed and unhurried ways. Very few tourists – what an enchanting place!
St. Kitts, the bigger of the two islands and the seat of the government is of similar character, with the rugged Mt. Misery at its center. A spectacular view presents itself while sailing up from Nevis and Christopher was suitably awed by his beautiful namesake island. Sugarcane and pasture are the agricultural backbone of St. Kitts economy with tourism slowly and thoughtfully being developed.
Brimstone Hill is perhaps one of the most magnificently preserved forts in the Eastern Caribbean. Terrific battles between the French and English where fought here and it sported the biggest cannon in the Caribbean. It’s inscription reads:
I’ll send a ball to Statia’s height
It must have been one hell of a cannon, since Statia refers to the island of St. Eustatius, about 2 miles north-west of St. Kitts!
A friendly taxi-man showed us around the island and then we sailed on to St. Barthelemy, St. Barth for short, where we arrived on February 10th, 1987.
Gustavia, St. Barth capital, and only harbour is a quaint little town with French roadside cafe’s, restaurants and bars. The island is quite small and has become a retreat for the very rich, i.e. Rockefeller and the like. This has a rather long tradition, since buccaneers used the island as a hideout and to trade
their plunder (similarities are entirely intentional and not at all accidental).
St. Barth was briefly under Swedish rule (1784-1878), but reverted back to France and was declared a free port, a status which it has retained to this day. Until the advent of high-class tourism the economy consisted solely of a large number of smuggling operations which serviced the entire Caribbean. It is rumoured that smuggling is still going on today, but largely in narcotics.
A nice story was related to us about the wealth hidden in them hills:
When France decided to change their currency from old into new Francs it sent a representative to St. Barth with ‘adequate’ funds to the ‘relatively poor’ Caribbean colony. Within 10 minutes the representative had run out of money and needed to return 3 more times to finish the exchange! The average cash savings of every man, woman and child on the island was in the order of US $12 000.00, which was a tremendous amount of money in those days.
We made friends with another English yachtie, also with two children on board. They had been working on the island for over three years and drove us around, much to the kids and our delight.
We saw some of the older French inhabitants still wearing the 17th century garb of the Normandy. Annie loved their shoulder length sun bonnets, which are called quichenottes.
Particularly noteworthy was the airport:
As you are driving from Gustavia to St. Jean, the road leads across a mountain pass behind which the short runway lies and if your timing is good a Twin Otter airplane will silently skim overhead in a controlled stall, plunge into an abyss, and gently alight on the runway of La Plain. de la Tourmente, which couldn’t have been more aptly named.
Our cruising kitty was running low by then and we were tempted to stay here and look for work, but decided to sail on to St. Martin and have a look there first.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten is only about 15 miles away and we had a pleasant sail to Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side of the island. The other half of the island is French, with its capital Marigot. St. Martin is the smallest territory in the world to be shared by two sovereign states, it also has one of the most unobtrusive boundaries; only two wooden signs stating Welkom in de Nederlanse Kant and Bienvenue Partie Francaise.
The island’s atmosphere is true to its tourist inspired logo Fantastically French – Delightfully Dutch. We ended up staying 3 months, with me finding a ~ob the day after our arrival. A German construction company was building a container port for the busy island and was in need of a welder, so I applied as one.
We had a lot of fun in St. Martin, staying at Bobby’s marina, which made a pleasant change from the sometimes uncomfortable anchorages. It also provided us with some excitement, because of a snapped anchor chain (we were lying stern to) during a heavy swell, which was pushed in by a southerly wind.
Being in a marina had its advantages. The kids could get on shore more easily and Christopher would spend all day fishing with the local boys. Michael’s walking improved immensely.
The Greenhouse Bar and Restaurant held a Happy Hour from 4.30 to 6. 30 pm every day, with lovely free snacks and Piña Colada cocktails only S1.oo! Quite a number of ARC competitors would come into port and invariably we would get together at Happy Hour for a reunion and sentimental reminiscing.
We also managed to go to the movies a number of times and even went to a disco until 4 o’clock in the morning. The carnival was a memorable event and the election campaign for the semi autonomous government an experience.
Christopher soaked up almost all the available information on whales and sharks from the local library and Michael just developed in leaps and bounds, by now running down the dock at ‘staggering’ speeds. We managed to see most of the island, did some diving and sailing trips on the weekends and generally had a lovely time.
During the last 3 weeks of our stay I managed to get an even better paid job as a diver, laying a long suction pipeline for St. Martins desalination plant. After that I was inundated with offers of odd diving and skippering jobs. After doing some of the more lucrative ones, we had Antares hauled out, painted the bottom and finally fixed the stern tube.
We decided to leave St. Martin and the many friends we had made for a final push to the US of America on June 2nd, 1987. Our first stop was St. Thomas of the US Virgin islands. Both the British and the US Virgin islands are a magical cruising paradise with lots of small islands, bays, beaches and reefs, etc. Charlotte Amalie is a big town by Caribbean standards and has some of the best shopping to offer. Alas, it is thoroughly Americanized and has little to offer for a cruising yachtsman, but plenty for the loaded tourist. Here we met again with Sabine and Andreas of Bajadere, whom we had met during the ARC race just 3 days out of Barbados.
Charlotte Amalie also held a nasty squall in store for us, which hit us just 1/2 hour out from the harbour entrance. Winds of up to 50 knots, according to the news report, gave us quite a fright, but I managed to get the sails down in time and made it safely, if somewhat drenched, into the sheltered harbour. 3 days later, after waiting for a tropical depression to pass, we left for the Bahamas, intending to skip Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Rep. and Haiti). As it turned out, though, the tropical depression was to give us further, but no serious trouble and we stopped over briefly in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
San Juan’s special charm consists of the contrasting old (founded 1521), now restored city with its moss-covered bastions of El Morro castle and precincts1 with the modern office buildings and high-rises of the ‘new’ San Juan.
And on to Great Inagua, the southernmost island in the Bahamas group, where we arrived on June 11th, 1987. Thunderstorms and squalls were to bug us for most of the way (4 days) and made for an
uncomfortable passage, still the same tropical depression being responsible.
Nothing much can be reported of Great Inagua other than that it is the southernmost island of the best cruising ground we have encountered to date. We went through the Bahamas far too quickly, the cruising kitty or rather the lack of it, pushing us on, but what we have seen we shall never forget.
Despite their lack of lush tropical vegetation and dramatic mountainous panoramas, these islands have some striking natural attractions. Pure white sand beaches burnish their coastline. But the most spectacular attractions these little developed islands offer are the fringing reefs off the shore of each island and the dramatic coral drop-offs. Sheer coral walls begin as shallow as 40 feet, often just a few hundred yards from shore, offering encounters with huge sea turtles, sharks, manta rays, and a variety of prized saltwater game fish. In addition to these natural wonders we found the Bahamians to be most friendly, unobtrusive and pleasant.
The water is so clear, its colour so intensely turquoise as almost to be beyond belief. We saw prehistoric iguanas on Allan cay, spotted eagle rays on Highborn cay and many other magical forms of marine life.
Our route from Great Inagua took us to Castle island, Acklins island, Long island, Exuma cays, New Providence and Bimini. Here our lookout platform halfway up the mast (unused radar-bracket) really came in useful. Navigating the Bahamas was surely no child’s play. The islands are fringed with rocks, reefs, sandbars and shallows of every description. We almost ran into one of these rocks on aproach to Castle Island due to a careless navigational mistake.
Eyeball navigation supplements traditional navigation throughout the Bahamas and we became quite good at it. Unfortunately, Arthur our autopilot, finally gave up the ghost and we had to hand steer from here on, which we didn’t enjoy doing.
Nassau, the capital on the island of New Providence, is a busy city solely depending on tourism. American cruise ships are in harbour every day of the week, filling the streets with tourists. Luckily, Nassau is the only harbour in the Bahamas with enough depth for the liners. Nevertheless it provided us with much cherished mail from our friends and families in England and Germany and, of course, our dear friends in Brisbane, whose letters have kept us going.
From Bimini it is only 50 miles across the gulf stream to Fort Lauderdale, but the wind gave out completely and so we had to motor the distance, arriving on June 24th, 1987. As a whole we had favourable winds and pleasant sails throughout the Bahamas. At least the gulf stream, which can be quite rough at times, was like the proverbial mill- pond. Even so, I underestimated the terrific current and we had to enter Fort Lauderdale through the Hillsborough inlet, 10 miles north of Fort L.
We motored up to the center of Fort Lauderdale via the Intra Coastal Waterway, which was at times, unbelievably, rougher than the gulf stream. This was due to the huge motorboats which would race up and down the canals at crazy speeds leaving a wash of huge proportions. We actually took water over the bows quite a number of times, the first time most of it into our open anchor-well hatch – most annoying!
It was a strange, almost claustrophobic feeling, after coming through the Caribbean and the Bahamas, to see the canals lined with opulent villas, complete with swimming pools, tennis courts, boats and imitation Greek and other statues. After tying up at the Municipal docks, I went to get us a pizza and a
The next day we found the municipal anchorage, still on the waterway, and managed to avoid paying the fees by changing location every other day. We had a grand reunion with Bliss II, a Prout catamaran and Whim of Arne, both participants of the ARC race.
We decided to try and sell the boat in Fort L. with the option to go to Chesapeake Bay if unsuccessful, but Shana, a friend whom we had met in Greece years ago came down and persuaded us to sail to Sarasota, on the west coast of Florida, where her mother had a house with a private 3etty.
We used the Intra Coastal Waterways right across Florida through the St. Lucie canal, across lake Okeechobee, through the Caloosahatchee canal and out into the Gulf of Mexico at Fort Myers. The Everglades are well worth travelling through, particularly in a boat. We went through many locks, which reminded us of Holland and even had to take the VHF anal down to fit under one particularly low bridge. The wildlife was varied and interesting, with an alligator being the highlight.
We arrived earlier then expected and were treated to a warm welcome. We were able to use their facilities and, even better, Shana’s car! We shall not be able to repay their kindness! We advertised our boat in the Florida wide Boat Trader magazine and had a good response, alas the offers were disappointing. We filled three wooden crates with our belongings and shipped them to Australia.
We had Shana’s mum’s permission to leave Antares at the jetty for a season but a day before our intended departure a lovely couple turned up and fell in love with Antares. We accepted their offer and had a final sail in the Gulf of Mexico to show her off and to say our good bye’s to what had become much more than 3ust a floating home.
We left Sarasota for Fort Worth, Texas, in an old $200 station wagon to visit some of Annie’s old friends. Unfortunately the car did not make it any further than that. We flew to San Francisco and hired a car to do the usual tourist round – Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park and back to San Francisco.
On August 19th, 1987 we flew to Brisbane, Australia, our home, with a two day stop over in Hawaii.
Sailing, or rather, living on a 35 foot sailing boat with two young children is certainly not all holiday and many a times we longed for suburban comforts.
We are not convinced that raising children for long periods in the cruising community is as good for them as magazines and books will have you believe. It seems to us that a steady routine and a less frequently changing group of peers is very important for the development of children.
We have seen very dedicated parents teaching their children or supervising correspondence courses. The opposite can be seen, too. Parents either incapable or unwilling to ensure a ‘proper’ education for their
We did not feel confident that we would be able to educate our children adequately and decided that it would be best to put them through school and ensure they are capable of ‘making it’ in today’s society. With no proper education and the discipline of a daily routine they would have great difficulty in finding their place in society. By providing the traditional means of education they are free to choose between a career or the cruising life.
Its quite tough to settle back in suburbia. We shall miss the little things, like the occasional fish in the toilet-bowl, much to the children’s delight and the fluorescent particles in the clear-plastic drain pipe, making the children think of monsters. We shall miss the people we met along the way, the freedom, the islands, the quite anchorages, the sunsets…
18 months of travelling in a small boat have left us with a lot of fond memories, a few tears, some scar’s, plenty of friends, new skills, a different outlook on life, a happy, close family and last but not least a tremendous sense of achievement.
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