Now Is The Time To Say Goodbye

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Fri 23 Apr 2010 18:33

Now Is The Time To Say Goodbye

Date: 16 April 2010


And so ends the most remarkable and enjoyable year of my life. It was in April last year that I flew out to Preveza in the Ionian, and after a couple of weeks preparation, launched Mina2. Joined by the Downstairs Skipper at the beginning of May we made our way through the Corinth Canal and into the Aegean for a summer cruise through the Greek Islands and round the southern coast of Turkey. In August, with a relay of friends to help me, we travelled the length of the Mediterranean to arrive on my birthday at the end of the month in Lagos on the Algarve coast of Portugal. At 2,250 miles the exit from the Mediterranean was further than our transatlantic crossing and on the way we enjoyed stopovers at Crete, Malta (blown away by the historical heritage of this fascinating island), Tunis (and a day’s tour round the site of old Carthage), and Ibiza which was, well, lively.


Mina2 was hauled out of the water in Lagos in September for a major refit (which allowed me a couple of weeks to rush home and catch up with my family and a pile of paperwork) and at the beginning of October we headed out into the Atlantic to Madeira where we joined up with the Rallye des Iles du Soleil. After stopping at Tenerife with the massive 2-mile high El Tiede volcano, our route took us to Dakhla in Western Sahara and our land-based day of adventure in the Sahara desert; then on to Dakar, capital of Senegal. Dakar was an enormous culture shock and not a particularly pleasant one, unlike the Sine-Saloum delta where the people were delightful; their way-of life fascinating, and the variety of birds incredible. A wonderful few days. On to the Cape Verde islands (during which we achieved our memorable 200-mile day) where our three-day visit to São Antão was one of the highlights of the year. Then “The Crossing” which was extraordinary in every sense of the word.


Arriving in Salvador having sailed 2,200 miles over 13 ½ days I returned to the UK to be with my parents and sisters for a precious few days before my father’s peaceful death.


Returning in early February, the DS and I spent a couple of days exploring the upper reaches of the Bahia before heading back out into the Atlantic and down the lush tropical palm-fringed coast of Brazil. Our stop-overs alternated between wide inlets, nearly deserted and barely supporting an impoverished population who fished for their daily meal from ancient dugout canoes, and swanky resorts with the rich being ferried in to their luxury holiday homes by helicopter. The contrast is stark.


After being holed up in Caravelas for nearly a week we continued our journey, culminating in our emotional arrival in Rio De Janeiro – the realisation of a dream. After a week of being entertained by our friends in Rio, we arrived at our destination of the Bahia Da Ilha Grande. 


So what will be the enduring memories? The adventure has been a wonderfully enriching cultural experience. The land-based contact has been enormously varied in terms of the people, their way of life, their food and, particularly, their music.


I won’t forget the music. Portuguese fado in Madeira, the Arabic influenced Spanish music of Tenerife, the Cuban/West Indian/African influenced music of Senegal and the unique music of Brazil. But for me the most wonderful music came out of the Cape Verde islands. One never went anywhere without the sound of their live music being played and sung. Influenced by Portuguese fado and African rhythms, it is hauntingly beautiful.


There has been enormous diversity in the landscape as well. The volcanic mountainous Atlantic islands – some barren as dust, others lush Gardens of Eden. In stark contrast too were the bone-dry sandy dunes of Saharan Africa interspersed with Colorado-type rock formations, and the meandering low-lying mangrove-lined swamps of the Sine-Saloum delta, the water thick with fish and the mangroves filled with birds of every species. And then there is the lush tropical mountainous jungle down the entire coast of Brazil.


Out at sea we have not seen as much wildlife as I had hoped or expected. But over the period we have met up with many dolphins – from the biggest ones I have ever seen at about four metres long, to a pygmy variety which were barely a metre long. However often one meets up with dolphins there is always a thrill as they interact with the boat, playing around the bow wave, doing acrobatic tricks for the sheer fun of it and then swimming sideways looking at you through their beady eye, almost as if they are looking for our reaction to their company.


And we have seen humpback whales – only a couple, but having contact with any of these magnificent creatures is a memorable privilege.


We have fished, mainly without success but we did catch a few which were large enough to cause panic and pandemonium, but then provided us with some memorably delicious meals. But at some cost. We certainly lost more expensive lures than we caught fish. The fish we saw most of were the flying variety (one very large specimen of which nearly knocked me out in the cockpit (see blog 2 November)).


Which leads me to contact with animals of the human variety. I am not naturally a rally person, preferring the greater sense of adventure that one gets from independent travel. However, the Rallye des Iles du Soleil is the only practical safe way in which one can navigate hundreds of miles up the Amazon, and you can only participate in that adventure if you have done the whole rally (I will be deferring the Amazon leg until after I get back from the Deep South). But in the event it was a rewarding experience. The organisers dealt with all the bureaucratic formalities of clearing in and out of each country which saved endless time and hassle. And with their contacts in each of the ports of call we were able to get things fixed on the boat (happily few) which would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, otherwise.


Whilst communication with many of the other rally participants was hampered by language barriers, we nevertheless made many friends and had the pleasure of sharing some wonderful experiences with them.


One unexpected aspect of the rally was the competitive element. “It is a rally – not a race!” was the constant cry of the organisers – but put one boat alongside another sailing in the same direction at the same time and human nature takes over. In my case, the racing blood came coursing back through my veins. The turbo-boosting cruising chute went up a little earlier and stayed up a little longer than might otherwise have been the case; sails were trimmed a little more frequently,  and the emailed positions of each boat were analysed at length to see how we were faring against the “competition”. It added an extra dimension to the pleasure of the passages which I thoroughly enjoyed.


So how did Mina2 do? Well, I may be a little biased, but I thought she did rather well. We motored far less than most of the other boats. Apart from 28 hours to get through the loathsome Doldrums (compared to 35 to 55 hours that the other boats reported) and excluding the time up the Sine Saloum delta, we motored hardly at all for nearly 4500 miles between Portugal and Brazil. Notwithstanding, we seemed to make our way through the fleet on most of the passages. So the old girl done good.


Mechanically she also stood up very well. The ocean is a harsh environment for mechanical and electrical components, and one can expect a succession of problems that need to be sorted. But apart from an initially temperamental generator and the problem of replacing the watermaker motor, the very thorough overhaul of the boat in Portugal in September paid dividends and meant that very little went wrong.


But it takes more than a good boat to get results. You also need a good crew, and Mina2 had good crew in abundance. Some of my friends who came along are old hands: they know the boat and they know me. Some of them even know how to cook which is an added blessing. Some of them don’t. But the ones I admired most of all were those who volunteered for the sheer adventure of it – and found themselves in a completely alien environment controlled by a manic, alcoholic, fag-smoking lunatic. Added to which, a good proportion of them took a while to find their sea-legs so were feeling like death. But there were no complaints and no missed watches, however dreadful they felt. Heroes every one. I love you all, and I couldn’t have done without you.


So how did I fare personally? It was actually a lot more tiring than I had expected for much of the time. Most of the boats on the rally had permanent crews who were there for the duration. Mina2 was unusual in having a succession of different crew coming and going. Some were old hands but others were new to offshore sailing. Typically I sail with a crew of three including myself and we take it in turns to keep watch. But as skipper, one is also responsible for a heap more other things beside. Before the crew arrives there is the planning; the provisioning and the fixing of things. During the passage there is the navigation, monitoring the systems and controls and the routine maintenance (I know the boat intimately and it takes far less time to fix a pump myself than to try and explain it to someone else who will be off the boat in a couple of weeks). Particularly with inexperienced crew on board, I am on call 24/7 for every question or uncertainty, and they occur all the time. So the amount of sleep one gets becomes limited. Silly though it may seem, the socialising that is part and parcel of a rally community, whilst enormous fun, compounded the problem (I’m afraid I can’t say no to an invitation). By Cape Verde, I was becoming quite seriously exhausted.


Ironically, the two-week Atlantic crossing was the most relaxing time of all for me. Peter, my son, found late in the day that he was able to join us – making a crew of four rather than three. But I decided that we would stick to the three-man watch system and that I would not stand any watches myself. This system worked extremely well. I was able to get a sensible amount of sleep, whilst supporting everyone else and doing all the other skipperly things. Brilliant!


Skipperly things have included writing this blog. I’ve always written a journal of my various cruises but often this has been done after the event from notes I have jotted down as I went along. The blog, however, disciplined me to write at the time. It is of the moment rather than recollections, and therefore has a different style. At times, on those lonely night watches, the imagination has strayed a little. Someone described the blog as “rather self-indulgent and only loosely based on the truth” which I think sums it up exactly. I’ve enjoyed writing the blog enormously and it will provide an enduring record of the whole wonderful adventure and the increasingly frail hold that the writer had on sanity. My only regret is that I didn’t have access to the blog technology earlier.


I’m told by those who had to stay at home - our spouses, children, parents and friends – that the blog enabled them to get a feel for what it was like on board; that they were able to share the experience to an extent, but without the nausea. That’s brilliant. But what really surprised me was to find out how many people, completely unconnected with Mina2 and her crew, were also following the blog. Not just those who had in the past, were at the time, or were hoping in the future to sail the same course, but also many who simply came across the blog by chance. If you emailed me in December when I asked to know who you were and I didn’t reply, please accept my apologies. It coincided with the time when I had to rush back to the UK. I would have written the blog anyway, but to know that there are people out there who are actually reading it makes it all the more worthwhile. Thank you all for indulging me.


I plan to return to Brazil to recommission Mina2 in October with a relaxed program taking the boat down to Buenos Aires for Christmas, home town of the DS and home to very many friends. It will be the following year (2011/12) that we are planning the big push into The Deep South. If you want me to let you know when I’m back on line, please email me at tim(at)barker(dot)org(dot)uk (address disguised to avoid phishers or whatever they’re called).


Until then, this is CapTim, failing to cope with Real Life in London. Out.