Capetown to Antigua

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Mon 5 Apr 2004 21:11
I sailed from Cape Town on Saturday 21 February, 2004. The passage started well with just the usual things that go wrong after not being at sea for some time. Initially the wind vane decided it was going to wander all over the place due to wear in one of the bearings. Fortunately I had an inner tube from a bicycle tyre in my “shit hot” box (so called because when you go rummaging through it looking for that obscure “whatsit” – like why on earth would you keep a bicycle inner tube on a yacht for, but I just knew it would come in handy for something – and you actually find it, one can’t help but shout out, “Shit Hot!”). This I used to tension the wind vane tiller so it would self centre when the vane was not acting on it. It was a lot better though still not perfect, however several days later I managed to work out a way of taking the pressure off the bearing and from there it steered straight and true like a charm.

Then there was this awful rattle in the prop shaft. It had been there for some time but I had used the ostrich approach up until now, an advantage of owning an old boat, like an old car, when a new rattle or clunk appears you just turn the stereo up a notch or two. But unfortunately the rattle was getting beyond ignoring (the volume on the stereo only goes up to 10). I feared a collapsed bearing and decided while there perhaps wasn’t much I could do about it I thought I had best investigate it. So I pulled the companionway steps apart and disappeared down into the cavernous depths of my keel (being a traditional style boat it is quite deep). Well whadyaknow, I found that an intermediate shaft bearing bracket was loose, in fact one of the bolts holding it down had actually come adrift. Of course this particular part of the boat’s construction was ingeniously designed so as to require the most tortuous gymnastics of the human body imaginable and a real test for one’s spiritual centredness, but, with perseverance, a cunning use of vice-grips outwitting the ingenuity of the designer (this is probably unfair on the designer because I suspect vice-grips had not been invented when the drawings were made), and a few non-Buddhist chants I prevailed and the shaft is now relatively quiet.

And the rest of the trip was basically … well, boring. The trade winds were disappointing, the first couple of days were OK but days 4 – 6 the winds were on the light side and very frustrating. I think I might have headed offshore a bit early (I wanted to get clear of shipping lanes so I could sleep) and Jimmy Cornell’s “Ocean Cruising Routes” reckons the trades don’t really kick in to 25 S, so I put a bit more northing in the course and a few days later was where I was supposed to be. The wind picked up a bit but I never got the nice fresh steady winds I enjoyed in the Indian Ocean. I absolutely hate slatting sails, they drive me completely nuts.

I had decided to try and sail straight through to Antigua primarily because I wanted to make it in time for the Classic Regatta there and I was running a bit late to include stopping at various ports along the way. Also, given the personal problems I have had to confront over the last few years I wanted to see how I would cope by myself for a long period. I had it in my head that it might be somewhat therapeutic and help me see my way ahead in life. I didn’t want to go back to Australia via the Southern Ocean, its too damned cold and rough, and I guess I do want to complete my circumnavigation, but its simply become a challenge rather than a lifestyle that at one stage I thought I might want to pursue, especially by myself. As I think I’ve said before a lot of the people I’ve encountered are definitely weird. I look at them, especially the single-handers and am left cold to think that if I keep on doing this I too can aspire to end up like them, living what I see as aimless, pointless lives drifting around the oceans, contributing little to anybody. No thanks! So for now unless a bolt of lightning comes from God I plan on getting home as soon as I reasonably can and finding something more interesting to do.

I have never seen so much bloody water in my life. Here are the highlights:

Day 8, 16:30: while doing some exercise in the cockpit I saw a sail astern which I spoke to briefly on the radio. It turned out to be a catamaran Polaris being delivered to America.

Day 21, 20:00: I noted in the log: 2,773 miles to Antigua, half way.

Day 26, 08:00: I was approaching the island of Fernando de Neronha. I had no intention of stopping there, because as mentioned I was on a mission to get to Antigua, but thought I might as well have a look as it was pretty much right in my path. I was a few miles off the southern point and I decided to turn on the VHF radio in case some official wanted to call me. No sooner had I turned it on then I hear two boats talking, one of them is Sunset Strip. I know that boat, Murray! Murray is a young South African chap sailing single-handed in a 26 foot Van Der Stadt, off to seek his fame and fortune. So I call him up. It turns out he is sailing that very day so we arrange a rendezvous off the west coast. I make a short detour, and a very pleasant detour it was, the island looked magnificent, cliffs rose from the ocean adorned by lush tropical vegetation, and an amazing slender volcanic plug, “Pico”, pointed dramatically 322 meters into the sky. Anyway Murray and I catch up with each other and end up sailing alongside each other for a while, headsails furled, and my mainsail double-reefed to match speeds. Murray threw me a beer and we had a good chat. I had drunk my one and only beer 20 days prior after crossing 0O longitude but Murray had scored a case from a passing supertanker in the middle of the Atlantic. He tells me this 'humungous' ship turns around to make sure he is OK and ask him what is he doing out here in this tiny boat, Murray explains its all he could afford, so they showered him with a case of beer and fresh fruit and veggies. Murray agrees the Atlantic trades are boring, he reckons he was reading all his maintenance manuals through twice he was that desperate for something to do. At least I have a bit more room, lots of books and this old laptop to keep me company.

Murray is going to Fortaleza, he reckons he has to in order to restock his victuals. I might try out Brazil another time, but right now I doubt it. There are so many places to stop you could spend a lifetime out here, but I find it lonely. If you are continually moving you can never really get to know anyone that well, and if you stay long enough to get to know some people then you eventually have to say goodbye. My whole life has been that way and I think I have just about had enough.

And apart from speaking to a merchant ship on the radio on day 29 I did not see or speak with a living soul, or anything else for that matter, just some tiny flying fish on deck most mornings. I’ve put the lure out a few time but nothing has even tugged at it, so it was tinned meat the whole way.

Day 28 (20 March): I crossed the dreaded doldrums. The winds lightened up a bit, seas got all sloppy, slatting sails, big cumulus clouds, bit of rain (nice for a fresh water shower) and some gusts of wind. I never had to bother reefing though and my speed never dropped below 5 knots. I crossed the equator at 20:25 and that night the wind started coming in from the east and backing into the ENE. I am thinking, “Is that it? No, don’t tempt the gods.” But sure enough the next day the wind steadies in the NE, 10 – 12 knots, and I’m beam reaching doing a steady six knots grinning ear to ear, trying to play dumb in case the wind god double crosses me.

And my concern was justified, after 11 days of lovely beam reaching averaging 150 miles a day, just over six knots, with a best days run of 182 miles (7.6 knots) the wind deserted me. Day 39 my day’s run dwindles to 54 miles (2.2 knots), day 40 an all time worst record of 22 miles which is entirely drift. It occurs to me day 40 is April the 1st and that this is God’s April fools joke. I laughed, looked around me, an endless blue of sky and ocean and said to him, “Good one God!”, Psalm 37:7 came to mind “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” That evening the wind freshens and once again Sylph’s bow wave churns before, her wake closes silently behind, and the log shows a steady 6 knots.

Three days later, at 10:15, 4 April 2004, I am at anchor in Tank Bay, English Harbour, Antigua. Sylph has covered 5,663 miles, at an average of 131 miles per day (5.5 knots).

Crowded anchorages, like cities, are lonely places, everyone pretty much keeps to themselves, so I am trying to keep busy. I have wanted to try some diving out for a long time so seeing as the water temperature is just about perfect I signed up for an open water course which I finished a couple of days ago. This was fantastic, especially after I got my weight and buoyancy sorted, just brilliant. So I think this may influence my path home. I am told the British Virgin Islands have great diving.

I have found a nice watering hole frequented by ex-pats, mainly English, Scottish and Kiwi, pretty down to earth people who are easy to get on with and know the islands well. I am going to see the second day of the English v West Indies test tomorrow. I am not into the cricket that much but I know John would think me a complete heathen if I didn’t take the opportunity of seeing a test match in the West Indies. I’ll take an Australian Flag, should be the only one, so look out for me in the ‘double decker’ stand.

I haven’t really sorted out a plan from here yet but will do so soon. I am not going to bust a boiler and I figure that while I’m out here I may as well enjoy it as much as possible but for now my goal is to get back to Australia as soon as possible.