Paradise gained

Ananda's blog
Keith and Stella Myerson
Fri 25 Feb 2011 01:34

13:15.70N 59:38.70W

Thursday 24th February 2011

“Look Stellie – over there.”  To our surprise, about three miles off our stern was a substantial motor yacht.  With the binoculars we could make out its white superstructure.  It seemed to be heading slowly towards us, but why had it not shown up on the AIS? 

It was late afternoon, and we had been at sea for nearly 2 weeks on our way to the West Indies.  The north east trade winds were in full swing, serving us with up to 40 knots of wind in some of the nastier squalls that swept by us every few hours, building up the seas.   The waves towered up to 18 feet above us and ‘Ananda’ ran before them, accelerating as each one approached.   The tops of the waves were thinned by the wind to a translucent turquoise colour, and at the last moment, ‘Ananda’ would lift her stern and allow them to sweep by with a hissing of foam.   


Normally we would pick up ships within 50 miles or so on the AIS, a radio system that gave us their names, call-sign, speed, course, destination and even positioned them on our plotter.  But there had been none for 6 days, and to suddenly see one so close by was unnerving.  I tried calling the ship on the VHF radio.

At first, no reply.  Then a rather inexperienced operator answered, in good English with a Mediterranean accent.  Strangely, he seemed unsure of the name of his own ship, changing his mind at least once and then giving us an unlikely sounding one.  Apparently they were 8 days out of Morocco and bound for Trinidad with the owner and 4 crew on board. 

Paranoid, or what?

Somehow, this didn’t all add up.  Why should such a substantial vessel, perhaps over 100 feet long, not display her position on AIS?  The crew had asked for a weather forecast - they did not have one, surprising on such a vessel.  Morocco and Trinidad are not the most popular of superyacht destinations.  To cap it all, as night fell, the mystery boat remained in total darkness and showed no navigation lights.  Motor boats are never short of power, so she certainly must have wished to remain in cognito.

My mind went into overtime.  Were they pirates?  Or perhaps drug runners?  Time for emergency measures, and I switched on the sat phone and looked up the phone number of Falmouth coastguard.  Then, to reduce our own profile, I switched off our own navigation lights and AIS.  In the rough seas, we would be difficult to board.  If it became necessary, we could speed up by reaching away under motor and sail combined.

The next few hours were spent nervously tracking the boat on radar.  But it kept a constant course and speed, travelling just one knot faster than us.  Slowly, in the darkness, they overhauled us to starboard and eventually, to our relief, passed safely into the distance and out of radar range.  

Westward ho…

Setting off from San Sebastian, La Gomera…





…with a typical trade wind rig




But only 2 days after setting out from the Canaries, we had a significant problem - the in-mast furling motor for the mainsail packed in, leaving us with too much sail in a strengthening wind.  I fetched the manual emergency winder and furled away part of the sail until the boat was safe once more, but it was hard work and took over an hour, leaving me with a blistered hand.


With the furling unit out of action we effectively no longer had the use of a mainsail.   We considered our possibilities.  Should we put into the Cape Verde islands, or continue to the Caribbean under headsails alone?  I fired up the sat phone to request weather data and also included an email to Oyster UK, back home in Ipswich, to ask for their help in sourcing a new motor.


Strangely enough, this was not the first time we had been in such a predicament.  When making the same ocean passage in ‘Coot’ in 1978, the boom developed a serious crack, which also limited our use of the mainsail.  With no choice then, we had carried on.  The forecast was for the usual trade winds to continue, making the passage feasible under headsails alone, and we decided to do the same this time.


The rest of the passage passed smoothly, though the unremitting squalls with their wind shifts were tiring for us.  We spent our watches getting soaked, sitting or standing on the top step of the companionway with head and shoulders poking through the hatch, autopilot remote in hand, ready to follow each wind shift.  Despite our anxieties, ‘Ananda’ handled them all well and never gave us any cause for concern.  We simply ‘ran over the seas’ as we exercised to music in the cockpit, and were content to live in our own tiny world secluded by the solitude of the ocean.


Another squall on its way…




But solitude can be hard to cope with, and it was a relief to be able to keep in touch with our family and friends in the outside world by email.  And, with our SSB radio, we could chat to yachts up to 500 miles away on the ‘Rum Runners’ net each morning.


Every few days or so, I fired up the main engine just to make sure that all was well and it hadn’t filled up with water up the exhaust in the large swell.  This actually happened to us the last time we made this passage on ‘Coot’ in 1978.  When we arrived in Barbados then, the engine was full of water and the pistons had rusted solid.  After that, we had sailed with a wine cork shoved up the exhaust outlet!


As we sailed westwards the sun rose later each day, and we slowly acclimatised to the time change by eating later.  To simplify matters, Stellie set an ‘Ananda’ time zone – AMT – that was 3 hrs behind UT.  It worked fine for us, so we could enjoy salad Nicoise at a sensible hour (mid afternoon) with the last of the lettuce tasting as fresh as ever.


…and thankfully passed!




On most mornings, the sun arose to reveal flying fish stranded on our decks.  Sadly, in the tropical heat, this was usually too late for them to provide a meal.  These lovely fish with long wings could fly surprisingly long distances above the waves, perhaps 15 feet or so, gliding like birds and staying in the air for ages.  


Below us, the ocean dropped for an eternity.  At one point we sailed over ‘Royal trough’, an ocean trench with an incredible depth of 5744 metres.

On day 16, we passed within 2 miles of ‘Piano’, a yacht that left at the same time as us, despite having sailed a very different route over 2000 miles of ocean!  She was originally built for a Belgian who had insisted on having its namesake incorporated into the ship’s furniture. 

Land ahoy

Stellie was the first to sight land, 30 miles off our bow and we pushed the boat hard to arrive before nightfall.  Finally, after 18 days 10 hours and 2,846 miles of sailing, we arrived safely in Port St Charles, Barbados. 

And what a landfall it was.  After being so self-sufficient for so long, we felt completely phased by the unbelievable hospitality we received.  The skipper of Paradigm, the neighbouring 116’ motor yacht, even gave us a bottle of champagne and chocolate truffles to celebrate! 


‘Ananda’ safely moored off the helipad at Port St Charles.