Rum again


For all those people who were so disparaging about my penchant for Aldi’s £9.99 rum: a parting gift to myself as I leave the Caribbean.

The immigration officer just asked what was my next port of call? I had to say something, so I said, “Falmouth”.

“Falmouth Antigua?”

  • No, Falmouth UK.

We’ll see. It’s 3,500 miles. “Estimated time of arrival?”

July 21st.

We’ll definitely see about that…

4 Responses to Rum again

  • Hi John
    I was just reading about your health supplement and would like to receive some further information.

    Michael ( Sydney )

    When I was young I used to sail a locally Sydney designed Vaucluse Junior.

  • Happy sailing you mad bugger , who I may add is brave enough to do what others only dream of .

  • Lol.
    My mother tried to dose me with hot rum for a heavy cold when I was about 7. Can’t stand the smell of the stuff. Even in cooking or ice cream.

  • Fair winds and safe passage John.


I have the picture in front of me now. The intrepid explorer in the foothills of the Himalayas – his yak in the background.

Actually, that’s not quite true. It’s just me on the beach, posing with my folding bike before setting off to ride around Anegada.

Anegada is the most northerly of the Virgin Islands and the only one that is not volcanic. Instead it is a real coral island – a tiny bit of limestone poked out of the sea and lots and lots of pure white coral sand piled on top of it. For the cyclist, this offers one massive advantage: it is completely flat.

Georgetown in Grenada has such a steep hill that they had to dig a tunnel through  it – no mean feat 1800s. Most of the Caribbean is like that – up and down, rainforests and waterfalls.

Sailing from Virgin Gorda, the first thing you see of Anegada is the tops of the palm trees – and it’s only eight miles long unless you count the reef, which is most of it.

I pored over Google Maps. I could go clockwise, take my snorkel and flippers, start with Cow Wreck Bay, then the flamingoes on the 500 acres of shallow ponds. Down to East Point and Horseshoe Reef with its 300 shipwrecks – and that’s just the ones they know about.

Sixteen miles. I’ve done sixteen miles in a day before. Lunch in town or one of the beach bars…

It turned out to be not quite as simple as that. For one thing, Anegada’s roads are slabs of concrete like an old wartime runway. At least there wasn’t much traffic. After an hour I concluded that the islanders (there are only 315 of them) possessed only two cars – although, one of them may have been the same car going the other way.

But then, turning the corner to the north side of the island, the concrete began to disappear under a layer of sand – and this was coral sand. There’s a difference: proper British sand comes in grains. You could count them if you had the patience. Coral sand is more like a powder, the consistency talcum or chalk dust. I got off and pushed the rest of the way to Cow Wreck Bay where I walked straight into the water – wonderful not having to dip your to in to see if it’s warm enough. The water here is always between 28°C and 30°C.

And, no sooner had I put my head under than I came up with a conch. Imagine that! I was as pleased as punch. I told the barmaid in the Tipsy beach bar. She said it was pronounced “conk”. She also told me that Cow Wreck Bay got its name from a shipwreck in the early 1900s. The ship was carrying cow bones to be made into buttons. For years, they kept washing up on the beach.

One other thing I learned at the bar of the Tipsy was that I wasn’t going to get any further along the north coast. Sure there was a road marked on the map – but it was all sand and rocks. I would need a jeep. Besides, if I went back the other way, I could see the flamingos from the Lookout Point.

Actually, I couldn’t. But then I am notoriously unobservant. I was the only one of the diving party in the Red Sea who didn’t see the shark.

I didn’t get down to Horseshoe Reef either. It turns out, the only way is by boat and I certainly wasn’t taking Samsara down there – not after what the pilot book said about “numerous coral heads and tricky currents”. Still, I could go to Fisherman’s Wharf which involves cycling along a series of narrow concrete causeways between more flamingo ponds (but without flamingoes).

I knew I was getting close by the piles of conch shells at every turn. This is a tradition started by the indigenous Amerindian people who would pile up the empty shells to create artificial islands. Suddenly my conch didn’t seem so impressive – but at least I put it back without hooking the poor little fish out of it and turning him into conch ceviche.

I hadn’t been round  the island. I hadn’t even reached the end of it. There just wasn’t any more road. I turned back to town. Actually it’s called The Settlement and there isn’t much of that (how much can you expect with a population of 315). The Wonky Dog restaurant was closed – although there was the promise of happy hour, fresh lobster and live music later – and everywhere there were signs of what Hurricane Irma did to the place when she ran straight over it in 2017.

Hurricanes are not the only natural disasters the stalwart little population has to worry about. At intervals along the road were signs pointing to the Tsunami Evacuation Point – the highest point, even if it is only eight metres. After all, “Anegada” is the Spanish word for “Flooded”.

As I passed by the Flamingo Lookout for the second time, I was buzzed by a gaggle of scooters and yet another car. This was a party of Americans from Colorado who had chartered a catamaran and were “doing” the islands rather in the manner of the Hell’s Angels after a spell of Community Service.

I still couldn’t see any flamingos, although Moses told me there were about 1,500 of them on the far side. You could just see them through the telescope. I learned this – and the fact that his name was Moses – because he ended up giving me a lift the rest of the way, the roads having taken their toll on my back tyre.

So the expedition was a partial success – or a partial failure if you want to be despondent about it.

I chose to celebrate with lunch in Sid’s Beach Bar – but “Dinner Salad” rather than conch – ceviche or fritters.

3 Responses to Anegada


The definition of cruising, so they say, is: “Boat maintenance in exotic locations”. Lately, Instagram has been alive with the saga of New Zealand friends in Grenada who replaced their thrust bearing without taking the boat out of the water.

The final picture (in SCUBA gear with a screwdriver to tighten the anodes) was greeted with a wave of congratulations from around the world.

I was in awe – but then maintenance aboard Samsara tends to be rather more mundane. I have spent much of the day in the Virgin Islands with my head under the sink, trying to find out why the carpet was always wet.

Now, I dare say that readers who still have to go back to work on Monday will be horrified at the idea of carpet on a boat. The correct surface for the cabin sole is pine and holly stripes – immaculately varnished. I had that aboard Largo, and very fabulous it looked.

But I have been surprised to discover how many cruising boats have carpet – and there’s a good reason: If you walk around on varnish every day, you have to give it a new coat every couple of months – and then get off the boat for 24 hours to let it dry.

Also, carpet is not slippery when wet – and I thought mine was just to cover up the grotty lino…

Anyway, out came the detergent and the disinfectant and all the other plastic bottles which live in the most inaccessible locker on the boat – and sure enough, once I got the floor out, there was a good couple of litres of water down there. Fresh water, too – even though it was a bit brackish.

If I’d known about this when I was running out of water back in 2020, it would have kept me going for an extra couple of days.

Now the problem was getting rid of it: There were so many pipes, and it was at such an awkward angle that the big sponge wasn’t much help. Never mind, I had my handy hand pump.

I bought this on a whim on Amazon, and it’s never really been much good. For one thing, spending its life with its tubes coiled up at the bottom of the cockpit locker means that you can’t poke it down into small spaces where it’s needed. Obviously, I’d had this problem before because guess what was taped to the bottom: The forged and tested galvanized shackle I bought for the anchor chain before realising that it was too big for the bow roller.

I always wondered what had happened to it. I knew what had happened to its pin – that was weight on the pull-through cord for the clarinet (you need something that’s heavy but slim enough to slide through without getting caught on all the gubbins inside.)

It had always troubled me that if ever I should need a really strong shackle more than I needed a clean clarinet, I wouldn’t be able to find the rest of it.

And that wasn’t all that was down at the bottom of the cockpit locker. Have I mentioned that every boat has a secret place where stuff goes to hide – the really expensive snatch block that I hadn’t even used, the Leatherman Multi-tool that disappeared from the chart table into thin air…

Lately, they had been joined by the spout for the spare fuel cans. For the past year, I have been laboriously syphoning every time I ran out. Now, the mystery was solved: I don’t know how it is with yard-built boats, but their home-completed cousins tend to have cockpit lockers which are open to the bottom of the boat.

This is a better idea than it sounds – any water drains into the bilge.

So does a spout for a fuel can.

And if the boat spends long enough bouncing around on port tack, a spout will work its way over from the port cockpit locker to the starboard.

This was brilliant: two problems solved – and I hadn’t even started on the galley leak.

Actually, that was the easy part: I just had to find some way to stop the broken adjustable spout jumping off the water filter every time the foot pump increased the pressure.

I jammed a clothes peg behind it.

Now I expect congratulations from around the world.

8 Responses to Maintenance

  • Hi John,

    Re siphoning fro. Fuel cans, have you discovered jiggle pumps? they work really well…I use several times a week to do many 20 litree cans… get the about 3/4 inch size from AMAZON

  • I may ‘plagiarise’ this bril trick and start a thread on to Reader re ‘101 Uses For An Old Clothespeg’.
    The question is – should I credit JP, or would he not wish his reputation sullied by such boat-bodgery?

  • You can’t beat a wooden clothes peg ! Great idea…. Isn’t it interesting how we’ve gone to plastic ones, now likely back to wood because it’s better for the environment and they don’t get brittle & shatter … and you can use them
    To properly fix things

  • Wooden close pegs are essential boat gear. We use half a peg to stop the genoa cars rattling on their tracks on those all too frequent and annoying occasions when there’s little wind but a big swell (the port car is located inches above my head when in bed). Oh and of course – congratulations!

  • Perhaps the beginning of a new book ? 101 things to do with a clothes peg (other than the obvious) ? I trust you applied a little Gorilla glue to make permanent?

    • Wot??? Thereby rendering it useless for redeployment when the same clothes peg comes to the rescue to save the sinking yacht (or perhaps peg a sock out on the guard rail?) – please don’t over-engineer what is already a perfectly adequate solution to an engineering problem.

      I’m not sure how many congratulations you need, or from where, to qualify for “congratulations from around the world”, but you certainly get my congratulations from Pin Mill, Suffolk (Syntonic, Rival 32).

New books out now!

For all those people who asked when I was going to write another book, it turns out the answer was: Not until I was clocking a hundred miles a day without touching the helm or the sheets.

Sure enough, the Atlantic crossing by the trade wind route provided the perfect motivation – there wasn’t anything else to do.

And so I am pleased to present The Good Stuff.

I won’t describe it here because there’s an extensive introduction explaining how it came about – and of course, the blurb on the Amazon page.

But already it has its first review: From Betty Gibbs of Tunbridge Wells, who wrote to the editor of the Daily Telegraph with fulsome praise for the episode involving the dog, the Animal Health Inspector and the leak and Roquefort tarte.

And this book (these books – there are two volumes) have been professionally produced! I found myself spending all my waking hours trying to correlate the page numbers and the Table of Contents – something which hadn’t been an issue with Old Man Sailing.

Anyway, I ended up working with a wonderful editor in the USA. Then a talented graphic designer in France produced the cover – and Hey Presto! Something that wouldn’t look out of place in Waterstones.

Not that I’ve actually seen it, of course. I’m sitting here in Deadman’s Bay in The Virgin Islands, and the Amazon delivery man doesn’t call here.

You can find The Good Stuff – Book One at

Book Two is at

I wish there was some way Amazon would offer a discount for buying them together – but apparently not. Still, it would save on cardboard…

8 Responses to New books out now!

  • VERY, VERY funny John. I’m on the boat and thought I’d check out the “look inside” function to see whether it was worth buying the physical book, but by the time I got to the end of that, I was so hooked I had to buy the Kindle Edition!!

    • Thank you, Tom. Kindle is better (for me). Not only is there a higher royalty because of no printing costs but people can’t pass it on to their friends. Selfish I know – but I’ve decided I need a new roller-furler (Furlex or Profurl?)

  • I’m confused. You haven’t received the book yet but you have it in your hand in the photo!?

    • Ah yes, good point. This was the first edition which was waiting for me when I went home in April for the skiing holiday. However, upon reading it, I decided on all sorts of changes. Then, when I went to republish, I ran into these problems with the Table of Contents.
      Hence bringing in the editor – who was so impressive, I had her go through the Old Man Sailing book – which was always a bit of an embarrassment because of the oversized print. Now we’re doing Trident which is enjoying a resurgeance thanks to Mr Putin.

  • Excellent, Well done and that’s great news for me.

  • Terrific stuff John, both books just purchased! I’ve gone for the paperback versions, Kindle is fine but it isn’t the same as a proper paper book!

  • I can’t wait to see it in print! Ordering soon!


I blame the beer.

And the Sint Maarten Yacht Club’s wifi code.

This is very clever of them: The wifi code is BUYMOREBEER – and you do feel obliged to, sitting on the deck under the Heineken umbrella trying to get to the British Virgin Islands.

The way things were going, It looked as though I might never reach the thousand palm-fringed anchorages and miles of white sandy beaches and some of the best snorkelling in the world. Originally, I didn’t intend to. I was going to Anguilla instead, which is just as nice but has contrived a series of charges designed to dissuade the charter fleets.

In the Virgin Islands, chartering is such big business that many of the vast catamarans in the glossy brochures no longer come with masts at all (if the clients aren’t going to put up the sails, why go to all that expense…)

And so I arrived in Anguilla’s Road Bay after the overnight sail from Martinique. I hadn’t even got the sailcover on when Customs & Immigration called on the VHF to ask why I had not filed my documents at least 48 hours before my intended arrival – oh, and by the way, if I set foot on the beach, they would fine me $200 for not having a negative COVID test.

Martinique hadn’t wanted any of that (and I didn’t even know I was going there until I arrived). So, I pulled up the mainsail again and sailed over to Anguilla’s larger neighbour, St Martin. One thing I have learned is that, the bigger the island, the smaller the bureaucracy.

St Martin is the French side. The Dutch side is called Sint Maarten – another of those lovely Caribbean stories: Apparently, the two nations had occupied opposite ends of the island and, not being terribly keen on fighting over it, decided to have a Frenchman walk from the north coast and a Dutchman walk for the south coast. Where they met, that would be the border.

So far, so good. It was just that the Frenchman was armed with a bottle of wine and the Dutchman with a bottle of Bols gin – and gin being somewhat stronger than wine, the Dutchman lay down for a kip some time before the Frenchman – and so the Froggies got the lion’s share.

Also, it meant I had to row all the way across the lagoon to the French side so I could use my Martinique SIM card. I had baulked at buying a Dutch one (so far I have Lebara from the Canaries, Africell from the Gambia, Unitel from the Cape Verdes and two different kinds of Digicell for the Caribbean – as well as dear old UW from the UK.)

That’s why I ended up on the Yacht Club’s wifi. The trouble was that the longer I spent online trying to make sense of the forms, the more beer I had to drink to keep the connection going – and the more impenetrable the BVIs Health Declaration form became. I had my negative COVID test – acquired from a man sitting in a van across the road – but could I find anywhere to upload it… unless that was part of the SailClear form.

Yes, that worked – except that every time I clicked “submit” a window popped up saying: “You have not uploaded health declaration forms which is mandatory to fill and upload for every individual who is arriving BVI.”

By this time I had downloaded four half-litres of Mr Heineken’s finest – which might explain why I gave up the whole idea and resolved to sail straight back to England in a huff. It might even have had something to do with my falling into the harbour on the way.

I woke up this morning to find dinner still on the table – that portion of it that wasn’t all over the floor.

After addressing the ship’s company on the evils of drink, I returned to the table under the umbrella and ordered something called a “Heineken 0.0”. It comes in a beer bottle but in fact is a fizzy concoction tasting almost exactly unlike beer. The good news is that you tend to drink it a lot more slowly.

Three hours (and three bottles) later, I had dealt with the health forms, confirmed that I had no infected crew members, stowaways, firearms, ammunition, animals or financial instruments and rewarded myself with “The best Bloody Mary on the Island”.

I thought I deserved it.

7 Responses to Beer

Diamond Rock

It’s such fun, writing this blog: You throw out a story like a seed in the wind – and back comes a saga.

This is Diamond Rock. It looks uncannily like Rockall, except that Diamond Rock is a lot bigger – 175 metres. Also, it’s much more important: While Rockall only manages to extend UK waters out into the wastes of the Atlantic, Diamond Rock brought down an empire.

Here’s the story, courtesy of Chris Doyle’s Sailor’s Guide to the Windward Island, a little bit of Wikipedia – and my sister Carol (she of the stepped-on face in the 1960’s Folkboat).

In 1804 the British navy jealously guarded its control of the Caribbean and made a point of harassing shipping calling at the French island of Martinique. Indeed, when they could spare the odd frigate, they would blockade the capital, Fort de France.

The trouble was  that ships were scarce, and the navy was busy. Then a Lieutenant William Donnett, a bright young officer in the mould of Horatio Hornblower, decided that since Diamond Rock was more or less in the best position for a British ship blockading the harbour, why not put some guns on the rock and dispense with the ship?

The fact that the rock was precipitously steep, totally barren and infested with the poisonous couresse grass snake did nothing to put off the tenacious young officer. Soon “HMS Diamond Rock” had a two 18 pounders on the summit and two 24 pounders sited in caves halfway up – together with a complement of 120 men and two lieutenants.

Water and supplies came from the main island, where the local population were happy to do anything to upset their French masters, and for 18 months, the “stone frigate” was a highly unpleasant surprise for unsuspecting shipping.

And all of this would be an interesting side-note to the naval history of the Caribbean were it not for the fact that Martinique just happened to be the birthplace of Napoleon’s Empress Josephine. It turns out she was born on a 200-acre, 150-slave estate on the other side of the bay from the capital. Consequently, the Emperor was more than usually incensed by the British impertinence and ordered Admiral Villeneuve to go and take back the rock – and destroy Nelson while he was about it.

Napoleon had it in for Villeneuve because the French navy never seemed to do as well as the French army (nothing to do with Bonaparte’s total lack of understanding of maritime matters, of course). Anyway, he ordered the admiral to report in disgrace.

Villeneuve’s forces managed to re-take the island – after an intense 70-hour battle which ended only when the British ran out of water and ammunition. But that still left the admiral with the problem of what to do about Nelson. He knew his fleet was ill-prepared for a full-scale engagement but, preferring death to dishonour; he met Nelson at Trafalgar.

The irony is that Villeneuve survived while Nelson died.

And although Napoleon’s empire collapsed about him, Martinique and Diamond Rock remained French to this day. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than this – I’d better admit to that now – before squadrons of naval historians embark on a campaign of correction.

But they may not know about the cheeky assault on French sovereignty 150 years later. This is where my sister Carol comes in.

She tells me that her husband John Guthrie, sailing to the island with a friend in the 1960s, scaled the rock and left a union flag flying impudently from the summit.

It was a while before the French authorities noticed – apparently, they were not best pleased with having to mount an expedition to remove it.

5 Responses to Diamond Rock

  • Hi John, came across your blog and am reading through your archive in it’s entirety. Really enjoying it. Please keep up the good writing, and be safe on the boat. I would like details on your health supplement please! Regards, Mark near Chicago, IL USA

  • I love it, what a fantastic yarn. May The Old Man find many more.

  • Priceless!

  • Always love your stories! This one did not disappoint -I wonder if Macron knows about the flag

  • Used to do some nice dives at Diamond rock some 40+ years ago !!
    Enjoy your trip . Best regards . Lannigdu

The Caribbean Current

It is about 200 miles from Grenada to Dominica. It took me four days, and I ended up in Martinique.

That’s the good news. It could have been Venezuela.

The other news is that I found the Caribbean Current.

Of course, I knew all about the Caribbean Current. It gets a whole page to itself in the pilot book, which says it travels generally from southeast to northwest and can flow at up to two knots in open water.

“Generally” is the operative word here. The rest of the page seems devoted to saying that nobody is really sure, and you just have to watch out because it can appear almost anywhere at any time, going in any westerly direction, especially between April and June.

Well, thank you very much. This information I had filed away as mildly interesting and possibly relevant if it happened. Then I woke up at two o’clock in the morning to find the boat becalmed. Out of habit, I looked at the plotter on my way to the cockpit – and was startled to see we were doing 4.8 knots on a course of 203° magnetic.

Now, 203° is southwest. As you can see from the screenshot of Navionics on my phone, there is nothing in the 203° direction until you hit the coast of South America … which is undoubtedly what we would be doing if things went on as they were.

I couldn’t believe it. Where did 4.8knots come from? Nobody mentioned 4.8 knots. I checked both phones. They agreed with the plotter. I took the screenshot in case all of this was some sort of bizarre nightmare, and I would wake up and have to convince myself I hadn’t been dreaming.

Worst of all, when the wind did come back, as it always will, it would be the North-East Trade Wind which – as its name suggests – is from the northeast, and I cannot beat into that and a 4.8-knot current at the same time. I would just go backwards and get very cross doing it.

This was serious stuff. I was 57 miles from my destination in Dominica. I did have 50 litres of diesel, but that would last only about 20 hours hammering away at five knots through the water – and that, I calculated miserably, would give me a speed over the ground of 0.2 knots which would take 285 hours (or put it another way, nearly two weeks).

By that time, I would have to start rationing the water. I forgot to mention this, but I hadn’t filled up before I left. There didn’t seem the need since this was supposed to be just a quick hop up the island chain.

I started the engine – after all, every minute without it put us another cable in the direction of somewhere called La Esmeralda.

The next screenshot shows the situation as we headed for the nearest land – Martinique, 36 miles to the northeast. At our most economical 2,000 revs, you can see the speed over the ground is 0.00kts. In other words, we are standing still. I wound up the throttle to 2,500rpm. At that speed, the little Nanni 21hp guzzles fuel, but there was no point in going nowhere. Gradually the speed over the ground crept up to 0.8kts.

Thirty-six miles at 0.8 knots is 45 hours. We would run out of fuel long before we got there, but my theory was that the nearer we came to the lee of an island, the weaker the current should become. Anyway, 4.8 knots had to be some sort of aberration.

It wasn’t. Or if it was, it was a particularly persistent one. As the sun came up and with it the wind, I still felt as though I was trying to swim up a firehose. Any attempt at sailing sent us whizzing off backwards. The only way to make any progress at all was to keep the nose dead into the current – and, of course, the wind. I put the flattening reef in the mainsail and sheeted it almost dead centre. The headsail was useless, of course.

And then the engine stopped. Within an hour, we were back where we had been at two o’clock in the morning.

It took an hour (in fact, it took three) because not only did I have to change the CAV filter, which looked as though it was full of caviar. In fact, this was diesel bug – something I suffer from particularly because I don’t use the engine nearly enough. The fuel just sits in the tank, growing things.

Also, I don’t inspect the filter often enough. My excuse is that I can never get it back on without it dripping diesel into the bilge. This time I had to re-arrange the seals three times.

The other reason it took three hours was because it wasn’t just the filter that was blocked. The pipe to the tank was full of goo as well. Blowing it out was like volunteering for the trombone section at Beyreuth.

It wasn’t until the middle of the following night that the speed started creeping up – I have never been so pleased to find the boat doing 1kt. The question was: would the fuel hold out long enough to get us into the lee of the island and able to sail again?

Meanwhile, what startled me most was thinking about how this would have played out in the old days before satellite navigation. I wouldn’t have known anything about it until two o’clock in the afternoon and the “midday” sunsight. The morning sight would have given me a position line running northeast to southwest but  I would have had no clue where I might be on it until I got the intersect – by which time it would be twelve hours after I had woken up to find the boat becalmed … and another 57 miles in the wrong direction.

I could imagine myself saying: “Sod it: let’s go to South America.”

Of course, in the end, I did make it into Martinique – gradually making more and more progress until l turned off the engine when we were down to the emergency can of diesel for motoring into the anchorage. After that, it was just endless tacking back and forth and gradually creeping closer and closer until the enormous Bay of Fort de France opened out with the “largest and liveliest city in the Windwards” climbing up the hill.

Look on the bright side: I would never have come here if it hadn’t been for the current – in fact, I would never have turned to the Martinique chapter in the book at all – in which case I would not have learned about Diamond Rock just around the corner and how it changed the course of European history.

That’s the best part of pilot books; they tell you stuff you really need to know – in this case, a swashbuckling tale of intrigue and adventure involving Napoleon, Josephine and Lord Nelson – instead of vague predictions about ocean currents.

6 Responses to The Caribbean Current

  • HI John . Well it just goes to show you can allways learn something new.AS a charter yacht skipper back in the early nineties I have sailed an motored from Granada to St Lucia and St Lucia to Martinique many many times and have never heard of the Carribean currant. Good on you John and happy days.

  • If you would like to know more about HMS Diamond Rock get in touch. I spent over 20 years sailing the Caribbean in big yachts and did a lot of research into the naval history of the islands.

  • Wonderful stuff, all thanks to Jeremy Vine 1st lock down.

  • Blimey what a carry on! That’s as strong as the Gulf Stream! When in those parts in 2016/17 we didn’t notice any current at all. Mind you we had plenty of wind too. Saint Pierre, up the coast is worth a visit. There’s an anchorage there. Portsmouth, Dominica is a lovely spot. Dominica was our favourite island!

  • Fascinating

Locked out

I am hoping that people will read this and say: “Ah, yes. Been there… done that.” If not, I am going to feel an awful fool.

Because it’s happened again: I arrived back from the family skiing trip to La Plagne – it was great, thank you; perfect weather all week and not too warm, so lovely spring snow.

Back in Grenada’s Prickly Bay, a charming Frenchman who was remarkable in speaking less English than I speak French gave me a lift back to the boat from the dinghy dock at the One Love restaurant. I would have invited him aboard for a drink, but since our conversation would have been conducted through Google Translate, I waved him off into the darkness with a stilted “Merci Monsieur!”

Then I turned to open the companionway.

I have a new combination lock on the companionway. I bought it, I think, in the Cape Verdes after inadvertently scrambling the numbers on the old one and locking it in perpetuity (fortunately, it was not attached to anything at the time).

The new one is a cheap, shiny affair with not only numbers but also an exclamation mark, ampersand, plus and minus symbols and heaven knows what else. Apparently, this increases the possible combinations into the stratosphere.

But I knew the correct one. I had no doubt about it at all. I use it every day – and while my memory might be a tad idiosyncratic on occasions, I was 100% certain I had this right.

But for the life of me, I couldn’t get the blasted thing open.

The last time this happened was in Baltimore (the Irish one). Indeed, I think I may have written about it since it was the occasion I met Tom Fisher. He was passing in his dinghy after one of the many Jester Challenge parties. Did he, by any chance, have a torch? My phone was flat. I couldn’t read the numbers.

We ended up sitting over the rum bottle until the early hours – the first of many convivial occasions.

So you may wonder why – apart from the opportunity of widening my social circle – I choose to have combination locks in the first place. Why not hide a spare key under the gas bottle like everyone else?

Well, I tried that – back in the 70s. On the one occasion when I needed it, I found it rusted into a solid lump twice its normal size and obviously useless without a jam jar and a bottle of penetrating oil – and that was providing I felt like sitting in the cockpit for 24 hours waiting for it to dissolve back to its normal size. In the end, I rowed over to the boatyard and borrowed a set of bolt croppers.

This time, with everything shut (even the One Love), I considered the chances of hailing a passing dinghy. But Prickly Bay is not Baltimore. Dinghies here do not putter about at three knots. They plane at twelve knots, 15hp Mercurys screaming. Standing on the foredeck, waving the torch on my phone would somehow fail to hack it.

But wait: What about Jock? Jock would be here. Jock is a Canadian who has been anchored in Prickly Bay for nearly a decade. Very occasionally, he makes forays to places like Martinique – except for this summer which he has spent growing things on the anchor and waiting for a credit card to arrive. I had his number because he had offered a lift in the event that I should fail to find a charming Frenchman. I called Jock. He would have a hacksaw. He built his own boat, for heaven’s sake.

Jock arrived ten minutes later in his curious square dinghy – also home-built. He handed up a canvas bag full of hacksaw, penetrating oil, and, I believe, some sort of burglar’s jemmy.

Ten minutes after that, we were sitting under the stars with the rum bottle between us.

He was not at all impressed with my combination lock. He had a long list of possible hiding places for a key. But I wouldn’t hear of it. After all, what would happen to my social life?

9 Responses to Locked out

  • Have you considered using a diesel bug treatment ie ‘marine 16’ or similar ?

    • I do. But I also use something called (I think) “Diesel Blast” which is supposed to stop the engine smoking. I’m going to leave that one out for a while and see if things improve.

  • Ho, ho; I remember our meeting and your bottle of rum in Baltimore John. It and subsequent sessions are fond memories and of course I will always be in your debt for ‘spotting’ the absence of my Hydrovane rudder in Falmouth last year despite, our punishing a bottle of G&T! Serial offending clearly has significant social benefits. Jock sounds like a thoroughly decent chap. Hope the rest of your time in Caribean is equally enjoyable! Very best, Tom

  • The key to the Rum rebellion is Bundaberg.

  • I have a very strong combination lock on my boat. I change the combination every 1st Jan. I never forget it, this year is 2022 AND I never tell anyone,

  • Great read John and what is it with combination locks losing their memories when we don’t!

  • What kind of rum could you recommend to another salty itinerant?

    • I’ll drink anything. Aldi and Lidl’s £10 a bottle is great stuff – at the moment I have a bottle of Clark’s Court from Grenada at £6.
      Now in Martinique where everything is in Euros instead of East Caribbean dollars and the local brew in Carrefour is around €10. Looks all right, though.

      • Undoubtedly the best and only true rum is Pussers, favoured by ex-Royal Navy personnel of a certain age. If one can afford a boat then one can afford the best rum. No excuses…

French-speaking volunteers, please

Calling all native French speakers: i could use some help.I have to choose a translator for the Old Man Sailing book. I have a likely candidate but, speaking only “Restaurant French” myself, I have no idea if he’s any good.
He has translated the first 500 words. Now I need some French-speakers to read his version and tell me if i should give him the job.

Please leave a comment if you can help.

3 Responses to French-speaking volunteers, please

  • Hi, John,
    You might connect with Dennison Berwick. He’s had much of his work translated to other languages. It’s about marine diesel basics, and more.
    All the best to you.
    SV Soundhaven
    SV Sweethaven

  • Hi Old Man !!

    As a native French speaker, and having sailed for 30 years on several types of sailboat, I think I have a reasonable knowledge of French in the field of sailing. I can assess your contractor’s translation.

  • Dear John
    I would be pleased to help you . I lived in France for 15 years . I am Spanish/French bilingual.
    Your book could also be translated into Spanish by the way . If you send me his translation I would gladly have a look
    All the best
    Fernando Santamaría

The health benefits of Petit Becaye Bay

Petit Becaye isn’t much of a bay. The pilot book describes it as “so small that four boats would be a crowd” and advises you to take down your sails before entering – but I forgot that bit.

Anyway, I am the only one here. I don’t think I’ve had an anchorage to myself since arriving in the Caribbean – or, come to that, leaving the east coast of England.

But Petit Becaye Bay has more surprises than you would imagine from the fifteen lines it merits in The Sailor’s Guide to the Windward Islands.

For a start, there was the extraordinary sight of hundreds – literally hundreds of little white birds sitting on the water all around the edges. They appeared to be waiting for something – certainly, they didn’t get up and fly about. They didn’t swim or dive for a meal. Their friends didn’t come and join them.

It was only when I had set the anchor and examined them through binoculars as if I was a proper bird-watcher that I realised that in fact, they were the upended bottoms of hundreds and hundreds of small white plastic bottles. It appeared I had stumbled into some sort of rudimentary fish farm.

Never mind, I had business to conduct. I had to get to the Foodland supermarket up the road – at least, I presumed there was a road. I needed bread, and I needed sugar. Would I have come to Petit Bacaye Bay for any other reason?

I was just as well I did have a reason. On the beach – well, the landing place which was a small patch of sand between the rocks, hardly wider than the dinghy so that you had to scoot in, fold the oars and hop over the bow in one smooth movement – stood the King of Petit Becaye Bay.

Since, as I said, it isn’t much of a bay, it doesn’t have much of a king. But Robert Mitchell put it like this: “This our bay. What you doin’ here, man? We need to know who comin’ in our bay. You got permission comin’ in here? Anchorin’ an all?”

The effect was rather spoiled by the four henchmen standing behind him, who were all grinning, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads and sending out vibes which said only too clearly that everything was cool. Robert was just doing his thing. Let him have his fun.

Better still, I decided, was to show some genuine interest in Robert and his fish farm. Besides, I really was interested – and before you could say: “I have a cruising permit issued by the Grenadian Immigration Department,” he was telling me all about Sea Moss.

That’s what they were growing here on strings attached to all their plastic bottles – what the health food trade knows as Irish Moss. I’ve looked it up. It’s a superfood. It is claimed to be good for everything from cholesterol to the immune system to a healthy gut.

Meanwhile, I had to get to the shop. I would never find my way back in the dark.

Actually, I couldn’t find my way there in the daylight and ended up being invited to take a shortcut through a garden – and then the neighbour’s garden. I did get the bread, but forgot the sugar.

More importantly, on the way back, I picked up some Sea Moss.

There was a little man sitting beside the road with a big tub of the stuff. I suppose he was sorting it. I stopped to ask but, honestly couldn’t make head or tail of what he said – so it was just as well that Robert came by with his friends to do the sales pitch.

I should cook it and put it in a blender and mix it with milk. For sure, I should try it. I could mash it up with a fork. I bought what has turned out to be a year’s supply.

Returning to the boat, I did some more research: Apparently, I should be using it as a thickener for milk products, specifically ice cream – although its slimy texture and fishy taste could be off-putting.

And it does have possible side effects: fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, not to mention a burning sensation in the mouth, throat and stomach

As if that isn’t bad enough, sea moss may accumulate toxic metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead. I don’t think I’ll be consuming enough to overdose on its iodine content and get goitre.

I’m not too sure about this – even though there’s a pan of it simmering on the stove and a whole basin-full in the cockpit, plotting.

If you don’t hear from me again, blame King Robert.


Postscript: After 25 minutes simmering in the pan, the sea moss had reduced to a jelly-like substance which can only be described as “snot-like”. As to the smell, it reminded me of the scent of a decomposing squid the dog found on Padstow beach one hot summer’s day. I tried to wrench him away from it, but he had his nose deep in the putrid entrails. When I could hold my breath no longer, I had to leave him to it.

He was sick later.

The sea moss has been returned to the sea.


Hundreds of little white birds – but try zooming in.



11 Responses to The health benefits of Petit Becaye Bay

  • Ok John,
    I’m a 71 year old guy.
    On the same dream of dyeing on my boat!
    Give me a hand. What is the supplement and where can I get it.
    Enroute to Tahiti.

    God bless you man.

  • I have just finished reading your book, the first paper book I have read in I don’t know how many years and thoroughly enjoyed it. My sister bought it for me as a birthday present because at the beginning of this year this old man decided to realise his dream. So I am currently in the process of buying a yacht (god help me) and will this year spend my time exploring the Adriatic and then next year …….

  • Do you think it would make slug bait for my dahlias

  • For a minute I thought you had discovered the sea’s version of polk salad. Nice local color.

  • Please send me the supplement info. Thanks

  • Just thinking outside the box JP – Is it any good for teak decks….;)

  • And I thought you were on the verge of starting up a new health food import business!

  • Thank you – I shall make a note to avoid ‘sea moss’!