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’!