Beryl and Elon

The Great Escape from Grenada to Trinidad

Three days ago I left Dominica because there was a tropical disturbance 1,500 miles away. Now I’m approaching Trinidad where the weather forecast for tomorrow is “a gentle breeze”.

For the Grenadines – just 100 miles to the north – it is: “Hurricane Beryl will develop into a Major Category 3 Hurricane with life-threatening winds of 150km/hr and higher gusts. Major storm surge likely…”

Oh look, in the time it’s taken me to write that, Beryl has graduated to “Extremely dangerous Category 4 Hurricane” with wind speeds of 209-251 km/hr.

Jogging along against the Equatorial current so that I’m really only making two knots towards my destination, I know all this stuff because I have Starlink.

Starlink, if you’re not familiar with it, is the satellite communications system that is the practical by-product of Elon Musk firing off all those rockets.

When I wrote The Voyage books (#1 & #2), part of the charm was supposed to be “No contact with the shore, no high-frequency radio or satphone. No weather forecasts, no texts from loved ones. No news…”

I had books on my Kindle, films downloaded onto Amazon Prime. I told the family when to expect me (but not to raise the alarm if I was late). As for weather forecasts: My view was always to get a good forecast before you leave and once you’re out there, you get the weather you get…

And this was fine before weather apps and hurricane trackers and Mr Weatherman on YouTube. But an iPhone needs the internet. Until now, this meant a SIM card – and in the Caribbean, a different SIM card for every island… and even when you’ve got one, it’s not going to work in the remote anchorages, so you end up in a beach bar trying to make WhatsApp calls in competition with wall-to-wall reggae.

Yet, for the same price (cheaper in many cases) you can get Starlink’s unlimited high-speed internet – blisteringly high-speed, actually. We’re talking 172mbps – and all you need is a stylish white box full of clever electronics and a dish the size of an airline tray table.

The Starlink dish (top right), with the solar panel and wind charger.


Chiefy in his perch on top of the Starlink router.

Starlink has been a revelation: As long as I have battery power, I can leave it switched on and people can call me whenever they like – even my son Owen at six o’clock in the morning because he’s buying his first house and forgot about the time difference. I can decide, on a whim, that Hollywood on Netflix is brilliant and download the whole series.

Admittedly, once away from shore, I do have to opt for the pay-as-you-go tariff – but even that is worth it for my daily fix of The News Agents podcast (so I can sit with my face in my hands, not daring to peek between my fingers in case Joe Biden’s geriatric mumbling turns out to be real…)

And I can follow Beryl in real time – from her tiny beginnings as a “tropical disturbance” to her blossoming into a genuine life-threatening Category 4 force of nature. If I’d known she was going to end up like this, I’d have been a lot more frightened in the first place – but I’m a hurricane virgin. The one thing I did know was “Go South” and “Go Now”.

Admittedly, I had a long conversation with an old hurricane hand at last autumn’s Ocean Cruising Club party in Gran Canaria. “Hurricane preparation” he explained, is a last resort when you’ve left it too late. Even then: “Don’t just take off every scrap of canvas, everything on deck, the boom, anything you can unscrew. Take down your halyards. Do you know how much windage there is in a halyard? Now count how many you’ve got…”

Yet on Facebook, someone was asking whether he should leave the canvas doors of his cockpit enclosure open for the wind to blow through…

Someone else was saying she wanted to get clear but her partner wouldn’t leave because they’d paid for a month’s mooring…

If you flick back a few posts to ”Barbuda” you can see what Hurricane Irma did to a brand-new beach hotel. Imagine what it’s going to do to the guy in Grenada Yacht Club Marina who asked if he should put out an anchor or extra lines to the dock…

Meanwhile, the AIS screen shows a stream of yachts heading for Trinidad’s Boca de Manos. North Coast Radio checks us in – breaking into my reverie with crackling Channel 16 updates. I’ll wait until I’m ten miles off. Yes, I filed my Float Plan online but no, I’ll need to dig out the printer for the Maritime Declaration of Health (Has anyone died on board otherwise than as the result of an accident?)

I’ll keep you posted.

The Great Escape from Grenada to Trinidad




4 Responses to Beryl and Elon

  • Dear John, bumped into you today in the laundry at Power Boats boatyard. Thank you for the book, from a Rival 38 owner!

  • I’m pleased you got that call right – but not half as pleased, I guess, as you.

  • Good luck, John. We will be thinking of you.

  • Always a trade off with technology vs peace and tranquility… problem is once you have it, it’s almost impossible to turn off. I’m guessing eventually Starlink will be standard issue on boats and rv’s like XM radio.

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